Driving Out Fear

When I was younger, I was a timid person, and had many things that I feared. I didn’t want to go on roller-coasters, I avoided anything that had to do with heights, which often puzzled those around me since I have been more than six feet tall since I was twelve years old. “Are you afraid of standing up?” was a question I would often receive from my peers. However, as I grew older, I began pushing myself a little more, and even though I feared them, I pushed myself to go onto them, or maybe it was the peer pressure, either way I went on them. At first I would close my eyes tight, and not allow my eyes to increase or validate that which my mind feared.

However, simply closing our eyes, locking our doors, putting barriers between us and that which we fear, don’t keep us “safe”, but rather they give us a sense of security within which we are willing to live. The idea that there is always someone bigger, someone faster, someone smarter, someone stronger, is true, and if that person means to do me harm, them no amount of fortification I attempt, there is always a vulnerability.

Even the Empire, in Star Wars, thought they had built a SUPER weapon, THE DEATH STAR, a weapon intended to bring mass destruction, and with this weapon they would bring the universe to bow down before the power of the Dark Side. However, in two different episodes of the story, the Rebels were able to destroy this because of its vulnerabilities. While this vulnerability was exploited for the Light Side and Rebellion against the Empire, we too have darkness that seemingly overwhelms us at times.

Jesus disciples were not immune to fear, and they thought they could keep the Roman Empire out by simply locking a door behind them. Fear gripped them, fear kept them from doing what they were called to do, and fear made them act and think small and timid. That is how fear wins, by making us think and act timid.

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 20:19–23). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The disciples feared the Romans, their eyes had seen what the Romans and enemies of Christ could do, they feared that they would meet the same fate, they feared the Jewish leaders would push the Romans to root out all of the followers and kill them. However, Jesus had plans for his disciples, and first gave them PEACE, or Shalom, to rest their minds and allow them to set aside fear. This PEACE was power to set aside fear, and become their true and complete selves, no longer slaves to the fear that had once gripped them.

While fear should not take hold of us and be the cause for our inaction, the circumstances leading us to fear are real. The Romans crucified Christ, Jesus shows the disciples the results, his hands and side were pierced and broken. The things we fear are often real. We can fall from great heights and hurt ourselves. We can get bitten by a spider and get sick. We can get cancer, and that cancer can break us down, and make us weak. These things cannot be taken lightly, or treated recklessly, but they are opportunities where we can make a stand and say “NO” to fear. Much like Jesus showed the disciples that crucifixion was real and not a joking matter, in showing up before them he also stood up showing that even death was conquered with perfect love. So too, the things we fear, while real, can and will be conquered by love.

This indicates that the things that potentially cause us to fear, more than just being scared about going on a frightening roller-coaster, something that really invokes petrifying fear, such as a loved one facing cancer, or needing to speak up in the face of injustice when there will be almost certain consequences of doing so. We are called to answer that fear with LOVE. Love of God and love of neighbor must be that which we answer these real fears. We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect systems, and often time there is the temptation to just take a step back and wish for somebody else to step up.

I admit this is often my default response. Somebody else can step up and take this head on, I will give support, but not really stick my neck out and take it on. A few times I have stepped up and said something, but it doesn’t really go that far. I have even seen a couple friends really make some bold steps as to take on injustice in our country, and have risked future employment to speak out against injustice in our country. Other friends and families have done the unpopular task of going and standing with and/or fighting for those that are powerless in our society. I dearly admire these leaders and fighters.

Some, like my dear friend and sister, Jackie, have, in the face of a cancer diagnosis, bravely looked in the face of cancer and proclaimed, that it cannot win, it cannot break her spirit, it messed with the wrong woman! Her bravery, her boldness, her fight reminds me, and instructs me that I cannot be silent, I cannot be someone that sits on the sidelines and allows someone else to take this, I will respond to cancer, with LOVE. I will stand for, I will fight for, I will show cancer that LOVE will win the day. I may not be medicine, I may not be a surgeon, but I can pray, I can love, I can help in any number of ways. AND I WILL.

It is this Spirit, the HOLY SPIRIT, that Christ blows onto his disciples. No longer a spirit of fear, but THE HOLY SPIRIT, a SPIRIT of POWER, a SPIRIT of MOVEMENT, a SPIRIT of STRENGTH, and most importantly a SPIRIT of LOVE! With this SPIRIT we drive out fear, we are more than conquerors, and we allow God to utilize us to our full potential. This SPIRIT brings with it power and strength, and with this SPIRIT injustice is rooted out, cancer is defeated, and GRACE wins!

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Making Resolutions…

Today I turn another year older, and every year I get older, and older, and older. I apologize to my parents, because I am sure that statement really makes them feel older, but really, I remember when my parents were my age and I thought they were old at that time. So I guess that my kids probably think that I am really old. Although I woke up this morning, and did not think of myself as old, as I got up and ran 8 miles, something I definitely would not have done ten years ago. Although, I probably needed it more ten years ago than I needed it today. However, I think that today as I turn thirty-five I am an adult, not old, but an adult, and I am viewed by the world as an adult, and my wife has been reminding me that I am middle aged now.

This prompts the question, what now? Something I regularly do on my birthday is set goals for the following year. Most people make New Year’s resolutions, but since my birthday is only a few days into the New Year, I get a few days to prepare myself for “the new and improved” version of myself. As I read an article about “How Life Won’t Begin At Your Next Milestone” on Relevant I brought this practice under scrutiny. While this didn’t directly address the making of resolutions, it does point out that we aren’t supposed to wait to make good changes in our lives, because by waiting until this milestone or that milestone to really live, or grow up, we often miss the life happening all around us.

I have certainly been guilty of looking forward without looking at now. Tomorrow things will be better, right? Why wait until tomorrow to make the change you need in your life today? When I first joined a gym it was a January, and I stuck to regularly going to the gym for less than three months after that. However, when I first became intentional about getting myself in better shape, it was an August, and as I stated in a previous post I have made that life change permanent as of this moment.  So why wait?
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I used to think that I have given myself the leg up by postponing my resolution timetable by eleven days, because most people fail at their resolutions within the first month, but in reality I have just procrastinated an extra eleven days at working to become the man God desires me to be. Don’t get me wrong, there is great value at taking inventory of our life and looking at the things that we need to do more of, or less than, and things we need to quit, or start, but once we take that inventory, we should start right away. Don’t put off until tomorrow, the things that God is calling you to do today.

There is hope in this for all of us. Some of us have already lapsed in our resolutions we have made for the New Year, and most of will fail at some point, but the good news is that it doesn’t mean we have to give up and wait for another year to make that resolution again, we have the power and the call to make that change RIGHT NOW. Maybe this post comes too early in the year for many, as there are a good number of resolutions being held onto, but come back to this in a month, or two, or more, and remember that failure is only a temporary setback, and that change happens one step at a time.

This process of making ourselves into the people God desires us to be is the process of sanctification. While we have been redeemed by a magical, mysterious, miraculous, and magnificent event with Christ, our sanctification takes our whole lives to achieve. So do not be distraught by missed resolutions, but rather pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue along the path toward the Lord’s sanctifying grace. One thing though… Don’t wait, do it today. Embrace God’s grace in your life now, and make the change today.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

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Fully into the season Advent, we come closer to celebrating the birth, and the coming of the Christ-child. Exploring how we are to approach this season, we look at how we are meant to treat one another. Instead of the images from Black Friday, where people were trampling people for a cheap big screen television or laptop, we are called to bring peace to our fellow man. Instead of waging wars and battles with our fellow man, God desires us to be the mediators and creators of peace among all mankind.

Jesus calls these peacemakers blessed.

Matthew 5:3-12 ESV
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Peace and hope, hope and peace, they lead us to the coming of the Lord. When we engage in active peace making with our fellow humans, we allow for the Holy Spirit to use us to bring hope to all mankind. Peacemaking is not an easy task, at least not for me, I can tell you even the smallest irritants have led me away from being an instrument of peace, and led me toward a person that breaks down relationships. At least three times before noon today, I became irritated at something somebody did at the office and, at least in my heart, held onto frustration and failed at bringing peace to my location.

Peacemakers bring blessing to those around them, and in turn the Lord blesses them. Lord, I pray that you work on my heart to be a peacemaker in my family, in my job, and in the lives of those around me.

Peace on Earth

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In this season of Advent, we are called to live our lives as worship glorifying the Almighty God, in this way we honor the coming of the Christ, ushering in the coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth. The first call of man, the first act of worship for which humanity was called was to take care of creation.

Genesis 1:28-31 ESV
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

God gave us everything we needed, and in return he wanted us to take care of the creation. During Advent, many of us put up Christmas trees, and under those trees we put the gifts we give to one another. We really want those gifts to be something that our loved ones will want and think they are good. How about we start thinking about how much devastation is caused due to deforestation? How about we look into what we are doing to the gift that God has given to us? Even though we have been given the whole Earth, we must be faithful to God and take care of the gift that we have been given freely. The gifts are very good, much greater than anything we could even think of getting for any of our loved ones. The entirety of creation is much better than an iPad. Unfortunately, I know that I have thought much more about taking care of my iPad or other things than I have thought about taking care of the Earth. Living out our lives in worship, caring for creation, allows us to bring peace to Earth.  

Isaiah 2:4 ESV
He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

God calls us toward using the instruments we once used for destruction, but rather to use them to cultivate the resources of the Almighty’s wonderfully good gifts. By doing this, we can be instruments of peace, and further be faithful to the gift, and honor the gift-giver. Peace on Earth is a call to usher in the Kingdom of God by honoring the gift of creation.

With A Thankful Heart…

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I may be late to the party here, but I would like to wish all of you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving. Over social media, November has been a month where many have daily listed the things for which you are thankful. This is a great practice, and a good way to focus upon the many blessings in each of our lives. I am thankful for the practice and thankful for so many of my friends that have adopted the practice, which have encouraged me that I need to live a life filled with more gratitude.

So here’s to living life with thankfulness for all the many blessings surrounding me everyday. No matter our lot in life, we have much for which to be thankful. Personally, I have a wife that loves me and chose to walk beside me in the craziness that we call our life. I have four kids that are absolutely amazing and they teach me so much and unconditionally pour out love upon me. I’ve been blessed with a family that is close enough to spend many weekends and vacations enjoying one another. Life has brought me friends from many different walks of life that teach me that no matter how diverse we are we can share our life and find enrichment and growth in one another.

Although there is much that I desire, but there is nothing that I need that I cannot obtain or is not provided to me. I understand that this is not true for everyone in the world, and as we sit down to eat our Thanksgiving meals, or any meal, we need to be mindful that we are blessed. There are many things that we have in abundance, but a majority of the world does not have the same abundant living.

I wish I didn’t need a national holiday to remind me to change my heart, so that I am much more thankful for all that I have been blessed with in life. No matter where life puts me, I need to remember that God has provided for me, and will continue to provide for me. God’s love is forever, and forever God’s love will be with me. Hopefully, I can remember to be thankful, and to live a life filled with gratitude for all that I have been given, and all the reasons I have to be thankful.

Saying, “Thank you,” is a beginning, but living my entire life with a thankful heart is a process, not a once a year celebration.

Thank you Almighty God for giving me Your never ending love.

Psalm 118 ESV
Oh give thanks to the Lord , for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!  
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  
Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  
Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  
Out of my distress I called on the Lord ; the Lord answered me and set me free.  
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?  
The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.  
All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  
They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. 
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. 
Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,  the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”  
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord . 
The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord . 
This is the gate of the Lord ; the righteous shall enter through it. 
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.  
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 
This is the Lord ’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 
Save us, we pray, O Lord ! O Lord , we pray, give us success!  
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord ! We bless you from the house of the Lord . 
The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!  You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.  
Oh give thanks to the Lord , for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

BUT I say to YOU!!!

43″You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 ESV)

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This passage from the Sermon on the Mount gives a new take on love, and a new take on enemies, but even more so a new take on what God requires of us. God’s call to love those around us stretches beyond just the people who are easy to love, but rather love EVERYONE. Love doesn’t belong to us, and we don’t get to determine a person’s worth, God gives them value, we need to love them. Unfortunately, we commoditize love;  when someone gives love, we give love; when we give love, we expect love in return.  This is the way of the world, which is easy… sort of.

In this worldview, a ledger exists. We can examine our lives and determine whether we are in a love debt, or whether we have a love balance in our account. The only problem with this type of world is that we are constantly opening and closing accounts that it could get extremely complicated to figure which accounts are positive and which accounts are negative. In my experience, when paying love forward, and it doesn’t get paid back, those people either become enemies, or even worse they get forgotten. We all have limits with how high we will let our accounts get, and when our accounts get too low sometime shame leads us to running away from them.

God wants more! There are NO LIMITS to God’s love, which we need to emulate. God’s love pours out on everyone. Jesus died to show how far God will go to LOVE!

Tear up the ledgers. Treat everyone like they are family. Let the blessings flow! If you try to live out the love ledger, you don’t understand God’s love, and I venture to say that you are exhausted trying to keep it up. We will never even up the ledger with God, we will always be in debt. Even worse, I have family and friends that I wouldn’t even come close to clearing out my love debt. I am thankful for them, and I am thankful that God has let me pile up this debt without casting me from the bosom of the Almighty. I am not worthy.

However, at the end of this passage that one command trips me up, “BE PERFECT!” Not that God’s love will be withheld for a lack of perfection, but our constant striving must be perfection. Love God with every inch of your being, may you live your life out in worship to God. Love one another to the furthest extent possible. Love as if you are in a love debt to everyone. If you ever get to a point where you stop and think that you have loved enough, love some more. Strive for perfection in the way you love God, strive for perfection in the way you love every person with which you come  in contact! This is Shalom.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10 ESV)

Ugh

More than once as I have journaled my prayers I have uttered the UGH which has been my way of expressing complete frustration and an inability to put my thoughts into words. Should I feel bad about not being able to articulate my prayers? A quick reading of Psalm 5 reveals that the important act is not the articulation of my prayers, but that in fact that every morning I come to the Lord with my prayer is paramount.

Give ear to my words, O Lord ; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Lord , in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalms 5:1-3 ESV)

Additionally, the prayer time is our worship and should be part of our sacrifice to the Lord. This is followed by a time of watching. This is too often the part that I end up skipping. Once I pray, I feel as soon as I am done with all of the elements of my prayer are complete, I am done with the worship time, but rather the prayer and worship need to continue by watching and waiting for the Lord. It isn’t certain that God will always turn the “ugh” into something, but the Holy Spirit will intercede for us. Even though sometimes all I can muster is “ugh”, this can sometimes be used by the Holy Spirit as something that is too deep for any words we could ever muster.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26 ESV)

Even if all I can bring is “ugh”, God wants it, but I am called to more than simply bringing my “ugh” but I also need to sit and wait and watch what the Lord is going to do with my exasperation.