For Each Other

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law came to Nashville to visit Laurel and me. One of our conversations turned to a hymn that has come to irk me. We were talking about how I would deal with the hymn if I was leading a congregation. If a member wanted that particular hymn sung, would I allow it?

I spent most of the conversation explaining why I wouldn’t allow the hymn sung during a service. It comes into theological conflict with the direction I would be leading the church. In fact, I believe the hymn, or at least how many people understand the hymn, is in conflict with the trajectory of the biblical narrative. It minimizes the mission and hope that Jesus promoted.

Needless to say, I felt justified in my defense. It’s not like I would plan to criticize someone who asked for the hymn to be sung, or look down upon those who sing it. I almost welcomed the opportunity to start a fruitful and kind discussion about the meaning behind the hymn and the teachings of Jesus.

This was all hypothetical, a great exercise to toss around what-if scenarios. But now, here we are, in the midst of a pandemic which is changing many hypotheticals into real concerns.

In reaction to COVID-19, we are faced with difficult decisions of how to respond as Christians and churches. Before many churches moved to online, we were faced with the question of communion. Here is an act where, depending on how you practice communion, potentially hundreds of people come into contact with the same object and then immediately touch their face. Do we adjust our tradition to protect our members, or do we step forward in faith that disease won’t travel via the church? And do we have to apologize for our decision?

Do we forgo a friendly handshake with our fellow brother or sister in Christ? Is it easier to complain about a change in our routine rather than face the reality that maybe our 60 seconds of greetings during service has become surface level interactions to check off the fellowship box?

As services move online, do we really need to sing in a room, alone or with our family, or can we just tune in for the sermon? Is participation necessary for a church service, or can I watch an online service without getting out of bed, just like I watched Netflix the night before?

What was once a theological musing now requires action.

As these hypotheticals begin to take real form, I have begun to reconsider my position on that particular hymn. I think that my planned course of action might be wrong. My concern led sound theology to stand above the other. This is the same thing that Jesus criticized the Pharisees for.

Luke 6:6-10
On another Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored.

One of my professors said that sometimes, we sing for the other. That hit me. Sometimes, we change our way of connecting with God so that others can better connect with God. Sometimes we sacrifice our preferences and comforts for the other. Is it better to release our particular tradition to save life or cling to our selfish ways and put others at risk?

I had always asked that question religiously, but now that is a very physical question too. I like taking communion and the physicality it brings as we step into communion with God. I like shaking hands and hugging my church family to physically reinforce that we are one body. I like going to church and being in community with fellow Christians.

These are comforts, and I also see them called for in Scripture. But so was honoring the Sabbath. Jesus reminds us the purpose of Scripture. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

Honor God with every part of yourself. Respect and cherish one another as you want to be. This is what Scripture calls us to do. This is what Scripture teaches us to do. When we make these two things are our goals, then we will do good instead of evil and we will heal instead of destroy.

So I had to ask myself, would forbidding some singing a hymn to God be doing good or evil? Would it be helping them honor God with all that they have? Would it be respecting them and their way of connecting with God? I came to a fruitful decision: No.

It is no secret that COVID-19 is reshaping our society. God has created us to be resilient and we will adapt, I have no doubt in that. As we are adapting, we will come across countless crossroads, opportunities to honor God and respect others or to honor ourselves and disregard others. My prayer is that we hold each other accountable to doing good instead of evil. That each of us strives to heal instead of destroy. In this trying time, I pray we learn to how to sacrifice personal comfort for each other.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

Psalm 33

Unlike the creation story in Genesis, Psalm 33 starts with humanity instead of creation. The writer of Psalms 33 wants to emphasize the relationship between humanity and God the Creator.

The primary aspect of humanity’s relationship to God is praise. The first words of the writer say, “sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous people; it is fitting for the upright to praise him,” (Ps. 33:1). Our response to God the Creator should be joy and thankfulness for the gift of life. Without God, nothing would exist. Humanity was made out of love as an expression of God’s unfailing love which flooded Creation. (Ps. 33:5). The correct response to this is joy.

That unfailing love does more than create joy, it also inspires us to create. The creation story in Genesis invites us into co-creation with God, and here the writer shows that in relation to joy: “Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy,” (Ps. 33:2-3). In our co-creation, we worship God. Our creations flow from our joy in our Creator, so those creations reflect, continue, and express that joy.

The writer specially displays joy in relation to music, but we see this joy expressed in all sorts of creation. I cannot do music skillfully. I cannot sing on pitch or play an instrument, but that does not prohibit me from participating in the skillful creation of things that express my joy. I create sermons and lessons to express my joy of the Creator. In these, I get to talk about the amazing, unfailing love of our Creator and the hope that flow from that (Ps. 33:18). Others paint beautiful things that honor the beautiful works of God. Others express their joy of life given by the Creator by saving the lives of others. Whatever gifts and skills we were created with, part of our purpose is to use those to praise, glorify, and shout for joy to the Lord.

In verse 4, the writer moves to talking about the nature of God the Creator. Verse 4 and 5 parallel each other. “The word of the Lord is right and true,” (Ps. 33:4a) and “the Lord loves righteousness and justice,” (Ps. 33:5a). We know that God spoke the world into existence (Ps. 33:6, 9; Gen. 1; John 1: 1-3). The writer portrays that Word, which was the moving force of Creation, as right and true. Because God loves righteousness and justice, God creates the world through a process that is right and true so that Creation can be righteous and just. In this creation process, God “is faithful in all he does,” (Ps. 33:4b) so that “the earth is full of his unfailing love,” (Ps. 33:5b).

This is why in Genesis 1/2 we see a beautiful state of shalom, which is perfect harmony. This exists between all created things and between created things and God. In those moments, we see the righteousness and love of God. When humans chose to stop responding to God in joyful praise and instead chose to break our harmony with God, we placed ourselves at war with the righteousness and justice of God. The afflictions in our lives come from the disharmonious state, the broken shalom, that we live in. Yet, God is faithful (Ps. 33:4b) and our hope is in the unfailing love of the God (Ps. 33:18, 22). That is why in Revelation we see the restoration of the broken shalom we caused (Rev. 21:1-5; 22:1-5).

The basis of Creation is the righteousness, truth, justice, and unfailing love of God. This is what everything was built on and by, and these things flow through all Creation. In Creation, we see the wonderful display of God’s transcendence and immanence.

Here, the writer’s joy is displayed in reverence for the transcendent power of God:

God “spoke, and it came to be,” (Ps. 33:9a).
“The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations,” (Ps. 33:11).

Our praise comes from respect for God’s transcendence. We praise God because God’s righteous words spoke everything into existence. We praise God because God’s plans of righteousness and love stretch through all eternity. From generation to generation, God is always displaying righteousness and love.

Here, the writer’s joy is displayed in thankfulness for the immanent presence of God:

“From his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth…he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do,” (Ps. 33:13, 15).
“The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine,” (Ps. 33:17-18).

We praise God because God knows us. God formed our hearts and knows us more than we know ourselves. We praise God because God watches us with eyes full of unfailing love, ready to deliver us from death and provide for our needs.

Lord, you are Creator of all things. Through righteousness and truth, you spoke the heavens into existence. With righteous and justice, you spoke the earth into being. In all this you spoke love. You spoke an unfailing love that echoes through all eternity, and you are speaking love now.
In our brokenness your love spoils our plans to ruin the world. In your love we have hope for a better world. In your great power you have control of all things. In your great and wonderful presence you choose to know us.
So, we shout for joy! We fall before you in praise. We rise up in your presence in praise. In all we do, may we praise you. May every action we make be a shout of joy unto you. When we fail to do this, may we find joy in your unfailing love that brings us hope. To the One who created all things by Word and through Spirit, hear our cry of joy!

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

All Things New

I don’t know about you, but 2019 has been a busy, exciting, and stressful year for me. From getting married to planning and leading a mission trip for the first time to my wife and I starting Master programs to moving from full-time to part-time in one job and being promoted from part-time to full-time in a second job, this year has been marked by new things.

I wouldn’t label any of these changes as bad. In fact, I would even say they were great, even wonderful! I wouldn’t trade out my marriage or graduate school. But even great and wonderful things can have their difficulties. Change is hard because it is new and new means we have to work to figure out different systems.

As we end one year and begin a new one, it is a natural time for us to think about new beginnings. Sayings like “Out with the old and in with the new!” combined with a desire for new year resolutions disillusion us to the difficultly of change.

Change is challenging. Change is exhausting. Change is a fight.

To ignore how difficult change can be is not being optimistic, it’s setting yourself up for failure. There is a preparation that is needed when it comes to change. Strategies and plans to lay out so you don’t revert to the old.

But yet…

Sometimes we don’t have a choice in change. Sometimes we look in the mirror and wonder when became this new person. Sometimes the world around us grabs hold and takes us on a ride. It might be so slow and steady that we miss the whole process, or it might be so fast and turbulent that we hold on for dear life.

Change is powerful. Change is directive. Change is a force.

To believe that we are always the ones controlling change is ignorant. Change is something that happens to us just as often as it is something we choose. By its very nature change is dynamic. We shouldn’t claim to be able to have it all figured out, because once we think we do, it changes on us.

With that in mind, I do feel comfortable in saying that change is neutral. That comfortability comes from an understanding that change is neither good nor bad. And if it is neither, then it has to be neutral, right? The argument behind this idea is a little more complex and detailed, but here’s a simplified example that will hopefully get the point across.

If I am lying sick in the hospital, there are three possible outcomes.
1) My health can stay the same.
2) My health can make a change for the better.
3) My health can make a change for the worse.

If change happens, it is the result of the change that makes the situation good or bad. The change is just a vessel that takes us from one point in time to the next. So, change is neutral. It is how we use, and react to, change that brings about something good or bad.

There is a quote by author Tony Robbins that says “change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.” This quote does an amazing job at describing the difficulty of change. Because of the fear of change, we do not tend to change until that terrifying and brutal process becomes easier and safer than staying where we are.

But I want to propose an alternative saying. My fear is that this saying ignores the joy of change. Sometimes we aren’t currently in a painful situation, in fact, maybe our situation is pretty good. If I have little to no pain in my life, am I doomed to stay a static character in this word?

Change happens when the beauty of the new is greater than the beauty of the now.

I have no research to back this up so this statement stands as a theory, but this theory pulls from what we see in Scripture. Jesus didn’t come preaching fire and brimstone, telling everyone that they will burn in hell unless they follow him. He did not come to increase our current pain so that we will change our ways and follow him. He did the opposite. He came to ease our suffering, to bring us a lighter yoke than the one we carry now.

Jesus came to show us what the beautiful kingdom of God looks like.

He came to show us a better and fuller way to live. He came to show us a beautiful place that change could take us. But he constantly reminded us that this change was not free of pain. Jesus asks us to change our lives, follow him, and then we will be persecuted. Follow me and you might be crucified for it. This is not a model of a less painful change.

So why do people change their lives for this whole God thing? And how do we show others that this God thing is worth changing for?

We paint them a picture. We show them that the beauty of a life with God is greater than the beauty of a life without God.

Revelation 21:1-5

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
[emphasis added]

This is why we change. God takes the brokenness that we have brought into the world and makes everything new again. This loving God plans to live and walk among us. God plans to take away our death and our mourning and our crying and our pain, to wipe all the tears from our eyes and whisper “I am making everything new and you will never feel broken again.”

Why do we change our whole lives to follow God? Because God paints us a picture of a place that’s beauty is far greater than wherever we are now.

Revelation 22:1-5

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”
[emphasis added]

This is the change God wants for us. This is the beautiful picture that God paints for us. A picture of a continuous bounty that covers all our needs. A picture where there is no more strife between countries. A picture where wars and bombings and shootings are replaced with peace and love and joy. A picture where the presence of God expels all darkness and chaos. A picture where we get to dwell with our loving creator for ever and ever.

This is a beautiful picture worth changing for. This is a hope worth living and dying for. This is a promise worth living into each day.

What blows me away is that we do not have to wait for everything to be made new. God invites us into changing the world and helping make all things new. Jesus came to show us how to live into this picture now. Jesus came to introduce us to this kingdom. He healed the sick, ate with the outcasts, and forgave those who others would not. Jesus gave us a taste of what is to come and invited us to experience his kingdom of love and healing now.

With God, change is healing. With God, change is growth. With God, change is a blessing.

Here is where I ask you to think about 2019.
-How well did you paint this picture for others?
-Did your words and actions and life point to this beautiful promise that God has given us?
-Did you change in a way that brought you closer to God?
-Did you live a life that inspires others to change?
-Do you even believe in this promise that God has given us?

I don’t know what resolutions you have for this new decade, or if you have any at all. For those of you who claim to be Christians, I would suggest adding to the list: Live in a way that helps make all things new. Then list some specific ways you can do that this month.

When you live into this amazing kingdom that God has planned for us, you will change not only your world, but the world around you.

If you don’t buy into this whole God thing yet, or you did at one time but have since given it up, that’s ok. I get it. The world is full of such brokenness and pain and terrible, terrible things that sometimes it seems like it could never get better. Sometimes it looks like a good God could never exist. Sometimes those who are supposed to be making the world better actually make it worse. My hope is that you look at the beauty of what God promises and ask yourself if that is something you want too.

God does not promise to make everything better now. God does not promise to take away all the death and mourning and crying and pain right now. Change is a process. These are promises that we won’t see until a next life. But God does want to start changing the world now! God wants this picture of a perfect, beautiful world to bleed into our lives today.

We are warned that some people will push back against this, and we know from experience that this is true. But God reminds us who wins and what the final picture looks like. We are not destined for a world where the powerful use oppression to exploit the weak. We are destined for a world of healing and love where we live in peace and harmony with all.

So how will you and God change the world for the better in 2020?

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

Reminders From Nicaragua

June has been a busy month: getting married, going on a honeymoon, unpacking our new apartment, and leading a mission trip for my youth group.

Everything has been exciting, but busy can get stressful. That is especially true when you’re helping plan your wedding AND a mission trip (that timing might not have been my best decision ever). But I am alive, married, and didn’t leave any kids in Nicaragua so I feel like I’m killing it over here.

I went to Nicaragua four years ago while I was interning at a church in Florida so I felt like I knew what to expect. No one told me how different it is when you are leading the group.

Between fundraising and passports and flights, I was close to being burnt out before ever leaving Tennessee. I had never planned something this big which meant I was just faking my way through it.

If anyone in my youth group is reading this, I can now admit to you that I was just as nervous as you were while we were traveling. I had a general sense of what we needed to do once we landed in Nicaragua, but I was still stumbling through everything. My heart screamed Hallelujah when we saw Travis and Mindy from Misión Para Cristo. It meant I was a little less in-charge and I could physically feel some of the responsibility rolling off me and onto them.

But of course I couldn’t let any of that show at the time. As a leader, I very much needed to be the example of confidence. Transparency is good as long as you know the right time to share it.

Once we were on the bus from Managua to Jinotega, I was able to relax and open my eyes (spiritually). I had trusted God and leaned heavily on the support of my wife, and now it was time to let the Holy Spirit show me what He needed me to see.

And boy did He do that. On that two hour and a half hour bus ride I saw the attitudes of my youth group change from nervous to excited. Then to watch and listen to them throughout the week as they lived out the gospel was moving.

I imagine the feeling is similar to what parents feel watching their kids grow. I was so proud watching them take what we’ve been discussing at church for the past year and put that into action. It made every stressful moment worth it.

As a leader, I feel like that week was double rewarding. I got to watch my kids grow and I got to grow myself. God took that week to remind me of some things I often forget.

1. You don’t have to know everything.

Our mission team from Cheap Hill Church of Christ

As I mentioned above, this was my first time leading a mission trip and I felt woefully unprepared. I’m 23 years old, I don’t think that I’m old enough to be in charge of other people’s lives in a foreign country, I’m barely old enough to be in charge of my own life. But yet, the worst that happened is we got a little sick.

I don’t have to know what I’m doing, or be fully qualified, in order for God to know what He’s doing.

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

This past week was a huge reminder that I don’t have to have everything under control; I just need to trust that God will carry me through.

That is such an important reminder for me. As Laurel and I are preparing to begin our Master programs, we’re trying to figure out what the future looks like. How long will we live in Nashville? What career paths do we want? Will we need to take out loans for graduate school?

Life is full of question marks. We can’t know the future and that can leave us feeling scared or nervous or excited or a mixture off all that and more. We can plan, we can guess, we can curl up in a ball and hope for the best, but there will always be a sense of lack of control. And that’s ok.

God will sustain.

Even when we’re nervous.
God will sustain.

Even when we think He’s forgotten us.
God will sustain.

Even when the storm clouds feel like they will never pass.
God will sustain.

Often times I feel like Peter when he stepped out upon the water. I concentrate on the wind and the waves and I lose sight of Jesus and I begin to sink. Then I cry “Lord, save me! Don’t let me drown.” And like a foolish man, I believe that God called me out so He could watch me drown.

This week was a reminder that God is always there to pull me out of the water and that He will walk arm in arm with me over the water.

2. God will make connections.

Travis and I as we said goodbye at the airport. God is clearly working through Travis and Mindy as they are working with Misión Para Cristo. I have been blessed with this great connection.

I love new things. If you are any bit familiar with enneagrams, I am an almost perfect example of a type 7. The Enneagram Institute describes type 7s as “The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered.”

I have a tendency to jump to new activities before the current activity is finished. That’s because I want to do everything, so if this thing is basically done, then it’s time for the next thing.

This means that I don’t always have a lot of in-between time. The in-between time kills me. I could be experiencing something awesome, so why am I lagging around.

One large flaw to this mentality is that it’s easy to miss connections when you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I enjoy meeting new people and building relationships, but I sometimes miss important connection moments because I just don’t take the time to wait for them.

If you take that time to slow down instead of being in a hurry all the time, some amazing things can happen. You allow time and space for the Holy Spirit to guide you to different connections that God has laid out for you.

On Wednesday we spent the day at schools playing with the kids. Felipe and Louis were driving us back to the mission for lunch and siesta before we went to a school in that afternoon.

Normally I would be the first one up the stairs but instead I was lagging behind. As the leader, I wanted to be the last one up so I could make sure we didn’t leave anyone behind.

As I was waiting everyone to go up the stairs, Louis and I began talking. At first it was just small talk but it quickly took on a small theological thread. We started talking about relationships and forgiveness.

It’s not that that either of us had giant relationships in our lives that were we were refusing to extend forgiveness. The conversation simply helped further our understanding of what forgiveness is and why we forgive.

It was an encouraging example of what happens when you slow down and provide room for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

3. Let a change of plans be an opportunity.

Our team after a long day of making bricks.

This is a hard thing to do if you’re a planner. I am not naturally a planner. My dad’s motto is “you need a plan to deviate from.” My motto is “let’s see what happens.” I gravitate to living life on the fly and only planning when I get super stressed.

But I have been working on growing. Following my dad’s example, I have been working on being better at planning. With that I have learned one important fact: few things are more frustrating than when a perfect plan derails.

And that is exactly what happened on Monday.

The plan for Monday was to split into two groups, one heading to construction and one heading to schools. But that Sunday was Father’s Day for Nicaragua and there was an announcement that all schools would be canceled on Monday. The new plan? …construction and building bricks.

I could tell my youth group was disappointed because I knew how excited they had been to play with kids, but I was impressed by how well everyone took the news.

Instead of pouting or complaining, everyone seemed pretty joyful to change their plans. For many of the ones who went to construction, it was their one day to serve in a way that wasn’t interacting with kids. For those of us that made blocks, it was a day to begin connecting with Louis and Marvin.

Yes, the same Louis that I talked with on Tuesday. Monday was Louis’ first time helping make blocks, he normally helps with taking groups to the schools to play with kids. That change of plans kickstarted my friendship with Louis.

When you allow a change of plans to be an opportunity, you provide space for the Holy Spirit to lead you.

4. Take care of yourself so you can better take care of others.

One of our team members breaking apart rocks.

Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, illnesses began to pop up. By Thursday evening there were only two or three of us that were feeling pretty good. It was a rough stomach sickness that came in waves.

Thursday I was on construction. We were using rocks to build a wall to stop the erosion of a stream before it toppled Carlos’ house (one of the workers at Misión Para Cristo).

We were there to serve and I would have felt terrible if I couldn’t go help. So I got in that unhelpful mindset of ‘rub some dirt on it and move on’ and headed out to help with the wall.

We had run out of rocks nearby to use, so Thursday consisted of driving up the mountain to find more rocks. On the first trip we picked up all the loose rocks we could grab and loaded them on the truck. The next two trips consisted of using a sledge hammer and giant metal bar to break apart large rocks into ones that we could haul onto the truck.

Needless to say, my stomach was not prepared for all of that. I felt virtually useless. I would move two rocks, exhaust all my energy, rest for 10 minutes, and then move two more. At least I was helping some but it wasn’t much.

I was reminded that a level of self-care was needed in order to effectively serve others. We see this throughout the gospel as Jesus would spend the night away from the crowds so he could pray and come back refreshed.

5. Just because people are different doesn’t mean they are different.

Working side by side with Miguel and Ricardo.

Nicaragua is a very different country than the United States; the government it different, the culture is different, the foods are different. Nicaraguans have a different skin color than me and speak a language that I was supposed to have learned in high school but didn’t, it would be easy for me to fell disconnected from them.

But we laughed at the same jokes. We played the same sports. We worked side by side each other on the same projects. One of my favorite quotes from a fellow chaperone was “I could see myself being friends with Ricardo back home.”

So often we see people who look different than us, or that speak a different language, and we classify them as ‘not us.’ They don’t have all of my hobbies, or they don’t do things exactly as I do, so they must not be as good, or cool, or smart, or ________ as me.

Or maybe it’s because they sin different than me. I only lie but he cheated on his wife. I claim the work of my coworkers but at least I don’t get drunk every night like she does.

When we are unhappy with who we are, we find ways to make ourselves feel better about being us. So we find the differences between us and others and we use those to prop ourselves up at the expense of others.

And this is so easy to do as long as we keep the other person at least an arm’s length away. But when we begin to work alongside of someone, when we begin to share are life with them, we begin to see the similarities between us.

We begin to realize that they worry about the some of the same things we do. They have hopes just like us. When we share our lives with others, we stop living as ‘us’ vs ‘them’ and begin being we. It is with that we mentality that God’s children begin to live as a family, and that is a beautiful thing.

My heart fell in love with the people of Nicaragua four years ago and it was such a blessing for God to bring me back. If you want to learn more about the mission we worked with you can click here.

Misión Para Cristo does work in many different fields, and one of those is the education and care of children. Through their program Kingdom Kids, Misión Para Cristo is impacting the lives of hundreds of children. If you feel called to help in making a difference, click here to find out more information about sponsoring a child.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

How to Listen to Music

This week we are taking a break from our emotions series for a how to guide. This how to guide is adapted from a lesson I recently did for an FCA Fields of Faith event. Hope you all enjoy!

It’s a little longer, so if you want to listen to it instead, scroll to the bottom of the page, grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and hit play!

God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim, the I am; there are so many different names and titles for God. Each one displays and highlights a different aspect of who He is. Today, I want to focus on God the Creator, one of my favorite titles for God.

This aspect of God is the beginning of our story, and the beginning of the biblical story. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created…” These words echo through and form our story just as God’s words echoed through nothing and formed the universe.

God is the original creator. Out of nothing He imagined and created the heavens and the earth. He filled the sky with stars and the world with plants and animals.

And then he created us…

But He created us different than everything else. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We too are one of God’s creations, but we were created different. We were created in the image of God, created to mirror and reflect God.

And then He breathed His life into us. The breath of God is within us, it is what gives us life. In the New Testament we are told that His spirit dwells inside of us as well.

Being made in the image of God and having His breath and spirit flow through us means that we also contain the ability and desire to create.

Psalms 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

God’s creation points to Him and glorifies Him. We see pieces of God in all that He has made. Since we are created in His image, and He dwells within us, all that we create should point to Him as well.

If from the beginning we were made in His image, and if our very life flows from His breath within us, then everyone, including those who do not claim to follow God, bears the image of God. Sometimes we do a really good job at reflecting God, sometimes we do an absolutely terrible job. But no matter how well we are reflecting Him to others, we were created in His image. His breath is within us.

Which means that whenever anyone creates, whether or not they are a Christian, they are creating as an image of God. And whether they mean to or not, they put a little bit of Him into their creation.

And tonight, we are going to use music to help us practice how to see God reflected in all of creation. There are clips of songs embedded in this blog for us to discuss.

I haven’t experienced many Christians or churches intentionally teaching how to listen for God in music. Most of my childhood I was told, “just don’t listen to that, do you really want that filth entering your ears?”

Now, there is some truth to that. And especially at a very young age, I was not cognitively capable of separating the good from the bad. So, for a time, it was better for me to not listen to certain songs at all.

But there comes an age when you should be trained how to listen to music.

As Christians, we shouldn’t ignore other people because they curse or drink or are mean. These are the people we should seek out to love. But Paul was right when he wrote that “bad company corrupts good character,” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

The lost and ungodly are included in the people we are called to love and to serve, but we must have a strong Christian community to keep us grounded in the ways of God, to remind us to always reflect His image. We are not called to stay away from ‘bad people,’ we are called to interact with them in intentional ways.

Maybe music is similar. Maybe there are Godly lessons we can learn from artists even when they are not singing about God. Because that part of God inside of them, whether they recognize it or not, is impacting them.

This song is a great one to start with because there are some very direct connections scripture.

In this song AJR talks about the embarrassment he felt from the stupid things he did when he was drunk, he talks about the loneliness and sense of failure he felt when no one showed up to his concerts, he talks about his broken heart when his girlfriend dumped him, he bares the troubles of his heart and soul in this song.

Line after line he shares all the terrible things that happened to him. Yet, in the chorus, he rejoices. He realizes that all the things that happened to him, the good and the bad, make him who he is. 100 bad days makes 100 good stories. These stories are what make him interesting; his past led him to his present and his story is unique and powerful and interesting.

As you are reading through these upcoming scriptures, see if there are any connections to the song that catch your attention.

Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Philippians 4:12-13
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Matthew 6:25-34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Bad days and bad times are going to happen in life. If we focus on just the now, and hold on to all of these problems, they will drag us down and leave us feeling defeated and hopeless. But, if we hand them over to God, and understand that they fit into a larger picture of life and humanity as a whole, then purpose, understanding, or at least acceptance can normally be found.

Matthew tells us not to worry about life. That yes, there are things we need to live, but that we should trust our creator to provide for us. He knelt beside us and breathed life into us, will He not also sustain us? Jeremiah, often known as the suffering prophet, reminds us that even when we can’t see any hope in our future, God has plans for us to prosper; plans for us that should give us hope.

Paul drives this point home when he wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Throughout his life, Paul was imprisoned again and again. He was beaten and shipwrecked. So when he writes about knowing both need and plenty, he was greatly familiar with both. He had 100’s of bad days. But he knew that his hope and strength came from God. That, through God, he can change those 100’s of bad days to 100’s of good stories that would inspire and strengthen billions of people.

I know that this may not be one of Taylor Swift’s most popular songs, and yeah, it’s a little dated now, but it shares a lot about what it means to be a Christian.

Of all of the genres of music, love songs are the easiest for me to see intersect with the image of God found within all of us.

Colossians 1:15-16
“[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

         The love of the Father for the Son compelled him to create for His son. The love that is found within the trinity is so strong that it compelled God to create so that others might know that love too, so that we might know that love.

1 John 4:8 says that “God is love.” We see that God is not just someone who loves, but that love is one of the very centers of God’s personality, God’s identity. Creation flowed out of God wanting to share that part of Himself. More than that, God wanted to instill that same personality of love into His creation, into us.

Our desire to love and be loved comes from us being created in the image of God. In this song, Taylor Swift starts by talking about how her and her boyfriend got in a huge fight, it was so big that she expected him to leave and break up with her. But instead, he stayed. He didn’t just love her through the good and easy times, he loved her through the hard times, the ugly times, the times when she was so mad that she threw stuff at him.

That reminds me a lot of what Paul wrote about love to the Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Whether Taylor Swift meant to or not, she describes the same kind of love that Paul describes. A love that is patient when the other person is mad, a love that is not easily angered when the other person is throwing things, a love that is kind and forgives, a love that never fails, a love that stays.

But sometimes we display the wrong type of love, sometimes a love doesn’t stay.

Love is a serious thing, it binds us to others. Our love is modeled after God’s love, a love that never fails, a love that always stays. When we love others, that love is supposed to be a similar love, a love that never fails. Genesis 2:24 says “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Unfailing love bonds us. But if that unfailing love does fail, it rips apart that love and leaves a nasty wound. In this song Danielle Bradbery, does a wonderful job at expressing the damage that failed love causes. Unfailing love trusts all of its secrets to the one it loves and preserves and protects all the secrets it receives from the one it loves.

In this sense, two people in love become human diaries for each other. They share and protect each other’s secrets. They share the good and the bad without judgment, with only love.

But when that love fails, and one person leaves, all of the secrets and dreams and trust of the other leaves too. The two that have been bonding into one are ripped apart and left with pieces of the other still attached to them.

Love is a beautiful thing. But love done wrong can be devastating.

We’ve gone over a lot of good examples, so are there any bad examples? We’ll, I’m glad you asked. Our fourth song is a perfect bad example.

Before we get into this song, I’ll go ahead and admit that I like Ariana Grande as an artist. Her beats are popin and sometimes, just like her, I feel like a dangerous woman. But, when we take the time to stop bouncing along to the beats, and we actually listen to the lyrics, we see that they speak to the human condition. But is it a condition that we want to model?

We see this song spawning out of the situation that Danielle Bradbery was just singing about, failed love. The song came out just 3 months after her break up. In 7 Rings, Ariana says she’s “been though some bad shit,” and “she’s wearing a ring, but ain’t gon’ be no ‘Mrs.’”

Needless to say, Ariana isn’t in the best headspace, but, who is after a big breakup. In this post-breakup time, we see Ariana turning to her money as comfort. She sings “I’d rather spoil all my friends with my riches, Think retail therapy my new addiction.”

She might be spending a lot of that money on others, spoiling all her friends and stuff, but that isn’t how charity goes. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Giving isn’t meant to be proclaimed in the streets or blasted through car radios. The purpose of giving isn’t to be noticed, it’s to help those in need.

And, as Ariana continues, she jokes about retail therapy becoming an addiction to her. Throughout the song she brags about how much money she has, saying that her receipts are as long as phone numbers.

It reminds me of what Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

When devastation hits us, we grasp tightly to what we think protects us, what we think will never fail us. If we turn to money, we will be disappointed, for money fades. God’s love is what will never fail us. God’s love is what will sustain us, because it is what created us.

We’ve looked at songs that we should model after and one that we shouldn’t model, but what happens when you come across a song that’s a little good and a little bad?

The truth is, most songs will be like that. Most songs will have things that reflect God right next to things that are opposite of God. We see that in this song.

In DNA., Kendrick writes about his life growing up. This song is rough because his life growing up was rough. It talks about cocaine because his dad and uncle sold cocaine. It talks about violence because he used to be violent. It is dirty because he is singing about the dirty places of our society.

He talks about how all that he’s done, all that he grew up with, weighs on who he is. He says “I’ve got dark, I’ve got evil, that rot inside my DNA.” There are parts of who he was and what he was around that eat at him. Terrible things that ruin part of who he is.

He says “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA.” With the poison and pain in his life he talks about still having joy. Paul writes, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Similar to what we talked about in AJR’s song, the bad things in our lives challenge us, but focusing on God, leaning on God, remembering that he created us and will not leave us, allows us to persevere through our sufferings and gives us hope.

What Kendrick also does in this song is open our eyes to places in our society that we might be blind to. Jesus’ ministry was all about reaching out to the needy and broken and sinners. Kendrick talks about “Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption, scholars, fathers dead with kids.” He paints a picture of a rough life with much hatred and violence.

But within all of that, he mentions redemption. He provides hope to those who find themselves in the same situation he was once. He also calls to those of us who do not find ourselves in a similar situation. And that call is to reach out and help. To find the needy and do as Jesus did: love and restore them.

Before this blog post comes to an end, there is one more point that is essential to make.

We talked a lot about how to look for God in music, but He is not just displayed in songs. God can be found in moves and tv shows and paintings, but most of all, He can be seen in other people. One of the most important aspects of learning how to find God in songs is that it trains you to find God in everyone that you interact with.

The homeless person on the street corner, your neighbor that brags about expensive car, your coworker that is always rude to you; somewhere in them is the image of God. Our job as Christians is to love them and help bring out that image of God that they have buried inside themselves.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think! I you have any specific songs you want me to dig into, I would love to listen to them!

Hope

This past Sunday was Easter, a day for us to celebrate Hope. Yet our society seems to be marked by a lack of, or maybe just misdirected, hope. Hope is foundational to what it means to be a Christian, yet many of us fail to spread and inspire hope in the lives of those around us. We hope that we get that promotion, or that our favorite sports team wins this weekend. We hope that we pass a test we never studied for, or that the bully at school finally gets what he deserves.

We water down and taint hope and then try to pass it off as the full product it started as.

Hope is a beautiful and scary mix of desire and anticipation. It derives from our desires and thus exposes who we are and what we want. To discover someone’s hope is to discover a sliver of that person’s core.

Hope is an important part of humanity, we were created to hope and to dream. In fact, a lack of hope is a symptom of depression. When we lose our ability to hope, our will and joy to live begins to break down.

Bad Hope

One of the scary things about hope is that we can use its power to break those around us. Hope is a fuel that keeps people moving forward, but some people replace that fuel with a false hope that can clog and destroy the engine, the person, that it is meant to power.

Whether provided purposely or ignorantly, false hopes can go a long way in ruining lives. Leading someone on when you know what they hope for will never happen trains that person to experience hope with a bitter taste. It trains them to doubt and fear hope. It teaches them that what you hope for will not come true.

Other people learn to hope for the wrong things. They direct their hope towards bringing others down and raising themselves up. Their selfish hopes encourage them to cut down those around them. They turn the blessing of hope into a curse for everyone but themselves.

Others seem to hope in something real for the right reasons, but end up putting their hope in the wrong things. In areas where they should be trusting God by placing their hope in Him, they wind up placing their hope in themselves or other humans. They forget, or ignore, the fact that God is the creator and ruler of all thing. That God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” (Matthew 5:45b). God is the one that provides for all of us, whether we believe someone deserves it or not.

The hope and blessings of God are not for us to choose who receives it, they are for us to spread to all.

Good Hope

Although improperly using hope can cause a lot of harm, the proper use of hope is foundational to our faith.

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

The writer of Hebrews intertwines faith and hope in a way that cannot be separated. You cannot have faith without hope because faith is being confident that what you hope for will come to be.

But what is it we should hope for?

1 Peter 1:3-5
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Peter throws out a lot of information here so lets break it down a little. Our hope comes through the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection is the reason for our hope. This is part of the reason Paul says “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

Without the resurrection of Jesus, we have no hope that God will, or can, resurrect us. “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,'” (1 Corinthians 15:32). If the dead are not raised, then nothing in this life has consequences for you after your death and you should do what you can to make your life better with no regards for anything, or anyone, else. For when you are dead, you’re dead, and that’s it.

But Jesus was raised and this provides the hope that we too will be raised. Our resurrection, or new birth through Jesus, gives us access to an eternal inheritance that will never dull. Thus, we live in a way that shows we believe this hope, our resurrection into God’s eternal inheritance, will be fulfilled. This is a life of faith.

This living hope provides us purpose. We have a goal to live into. We have somewhere to end up. We are not just here, twiddling our thumbs, until we die and are no more. We are here, working with God to build his kingdom, and bringing more people into it.

This hope also provides us a reason to keep moving forward. Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes death and pain and sorrows surround us and threaten to drown us. Sometimes we lose sight of the sun. But, like Paul, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” (Romans 8:18).

When our sufferings seem so great that they dwarf everything else in our lives, they are nothing compared to the glory that we hope to inherit from God, through Christ. This is not a wish that we tossed a penny in a fountain for. This is a hope that we believe in with all our life. For we know one day we find ourselves next to “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life…And the leaves of the tree are for the healing for the healing of the nations…There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever,” (Revelation 22:1b-2a, 2c, 5).

That is a hope I live into. That is a hope that I can, that I want to, spread to everyone I meet.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

Angry Christians

Anger is one of those emotions that terrifies us. It invades us with unique strength and energy, an energy that overwhelms our senses and engulfs our self-control. We end up doing things that we never imagined we could do, saying things we never thought we could utter.

Anger is an emotion of power. Unchecked, it easily transforms into rage. Because of its raw power, and the difficulty of taming it, we hide from anger. We cover it up and do all we can to suppress it.

Today we focus on facing our fears. Today we learn how to stand with anger instead of fleeing from it. Today we stop viewing anger as a rabid mountain lion looking to tear us limb from limb and begin viewing it as a wild horse that we will one day tame and saddle.

Humanity has lost touch with the concept of anger that God created us to feel. It became corrupted during the Fall and we have allowed it to splinter and destroy relationships since then.

Humanity’s Corrupted Anger

Genesis 4:3-5
In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offerings but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Here we see the first account of man’s anger. We are not told exactly what his anger is directed at so it’s hard to tell if it started with any righteousness behind it. If his anger was from the damaged relationship between him and God because of his improper offering, then his anger could have been a righteous anger. If it was at God for not accepting his offering with favor or at Abel for having a more pleasing offering than him, then it was a corrupted anger.

What we do know is that Cain did not respond righteously with his anger.

Genesis 4:8
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Wherever Cain’s anger originated from, he allowed it to turn into spite. Whether it started good or not, Cain did not properly use his anger. His anger burned within him and pushed him into action, but he did not allow his anger to push him into righteous action.

Action is the natural response to anger. Yelling. Clenched fists. Throwing and smashing. Punching and kicking. Murder. Look at humanity’s release of anger and you see how it makes us do things. It makes us act, or react, to whatever sparked that anger.

Anger is a fuel that, once lit, releases vast amounts of energy. It feels like sitting down in a race car and putting your foot through the floor. It’s a rush, and often times it feels so good to release that anger.

We see from the first biblical mention of anger how dangerous it can be. This warning resounds through scripture.

James 1:19-21
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James explicitly points out how man’s corrupted anger does not bring about a life of righteousness. Corrupted anger does not fit into a God-centered life.

Luckily, he is nice enough to continue on and tell us why our anger is corrupted. It’s because of the moral filth and evil that is in the world around us. It is because of the Fall.

The Fall occurred from our decision to live outside of God’s will. The Fall happened because we chose to believe that we were above God and knew better than Him. The Fall was caused by pride and selfishness.

The pride and selfishness that humanity chose to corrupt the world with is the same pride and selfishness that corrupts the emotion of anger.

Cain was angry because of a broken relationship between him and God. Abel chose to maintain his relationship with God by acknowledging that God provides for him and responding with trust and respect which was displayed through the offering of the firstborn of his flock. Offering the firstborn of his flock showed trust in God that He would provide Abel with more than just the firstborn.

Cain did not show the same trust that Abel did. He did not offer his firstfruits. He kept them for himself and offered God the leftovers. That lack of trust broke the relationship between Cain and God. This angered Cain even though his actions of selfishness and lack of trust caused the break.

This anger could have been good. It could have pushed him to change his actions towards God and restore the relationship, but Cain’s pride would not allow him to react this way. Since he could not lash out against God, he lashed out against his brother. Cain was jealous of his brother and his anger caused him to break Abel’s relationships by killing him.

This is why corrupted anger has no place in the kingdom of God, because it pushes us to act in ways that break the relationships God formed us to have.

God’s Righteous Anger

But anger does not have to push us to break relationships; anger does not have to lead to destruction. Anger can push us towards actions of restoration.

John 2:14-16
In the temple courts [Jesus] found men selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

As Christians, I think we tend to want to view Jesus as a peacemaker. We like the image of the lamb that was led to slaughter without fighting back. We like a Jesus that calms storms instead of starting them.

But here we see an angry Jesus; a Jesus so angry that he makes a whip and starts flipping tables. Talk about anger pushing us into action. Here we see Jesus as the lion of the tribe of Judah; we see his ferocity.

How is this a display of righteous anger? He kinda sounds like a madman!

Here we see Jesus becoming angry for the right reasons and responding with righteous actions that lead to restoration.

Jesus’ anger did not derive from pride or selfishness. Jesus’ anger spawned from sadness about the relationships between God and between people that were being broken in that moment.

It Jesus’ time, it wasn’t uncommon for people to sell animals in the temple courts. They sold them to those who needed animals to sacrifice because they had sinned. But the merchants would often sell them for unreasonable prices because they knew people would have to pay. They took advantage of people’s repentance.

This broke Jesus’ heart. An act that was meant to help restore a relationship between God and His children was being used to break relationships between God’s children.

Jesus was angry because relationships were being broken. Jesus was angry because people were being taken advantage of. Jesus was angry at the state of oppression.

So Jesus’ response was to disrupt the oppression. He cleared out those that were responsible for the broken relationships. His anger caused him to stop the breaking of relationships. His anger pushed him to stop sin.

That is the difference between corrupted anger and righteous anger. Corrupted anger pushes us to break relationships. Righteous anger pushes us to restore relationships.

Anger

Taunted by all, he is stripped of his pride
Where was I? I should have been by his side
Bullied by the masses, his hope is cracked
Overcome by anger, I have to act

Bloodied and bruised, he’s curled up in the sand
As his only friend, I reach out my hand
Already broken, he is only ten
From anger I promise, “Never again.”

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!