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!

Love and Hate

Ecclesiastes 3:8
A time to love and a time to hate.

I grew up in a world that had pretty definite feelings about love and hate. Although I was never explicitly taught this, everything I had learned, seen, and heard pushed me to the idea that love is always good and that hate is always bad.

God is the ultimate good, He is perfect, He is who we are striving to imitate. 1 John 4:8 says “Whoever does not love God does not know God, because God is love.” If God is Love, and God is always good, then Love must always be good. Right?

And on the other side of the coin is hate. 1 John 3:15 says “anyone who hates his brother is a murderer,” and we know from the 10 commandments that murder is bad. So this means hate must be bad.

The idea that love is good and hate is bad was further reinforced by how I was taught to treat others, and what words I was allowed to use growing up. Hate was almost a curse word. My favorite line was “Now, don’t say hate, hate is such a strong word. Just say you strongly dislike it.” Don’t get me wrong, hate is a strong word, but maybe it isn’t always a bad word.

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

Proverbs 6:16-19
There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart the devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up conflict among brothers.

It was verses like these that began to breakdown my love-over-hate theology. If love is always good then all types of love should be good. If hate is always bad then God shouldn’t hate things. But the verses above show us that this isn’t the case. Love can be bad and hate can be good.

Hate

One of the reasons it is easy for us to view hate as bad is because hate is a destructive force. It breaks down everything around it. Normally, when we experience hate in our lives it is breaking the social relationships around us. We label it racism and sexism. We watch it tear families, governments, and nations apart. It ruins friendships and marriages. It’s like a rabid wolf that goes straight for the throat.

Please don’t believe that I speak from a place of ignorance. I have broken relationships with my hatred and I have been broken by the hatred of others. Although maybe not as deeply as some, I have seen the wake of destruction that hate can leave. And because of this I clung to the teaching of my youth, that hatred should be avoided at all cost.

But trying to remove hatred from my life left me confused and empty in some places. I came across situations where hatred seemed the only response and anything short of hate felt wrong. So I was forced to look for a way to redeem hate. The journey began with the understanding that there are some things that are never ok to hate.

Matthew 22:37-40
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus makes it very clear that love must always be felt in relation to God. Hate has no place in our relationship with Him. God is the creator of all things. He created us and gave us life. He never stops pouring out His love to us. Our response to Him should be love. We do not want to use the destructive nature of hate against God because we want to continue to build up our relationship with Him.

Jesus also makes it very clear that love must always be felt in direct relation to our fellow humans. As humans, we have been created in the image of God; part of who we are mirrors the divine. Thus, to hate a fellow human being is to hate that part of God.

Hating God and hating people is bad because it destroys the beautiful relationships that God created us to experience. But what if there were bad relationships that need to be broken?

Psalms 45:7a
You [God] love righteousness and hate wickedness

Proverbs 13:5a
The righteous hate what is false

Jude 1:22-23
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

There are things in this world that hinder the Kingdom of God. There are governments and corporations that take advantage of the poor and plunge the weak into oppression. There are feelings of racism and sexism that manifest into abusive systems. There are feelings of indifference towards those that lack food and shelter.

Things like these oppose God and fight against His Kingdom. They separate us from God and they separate us from each other. It is these things that we should hate. These ideologies and systems that create oppression and injustices need to be torn down so that the Kingdom of God can flow in.

Anything less than a hatred for this corruption will be ineffective. The purpose of hate is to inspire and motivate us to remove and fix what is wrong in the world. The proper display of righteous hatred will break down barriers that stop people from experiencing God.

Love

If hate is a destructive force, then love is a creative force. That is one of the most powerful things about love – it builds.

Colossians 1:15-16
The Son 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.

Look again at those last few words. “All things have been created through him and for him.” The Father’s overflowing love for the Son was the basis of creation. We were created out of love. Love brings forth, inspires, and motives the act of creation.

The most common human creation that love inspires is relationships. Love is what builds the relationships between us and God and between us and other people. It helps rebuild the relationships that were broken by sin and improper hatred.

Our love for God inspires our love for other people. Our love for other people inspires us to create systems that allow people to flourish.

A doctor’s love for people inspires him to heal them. A lawyer’s love for people inspires him to fight for their justice. A police officer’s love of people inspires him to protect them. Loving God and loving other people is what inspires us to create a world that takes care of everyone.

But loving the wrong things builds the wrong type of relationships. Let us revisit our verse from above.

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.

The love of money creates hospital systems where the poor cannot receive the help they need. The love of money creates lawyers who protect companies who have taken advantage of people. The love of money creates police officers who look the other way. When we love parts of creation more than we love God, or even more than we love other people, we begin to build the wrong types of relationships.

The key to understanding how to love and how to hate is to place them in perspective of the Kingdom of God. If creating or destroying leads to justice and order and other things of God, it is good. If creating or destroying leads to injustice and disorder and things that oppose God, it is bad. When we love and hate the right things, we are living in a way that brings forth the Kingdom of God.

Hate

Waves of hatred crash against my soul
Waves of hatred crash against my heart

Advantage is taken of the oppressed
Advantage is taken of the needy
The sick are preyed upon
The poor are stomped upon

Against these things my hatred rages
Against these things my hatred battles

Love

Little boy in a sandbox
As innocent as can be

Little boy in a sandbox
You have no evil to flee

Little boy in a sandbox
Experienced love from all

Little boy in a sandbox
Built castles with walls so tall

Little boy in a sandbox
Creating a world of peace

Little boy in a sandbox
Shows love that will never cease

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

An Emotional Journey

Happy 2019 everyone! 2018 was a big year for me. I graduated, started two new jobs, got engaged, and officiated my brother’s wedding. Those were all wonderful moments, but 2018 had plenty of lows. Each one of those highs was accompanied with its fair share of stress. And I expect nothing different in 2019. There will be countless highs, each with an accompanying low. Some things seem predictable like that.

One of the things I value most from 2018 was my growth as a person. I can’t claim any of the credit, that is saved for God, Laurel, family, and friends, I just get to reap the rewards, after enduring all the growing pains. I’m looking forward to all the growing I have to do this year. And for the next few weeks, I want to help jump-start your self-growth for the year!

Improving self-understanding is an important part of life. It helps us interact with others, understand why we act the way we act, and control our reactions. As a former psychology major, I am pro-self-discovery and pro-emotions. Over the next few blog posts, I want us to explore the idea of emotions.

Matthew 22:34-40
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

These next few blog posts will focus on the second greatest commandment: loving your neighbor as yourself. This idea of loving your neighbor is deeply rooted in theology. It is the second of the three relationships that I have mentioned in past blog posts: the social relationship.

God created Adam and Eve in harmony with one another. They were naked before each other but felt no shame. They accepted each other for who the other was. They also accepted themselves for who they were. And because of that, no shame needed to exist.

During the Fall, this harmony between Adam and Eve was broken. The acceptance they felt between each other, and for themselves, was broken. They felt shame, and they wanted to hide themselves.

We still hide ourselves from those around us because we are afraid to be seen, to be known, by others. We are afraid that they won’t accept us for who we are. So we hide behind masks. We paint facades around who we truly are so that we can have a buffer between those we interact with and who we really are.

This facade protects us. It allows us to be whoever we need to be in whatever situation we find ourselves in. If they don’t like our projection of ourselves, then we just paint a new one. Generally speaking, we have learned to change ourselves to fit into our environments. Sometimes we become so good at this that we begin to forget who we really are behind all that paint.

All of this is done in order to avoid feeling pain and sadness and rejection, these emotions that we label as bad. When our facades begin to fail, and people begin to see ‘the real us,’ it can be hard for them to accept it because we don’t accept it ourselves, we might not even remember who it is. We’ve spent all this time hiding who we are because we don’t believe we’re good enough, because, when you boil it down, we don’t love ourselves. And when those ‘bad’ emotions begin to surface, we try to bury them with distractions such as drugs, alcohol, social media, and sex.

The focus of these upcoming posts will be on the last two words of the second greatest commandment: as yourself. The facades we paint over ourselves make it harder to love ourselves. The more we hide from others, the more we hide from ourselves. When you don’t love yourself, it taints how you love those around you.

My goal over the next few weeks is to help start the reversal of all of this. Now, this is a big mess to clean up, so I’m going to begin by focusing on one specific aspect: the emotions. We don’t just paint facades over ourselves, we paint them over our emotions too. Whether they’re emotions we don’t want to face or that we are feeling towards ourselves and we don’t like or that we are feeling towards others and we think we shouldn’t, we hide or run away from these ‘bad’ emotions.

These are the emotions that we are afraid to feel, the emotions that compel us to pretend to be someone else. We are going to learn how to embrace them, how to properly feel them as children of God. As we learn how to feel these emotions, we will learn how to properly express these emotions. We will learn how to express them in ways that restore social relationships (within ourselves and with others) and brings about the Kingdom of God.

We like to group our emotions into categories. The two most common categories are good and bad. We like to think that love and happiness and hope are good while hate and sadness and anxiety are bad. This is easy and clean on paper but confusing and messy in real life. What if this categorization is wrong? What if emotions are neither good nor bad?

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4, 8-11a
There is a time for everything
and a season for every activity under heaven.
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance
. . .
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time.

The writer of Ecclesiastes, the Teacher, plays with the idea of emotions not fitting every circumstance. “A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Here, the Teacher is making a case that sometimes we’re sad, sometimes life’s hard and it gets us down, and maybe that’s ok. Other times life is rockin, everything is going our way and we deserve some celebration, and that’s ok. He continues to the emotions of love and hate. Sometimes it’s a time to show love and that’s good. Sometimes it’s a time to show hate and that’s good too.

God, the creator of all things in the heavens and on earth, created us with the ability to feel every emotion known to humanity. Then He looked at us and saw that we were very good. Not that we are good except when we feel this certain emotion. Or that we are good as long as we’re not feeling that certain emotion. God created us to feel everything and that is very good.

But the Teacher in Ecclesiastes hits it right on the nose. It is not good to feel every emotion all the time. And there are sometimes when it’s bad to feel certain emotions. God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Over the next few weeks, we’ll talk about what this looks like in our lives. How do we feel emotions in their proper time so that they are beautiful? When is the wrong time to feel the emotions that we generally think of as ‘good’?

One major theme that you will see through the next few weeks is that the emotions and the responses to those emotions are equally important. God created all emotions with the potential to be good or bad, very similar to how all humans have been created with the potential to be good or bad. How we chose to display those emotions, and when we choose to embrace them, are what defines them as good and bad.

Our first emotions next post will be love and hate. I’m excited to begin this journey with you! Please comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!

Is Santa the New God?

Happy Holidays everyone! I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas! With it being Christmas time, it’s only natural that we have a Christmas post.

Today I want to talk to you about the jolly old man who delivered all your presents a few nights ago. The one that goes “Ho Ho Ho” and has reindeers to fly him around.

I think it is easy to agree that Santa is a wonderful character. His whole existence is to bring gifts to all of the girls and boys around the whole world. His whole existence is to give. His whole existence is to provide for others. Santa is probably the most selfless idol that our culture has.

His job is to judge between good and bad. He makes a list of everyone who is naughty and of everyone who is nice, checking it twice…you know how the story goes.

A whole existence dedicated to giving and judging between what’s right and wrong; does that sound like someone else to you? Is Santa our new god? Do we wish to Santa for good things to happen in our lives? Do we threaten our kids with disappointing Santa in order to keep them good?

As adults, we probably don’t think we’ve made Santa into a god. We know how the stockings get filled every year. We don’t have a shrine to Santa, well, unless you’re counting our station of milk and cookies…but that’s tradition.

Ok, maybe it sounds a little like we’ve idolized Santa, but this isn’t a golden calf scenario. Besides all the songs we sing about him, we don’t worship Santa. We certainly don’t love him more than God, even if we can’t say the same for our kids.

The Christmas season is all about giving. It’s a time for us to look back on all that God has given us and reflect the Spirit of giving to others. It’s a time for us to remember that God gave us the gift of communion with Him, our creator, when He was born as Jesus. It’s a time to remember that He has invited us to eat at His table. Instead of reflecting on this and focusing all of our energy on thanking Him and communing with Him, we pour energy into Santa and Christmas trees and cute decorations of snowmen and reindeers.

But I’m not very concerned about all of that. In order to make the holiday more accessible to the world, we have let the world change the holiday. And I think that’s ok. It’s not ideal but it means that O Holy Night gets sung between Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Santa Baby, which is better than it not being sung at all. The Spirit of giving finds His way into the hearts of more people, even if they don’t recognize that it’s the Holy Spirit. People become more mindful of others and that is part of the foundation of the Good News.

What concerns me is that we have allowed Santa to shape our understanding of God.

Santa is a lap that we sit in and wish for all the things that we want; a cool new toy, the newest and sleekest phone. We tell him everything our minds might dream of. And if we do enough good things to outweigh all of the bad things we did, then we get whatever it was we wished for.

We sometimes view God this way. If I do enough good deeds to outweigh the bad, then I get whatever I wish for; a newer car, a bigger house, a thicker wallet. God becomes a lap that we sit on and wish for whatever our heart desires. Then we believe that if we are good enough, God will give us everything we want. And if He doesn’t, we get mad at Him for not keeping His side of the bargain, a bargain that we made without Him.

I remember some of the prayers I said when I was in middle school. “Dear God, I know I didn’t study for this test, but please let me get an A. In your son’s name, amen.” If I had done enough good things, then that’s how Santa works, but that’s not how God works. To reduce God to a request box is to misunderstand our relationship with God.

Yes God wants to see us blessed and joyous, but His goal for us is not an immediate blessing and joy, it is an eternal blessing an joy. God understands what we need on an eternal scale.

James 5:16b
The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

When we ask for things that align with God’s will He generously gives. When we ask for things that do not align with God’s will He generously withholds.

Culture is a powerful force. It dictates many things in our lives. We must be careful not to let culture change our view on God, but instead let our view on God change culture.

A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Laurel and I to you!

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