Carried Away…

Image result for open highway     Source: Google Images

Sin fundamentally, is rooted in a lack of faith in the goodness of God. Therefore, every temptation is an invitation to distrust God.

Been a long time since we’ve talked, but there’s no time like the present right?

Have you ever been driving on the freeway for a while and out of nowhere you found yourself in your driveway? I’m talking about the that “I can’t even recall the last 10 miles” type situation. Or is it just me?

I imagine if you’ve had your driver’s license for any extended period of time, it has happened to you.  Somehow, some way, your mind drifted off into outer space or you were so intently focused on some music, a podcast or even your own thoughts, that your subconscious literally carried you home.  It’s a scary feeling because the one time you NEED to be fully engaged and paying attention to what is happening is while driving a vehicle; especially in California. Yet, we’ve all been there and you can’t ever pinpoint exactly when you fell into a vehicular stupor you just know you did.

This is how James, the brother of Jesus, describes the process of sin coming into fruition in a person’s life (believer or unbeliever).  Most of the time when we sin, we tend to focus on the action itself and even more so, we try to find all types of reasons to shirk responsibility, like: 1) Blaming other people; 2) Blaming life’s circumstances; or 3) Blaming God.  James says, “Nah bro/sis!”, it was your own doing.  In fact here’s exactly what he says:

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away (NASB = ‘carried away’) and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. – James 1:13-15

James intimates (I love this word by the way) that what we really believe about God is revealed in how we respond to temptation/sin.  Ever since the Fall, we humans have become expert blame-shifters, always looking for a way out, but James, pulling no punches, says, “You are to blame!”. Every time we give into temptation it is because we wanted to and have chosen to. Period. And to be clear, when connecting these verses with the previous verses he exonerates God (as if God needed any help) by basically saying, Douglass Moo writes, “God tests, but He never tempts.”  Therefore, the moment we even fix our mouths to blame God, we’ve revealed that our theology (or what we think about God) is deeply flawed.

What helps me in this passage is that James doesn’t just state the obvious end result (which is sin), but he communicates how and why it happens.  In other words, there is a process and that process begins when we allow ourselves to be carried away by our own evil/sinful desires (v.14).  Let the weight of that statement sink in.

Yes, having evil/sinful desires such as lust, greed, pride, are bad and unfortunately a reality we all have to endure until the Day we’re released from the presence of sin when Jesus returns (even so, come Lord Jesus). However, James says, what’s even worse is when we let these desires drag or carry us away so far that it results in the actual commission of sin.

If you notice the order of the passage he doesn’t say we are enticed then carried away, but the other way around. We are carried away and then enticed by our own evil desires.  That means an opportunity to sin presents itself after we’ve allowed our hearts/minds to be carried away.   The imagery is that of hunting/fishing.  You usually catch something after it has drifted off the path or away from the pack. Then you entice it with the bait.   So then, when we take our focus off of following Christ and engaging in healthy fellowship with His Church, our wandering, fickle hearts naturally drift away towards any and everything or to bring it home more closely, “your thing”/”my thing”.  It happens so subtlety and just as it is hard to pinpoint exactly when we drifted off driving, the same applies here.  All we know, according to James, is that it happened and we are the only ones to blame be cause we allowed those desires to simmer until they boiled over into sin. Ouch!

What’s the solution? For James, the answer is simple; trust God. You probably grimaced at that statement. Like how dare me tell you to just simply “trust God” as if it were that easy. I wonder though if our understanding of faith is not all that it should be. We tend to think of faith in terms of passivity, but what if is more of a verb than a noun?  A.W. Tozer defined faith as, “the gaze of the soul upon a saving God” (Ch. 7 – The Pursuit of God). If he is right (and I believe he is), then the way we combat temptation, the way we overcome our innate evil desires and walk in the victory secured by Jesus Christ in His life, death and resurrection, is to constantly fix our eyes on Him, in everything. In our work, in prayer, in the Word, in ministry, in fellowship, in parenting, in marriage, in singleness, in everything! Look to Him (through the Spirit), our all-sufficient, wonderful savior, who reveals to us our good, good Father from whence every good and perfect gift comes; even trials. Trust HIM!

If you’re struggling with sin right (and we all are), identify who/what it is your soul has been gazing upon and quickly now turn your eyes (the eyes of your heart/mind) to Jesus.  Our safety and our victory lies not in the ever-changing seasons, circumstances, desires of life and our hearts, “…but in God’s immutability” (Thomas Manton). He never changes, He never fails and has promised to reward us with what ever we need so long as we diligently seek Him, keep our gaze fixed on Him, rely ultimately on Him (see Hebrews 11:6) and above all don’t get carried away!  When it gets are, ask Him for help.  He stands willing and waiting to supply exactly what we need the moment we need it.  I’m reminded of that old hymn that goes:

Yield not to temptation, for yielding is sin
Each victory will help you or some others to win
Fight manfully onward, dark passions subdue
Look ever to Jesus and He’ll carry you through
Just ask the Savior to help you
To comfort, strengthen and keep you
He is willing to aid you
And He will carry you through
(Horatio Palmer, 1868)
What a good word for all us- “HE will carry us through”.  When we allow ourselves to be carried away by our own evil desires, He loves us more than we love ourselves by carrying us through this life and into the next.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Re-adjusting my focus,

T.

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One Nation, Divided – Part 2…Crooked Sticks and Straight Lines.

divided-states

God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.

You may have heard this statement in a sermon or seen it somewhere online attributed to the likes of Martin Luther or Thomas Watson.  Regardless of its origin (my google research could not pinpoint it sadly), it is both a humbling and hopeful statement. Let’s break down the statement in order to see how powerful a statement it really is.

  1. God  –  the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe.  The Faithful, covenant-keeping, Sovereign, doesn’t need anything or anybody, supremely Holy, incomparably Perfect, Omnipotent, Omniscient, All-Wise deity of the Old and New  Testaments.
  2. Uses – chooses to involve in His plans.
  3. Crooked Sticks – broken, deeply flawed, raggedy, undeserving men and women.
  4. To make straight lines – to accomplish His unchanging, unfailing purposes for the sake of His glory (His renown and fame) and good of His people.

Let that sink in deeply…

This isn’t some pithy, feel-good statement, this notion is found inside and outside of the Bible.   Don’t believe me? Read the Biblical accounts of:

  • Abraham
  • Moses
  • Saul
  • David
  • Cyrus
  • Nebuchadnezzar
  • Isaiah
  • Jonah
  • The Disciples
  • Judas
  • Paul

This is in no way a comprehensive list, but a sample of names to highlight my point.  There has never been a time in history, outside of Jesus, where God did not use woefully broken men and women.  The truth is, “God uses broken people because broken people are all there are.” – T. Tchividjian

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you know most of these guys are legends. You also know that some of these guys directly opposed and often tried to the thwart the plans and purposes of God, yet to no avail. However, in His wise providence, God used these men in one way or another to accomplish the very things they were trying to stop.

The Problem

This election cycle, two crooked sticks ran for President of the United States.   People on both sides were desperately trying to convince the country of two things: 1) Their crooked stick wasn’t that crooked; 2) The other crooked stick was way more crooked than what met the eye.  This election was no different from any other election in the sense that there was no perfect candidate (as if there ever was or ever will be). However, this election was different in the sense that it wasn’t just about two different philosophical political ideologies, this election had an additional element; fear. As Greg Popovich, the rich white (self-described) Head Coach of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs (which I hope the Lakers beat every single time this year) frustratingly stated,

“I’m just sick to my stomach. Not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all of the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic.” (Source: mysanantonio.com)

He went on to say how Donald Trump used fear mongering and race baiting rhetoric from day one trying to delegitimize the presidency of the nation’s first black President, Barack Obama.  I am fully on board with Pop’s comments and where I resonated with him most was regarding his feelings of shock and awe surrounding the loud declaration and silent affirmation of most of the Evangelical Church, especially those brothers and sisters of a lighter hue.  I can’t tell you how many posts I read this election cycle from followers of Christ who blatantly diminished or silently ignored the abominable words and actions of Donald Trump.  Time after time, people pointed to the Bible and abused the notion that “God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines.” Time after time, people celebrated DJT’s business accomplishments while glossing over his moral failures.  Oddly enough, a former college mate and fellow african-american made the claim that, “Our God can do more through a King Cyrus (Trump) than He can with a Jezebel (Clinton). Think about it…” Not only is this bad exegesis, but it is symptomatic of a larger issue within the Church of America.  While God did use Cyrus and while Jezebel was a terrible woman, there is no way anyone can justify parading and celebrating DJT as the Church’s “vote” just as much as Israel should not celebrate Cyrus as a man of God.

Let me go on record (again) and state that this is not a pro-Clinton post. In fact, I chose to write-in another crooked stick due to my lack of trust and disgust with the two main candidates.

The point I want to make is that because God uses crooked sticks, it does not mean every crooked stick is for Him and the Church especially would do well not to pledge their allegiance to the Cyruses of this world regardless of what we “think” they might do.  God uses crooked sticks, but we must never excuse or ignore how crooked the sticks really are.  This election cycle revealed just how far the Evangelical Church (and more specifically the 80% of white evangelicals who willfully chose DJT, celebrated him, and called him God’s answer) would go for the preservation of itself and/or America (those two are used interchangeably these days unfortunately).  Some will argue and say they voted for a platform, not a person.  My retort is that this election was much more than perpetuating a particular political platform.  This election was the Church’s opportunity to choose people over politics and I fully believe this was not the case for almost 60% of Protestants in general and 80% of white evangelicals.

There were other options.  There are always other options.

I know what some may be thinking at this point, well geez Terry, no one would ever be fit for the Office of President following your train of thought.  I keep going back to my statement that this was not a normal election.  The aftermath of riots and violence (perpetuated by both sides no less) proves that.  The Trump era has kicked off with a bang and not in a good way and the Church has to take responsibility for it.  A friend and fellow Pastor eloquently summarized Part 1 of this series by stating this isn’t about guilt, but responsibility.  Thanks, Steve.  The choice was made and now we must grapple with the consequences that are a direct result of that choice.

Why I’m Hopeful

We have no idea what the future holds for this country or any other country for that matter.  I am choosing personally, not to worry or to be afraid according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-34.  I am choosing to hope rather than despair as Paul encourages believers in Romans 8:28-39.  Ultimately, I am hopeful because God has used crooked sticks before,  like the men listed above, and He can certainly use President-elect Donald J. Trump if He chooses.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there was one name left off of the list above purposely and not because it doesn’t belong there; it most certainly does.  God uses crooked sticks to make straight lines and I more than anyone know that to be true because for some odd reason, He still chooses to use me.

Hoping in Christ,

Terry

One Nation, Divided – Part 1…Am I My Brother’s Keeper? (For Pastors and Leaders)

divided-states

DISCLAIMER: I do not speak for all of “Black America” or African-American Pastors.

Tuesday night I decided to go to bed earlier than usual. Mainly because I did not want to stay awake and watch the inevitable happen.  I wanted to escape the reality that Donald Trump, an arguably well-documented racist, misogynist, xenophobe and sexual assaulter was going to be the next President of the United States of America for at least four years.  So I went to sleep and around 2am I was up again and happened to check my phone to see what time it was and staring me in the face were texts from friends who were in total shock.  It turned out that I could not escape it and eventually went back to sleep fully aware that the proverbial poop had hit the fan.

I should probably state at the onset that I was not a supporter in principle or by vote of Mrs. Clinton either and this contrary to many of my brothers and sisters of the same hue.  In fact, I had previously given up on politics for a period but felt this season was the prime opportunity for the nation, for the Church, to do something different.  I felt that with at least one of the candidates, there was no way followers of Jesus Christ would rally around such a person regardless of his political affiliation.  I thought for sure, those who call themselves “evangelicals” would choose people over politics; I was wrong.  Many of us were so wrong.

I woke up the next morning as a Pastor who happens to be black and asked myself what would I tell my multi-ethnic church? What would I tell my friends? How would I encourage people who I knew were just as confused as I was (am).  Beyond that, how would I encourage those who were now suddenly distraught and afraid of what the future might look like for them; for us? Even today there are outbreaks of protests and violent attacks (albeit on both sides) like we’ve never seen after an election.  It is not the typical go back to business as usual week.  Honestly, I knew then and still know the answer is in our great creed: Jesus is Lord. I know that, I believe that and with a high view of the Sovereignty of God (don’t check out on me now), I boldly proclaim that. Yet, in a strange way it (the Creed) felt and feels hollow.

I struggled most of the day with that thought and was trying to figure out what to say. I took to Facebook because, you know, Facebook.  Then it hit me. I understood why the timeless creed felt hollow in this moment.  My Facebook feed was full of men and women of color (not all but the majority and not only just people of color) who seemed like they woke up IN a nightmare.  Conversely,  there was another group (mainly white evangelicals, not all but most) on my feed who in sum, thought that this was one of the greatest victories for America.  I was floored, but then I remembered leaders like Wayne Grudem, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and so many other Pastors and leaders were some of the loudest proponents of Donald Trump’s presidency.  These well-respected men made it okay to overlook blatant flaws in character and a highly questionable track record.  Then, I started reading article after article about the number of white evangelicals (upwards of 80%) who pledged to vote and/or voted for Donald Trump.80%, let that sink in.

At this present moment, the creed feels hollow because I and many other brothers and sisters in Christ who are people of color, feel abandoned and betrayed by our white brothers and sisters who voted for Donald Trump. I know there has always been disparities in both parties when it comes to philosophical and even theological differences and that’s not even the point of this post, but Tuesday’s message from white evangelicals (80% mind you) rang loud and clear: “We choose politics over people.”  There is even a sense of betrayal and abandonment from those who did not vote for Trump due to the lack of shared outrage on behalf of their Christian brothers and sisters.  We may or may not agree on this, but I do hope you hear me when I say that in my mind, indifference towards the results of this election is an exercise in white privilege.  The rhetoric spewed by Donald Trump during his campaign has given minority groups every reason to react the way many have reacted.  The easy thing to do is to dismiss the reactions of people of color and other minority groups due to some of the unhealthy ways people’s emotions are being expressed.  In many ways this dismissive attitude adds to the pain and drives the wedge of separation deeper and wider.  This is not the time for any of us to be spectators, but participants and agents of the Christ’s Kingdom especially among the household of faith.

Hopefully we can all agree that minority groups have been oppressed, marginalized and ignored for years, even at and by the hands of white evangelicals and this Tuesday I thought, many of us thought, the Church would finally get it right and for whatever reason (only the Lord knows – He who ultimately elevates and eliminates kings/kingdoms) Donald Trump is our new President.  I say that resting and trusting that Jesus is still Lord and King of kings.  I also say that fully aware that there is a large contingent of our brothers and sisters who are struggling to reconcile either one or both of those two statements and this Sunday we all have to stand in front of our congregations and declare both of those statements to be true.  Only the Lord knows what the future holds and for the Christian, our hope lies ultimately in a King and a Kingdom to come, but today we must engage the vicissitudes of the present.

Whether or not your church and/or staff is multi-ethnic, chances are someone in your church is related to, knows or is acquainted with someone who is hurting, fearful, disheartened and feeling hopeless at this very moment.  I am encouraging and urging all of you not to stop at the two obvious statements, but to send out a clarion call to mourn with those who are mourning, to minister to those who are hurting, to listen to those who feel they have no voice or feel they are on the verge of the losing their voice. Not in an effort to pacify or “fix” them, but to simply love them in these ways.  Regardless of our stance(s), regardless of our affiliation(s), I am desperately asking all of us to choose people over politics now and every day. Are we are brothers’ keepers? Yes, we are.

Just another Brother in Christ,

Terry

Dear Bathsheba…

04-David-and-Bathsheba

Source: http://oldandnewproject.com

Dear Bathsheba,

I thought I knew your story, until I read your story.  I had heard your story my whole life but I never took the time to fully read and comprehend your story. For that I am sorry.  I am sorry because having finally read your story, I realize that we have treated you unfairly. We have painted a portrait of you that bears no resemblance. We have called you “the adulteress”, “the harlot”, “the seductress”, “immodest” and a host of other erroneous descriptions that do not fit you or tell your story correctly.

I cannot even imagine how you felt the night everything changed.  How were you supposed to know the King was even home when he was supposed to be at war (2 Samuel 11:1)? For the record, I have no reason to believe that you did anything to elicit his attention that night.  You were and are a victim of abuse at the hands of someone you thought you would be able to trust. A man you thought had more respect for himself, his people, even one of his own mighty men Uriah (2 Samuel 23:39), and his God. Who knew that the man after God’s own heart would squeeze God out in order to take advantage of his position and power just to spend a few moments with you? Yet, that is exactly what happened. You were violated, you were raped, then, to cover up his dirt, this same man had your husband killed and was the cause of your baby’s death.

One impulsive, lustful act transformed you from being a law abiding woman (2 Samuel 11:4) into a wounded widow who eventually became another fixture in the King’s long list of wives. You did not deserve that and you do not deserve to be treated like we have done throughout history via Sunday school stories, sermons, works of art, film or any other medium. We owe you a huge apology and I personally want to admit my guilt in having believed (in ignorance) a lie.

Your story is a far too common story and it should not and does not have to be that way. You too bear the image of our Creator and should be regarded just as precious as anyone else. Especially, from those of us who have been given the charge to lead. You are not a second-class citizen of the Universe. You are not collateral and you are not property. You are a woman, created and loved by God for his eternal purpose.

My intent in this letter then is threefold: 1) to apologize for how we have treated you and your story and for allowing David’s “greatness” to overshadow his sinfulness; 2) to affirm your value and your worth as an image bearer of God; and 3) to accentuate the fact that your life did not end that night.

You may feel as if you have nothing else to live for. You may feel that the wound is too deep and the scars to visible. You may feel less than because of what happened to you.  You may question and doubt the goodness of God. Besides, how could a good God allow this to happen to you? You may feel like your life as you know it is over. You may feel like life is not worth living. You may feel like you can never love or be loved again. You may feel like you are alone. You may feel like no one cares about your pain and your hurt. You may feel like there is no justice for Bathsheba. You may feel like it was your fault for taking a bath that night. You may feel that this is all your fault and that you deserved all of it.

I plead with you to not believe the lies and fight through the doubt.  You are not less than, you are a daughter of the Creator of the Universe. You are not alone; we see you and stand with you (I am not the only one who feels this way and acknowledge the others who share my feelings). There is a countless number of people who know your pain (experientially) and feel your pain (compassionately).  It is not your fault, none of it.  I do not know why God allowed it to happen to you, but I can say that God has a way of turning tragedy into triumph.  I say that not to downplay or trivialize your experience, but to offer you hope. Your life didn’t end that night. David did not put the final punctuation mark on your life when he hurt you. He is but a man, but God is one with the pen in his hand and I can assure you that the night you were raped, that was not the end of your sentence.  In fact, this is truly how the sentence of your life reads, “And on that night Bathsheba was raped, but God.”

Who knows what will happen next?  Perhaps you will get the justice you deserve.  Perhaps, you will continue to trust God in and with your time of grief and healing . Perhaps, God will use your story to show others His goodness despite the tragic circumstances they face. Perhaps, God will even use you to usher in a greater a Kingdom; a Kingdom with no end.  I can see it now, “Bathsheba, the great-great-great-great-great…grandmother of the King of Kings!”

Hold on to life, hold on to God. It won’t always be like this.

Sincerely,

Terry

Let Us Pray…

Enter

“Prayer is our Christian duty. It is an expression of submission to God and dependence upon Him. For that matter, prayer is arguably the most objective measurement of our dependence upon God. Think of it this way. The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own.” – H.B. Charles

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone when I say my prayer life needs some work; like a lot.  If I am alone, then well, that sucks.  At any rate, I was driving to my hotel after work (out of town) and I may or may not have come across some Facebook posts while in traffic and something (OK, the Holy Spirit) struck me.  Most of us are guilty of posting and expressing our emotions (for better or for worse) on social media in an effort to release and reach out for the attention of others (for better or for worse), yet there is a far better medium/platform in which to do so. This medium/platform however, isn’t for the masses or seeks the attention of many, it is for an audience of One.  I am talking about prayer. If you’re like me this was an “oh yeah” moment. You see, prayer is that thing most of us turn to as a last resort and even then we do so hesitantly and/or frustratingly.  Rhetorically, what if prayer wasn’t designed as a last resort?  What if instead of releasing and expressing our emotions publicly (on social media mainly), we expressed ourselves to the One who is always present, always listening, always active and never-failing.  When I read through the Psalms, this is what the likes of King David and others did throughout their lives.  Though used in public and private settings, the Psalms often contain prayer language directed toward Yahweh.

Could it be that the ills and frustrations of life weigh us down so much because we choose to talk to everyone else about are problems except God?  Could it be that the reason we experience little to no peace in our circumstances is because we have left out the One who is our Peace?  Could it be that prayer is just not asking God for stuff, but more of an ongoing conversation between a loving Father and an ultra-dependent child?  Could it be that our first response (joyful or mournful) ought to be to fall on our knees in prayer instead of our final response?

I know for many of us that our prayer life isn’t where it could be due to distractions (sinful and not sinful) and we are due for a much needed prayer overhaul.  If you are like me, you probably don’t need to buy or read another book on prayer although books on the subject have proven to be useful.  If you are like me, you don’t need to look up anymore famous quotes on prayer to be inspired.  If you are like me, neglect in prayer is probably due to a neglect of Scripture that teaches and admonishes us to pray.  So don’t take my word for it, here is is what the Bible says (emphasis mine):

  • 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
  • 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. – Romans 12:10-13
  • 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –  Phil 4:6-7
  • 8 Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah. – Psalm 62:8

There are countless other passages on prayer and even entire teachings of Jesus devoted to prayer  like in Matthew 6:5-15 and Luke 11:1-13.  The point is to let life’s circumstances fuel your prayer life and even more than that, allow Scripture to fuel your prayer life.  If you are like me, you just need to pray.  There is really no excuse for any of us and we are the ultimate losers because we miss out on fellowship with God and the peace He promises to give.

So since we live in a world of #(insert)challenge‘s, I challenge all of us to pull away from the enter/send/post button and draw near to The “present help in time of trouble (and victory)”. #LetUsPray

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

– Joseph Scriven

In Christ,

Terry

 

The Gospel and Fitness

"Do you even lift?"

“Do you even lift?”

I’ve been in an Adult Basketball League the last few months and more than ever before I have been confronted with the reality that…wait for it…

I.AM.OUT.OF.SHAPE.

I’ve known it for a while and have thought about doing something about it; seriously.  Well, semi-seriously.  It’s been tough because I know the journey ahead will be long and hard and I’m not looking forward to it; hence my hesitation.  This is my story and my confession.

During the season, I found myself frustrated with myself (that sounds weird) and my level of play more often than not and I definitely attribute it to my poor conditioning.  Something has to give; now.  I need to either retire from the game of basketball or get my act together and get in shape.  I choose the latter; seriously.

So starting some day, I will start using my gym membership instead of donating money every month to the 24 Hour Fitness.  I will put on my big boy shorts, lace up my kicks and get back in shape.  BUT…I won’t let it consume me; at least I pray I don’t…

I’ve noticed over the past few years that there has been a dangerous trend going on with people I know and don’t know and that is the preoccupation and dare I say idolization of FITNESS.  Of course, with the ever-increasing changes and expansion of social media, the problem has been magnified, but it’s still a problem.  I don’t think I can go a day without seeing post after post, picture after picture or advertisement after advertisement about people working out, talking about working out, posting pictures from previous workouts or videos of actual real-time workouts.  Let’s not forget about the plethora of Facebook ads, Groupons, infomercials, DVDs and the like about the subject.  Everywhere I turn I am being flooded with people consumed with working out, consumed with trying to get me to buy a product to go with working out, so much so that it scares me a little to jump back in the game.

Most people might think that I am being dramatic and that I am not serious about my health and/or dedicated to it.  Now don’t get me wrong, as a person who has had high cholesterol the majority of his life, I know the dangers of an unhealthy lifestyle.  I get it.  What I don’t get is the preoccupation with it where it begins to consume the lives of people so much, that it becomes the goal of life:

  • To be healthy and in shape,
  • To feel good and look good,
  • To just lose “a few” more pounds and then satisfaction will kick in,
  • To fit some model or mold that society has crafted as the ideal body type and/or ideal lifestyle.

For a lot of people I know and don’t know, this is their reality.  They are consumed with fitness.  Fitness has become an idol.  Relationships are becoming and/or have become strained because all they want to do is run or hit the weights or talk about running and hitting the weights.   Precious moments with family, friends or co-workers are being squandered because people are choosing to forgo meals and isolate themselves for the sake of “being healthy”.  For many, they have bought into the lie that if you get in shape, you will be satisfied because of the benefits.  For many, they have bought into the lie that being preoccupied with fitness and hanging around others who are like-minded fosters authentic community.  However, the whole idea of fitness is for the most part a self-centered conquest.   For many, this worldly preoccupation with the self and self-preservation has put them in a dangerous position where they have become their own idols consumed with glory for themselves.  Consumed with the idea of being adored by others for their pulchritudinous splendor.  They have become and/or are lovers of self.

What’s crazy is that many people don’t even realize it.  That’s because it happens so subtly.  What starts out as a healthy venture to perhaps enhance one’s quality of life, quickly (if not tempered) becomes the reason for life and the goal of life.  I have seen this happen especially in the Christian community, but this isn’t anything new.   From the beginning of time, humans have taken good things and have made them “god things”.  From the beginning of time, humans have believed the lie that there are things in this world (physical and metaphysical) that can bring ultimate satisfaction.

Friends, let’s not fool ourselves. NOTHING in this world can provide ultimate satisfaction save Jesus Christ! He alone can bring satisfaction to our longing hearts.  He alone can provide a love for us and affection towards us that would make us choose His love over life itself (see Psalm 63:3).  Why?  Because His love for us, God’s love for us, is not based on anything that we do or become.  The love the Father has for us which He demonstrated through the Son is not based on any merit of our own; but on His sovereign choice.  Hallelujah!

Yes, getting in shape and leading a healthy lifestyle can enhance our quality of life, but it can never replace or even measure up to the life that  Jesus came to give us (John 10:10) or the life we have to look forward to (John 17:2).   The world may promise happiness through fitness, but it won’t last.  The world may offer you it’s caricature of what is “sexy” and/or “desirable”, but it will change.

IT.ALWAYS.DOES.

The world may have it’s perks, pleasures and promises, but guaranteed, they will at some point fail.  What will not fail is God’s love for us (Jeremiah 31:3).  What will not fail is God’s Word to us (1 Peter 1:24,25).  What will not fail is the Gospel received by us (1 John 2:24).  Who will not fail is God’s Son with us (Hebrews 13:8).

So let us take these words to heart lest we fall in love with the world and consequently, ourselves:

15 Do not love the world or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

What is God’s will for us in this life? It’s simple; love God and love people.  May we never allow the pursuit of self-satisfaction and self-gratification hinder us from obeying His commands.  May we never feed into and buy into promises that cannot be kept.  May we look to and rely on the promises of the One in whose mouth was found no deceit; Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:9).

25 And this is the promise that He Himself made to us: eternal life. (1 John 2:25)

Next time you hit the gym or the trail, take the Gospel with you and remember:

“Time is filled with swift transition,
Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal,
Hold to God’s unchanging hand.” – Jennie Wilson

Getting back in the game,

Terry

Resolved: A Resolution for the Ages

New Year

Millions of people have already started planning and mapping out how 2014 is going to be different from 2013.  If it hasn’t happened already, people will be making lists and checking them twice to make sure 2014 is their best year yet.  I know you’re probably thinking I’m about to start bashing resolutions; well, I’m not. Go ahead. Make your list. In fact, I will make one myself. There are definitely some areas in my life that I would like to see treated differently  in the coming year.

I do also know that for a lot of people, January 1st is just another day on the calendar and they have nothing to really look forward to, work toward or work at. I honestly think this type of person is in a more dangerous place than those who make resolutions (even if they’re not always kept). I say, this cautiously and with all sincerity, “if you have no one or nothing to live for, you are missing out on life!” You are stuck.

On the contrary, the reality for most of us is that we set resolutions and somewhere in February or March, we get discouraged, fall off the wagon or forget about the resolutions altogether and find ourselves stuck too. I don’t know about you but I’m tired of being stuck; especially when it comes to my relationship with God and the life that I live in Him. I’m ready for change and I want to continue the process God started in me years ago when I first believed; today.

So whether you make yearly resolutions or not, I’m here to invite you and dare I say challenge you (re)prioritize that list or at least have this ONE thing on your list. TO RUN A RACE THAT IS PLEASING TO GOD.

The Call to Endurance

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnare us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. (emphasis mine, Hebrews 12:1-2 HCSB)

The Letter to the Hebrews is a masterpiece and one of the most intriguing books of the Bible. Partially, because no one is sure who wrote it. These five words sum up the letter, “Christ is better; trust Him.”  The first 10.5 chapters of this book talk about how:

  • Christ is better than the angels
  • Christ is better than Moses and the Mosaic Law
  • Christ offers and provides sure rest and salvation for the people of God

Then, in Hebrews 10:19-23, the writer says:

Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (emphasis mine, HCSB)

In other words, in response to who Christ is and what He has accomplished on our behalf, our response is to move toward God and to live for him; by FAITH.  It is by faith that we approach God and live lives that are pleasing to Him. The writer even gives us examples (Hebrews 11) of people who have displayed and lived by faith to which God deemed their lives pleasing.

For the sake of this post, we’ll define faith as the ESV study Bible defines it:

  • A settled assurance or confidence that something in the future – something that is not yet seen but has been promised by God – will actually come to pass because God will bring it about.

Then finally, in Chapter 12 we come to our text and the writer tells us that in light of what pleases God (“faith”, see Hebrews 11:6) and the OT examples given in Chapter 11, we should resolve to live our lives the same way; or as he puts it, we should “run the race set before us.”

I see five things in the opening two verses of Hebrews 12 that give insight into what it takes to “run the race”:

  1. Embrace the fact that IT IS POSSIBLE TO PLEASE GOD WITH OUR LIVES.
  • The “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in v. 1 are there to remind us that ordinary people (just like us) with faults, failures, dreams and hopes were all approved by God not so much because what they did was so great, but because of their faith (see Hebrews 11:2).  Their actions flowed out of hearts that trusted God (albeit not perfectly) and since they were able to live lives worthy of God’s approval, we can do it too; by faith.  No matter how sordid yours and my past is, no matter how much we may have blown it in 2013, we have the opportunity to run on by faith in such a way that would be pleasing to God.  We can start today.

2.  Realize that there is a PATH MARKED OUT FOR EACH OF US.

  • Each of us will receive (have received) different assignments from God and experience different trials and obstacles, but the goal is the same; finish the race.  Let me encourage you by reminding you that there is purpose for your life and God wants to do things uniquely through you for your good and His glory. You are not here by accident.  You are not still here by accident.  Maybe you gotten off course and it feels like you’re out of the  race or maybe you’re stuck at the start line and clueless about what is supposed to happen next.  Maybe these few questions will help stir up something inside of you that will cause you to start running (again):
    • What is it that God has been calling you to?
    • What is it that you have given up on because you didn’t trust God?
    • What is it that you are running away (in a negative sense) from?
  • Don’t go into 2014 with a sideline mentality when God is inviting you to draw near to Himself.  God is inviting you and all of us to a deeper and fuller relationship.  God is wanting to make us Disciples that He is pleased with.  GET (BACK) IN THE RACE!

3.  Do away with ANYTHING that keep you from RUNNING WELL.

  • The writer mentions two things that we have to cast off in order to run well, weight and sin.
  • Weight – burdens, baggage and stuff that is not necessarily sinful but can (and often do) keep us from running towards and for God.  What is it that you have been carrying with you for the last ____ years? Who or what has been holding you back from fully pursuing, trusting and serving God?  If you have ever watched a track meet you would have noticed that runners try to limit themselves to wear/carry only what is necessary during a race.   So it should be with us.  Besides, there are enough natural obstacles and trials that we have to face in this life anyways.
  • Sin that so easily ensnare us – that which is done wrong and/or everything that is offensive to God and in violation of His law.  The picture painted in this phrase is that there are sinful thoughts and patterns that we allow to “skillfully encircle and surround” us to the point that we cannot advance in a positive way.  The phrasing also suggests that we know exactly what these things are and the reason they keep us from advancing is because we refuse to renounce and free ourselves of the very sinful thoughts and patterns that Christ has already set us free from.  So again, the question must be asked; what is it that it is time to get rid of?  This is not a call to sinless perfection but an exhortation to take sin seriously and to continually be yielding to the Spirit of God and at the same time, dying to our flesh.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, “So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh,  for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (emphasis mine, Romans 8:12-13).”  The famous phrase by John Owen comes to mind here: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you!”

4.  Stay COMMITTED.

  • The Greek word used in v.1 is often translated in English to mean “steadfastness”, “patience”, “endurance”, “constancy”, “perseverance”.  According to Thayer’s Lexicon however, when used in the NT, it is the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.  Great runners are great because they train and are dedicated to the sport and the goal.  Even in bad weather or through injuries, great runners keep running.  When things are going well, they run.  When things are unfavorable, they keep running.  Friend, whether 2013 was great or not so great, resolve to keep running.

5.   Give Jesus your UNDIVIDED ATTENTION.

  • As much as we can draw from and take encouragement from the great “cloud of witnesses”, the writer makes it very clear that in order to successfully run the race of life, we must focus intently on Jesus.   The word used here literally means to look away from every other object and focus intently on something else.  In this case, that something is not some thing, but someone; Jesus.  He is the foundation and basis of our faith and our prime example of what it looks like to truly trust the Father and live for Him.  The race He ran, He ran to perfection.  He is the standard, but not only that, He is our source of strength and life (John 4:14, 15:5).  He is our hope (1 Peter 1:3).  He is our confidence (Philippians 3:7-11).  He is our help (Psalm 46:1-3).  He is our salvation (Acts 4:11-12, Rev. 19:1-2).  He is our victory (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).  He has made it possible for us to run a race pleasing to God through His life, death, resurrection and empowering presence (through the Spirit).  He has set us free.  Free to worship/serve.  Free to trust.  Free to live.  FREE TO RUN.

So as 2014 begins there’s only three things left to do: Get on your mark. Get setGO!

Off to the races,

Terry

Ps. Check out the sermon from which this post was derived from:
Let Us Run This Race!

In Everything Give Thanks?

I would consider myself to be a somewhat gifted communicator.  Sometimes I can get going and stay going for an hour without pausing; especially when I know what I’m talking about.  Often times, when I get in the zone, I drop truth bombs and wisdom grenades that even catch me off guard.  Then, smack dab in the middle of talking I say something that is either in direct contradiction to everything that preceded the statement, a lie or something that sounds great but holds no value.

Sometimes when I read certain passages of Scripture I can’t help but wonder, did the authors suffer from the same condition that I do? Here’s an example of what I’m talking about…

In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Church at Thessalonica, he penned these words:

12 Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we exhort you, brothers: warn those who are irresponsible, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.

16 Rejoice always! 17 Pray constantly. 18 Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Don’t stifle the Spirit. 20 Don’t despise prophecies, 21 but test all things. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil. (1 Th. 5:-22, HCSB)

Did you catch it?  Read it again; slowly.

Two statements in this passage recently stood out to me.  I mean, I’ve read the words before, but the other day as I was reflecting on this season of “Thanksgiving”, the phrases:

16) Rejoice always!

and

18) Give thanks in everything…

stood out to me like sore thumbs as if the verses had been misplaced.    Immediately questions began to formulate in my mind concerning the two verses.   Rejoice, ALWAYS? Give thanks, in EVERYTHING?

Did Paul really mean to write those words? Or was he just in the zone? Is it even possible to respond the way he exhorts his readers to?

I’m sure if you’re reading this, you and I could both create a long list of things and situations that  would not naturally cause one to rejoice and/or give thanks.  So was Paul being serious?  Should this be our response to life (not just Thanksgiving season)?

Yes; the answer is yes!!!

How do I know this?  Well, if you pluck these verses out from the larger context of the chapter they would definitely seem unreasonable, but if you read the verses in light of entire chapter (dare I say the entire letter and Scripture in general) it makes perfect sense.

Here’s why…

Paul exhorts his readers (and us) to rejoice always and give thanks in everything for two reasons;

1) Christ is coming (5:2) – Yes, the King of Glory is sure to return and in light of this truth we can rejoice because for those of us who are in Christ, we know that in Him we are eternally secure.    There’s hope in the fact that there is life beyond this life and are life is in Him.  He is our life, He is our hope.   There is life beyond our present circumstances, beyond our failures, beyond our crushed dreams, beyond our pain, beyond our persecution.

“And this is the promise that He himself made to us: eternal life.” (1 John 2:25, HCSB)

This life is not the end. Cancer is not the end.  Divorce is not the end.  Homelessness is not the end.  Why?  Because Christ promises us life; eternal.  Therefore, even in unfavorable, uncomfortable, inconvenient situations and circumstances we can choose to rejoice.  We can pursue joy.  Always.

Another definition for the Greek word used here “to rejoice” means, to be well and/or thrive.   Friends, we can be well and thrive in any situation because we know  to Whom we belong and we know that He is in control.  He is active.  He is with us.  He is coming.  The King is coming.

2) God is working (5:23-24) – Paul concludes the letter with a prayerful declaration that looks toward God’s completed work in our lives.  He prays and declares that the work started at the moment of regeneration would be brought to completion by the Faithful One who began it.  If you are a Christian, you can rest assured that God is working, transforming, purifying, making you fit for service to Him and for Him.   He is doing the work.  He is using our circumstances as tools to shape us and mold us and conform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).  Every trial and every test, every victory and every failure, every hurt and every moment of delight can be used by God for our good and for His glory.  Why? Because He is good. He is faithful.  He is in control.  He is God.

Let us therefore this season and every day of our lives,

Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs.
Acknowledge that Yahweh is God.
He made us, and we are His[a]
His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving
and His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For Yahweh is good, and His love is eternal;
His faithfulness endures through all generations. (Psalm 100, HCSB)

Thankfully rejoicing,

Terry