Your Life Matters

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A Time to Mourn.

I don’t often cry on my way to work. Normally it’s just a dull drive in, weaving between the slow drivers while trying not to get rear-ended by the fast ones. But this past week, I found myself sitting in traffic with a tear on my cheek.

I was listening to a panel discussion at the Village Church. Pastor Matt Chandler was interviewing four African-American believers about how they reacted to the shootings in Minnesota, Baton Rouge, and frankly every state in America at this point. As they shared how they felt,  I found myself weeping with their pain.

I guess I was fulfilling Romans 12:15:

Weep with those who weep.

In our world, this means we must weep with African-Americans AND with law enforcement officers.

In our world, this means we must be weeping a lot. Almost unceasingly.

Yet, it’s so easy to get callous toward these events. They’re happening so often, and the rapid fire of shooting tragedies has caused my heart to grow hard.

To move on so quickly. To not really care about those who are hurting. To maybe tweet, “Thoughts for Minnesota” or “Prayers for Dallas.” But most of the time, it means to forget to even pray…

A Time to Do.

I don’t want to be unmoved by death any longer. Death is the most gruesome creature to roam this earth. We cannot quench its appetite nor stop its reach. It stalks unchallenged across our country.

But I want to challenge it. Because my Savior has already challenged and defeated it! And together, His army, the church, can march against these tragedies with the power of His love and grace.

It’s time we stood up. It’s time we did something.

There is a part for Christians to play in tragedies such as these. That part is not to be the loudest screamer on social media calling for one side or the other. It’s not even really to take to the streets.

A Time to Feel.

Let’s face it – we don’t understand what our African-American brothers and sisters are going through. Why wouldn’t they have distrust toward authorities when their grandparents tell them stories of being beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during a peaceful rally! They walk into church to find that they are the only African-American – due to years of supposed “Christians” segregating them out. We can never understand what these people feel when they read of another shooting of an innocent African-American.

My brothers, I do not understand how all this must feel to you. But I want to learn…

Let’s also face this – we don’t understand what our law-enforcement brothers and sisters are going through. After listening to that panel, I listened to another sermon from the Village Church on law enforcement. Again, it made me want to weep. I had no idea what it was like for a police officer to be the first one on the scene of every grisly murder, every rape, and every gut-wrenching tragedy my town has ever faced. And then to have to go home to dinner with his family after seeing such death? We can never understand what these people feel when they read of another shooting of an innocent police officer.

My brothers, I do not understand how all this must feel to you. But I want to learn…

I want to feel – both for the African-American and the police officer. I want to hug them. I want to cry with them. I want to pray with them. I want to be used by God to bring some small measure of healing to their lives.

I’m sorry for being so hard-hearted. For criticizing one or both groups unjustly. I want to learn from you both. I love you.

Your life matters, African-American. Your life matters, police officer. Individually. Christ died for you. You were once far off – as was I. But now we have been brought near by the blood of Christ!

And guess what? The wall that once stood in between us has been broken down! And now, in the body of Christ, I can relate to you. I can feel your pain.

So above all, I think these times are a time to remind ourselves of Ephesians 2:14:

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…

-M@

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#NeverUnity

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I’ve been trying of late not to post about politics – even though I’m a political junkie and the son of a political junkie (it’s really an addiction. I need help).

I’ve just been convicted about all the hate and vitriol I’ve been spitting out about candidates and people groups. It’s really not befitting of the loving Savior I claim to represent.

The Lord, through His patient Spirit and life-altering Word, has been changing my political perspective. And I just want to share what He’s been doing in my life. I don’t want this to come across as controversial or looking for debate. In fact, PLEASE don’t start a comments war over this. I’m specifically writing against such things.

I’m also going to try not to wade into my own opinions – although, as a sinner, I can’t be completely unbiased. I’m an opinionated person. In fact, my fiance gets onto me for being so critical – and she’s right (Did you read that, Carissa?). So in the spirit of truth, I just want to lay out a reminder – first to myself and then to all Christians – of what we must keep in mind in the midst of this crazy presidential election.

Sick of hearing blown-out-of-proportion perspectives? Sick of reading Christians reviling each other on social media? Sick of so much #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary that you think all Christians have become #NeverUnity? Here’s a helpful and refreshing dose of biblical truth to calm our weary souls.

1. All Christians MUST vote their conscience.

Wow. I can’t believe I just agreed with Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz – both of whom were some of my least favorite politicians at the beginning of this cycle. Now, I understand some people’s angst over this statement since it seems to encourage not voting for the Republican nominee. They raise good points. But in our quest for partisan unity, we cannot afford to deny biblical truth.

As Governor Mike Pence (a great guy, really) pointed out, “I’m a Christian. I’m a conservative. And I’m a Republican. In that order.” We’d be wise to follow that standard.

And as Christians, we must firmly believe in Romans 14 – an oft-neglected passage but one that speaks directly into this political firestorm. I encourage you to study this complicated passage (as well as parallel passages in 1 Corinthians 8). Don’t argue over who is the weaker and stronger brother – that misses the point. See Paul’s main argument: “We cannot cause our brothers to stumble.” What he means by that is not to cause our Christian brothers to sin against their consciences.

Our consciences can be wrong. They need education – as some in Corinth needed about meat offered to idols. But it’s not our job to yell at “weak” brothers and change their minds. Especially not on social media.

I don’t know what your conscience is telling you in this election. If voting for Hillary Clinton would go against your conscience because of her liberal policies, don’t vote for her. However, if voting for Donald Trump would go against your conscience because of many of his statements, then don’t vote for him. To vote for him when your conscience says no would be to sin. However, if NOT voting for Trump would be a sin against your conscience because it would help promote a liberal to the White House, then by all means vote for him.

Whatever you do, and however you vote, DON’T VOTE AGAINST YOUR CONSCIENCE. To do so would be to sin, even if your conscience is wrong. And at the same time, don’t encourage a fellow believer to vote against their conscience.

Some things are more important than an election.

For a better analysis of this passage and issue, see Andy Naselli’s brilliant article.

2. All Christians must refuse to hate people.

The whole “Love trumps hate” thing has been hijacked by the liberals (particularly as a slogan for Clinton) to be used to promote a “do-what-you-want” lifestyle that is pointedly anti-Bible. But the fact remains: the New Testament calls us to love more than anything else! And it’s at the core of our salvation – God loves all sinners.

In the midst of the craziness, let me state a fact: God loves the world (John 3:16).

Therefore, God loves Hillary Clinton. God also loves Donald Trump.

Jesus died for them both – and all their supporters, even the racist and abortion-loving ones. God wants to save them.

Therefore, things like chanting “Lock her up!” or “Hillary for prison” do not strike me as things Jesus would say. Similarly, calling Trump an “idiot” or even taunting his wife with cruel comments are things that are clearly anti-Christian. And I’ve been guilty of saying these sorts of things of both candidates! In fact, I even wrote a blog article a couple months ago apologizing for the choice words I’ve had against Trump. Unfortunately, since then, I have again gone back and committed sin by saying many more rude things.

Once again, Mr. Trump, I apologize. I pray God protects you, your wife, and children. I apologize to you as well, Secretary Clinton. I hope you and your family are spared from any attacks and that your new grandchildren can grow up in safety. May Christ draw both of you to Himself. I strive to pray for you both (hopefully not imprecatory prayers!).

Titus 3 is another good passage to read before Election Day. Verses 1-2 always convict me:

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

3. All Christians will not agree on who to vote for.

And that’s okay! The beauty of the church (as I wrote on my other blog) is that there can be differences in opinion and still unity. So that when the world looks at the church, they see amnesty supporters and Trump supporters working together to win souls. They see people not voting at all, people voting third party, and people voting for the Republican all worshiping the same God. IN UNITY.

We’ve got to admit – there are good Christians on every side of this presidential election. I even know good Christians voting for Hillary! A good friend of mine for whom I have the greatest respect could not vote for Romney in 2012 because he was a Mormon – and he voted for Obama! I don’t agree with him, but that’s okay. We don’t all have to agree to be united.

If we are all called to vote according to our conscience, we WILL be voting differently. No matter what we do, let’s keep in mind Romans 14:19:

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

4. All Christians should refrain from heated debates, particularly on social media.

If good Christians can disagree, if we are called not to hate people, if we are called to vote our conscience, then getting into a comments war with a fellow believer – for all the unsaved world to see – doesn’t strike me as wise or edifying.

In fact, I’d like to give you a challenge that I plan to do from now till Election Day:

DON’T POST ABOUT THE ELECTION AT ALL.

Is that so hard? Is it really worth posting your #NeverTrump view if you know good and well it will only lead to arguments with people in your church? Is it really worth posting something about the foolishness of third-party-voting when you know your brother in Christ is going to do that?

I’m trying to take a fast from posting about the presidential race – hopefully until November. Now, I’ve retweeted some things. I’ve liked some things. But I’m trying not to make my position abundantly clear. I don’t want people to look at me differently because I’m voting a certain way. I want to be able to shake the hand of my Christian friends at church and not have to think, “Oh, he’s not voting how I am.” It’d be better to just not know at all.

And social media is never really a good place to debate anyway. If you want to have a peaceful discussion, recognizing that good Christians can differ, do so in person or at least over private message.

Maybe it’s time for us to delete some posts. I know I had to go back through my Twitter and delete a bunch. I finally gave up when I realized I’d have to delete my entire feed (so please don’t go back and read my tweets from awhile ago).

If Paul said he wouldn’t eat meat because it might cause his brother to stumble (1 Cor. 8:13, Rom. 14:21), then I’m not going to post about an issue if all it’s going to do is stir up disunity in the body of Christ. In fact, I plan to recant from an earlier position and not put out any endorsement at all this election cycle – at least on public social media. I’d recommend the same for all Christians. I think you can vote for Trump or not and have a clear conscience. But maybe it’d be best for our unity and for our Christian witness if we didn’t tell everyone one way or another.

Some things are best left unsaid.

(NOTE: I do plan to share my views on my political podcast. However, unlike previous episodes, I’m going to strive to do it in a more loving and balanced way.)

I think another passage is good to read this election cycle – er, actually a whole book! 1 Peter was written to Christians living in a turbulent time – worse than even what we’re facing! And Peter, throughout the letter, encouraged the Christians to be careful how they act before a watching (and oftentimes hateful) world.

So I’d like to end with God’s words, not mine. Words we should read over and over until November. 1 Peter 2:12-17:

 “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

#MakeChristiansUnifiedAgain #ImwithChrist

-M@

God’s To-Do List

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“I’m just one hundred and one, five months and a day.”
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Lewis Caroll was probably crazy (all good people are), but this quote here is gold. I wouldn’t recommend basing your life around the White Queen’s advice, but here I think she spouts some rare wisdom.

“Six impossible things before breakfast.”

That could be a good habit for Christians to develop as well. Perhaps every Christian’s morning should begin like this: Bible + coffee (unless you’re carnal) + prayer + six impossible things.

I don’t mean mindless recitation of impossible things – like that ever did anyone any good. The motivational coach, disguised as a prosperity preacher, might tell you to “declare it so.” St. Joel instructs us to say every morning, “This is going to be a great day. I’m excited about my future. Something good is going to happen to me.” And poof! It’ll be so!

What God has been working on me lately is to insert the impossible into my prayers. Not impossible things that only serve my interests. For instance, instantly losing twenty pounds and being super buff is impossible – but God isn’t going to grant that to me (but if He wants to, He’s more than welcome to!). That’s like asking for time to reverse so you have more time to study for your exam. Can God do it? Yeah. Will He? No. Sorry not sorry.

I’m talking about asking for impossible things that you believe would bring God glory. Things that He’s already promised in His Word – and yet seem impossible by human standards.

For instance, let me give you my list:

  1. For my church to experience growth, unity, and financial soundness even though we don’t have a pastor. (Impossible according to anyone familiar with what happens when a pastor leaves.)
  2. For me to have total victory over an indwelling sin. (I’ve tried and tried and failed and failed.)
  3. For me to be totally selfless in my conversations and conduct around people. (My friends know just how impossible this is!)
  4. For God to save the souls of my Muslim friends.
  5. For me to be bold in sharing the Gospel with all those I meet. (It’s just not in my blood to do it – mostly because my blood flows with depravity. And I’m a coward…)
  6. For God to awaken and save the Junior Highers so they ALL become passionate about serving Him and hating sin.

Six impossible things. There is no way any one of those things could ever happen if it were left up to me.

I can barely screw the lid of my water bottle on right – much less save someone’s soul. I can barely resist the urge to eat a whole pizza every time I see one – much less deny the fleshly impulses rooted in my depraved DNA and in many years of failure. I can’t even remember people’s names – much less transform them into the image of Christ!

I can’t. But God can.

He can do all six of those things. And I believe He will! Maybe not as I want it. Maybe not as fast as I desire. But He will work in lives. He will change me. He will not be stopped. Nothing is impossible to Him.

I have a task management app that keeps my head screwed on straight. I have various lists for various roles and projects. But my favorite list is the one I labeled, “God’s To-Do List.”

I thought that since I have so many to-dos, I better give God some to-dos or I’ll never have the strength to do mine! Not that I am commanding God to do things. I mean it more as a list of requests – some impossible things that I am asking God to do. It’s comforting putting a request on that list. “Heal so-and-so. Work in this friend’s life. Save _____.” And then to go back and check things off the list.

Not things I did – things that only God could do! Six (or more) impossible things that I’ve asked God to do…maybe even before breakfast!

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. -Eph. 3:20-21

-M@

Half Mast

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It seems the flags should be permanently left at half-mast.

I wrote last week about how bleak things had become. Well, this week they’ve become even bleaker. More unjust shootings. More violence. It’s like we’re back fifty years ago. Or worse yet, it’s like we’re becoming a third-world country.

Constant instability.

How can someone not be depressed at this point? If you’ve even spent five minutes on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll come away discouraged.

When will it end? What will this new week bring? More innocent African-Americans gunned down without cause? More hard-working, self-sacrificing officers gunned down without cause? More attempts at racial revenge, from both sides?

I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m discouraged. I’m so lonely. I’m longing for a better place. I’m weary and weak…but I’m worshiping!

Sound weird? But that’s the attitude of David in Psalm 69. And in these times of discouragement, I find it does my soul good to go back to the topic I first blogged about: “Keep Calm and Read a Psalm.”

David pours out his heart to the one person who will always hear him. Verses 1-3 could describe many people in our nation right now:

Save me, O God!
    For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
    where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
    and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
    with waiting for my God.

Vs. 19-20 hold some hope, but also sad loneliness in the face of numerous enemies:

You know my reproach,
    and my shame and my dishonor;
    my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
    so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
    and for comforters, but I found none.

Vs. 29 sums it all up:

But I am afflicted and in pain;
    let your salvation, O God, set me on high!

And then verse 30 is a complete turn-around:

I will praise the name of God with a song;
    I will magnify him with thanksgiving.

What?! Why would you praise God when there are so many bad guys and no good guys? When you’re afflicted and in pain…you praise the name of God with a song?

Yes, because David knows God. Personally. They have a deep relationship. And he knows that though trials come, though things go from bad to worse, God will come through. God is good – when has He ever given us any reason to doubt that?

Yesterday, I sat at a waterfall with my Dad, and we talked about all that God has done for us in recent years. We reflected on times of trouble and how silly we were to doubt God then. But it’s easy to look back and be Monday-morning Christian. When you’re in the struggle and the pain, that’s the hard time to trust.

But we have to do it anyway. Because God has proven Himself faithful. We have never had a reason to doubt Him. And we never will. No matter how unstable it gets.

No matter how long the flag remains at half-mast, we can raise our hands high in praise to God.

David knows that “God will save Zion” (vs. 35).

I know that God will save me.

-M@

Hope for Change

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Some things never change. Which is kinda depressing.

This world needs to change. Every part of it. Honestly, it’s hard to see the good anymore…

I know that sounds depressing. It’s the 4th of July weekend – we’re supposed to be happy, right? Celebrating our great country!

Except…it’s hard to think that our country is that great. And the ways that people say will make it “great again” would only make it worse.

Being a history buff and political junkie often makes me depressed. The world is messed-up and filled with messed-up people who manage to mess up even the good stuff – and they’ve been doing it for thousands of years!

But when I get in these Negative-Nelly moods, I need to remind myself of a promise: the Gospel changes everything.

With Jesus Christ, there is hope for change.

Our country is taking the expressway to destruction. We’re caught in an election between a third-world populist and a European liberal. The supporters of one candidate tweet out their desires to turn political enemies into lampshades while supporters of the other dance in the streets to celebrate their right to kill unborn children. The level of ignorance is simply astounding. So much hate. So little love.

But for America, there’s hope for change…

Our world is no better. Just this week, a bombing struck the Istanbul airport – a spot where I stood just a month ago. This marks the fourth time this year that a bomb has exploded in that city in a place I have been. 41 dead. Before the world could even process that tragedy, we hear news of a hostage situation in Bangladesh. 22 dead and counting. Just today, another bombing in Baghdad – 126 dead. It seems like nothing can stem this tide of violence. So much death. So little life.

But for the world, there’s hope for change…

Even when I narrow it down to my world, it doesn’t seem to get much better. My church is looking for a pastor, struggling financially, and facing a daunting task of revitalizing much of the ministries – especially among the millennials. We haven’t seen an unsaved person come to know Christ in years. People are leaving the church. There are more empty seats and less money.

My ministry is among the junior high, which I absolutely love (they haven’t killed me yet!). But as with any work among American young people, it’s not always that rewarding. Apathy is the national pastime, and it’s so hard to get teens excited about God when the world offers so much. So much fake. So little fire.

But for my church, there’s hope for change.

But surely when I look at my own spiritual walk, there’s not much that needs changing, right? I’m practically perfect! A more false statement could never be said.

My love for Christ is not anywhere close to where it should be. There’s constant struggle against temptation – unfortunately, there’s also constant failing. When it’s not lust, it’s pride. When it’s not pride, it’s laziness. When it’s not laziness, it’s a host of other sin problems – more and more keep rising to the surface. Even the good things I do, I seem to do out of selfish ambition. What’s wrong with me? What’s right with me? So much sin. So little success.

But for me, there’s hope for change.

How can I possibly say that? I’ve tried to change my life, give up sin habits, spend more time in prayer, etc. It fails miserably every time. We can try to change our country or the world. But who can really defeat ISIS terror? And if we do, who’s to stop another group from rising up? No matter who wins the election, do you really think abortion will be outlawed?

It seems we Christians have permanently lost the battle for the world.

Sure, change for the worse is possible – actually, it’s definite. But change for the better is impossible in today’s climate.

But then I read a journal of modern missions endeavors (Tim Keesee’s Dispatches from the Front – read it!). I see that Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Communists, and demon-worshipers are coming to Christ in droves. It makes you want to laugh to think of poor Mao realizing that despite his efforts, China probably has the most Christians of any country in the world! Prime Minister Modi of India may be trying to stamp out the Christians, but Christ keeps popping up in more and more lives. ISIS is bombing the world left and right trying to defeat “the people of the cross,” only to see Christians spring to life in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and even the Islamic State itself!

It’s like world leaders are playing whack-a-mole with Christianity. They hit it hard in one spot, only to see it pop up in another – stronger! Some days I just want to gather all the world leaders together and say, “Come at us, bros!”

You can try to attack Christianity. But you’ll only make it spread farther.

Contrary to appearances, the world is changing. America is changing. And not for the worse. And not in some glorious, earth-shattering way either.

The world is changing every time a man or woman, child or teen says, “I love Jesus.”

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. -2 Cor. 5:17

I rejoice that I serve a God who delights in the impossible. Reading Luke 1, I almost laughed to think that God chose the two women for whom it was impossible to have children (barren and virgin) to bring forth his Son and His forerunner. Then I thought about God’s promise to Abraham to give him descendants as numerous as the stars…only to give him one proper son. And to give his son only two sons – one of whom was a jerk. A family with barrenness running in their DNA is not a good family to start a new people group with!

God can change the world – because He already did when Jesus died and rose. He can change America. He can change my church. And He can even change me!

“He holds all the keys of every situation.”

Happy 4th! And don’t worry about America – God’s got it handled.

Change is coming…because Change is already came and is coming back!

-M@

Look Toward Heaven

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He had made a lot of enemies as a simple herdsman. He was a newbie to this land and didn’t have the connections or vast wealth to measure up to the rulers of the warring cities and clans nearby. Yet somehow, he had managed to overcome an army with his ragtag band of servants and rescue his nephew, as well as the captives from one of the most powerful towns. Their king offered him the spoil. Finally, he could achieve the connections and wealth in one simple move. But he said no to the king and returned to the simple life.

Every day, he’d wake up to sit in the tent door and handle the problems of his herds.Then go to sleep wearily next to an old, barren wife as the desert wind beat against their tent. But now sleep came with difficulty. He sat awake for hours, fearful for his safety. For in his victory, he had developed some enemies.

Then came the vision and the voice.

“Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

He scoffed. What reward? He had served faithfully but gotten nothing in return – not even the one simple thing he wanted: an heir.

“O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.”

What happened to the promises He had made?

But the voice brought him outside. He fell into the sand, face up against a domed canopy of billions of stars. Like an army carrying torches they stretched across the sky. Some were in bands with millions of their brethren. Others shone brighter, standing out from the sea of sparkles.

Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.”

Ha! Not even all his almost-hundred years would suffice to count them all. Just to prove the point, he started counting. And lost track after 27 on one tiny corner of the black canvas. It was hard to count when the voice spoke crazy truth:

“So shall your offspring be.”

What!? When he was well-past the time of childbearing – and so was his wife! They couldn’t even manage to have one child, much less give birth to myriads of offspring.

But one would suffice. And if God could make these stars, then He could make a barren womb bear. He could give a son.

So Abram made a simple, but history-changing choice…

And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. -Gen. 15:6

God hasn’t stopped being ridiculous in His promises. So we can’t stop being ridiculous in our faith.

This story is never seen with the history-bending gravitas it deserves, and I hope the narrative put it in perspective. I know it spoke to me when I heard it preached on today.

I also know that I doubted God this week. I thought it was impossible for him to change the hearts of apathetic teenagers. I thought it was impossible for them to become serious about their faith. And I was right – it was impossible…for me! I can’t change my own soul, much less someone else’s.

But the Spirit can…and did this week! Jesus saves. I don’t.

I’ve learned it’s really dumb to doubt God. And so, in the words of a missionary, I want to choose the words of God rather than the words of fear.

-M@

Goals

Gooooooooaaaaaaaallllll!!!!!!

No, I’m not talking about the soccer futbol championships currently ongoing. I’m talking about having goals – that is, a direction to head in. A purpose.

No, not squad goals. Or relationship goals. LIFE goals.

goalsI’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, ever since I returned from my trip overseas. What are my life goals? I think I know what I want to do when if I grow up.But what direction am I heading in? What do I want to accomplish in my life? What is my purpose statement?

Many books and blogs talk about your passions, interests, and ambitions. A good Christian author will encourage readers to pursue a passion for God. Or perhaps better, pursue your passions as a way to glorify God. God has gifted you for a reason. Use what He’s given you a passion for to expand His kingdom.

That’s my goal: simply, to glorify God.

That looks good on paper, could be made into a hashtag even…but 1.) It’s hard to live out! 2.) It lacks specificity.

HOW am I going to glorify God? I could glorify God by being a doctor (but I hate blood), a businessman (but I hate numbers), a plumber (ew!), a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker! I could glorify God through music, art, movie-making, writing, eating (yes!), or basket-weaving!

College is a time to specify your life direction. Coming out of high school, if you’re like me, you have a ton of different “talents” that you’re a tiny bit good at. You can try to be good at them all – good luck! If you’re wise (and have wise influences like my parents and teachers), you’ll focus on one or the other. I’m not sure I intentionally chose one, but God worked in my life so that I’ve ended up focusing on a couple. I’ve thrown aside acting, sports (thankfully!), writing fiction books, music…and now I’m focusing on one all-encompassing thing and seeking to do my very best at it.

It’s just one word. And it actually comes from Matthew 28:19-20:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Do you see it? The word’s not actually in the verse. But the concept certainly is. It’s found in the idea of making disciples AND teaching those disciples to live as Jesus commanded.

Wait. Rabbit trail. Do you think maybe that idea should be the goal of every Christian? If this is Jesus’ last command to us, the reason we’re on this planet, the main job we’ve been given to do…don’t you think it should be every Christian’s goal. Now, how to apply it will be different. We are each to use our talents to disciple people in our life contexts. But anyway. End rabbit trail.

Connect.

That’s my word. I made it extra big. But just in case, here’s a cool pic of the word:

connect s

Now what do I mean by that? Because the word connect is almost as vague as the term “glorify God.” Good observation! Like any good preacher, I have some subpoints for that word.

Life goal: I want to connect people to God:

  1. Connect unbelievers to Jesus (evangelism).
  2. Connect believers to Jesus (edification).
  3. Connect believers to believers (mentoring).
  4. Connect believers to unbelievers (missions).
    • Particularly in Muslim countries.
    • Particularly through social media (my current job) or other “secular” skills.

I love introducing people. But the greatest introduction I could possibly make would be introducing everyone I meet to Jesus.

Connecting every soul I see to my Savior.

I like it. I think I’ll run with that.

set goalsIt helps to write out your goals. I’ve been doing it a lot at work as I try to figure out how to sort through my new-found hoards of emails and files and get things done. Organizing my files has inspired me to organize my soul.

Goals frame life around what you should be doing…and what you shouldn’t. Honestly, most of what I do in a day is NOT accomplishing this goal.

And how can I possibly connect people to God if I’m disconnected to Him myself? So sanctification in my own soul has to be thrown in there. And a lot of junk has to be thrown out.

It’s time to organize my life. It’s time to clean the skeletons out of the closet and burn a lot of junk. Anything that doesn’t meet this goal has to go.

I would love to get to the point that in every conversation I have, every person I see, every place I walk into, I immediately think: “How can I connect these souls here with my Jesus?”

-M@

Hymns Modern and Apathetic

Apathy is my pet-peeve. I’m a naturally high-strung, energetic person who probably talks a few notches too loudly and is far too dramatic about simple situations!!!!!!!!

But for all my energy, I sure can be apathetic about worshiping the God who created and saved me.

I’m passionate about my sin and myself but not about praising a God who gave me the very breath I breathe. The God who preserved me from danger this past week – and all twenty-two years before. The God who gave me incredible family, fiance, and friends. The God who gave me a fantastic job and ministry – both of which I know I don’t deserve.

Not to mention the God who sent His Son to live a pain-filled life and die the most painful death.

Jesus faced hell for me. But I can’t even stand a half-hour of worship and prayer.

O idiotic man that I am!

As I’ve sought to develop a passion for my God, I’ve come to realize that my worship needs work. How often do I actually spend telling God how much I appreciate all He’s done for me? I probably spend more time thanking the Chick-Fil-A guy (“My pleasure!”) than I do my Creator!

Particularly in public worship, I realized I’d taken the approach of being apathetic because they didn’t choose the style of songs I liked. A Getty song? Sovereign Grace? Oh, I’m all over that – and I can genuinely praise God for that. If I feel like ti.

HymnalBut when an old rotting hymn gets trotted on stage like a decomposing zombie, I sing like I’m as dead as the guy who wrote it.

I say this sarcastically, betraying what has recently become a very bitter attitude toward hymns. But this week, my perspective changed. I began to listen to a live album by Sovereign Grace that included a lot of old hymns. And I’ve rediscovered a deep appreciation for these rich, old texts.

Let me be clear: I think both hymns and modern songs are important. I can fall too far on the modern side while others fall too heavily on hymns-only. As I’ve studied the issue, I’ve discovered that while the old hymns are rich on theology, they’re weak on emotion. And the new songs are weak in theology, but rich in emotion. But an old hymn sung in a more modern style or a modern song with deep theology…now that’s a song with balance.

But the key is this: theology must be mixed with the heart. For me, my worship became a recitation of words without any heart. To truly worship God, I want to come before Him with a heart on fire to exalt Him. Without any thought for my personal preferences. Hymn modern or ancient, I want to exalt Him.

Whether that be with the stirring words of “Arise, My Soul, Arise”:

My God is reconciled! His pardoning voice I hear.
He owns me for His child – I can no longer fear!

Or one of my personal favorites, the oft-neglected last stanza of “Come, Thou Fount”:

O that day when freed from sinning, (free!!)
I shall see Thy lovely face.
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace!

Or the life-altering last stanza of “And Can It Be”:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!

Or Jesus’ tender words of loyalty in “How Firm a Foundation”:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake. (Did I mention never!?!)

No matter the song, ancient or modern, one thing is certain: God is so incredibly incredible, that I can’t help but sing to Him!

sing thy graceWere we to have a thousand tongues and a thousand notes, it wouldn’t be enough! Whether using an organ (my least favorite) or a guitar (acoustic, don’t worry), I don’t care. Let’s just worship God! With our emotions, with deep theology, with the spirit and understanding (1 Cor. 14:15), with psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs, let’s sing and make melody in our heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19).

Not just with lips moving. Not just with hands moving. Above all, I want my heart moving!

The only natural response to God’s salvation is to sing. As a modern hymn-writer, Matt Boswell puts it:

I will sing of the wonder of Jesus
And the cross that He bore for our sin.
I will sing of the love that has conquered the grave
And the day He’s returning again.
-M@

The Strange Case of Dr. Wells and Mr. Matt

Sometimes I feel like I have split personalities – but don’t send me to a psychiatrist! I promise I’m not crazy…okay, so I am. But not that kind of crazy!

1445287639-JekyllandHyde_ticketsListening to a great sermon by Tim Keller on Romans 7, it hit me. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll said it best, “Man is not truly one, but truly two.” Unfortunately, for Dr. Jekyll, he found out the hard way that his second person was a lot more evil than he thought.

Unfortunately for me, I am even more evil than I thought.

I already knew a good bit of my depravity. Yet I find more and more sin every day. It seems like the deeper I dig into the dirt of my heart, the more stench I find.I found that out this past week.

This week has simultaneously been a great week and a horrible week spiritually. I could really commune with my Savior over breakfast like I have never done before, and then go out and complain about traffic. Or, on my way home, I could really worship God genuinely in song or be convicted about a great sermon or have a time of prayer…only to waste the rest of the evening in selfishness, laziness, and lust. It was one extreme or the other.

I have never fought so hard against sin. And I have never failed so much!

I’ve had a record number of falls. But I’ve also had a record number of times getting up!

It doesn’t make any sense! It’s like I’m two people – with very little connection between them. There’s Dr. Wells, for sake of illustration (Note: I do not in fact have a doctorate, in case you were wondering). He really wants to do right. He’s dedicated this summer to fighting sin and loving Jesus more and more. He is really passionate about the Gospel and prays for opportunities to share it or encourage fellow believers with it. He tries to pray a lot and read his Bible.

And then there’s Mr. Matt (Note: this has nothing to do with being called ‘Mr. Matt’ by the kids I teach). Mr. Matt is a horrible person. He quickly lets his flesh go whatever direction it wants, without thought for the God who saved him. He doesn’t care about Jesus – only himself. He wastes his life on pointless or (worse yet) destructive things. He lives as a practical atheist, not thinking of God, while putting on a good show if he needs to. He’s a despicable, unthinking, and self-consumed sinner.

Here’s the catch: I am both of those people. And there was no potion I took to transform into one or the other.

Am I the only one like this? Do I really belong in a padded room with a straight jacket? Well, if I do, then so does Dr. Paul and Mr. Saul.

Listen to Paul’s confusing personality in Romans 7:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” -vs. 16, 22-23

Poor guy. He had some issues. If you’re confused, good. Because our dual natures – one fleshly and one redeemed by the Spirit – are at war with each other. They clash worse than plaids with polka-dots. Which leads to a frustrating life. Unless…

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! -vs. 24-25

Romans-7.24-25I like those two exclamation points. They contain the contradiction of the Christian life:

I am a horrible person!

BUT

Jesus is a victorious God!

So my goal in life is to have a little less Mr. Matt and a little more Dr. Wells. Or rather, to have a little less me and a LOT more Jesus.

And the best part? If I look to Him and depend on Him, He’s already guaranteed the victory. If He defeated death, I’m pretty sure He can take the temptation I’m facing. So that I can sing as my church did this morning…

foreverForever he is glorified
Forever he is lifted high
Forever he is risen
He is alive, He is alive!

We sing hallelujah!
The Lamb has overcome!

-Dr. Wells/Mr. Matt

A Passion for Thee

passionI want to want God.

I want to be passionate for the One who suffered a bloody Passion for me. I want to seek the One who sought me. I want to delight in the One who delights in me. I want to feel strong emotions for God.

I want to feel something!

There was a time in my life – it seems long ago – when I had great passion for God. But now? Well, I seem more “on fire” for my political views than for God’s kingdom. I get more excited about the latest Marvel movie or a really good bowl of ice cream than I do for God Almighty. I get more worked up about the need for mentoring than living for the One who commanded me to do so.

Yeah, I’ve got  a problem. And this has been rattling around my brain for weeks now, convicting me, depressing me.

Mostly because I’ve seen how “on fire” some of my godliest friends are for God. Yes, I am well aware of the dangers of placing too much weight on emotions. But somehow, in my quest to not be overly emotional, I have failed to have any emotion for God. And that’s very, very bad.

While my friends pray, almost weeping, for strength in their own fight against sin, I feel only slightly inconvenienced by my own sinful failings. While I stumble upon my friends praying regularly and passionately for the needs of others, for souls that are lost, and for even myself, they stumble upon me endlessly researching politics or movies. Wasting my life away. Passionate for pointless things.

To be honest, I feel jealous and annoyed at their passion for God. But am I willing to do something about it? Not for the sake of one-upping them. But to reignite my love for Jesus.

If I am truly a child of God, there should be longing for my Father. It’s unnatural for there not to be!

psalm 119 - 10That’s where a great message Sunday morning from my fiance’s pastor came in. He preached on Psalm 119:10:

“With my whole heart I seek you;
    let me not wander from your commandments!”

What a passionate prayer from someone in love with his God. But with the “whole heart”? No way! I can’t even get my whole heart to seek pizza!

A couple verses later, he says:

“In the way of your testimonies I delight
    as much as in all riches.” -vs. 14

Delight. The pastor described it as a boyfriend and girlfriend. They both don’t care what restaurant they go to. It doesn’t matter – they just want to be together. Delight means flexibility. Surrender.

And so, if I am to delight after God, I won’t care where He takes me. I’ll love Him so much that it doesn’t matter how difficult the path is. I just want to be with Jesus!

This means I must love Jesus. How simple a thought. How difficult to live out.

I’ve always felt inadequate in this task. I love a lot of things. I love mac ‘n cheese. I love Starbucks. I love llamas. I love my fiance. But to love God Almighty? Every time I sinned, my guilty soul (and probably that wily Satan) told me that I didn’t really love Jesus at all. But I loved the idea of loving Jesus!

And that means that I do love Jesus after all. It may not be much. But I do – and oh, how much more I need to love Him! Because if I truly love Him, then any sinful pleasure, human position, or physical object -really, anything this planet can offer – will seem like garbage in comparison. And every time I’m tempted, I will choose the Jesus I love.

It’s as my friend always ends his prayers: “We love you. Help us to love you more.”

Or, as the songwriter put it:

Set my heart, O dear Father,
On Thee, and Thee only,
Give me a thirst for Thy presence divine.
Lord, keep my focus on loving Thee wholly,
Purge me from earth; Turn my heart after Thine.

A passion for Thee!
O Lord, set a fire in my soul, and a thirst for my God.
Hear Thou my prayer, Lord, Thy power impart.
Not just to serve, but to love Thee with all of my heart.

set a fire

-M@