Am I Blue?

Am I Blue?

Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”

Stoic philosophers in the first century taught that the way to happiness was to be disengaged from other people. You had to live among people, but you didn’t have to get too involved in their lives. If you did their rejoicing might provoke you to jealousy and their weeping might actually cause you to weep, so the best thing you could do, they taught, was to stay out of people’s lives.

That thought is still somewhat prevalent today. We no longer spend time visiting with our neighbors, or even talking on the phone. Life now in many instances is reduced to interaction over social media, or the occasional text messages. Most people don’t know a lot about the struggles that their friends and neighbors are going through because even though we are surrounded by people and can have constant internet interaction we actually live pretty isolated lives. It is the great irony of our world in an all the time connected society, we actually are isolated from one another.

Jesus called His followers 2000 years ago to live lives that were radically different than that. He called His followers to be involved, to love and to care. Remember He said the greatest commandment is to “love God” but the second one was like it, “love your neighbor as yourself.” He was calling His followers to a life of active involvement with other people. Paul follows up on the teaching of Jesus by explaining it this way, “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” In other words actively be involved in the lives of other people and really, truly care about them. Before Paul says to rejoice and to weep, he says in verse 10, “let love be genuine,” or “let love be without hypocrisy.” Really, truly care about and love other people, you can do that by celebrating when people celebrate and coming along side of people who are hurting and weeping with them. There is power in community.

I personally experienced this Sunday morning and I can say that it is truly humbling, yet motivating, and it feels your heart with hope and with love. Sunday was of course Autism awareness Sunday and the day that people were asked all over the world to wear blue for autism awareness. When I stood up to preach that morning, I looked around and guess what I saw? A lot of people wearing blue, a lot of people who were saying we support you and we weep with you in your struggles and we rejoice with you in your celebrations. Now to be fair a lot of people had no idea that Sunday was the day to wear blue for autism, but many of the ones that did put their blue on as a sign of saying we stand with you, and we pray for the struggles and rejoice in the celebrations of Isaac. It truly touched my heart, and the heart of my family.

Some of our friends even had shirts made that said, “I have a friend with autism, what is your friend’s super powers?” or “I love someone with autism.” We were given a card that morning that said, “the world is a better place because Isaac is in it.” My heart was moved and I was given hope, hope in knowing that Isaac was loved and that we were as well. There is power in community. It humbled me but it caused me to rejoice and to have strength for the days ahead.

Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. In other words love other people. Look around this week, there are a lot of people who need to be loved. A lot of people that need to see you rejoicing with them, and a lot of people who need to know that you are weeping right beside them as they weep through the struggles of life. Take time this week to love, you may not know the difference you have made this side of eternity but one day you will. Love other people for the glory of God.

A Hard, Draining, Difficult, and Wonderful Year

A Hard, Draining, Difficult, and Wonderful Year

Lamentations 3:22-23 -“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.”

Today makes one year. One whole year since Isaac has had a seizure. It’s been a good year in many ways and an extremely hard year in others. It has been a year with a lot of changes, but in the midst of all of it God has been faithful.

I will admit that sometimes during the past year I wasn’t sure how we were going to get through the day, but somehow God always gave us the strength to do so. Isaac not only struggled with seizures but he is also is autistic and one of his autistic traits is that he gets fixated on certain things. Last year, one of those things was an iPad or a video game system. They were a security blanket for him, yet every time he had a seizure during the last part of 2015 into early 2016 he had one of them in his hands. We prayed for wisdom as to what was causing the seizures and then with the last one, April 3, 2016 it because painfully obvious. They were caused by the video games or iPads. I began to research them and found out a lot about things like refresh rates and how the brain handles flashing patterns on screens. An iPad flashes 30 times per second, so does an xbox one, that is the prime number for seizures. He loved them, they gave him security but they had to go. That was obvious, what wasn’t obvious was how we were going to handle them being gone. How was he going to do?

There were hard days, trying days, and days of shaking our heads. Days of saying how are we going to do this? Days of fighting and days of wondering. Then something wonderful began to happen, Isaac began to talk more, he began to notice more, he actually began to be happier. He had lost his security blanket, but he had discovered so many other things. A big brother to play with, a little brother who got on his nerves, but who he loved to play with as well, and a family that loved him and friends that do too. The transformation was slow but it was beautiful. Now a year later, I’m thankful. The last seizure that I prayed wouldn’t happen, did happen, but if it wouldn’t have happened we would have never known the cause, and Isaac would still be clinging to those security blankets.

The last year has been tough but God has been faithful. His mercies have been new every morning, and even though my sinfulness has been obvious over the past year, God has been good, and I am learning to trust Him more and more. The Bible says, “He is working all things together for good for those who love the Lord.” I don’t pretend to understand that, sometimes when life doesn’t make sense that verse may not seem to make sense. But it is still true, God is still working for our good, whether it seems that way or not, and whether we know it or not. God is good, and He is faithful so we can trust Him. We can trust the one whose mercies are new every morning, we can trust the one who is working for good, we can trust the one who loved us enough that He laid down His life for us. Sometimes life doesn’t make sense, but even then God is faithful, and He is worthy to be praised and trusted.

Distractions Abound

Distractions Abound

2 Thessalonians 3:5 – “May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”

Have you ever set out to do something, only to get distracted from the task? It’s easy to do, because distractions are everywhere. It can be something on tv, a phone call, a text, something on the internet, another task that needs to be done, a person, or just simply a wandering mind. We are easily distracted. Studies say that most toddlers have an attention span equal to roughly their age, for example a 4 year old can concentrate for about 4 minutes. Unfortunately there is a point in our lives when those numbers don’t apply. Most 40 year old have a hard time concentrating for 40 minutes. Maybe at some age it begins to go backwards. We are easily distracted.

Paul knew this as he wrote to the church at Thessalonica. He knew that they could get distracted, not just from the tasks that they were doing, but they could get distracted from the reason they were doing those tasks. They could get distracted even from the person who gave them the abilities and the strength to do the tasks. We are easily pulled off base. We quickly fall off the path, our attention spans are short. For that reason when Paul wrote to those early Christians he said, “may the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” The love of God is the greatest thing in the world but we can so easily lose focus even from it. We can get distracted by sin or by stuff or by worry or by responsibilities that we forget about the life changing, life enfusing, power giving love of Jesus. We are easily distracted sometimes even by good things. We can be busy doing good things but forget the reason we are doing them or take our eyes off the love of God which is why we should be doing them in the first place.

No wonder Paul prays that the “Lord would direct their hearts to the love of God.” The word direct means to “straighten fully”. We quickly go off on tangents and chase after things much like a dog chases after its own tail. Paul prays that God would straighten us fully and set our hearts (our minds) 100% on the love of God. In other words he is praying that we would keep the Gospel before us. That we would realize that we are loved everyday and that that love would serve as the motivation for life.

He also prays that we would be directed towards the “steadfastness of Jesus”. What does that mean? The greek words means “cheerful endurance”. What a description of the Savior! Jesus cheerfully and even joyfully went to the cross. He endured all that He endured with joy. Why? Because He did it to glorify the Father and to show us the love of God. He did it so that we might be reconciled to the Father. Paul prays that we would be directed toward that “cheerful endurance”. You have to wonder why he does that? He does it so that we will be reminded to be joyful regardless of the circumstance because of the love of Jesus. We are to endure whatever we have to endure with that same type of cheerfulness and joy. We are loved by God and that should show by the joy that is in our lives.

It is easy to get distracted from what’s important. It’s easy to forget how much we are loved, but once you are set straight on the love of Jesus, once you realize what He did for you on the cross, it will produce within you an everlasting joy. Once you keep your mind and your heart focused on the Gospel by the grace of God then you can be like Jesus, and have that same type of cheerful endurance. Regardless of what happens in life you can have joy because you are loved by God. Keeping your eyes on this will not add days to your life, but it will add life to your days, as you live for His glory!

A Surprising Path

A Surprising Path

Matthew 5:3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Most people have more in common than they realize. Yes we are all different, sometimes radically so, we may think differently and have different views but in many ways we are a lot alike. All people want pretty much the same thing, and one thing that we all want is happiness. We all want to experience joy, real true and lasting joy in our lives. So the question has to be where does that joy or that happiness come from?

Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, actually at the very beginning in the part that we call, “the Beatitudes”. He says “blessed are….” The word blessed in the New Testament means happy, so Jesus is telling us how to be happy. Yet it isn’t in the ways that we would think. Happiness doesn’t come from what we own, or from what we accomplish, or from anything that is temporal. The Beatitudes make it abundantly clear that true happiness comes from a relationship with God. Jesus isn’t saying in the Beatitudes that you will be happy if you do these things, no His thinking is far beyond that. He is saying if you have a relationship with God these things will be a part of your life and through them God Himself will produce joy and happiness in your life. That is one of the problems with modern society we think we can produce our own happiness or our own joy. We might be able to temporarily but what happens? It quickly fades away. That is why for example we can buy something new and be oh so happy with it for a few days, only to see the luster fade. When that happens we go in search of something else to bring us happiness.

Unfortunately on our continual quest for more, we are missing out on true happiness. Because true happiness doesn’t come from what we can do or buy or accomplish, true happiness comes from a relationship with Almighty God. It comes from the gift that was made possible through what Jesus did on the cross FOR YOU. That is why He says “blessed are the poor in spirit.” Happy are those who are poor in spirit? That is a surprising and strange path to happiness but it is where Jesus says happiness starts.

What does “poor in spirit” mean? It means those who realize that they don’t have life figured out. Those who realize they don’t have all of the answers. What do they do then? They run to God and to His wisdom, looking for His strength and His wisdom. The beautiful thing is this, the Bible says, “if anyone is lacking in wisdom they should ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him.” When we realize we don’t have life figured out, we become desperate and in our desperation we cry out to God for His wisdom and He gives it to us. Joy comes from humbling ourselves before God and crying out for His help.

We all want to be happy. True happiness only has one source and that source is Jesus, so run to Him today. Humble yourself before Him, admit that you don’t have life figured out (there’s no shame in that, none of us do because life is hard and filled up with surprises), and call on His wisdom. He will give it to you and you will find joy through Him.

Your Attention Please!

Your Attention Please!

Matthew 5:3- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

Most people have at least one thing in common, they want to be happy. Regardless of anything else most people desire true happiness in their lives. This is true in 2017 and it was true in AD 30. People want to be happy. Jesus burst on the scene in about 30 AD with the sermon on the mount. It was short, it was precise, it was direct and it talked about happiness. He said “Blessed are…..” and the word blessed in the Bible means happy. So Jesus began His first sermon with the topic of happiness.

Now before I go any farther it needs to be pointed out that He isn’t saying if you do these things you will earn the favor of God and find happiness there. No, He is saying once you have a relationship with God, you will find your happiness in these things and in these ways. True happiness comes from knowing God as your Father. In fact that is what His first statement is about. Blessed are the poor in Spirit? That is radically different than what you will hear in the world isn’t it? Poor? Happy? To be honest the two words do not seem to go together.

Happy are the poor in Spirit. What does that mean? Well the word poor that Jesus uses there is a word that means a beggar, someone who is desperate. Someone who is desperate in spirit, in this context. What does that mean? It means someone who realizes that they don’t have life figured out. Someone who is begging for help, someone who is begging for wisdom, someone who is begging for hope, someone who is in desperate need of forgiveness. Happy are those who realize that they are spiritual paupers and that they can do nothing on their own. Happy are those who realize they need God, those that realize they need Jesus. Happiness comes from our relationship with Him and from knowing that our sins are forgiven. Happiness comes from realizing you don’t have life figured out and you never will. That is counterintuitive isn’t it? It doesn’t seem to make sense, but it is absolutely 100% true. Happy are those that realize that they will never have life figured out but they know someone who does. Happy are those who have a relationship with Jesus.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” This is a plural statement. It is for people, plural more than one. Jesus is not only telling us how to be individually happy but He is also hinting at the beauty of community. The Beatitudes are for the church. He is painting a picture of what the church is supposed to be, we the church of Jesus Christ are poor in spirit. In other words we don’t have it all figured out. We can’t be prideful or arrogant because we are poor in spirit, we are sinners who are struggling. Sinners in need of a Savior, and thankfully Jesus is that Savior. He is the only one who could be. The church is a gathering of those who are poor in spirit.

The church is also a sending of those who are poor in spirit. We go out into the world with a message of hope, of love, of forgiveness and of redemption. We are sent as God’s ambassadors, but we are still poor in spirit, nothing without Him. That is why when we relate to the world we don’t relate as people who have it all together or who have it all figured out (we’ve done that for far too long, and if we are prideful we are in sin). We relate as people who desperately need hope, and help, and forgiveness. We are people who will always need Jesus, and that is why we reach out with His love. That is why Peter says to treat others and speak to others with “gentleness and respect.”

We are poor in spirit. We desperately need Jesus. We gather for worship as those who are poor in spirit, thankful for the grace of God. We go out as people who are poor in spirit to share the message of hope and love with the world, and we must do it with gentleness and respect. We live everyday as people who are poor in spirit, happy and joyful because we have been given (not earned) the promise of the Kingdom.

The Wrong Mindset

The Wrong Mindset

Luke 16:16 – “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.”

Several years ago I was speaking at chapel for the football program at Averett University. We were set to play Ferrum College that day. Ferrum had a tremendous football history while we had very little tradition. Yet that day we fully anticipated winning the game. I spoke that morning on David and Goliath, that we were like David but we could still win the victory. After the service, the head coach said “come here we need to talk”. I went over and he said all week I have been telling them that they aren’t the underdog, that we should expect to win, that we aren’t the little guy, and now you told them just the opposite. I quickly apologized but pointed out to him that in the end David did win the battle.

Later that day Averett marched into battle against Ferrum and after double overtime came away victorious. I smiled at the coach and told him jokingly David wins again. I understood what he was saying though he wanted the team to believe in themselves, he wanted them to know that they were a good team, he wanted them to know that they weren’t the underdog. A team’s mindset is important.

We see that with the church and I am convinced in many ways that we as the church of Jesus Christ has the wrong mindset. Think about the memes that you see posted on Facebook by Christians or the things that we say as Christians, many of those statements or pictures have a defeatist mindset. Many of those things indicate that we have a “woe is me” attitude. We talk about how bad and how terrible things are, and we usually follow it up with “and it’s only going to get worse.” All of this may be 100% true, but it still doesn’t mean that the church is defeated. Jesus Himself said that “the gates of hell would not prevail” against His church. That is a pretty bold statement isn’t it? Especially when you consider that after He made the statement He was crucified. It seemed that the gates of hell had prevailed. Except for one thing, one huge thing, one gigantic thing, Jesus burst forth from the grave 3 days later. Not defeated but victorious. So why do we as followers of Jesus have such a defeatist mindset? Why are we all “woe is me” all the time? When in reality we as Christians are the very people who should NEVER be woe is me.

Yes things are bad, yes sin abounds, yes our culture increasingly seems to want Christianity pushed aside. Yet the church still isn’t defeated, the Kingdom of God is advancing, not retreating but advancing. We shouldn’t be woe is me, but instead we should be glory to God. Or as Jesus put it in the Lord’s prayer, “for His is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.” He is all powerful, His kingdom is coming, He will be glorified, and yet we live as if we are losing the battle and we are scared to death. It is time for us to change our mindset. As Russel Moore points out in his book Onward, “we aren’t slouching toward sin, but we are marching to Zion.” The true church of Jesus Christ is victorious and the Kingdom of God is coming, so what do we do as we wait? We pray, we trust, we rejoice and we love knowing all along that God is all powerful and that God has all things under His control.

Active Faith

Active Faith

1 Peter 3:15 -“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

Growing up there were many Biblical passages that I deeply loved (Phil 4, Psalm 23, John 10) but there were some that were extremely challenging and the Great Commission in Matthew 28 was one of them. “Go there 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.” Go and teach, which means go and tell. Every time I read it or heard it, it reminded me I have a responsibility to go and tell others about Jesus. I am called to live my life in such a way that my identity is found in Jesus and I have to tell others about Him.

Those are hard words for a teenager to hear. Go and tell others about Jesus. Most teenagers when I was growing up didn’t want to talk about Jesus. Cars, girls, music (and not necessarily in that order) this was the substance of our conversations. If I tell others about Jesus they will think I’m strange, they will think I’m extreme. They might even label me a fanatic. I can’t tell anyone about Jesus, but I am told by Jesus in His word that I am supposed to “go and tell”. It is my responsibility and my calling.

Then I heard 1 Peter 3:15, “always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks the reason for the hope that you have…..” What a relief! I’m supposed to tell but only if I’m asked. Now I could go back and talk about all those things that teenage boys normally talk about. Peter was telling us to sit back and passively wait to be asked. Or was he?

On closer examination of the passage and much to my dismay, that wasn’t what Peter was saying at all. He wasn’t saying sit back and wait to be asked, he was saying live so differently, live so passionately for Jesus that others ask you why you are different. Live out your faith very actively and very passionately. This isn’t a sit back and wait passage, rather it is a live boldly for the glory of God passage. Be so active in your faith, that others see Jesus in you. Be so active in your faith that others say you are different. Let the love of Jesus shine through, which means you will be living out your faith and naturally talking about Him, and thinking about Him because out of an abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. What Peter is saying is be active in you faith and in your love for Jesus.

Think about Him, talk about Him, live like Him and people will ask. Then when they do ask tell them about Him. Tell them about Jesus, share with them the beauty of the Gospel. And do so with gentleness and respect. In other words when you are telling someone about Jesus don’t stop acting like Jesus, continue to walk in His footsteps, love people even when you are telling people about Jesus. If they don’t agree with you? That is okay, still treat them with gentleness and respect just like Jesus did. Jesus was not always meek and mild, in fact many times He had very powerful and harsh words for people, but most of the time it was for those who claimed to be religious and yet didn’t love people. He turned over the tables of the money changers, He talked about hell, He rebuked people, but when He spoke to those who were caught in sin He spoke to them with love. He spoke to them with gentleness and respect. We are called to do the exact same thing.

Live out your faith actively and boldly, love like Jesus did and then people will ask why are you different? Then when they ask, tell them Jesus makes all the difference in the world, and when you tell them that, do it with love. After all that is what Jesus did.