The Gospel and Chick-Fil-A

If you have kept up with the news lately, you may have heard of the recent sticky controversy between Chick-fil-a and same-sex marriage advocates. During this time, many boycotted the company while others munched on chicken as a statement of their support. What was lost amidst the chaos of the controversy was that standing your ground and sticking to your beliefs does not mean standing in opposition against others. In the recently published article by Shane l. Windmeyer, we learn that as Dan Cathy, president and COO of the company, reached out to him, two worlds came together not to “abandon their own, but to expand it.”

I know many of you are reading this with preconceived notions of the famous chicken sandwich and all that comes to mind when spoken of it, but I’m asking that for a moment, you will put all biased opinions aside.

I have never met Dan Cathy and have never heard his theological views. However, I can tell you that his recent actions towards a man no one would have expected him to reach out to, demonstrate his understanding of the gospel and a true desire to live it out. His controversial actions were unexpected, and were very much appreciated by Shane. I think there is a lot to be learned from Mr. Cathy. He sought to understand Shane before attempting to be understood, demonstrating compassion and love. After learning that the company’s actions had impacted many negatively, he offered a sincere apology; not a change of views, but a way of demonstrating deep love for his neighbor. I love that. I love it because this shocking relationship is a reflection of what Christ came to do. He stepped down, humbled himself, and became friends with those who the Pharisees looked down on. He loved on the least lovable, forgave the least forgivable and healed those who were too sick to be healed. He turned everything upside down. Love came down and grace was poured out on the undeserving– us!!

He shared meals with sinners and imputed His righteousness on us. When God looks at us he doesn’t see all our junk! Praise Him for that!! He loves us despite us and saves us by His loving grace and mercy. Shouldn’t we do the same? Shouldn’t we demonstrate that grace towards others despite their beliefs? Loving on others does not take our salvation from us any more than hanging around “church goers” add to our salvation. We can get so caught up on what others may think if we hang around someone who has opposing views as us. We are so easy to judge, so easy to look down on others, and so quick to forget that it was our sin that held Christ on the Cross. So quickly do we forget who we are in the gospel story: not the Savior but the one in need of one. When we realize how messed up and horrible we are, we can admire the grace of Christ even more! This admiration produces love for God and in return, love for others. A love for others regardless of how different our views are, the color of our skin, or the money in our wallet. We can begin sharing meals with them, whether chicken or not, and showing them love because God loved them first.

Let the love of Christ rule in your hearts as you extend the grace that was given to you!

 

(Again, find Shane’s article here.)

Remembering the Wonder of Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

We sing about it, we buy gifts, we have parties, and we spend time with family and friends. But why is Christmas so special?

It’s easy to get caught up in the Christmas rush; to pack our schedules so full of events, that we often don’t have time to stop and think about why we celebrate in the first place. We send, and receive cards talking about the birth of a baby thousands of years ago, and we put out our nativity scenes with this same baby lying in a manger. But what is so special about that baby?

Christmas is about the birth of hope.

This is the time of year when we celebrate the fact that God himself, took on the form of man, lived a life which served as the example of perfection, loved us to the point of death, and then rose again, ushering in a new creation which is bursting forth from the midst of this one.  A time when we remember how the divine came to earth and conquered death itself.  A time to rejoice in how our God is a God who chose to relate to us, to experience all the things we go through, to face sadness, exhaustion, pain, rejection, betrayal, suffering, death, and then conquer them all and provide us with the opportunity to do the same.

Christmas is a time of celebration, a time of joy and hope, and a time of remembrance.  It is a time to sing, a time to fellowship, and a time to meditate on the truth of how God loves us so much, that he was willing to walk among us, and die for us, so that we could have a relationship with him.

We do not serve a cold, detached god.  We serve a God who understands, a God who empathizes, and a God who offers us the assurance that this life is meaningful, we have purpose, and there is nothing that has not already been conquered. He knows what you are going through, he knows the pain that life can bring, and he longs to wrap his arms around you and whisper, “I love you, and I’ve taken care of it all.”

 

This holiday season, take the time to think about what we really celebrate this time of year.

Remember the tiny baby, God himself, born in a manger, who now waits to cradle you in his arms.

At the heart of Christmas is a story of God, taking on flesh and blood, walking in our shoes, and saying, “I’m right here with you, I know how you feel, and I’m on your side.”

His death and resurrection is not something for the worthy, but Christ experiencing the loneliness, sorrow, and fear of death, OVERCOMING IT, and saying, “This too is yours.”

Merry Christmas!

[alert style=”success”]Sound Off: What are you doing for Christmas this year? Where are you going? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

4 Reasons I Can’t Wait For Future Christmases

If I were a ghost, I’d be The Ghost of Christmas Future. I love my future Christmases… and they haven’t even happened yet. Here are four reasons why I can’t wait for those future holidays…

1. Cultivating a Culture of Giving

I can’t wait to cultivate a culture of giving in my home. So often, our families get enamored with the materialism of Christmas; it’s practically natural. In our home, I would pout if I didn’t receive what I expected to receive, no matter the occasion (holidays, birthdays, etc.). On one occasion, I received a video game–––the one I wanted–––but for a different game system. Nevermind the fact that I couldn’t play it, my bellyaching elicited this response from my grandfather:

“Be happy with what you’ve got.”

With age comes wisdom, right? It’s not what you get that matters… and Grandpa Walt was spot on. Our mindset will forever be take-take-take until we do a 180 for the sake of our families. My goal is to associate family Christmases with a give-give-give mantra. The Schmidts will get out in the community, making people feel loved and giving of our time and resources.

2. Spending Time with my Future Family

I can’t wait to spend the holidays with my family. In this season of life, I can’t see myself settling down–––ever–––and maybe that’s why I can’t wait to enjoy time with the future Mrs. Schmidt and Co.

I know I will get married despite my stubborn resolve to stay single (that’s another article in itself), making this season a time to look forward into Christmases future. Whether it’s a year (whoa), two years, ten years… I can’t wait to make cookies, babies (double-whoa), and spread all kinds of holiday cheer. The Lord will smile happily knowing that I am overjoyed at playing football in the snow with my boys–––or if necessary, a tea party inside with my girls (but let’s hope for the former).

Time is precious. Time is not finite and what we once had is gone before we know it, never to return. I don’t want to ever waste time with my family, so getting excited about them now–––when I am single and have all the time in the world–––is time well spent.

3. Cold-Climate Christmases

I can’t wait for cold-weather Christmases. You see what I just wrote about playing football in the snow with my boys… I fully expect that to happen. Being in South Florida, we really don’t get the full effect of the holidays and that’s why I can’t wait to be back in the snow.

Obviously I can’t predict what that means fully, but what I do know is this: a Christmas in Michigan… or New York… or Colorado… is way more Christmassy than a Christmas in Palm Beach. There is something transfixing about sipping hot chocolate while watching old movies or running outside in a foot of snow after getting your first lacrosse stick.

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that the Schmidts will be in a cold weather climate for Christmas (once December 26th hits, though, it’s back to the beach and not a second too soon).

4. Establishing New Traditions

I can’t wait to create new traditions. I am the man I am today because my parents did a phenomenal job raising their kids–––God bless ’em–––but one thing we never did was to open the Bible on Christmas Eve and read the Christmas story. I want to do that.

New traditions are a part of the magic of Christmastime. You have some things that you’ve done, your wife has things too. You’ll decide whether to put a star or an angel on top of the tree that you decide HAS TO BE REAL (or fake). She loves lasagna on Christmas Day… and that’s great, but she’s crazy, so you get to tell her why spinach dip in a sourdough bread bowl makes sense.

We all have tremendous memories of why the Christmas season is so special and the reminiscing is thick. We hold onto many of these traditions for memories’ sake, and that’s good, but many times the best part of Christmas is creating new things… like the time your toddler son pooped himself while opening his favorite toy, so that’s why everyone goes pantsless on Christmas morning.
[alert style=”success”]Sound Off: Why can’t you wait for Christmases future? Let us know in the comments below.[/alert]

An Observed Suffering: The Newtown Heartache

This morning my heart aches even a little more than yesterday for the parents suffering the loss of their child. For the families at the loss of their adult children. For the teachers. Even for the family of Adam Lanza, who along with his mother, killed himself.

A sweet friend put it this way: yesterday, they faced the nightmare head on. They got the phone call. They identified the children’s dead bodies. They mourned. When they awoke this morning–––had they even slept at all–––they were forced to face it once more, but this time with reality hitting a little harder. It was not just a malicious and vile nightmare their unrelenting brains conjured up. It was reality. It happened. Their child was gone and the world kept spinning. Lives kept going. Jesus never came back to rescue them from a crude, dark world. Not yet.

Twenty children gone.

Nine adults gone.

The murderer and his mother gone.

All three are unthinkable, evil tragedies.

 

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize. . . but one who in every respect has been tested as we are.
Hebrews 4:15

Mass murder, torturing slavery, and brutal evil are all reasons Jesus came to us the way He did. What kind of Savior is necessary for the comfort of a broken heart from brutal loss?

This world needed a Savior who has tasted sheer horror and brutal torture. One that has been through what the families in Newtown are going through. One that has been through what the world has and will be going through. We never needed a majestic prince with locks of gold nor a comedian to help alleviate stress by bringing laughter. Not a preacher. Not a doctor. Not a genius. This evil world needed what no mere man could be.

The world needed a suffering Sovereign. Not just a sufferer, nor just a Sovereign. For the suffering man would not be strong enough to save, nor the sovereign man be weak enough to sympathize. This man, the suffering Sovereign, came to Newtown, Connecticut.

He planned to be crushed.

He was ready to be wounded.

Despised and rejected.

Submissive like a lamb to the slaughter.

Endured anguish.

Then poured out death.

Isaiah 53

The God-flesh, Jesus Christ, is the One drawing near to the broken in Newtown. No one else can love like He can (Luke 7:48). No one else can heal like He can (Mark 1:41). No one else can sympathize like He can (Isaiah 53:4). No one else can redeem like He can (Luke 12:8).

As a people being made into a likeness of Him, may we be quick to pour out those characteristics such that we have the Spirit of the living Messiah working these mysteries inside of us. We must work out what He is working in us. Salt of the earth, light of the world. This is the very reason the Messiah had to rise and become alive again after his murder. Not only to defeat death at its very core, but so that He may still be living and active with His Spirit right here on planet earth.

We are the ambassadors. May God make us tender vessels of the suffering Sovereign.

[alert style=”success”] Sound Off: How do you wrestle with what happened in Newtown? How does the existence of our suffering Sovereign help today? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

Are Charities Lying To You At Christmas?

It’s Christmas time and charitable giving is at a yearly high, but are your really buying a heifer?

No, not really. I realize this might be a Santa’s-not-real moment, but don’t rush to label me a charitable Scrooge. I love Christmas and the wreath of generosity that surrounds the season.

You aren’t buying a heifer, but this isn’t hush-hush. Heifer Internationalthe heifer-distributing marvel, even tells you so. When you make your purchase, they note that “every gift to Heifer International represents a gift to our total mission.” In other words, when you “gift a heifer,” you grow the general fund. Nearly every donated dollar (94%) is an unrestricted, no-strings-attached general fund contribution.

Heifers are certainly bought by Heifer International. Over 40,000 of them in 2010! But your gift of one heifer isn’t directly buying one heifer. So, are they lying to us? I’ll make the question more personal: Am I lying to you? Because here’s the truth: My organization does it too.

While Heifer pioneered the approach, most charities followed closely behind them—World VisionThe Red Cross and even my employer, HOPE. While we all state something like “the gifts depicted in this catalog symbolically represent our work,” most people assume they’re really buying heifers, goats, sewing machines, honeybees, trees and art classes. The catalog phenomenon, at its core, is beautiful. I laud efforts to inspire generosity and cultivate significance in the giving process. But, are we swindling you, the generous Christmas giver?

[divider]

It’s an interesting ethical case study. I’ll offer the following considerations:

Integrity in the Means: We can’t raise millions by making this appeal: Make a general, undesignated gift to help us cover our overhead costs this Christmas season! Do charitable ends justify ethically cloudy means? I don’t think so. Swindling is never good, even for the noblest of causes. Small adjustments can ensure no one is tricked by the process.

HOPE, for example, directs all catalog purchases directly to the featured country. While “buying a sewing machine for a Congolese entrepreneur” doesn’t mean your funding will directly buy a sewing machine, your donation does benefit our work in Congo. World Vision does a great job of forthrightly describing their process (pictured below). Hold your charity to a high standard and call us out if you spot duping. Compassion, experts in donor-to-beneficiary connections through their child sponsorship model, has developed the best system I’ve seen to actually connect gift purchase to the end use.

Focus on the Ends: Compelling marketing and heartfelt appeals should never trump your belief in the organizations you support. Will “the heifer” be a meal or a business? Do Kenyan families need heifers? Will the heifers be given in dignifying ways? Does the heifer-giver share my faith and values? What percentage of my gift will go to buying the heifer and what percentage to overhead? These questions–––questions of implementation and effectiveness–––should drive Christmas giving. It is the heifer beneficiary, after all, whose opinion matters most. Knowing that opinion demands investigation of the ends.

Heifers are big business at Christmastime. And for many reasons, this is exciting. This season is about connections among people. Jesus connecting with humanity as an infant. Families connecting with one another. Friends connecting over spiced cider. And this is what endears me to gift catalogs: Givers connecting with receivers–––and ultimately beneficiaries–––in meaningful, tangible ways. Not a donation into the abyss, but a shared moment between people. As organizations, we need to respect the significance of these moments by elevating our integrity in how we create them.

[alert style=”note”] Sound Off: How do you handle your giving? Do you need to know precisely where it’s going? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

Originally posted at Smorgasblurb.

Seven Things Conservative Christians Get Right

I spent two years serving a church that is much more conservative than I am. I’m more of a “Blue Like Jazz” kind of Christian, who enjoys spending late nights in sketchy clubs and art galleries downtown.  This church was more “James Dobson” than “Donald Miller.”  When I arrived, I found many of the particular patterns/traditions/ideologies surprising–––but after spending two years with these intensely devout families, I have to honestly say they’ve changed my mind in a few areas. And when I spend time with my bohemian evangelical friends, I notice the absence of these practices, values, and concerns.

 

1. The centrality of scripture

Our society and our churches are Biblically illiterate. While I’m a card-carrying progressive when it comes to finding God’s Truth in secular culture, I think the conservatives are right in their emphasis on this one.

The Bible. Early and often.

Quoting scripture to each other in social contexts, “You know, Paul says in Ephesians that… ”

Using real references in bible studies, not just our recollections.   There is a shameful tendency in progressive Christianity to lean on a “we all know what we mean” kind of answer for interpretation., e.g. “God says love each other, ya know?”  Over time, I get the sense that that will lead to a Christian-ish social circle; not a church.  In my mind, that’s a temptation from Satan–––and continual returning to scripture is a necessary part of confronting it.

 

2. Discipleship

My former boss says it likes this:

“When it comes to conservative versus progressive Christianity, history is on the side of the conservatives. The reason history is on their side is because they disciple their children.”

They get that the goal of a church is to make people like Jesus.  Are you living more like Jesus now than you were when you joined your church?  They want their kids and their friends to live like Jesus and they are willing to make real sacrifices to enable that to happen. Again, there is a continual use of scripture in the process.

 

3. Gospel over Goodwill

Because they’re conservative evangelicals, they place a primacy on the “Jesus died for you so that you can live for him” kind of evangelism.  They have no interest in building wells in Sudan unless the wells somehow tell people about Jesus.  Now, I wouldn’t take it to that extreme, (and maybe they wouldn’t either) but by making the clear choice, they leave the teeth in Gospel.

If we aren’t careful, we will find ourselves serving the poor because we feel sorry for them––– “Gosh, it sucks you don’t have what I do,” instead of loving them with the love of Christ because it’s a part of who we are (and in that love serving them by alleviating their physical suffering). God’s healing and restoration is not just food, water and shelter, it’s restoring their birthright as children of God.

 

4. Community

Yes, God built us to do life in community.

Yes, 21st century western culture lives individualistic, self-indulgent lives.  But the demarcation line between a pagan and a Christian is not just that we have a community that shares life and resources. It’s that our community collectively becomes the Body of Christ–––increasing in holiness, faithfulness, fruitfulness, and acting as God’s agents here on earth. Again, the point of church is to live like Jesus, not just to “do life together.”

 

5. They say what they mean (sometimes)

Get baptized. Don’t have sex outside of marriage. Don’t get divorced. Tithe. Some progressive and liberal Christians waffle on these things because they don’t want to disassociate someone (which, honestly, some conservative churches do). After all, the Bible says no sin is unforgivable… so lets extend forgiveness first!  But something is missing if your public services don’t touch on these ideals.

 

6. Doctrine

Yes, it’s true that some churches care way too much about doctrine, but I would challenge you to think about the churches that care too little. Have a real opinion about the gray areas of the Bible–––Calvinism/Armenianism, how the end of the world will happen, how do to baptism, how to do communion, what God knows when, etc.

Don’t be a jerk about it… but if you’re a practicing Christian (or an orthodox Christian church) you have the right to your opinion on these matters. These intensely devout Christians care deeply about these things to the point that they discuss them at length with any para-church or missions organization they partner with.

It matters.

 

7. Fruits of the Spirit

Strangely, I had never heard this point until I worked for that conservative evangelical church, but it makes total sense.   They use the fruits of the Spirit as a bit of a spiritual litmus test:  Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control.

When the church was considering a person for a position of leadership, the elders of the church would ask the questions: How much of the fruits of the Spirit does your life demonstrate? Are they increasing?  Over time, as you mature in your faith, they should become more evident.

 

As you chart your own course through the many expressions of Christianity, please consider these things. Take these ideals with you, and inject them into the communities of faith you are a part of.

[alert style=”success”] Sound Off: Do you believe that conservative evangelicals “get it right” in these areas? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

Election 2012: The Reason I Am Disappointed, Yet Faithful

We are now twelve hours into the aftermath of Barack Obama’s clinching of the 2012 Presidential Election and I feel like most of us are still in a haze (not that kind of haze, Colorado). Some are angry, some are joyful. Some are disappointed. I am in that camp… but I am also faithful. Here’s why:

 

Mitt Romney is a genuinely good man.

Forget anything anybody ever said about Mitt Romney not caring about “the little guy” or the 47% percent that do not pay taxes. It’s not true. I genuinely believe that Mitt Romney is a patriot that has America’s best interests at heart. I campaigned for Mitt in 2008 and I got to know him (as a candidate) very well while everybody was on the McCain/Huckabee/Giuliani buses. I got to work for him multiple times while campaigning in Boca Raton and let me tell you: he cares.

Unfortunately, the Obama campaign did a great job of painting “the rich guy” as a heartless, emotionless, bag of money that was unrelatable. My biggest disappointment is not that Barack Obama is our president for another four years, but that the American people will not see the goodness of Mitt Romney.

They won’t see a country that champions small business. They won’t see a country that seeks energy independence. They won’t see a country that cracks down on Chinese trade and encourages doing business with Latin America. They won’t see a country that is the hope of the world, or the city on a hill. Therein lies the disappointment.

 

Moving forward, I am faithful

Thankfully, we don’t put our hope in the temporal.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.
–2 Corinthians 4:18

We put our hope beyond presidents and governors and senators with measly two, four, or six year terms–––we put our hope in Jesus. And he is undefeated. Unlike politicians of past/present/future, he has never lost.

The Master declares, “I’m A to Z. I’m The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God About to Arrive. I’m the Sovereign-Strong.”
–Revelation 1:8 

So we move on. We love and support. Everyone. Including President Obama.

Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.
–Titus 3:1-5 

What is our greatest command? Love God, love people. We can’t do that if we’re too busy bickering over a now passed election or about a leader that doesn’t believe in fiscal responsibility like we do. There is hope in the future when we have faith in a big, big God.

Instead of sharing your petty political views on Facebook (because who has ever changed their mind after reading your status, anyway?), let’s rise to our calling as Christ followers. Let’s move forward, like the very campaign slogan of our Democrat champion, and pursue an America that follows Jesus over party line.

[alert style=”info”]Sound Off: What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below. [/alert]

Hurricane Sandy: The Battle Between God’s Presence & Absence

59+ deaths.

8 million people from South Carolina to Maine without power.

28 inches of snow in West Virginia.

190 firefighters deployed to Breezy Point fire.

$20 billion worth of property damage.

$30 billion worth of business damage.

 

Even as believers in the sovereignty of God, we all struggle with the question of where God is in the midst of storms, natural disasters, or life disasters.

How does God sit back and allow it to happen? How can a God of Mercy cause this?

Father and Maker of heaven and of earth, we ask for the wisdom only you can offer to these questions. Make a holy entrance with your Spirit into the hearts and minds through your words written below. We ask for Your presence and Your answers. We love you Jesus, and we thank you for presenting our requests blamelessly before our Father. Amen.

 

“I form light and create darkness,

I make success and create disaster;

I, Lord, do all these things.”

–Isaiah 45:7

So does this translate that God killed them, took away people’s electricity, and destroyed property?

He is God of all things, right?

[pullquote_right]“All heaven suffered in Christ’s agony; but that suffering did not begin or end with His manifestation in humanity. The cross is a revelation to our dull senses of the pain that, from its very inception, sin has brought to the heart of God. Every departure from the right, every deed of cruelty, every failure of humanity to reach His ideal, brings grief to Him.”
–Education, pg. 263, E.G. White [/pullquote_right]

Let us face this head on with the Truth we’ve been given: God loves us (‘For God so loves the world…’ John 3:16) and grieves with us (‘Yet He Himself bore our sickness, and He carried our pains…’ Isaiah 53:4a). Even the shortest verse in the Bible shows this attribute of God (‘Jesus wept.’ John 11:35).

He loves and grieves us. Our Lord is in our midst. He is a mighty one who WILL save; he rejoices over us with gladness and will quiet us by His love. He, the God of gods and Lord of lords, exalts over us with loud singing (see Zephaniah 3:17).

 

Many of us with a religious mindset claim that God in fact does do all things for a higher purpose.

It’s a burst for the bubble, but this is not truth.

Did God take away your daughter in an accident? Did God give you cancer? Did God plan your dismissal from the job that supports your family? Did God cause your bankruptcy? Did God cause the miscarriage you suffered? Did He allow rape, murder, or abuse?

You can bet your last penny He didn’t. These are all direct results to the fall of man, when evil began to reign on this earth. God is the same God over individuals as He is over natural disasters. It was not His original plan, but a change of plans does NOT contain our God. He will use it to create in you the gift of all gifts, Christ-likeness, and He will use the bad things in life to further His Kingdom in a dark world. Our God is not held down by the evil you and I are held down by. He redeems evil to good and most certainly will be glorified in EVERY situation. You can bet your other last penny on that one, too.

Our God is a GOOD GOD. Always, in everything, remember that He is for us. He steps into our lives that are lived out in a fallen creation. A God who steps off of His heavenly Throne where the earth was His footstool, to come and wash the feet of His children. Praise you, Jesus.

 

At the fall, Adam heedlessly opened the door for calamity, natural disasters, destruction, death; but our God has made a way to change all of that both on a personal level and on a global scale: He sent Jesus. He took stripes on his body for our healing. He suffered and died so that righteousness, peace, and joy of the Kingdom of God would be available abundantly to us even while we are in a fallen creation. So when you face natural disaster or a storm in life, command the works of the hand of God on your behalf. Speak to that storm as Jesus spoke to the fig tree.

If this is true, how come some haven’t experienced this dominion? There are many variables that cause powerlessness in prayer. We also cannot fail to remember that prayers prevent things from happening that we don’t often take into account. In other words, if we hadn’t prayed in the first place how much worse would things have been?

Beginning at the fall of man in Genesis 3:17 when Scripture says, ‘The ground is cursed because of you…’, those who walk upon it live on a cursed ground ruled by an enemy who is here to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Romans 8:22 states that, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Any of you with the slightest glimpse into the world of labor pains (even stories of someone’s labor suffice), meditate on the agony of the pain childbirth bares. An almost unbearable pain, exhausting every inch of your body from sharp strikes and an ache that’s unquenchable.

My mother said it this way once after having all five of us children, “The only thing that gets you through is knowing what is coming.” Isn’t it just like that, though? The Word of God even proclaims only a few verses prior that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Likewise, the earth groans under the weight of sin with uproarious earthquakes, unstoppable tsunamis, unrelenting hurricanes… we live on cursed ground, but serve a mighty God who will display His power over that ground lest we boldly step before the Throne to intercede.

The authority of the Son of God is for you and you won’t be a victim, but more than a CONQUEROR through Christ.

 

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image… let them have dominion … over all the earth.

–Genesis 1:26

When Adam chose the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the authority we had over earth was wrested from us by disobedience, and now we find Satan is then the one in place of jurisdiction over the elements.  It is important to understand that Satan didn’t obtain this ability legitimately. Satan became the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:22) by default as a result of Adam’s surrender and the choosing of knowledge of good and evil over the dominion God gave him in Genesis 1:26.

Thus we find Jesus, Redeemer and Savior of all creation, repeatedly demonstrating power and authority OVER creation and elements.

In Mark 4:39, Jesus rebukes the wind and told the waves to be still. In John 2:8-9, Jesus turns water into wine. In Matthew 21:19, Jesus declared a fig tree never grow fruit again, and it withered away. Thus, we either work against the curse (what we naturally do) or we work with it (with faith) as Jesus did.

We must not fall deceptive to the lie that Jesus did this because he is God. When Jesus stepped off the Throne and onto dirt and dry ground, He limited Himself with His love and discipline. He remained fully God, but limited His power. All power from Him to do the miraculous came from God himself to Jesus. We have been given this gift, the Holy Spirit. Let us not face the enemy and accept the lie that Jesus is the only one capable of the power to perform these miracles. Scripture gives us the Truth to that lie––– “I assure you: The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:12-13)

 

God is for us. Storms and disasters naturally happen under the curse. But, the Good News: We have the power over it, because of the Spirit. Jesus paid much too high a price for us, as believers, to not take this Truth and hide it in our hearts, to meditate on it, and to use it. This is what Scripture means when we are told we can do all things through Christ who gives us Strength!

We worship you in this storm, Jesus. We worship you. Give us the peace that you died for so that we might have. Joy. Patience. Endurance. Bring beauty from the ashes. In the name of the Holy One, Jesus Christ, amen.

Singleness, Marriage, and Purity: Sifting Desires Through Scripture

For starters, let’s discuss what this is NOT.

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs- how he can please the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 7:32)

I love love. I love romance. I love unity. The desire for this is natural and innate. I am NOT against relationships, nor am I against marriage. If you know me well, you would know that it is in fact one of the strongest desires I hold. But here, in this season, I am merely a mirror of the apostle Paul in his teaching of singleness, offering up the choice of singleness as a way of life (many times just for a season!) to seek a more important purpose for our life and to stand in PEACE at the center of God’s will. There is nothing like it in the whole universe.

Before reading this, I give you one ‘warning’:

If your hearts utmost, FULL desire is to work for the Kingdom, you will naturally take heed to these words. If you are still on the fence in faith, squabbling between your desire for the world and your desire for Jesus, you will naturally not find anything here helpful. You may find a sentence or two useful for a moments time, but once your emotions or the temptation of the world begins to squeal and yearn for your attention, you will feed that lion the very meat it was asking for. Sitting on the fence gives you leeway to move in either direction, depending on what your emotions are screaming for loudest. I pray in faith that any person reading these words is filled with the all-consuming Fire, drawing you into total submission and dependence upon the Word.

 

We must understand that there is always means for a renewal of the mind and a guidance by the Spirit.

Dating, sex, love… we each have a definition for all three that has come from experience, readings, or things observed. We can be honest here and admit that much of the molding of our definitions are from the world, for we are IN it. We MUST renew if we are believers in our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ.

“…if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body (worldly ways of thinking, actions that aren’t ultimately to magnify the name of Jesus Christ, etc.), you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

I believe the very first step to this rides on verse 8:4 in Song of Songs (also known as Song of Solomon), which says, “…never [again attempt to] stir up or awaken love until it pleases.”

As humans with such a strong desire to do this, we repeatedly stir it back up on our own time and as our desires and cravings ask of us. This is dangerous to our purity. Not just sexually, but the purity of our Spirit in dividing its’ attention between working for the Kingdom and working to appease ourselves. Again, awakening this love is not a bad thing, if it is in the proper timing; the only timing that will bring peace and blessing, God’s.

Seasons of singleness are crucial. I believe our God is intolerant to wasted time. Ephesians 5 talks about seizing the most out of every opportunity in every season. As believers, our focus should not be on becoming someone worth marrying, but our focus should be on the will of God, which is becoming like Christ. In complete focus on this, we lose sight of our tiring efforts on relationships and finding someone. A season of singleness is a time for full attention, full focus, full admiration, and eyes for the only true Romance, that of Jesus Christ.

This romance story teaches us a few things about the REAL definition of love.

Let’s first understand that the world’s belief is that love is primarily for the fulfillment and comfort of self. We seek for someone to go through life with to fill an inner craving and desire- to fill US. The world’s view is a deception by focusing first and foremost on meeting one’s own needs.

“…He began to be deeply distressed and horrified…[He] fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. And He said, ‘Abba, Father! All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.'”
(Mark 14:33, 35-36)

The second deception I have come face to face with is that the world has fed the lie that love is an emotion. It is not. At least not fully. Emotions are not wrong, and they aren’t even bad. But when we use them as the measurement of love, we put ourselves at the center of importance. Our feelings, by themselves, don’t do others one bit of good. Christ showed us that true love is not measured or governed by feeling. He went to the cross when every emotion and instinct in His body told Him to turn back. “…Then an angel appeared to Him, strengthening Him. Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and his sweat became like drops of blood…”  (Luke 22:43-44).

Jesus’ example shows that love is in our control. He CHOSE to love us. Love is not some strange force that tosses us around against our will. We cannot justify our wrongdoings by saying that loved grabbed a hold of us and “made” us behave irresponsibly. That’s not love. That’s what 1 Thessalonians 4:5 actually describes as passionate lust.

Christ, through the Redemption story, taught us that love is not for the fulfillment of self, but for the glory of God and the good of others. So here poses another factor in finding the right significant other. We may have good connection with someone, we may even both love Jesus Christ and serve Him and others well together. But God has a purpose for each individual, and if the other does not fit the bill of His will for you, then they are not for you. So our question then is, how do we KNOW who is then? Scripture tells us that the Spirit searches us and knows us, so with faith we have the freedom to wait on Him and not search for ourselves. The Spirit is faithful in revealing wisdom to those who ask in faith (see James 1:5-8).

Sexual purity is one of the biggest struggles and factors when dealing with desires and relationships.

“‘Sex is pleasure,’ a movie tells us. And on the radio, ‘Pleasure is all that matters’ is sung sweetly into our ears. In the midst of this harangue from the world, God’s quiet message of true love still speaks to those who choose to listen.”
–I Kissed Dating Goodbye

This is a subject that is touchy and uncomfortable. Not because it’s a bad thing, but because often times we crave this intimacy and yield to the craving outside of its intended purpose. Blessing and peace are not found outside God’s purpose. The Word repeatedly talks about the union of two people, and each time inside the covenant of Marriage. But why? What is the intended purpose of sexual intimacy if not just to show mutual affection?

The main and original purpose of sex is to “become one flesh,” meaning a complete union. Tim Keller quotes in his blog ‘The Gospel and Sex’, “Romanticism considers emotional happiness to be the main condition for marriage; if there is interpersonal happiness, sex is warranted, and then comes marriage. But when love dies, it is also allowable to walk away from the marriage. In the biblical view, however, the main condition of marriage is a binding covenant. In the romantic view, sex is self-expression; in the biblical view, sex is self-giving.”

Sex is a God-invented way to say to another person,“I belong completely and exclusively and permanently to you.”

That cannot be said outside the permanent, exclusive covenantal commitment of marriage.

“Purity consists of more than remaining a virgin… Where, when, and with whom you choose to spend your time reveals your true commitment to purity.”

So now, all you who read, take it and go. Remain pure in body, mind and Spirit. Take hold over your hearts desire for a significant other. We have the Spirit of Power, our flesh does not control us. These inner desires may be a working of the Lord, but we must not arouse it before due time. Go do what you are called to live for.

We are sent to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
–Isaiah 61:1b-3

[alert style=”info”] Sound Off: Singleness, marriage, and purity are all one intertwined mess of God’s love and how we (sometimes poorly) interpret it. If single, how can you focus on pursuing holiness in advance of marriage? If married, how are you balancing your commitment to God and your spouse? Let us know in the comments below.[/alert]

When God Has Bigger Things In Mind

It was an unseasonably sunny day in April 2006. Dressed in shorts, I remember pacing around the east end of the deck that wraps around our Michigan home, nervously answering questions posed by a Palm Beach Atlantic University admissions counselor.

I was a Pepperdine rejection, unsure what to do about college. Despite early-action acceptance to Tulane, this was post-Katrina and service work to re-beautify the campus was necessary (God knows I didn’t want to do that). Other schools, like Quinnipiac, Chapman, and Loyola (to name a few) left me longing for other options.

“Why is God important to you?”

[Insert rambling/inane/incoherent response here]

In actuality, I mentioned the book of Revelation. I tied it to some factual, scientific reality–––the best I could do for a well-educated kid riding on his parents’ faith. Apparently, my response was good enough to get me in. All the while, God had bigger motives than I had been expecting because, truth be told, God didn’t want me at Pepperdine or Tulane or Michigan or any other school besides Palm Beach Atlantic University.

 

God’s bigger motives were news to me; I was clueless.

Despite my relative incredulity, God knew how he was transforming my life. He was busy placing strong men of his standard in my life to lead me and show me a better way. He was busy stripping me of all that wasn’t Him. He was preparing me to lead–––my lacrosse team, my fellow students, my coworkers, my future employees, my future wife, my future kids.

[quote]What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ[/quote]

–Philippians 3:8

Everything is a loss. It’s all rubbish–––Rubbish!–––compared to the greatness of knowing Christ. God had a plan. He had bigger things in mind.

///

When you’re new somewhere, people usually ask you how you’ve arrived.

To friends and family back home, it was simply, “Jayson is in Palm Beach.” In Palm Beach though, it wasn’t so easy–––I had to initially decode Palm Beach Atlantic University for most people–––

“Oh, you go to Florida Atlantic University?” “No.”
“Oh, you mean Palm Beach State College?” “No.”

But once we got that out of the way, the question usually returned to how I arrived at this tiny, private, Christian liberal arts university. For me, the answer was blind faith. I had never visited Palm Beach Atlantic; instead, I simply showed up in late August 2006 with a beach on my mind and a solid guy-to-girl ratio in my heart.

 

God wants us to trust him and act in blind faith.

Am I saying that college prospectives should never go on a campus visit do the Schmidt method? Of course not. That would be too smart (kidding).

What I am saying is this: if we allow ourselves to trust God completely and understand that he enables us to make decisions for our good and his glory, we can be fearless in making the right moves.

Did I know the ins-and-outs of everything that might unfold in the six years following my move? Again, of course not. But God wants us to be our very best for him, and nothing less. This requires blind faith.

You won’t ever have all of the answers. You’ll be confused, sometimes. You’ll pray for discernment and be confused even more still. You won’t know. You’ll question.

And that’s okay.

When God has bigger things in mind, we need to dive in. It’s our job to pray and walk in obedience–––and we don’t that by standing on the sidelines. If you’re struggling with that, pray to God that he would equip you with a mental blockade. One that pushes out any doubt and frees you to act.

Once there, get off the sidelines and dive head first into the future God has for you.

[alert style=”info”]Sound Off: It’s tough to trust what we can’t see. In what ways have you moved forward in blind faith? How has God worked in the background of your life, without you knowing it? Let us know in the comments below.[/alert]