We're waking up to a new tragedy. We have the same question. Here's His answer.
I'm so weary of the negative news that dominates my attention. I want to remember what life is really about.
I was baptized at the age of six in a small church off of Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville, GA. I was so short, I had to stand tip-toe on an overturned bucket submerged in the bottom of the tank, just so I could see over the plexiglass shield. It was especially exciting when that bucket tipped over and I got to doggie paddle back to safety. The name of the church was Broadway Baptist, which was perhaps ill-advised considering Jesus’ instructions that His followers should walk the narrow road. :) Nonetheless, this was a meaningful moment for me, and one that I think about often. Ever since that baptism, I’ve been a part of a global group of people who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus - I’ve been part of the church. I have to confess — I really love church.
Something is Missing
I’ve read a lot over the past few years on the subject of church. I’ve come to realize that this term means many things to different people. Like politics, almost everyone agrees that the church has problems. Also like politics, almost no one can agree on how to fix them. There is one common phrase I hear again and again. “Everything would be better if we could get back to the way things were in the book of Acts. THOSE people really had it right.”
I think we forget how challenging this statement is, and how few of us are actually prepared to see it through. I agree. We do need to return to a first-century Christian mindset. However, it's not about our worship style or how we choose to gather. It’s so much more. It's a radical shift in thinking that is currently fueling church growth around the world and largely missing in America. We have more resources that anyone, but we're lacking this defining, first-century Christian element: martyrdom.
A Willingness to Die is a Big Part of This Life
Martyrdom is still common around the globe. On one hand, this is a tragedy that we should use every resource to confront. On the other hand, it’s a mighty reminder that we have a faith that is more valuable than this earthly life. This Sunday I had the privilege of listening to the preaching of Emir Caner, president of Truett McConnell College. He recounted the story of Dirk Willems, "who is most famous for escaping from prison, turning around to rescue his pursuer—who had fallen through thin ice while chasing Willems—to then be recaptured, tortured and killed for his faith.” (courtesy of wikipedia) Later that evening, I had a conversation with a close friend who is going through a hard time. We both agreed that life is guaranteed to get hard — but that doesn’t mean it can’t also get better.
Jesus’s Solution — The Kingdom of God
People got disturbed when Jesus' radical teachings on the Kingdom of God violently began to disrupt the status-quo. This was even true of his followers. The disciples loved following a controversial teacher and an inspirational leader. They heard about the kingdom, but to be honest, it's not what they were looking for...yet.
Jesus’ martyrdom is the only thing that really got their attention. In the days immediately following the crucifixion, the disciples looked a lot like so many modern-day, self-professed Christians. I'm referring to those of us who are content to follow after Jesus when He's doling out free lunch and a host of other benefits, but scatter at the first sign of sacrifice. Those of us who critique pastors based on preference and not content, grumble about styles and models, and seek our own earthly significance over sanctification.
It's essential to discuss theology and practice good missiology. However, I don't think revival was ever just figured out in a strategy session. At least, that's not how it worked for the disciples. In the days following the death of Jesus, the disciples didn't spend their time white-boarding a new assimilation plan. They didn't debate the merits of mega vs micro gatherings, or up their game on their social strategy. (I do all of these, by the way.) These men finally encountered something that opened their eyes to see beyond this fading, dusty globe and allowed them to peer into the coming kingdom that will never fade. They witnessed the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it changed everything. What would this radical self-abandonment change in us? How would it change our churches?
These men weren't great or effective because of their training or their ability. They changed the world because they realized it had nothing left to offer them. They gave their lives because they had first-hand knowledge of what new life looks like. It rendered everything else irrelevant. Hardships are awful...AND yet, they are bittersweet arrows pointing to a gorgeous truth. This world is bad. But it's not all we have.
Tanner Heath is a student missionary serving with GenSend in Portland, Oregon. For 6 weeks, he is learning how to live out his faith in a way that more closely resembles the New Testament. Portland is a tough city, filled with rejection. I have gotten to speak with Tanner on two different occasions. He shared the following, and I was so encouraged, I asked him to write a post for the blog. I know you're going to love it.
THE CALLING AND THE STRUGGLE
Every day when I wake up, I realize that I hold life saving news within me. I wake up with a conviction that shakes me to my bones. I have been given a command to share the good news of Jesus Christ and to love on those around me. “We love because he first loved us.” I believe you have to hate someone a bunch to not share the Gospel. The tension of this burden begins to weigh me down. I try to pour myself out onto those around me and I become spiritually drained. I begin to focus too much on the task instead of the task-giver, Christ. This heaviness even makes me wonder if it is all worth it. Going out each day and sharing the Gospel to those who don’t accept it can be draining and even borderline depressing. Even when I try to turn to the Lord, things get hazy, and I can’t focus on what I am reading or the words that I am praying.
The Lord revealed something to me a couple of days ago. I was sitting at Director Park in Portland, OR trying to commune with the Lord, but things still felt cloudy. So, I did the only reasonable thing I could think of. I said Jesus’s name over and over again. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus . . . How can I be like you?” I then sat in silence as I waited on the Lord. Then, as if someone had spoken into my ear, the words “Luke 5” appeared in my head. A shiver ran down my spine as I then turned to Luke 5 and read verses 1-11 and 27-32. The Lord revealed something to me that shook me to my core.
I can work and work and work, but if it is not through the Lord then it is nothing. I can pour out everything onto others, but if I am not filling myself up then I will run dry. I try and do everything through my own power, but Jesus says to rest in him.
THE KEY IS TO GO EVEN DEEPER
As I sat in my chair I realized that Jesus was calling on me. He was saying, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” But all along I had been responding with, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” I had been tired, unsure, and ready to give up. But this time, I responded with a choice. “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” I am not perfect and I constantly fall down; I am not worthy of the Lord, but Jesus will not let go of me. He continually tells me, with love unexplainable, to drop my net even when I have nothing. If I would just rest in him, then the catch, (the love of Christ), will be so large that others will need to join in. There is no need to worry because Christ is working.
Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” The intimacy of his words pulled on my heart. He has called me to the race; to finish the work started by Him. Jesus says, “Follow me.” There is so much conviction that I have no other choice. I realized in this moment that Jesus has something planned, and that there is nothing I can do to change that plan. The only thing I can do is rest in Christ because “His is yoke is easy and His burden is light.”
The last thing that Christ told me is, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” As I continue to work in Portland I realize how spiritually broken it is. People are constantly searching for themselves. The people perform good actions but have broken hearts. They are trying to do it all on their own. However, my aim is to finish my race, which is to lift up those who are broken and show life to those that are in pain. Christ is my identity, life, and my light to pierce the darkness.
Am I ever going to get it completely right? Probably not. I am going to continue to have ups and downs. But Christ did not promise that it would be easy. Paul says, “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prisons and hardships are facing me.” When Christ said to pick up a cross and come follow him, he was not saying to build a crucifix in our backyards, but to bear in suffering with him; to face the same persecution and struggles that Christ did on earth. Not only to bear in our sufferings but rejoice in them.
On that beautiful afternoon, Christ spoke to me. He understood that I was tired and drained, but he was calling out to me to rest in his arms. He was telling me to cast out my nets a little deeper and let him do the work, because everything that we do is Christ working through us. Even when I have nothing else to give, Christ just wants a little bit more. Each day we are being renewed, and that is the beauty of it. So, are we ready to go deeper?
I am deserving of death
but my debt has been paid
there is no good in me
but what comes from Christ
I am not my own
I have been paid for
I was an orphan
but I met my father
I rejoice in my suffering
I long for eternity
In Christ, there is my identity
I live because of the grace given to me
I am bought like a slave,
adopted as a son
Two recent tragedies have captured our attention. 50 gunned down in a nightclub by an ISIS-linked madman. Christina Grimmie shot and killed in front of her friends and family members while signing autographs.
It’s a gut punch, and we’re tired of it.
I’ve been traveling most of the day. I finally got to my hotel, and I’m really overwhelmed by all of the coverage. In both stories, innocent people were murdered in senseless tragedy. It’s disgusting how wicked this world can be.
Christina happens to have a lot of Youtube videos online. As I watched each clip, I heard a talented and spirited young woman. At the end of one video, the camera pans to Christina’s parents. She points and says, “I love you." They beam with radiant pride. Right now they must be planning her memorial service.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
- Romans 12:15
I can’t help but put myself in Christina's parents shoes. My daughter means more to me than just about anything. I would do anything and give everything to protect her. I scrolled through the faces of some of the Orlando tragedy victims. I can only imagine how it would feel if this were my brother, my cousin, or my friend.
So what do we do with all of this bad news?
Take A Moment to Mourn
The Bible says that a proper response to all of this tragedy is to actually share in other people’s pain. The word in Romans 12:15 can also be translated as “weep.” Specifically, it paints a picture of a deep expression of grief. The Bible is saying to do more than shed a quick tear. God’s Word is calling us to focus our attention on those who are hurting until we begin to feel some of the burden ourselves.
Why Do We Mourn?
First of all, I believe that mourning is a natural human response. When we are faced with bitter feelings of anguish, it’s a lot better to express than to suppress. A neat religious system might help us come up with trite answers in circumstances like this. However, we don’t have answers. We just have grief. And we have a God that draws near to the broken-hearted.
When Will God Do Something About This?
We long for God to deal with death on a one-on-one basis. Instead, God dealt with death once and for all. I recently spent some time with a seasoned pastor named Marlon Furtado. He’s been faithfully serving God for many years. He loves people in downtown Portland, and he participates in spoken word poetry as a part of his own personal outreach. He has a beautiful heart. Recently, I got to hear one of his works. With his permission, I would eventually like to post the entire text. Right now, all I can do is paraphrase.
We long for God to deal with death on a one-on-one basis. Instead, God dealt with death once and for all.
Marlon began the poem with a philosophical question. He asked, “what would the world be like if I were in charge?” He then proceeded to list the things that would be gone from our world, if he had his say.
- No heartbreak
- No murder
- No sex-trafficking
- No homelessness
Marlon's list was prolific and moving. His wistful view of the future displayed his keen awareness of how broken the world has become. After several minutes dreaming of a place free from all of the grief, terror, and anguish that our world can supply, Marlin changed his tone.
“I realized,” he said, “I have just described heaven."
Marlon is dead right.
Christianity doesn’t provide every specific answer for every national tragedy. However, the Gospel of Jesus provides a life-giving hope. Jesus’ defeat of sin on the cross and his triumph over death through His resurrection assure us that we can occupy a reality in which death is not the end. Marlon isn’t just looking into a crystal ball of what could be. He’s looking through a telescope of what will be, for everyone who has been born again.
- The message of the Gospel is our only hope.
- The urgency is real.
- The world is an ugly and broken place.
- God’s grace sustains us day by day, but it also will rescue us once and for all.
Have you ever seen someone operating in their gift? If we're not careful, we can start to fall into the comparison trap. Here's the truth -- you have been given an amazing mix of personality and spiritual gifting. God wants to use you in a unique and purposeful way.
For the past 11 years, I've been blessed to serve in some ministry positions. My favorite part of being a pastor is sitting down with individuals, and helping them to discover what really makes them tick. After I meet with someone, I also send them the following two online assessment tools. I have found that in 5-10 minutes, a person can gain a real understanding of who they are.
- SPIRITUAL GIFTS ASSESSMENT (free)
- It's best if you take this quickly, answering with your first impressions
- This list is based exclusively on the passage found in Romans 12:6-10
- PERSONALITY PROFILE TEST (free)
- This is based on the DISC personality profile scale
- You'll be given a summary statement for your results, along with some brief descriptions
THE CHALLENGE IS REAL
If eternity is real, then every day bears cosmic stakes. Every 24 hours, 151,600 people are stepping out of this life, and into the next. You have an important role to play in the kingdom of God. To see why you're so valuable, click here.
GET IN TOUCH
No scale can ever fully tell you who you are. However, these can be a great jumping off point. If you have questions, or if you would like to discuss your results with someone, I'd love to hear from you. Forward your results to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tell me in the boxes below.
If Eternity Exists, We Are the
Ones with the Real Story.
This past week my wife and I hired our first babysitter in months and headed to the movies. Like millions of Americans, I eat all of my snacks during the previews. I have a very strong opinion on the Twizzlers vs Red Vines debate. (Vines are things you swing from — they are NOT to be eaten.) When the big show begins, I love getting lost in the story. That’s why we love the movies. It’s not that we enjoy passively watching the adventures of other people. No. When we buy our $12 ticket to sit in a darkened theater, the adventure becomes ours as well. WE’RE on board the Millennium Falcon, WE’RE riding shotgun in the crazy car chase, and WE’RE the ones fighting Hydra right alongside Captain America. Be honest - whenever Captain America comes on the screen, doesn’t your posture improve just a little bit? No? Just me?
I walked out of Marvel’s Civil War ready to take on an enemy. I found myself strutting down Hawthorne Street as if I had momentarily inherited Chris Evans’ trapezoids. I may not have been a hero, but I still felt super. When we got home, I paid the babysitter and put my daughter to bed. By the next morning, I was normal again. And that’s the problem.
Christians were never meant to be normal. The superhero movies that are fueling our entertainment industry are profitable for a reason. We have a deep desire to live meaningful, noteworthy lives. This itch gets scratched when we live vicariously through the stories of people in spandex, but it’s not enough. If eternity exists, we are the ones with the real story. It’s time we take it seriously.
1. A Global Task
The only hope for men and women to be rescued from hell and punishment is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus lived, died, and rose again to pay the price for our sins. Because of Jesus, no one has to ever experience the terror of an eternity apart from God. So… how does the world hear about this game-changing, life-altering truth? That’s where we come in.
- And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. (Mark 16:15)
- Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! (Psalm 96:3)
2. Incredible Stakes
Have you ever noticed how many times you’ve seen someone save the world? There are two reasons why this is a common narrative device. First, it looks better in the previews. Who would go to see a movie about a supervillian threatening to take over the municipal government of a small town in Iowa? Here’s the second reason - Hollywood has tapped into a deeper truth. Our world is in trouble.
If eternity is real, then every day bears cosmic stakes. Every 24 hours, 151,600 people are stepping out of this life, and into the next. Many of them have uncertain futures. This is terrifying. This means that 55.3 million people a year are entering into either an amazing afterlife with a benevolent father, or plunging into eternal judgement. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, then something is wrong.
3. Supernatural Abilities
We may have an intimidating task. That’s ok. We have also been given a power that’s greater than the world has ever known.
The Presence of God Himself: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
The Promise of Power: For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Divine Weapons: For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:4)
Access to the Throne of God: So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. (Hebrews 4:16)
Unique Spiritual Gifts: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (Romans 12:6)
Do you know how God has uniquely gifted you through His Spirit? Start by reading the full list here. Need more help? See if a basic online assessment can start pointing you in the right direction. Remember, this is a helpful guide. Nothing beats intimate time with God and personal experience.
4. A Century-Spanning Saga
We are not the center of the universe. We are not even the main character in our own story. This actually makes our lives even more significant. We have an important role to play in a battle that’s been going on for ages. The Bible tells the true story of a God who formed the world and created people in His image. It tells the story of His pursuing, redeeming love. All believers are the recipients of his grace, His mercy, and His affection. When we give our lives to God, we are united with Someone truly epic.
5. A Raging Enemy
A superhero story is only as interesting as its villain. That’s why Star Wars is amazing and Batman Forever was so lame. When it comes to the True Story of the Universe, we are faced with a bitter foe. He is clever, beautiful, and nefarious. He is the mortal enemy of everyone bearing the Image of God. He’s hell-bent on disgracing the King that he betrayed. He is the author of chaos, the source of all shame, and the reason that bad things happen to good people. He is sinister…and his days are numbered.
We don’t go to movies to see the bad guy win. There is a part of our soul that knows that Good will triumph over Evil. We have the chance to fight for the winning team.
- For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)
- “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)
Critiquing each other is boring. Fighting battles without merit is frustrating. Watching other people’s adventures feels hollow after a while. The only thing worth living for is the real thing. Now’s your chance. Engage the world’s biggest battle, and use the unique abilities you’ve been given to play your part. Go ahead and forsake the natural. The world needs something more (and so do you).
Getting discouraged is pretty normal. It can happen whether you’re a student, a parent, or a grown man/woman just trying to make it through the week. Stop asking IF you will ever get bummed out by something, and start asking what you can do when this occurs. God says to acknowledge him in all your ways. I think that especially includes those moments when things aren't going the way you hoped.
1. Look Up
Some of the sweetest times in my life are when I allow God to find me when I’m down. My friend Paul calls these times “the jungle.” It’s important to know that these times happen to everyone, and that God’s Spirit is more intimately experienced in your times of greatest need. Be honest with God about what’s going on. Don’t be tempted to get frustrated with him and push away. Take a few minutes to find a quiet spot. With a journal, or through prayer, open up to him about what you’re dealing with. David is famous for pouring out his heart to God in the book of Psalms. God can handle your deepest pain and your raw emotion. Check out this example, and go for it. He can handle it. He's waiting to hear from you.
2. Reach Out
Sometimes, you need to find someone close and let them know what’s going on. I know this can be really hard sometimes. In fact, this might be the cause of some of your discouragement. As a pastor, I know it can be hard to get vulnerable with others. Believe it or not, some people think that all pastors are supposed to be perfect. Even when they want to open up, people can be shocked by what they hear. Sometimes, pastors are even competitive with each other. We often feel the pressure to make everything seem ok. Maybe you've felt that way before. In my own life, I find real freedom in finding people I can trust and getting gut-level honest with them. I hope you have people like this in your life. If I can find them, I bet you can too. I encourage you to pick up your phone, and send a text right now. You don't have to send a paragraph. Just a quick, "Hey - let me know if you have a minute." Be persistent. Don't be afraid to text a couple of people. The enemy love to isolate you. That's one of his key strategies against you. Don't give in.
3. Notice Others
Sometimes, you need to take the focus off of yourself. When I start feeling discouraged about something, I try to remember that there are a lot of people who feel that way all the time. First, this reminds me that I’m not alone. Second, it gives me the opportunity to do some good for others. Every time I get discouraged, I try to pick up my phone and text 3-4 people a meaningful word of kindness or encouragement. I’m not sure if it does any good for the other person, but it does a world of good for me. It helps me to feel empowered and purposeful in the midst of my setback. Pretty soon, my own discouragement begins to dim.
"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
1 Thessalonians 5:11
With that, here’s my encouragement to you.
- You are worth more than your success and your failure.
- You are loved by a Mighty God who paid a high price for you.
- In 100 years, the thing you’re worried about now probably won’t matter that much.
- Jesus is your calm in the midst of the storm.
- Jesus loves you more than you can know, and that means everything.
Even if I haven't met you, I would love to pray for you. Send me an email and let me know what you're going through.
adjective sav·age \ˈsa-vij\
not domesticated or under human control : wild
Today, I woke up early enough to go for a run. I grabbed my phone and opened my podcast app. I usually love catching up on sermons, but today I opted for another one of my favorites. This American Life is a show produced by NPR, and it covers a range of topics in a really compelling way. I clicked play and set off.
THE HEARTBREAKING STORY
I listened to episode #586 entitled, “Who Do We Think We Are?” The second story in the episode quickly grabbed my attention. [Here is the mature part of the post.] A young woman began telling her story. At the age of seven, while living in Karachi, Pakistan, her family made the decision for her to undergo a practice known as female genital mutilitation. She would refer to it in the episode as FGM. The woman talked about how this brutal practice profoundly affected her throughout the rest of her life. First, she was confused. Later, she was deeply hurt. Now it seems like she’s moving into a thoughtful phase of personal healing and public advocacy against this practice. Here's the kicker -- she experienced FGM because of her family’s religious beliefs.
It’s hard to be passive as you are listening to someone, even a stranger, describe the area of their deepest pain and vulnerability. I couldn’t help but think about other vulnerable people around the world. There are so many instances of inhumanity that I often forget to acknowledge. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about my own family and how much I love them, and what I would do if something like this happened to them. One of the redeeming parts of the woman’s story is when her brother, as an adult, realized what his sister had experienced. He became an outspoken advocate for the women who had also been affected. He even had the chance to speak at the United Nations to denounce the practice of FGM. I love the courage of those who stand up for others.
SEEING SOMEONE SUFFER
I came back from my run. I was feeling a little more raw than normal, and I was eager to dive into the scriptures. Maybe I expected my daily reading to include an engaging parable or a comforting Psalm. That’s not what I found at all. “Jesus prays in the Garden.” That was the heading of the passage in Matthew 26. Several years ago, I got to visit the Garden of Gethsemane. I tried to picture the weight that Jesus felt the night before He died. Today, I saw those moments in a new light.
We watch as Jesus finishes up a meal with His closest friends. Earlier that night, He dropped a bombshell. He told them that someone from their group would betray him. Judas confronts Jesus and then leaves the room in dramatic fashion. I can only imagine that the atmosphere was thick with tension. After dinner, the group made their way to an olive grove. I was still feeling pretty stirred as I read.
Jesus asks three of His closest friends to spend some time with him. He’s obviously shaken up. He confirms this as He takes a few steps away, drops His face to the ground, and says, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me."
It’s hard to watch someone you love experience pain. I remember when I was young, I went to a baseball field with my parents and my younger brother Austin. My dad spent time coaching my brother on his batting. When the pitch came, Austin kept moving his feet. My dad had a “brilliant” idea. He told my mom to stand right beside my brother for the next pitch. She was going to kneel down, and help him remember to stand his ground. It worked! Austin stood still as the pitch came, but he also followed through with his swing. The bat swung around too far, and on accident, hit my mom in the head. She wasn’t seriously injured, but for a few moments, she just held her head in silence. Tears began to stream down her face. My heart wrenched inside me. I felt so powerless and sad. I just wanted her pain to stop.
That’s how I felt this morning. I’ve pledged my life to love and follow Jesus. I’ve experienced His presence in profound ways. To describe our relationship as “personal” would be an understatement. Today in the scripture, I didn’t see Jesus as the religious figurehead of my faith. I saw Him as a person that I really love. I saw Him suffering.
In those moments in the Garden, Jesus knew what was coming. He knew that in a few hours, He would be captured by the Romans and abandoned by His friends. He knew that He would be stripped naked and mercilessly whipped, while His critics cheered with disgusting menace. He knew that the physical torture would tear open His back and dehumanize Him in almost every way. He knew that in front of Golgatha, the sinewy palms of His hands would be punctured by large metal spikes. He knew that He would die. Slowly.
I spent time with Jesus in the Garden this morning. I had to confront the fact that all of the suffering He was experiencing had something to do with me. “He was pierced for MY transgressions. By His stripes, I am healed."
EVERY OTHER RELIGION VS JESUS
I know I’m generalizing, but every other religion in the world says that your salvation comes at your own expense. You are saved by what you suffer, what you do, and how you behave. In the True Story of the World, that is not the case. Our salvation doesn’t come at our expense, but at the expense of God Himself. This is so explosive. This is a wild and untamed grace. It's more. It's a savage grace that is capable of overcoming any sin and healing any hurt.
As I spent time with Jesus this morning, I remembered the cost of the hope that has changed my life. I was overwhelmed by the thought. If God would give so much for me, that means I have tremendous value in His eyes. To know His Gospel is to fully see His character. This faith is sometimes painful, and it’s not always pretty, but it’s real. That changes everything.
The world is angry, and for good reason. I’m angry too. I get angry when I see ISIS successfully carrying out terrorist attacks. I want them brought to justice. But I also want something more - I want Revenge. The real kind.
I want to stand over the enemy, and watch him suffer. I want him to pay for what he has done. I think that sometimes people mischaracterize Christianity as weak, because we’re called to turn the other cheek. I think these people are missing the point. Jesus isn’t weak. In fact, Jesus will have vengeance over his adversary. If we stand with Jesus, so will we. We just have to get onboard with the real enemy.
The Bible paints the picture of a sinister serpent, hell-bent on defaming the name of God, and destroying everything good and precious. He’s the author of lies, the leader of sins, and the creator of chaos. Satan is the kind of creature that laughs when babies get cancer. He offers cheap thrills to entrap weak minded people into joining his mission of death and destruction. I hate him. And that’s ok.
There are two people in the New Testament that Jesus notably refers to as Satan. Judas & Peter. In both circumstances, Jesus is able to love the sinner while attacking sin’s source. Jesus knew both Peter and Judas were the human shields hiding the real rebel. Peter and Judas were responsible for their actions, but they were simply yielding to another person’s plan. Jesus’ response — kill the killer & decimate his plan.
Jesus shed His blood to save every Peter and Judas (and everyone in-between) who repent and believe. He rose again to crack the back of Satan and steal his greatest weapon. Death has been defeated and all those who stand with Jesus will live again.
I still want ISIS to pay. But Satan would love that. He knows he’s lost in the long run. He knows that one day he’ll be cast into a lake of torment as the children of God look on. The day of justice is coming. However, Satan gets satisfaction every time he entices others to share in his doom. I hate what ISIS has done. But I hate Satan more. I don’t want him to have even the tiniest milligram of glee.
I want to see every miscreant, villain, and killer redeemed by the blood of Jesus. I wish I could say it was because I love them. I’m not there yet. I want to see them saved because I want revenge on the real enemy. I want his plans to fail and I want to see his shady kingdom crumble. I want to see Light pierce the Darkness as the truth sets people free.
Don’t turn the other cheek because you’re weak. Don’t pray for your enemies so they can exploit you. Do these things because Satan hates it. When the LOVE of the Gospel wins, the devil’s power grows dim. And if you can’t reach ISIS with the Gospel, reach your neighbor. Invite them to Easter to celebrate the resurrection. Do it because you love them, and do it because you hate your Enemy. The resurrection of Christ and the annihilation of death itself — that really is the sweetest revenge.
Something recently occurred to me. As a Christian, I am not called to success. I’m called to obedience.
One I can’t control. The other, I am entirely responsible for.
I heard a sermon recently that reminded me of the story of Hosea. God called His prophet to a rocky path. To be more explicit, He called Hosea to a marriage filled with heartbreak and strife. I wonder how Hosea felt when God told him to marry a prostitute named Gomer. I can only imagine the sting of heartbreak he experienced when his wife went back to her old ways.
Everybody would have known about Hosea’s shame. I’m sure lots of gossipy people spent countless hours gleefully discussing what went wrong. People love to solve other people’s problems while ignoring their own.
Step into Hosea’s mind for a moment. How could he reconcile what he hoped for with with what he actually had? I think the only thing that empowered Hosea to move forward was a clear sense of calling. He didn’t marry Gomer because he felt like it. He did it because God told Him to. Within his calling, Hosea experienced a great sense of inevitability. “God says she is my wife, so not matter what, she is my wife. Nothing will stop me from that pursuit.”
People tell my wife and I on a regular basis that the odds are stacked against us in Portland, Oregon. They are right! Our circumstances say that our field is too hard and our dreams are too big. I realized today that none of that matters. All I need to know is that God wants us here. He never guaranteed success. If God wants us here to fail spectacularly for His glory – fine. Not preferable, but fine. Not fun, but fine. It’s our job to obey God with all of our time, talent, and ability. The rest is up to Him.
I’m not a pessimist. I don’t expect to pack up anytime soon (or ever) to head home. Embracing obedience over success places God back at the center of everything. Instead of forming strategies I hope He will bless, I press into Him to hear His voice. When we do the hard work of listening, following Him becomes simple.
This doesn’t remove the difficulty from the journey - it just puts it in the right place. I still want to have sleepless nights and difficult moments. They are a huge part of this. However, I want my burdens to more clearly reflect God’s. I don’t want to stress out about attendance numbers. I don’t think God has ever wrung His hands on a Saturday night, worrying about how many would show up the next morning. If He doesn’t feel this, I don’t want to. I want to experience a broken heart for for the lost, disgust toward sin and its effects, a growing intolerance for injustice, and a desperation to see His kingdom come.
That’s the last thing I am learning. I can have lots of earthly success, and make a relatively small kingdom impact. However, every time I prioritize obedience over everything, His Kingdom has ALREADY come. I’m not defined by my success or failure. I’m defined by Jesus. When I am His, I am enough.
follow our church planting journey at pastoraaronbennett.com
Heard any good opinions lately? If you’re reading this, chances are you spend some time on the internet, and the internet has been pretty crazy lately. Take a deep breath. When we all disagree over so much, the only common ground seems to be found in the idea that the world is becoming scarier. But is it? Is the world really more terrifying today than it’s ever been?
I would never want to make light of the terrible tragedies experienced in Paris, or any of the other painful, recent reminders that our lives are incredibly fragile. I just mean to point out that you would be hard-pressed to find a moment in our human history completely devoid of pain, oppression, and suffering. Even in our nation’s young history, we’ve heard stories of backyard bomb shelters, nuclear proliferation, and devastating World Wars. Scary stuff, but we’re still here.
Christianity is based on the story of God, who won the ultimate victory by enduring the cross and overcoming its shame. The rest of the New Testament is addressed to people living out their new faith under extreme threats of violence and hardship. Why then, as a Christian, am I so slow to know how to respond in scary times?
I’m not looking to enter a political debate. I believe that conversations centered around national policy are good and important. However, I learned long ago that I am much more interested in working toward the kinds of change that come from the inside out. Fear immobilizes us in the face of challenge. It is the currency of our enemy. By training our hearts, we can bankrupt our enemy’s plan.
1. Endure with Joy & Thanksgiving.
We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…
- Romans 5:3-5
I was listening to a podcast from a local Portland pastor by the name of Josh White. He said something that I think is so timely. “Self preservation is our natural reaction when it becomes too difficult for us to believe that this life isn’t all we have.”
This doesn’t make sense for a Christian. Our faith is based on establishing our hearts’ hope in a better future. Faith in God actually enables us to transcend our current distress to enjoy heavenly peace and resolve. That’s miraculous.
The Greek word for “endurance” and “endure” appear many times throughout the New Testament. Thriving under the weight of difficult circumstances becomes more than a running theme - it’s a defining characteristic of the Christian life.
This doesn’t mean that the search for joy is never a struggle. I think the bible is filled with reminders to carry on through hard times because the followers of Christ need to hear it - a lot. If you are struggling with some kind of stress, be open with God. Begin an honest dialogue with your Savior, and ask Him to save you. It’s a dangerous prayer, but those are really the only kind that honor our limitless God. If you are not a Christian, I hope this helps you understand what this faith is all about.
2. Ease the suffering of others at our own expense.
For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
- 2 Corinthians 8:2
Here is a line of thinking that would be difficult to find in the New Testament: Get some stuff - as much as you can. Build a wall around it. Create your own “little kingdom” and keep outsiders out. This is the kind of thing that families argue about at Thanksgiving. I don’t want to start a fight. I’d rather get to the meat and potatoes. Christianity is all about Giving.
God gave us life, He gave us grace, and He gave us Jesus. By giving His life, Jesus gives us hope, He gives us salvation, and He gives us His Spirit. His Spirit enables us to give like God gives. God gives sacrificial and freely. To look like God, our giving has to look like His.
Proverbs 19:17 - Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
In Christianty, we are always trading worthless things for eternal treasure. When we focus on our fear, we are blind to others and indifferent to their needs.
3. Speak life.
It is so easy to slip into the landslide of negativity. The nature of fear is to latch on, and to infuse. Our normal conversations become filled with endless discussions about the terrible state of things. The more we focus on the scary things, the more power they have over our lives.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue.
- Proverbs 18:21
Our conversations can be enormously powerful. When we find peace and security in Christ, we can help others to do the same. Lots of people are afraid of confronting fear with hope. They don’t want to “Jesus Juke” somebody. Here’s the problem: we are encouraged to lift each other up.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.
- Hebrews 10:24
It’s so important to be informed of what’s going on, and to understand the brokenness around us. However, we cannot be tempted to dwell. Find hope, and help others see it. Do it with real love. Be thought and sincere.
4. Point others to genuine rescue.
If all we’re doing is propagating a hollow religion, it would be opportunistic to reach out to unbelievers in difficult times. However, if we truly believe we have an overcoming hope, it is so selfish of us not to share.
“Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.”
- Hebrews 12:28 NLT
Which do you believe? Is your hope based on the glorious rescue of Jesus, both now and forever? Look around. Do you see people who need to know what you have? Do they need to see something real? I thought so. Me too! What are we waiting for?
to find out more about our church planting journey in Portland, Oregon visit us at pastoraaronbennett.com
Like I’ve always said, “ministry is messy.”
It’s easy to casually walk around the block, feeling like I’m escaping notice. I’ve recently been convicted by God to make myself a mini-spectacle by entering into the space of The Guild, under the marquee, to lay hands on the front door. Each time, I pray that the next time these doors are officially opened, it will be to welcome thirsty people to be filled with new life in Christ [springoflifepdx.com].
Today, I walked into the threshold and began to pray. I noticed that something under my foot felt squishy. Sure enough - it was poo. A lot of it. From the looks of it, it was pretty human. I have a new rule now. Look before leaping.
I guess I could have reacted in a lot of ways: embarrassment, frustration, annoyance, anger. Maybe more than one of these flashed through me quickly. I ended up feeling kind of sad. No one chooses to go to that bathroom outside in a city. A person must be in a difficult place in life to get to that point.
I went to my favorite coffee shop, checked into the bathroom, and began a quick cleanup routine. I made sure to buy a big latte later to compensate. Ahhh… city life. It was at this moment that I started to think about some stuff. Scripture routinely talks about God humbling Himself to clean up messes that He didn’t make. It’s one thing to think about “mess” in an abstract sense. It’s quite another to meditate on the idea while scraping the literal manifestation off of your shoe with a Costco card. Let’s just say, I’ll need to renew my membership.
I thought about that the fact that we get pretty content with the spiritual junk we allow into our lives. As I was cleaning my shoe, I became SO aware that I wanted to get rid of every little bit of impurity. Why don’t I feel the same way about my personal Holiness?
God doesn’t call me to be Holy in order to set an impossible standard. He’s not trying to form me into a religious robot. God INVITES me into Holiness, and paves the way through His son Jesus. Holiness essentially means “set apart” from all the mess of sin and its effects. Today, I wanted my shoe to be very Holy. Why I am surprised that God desires Holiness for me?
What areas of our lives are we allowing our sin to stick? Maybe it would help if we saw them for what they really are - disgusting, smelly additions. Not only does faith in Christ save us from sin, God promises, through sanctification to cleanse us from sin. From personal experience, I am reminded that it feels so good to be clean.
find out more about our church planting journey at pastoraaronbennett.com
My family’s move to the Northwest has been an incredible experience. I’ve been encouraged by a few coaches to pay close attention to my emotions through this period - something I haven’t spent a lot of time doing. I would rather be busy doing lots of things for God. As I’ve grown in faith, I’ve learned that what you do flows out of who you are. To live whole and effective lives, an important question for us all to ask on a regular basis is, “who am I?”
So… who/how am I? Pretty good. And a little sad. A few years ago, I equated things like fear and sadness with failure. This idea is false. Sadness and fear in moderation are a healthy part of the fabric of our humanity. Without the things that scare us, we wouldn’t have much to conquer. Without sadness, we’d never know how sweet it is to be comforted. Sadness is a deep emotion. It opens parts of ourselves that we never realized we had. Sadness, when expressed in the arts, can lead to the creation of rich works of beauty, resonant movies, and moving stories. Disney’s Inside Out reminds of as much. ;)
I really have loved our move, but I’ve felt sad on several occasions. It sneaks up on me, and it always relates to family and friends. A few weeks ago, I took Valentine to a park. She started chasing a big crowd of geese that began running from her. She was laughing, but determined. A headstrong toddler, Valentine wasn’t content just chasing - she was in it for the catching. This proved elusive. There were two other kids that were leaving the field as we played. Valentine paused to wave at them. She kept waving and waving, but the kids didn’t wave back. The kids probably didn’t see her - they certainly weren’t being rude. However, I was struck in that moment with how far away we were from people who knew us - from people who went out of their way to wave back.
Normal, everyday sadness in moderation is a good thing. When sadness goes unmanaged, as it does for an alarming amount of people, there is a problem. We need a cure for sadness. In our non-efficient way, many of us struggle to treat our blues. We self-medicate with…
- Busyness (don’t let it catch you)
- Distraction (Netflix binges, social media)
- Anger (sadness feels passive - anger gives the illusion of control)
- Over-consumption (alcohol, drugs, intimacy)
I read an article today that highlights these issues. Esquire magazine reports that there has been a huge spike in the death rate of middle-aged Caucasians. This is extraordinarily unlikely for a developed nation. The killer: sadness, and its link to drug use and suicide. How do we get a handle on sadness. How do We experience life’s everyday peaks and valleys without sliding down the slippery slope of gloom.
The answer…. HOPE.
Hope is the darkness-cutting promise that better days are ahead. It shines a light that pierces the most ominious clouds. Hope begins as a decision to believe, but it only works if the foundation is true.
Here is the truest hope: Jesus is alive and He is here.
I can face anything in life when I remember this. I can miss my family and be ok because Jesus is alive, and He is here. I can pause in moments of loneliness because Jesus’ presence is real and satisfying. I can deal with horrible news because with the resurrection of Jesus, evil will never have the final say.
Even this resolve will be tested. Keeping in touch with friends online, I’ve been devastated by two pieces of news. A friend’s sister was truck by a car and killed. I can’t imagine that sorrow. Another friend received a serious cancer diagnosis. He has a beautiful young daughter.
Here is the thing with hope. It doesn’t always fix things. It holds us and points us toward a time and place when everything will be made new.
Hope helps my faith become real. Jesus begins to jump off of the page as I reach for His promise. The victory of Jesus becomes deeply felt.
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
1 Corinthians 15:26
Death could not defeat Jesus. It will never define those who belong to him. It’s ok to be sad once and a while. Ours is a life of victory, promise, and joy. We shouldn’t be afraid of the moments when Hope is all we have. When our hope is in Jesus, we will always find that He is enough.
learn more about our church planting vision at pastoraaronbennett.com
I meet a lot of people with aspirations for ministry. Lots of people would love to make a difference. People go to conferences, workshops, and read blogs on how to grow their platforms. I think we might have missed the point.
I am constantly speaking to frustrated people. I hear people say, “I just wish I knew my purpose…what am I supposed to be doing?” If you really get down to it, most people think the lack of opportunity is the problem. They really believe that if they could just get their big break, or the right job offer, or the correct platform, then everything would be ok. They are wrong. (I’ve been “they” on many occasions.)
Seeking the platform leads me on a pursuit over which I have no control. I cannot bend the future to my will. I can’t make someone give me the job, the microphone, or the ministry position - especially if all I’m doing is resenting the people who have the job (a common trap for millennials).
Ok. So if seeking the platform doesn’t work, what will? Seek the message? I’ve seen a lot of well meaning people fall into this misguided pursuit. Men and women try to figure out how to put “their stamp” on the Gospel. I remember in college, I did a message on dating called “The Wonder Bridge.” For a while, I believed that was my message. I would use that package of information to open doors to more platforms of ministry. Here’s the only problem, even the best packaged products grow stale over time.
Where does that leave those who want to serve God? What are we supposed to seek? It’s pretty obvious when we ask the question like that. We are called to seek the source - that well of life that will never run dry. When we go seeking our King and His Kingdom, we will always find the message. When we come into contact with the mighty, untamed, Lion of Judah we will walk away changed. As we grow in our wisdom, we will gain insight on how others can be impacted by what God is doing in us. When we have a message worth sharing, God always gives the platform.
When we seek Jesus first, and receive his message, we are more content with the platform He gives. We’re no longer measured by the size and scope of our audience. We are successful based on how faithful we are to our God and to His message. This, in a nutshell, is ministry. Everything else is performance. If you are called to “ministry,” you are called to relentlessly seek His Kingdom, fearlessly trust His provision, and unashamedly share His Word. That’s your purpose. Now go live it. Nothing is stopping your pursuit of God…except you. And believe me, He is worth the chase.