The Lake Elsinore Fire, Fear and Faith

The Lake Elsinore Fire, Fear and Faith. The fire is raging. Fear and anxiety are growing, but God is in control. With thankful hearts, we pray.

The fires have been raging for 3 days here in Lake Elsinore. Dark smoke and ash are everywhere. Sore throats and massive headaches are a constant. We were told a little while ago, that voluntary evacuations were underway. The stress of fire and evacuation are difficult to endure, emotions are high. After all, who really wants to lose a home. Fear, dread, and anxiety are common among us and our neighbors. Many have started evacuating. This fire is not easy for anyone, especially for a family of Eleven. As planes above dropped fire repellent, I kissed my wife and said, “It is time for you to go”. With tears in our eyes, I hugged my wife and nine children good bye. I gave a few words of wisdom and encouragement, before giving each one a kiss. I reminded everyone how much I loved them. With smoke all around,  I gave a tearful wave and then saw our ash covered, family, van drive away. They mean the world to me. The breaths are weak when they are not around. I promised them I would leave the moment it was mandatory. Our dog, Sasha, stayed as my sole companion to help me watch and pray. In these moments of fear and anxiety I find peace.

Isaiah 41:10 New King James Version (NKJV) “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

Lake Elsinore Evacuation

A year and a half ago, I managed to convince my beautiful wife that we could possibly own a home. It started out as a prayer; asking God to provide for us a home, then it moved to faith. It was a dream and a hope. The wife and kids needed a safe place to live. I also wanted a home that was free of criticism for my oldest son, Jeremiah. Jeremiah has White Matter Syndrome. He likes to scream for no apparent reason and to put holes in the wall, as a way of expressing frustration. He lacks the necessary communication skills and understanding that most of us have. He has a difficult life, filled with love and support. Most Landlords are not to tolerant of their property getting torn up. We live in an era of harsh, judgmental attitudes, so renting was difficult. It was my hope to free my wife and kids from the stress of perfection, a refuge where they could be at ease and call their own. A home where a kid could mess up and it was ok, because it was ours.

God in His goodness, agreed. After a hard search and a miracle loan approval; we moved into our new home in beautiful, Lake Elsinore. Our family loves it hear. The home is not perfect and it needs some work, but it is a place of love, joy and laughter. Lake Elsinore is a wonderful community. We have fantastic neighbors; who put up with our large family. They have shown us such kindness and grace. The church we found is so loving and welcoming. It has been a blessing to live here.

We don’t want to lose our home; but we will trust God. God has given us much, with thankful hearts, we will pray. We will pray for safety, our homes and the firefighters, who are putting their lives on the line for us. God bless those hard working fire fighters. Give them strength and endurance. May the good Lord bring us back to our homes, safe and sound.

Proverbs 3:5-6 New King James Version (NKJV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

Why are we failing Millennial’s?

We need to disciple. Millenials want authentic mentoring that pours out your life into theirs. It denies selfish agendas, gives love & anchors their life to a living Christ.

It continues to baffle me when I hear that churches do not understand why they can’t reach young millennial’s. They continue to disregard them by listing their flaws but fail to see their real potential. This is not love. Love is viewing people as God does. God see’s the potential in us all. Young people today are wanting to be apart of a real movement of change. They want to do something that will change the world. God wants to change the world. Millennial’s desire transparency and truthfulness. God calls us to live a life of righteousness that reveals Christ and His truth. This generation wants to have deep, meaningful relationships. God is relational. So what seems to be the problem? These ideals are great! The problem is not millennial’s, the problem lies with the abandonment of Biblical principles.

Churches have abandoned discipleship. Discipleship is the process of reproducing the life of Christ that is in you, into the life of someone else. It teaches self denial and the reproduction of the fathers love to others.

Luke 9:23 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

One reason the world laughs at us is because of our hypocrisy. We love to quote scriptures but we fail to follow them. Many Christians condone behavior that God is against. We claim to love God, but relish in disobedience to His commandments. The biggest argument against the Church is that we love to sin to much. The world looks at our hypocrisy and laughs. We must deny the lusts of the world. This is not just sexual lusts, but any area that leads to selfishness. Our selfishness leads to our own deception; in which we cling to worldly things instead of Christ. We must deny ourselves, follow Jesus and prepare to die. When we truly live in Christ it leads to selfless love for others. This love changes the world.

John 13:34-35 New King James Version (NKJV)

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The second way we fail millennial’s is that we do not reproduce the love of Christ in others. The best way to influence and inspire is to genuinely love and care for the person that you are trying to reach. Find the common ground, demonstrate your love for them and shine Christ brightly. True love puts aside an agenda and invests time and energy necessary to cultivate an authentic relationship. To demonstrate Christ’s love, it requires a soft and gentle approach that meets the person where they are in life. This requires the Christian to remove all judgmental attitudes. Jesus always had compassion and reached people specifically to their needs and understanding. To truly love someone; you must be patient with them. After all, hasn’t God been patient with you? Discipleship is a #proofofyourfaith.

Surrounding Yourself With Encouragement During Trials

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

1 Peter 4:12-13New King James Version (NKJV)

12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.

Suffering for God’s Glory

Last week I talked about some of the difficulties that my family was endured.      (Ramblings of Death, Illness and a Baby) It seemed that problems were coming at us faster than we could handle them. It was not just the big ones, (See the link.) but all the small ones that added to our stress and anxiety. The little things are the ones that just put you over the edge. The air conditioner failing, garbage disposal breaking and the dog deciding that the BBQ would make a great chew toy. It is in these moments that one wonders, “God where are you?” It is in these moments that you need encouragement. During trials it is critical to know your Bible and trust what it says. God uses His word to encourage us. Encouragement in trials is key to relieving the stress you are under.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17New International Version (NIV)

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

Surround Yourself with Hope

The world has become so negative. We are surrounded by destructive words, behavior and images that demean our self worth and break us mentally and spiritually. This is why we must combat the enemy who wishes to destroy us. There are 5 ways that we can build our lives with a foundation of hope and encouragement.

PRAY: If you do not regularly communicate with God, you are making a big mistake in your life. God is our Heavenly Father, He loves us and wants to hear from us. He is an awesome and perfect Dad. These two verses say it best. 

 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

He shall regard the prayer of the destitute, And shall not despise their prayer.      (Psalm 102:17)

READ YOUR BIBLE: The Bible is God’s love letter to you, it is filled with hope and encouragement. How will you know God if you don’t read it? God has a plan for your life. Reading the Bible gives you clarity and peace.  Memorize verses so that you will remember them in the middle of a desperate moment.

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)

GO TO CHURCH: God created us to be relational, Church is a place where we are called to encourage one another, but also a place to be encouraged. Christians are called to care for one another. In the passage below, we are called to assemble together.

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

ENCOURAGING PEOPLE: We need to surround our selves with people who encourage us in our walk with God and in life. Look for people who use encouraging words that build you up and show you grace. Become one of these people, by building others up you will establish hope in your life through difficult times.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

POSITIVE SOCIAL MEDIA: Social media can either depress you or it can be a reminder of spiritual growth. If you look at my social media, I use it to encourage others with a daily reminder of God’s Goodness. I also surround myself with other like minded individuals. In the past month, so many people have inspired and encouraged my wife and I to keep enduring through these difficult moments. We have felt the prayers of thousands and have seen them answered.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

Give Praise to God

Josiah

Although the last month was difficult I had so much to be thankful for. God brought a music album that encouraged me. It is from a friend of mine, Aaron Michael, so check it out. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/promises/1337486248)
We had a church that prayed for us, and family who supported us. I also had a special friend (Jill) from Instagram; who every day would send encouraging messages and prayers into our lives. I must also give praise to God, who is amazing. God healed my dad, so he and my mother were able to celebrate their 63 wedding anniversary. On that very same day, my son Josiah was born. He was born healthy and my wife is in amazing health and good spirits.

To the follower of Jesus, encouragement is a #proofofyourfaith.

Ramblings of Death, Illness and a Baby

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
~Psalm 9:9

Psalm 34:17-19 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears
And delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Sickness has spread through out our house today. I would like to say that today’s post  was going to make a lot of sense, but I may be under a deep delusion since I have obtained some sort of flu bug and am writing this with a fever. I planned on writing some epic peace on the power of prayer, but am not sure if my concentration will hold  long enough for me to be coherent. It seems that every time I do have a “brilliant” thought to convey; my mouth interrupts my brain with a desire to run to the bathroom, or I am called by one of my children; to save them from the porcelain demon. Epic blog post this will not be, but rather one of ramblings.

James 1:2-4 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Every week I gather my notes, bible verses and convictions which are bound in prayer. I then begin my endeavor to share the love of Jesus with you. This week has been turbulent for me. My wife is due any moment with our new son to be, Josiah. His name in Hebrew means, “Jehovah has healed.” I sure pray that this is prophetic.

In all seriousness I really do mean that. For years I have prayed earnestly for my other son, Jakob; to be healed from a vaccine poisoning that he had as an infant. I have also prayed for a healing to my depression,(Depression and The Christian Faith) and with all the excitement of a new baby, we received word that my father has taken quite ill and their is the chance that I may not get to say, “Good bye.” It is impossible to be in two places at once, and definitely not a good idea to be sick with a flu and fever. This has left me torn and stressed. My desire is to be with my dad and comfort my mother, but my wife really needs me. I cannot wait for this demonic trial to stop tormenting me, but all in the good time of our heavenly Father. My trust will always be in the hands of my Father and His plan for my life. He is a good, good Father.

James 1:17 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

Yes I do not blame God for my trials, I blame Satan. He is the one who comes to kill, steal, and destroy. He is the father of lies. The greatest lie he tells us, “This is all God’s fault.” I will not be persuaded by that liar. I do thank God for the opportunity to learn from my trials. I also ask God for more joy. It is from joy, that God grants inner peace so that Jesus can do His work of endurance and maturity. Trials after all are a #proofofyourfaith

Thank you Lord for the trials I face. Thank you Father, for teaching me patience and mercy. I know you love me and I know that you are there. You never leave or forsake me. Grant me strength to love, as you have loved me. Let me endure to the end, reaching towards you, falling into Your arms Jesus. Then this race will all be worth it, just to be with you, eternally.

Amen

Destroying the Message of Guilt and Shame

“I know that there are also people who aren’t malicious, but are simply lacking in empathy. I know that there are some people who mean well, but are unfortunately clueless and oblivious.”- October 13, 2015
Rebecca Prewett, Rape Survivor

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-3‬ ‭

The other day, I met a woman who asked me why I was so positive. (My kids would laugh at this statement.) The compliment was nice to hear, because it meant she was seeing Jesus in me. I used the opportunity to share Jesus with her. Our conversation led me to understand that her belief in God was tied to her belief in the church. She began to share some of the pain she had been through in her life. She had endured a cheating husband, which led to a toxic marriage. She was raised Catholic and felt that she needed to forgive and keep trying. The more she tried, the more he cheated and bullied her. The guilt of failure made her stay in a one-sided marriage. Finally the pain was to unbearable and she divorced him.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:1‬ ‭‬‬

When I asked if she was still attending church, She looked down to the ground and with sadness said, “I cant handle the way I am judged by the Church. Guilt and shame tortures me enough.”

This was so painful to hear. Jesus came to remove the stench of our past and create a new life for those who surrender their lives to Him. The cross of Christ does not judge us, but frees us from the burdens of our sins. So many Christians are living with the shame and guilt of their past, it blinds them from focusing on Jesus. They can’t comprehend what it means to fix your eyes on Jesus.  It is easier to believe the demonic lies that Satan whispers to them; the fear based lies of guilt, shame, and condemnation. Many believers live in an identity crisis. They do not know who they are in Christ Jesus. Their identity is in their past, not in the future God has for them. She was discouraged and depressed, she thought God’s love was conditional. I encouraged her, shared the truth of God’s word and poured His eternal love into her.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
1 Timothy 4:4-5

When it comes to guilt and shame it takes several conversations before an individual can began to understand what Jesus did for them. Many people read the Bible and all they see is condemnation. Jesus understood shame. He understands our shame. Jesus was stripped of all clothes, hung on a cross completely naked, fully exposed for all to see. He was abandoned, dehydrated and weak. The crowds mocked Him and laughed at Him.Their ridicule was cruel. In the passage at the top it says that Jesus endured the cross and despised the shame. Don’t be fooled; this was a form of sexual abuse. The crowds were like a rape gang encouraging the torture, of God’s Son, adding to the shame Jesus felt. They cheered and celebrated His suffering. The Roman Crucifixion was a perfected art form of torture and humiliation.  Jesus was beaten, tortured, humiliated and shamed for our sins, our shame and our humiliation. All of this He endured for us; to be the author and perfecter of our faith in God. All for the joy of reconciling us to God. In His death and resurrection, Jesus freed us from the bondage’s of our past. His blood washed away our sins, guilt and shame.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold all things have become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17

Christ removes the old and makes things new. The Gospel is not about shame and guilt. Jesus died to remove the stain of it from our lives. The church is the bride of Christ, it is not meant to be condemning and judgmental. Followers of Jesus should be encouraging and loving, sharing the message of reconciliation. Philip Augustine a writer for jessicahof.blog  writes that Church attendance and those who claim to be christian has fallen significantly. I believe this is because we have failed to present a clear Gospel message of hope and salvation. We are using far to many commentaries and man made theologies instead of the scripture. The Gospel of Jesus provides hope and salvation, it empowers, forgives and demonstrates love. It is embodied only in Jesus Christ and His word. This is why we need to know the Bible, which is the Word of God.  His truth freed us. (See my blog post Are You Being Guided by Truth?)

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:37-39‬ ‭

There are those who promote their view over the scripture, they promote a “False Gospel”. (See: “The False Gospel We don’t Talk About” By Lisa Robinson) These are the ones who shame and guilt you into a religion that is not Christianity. There are also those who unintentionally lead people to hurt and depression, It is because they lack the love of Jesus. Many claim Jesus, few know Him or his love. In their own selfish pride, they destroy lives.

“I know that there are also people who aren’t malicious, but are simply lacking in empathy. I know that there are some people who mean well, but are unfortunately clueless and oblivious.”- October 13, 2015
Rebecca Prewett, Rape Survivor

The Bible speaks of a great deception that will cause many to fall away from Jesus. Some will leave because of hurt, and others will leave because of lies. Jesus will never be the reason. Let us not be deceived. This is why we do not put our faith in pastors or strange teachings but in Jesus Christ and the truth of His Word. We need to endure in our Bible reading and in seeking the truth of His kingdom. We need to endure in our love for one another. Endurance is a proof to your faith.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4

The quote was from the blog Prone to Wander. This is a tough subject, please let me know what you think.

–Stephan

Depression and The Christian Faith

2016 was one of the most difficult years for me. It was a year in which I faced incredible stress and heartbreak. It was also the year that I faced my depression.

I have not been able to blog for quite a while. A few of you have contacted me to find out why. This last year I have had to deal with my depression. I ignored it to long, and I believe that God finally made me face it. I actually believed that my relationship with God was at its best point in my life. I was enjoying daily devotion time and really learning so much. But God wants us to face the truth about who we are. I wanted to deny my depression, after all how can a Christian be depressed? For me this is what I struggled with for the past few years. I wondered if I was failing God. I would agonize, “Where was the Joy that was supposed to come with being a follower of Jesus?” Instead of dealing with the depression, I would make excuses, blame others, or just live in denial. This year my depression took an ugly turn. It came in so hard and deep that I could hardly function. It suffocated me. All the things I enjoyed in life were gone, I could not see any optimism or hope. I would find my self weeping for no apparent reason. These struggles would often lead to emotional out burst of anger, fear, anxiety and deep sadness.

My wife finally had enough and let me know that she was no longer going to tolerate me if I was not going to get help. She began to detach herself from me and our marriage. Over the last few years I had failed to realize what a toll my depression had placed on my wife. I had ignored the pain she had to endure.

In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 NLT)

Depression is not a sin

The first thing that I had to realize was that depression was not a sign that I was failing God or that God did not love me. There are many examples in the scripture of people who fervently loved God, but suffered from depression. Elijah and David as well as the Apostle Paul all endured periods of great depression. Philippians seems to be a letter written specifically for those enduring depression. The word Joy is one of the most underlining themes. It is full of encouragement and reminders of God’ faithfulness. One of the Psalm’s that has helped me the most is Psalm 143. This passage has become a rock for me durring the last year. I find myself praying this Psalm to God at least once a day.

Once I realized that my depression was not a sin, I did have to come to grips with the fact that the results of depression can lead one to sin, in the way they treat others. Some of the sins that I struggled the most with were fear, anger, selfishness, pride and intolerance. As I look at this list I am filled with great shame. I never realized the pain I was causing others. A person who is dealing with depression often fails to see the sins that are doing the most harm in their lives. This is why it is important to get help.

Stop blaming others and circumstances and just get help!

My life is extremely stressful, so it was alway easy to blame my behavior on stress, or on someone else. When I finally agreed to get help it opened my eyes to a lot of things that I had been ignoring. It also helped me to understand what was contributing to my depression. It turns out that my liver is a major contributor to my depression. So along with medication, I have had to change my diet. This is not easy for me because I love to cook. I have gone to a gluten free, dairy free and night shade free diet. In other words a twig and tree bark diet.(It is really not that bad; but there are so many foods that I had to give up.) I have had to give up tomatoes and potatoes and all peppers as well as bread and dairy. The diet has been brutally tough; the food I am willing to sacrifice, but my marriage and devotion to Christ, I am not. I have had to learn to cook in a whole new way. It has actually helped both with my depression and relationships with my family. My children have become quite excited about trying the different dishes that I prepare. My wife and I have become much closer and have really developed much better communication skills.

God wants us to grow in Him. My counselor reminds me every session of Psalm 139:23-24. It is a verse that every follower of Christ should pray and meditate on each day:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

You may not realize how your behavior is effecting others, so please seek help, repentance, forgiveness and  most of all, trust in God’s plan for your life.

 

Do You Repeat The Same Mistakes?

Christ took our sins and the sins of the whole world as well as the Father’s wrath on his shoulders, and he has drowned them both in himself so that we are thereby reconciled to God and become completely righteous.–Martin Luther

IMG_2093
Skyline Hiking Trail Photographed by Stephan Caraway

But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Timothy 6:11-14)

My life has been a series of struggles. I have always wanted to follow Jesus but for many years I just lived in failure. Then through a series of encounters with God I began to understand. A few years ago this passage revealed the hope of having victory over my failures to consistently follow Jesus. My hope was not found in my actions, but in the holiness of God and what Jesus did on the cross. It is all about God’s love for us.

The people of Ephesus struggled, like most people today, with doing right by God’s standard. The fact is that Christians are not perfect. We sin just like everyone else. The difference for Christians is Jesus. When we choose to have a relationship with Him and acknowledge our wrong doings, He wipes our sins away. Through Christ, God forgives us. It is all about Jesus, His love, the price He paid, His Righteousness and His Kingship. Paul understood that his disciple Timothy was not perfect. He knew that Timothy would struggle with his faith. The struggle is actually good. It is when we are not bothered by our sin that darkness prevails. God knows that we are flawed by sin. That is why Jesus came. God loves us and wanted us to have hope, the hope of being saved from our failures that separate us from God. That Hope is in Jesus Christ.

So why do Christians seem to struggle with repeating the same sins over and over again? It is in this passage that Paul gives Timothy some very important keys to overcoming the sins that abuse us and drag us away from God.

…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:22)

The first key is to run from your old life. We need God’s strength to do this. Paul tells Timothy to flee from from wrong doing. He even advises Timothy earlier in the letter to avoid false teachers, people who lead you astray. This can be extremely difficult and even painful. This means that you need to allow the Holy spirit to remove everything that distracts you from having an effective walk with Jesus. Paul wrote in Romans:

Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

Think of it like this; while you were at work, if you took personal calls through out the day that kept you from doing your duties, would your work performance be effective? Could it possibly impede your production and lead to termination? Of course it would! It is the same for your Christian life. Confess to God, what you know is wrong. Get rid of relationships, habits and activities that keep you from God. Ask God what distracts you from him. Pray that God will break those habits and activities that drag you back to your old life. Rely on the Holy spirit to guide you.

Early in my marriage I realized that I had a serious problem with video games. They kept me from praying, reading my Bible and they were wrecking my relationship with my wife and kids. My video game friends and I talked more than I did with God or my family. I realized that I had put games before God and my family. I was selfish. Today if you walk in to my home you will not find a video game console. Every once in a while I find myself tempted by the illusion of that old life, but the fulfillment I have in Christ is far more satisfying. Run from your old self and pursue Jesus and what He has for you. Let Him Give you rest.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

The second key is to pursue the gifts God has for you. Paul gave Timothy the next key in overcoming sin. He says, “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness”. Let’s be blunt here, if we could achieve these on our own we would not need Jesus. Humanity is flawed and depraved and we cannot achieve perfection. We are devolving into a crueler, more violent species. Society is imposing less restraints upon us, while encouraging our worst instincts and behavior.

This is why we need God. Throughout the world no matter the country or race people seek God. It is in our genetic code to desire a relationship with him. God wants us to be better than we are. That is why Jesus came and gave his life for us. It is God, through what Jesus did on the cross , who provides our righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. None of this can be achieved by us. It was achieved on a blood stained cross by the perfect Incarnate Christ. So Paul is telling Timothy to pursue Christ’s Righteousness, Godliness, Faith, Love, Perseverance and Gentleness. God gives them to those who follow Him, who pursue Him. They are the perfect gift and they only come from Him. Pray and ask God to help you! These gifts come through sorrowful repentance and prayer.

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

The third key is to take hold of Jesus. This is where things get really exciting. Paul tells Timothy to “take hold of the eternal life to which you were called”. Eternal life comes from one source, Jesus. Jesus is eternal life. Take a look at the passage below:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:1-6)

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He was calling people to follow him. We are not to follow some ideals, or a political leader or even a pastor. We are to follow Jesus. My dad always told me not to put my faith in him or to place my salvation in his arms. He warned me that one day he would unwillingly let me down. “Follow Jesus,” my father would say. “He will never let you down.” (Note: My father has yet to let me down, but my actions did hurt him quite a few times. I have always seen Jesus in him.)

Jesus is perfect. He is without sin. He experienced the violent, cruel world of humanity. He came into this world willingly, to give us life. If we want an abundant life that is eternal, then we must take hold of Jesus. Jesus is life. He can give life to our weaknesses. Are you following Jesus or are you just a fan? Are you leaving the old life behind like bad garbage? Do you really know Jesus? Ask your self, “Do people see the love of Jesus in me”? Take hold of Jesus grab onto him. Surrender everything to him. He is the one who defeats sin, not us. He is the one who raises us up when we fall. It is when we experience the power of Christ in our lives and his transforming love, that we should share what God has done.

The right hand of the Lord is exalted; The right hand of the Lord does valiantly.
I will not die, but live, And tell of the works of the Lord.
The Lord has disciplined me severely,But He has not given me over to death. (Psalm 118:16-18)

The fourth key is to share publicly what God has done for you and be accountable.

Paul reminded Timothy about the confession he made publicly. There were many witnesses to the declaration that Timothy made, to follow Jesus. Testifying to what Jesus has done builds your faith up. It keeps you accountable. Yes it does put a bullseye right on your back, but that is the whole point. Jesus put your sins on his back and nailed them to a cross so that you could have life. Be bold in testifying to what Jesus has done. Let everything in your life point to Jesus, every word and every action.

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. (1Peter 3:15-16)

** Authors Note: Sorry for this long post. It has been in the works for 4 months. This may sound like a doing and striving post, but it is not. It is all about Jesus and what he has done. It is His work on the cross. You may be exhausted with your life. Let Jesus take your troubles let him give you rest. May God bless you and give you the endurance to run the race! Take hold of Jesus! God Bless.

 

Is There Proof that You Follow Jesus?

The gospel of a broken heart demands the ministry of bleeding hearts…We can never heal the needs we do not feel. Tearless hearts can never be heralds of the passion. — Dr. John Henry J. H. Jowett

Cleveland National Forest--Skyline
Does your life bear fruit? –Cleveland National Forest.

Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:8)

Jim has become a good friend of mine. I have had the privilege of watching him grow in Christ. Early on he struggled with his decision to follow Jesus. He would not follow through on commitments and he would often slip into the bad habits of his old life. It was a challenge to lovingly encourage him. I did not want to come across as judgmental. The reminder of my own failures gave me the patience and love to build him up in his faith. God kept reminding me not to “fix” Jim. The Job of life changing transformation belongs to Jesus. My Job was to point to Jesus and to encourage him.

One day Jim was with a client and out of the blue, the client turned to Jim and asked him, “How long have you been a follower of Jesus?” Jim was stunned. He later asked me, “How did he know?”

That leads me to a few questions that I have been asking myself for the last few years. Do the people I know, see Jesus in my life? What evidence is there that I am not just a “Christian”, but an active follower of Jesus? What is the Proof of my faith?

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Which of these sins do you struggle with? When looking at this passage, there are a few of these sins that we can cross off our own”naughty list”. But lets be brutally honest about the ones we tend to ignore. Do your Facebook rants make you look like Jesus or the Devil? Do you love to create arguments or do you create peace? Does Jesus approve of your sex life, or do you toss him aside for a moment of lustful pleasure? Does your behavior prove that your really love Jesus, or does it prove that you are a fake Christian?

A few years ago, God convicted me that my political discussions on social media were doing more harm than good. I was more concerned about convincing people to follow my political view instead of following Jesus. Politics had become an idol. I had more faith in a political solution than in a spiritual one. With a deeply repentant heart I gave up the belief that “great men” could solve America’s problems. Man is flawed and needs God. Only through repentant sorrow can God change the heart of a nation. The only way to save America is for her people to turn from their own selfishness and rush towards the cross of Jesus with a repentant heart.

Paul warns us that if we continue to practice the deeds of the flesh, that we will not inherit the kingdom of God. So what should the proof of our faith be like?

It is a faith that bears fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24)

This is what a follower of Jesus demonstrates on a daily basis. These are the gifts that God gives us when we allow him to change us. They are the character of Christ that shines  from with in, as a beacon of light to a dark world. The Christian turns hurt into God given love. When trials overwhelm the day, God provides our joy and peace. We show patience to the impatient. We are to be good and kind to those who are not. We are faithful to those around us, because of God’s faithfulness to us. We should exhibit gentleness to a violent world and self-control in the face of an angry one. The true Christian places his desires and passions at the foot of the cross. These gifts come when we seek God and ask him to transform our lives. They are the fruit that we bear and the proof of our salvation in Jesus. If you lack these characteristics in your life, ask God to help you with them. God knows that we are flawed, and  in spite of our flaws He loves us.

The real proof of your faith is found in love and the fruit that you bear. Are your friends overwhelmed by your love? Do they know you, by Christ in you? Do they see God’s love in you?

 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

 

Loving the Person You Disagree With

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”– Martin Luther King Jr.

It is the season of presidential politics and it is a time that we Americans are forced to endure the insults and verbal abuse that candidates, pundits and media members hurl at each other. Name calling and other vulgar insults have become the norm for all sides of political and religious spectrums. It is America and the world at its worst. I yearn for the days when we could discuss issues of importance, without throwing out insults at one another. On occasion, I have been guilty of succumbing to this behavior. This is a sickness that everyone should all be concerned with. People should never scream or hurl insults at others. Does an insult really better our point of view or does it weaken it? The words we use can destroy a person they can leave them scarred and hurt. Is there really any excuse or justification for poor behavior? These verbal assaults and belittling  have led to increased hatred, division and the most polarized America I can remember.  The world has lost its compassion and empathy for one another. There is never a legitimate excuse to attack people with insults no matter how wrong you might think others are. The church also needs to be on guard against divisive and harmful speech. So how can we affect change?

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. (James 3:8-9)

We do have hope. Our hope is in God through Jesus. God has made us all in His image. We can learn how to address issues without insulting and attacking people. The Christian is held to a higher standard. God has called us to uphold the sanctity of human life and the human spirit. The scriptures inspire us with that standard. When I  carelessly forget how to treat people here are a few “reminders” that God gives me through His Word.

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1John 4:20-21)

We need to approach everyone with love. This is not just an instruction to love our family, but it is also a commandment to love the stranger and the politician we can’t stand. If we view every human being as better than ourselves, and love them more than we love ourselves, imagine the incredible changes we could make. It is important that we see everyone around us as God sees them. This has always been a difficult task for me. I can think of occasions in the past when I have failed to show love. God will correct you if you are willing. A loving person immediately apologizes for wrong doing. When we apologize, we also must be prepared to love that person who does not want to forgive us or let the issue go. This is when the follower of Christ asks God for His enduring love. Love is humble and full of God’s grace.

We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1John 4:16)

We need to approach everyone without pride. God hates pride. Pride can destroy the best of friendships. It can wreck a marriage and undo any good will you might have. Pride always makes you think that your idea or cause is better than anyone else’s. Pride keeps you form looking at it from the other person’s view. We all have opinions but the prideful person will want to silence and insult them. Pride destroys new or better ideas by belittling the person presenting them. The Christian need to be humble and should always address the issues with wisdom; while never attacking the person. It is important to stop attacking people and to stop making issues personal. The constant public chastising of fellow Christians is wrong. (Something I have had to repent over.) When we attack a person, it is always prideful and it is always judgmental. Live always with the reminder of what Jesus did on the cross. Did Jesus lash out at those attacking Him? Jesus always shows mercy and grace to those who do not deserve it.

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10)

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. (Romans 14:13)

We need to approach everyone with encouragement. It seems like every comedy show today is nothing but one line zingers insulting someone else on the show followed by a laugh track. Just sit back, and with a spirit of compassion and love, think how those words really feel. It is not so funny when we are on the receiving end of insults. The Christians should always encourage everyone around them. How powerful of an influence would you have with people if you focused on encouragement? The greatest leaders have always been the ones who inspired people to be better, who focused on their strengths. Jesus always encouraged those around Him. We should do the same.

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (Romans 14:19)
But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrew 3:13)

When the issues are something that we are so passionate about, it can cause us to loose focus on how to treat people. It does not matter the discussion or the topic, always keep your eyes on Jesus and his behavior. We should always imitate him. Please remember before you talk to someone always go to God in prayer. The more you pray in preparation for your day the better your behavior will be. It is from God and through  enduring prayer that we learn to love and encourage one another. It is through repentant prayer that God breaks us from a prideful and judgmental heart.