Purposeful Pursuit

The Gospel of Mark, chapter 3, records the time when Jesus healed a man who had a withered hand.

“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come here.’ And he said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or kill?’ But they were silent. And he looked around them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.” – Mark 3.1-6

This passage has been written about, preached about, and sang about for many years. Most of the time the message focuses on the fact that Jesus was healing on the Sabbath. According to the Pharisees, this was subject to punishment. I’ve heard preachers make the point that Christians are called to stand up against the accepted norms of society when those accepted norms goes against the teachings of Jesus. I’ve read authors speak to the deceptive behaviors of the Pharisees and how culture hasn’t changed as the world has declared war against Evangelical Christianity today. I’ve even listened to radio broadcasts that plea the listener to “Stretch out your hand today and accept Jesus!”

I’m not here to argue, defend, or even address those talking points. What stands out to me above everything else in this passage is one simple word. The word: again. It says, “Again he entered the synagogue.” When I see that word, I see a man of persistence. Persistence is defined as: firm or obstinate in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

Persistent is a word I would certainly use to define Jesus. When was questioned about His identity, He didn’t back down. He said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6.34). He said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8.12). He said, “I am the door,” (John 10.9), “I am the Good Shepherd,” (John 10.11), “I am the resurrection and the life,” (John 11.25-26), “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” (John 14.6), and “I am the true vine,” (John 15.1).

When Jesus was facing arrest and crucifixion, he said, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will,” (Matthew 26.39). Jesus was focused on fulfilling the purpose for which He was sent, “…to seek and to save the lost,” (Luke 19.10).

Read the first two chapters of Mark’s Gospel and you will experience a sense of urgency in the life and ministry of Jesus. Trust me! Take a pen and underline the words “immediately” and “again” every time you see them.

So here’s the point. We need to live our lives with the same urgency and obedience to mission in which Jesus did. Furthermore, we need to do so with persistence. Whether you are a mother or a father, a wife or a husband. Whether you work in retail, medical, food industry, or wherever you work. Regardless of your relationship status or academic endeavors, we need to move forward diligently despite any adverse obstacles in our way.

We need to be like Jesus and make God’s will top priority in our lives. When I make mistakes as a husband, I need to repent to God and seek forgiveness from my wife. I need to own up to my faults and strive to be more considerate and more aware. When I fail as a father I need to apologize to my children and become more present and intentional. When I make mistakes as a pastor I need to learn from my ways and be better equipped for future endeavors.

Whatever your situation is, you need to be persistent. You are called to be persistent. All the while keeping your eyes and heart focused on pursuing the will of God. Paul said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” (Col. 3.23).

Paul’s point is that we aren’t called to live this life for ourselves. We are called and missioned to live for something much greater than that. We are called to live a life that points others to Jesus and finds purposeful-fulfillment in the pursuit of His will – not ours.

Show and Tell

The Gospel of John records one of my favorite commands in the Bible: Tell others about Jesus! It is as simple as that. In John’s first chapter we see that Andrew spends a day with Jesus, listening to Him teach and minister. Can you imagine what that would have been like? It must have been so powerful and overwhelming that his immediate response was to get his brother and take him to Jesus. Andrew tells Peter, “We have found the Messiah. He brought him to Jesus.” (John 1.41-42a). In that moment, Andrew did two things. 1) He proclaimed Christ. 2) He took his brother to Christ.

The next day, Andrew and Peter became followers of Jesus. Andrew was not the only one to tell a friend about Jesus. We also see in this chapter that Philip found Nathanael, told him about Jesus, and took Nathanael to see Christ! What do you think happened? Nathanael became a follower of Jesus!

It is an age-old principle to life: we share with others the things we love the most! Just ask any Mac person what they think of PCs and you’ll catch my drift.

My question for you is simple, “Do you love Jesus enough to share Him with others?”

When I was serving as a youth pastor a few years ago, one of my eighth graders, Cade, brought a friend to youth group. It wasn’t uncommon to see new faces but the circumstance for this particular student stands out in my mind. Cade had been working with his friend, Josh, for about a year. Cade had told Josh about Jesus. He told him that he needed a personal relationship with Him. After a year, Josh decided to come to church.

That night, I received an email from our first-time visitor. He asked me, “Is it true I need a relationship with Jesus? How do I have a relationship with Him? Is He already in me if I believe in Him and God?”

I shared with Josh about our sin problem and how Jesus took our punishment so that we may have eternal life with God. The next day I followed up with this young man. He told me that he had accepted Jesus Christ as His Lord and was excited to learn more!

It had been a year in the making, but because of Cade’s diligence and love for Jesus, another person accepted the free gift of life that we call salvation. Four month’s later Cade passed away in a tragic accident. His passing rocked the community we lived in but even greater; his passing had an eternal impact in the Kingdom of God. Following Cade’s passing we hosted a memorial service at the church. During that time we shared the Gospel and witnessed dozens of young teenagers come forward to make a profession of faith in Jesus as Lord. Cade’s life lined up with the words he spoke and people paid attention.

Sometimes we don’t know what to say or how to say it. I believe that’s why Andrew brought Peter to Jesus. That is why Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus. That is why Cade brought Josh to church. They had discovered something so incredible that the only way to express it was to share the experience with someone else! My challenge for you is simple: Share your love for Christ with someone today and bring them to church this Sunday.

Beautiful Bonnie

Have you ever experienced a moment that triggered a memory? Maybe the taste of a sweet dessert that reminded you of your childhood. It could have been the smell of the autumn leaves as you drove through wooded roadways of the countryside. Sometimes it’s a song, a conversation, or an unexpected meeting with an old friend. My most recent moment came just a few days ago when my sister, Tierney, found some old family pictures in her attic.

My wife and I live over six hours away from our parents and the majority of our siblings. So it was a huge blessing when my sister quickly took pictures of those photos and sent them to me. It was fun to reminisce for a moment. I laughed. I shared some pictures on Facebook. I texted my wife a picture of when we first started dating at the age of 19.

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Alicia with the sweet choker necklace!

 

Then my sister sent one more photo. To be honest with you, I wasn’t ready for it. In fact, I’m having a hard time just thinking about it now as I write these words. My sister sent a picture of my Grandma Bonnie. I have been blessed to have wonderful women in my life. My wife. My mother. My Grandma Joyce. My mother-in-law. All these women have made a huge impact in my life and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

Here’s what you need to know. Grandma Bonnie did not have an easy life, not in the slightest. I’m not going to go into detail about what she went through but understand this, the hardships she endured were more than any one person should have ever experienced. But the beauty of her story isn’t about the tragedies of loss, abuse, or sickness. The beauty of her story is how she faced adversity with strength, grace, and joy.

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Grandma Bonnie

Bonnie loved her boys – all four of them. She loved all her grandchildren – each and every one. But most of all, Grandma Bonnie loved Jesus.

Bonnie and I had a special connection. When I was a young boy, she would take me to church. She signed me up for Vacation Bible School. One time she took me to listen to a Southern Gospel group called, “The Barnett Family,” (no relation). I remember that night as if it were yesterday.

I remember sleepovers at her house. I remember the distinct smell of her kitchen. I remember the soothing sound of cars driving by her house at night. I remember her teaching me to play a melody on the piano. I remember her painting the stairway railing of my parent’s old farmhouse one day when I got home from school. I remember feeling safe when I was with her.

My world was forever changed the day she passed away. I was nine years old. I had no idea that she was even sick. Turned out she had been fighting cancer for years. The funny thing is, I never saw her as sick. She was my friend and I simply saw her as “Grandma Bonnie.”

She never had a lot of money. She didn’t drive a fancy car. Her house was small. By the world’s standards, she wasn’t anything spectacular. But you know what she did have? She had a bible that was worn, torn, and falling part. She had a song in her heart that rang louder than the church bells on Sunday morning. She had a faith so bold that no obstacle could ever stop her from loving Jesus.

Grandma Bonnie was beautiful. She was beautiful because she loved Jesus first and she loved Him more. She loved Him more than anything in this world. I am so grateful that she was my grandmother. I’m even more grateful today because I see the same thing in my mother. My precious girls are blessed to have grandmothers who love Jesus.

Loving Jesus is not easy – especially in this Upside Down world. There are days when your faith will be tested.

Loving Jesus is not cheap. It can cost you friends, job promotions, opportunities, and relationships.

But in the end, the size of your bank account, the car you drive, or the type of home you live in won’t really matter. Those things will not stand the test of time. What will last forever is your legacy. The legacy you leave your children, grand children, great-grandchildren and so forth will carryon for generations. The best thing you can do as a Mother, Grandmother, Father, or Grandfather is to love Jesus with all your heart. Love Him like you are going see Him tomorrow. Love Him like time is running out. Love Him with all abandon. Simply. Honestly. Humbly. Wholeheartedly. Love Jesus.

Good Vibes or the Power of Prayer?

Over the past several months a new trend has gained momentum through the world of social media. While the concept has been around for generations, the resurgence of “good feelings,” “positive vibes,” and “thoughts” have become increasingly obvious through the outlets of Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook.

We are living in a time where “vibes” are more socially acceptable than prayers and “good thoughts” are stronger than the power of God. Consider this, Webster’s Dictionary defines vibes as “a person’s emotional state.” I don’t know about you but there some days when my emotional state is best kept locked up in cage buried deep in the ocean. We have the God-given ability to experience joy, sadness, hope, disappointment, anger, and love all within a matter of moments. If you’ve ever filled out a bracket for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, you know what I mean. It’s called March Madness for a reason!

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Prayer on the other hand is the Christian’s way of communicating with God. We pray in faith (James 1.6), in the name of Jesus (John 16.23), through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8.26). We pray for healing (James 5.15). We pray for supplication (Philippians 4.6). We pray for others (1 Timothy 2.1). We pray in worship (Acts 13.2-3). We are told to pray all the time (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18)!

When we pray, we are speaking to the Creator of all life. There is not a concern He cannot meet. There is not a request that is out of His reach. There is not a prayer too small or too big that He cannot answer. We have access to the greatest power of all-time with the promise, that if we ask, He will answer (Matthew 7.7)!

So the next time you are in need to be connected to the ultimate source of power, don’t ask me for vibes or thoughts, because vibes never saved anyone. Ask me for prayer. Don’t minimize the power of God in efforts to be trendy or culturally relevant. Call it what it is: PRAYER!

Sometimes the answer won’t be what you want, but it will be what you need. As followers of Jesus, living in the Upside Down, we struggle with changing our old way of living to the new and better path the Lord has laid before us. Don’t get caught up in “being cool” or fearful of offending others. Be bold in your faith. Stand up tall in this Upside Down world. Subdue your vibes and release your prayers!

The Gospel & the Wild Boars

On June 23, the Wild Boars set out on an adventure that captured the heart of the world. The Wild Boars are a boy’s soccer team from the Chiang Rai province of northern Thailand. As part of their training regiment and a “right of passage,” the 12 players and their assistant coach would take a 45-minute bike ride to explore the popular Tham Luang cave. This particular outing turned into an 18-day odyssey that involved prime ministers, national militaries, world-class engineers, and the Silicon Valley tech-titan, Elon Musk.

Shortly after the Wild Boars made their way into the caves it began to rain. As the water continued to fall from the skies, the ocean level began to rise. The team fled deeper into the cave, away from the flood, and soon found themselves 2.5 miles inland and nearly one half-mile underground.

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The 12 players and their assistant coach spent 10 days in the cold, damp, dark caverns when a highly trained team of divers found them. The divers reported that the team had resolved themselves to drinking water from the cave walls for survival. With the threat of monsoons, depletion of oxygen, and declining health, the options for extraction ranged from “waiting it out” for four months to a building a child-sized submarine.

The urgency of this situation bridged the gap between polarizing democracies in Thailand and united a nation. They gained the support of the world and the prayers of many faithful followers of Jesus.

It was decided on July 8 that a team of divers would make their way back into the caves to rescue the boys. The journey would not be easy. It would include a 1-mile climb over slippery rock, wading through dark waters, and making one’s way through a 15-inch wide “pinch point” to find freedom. The estimated dive time was between 3-5 hours one way. Did I mention that most of these boys didn’t even know how to swim?

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Saman Gunan

In the days leading to this valiant effort, a retired Thai Navy Seal, Saman Gunan, gave his life for the twelve boys and their coach. Saman ran out of air and lost consciousness as he was returning from a mission to deliver oxygen tanks to the team. Saman had volunteered his time and expertise to ensure the safety and return of these young men.

This tragedy is much like the Gospel in so many ways. We often times find ourselves deep in the midst of lostness. The world is dark. It is cold. It can be hard to breathe. The fear of the unknown only weakens our resolve and doubt casts shadows on the smallest glint of light. This is what it is like to live in the Upside Down.

Saman Gunan reminded the world of what real sacrifice looks like. It isn’t simply giving money or volunteering at a food kitchen. Those things are good and noble expressions of love. But Jesus said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” (John 15.13-NLT). That is exactly what Jesus did. He died for all of us. He died so our sins would be forgiven. He died so that we may experience a new life. He died so that we would have the promise of eternity in heaven with Him and His Father.

Followers of Jesus Christ have the responsibility of being light bearers in the darkness of this Upside Down world. We are called to share hope to the hopeless. Give encouragement to the discouraged. Love the lost and find joy in the midst of our challenges. It is not an easy assignment. But it is the one laid out before us. We must step into each day fully dependent on God and know that our lives are in His hands.

Living in the Upside Down

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On July 15, 2016 Netflix released the series Stranger Things. This show gained immediate popularity as 14.07 million adults (18-49) viewed the American science fiction-horror web television series in the first 35 days. Season 2, which was released in October of 2017, gained even more momentum when 15.8 million people watched the show within the first 3 days! With the third season expected to be released within the next 5-8 months, Stranger Things is the most popular streaming show in the world.

The premise is simple yet complex. The show takes place in the early 1980s and set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. From the beginning we discover a group of friends who find themselves embarking on a journey that transcends any imagination. Midway through the first season we are introduced to an alternate dimension, the Upside Down. This parallel reality threatens the livelihood of the world as we know it. A creature (Demogorgon) is released into the community of Hawkins with the presumable goal of eventually invading the entire earth as the Upside Down spreads toxic biological matter in every corner it touches.

The truth is, as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, the premise of Stranger Things is not too far fetched. In the book of Acts, Paul and Silas entered the city of Thessalonica. They preached and ministered for a short time and many devout Greeks surrendered their lives to Christ (Acts 17.4, NKJV). This upset many in the community and they dragged one of the church’s leaders before the city authorities and claimed, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too,” (Acts 17.6).

Paul and Silas had a reputation for making people uncomfortable. But isn’t that what the Gospel does? It convicts us of our sins. Shows us our faults. Brings light where there is darkness. The beauty of the Gospel is that in the midst of our remorse and guilt, we find comfort. We experience grace. We are shown mercy. We discover truth. Jesus said, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save it,” (John 12.47, ESV).

Much like the Upside Down. There is a being trying to devour the world (1 Peter 5.8). The devil would like nothing better than to discourage you, tempt you, lure you, and keep you from experiencing the love of God.

We live in a day and time where truth is relative. Mercy is weakness. Grace is cheap. Just about everything that the Bible teaches is contrary to what the world considers as acceptable. But as believers of Jesus Christ, we are called to a higher standard of living. We are to live this life now, as an example to others, as we show them what heaven looks like! This is what I call the Upside Down. So how then does a follower of Jesus live in the Upside Down? We must cultivate Upside Down Faith.

I don’t have all the answers. But my goal for this blog is to be an encouragement to fellow followers of Jesus Christ. This blog will address hot topics, sports, entertainment, family, and church life; all through the scope of Scripture. It was the famed Greek-scholar, Johann A. Bengel who said, “Apply yourself wholly to the Scriptures, and apply the Scriptures wholly to yourself.” My prayer is that we become a people devoted to God’s Word and His will above anything else.

I look forward to living life with you and hearing from you as we try to navigate the wild waters and rolling valleys of the Upside Down.