It’s all imperative…

I recently messed up and hurt someone I care about.  Careless words tumbled out of my emotional mouth and caused pain.  Impatient with circumstances of life outside of my control and filled with self seeking pride, I felt it my duty to open my mouth in an effort to quickly insert my foot.  So I did, and can I just tell you my foot tasted terrible for about two days.

Whenever I find myself in this foot in mouth situation,  I first spend some time wallowing in self pity and loathing.  I usually like to follow that up with about 24 hours of silent justification. Silent justification is when I replay the entire situation over and over again mentally in an effort to collect reasons to  personally justify my aforementioned choices.  For the record: This time is never productive or healthy.  After I complete step 1 & 2 of this self assigned cycle, I begin to seek reconciliation.  Reconciliation is an act of humility and because of my pride,  it takes me awhile to move in this direction.

As we study James 5, I am encouraged by the idea of patience and the comparison God makes of this growth to a farmer’s harvest.

Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen.You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!

James 5:  7-9

James’  reminds me that I am going to mess up.  I am going to hurt my fellow man.  I am going to have bad days and good days; days of learning and days of growing.  However, the reality of my imperfection does not give me license to disobey the commands I read in scripture.  As I closely read this passage I can see four imperative statements.  (Imperative simply means “giving an authoritative command”)

Imperative Commands/Statements found in James 5: 7-9:

  1.  Be patient with others and myself.
  2. Anticipate the Lord’s return.
  3. Have courage in Christ Jesus.
  4. Don’t grumble about your brother’s and sisters.

So here I am, disappointed in my choices and ready to experience the peace of reconciliation.  According to what I studied, I have to be patient with myself and others as I experience the growth process.  I need to live as though my Savior will return at any moment.  I need to act in courage because I belong to Christ and I need to lay down my desire to complain about others.

I actively lived out the imperatives.  I decided to be patient with my own growth and accept that I make mistakes. I refocused my mind and heart on my Savior’s return.  I took courage in the fact that my Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ and humbled myself in prayer.  I laid down my right to grumble about worldly frustrations and I went to my friend and said two simple words;  “I’m sorry.”

For the record:  Kind words are like honey–sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:24.  Plus, they taste much better than my foot.

Praying you have a blessed week while you experience the grace and peace of following the imperatives of Christ.

 

 

Side Note…

By:  Lazarth

So I was sitting in church like always, and Jackie was speaking on a spiritual truth that I have read 20 or 30 times. As my mind was slipping into auto pilot, and my voice was forming the words, “Amen”,   I received a slap in the face from the Holy Spirit; a slap that almost knocked me out of my chair.  Jackie’s words were simple.  There was no misunderstanding due to Greek interpretation.  He spent no extra time explaining the concept due to its simplicity, and yet the Holy spirit was telling me,  “Jason, you don’t understand.”  (Side note: This would be an awesome time for the voice of the Lord to speak to me explaining what I am not understanding; however, no further info was given. In fact, my mind was unusually blank.  Empty.   This may be hard to believe for those who know me, but the blank look on my face does not directly correlate to my mind being blank.

Here is what Jackie said that hit me square between the eyes.  James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”.  Before you shout amen, take a second to ponder this simple truth.  I, myself, spent two weeks turning this idea over and over in my mind.  First, I turned the sentence into two complete thoughts:   1.  God opposes the proud.  2. God gives grace to the humble.

I took the first thought and placed it in the center of my mind and cleared everything else out. I began by asking some questions.  What does opposition from God look like? The thought scared me a little.  When I have faced oppositions in my past, I have always felt a sense of hope that I would find an answer to the dilemma. Opposition:  I was born with a learning disability.   Answer: Study harder. Opposition:  Chris Simons, the high school quarterback who always seemed to make the starting team, was better than me.  Answer: Practice longer, run faster and when you hit him try to knock him out of his shoes. Opposition:  Money problems.   Answer: Work more or find a new job. Even death can be overcome when you have the right friends, namely Jesus.  However,  God is an obstacle in which there is no hope of overcoming. The Bible verse says:  If God is for me, what  can stand against me? But think of the opposite: If God is against me, what can stop him. I became afraid. mostly because I knew if the Holy Spirit wanted to talk to me about this topic He was addressing my PRIDE.

I started thinking about my personal life and asked the question: How would God’s opposition manifest itself in my daily routine? I imagined fire balls coming from heaven sent to consume me.  Large swarms of locus sent to consume me. Angels with giant swords sent to consume me.  The fires of hell sent to consume me…  All bad outcomes and I guess I am not that imaginative because all I could think of was CONSUMING. In my defense, I was rather hungry at the time, and truth be told, none of those things were happening. Everything is actually going quite well.  I have a great wife and kids. I love my job and I have good friends. No one is sick or in need in my immediate family. Life is good.

Next, I began to consider the characters in the Bible and I realized its usually the ones God loves who seem to get the raw deals. I know God loved Jesus and he suffered.  Then it hit me. The Pharisees were proud and life on the outside looked good for them; however,  Jesus was in opposition with them. How was God’s opposition manifested in their lives? They couldn’t see who Jesus was when He was standing right in front of them.  Even though they saw Him do miracles, their pride stopped them from knowing God and His will.

My pride has stopped me from seeing so many awesome things God is doing and frankly I don’t want to miss any more.  If I stop drawing near to my selfish pride and draw near to God verse eight in chapter four of James says he will draw near to me. What a gift. Then God will give grace. Grace to know Jesus when he is standing in front of you and me.  Grace to see his plan in our lives. Grace to allow us to be part of that awesome plan and grace to be counted as His children.   I know we throw the words amazing grace around all the time, but there is no other word I can think of that describes His grace better than amazing.

Earlier I asked the question:  “If God is against me, who could stop him?” The answer, only God himself.  It’s only God’s mercy that is stronger than God’s opposition and the crazy part is I can invoke God’s mercy through my humility by belief in Christ Jesus.

Life is too short not to see Christ, and his plan for our lives.   Let us take pride out of the church. There is no place for it. Let’s take pride out of our hearts as well.  Jesus doesn’t like to share.

Side note: Getting right with God when the Holy Spirit slaps you is easier then you might think.

step 1:                Cry.

step 2:                Get on knees.

step 3:                  Repeat step 1.

step  4:                 Repent.

step  5:                 Repeat step 1.

step 6:                  Be healed.

step  7:                 Repeat step 1, with thanksgiving this time.

step  8:                 Get up and keep following Jesus!

step 9:                   Repeat as needed

 

Thank you God for all you have done for me a sinner. Praise God for His mercy endures forever……….

Still true today…

As I woke up Monday morning to the news of the tragedy in Las Vegas, I  felt a sense of hopelessness and a weight of despair for both our nation and our world.  Words cannot express the heaviness of my heart in the wake of this tragedy, so I will not try to explain the weight, as I know you feel it too.

Instead, I will do the only thing a believer can do when faced with the reality of the wickedness found in the dark places of man’s heart.  I will speak the truth of God’s word over the circumstances of this world.  I will lean deeply into the scriptures that breathe life into my brokenness.  I will not politicize the situation and try to solve what I know is the depths of sin and the depravity of man, which can only be resolved through belief in Christ Jesus.  I will repent, personally.  I will pray.  I will grieve my own sin and stand in the gap as one who knows there is so much more to life than what I see with my temporal eyes.  I will not believe the lie that I am made for wrath and I will experience the great peace that passes my human understanding as I lean into the promises of my maker and thank Him for His presence and His truth.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 says…

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Love and truth are absolutes, they cannot be authentically communicated outside of their defined purposes and apart from their divine creator.  You see, the truth is God is love. Truth cannot be spoken apart from Him who made life and love cannot be experienced without the author and perfecter of our faith.

So here is the truth…

Love is first patient then kind. Patient with the poor, “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.  Patient with the addict who once again finds himself backsliding and broken.  Patient with the child who should have known better and the spouse who could have done more.  Patient with the lost, the nonbeliever, the angry, the hurting.

Love is also kind.  Kind to the stranger in this land, to the person from the other political party, to the one you disagree with online.  Kind to those who persecute you and kind to those who choose to be unkind themselves.

Love cannot be jealous, boastful, proud or rude.  Love doesn’t demand its own way or become irritable.  Love will not hold a grudge, which means love forgives continually.

Love will never rejoice in injustice; but will always find great joy when truth overcomes.  Love won’t quit or give up and it will never lose faith.  Love is hopeful always, no matter what and will endure every circumstance, even the dark moments filled with despair.

So if God is love, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  (1 John 4: 7-8)

In the wake of this tidal wave of tragedy, the feelings of despair and hopelessness threaten to swallow me whole; however, my spirit fights back with love.  A complete and perfect love from God.  A love that doesn’t excuse wrongdoing, but also doesn’t seek revenge.  A love that prays for my enemies and those who persecute me, while asking God to soften hearts and heal brokenness.  A love that mourns with those who mourn; while still having hope that God is bigger and has good plans for His people, plans for a future and a hope.

 

Today, I found that much needed hope on the pages of an American public school textbook.  Words from 1967 spoken by Baptist Minister Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  seemed both poignant and appropriate for this turbulent time.

“As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough… I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking….Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this One? Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?…I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned especially for his suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them.  This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls “enemy,” for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”

Please pray. Pray today for all who are hurting because of this tragedy, for wisdom to fill the minds of our leaders as they face the aftermath, for hearts to see the broken, the lost, the quiet who suffer, for courage to stand up for those who need it and love to speak truth even when we are angry and hurting.  Pray for revival to start here and now in our homes and our community.  Pray for truth to win and for injustice to end.  Pray for hands that share and for hearts that give.  Please pray.

“Oh God forgive us.”

“You’ve been assigned!”

For the record, I am not the best math student. By not the best math student I mean that I failed Algebra three times in high school.  I know it is an embarrassing and slightly ironic confession coming from a high school English teacher, but it’s true.  I was, and still am, broken mathematically.  I use my fingers to count, I struggle with fractions, seven times eight will forever give me problems, and square roots still cause me a bit of anxiety.

I remember very vividly retaking and failing Algebra my sophomore year, not only because I sat behind my future husband, who I was secretly in love with, which is an entirely different story; but because it solidified my adolescent belief that math and I would never be friends.   You see, I was an honors student with a poor work ethic; all the ability and none of the drive.  So there I was, a failure at the one thing I was suppose to be good at.  The thing that always came easy, school, was now another testament to my averageness.  Yes, I know averageness is not a real word, but you get the point.

Everyday, second hour, in Ms. Erickson’s class, the assignment  read something like this:  Please turn to page 432 and complete 1-30 odd.  Remember to show all your work.

I hated those assignments.  In fact, it would take me another year and a half of failure, before I would realize the importance of those assignments and more specifically the value of the words:  Show all your work.  You see, the practice made permanent the lesson my teacher wanted me to learn.  The practice, the work, was the secret to understanding.  The assignment had more value than I knew and my participation was vital to my future growth.

Fast forward to senior year, I found myself sitting center stage in a predominately freshmen filled Algebra class.  My teacher, Ms. Boykin, was my OBI-WAN, my only hope.  Graduation was on the line and Algebra would no longer come between me and my academic success.  The sudden sense of urgency pushed me to change and I did every assignment as well as retook every quiz/test I failed.  I struggled and grappled with equations and expressions until math and I were not friends, but at least polite acquaintances.  I did not accept less than a C on any assignment and I earned a B-, 80% to be precise, in the course.  The secret to learning turned out to be thoroughly completing every assignment.  To accept the assignment with hope, was to not expect failure.   I began to understand that easy was empty, and the work was well worth the cost.

Last week at the CCB Women’s Retreat, the speaker, Debbie Bryson reminded me that I’ve been assigned.  You see, God has assigned me certain people in my life, and He has assigned you certain people in your life.  Assigned, meaning we didn’t all meet happenstance, but rather that we have been precisely placed by the maker of the universe to know certain people; to live and work in close proximity, to be family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, offspring, siblings, etc.  Before the foundations of the Earth, our God saw fit to not only create us, love us, save us; but also to assign us.

The assignment reads something like this:  “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  Ephesians 2: 8-10  

Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that our works do not save us, but they bring a fullness to the life God planned for us.  Unlike my Algebra homework, these assignments are not about passing and failing, but about growing and finding an abundant life in this troubled world that we can never find apart from God and His plan for us.  When we as believers submit to the plan God’s made for us, we learn that easy is empty and the lessons are all about accepting the assignments.

Paul himself experienced God’s “good works He planned for us long ago”.  Paul, the man who would suffer prison sentences, ship wrecks, snakebites, public humiliation, loneliness, isolation, doubt, loss, and the like; believed all of these trials were nothing in comparison to a life lived for God.  You see, these trials allowed for Paul to witness to prison guards and speak before giant crowds; to travel to far off places while writing letters that would reach the world for thousands of years.   God’s plan reaches so far past our comfort and our personal gain.  As we follow our maker, the practice makes permanent the lesson our teacher wants us to learn.  The practice, the work, is the secret to understanding.  The assignment has more value than we know and our participation is vital to our future growth.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”  – Paul  (2 Corinthians 13:11)

 

Dandelions: Flowers or Weeds?

Last spring I was walking with my youngest daughter past a sports field on the school campus where I teach. It had been a particularly long day at work and I was just tired, tired of everything: the wind spring brings, the temperature that felt too cold for the season, the coats we were still wearing from November, the homework that needed to be graded, the waking up to an alarm every morning, the staff meetings, the computer screens, the backpacks, the laundry list of it all.  Basically, responsibility of any kind felt like a weight around my neck.  My yoke did not feel easy and my burdens were not light.  My full life, and all the expectation in it, had me feeling a bit down and in that moment, feeling sorry for myself felt not only appropriate, but necessary.   

Thankfully, my silent pity party was interrupted by the voice of my little girl.  She looked at the same field I was looking at and declared that is was a garden; a garden filled with a thousand yellow flowers.  I looked up and saw nothing but grass that needed mowing and a ridiculous amount of dandelions.  Immediately upon her declaration, she dropped her backpack, ran out into the field and started picking flowers.  Where I saw weeds, she saw beauty.  Where I saw another unmet expectation, she saw opportunity.  Where I saw another thing to complain about, she saw something to be grateful for.

The truth is gratitude changes everything.  In Philippians  4, Paul writes:  “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.  Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

If I am honest, I struggle to practice an attitude of gratitude.  When I look at the big picture that is life I am easily overwhelmed and have a hard time finding thankfulness in my heart.  You see, I can fake it.  I can look thankful and act grateful; however, God knows my heart and He knows that in the secret and quiet places I am neither.  This lack of thankfulness, this sin, quietly robs me of the joy of the Lord. I’ve learned through trial and error that faking it is exhausting.  Suffering silently is not what I am made for.  I am made for freedom through repentance.  So I repent.  I repent of my ungrateful heart.  My heart that can’t see the gift in the small things and the miracle in the big.  My heart that screams I want it my way. My heart that sees weeds, when I should see flowers.   

The truth is in this crazy world filled with exhausting expectations, God gives us a recipe for peace and joy in Philippians 4.  He says if we will rejoice in Him, tell Him our needs through prayer, and thank Him for all He has done in our lives, His peace will protect both our hearts and minds. Even though I have not mastered the art of thankfulness in all things and I still have exhausting days;  I am learning to move quicker towards gratitude in Christ and I am experiencing His peace more often in my life. I am learning to think small about all the gifts He gives each day, to cultivate a perspective that sees a garden where the world sees weeds.  Developing a perspective of peace through a relationship with Christ may take a lifetime, but His way is so much better than mine.  

Did you die in the water?

By: Pastor Jackie Roberts

Did you die in the water? I know it’s a strange question, right; however, if you keep reading it gets stranger – I had a dream – (told you) – In my dream I was baptizing myself in a pool somewhere. The man in my dream didn’t look like me but I just knew it was me. (I told you it was weird, right?) So in my dream it was night.  I could see other people there near the pool, but I am not sure they were there for me. I jumped in the water and had this feeling that I must stay at the bottom of the pool for a long time. Have you ever felt how peaceful it is under the water, no noise just perfect silence and peace?

Anyway, the next scene in my dream is the man that I know is me, but doesn’t look like me, being held between two other men while they carry me/him off to the looney bin.  I watch in my dream as he/me is carried off screaming over and over, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die!”  Suddenly, I hear a narrator’s voice, clear and deep  ask the question– “Did you die in the water?”

Immediately, it was like someone turned the light on and I could see for the first time in a long dark night. Images were flashing through my mind, things that I previously had not understood, I see clearly, maybe for the first time. I was no longer asleep but awake, I was awake to something that I believe the Spirit of God was showing me.  If you keep reading, I will try to relate what I believe the Spirit was impressing on me. I know it doesn’t make sense yet; however, if you just come along with me, I will show you what I mean.


Paul said in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Jesus promises us that if He begins a good work in us He will complete it. I believe a big part of that is dying. I have watched people be baptized for better than 20 years and I believe I have seen those that died in the water and rose with Christ; however, that was not me. Let me tell you my story…

I grew up in the church, I have always known John 3:16, I have been grounded in scripture from my first memory. I was baptized in church as a child, with childlike faith and it was a beautiful thing. I served Christ as a child and young man traveling with a group called, “Encouragement.” We traveled all over California to smaller churches that needed encouragement and we gave testimonies, concerts, and shared the Word of God with any that would listen. I would say that I was the poster boy for sold out, trusting, abiding, non-compromising, disciple. This was the end of the beginning, but not the end of the story.

A few years later everything changed. You see God allowed something in my life to show me what I still lacked, but instead of pressing into him I shouted, “This is not what I want in my life, this is not part of my plan, this is not what is best for me!” I rebelled against Him and was filled with wrath. I wanted everyone to hurt like I hurt. This rebellion lasted for 13 years and caused a lot of damage in my life. Rather than receiving the potters plan for me I took up the sword of destruction and went on a rampage hitting everything I could touch. No one that knew me was left unscathed if you were close to me you were at best witness to the destruction and at worst one of the casualties. For 13 years I flung destruction in my frustration against what the potter allowed in my life, but I never got anywhere. Life was moving from one hurt to another until I ran into an enemy I knew I couldn’t defeat.

I will never forget the single wide trailer in Midway Park in Jacksonville, North Carolina where I knelt before my potter and died. Finally, I was crucified with Christ and now I could live by faith in the one that loved me and gave Himself for me. It was then I began to see –

A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked Him a question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ The young man said, “I have done this from my youth” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. What Jesus was telling this young man had less to do with money and more to do with his life. In Gal 2:20 Paul states that he has been crucified with Christ, that is what Jesus is asking the rich young ruler – “Will you trade your wealth for an old rugged cross? Will you die to your dreams, desires, your life, so that I might raise you up a new creation? Will you let go of all you have, to hold onto me?”

Sometimes we come out of the water of baptism and we have given intellectual assent to the idea that I am crucified with Christ and because God loves us, just like the rich young ruler, He will show us what we lack. I am convinced it all comes back to the question: “Did you die in the water?” I was not willing to die to what I thought was best in my life or what I wanted in my life.  I was not willing to die, and like the man in my dreams, for 13 years I cried, “I don’t want to die!” while destroying everything I touched. But on that floor in the single-wide, I told Jesus, “I’m ready to die.  My dreams aren’t your dreams. My ways aren’t your ways.  My desires aren’t your desires. I need to let go of it all to lay hold of all of you.”

There is no greater feeling than to be crucified with Christ. To relinquish all control into the hands of the one that was beat by the fists of men. To the one that gave Himself for me. To trust the one that has defeated death and offers me life. I praise God for 13 years of devastation that led me to the most pivotal seasons of my life – to die with my savior so that I might more fully live.