Sunday, August 18, 2013

Some Reflections From A Summer I'll Never Forget

Tonight, I am reflecting on the summer I've had the night before year 3 of seminary begins. I am so grateful for the powerful ways the Lord has moved in my life the past few months. In case you didn't know, this summer has seen me:

Let go of past regrets.
Repent of hidden sins I had carried for years.
Find my place in my small group and my church body.
Realize who my true friends are, and that th
ey love me something fierce.
Become a better communicator and servant to my beautiful wife.
Develop a desire for people.
Begin a consistent prayer life with God.
Destroy the habit of needing to gain others' acceptance.
Begin the process of healing and restoration in broken family relationships.
Finally yield to the wisdom and humility of Godly men who are investing in my life.

By the grace of God, I'm learning what it means to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). I am blessed and in awe that my God would choose to take dust from the ground, and make it beautiful.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Who Are We?: An In-Depth Look at The Bible's Definition of Manliness

"Boy". "Adolescent". "Young-un". "Little man"

Males all throughout culture hear these terms and cringe. For some, anger is ignited at their very mention. For others, the journey to begin proving themselves is born out of a need to justify masculinity. No matter which way we take it, we're convinced these words emasculate us at some level. The fact is: We don't like them. And we don't think they are an accurate representation of who we are. I've begun to consider what this means. To phrase this thought in the form of a question, "What does it mean to be a man?" 

Upon first glance, this appears to be an easy question to answer. So allow me to disclose what my male brain is tempted to start with. If it were left up to me to decide, being a man would probably look something like this

- having great physical strength
- being able to beat other people up
- having a high skill level in violent combat
- knowing how to demand a woman to give you respect and submission (regardless of how you do it)
- possessing a lot of money
- having a high-paying job
- leading without the advice of a woman and, instead, forcing her to accept your decisions
- being able to make others fear you
- never showing weakness
- giving no mercy
- refusing to show sensitivity, and instead choosing to reject emotions
- knowing how to sweet-talk a girl into sleeping with you
- competing for multiple sex partners with other males, and winning

Even though the list could indeed continue, I think that about sums it up. Though probably not the best comprehensive list, this is the message culture is sending out to men- the kind of man they should be becoming. This is how we ought to behave. This is not only how we need to view ourselves, but this is how we should expect others to look at us. Well, let me be the one to throw a rock in your lawnmower. I'd like to stop you dead in your self-confident tracks for a moment. What if I told you the aforementioned idea of manliness is not only utter foolishness, but entirely nonsensical. That, at its fundamental root, this concept is actually quite immature, juvenile and selfish. For so long, males have been led to believe that manliness resides in the bosom of strength and brutality. After all, a man must be powerful and un-emotional. He must be self-confident and eager to prove himself. He must be cold, calculating and boisterous. Women must bow down before his rightful superiority and boys should look to him for guidance.

I believed this idea. Many of you probably still do. Please hear me out on this: It is a lie.

Discard it out of your mind. Remove it from your way of living. To pursue this notion is not the way to true manliness. It is merely a timeless, replicated brainchild of arrogant men from ancient times to modern day. Tragically, it is a concept still alive and well in the hearts of young boys who have been taught to find it inspiring. Like a diseased carcass to a hungry wild animal, this idea of manliness is unfortunately too alluring to resist. It is an insatiable desire to even the most resolute men of noble intentions.

If there is one thing I have come to believe, it is this: Real manliness cannot be found in the ideologies and promises of this world. For they are empty and hollow attempts to give a man meaning. Their efforts to instill within man a firm sense of masculinity have been in vain. Why? Because they were never able to in the first place. There is only one place real manliness can be found. There has only ever been one true example of manliness in the history of mankind. His name is Jesus Christ. Scorned and rejected for His teachings that exposed the hypocrisy of religious zealots, bruised and beaten because His presence posed a threat to the political powerhouses of the day, and eventually murdered because of his claims to be the everlasting God, Jesus revealed to the world what true manliness is.

Buckle up and sit tight. Because when it comes to being a man, what I’m about to show you is going to drive a monkey-wrench straight into the heart of what you’ve always thought you knew. I do not intend for this to go down easy, let alone be comfortable. It wasn’t for me. Then again, truth has never been concerned with the type of response it may receive.

 So, what does it mean to be a man? Well my friends, in short it means this:

- real men know strength doesn’t come from them [Psalm 18:32-24]
- real men are willing to suffer for what is right [1 Peter 3:14]
- real men always do what is right, regardless of the cost [Matthew 5:10-12]
- real men are gentle, not harsh [1 Timothy 6:11]
- real men are not afraid of being vulnerable [Matthew 5:5]
- real men fight only when they need to [Psalm 18:47]
- real men sympathize with the poor [Proverbs 14:31]
- real men show compassion [Colossians 3:12-13]
- real men give mercy [James 2:12-13]
- real men are characterized by their humility [Matthew 23:12]
- real men don’t welcome pride, they kill it [Proverbs 16:18]
- real men do not seek notoriety [Matthew 6:16-18]
- real men do not fear sacrifice [Matthew 10:39]
- real men are servants to all before they are leaders to any [Mark 9:45]

I have arrived at the point in my post where I must confess the state of my heart to you during the completion of this endeavor. For I know that to not do so would mean I was a walking contradiction to everything I have just written. I have spent the greater part of my life struggling to live out everything I have just shared with you. I have fought this battle. Sometimes at great cost. Throughout my attempts to preserve what I believe to be true manliness, I have lost countless friends, reputations, and even possible job opportunities. As a grown man, it is a battle I still fight. Most days, I fail. Even on my weaker days, I feel defeated. And on my better days, I’m sad to say I nearly forget it all entirely. My purpose in all of this is to offer hope to the aspiring men out there who may be feeling pressured to grow into the type of man that I know they should never want to become. My fellow men, I groan alongside you. My heart is heavy with the temptation to please the world and submit to the attractive lies it beckons me to believe. However, I beg you: Do not give in! Come to the man named Jesus Christ. Discover what it really means to become a man of honor. A man of purpose. A man of virtue. A man of noble pursuit. A man among boys.

My fellow men, I encourage you to surrender your pursuit of self. Walk away from selfish ambition. It is not too late to become the man you’ve always wanted to be. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Put Another Dime In The Jukebox Baby..

"California Dreaming" - Mamas & the Papas.
Released in 1965 during a time when anti-war protests were gaining ground, a sexual revolution for the ages was exploding all over the country, and civil rights disputes divided the economy.

"Stairway to Heaven" - Led Zeppelin. 
Released in 1971 during a time when traditional moral structures were being re-defined, personal experimentation was glorified, and society as a whole was struggling to find meaning and purpose in the wake of a decade ridden with war and social unrest.

"Don't You Forget About Me" - Simple Minds.
Released in 1985 during a time when a younger generation began attempting to dictate social mores, adolescent and teenage angst strove to fight the system and find a voice in the crowd, and the search for love, relationship, and purpose burst forth like a battle-cry for meaning in a confused, disoriented culture.

"Out Of My Head" - Fastball. 
Released in 1999 during a time when an apathetic outlook on life characterized the hearts of many, love had been reduced to something merely erotic and self-pleasing, and whimsical desires guided the wanderlust.

Fast-forward to today. Fill in the blank. You can insert whatever you'd like, but I think the pattern is clear now. Though the choices themselves are debatable, the theme remains the same: These are songs that defined generations. Though times have changed, and musical genres have been both broadened and expanded, American society has not lost its grip on the power of self-expression through the medium of music.

But look deeper. Pause for a moment, and reflect once more. Notice the discontent. The outrage. The desperate cry for belonging. The last-man-standing refusal to back down. The demand for answers. The shouts for acceptance. The passion for purpose. The never-ending search for more. Yes, times have changed indeed. Social institutions can no longer remain the same. Morality has been reduced from something that is true at all times, to a list of principles that can only be true in certain times. Truth is viewed as relative. You can decide for yourself what you think is true, and what isn't. Individual interest is the new standard for what is constitutionial and what is unjust. If it seems right to you, it needs to be recognized as law, otherwise it's unfair. Love is seen as self-seeking. If it's not about furthering your own agenda, it's probably not worth "falling into". Marriage is condoned for personal happiness, not unconditional, self-sacrificial love. If it's not making you happy, it's okay to back out of the relationship, and discard the person. I don't know about you, but when I look at the songs that have defined their generations, I don't see peace. I don't see order. I cannot find a spirit of unity. I don't see people who feel complete. I cannot sense a feeling of satisfaction. I cannot find people who are at rest.

Far and away, music has always been one of the best ways to communicate the deepest parts of our hearts. The things we don't know how to say. The thoughts we wish we knew how to vocalize. The groans too painful for words. But look closer. It also reveals something else: the tragedy that people are hurting inside. The reality that people are lost in a world where they engorge themselves with things they're convinced will fill the void they recognize is there. My friends, music hasn't just defined generations. It has uncovered something beneath the surface we've always known was there: There's something else we're missing. My only question is: Are we really convinced that this "something else" can be found in us?

It's worth pondering.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Tragedy of Knowledge Without Action

It has been far too long. To be honest, I cannot believe I've even found time in my busy schedule to write this post. Much as happened over the past several months. I became a married man. I stepped up into a leadership position at my church. I began discipling a few men. New-found responsibilities have begun to take shape in my life. Everything has changed. Except for the consistency of my sin. Unfortunately, that's still going strong. However, to quote the words of one of my favorite seminary professors, Dr. George Robinson "You're a bigger sinner than you think you are....but God's a bigger savior than you think He is". The fact that I still struggle with sin may not have not changed, though my slavery to it was defeated on the Cross. However, my understanding of the grace of God has radically exploded. God is so much more bigger than I ever dreamed Him to be. He is in control of my life in ways I never understood before now. And so, it is with great pleasure that I confidently, and boldly, make this proclamation to you today: though my life has changed dramatically, my passion for the Gospel has not. Today, I am more in love with Christ than I was yesterday, but not as much as I will be tomorrow.

This world may have changed, and we see that it has (still is, in fact), but the Gospel has not. The un-changing, life-transforming, world-shaking reality that Jesus Christ alone is the way to God, that He provides  salvation from sin and the promise of eternal life, has not escaped my heart. It has not left my mind. A greater understanding of the knowledge of the awfulness of my sin verses the holiness of my God has awakened me to more fervent repentance, a stronger urgency to pray, and above all the recognition that the gospel is not meant to be kept a hidden secret for those "who are able to find it". This understanding is foolish. This view is not only damaging to the believer, it is a misrepresentation of the Gospel. Because it is the very word of God, it is meant to be preached, followed, and  replicated (Matthew 28). Because it has been entrusted to us, it has been commanded to be taught (2 Timothy 2). Because it is the only source of eternal truth, it towers over the falsities of other world-views, and man-made attempts at religion; and is therefore worthy to be defended (1 Peter 3). It is able to awaken dead hearts. It has the power to convict. It is worthy to be accepted. The gospel is not just a message. The gospel is not just a story. The gospel is a person, and his name is Jesus Christ.

All this to say that, in all things and in all circumstances, in great achievements and in painful failures, we must never forget this: our knowledge of who God is and what He has done must lead to a constant application of that knowledge in our daily lives. It must move us to have the kind of faith in God that persists in trusting Him throughout everything; never yielding to circumstance. It must enliven us to proclaim the beauty of who God is and the wonder of what He's done for us. This is something that I have come under great conviction of recently. Knowledge of who God is and what He has done for sinners was never meant to simply be received, and kept locked away. If knowledge of God doesn't result in the consistent application of it and a willingness to share it, then all we end up doing is developing large, conceited brains and empty, action-depleted hearts within ourselves. In seminary circles, I'm tired of a focus being placed more on what we can know about God, and less on taking what He has already revealed about Himself and His purposes for the world and being intentional in seeking to share that with the communities around us, and the world beyond our borders. That brings me to my main point. My last paragraph, and the main thought behind this blog post, is for those who are aspiring to lead in a ministry capacity.

To my fellow brothers and sisters in the faith, I say this to you: all the seminary education in the world doesn't matter if your faith is silent. All the knowledge of memorized scripture verses accounts for nothing if the application of it is non-existent in your life. Every theological stance you possess on various, popular doctrines is rendered useless if you do not actively represent them with how you live in accordance with Scripture. Stop valuing everything you think you know about God. At best, those types of issues can only ever be hot-beds of eager debate. They do not equal a greater knowledge of God. They do not position you in a place of elevated, special favor with God. If you're going to value something, value an opportunity to share the Gospel whenever you see one! If you're going to value something, value the reality of who God is and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross that brought you back to a right relationship with Him. And to take this a step further: Prioritize the consistent, intentional, and joyful re-telling of this truth to all people, in all places, at all times, and in all situations. It may hurt your pride to have to hear this, but the reality is people do not care about all the knowledge of God you claim you have. You will not be effective if all you have is lofty words and complex thoughts of who God is. Somewhere in between all the knowledge and the academic jargon, there needs to shine forth evidence that your life has been changed. What people care about is the application. They care about how the message you're bringing has taken affect in your life. They want to see how it has changed you. They want to see if the gospel is really relevant for them in their lives Today! Your journey of faith doesn't have to be a past event that took place a long time ago. Even more so, it should be a current occurrence in your life that still demonstrates who God is and what He's done. Personally, I hunger for a revival of authentic, missional Christians. I thirst for a fresh re-discovery of the captivating presence of God in the lives of Christians who have become too complacent and apathetic to notice it's power. Please join me in prayer for a more committed generation of Christians who will focus more on sharing the Gospel and less on intellectual gain.

I leave you with this final thought: The greatest tragedy is not in seeing a person live without the saving knowledge of Christ. The greatest tragedy is in witnessing a Christian who has the saving knowledge of Christ who not only possesses no desire to share it with others, but sees no need to.

As always, my thoughts are merely my personal views on different matters. Which means they have the possibility of being not only wrong, but completely misinformed. I only ask that you, at the end of the day, are able to understand that: My desire is for the progress of Christ and his gospel. My focus is on the passionate, biblically-faithful teaching of the gospel, My hope is for the salvation of souls. My heartbeat is for the un-reached people of the world.

Father God, continue to guide us with your unfailing love and always sustain us with your unfathomable grace. In Christ's name I pray, Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Walking in Wisdom

Whatever happened to the days when reading the bible changed everything about us? Where did the genuine heart-change disappear to? When was the last time reading the truth of Scripture made you break down in tears because of the sin you struggle with? I guess what I'm trying to ask is when did growing closer to Christ, receiving his instruction, stop meaning the world to us? I'm going to make a dangerous claim today. But please bear with me because I include myself in it. I think this has become a serious problem for Christians in the faith today. It's a tragedy really. Not that truth is often misinterpreted. Not even that scripture is misunderstood. Though those are serious issues we do face. No, I would argue the greater tragedy is not misinterpreting the truth; but rather walking away from it unchanged, unaffected, and unwilling to walk in wisdom. You see, misunderstanding can eventually be fixed. But an unwilling, indifferent heart, apart from a miracle of God, is near impossible to penetrate. Proverbs 4 speaks volumes of this. The entire chapter is a dialogue between a Father and a son, in which the son is encouraged to receive his father's wisdom eagerly, heed it obediently, and walk in that wisdom all the days of his life. The instruction received is described as "life" (verse 13). Those who disregard wisdom walk "in deep darkness" (verse 19), and have no hope of ever knowing where they're going, or how to stop stumbling in the darkness they're already lost in. The truth of what we read in scripture must be treasured as precious wisdom. We cannot afford to just go through the mindless emotions of reading words, and let the life-giving instruction of God pass right over our heads like a quick breeze in the wind. We must realize that the way of wisdom IS life! To disregard this wisdom is foolishness, which is the way of death. Walking in wisdom keeps you from death and bonded to God. Coming into contact with the God of the bible that offers this wisdom, and turning away from that with an apathetic attitude is like saying you like how what the bible says sounds, but you don't really take it seriously. Sadly, that's exactly the cultural mindset of Christians in the church today. Being saved from sin sounds awesome. Jesus dying on a cross is totally what we understand we need. But you mean we have to actually deny the sinful pleasures of the world?!?! Wait a minute, that's hard! That requires effort! Why in the heck would i ever want to sacrifice things that make me feel good and things that make me happy to strive for holiness? Sound familiar? That's because it's the battle cry of fake Christians nationwide. We have become a generation of Christians who count the cost, decide it's just too much, and then claim we still follow Christ in true obedience. Talk about a lie dressed up to look pretty. Unfortunately the culture of non-believers surrounding us keep buying into it. We have become completely and utterly unaffected by what the bible has revealed to us. And something's gotta give. We cannot and must not be unaffected by what we read in scripture. When we do this, we treat what we read in scripture like those who walk in evil. Those individuals are consumed with thoughts and actions of evil. It plagues them like a disease. They can't keep themselves from doing it. If the truth of the bible means anything at all to me, I'll never walk away un-changed by what I've read. The unbeliever does not understand the God of the bible. He will read the words and walk away the same man. But the believer in Christ will read the scriptures, receive the instruction and grace from it's powerful pages, and never be the same man again. Instruction is precious. You guard it by maintaining it. The way of wisdom is found in being truly affected by what you learn from the scriptures. By making a point to apply it your life. It's not just about the things you know, it's about what you do with what you know. When I encounter truth, when I read it, it must penetrate deep into my heart. It must absolutely devastate my heart, rather than just make me feel good. When we are rooted in the wisdom of God, that which we have received based on what we have read and what we have studied, it will be virtually impossible to walk away unaffected. And in that we will be rooted in the God who is the source of that wisdom. To cease desiring wisdom, to no longer be moved to change who we are by what we find in scripture, is the day we become spiritually dead. May we never pick up our bibles, examine them closely, and put them back down the same people we were when we picked them up. Be devastated by the truth. Be transformed by the truth. Be changed.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Understanding Our Identity

Throughout the years, I've been amazed at how many things are out there that distract us away from our identity. We have discovered multiple ways to detach ourselves away from a focus on God. We have found it more satisfying to immerse ourselves in material things that will not last. We are so easily swayed by the latest craze. The best fit. The most popular solution. And, above all, what helps us feel better about ourselves. All of these avenues of self-discovery have shifted our hearts away from our greatest purpose: to seek the glory of God. And with that, we've turned our backs on trusting God. We've decided that there are better things we can look to than a savior who died so that we might be made blameless before a holy God. Who defeated the grave so that we might have life, and have it everlasting. We have fashioned for ourselves our own personal identification cards. We are confident that they give us meaning. We chase after them when life gets too difficult to manage. Some of them are quite colorful. You may already know most of them: Drugs,Alcohol,Sex,Porn Addiction,Pride. The list could stretch on for miles but I'm sure you get the picture. You know how effective this has made us for the Kingdom? About as productive as a wet match in a dark cave. The goal of this thought piece is to encourage a return to our roots. To see an inner self-assessment of where our hearts truly lie. To help promote a strong foundation in a Christ-centered identity.

To lay bare the reality that most of us who call ourselves Christians, though we know all the catchy bible verses, sing all the modern worship songs, believe all the right Reformed ideas; that the heartbeat of our lives doesn't reveal us as identified in Christ as we'd like to think we are.

So, let's dig for those roots.

- I'm not talking about connectable-muddy sticks hidden deep beneath the ground that grow trees.

- I'm talking about the biblical truth of Jesus Christ as the foundation of what gives us meaning.

The foundation that explains who we are. Where we're found. Why we exist.

I am reminded of Matthew 7:24-27, where Jesus is wrapping up his Sermon on the Mount to the crowds that have gathered to hear him teach. By utilizing the metaphors of two houses, (one built on rock, the other on sand), Jesus is explaining the importance of finding and placing our firm foundation in him. In trusting him, no matter what comes our way in our lives.

The wise man builds his house out of rock. He began with the knowledge that a solid foundation is crucial in being able to weather the storms that inevitably will come. The foolish man builds his house out of sand. Even the most minor of disturbances sends his foundation crumbling to the ground. He did not understand the importance of laying a framework in a foundation that will last.

To make a long, drawn-out explanation short, this is the point: The wise man obeys the words of Christ and finds his identity only in Him alone. The foolish man convinces himself there's another way. Our faith cannot be grounded in our emotions, our experiences, or in anything that points towards us, or what we can make happen on our own. Why? Because those things change over time. They are not constant. They do not provide the answers to obstacles that we do not have the power to overcome. But a strong identity rooted in Christ, will stand the test of anything. And that type of identity will never yield to pain or circumstance. We must understand that we do not have the ability to reason what is good and make a consistent effort to do it. Nothing good comes from going your own way. In thinking that you can follow Christ with your whole life, and at the same time identify yourself with a lifestyle you've created. An identity placed in anything other than the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ will only ever be a false sense of security developed by a prideful person. As God's creation, we are called to be identified in Christ. To live in the image of God. If, to you, that looks like something different than the daily pursuit of holiness, then I can pretty much guarantee that the image you're trying to identify with isn't from God. It's a fabrication from the world. An empty promise. An attractive lie. A foundation that is destined to fail. And an identity that is about as identifiable to a follower of Christ as a Slim-Fast label taped to a McDonald's milkshake. It's a false advertisement and it doesn't show you as found in Christ. May we see that our hearts will forever be restless until they rest in Him.

Return to your roots. Examine your heart. Do you trust Him like you claim you do? Do you identify with the Savior that made you alive when you were dead in your sin? Do you think there's something better out there? If so, the first thing you need to do is identify yourself as the problem. And recognize an unwavering faith in Christ as the solution. Build your identity upon the solid rock of Christ. The world will try to tell you it can promise you everything you think you want. The world will even attempt to give you what you think can satisfy. But the words of the world are sinking sand. Your savior is the sure-footed solid ground. Understand who you're found in, and where you're called to stand. Build there. And remain forever.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Learning How to Love

Let's begin with love, and understanding what it is, verses what it's not. More often than not, people have a tendency to think that loving someone or something is easy. That it's just a simple action a person can express and act out on from a combination of emotions and feelings that have amassed over time, or in many cases all at once. Let me make one thing clear: true love takes root in no single emotion. True love is not held together or defined by a powerful feeling that seems to resonate within a person. It does not always evoke feelings of "happily ever after" like many children story-book endings have promised in the past. No, true love is a state of will that we possess naturally; first about ourselves, and, as we grow and learn in our lives, a will that we must exercise and practice towards feeling for other people as well; even those we vow not to love, but yet love to hate. The goal we're striving for, and the model we look to, is God's perfected love given to us in Christ. It is in the very nature of God to love, to pour out blessings and delight in His creation. It is also in the very nature of God to deeply care for us and to constantly be involved in our daily lives. However, no where is it in God's nature to partake in and receive fellowship from sin. When we don't love in the way God has commanded us to, (revealed to us as both our neighbor, who we find easy to love, and our enemy, who we find it incredibly difficult to love), we're sinning against the greatest commandment He ever gave us to obey, and that is to first love Him with everything we are and with everything we have within us, but equally important to also "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22: 38-29).

I've come to understand something about mankind. I actually find this really interesting, yet not surprising when you reflect on our sinful nature. Naturally, we like to define things in terms of decency, yet we always seems to turn a blind eye to things that tarnish that decency. For example, we think it's absolutely horrible to hear of children in poverty and poor and homeless vagabonds that drift through life without food and without the truth of the Gospel in their hearts. However, when, as "faithful and God-honoring" American church-goers, we meet these kind of people in real life, we think they're disgusting. They are repulsive to us. We label them outcasts, losers, and not worthy of our time or money. After all, isn't the time-honored excuse "Oh, I already give to my church enough. That's all I really need to do with what I have". For those of you who actually think that way, let me remind you of something: God commanded us to take care of those people. People less fortunate than us, people who are homeless, hungry, without clothes, and without a Savior. Christ told us to love those people. And to serve them. And jam-packed in the middle of all these are the people me and you don't feel like loving. That aggravating boy in math class who talks too much. That sorority girl who you think is stuck up. The annoying neighbor who plays his music too loud. That ex-boyfriend/girlfriend who broke your heart and "ruined your life". Yeah, those people. Jesus told us to look at them with loving hearts the same way God gazes upon His creation: with love. powerful, true love. Like I discussed earlier though, it doesn't stop there. We need to do this to people we are scared of loving, those "un-religious people" out there that don't know Christ. The ones that aren't as "good as us" or as "rich as we are" as we like to describe. I want you to think about this: How can a person learn about true happiness and love if God, the only source of this, is unknown to them? Makes sense doesn't it? This is where we step in, where we make a stand and take this Gospel of love and salvation, and we share it with the unreached world; serving the poor, defending the helpless, and pouring out our heart to them the same way God poured out his heart for us on the Cross. I want there to be a social revolution. One that penetrates the hearts and minds of Christians world-wide. One that tells us that it's beautiful how Jesus loves and cares for the sinful. the rebellious ones. the nasty ones. the wicked ones. Wanna know why: Because he came to die for these. Not for those of us who act like Christians, and know a little bit of truth and are religiously religious. No. Christ came for one reason and one reason only: "...To seek and to save the lost", and redeem every one of those people back to His Father. (Luke 19:10) And He commands us to love those people in as equally a powerful way as He did in being murdered for them. In being murdered for you. In being murdered for me.

Think of the old analogy of playing your favorite sport. Ever since we were young, our parents, and those older and wiser figures instituted to take care of us, have told us that the more you practice something the better you become at it. So naturally, we see the best example of this with sports. The harder you work at wanting to become better at the sport you wish to be good at, inevitably the better you really will end up becoming at it. And you come to realize more and more that you have to try less and less because of the incredible amount of skill you acquire over time. This is the same with true love. The principle is the same for loving others we don't want to love. We can't just sit back and figure out how we're going to find it in our hearts to love. We need to dive into it readily; and give it an honest try. You will oftentimes discover that you actually grow to love people you used to dislike. This is because God is working in our hearts, breaking down our self-made walls and letting His love for us fill the void we've created. When this happens, we find that, over time, we really don't have to try as hard like I mentioned earlier. The reason is because it will naturally become an ingrained part of us to want to love people; both the easy to get along with ones and the aggravating to get along with ones; the good, the bad, and the downright ugly as it seems to us at times. We learn to make no distinction in terms of people. Why? Because whether you're a Christian saved by faith in Christ, an atheist wanting nothing to do with the faith, or a non-believer on the verge of a breakthrough with possibly desiring a Savior, the central theme will always be the same: not one of us has anything good within us to reason with. We're all sinners, both Christian and non-Christian alike. We're all in need of the grace of God. And it's as we come to know this that we also come to understand that we're called to love no matter what it costs us. Now, this doesn't mean that when sin becomes involved in the picture that we just dismiss and ignore it and keep on riding the love train through life. No, not at all. Sin should be dealt with, brought up when necessary, confronted, and repented of. And Christians have the responsibility of convicting each other when it happens. But sin should never change or distort our view of each other, in terms of how we treat and behave towards one another. We should, as the old addage goes, always hate the sin but always love the sinner too. Why? because that's what God did. That's what He does. He doesn't just turn the other cheek and decide since we've messed up once that He's done with us for good. He gives us chances, all the time. In fact, the biggest second chance any person in this world ever received to "do it right this time around" was Christ's death on the cross. Just saying...

In the Old Testament, in the book of Isaiah, the people of Israel had become "deaf and blind", (Chapter 6:10), to God, and so He called the prophet Isaiah to warn His chosen people of impending disaster and devastation that would ultimately come if they did not turn from their rebellion and keep His commandments handed down to them at Mount Sinai by Moses years and years ago. Isaiah was repeatedly met with hostility and the refusal by the Israelites to listen and take heed to God's warnings of the consequences that would ensue should they continue in their sin. He never batted an eye. He kept declaring that God would bring His judgement upon all of them. He also kept promoting and glorifying the sovereignty of God; loving the stubborn nation of Israel even when they wanted nothing to do with what they felt were his "stupid prophecies".

In the book of Jeremiah, we also see the outpouring of love on a group of people that are becoming ever-increasingly harder to want to love. Yet again the Israelites have fallen back into sin, and God has called the prophet Jeremiah to warn them of His judgement that is to come upon them if they don't come back to Him and stop their sinful ways. Jeremiah looks out over sinful Israel and pours out wave after wave of love; with his desperate cries for them to repent and seek after the righteousness of God. (Chapter 15:19) Not once did Jeremiah sway from what God had commissioned Him to do. Jeremiah loved God's purpose for Him, and he loved the nation of Israel more than he did the fierce opposition he was faced with.

True love is depicted in the New Testament as well. In the Gospels we see Jesus Christ, the son of man, being sent by God not just as the atonement for our sins, but as a powerful offering to demonstrate His mighty love for us. In this way, God sends Christ to be born into the world as a human in a dirty stable in Bethlehem, living a hard life as a modern-day carpenter for thirty years, and then finally embarking upon a three year ministry in which he was scorned, frowned down upon, driven from cities, kicked out of towns, spit upon, mocked for going against the social norms and the established status quo, hated for discussing kingdoms of "another world", laughed at for claiming to be God incarnate, brutally tortured and murdered on an old weather-beaten cross, magnificently glorified after the tearing of the veil, and shockingly victorious over the grave in His resurrection. "Okay, that sounds about right. But why did all of that even need to happen?", you might ask me. Because God loved us that much. We couldn't find a way out of the sin we kept falling into, so God sent His only begotten son to die for us. Why? Because it was the only way. In doing so, God made Himself personal with us. He became the very sin He abhorred because sin itself is contrary to the perfect sinlessness of His character and existence. He became the way of redemption; soaked in the blood of the most perfect lamb that could've ever been placed before His altar. God gave Himself to us in Jesus, giving us something that, should we choose to accept and live for, we would never be able to lose.

So, besides the obvious problem we all struggle through with our sins, what usually gets in the way of understanding the beauty of this love God has for us? The answer is actually really simple: Our pride. Once pride is manifest within us, we wish to compete to be better than one another. What this does is it removes our focus off of how insignificant we really are in comparison to the glory and power of God; which in all honesty is our real condition anyway. Encouraging this power we wish to exert over one another, in the form of prideful gains, is an avenue of what I like to call "playing God"; of trying to think that we possess the upper hand in life in something. Frankly, and you can call me crazy but I will make no apologies in stating my belief on this, but the mere presence of God should silence us and bring us to our knees; not provide us with an opportunity to even think for one second that we can compare anything we are to Him. After all, if the only thing I'm ever looking for is more opportunities to build myself up and to ascend the latter towards more self-success and self-recognition, then the only thing I'm really seeking after is more self-love. I'm wanting to indulge in how much I value who I am, and in what I believe myself capable of doing; apart from God. I should be wanting more opportunities to show God how much I love Him. I should be desiring more of God's blessings and more of God's presence in my life so as to demonstrate to Him that everything I am and everything I do is because He loves me and because from Him comes all the power and all the ability.

And so, as always, I'll leave you with my answer to your age-old question after reading all of this: "So what are you getting at Kris? What's the big idea?" The "big idea" is this: we must understand that true love is a solid and firm commitment of our will, not necessarily always a "heart-felt" emotion. Now, before I leave I don't want to discourage or take away from love in relation to things like marriage, or friendships, and so on and so forth. I, just as much as the next guy, believe love does indeed exist on this earth. I love people. I love my family. I love my friends. And to an extent there really are "feelings" I have in my heart for those people. But what drives all of that is the sincere commitment I've promised to follow through with: to love when the going gets tough, to love when something has happened to make me not like those people, and to love when I just don't feel like it. That state of will within me that tells me that this isn't all about me, and that this Christian faith has a bigger picture in mind in which I play a seemingly small, yet profoundly big part in, keeps ushering me on to see that I can't embark upon the promise of true love if in my heart I don't truly desire to want what love entails, and that's: love when it's hard to do so and a dedication to trust in God to keep producing within me the desire to love when I don't have the strength or willingness to. When it comes to true love, these are challenges that I, as well as all of you, should want. And embrace. Not because it can provide us with a sense of self-fulfillment. But because it will allow us to deny ourselves yet again, to admit that we really have no idea how to do it at all, and to receive more of Him.