God is For Us

In Romans 8, there’s an interesting scripture that asks a compelling question: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31

Think about that for a moment: If the God of the universe—who knows all things and created all things—is for us, then WHO can be against us? When we truly grasp this truth, it changes our whole life. Knowing that God is for us changes EVERYTHING!

So many of us see God as this distant being that is looking down from heaven just trying to catch us doing something wrong. So we walk on pins and needles just trying not to mess up, not to make a mistake. I know that this is not the way God desires us to live our lives.

God’s desire is that we would live abundant, fruitful lives. We were created for a purpose and God’s desire is to see us fulfill that purpose. If we think of God as this rule miser marking down every sin and every failure we ever make, then we will end up spending our whole lives in fear. 

In John 12:47, Jesus tells us: “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” Jesus is for us! The world may look at us funny, people may criticize us and talk about us behind our backs, but God is for us. And if God is for us, who can be against us? 

My prayer is that we realize the amazing blessing behind this truth. God wants to see us succeed. He’s rooting for us. So let’s go live life to the fullest!

Greater Love

Last week, I had the honor of officiating my grandfather’s graveside service at Willamette National Cemetery. He was a 98-year-old veteran who served in the Navy during World War 2.

It was fascinating to me as a kid to hear the stories of my grandpa firing guns off the ships at enemy planes. At the time, though, I didn’t really understand the realities of war and all that my grandpa experienced in combat. It wasn’t until I was older and was in the service myself that I realized the sacrifice that my grandpa had made for his country.

I’m extremely proud of my grandpa and the time that he served in the Navy. He chose to go and fight for his country, hoping to make the world a better place for the generations to follow.

And I think it’s important that we don’t forget the sacrifices that he and so many others have made over the years. They put their lives on the line so that we might be able to experience freedom.

As I think of Grandpa’s sacrifice and the sacrifice others made, it reminds me of someone else who sacrificed His life for others. It reminds me of our Savior—Jesus Christ. In John 15:13 it tells us: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

Now, my family was very fortunate that the sacrifices my grandpa made didn’t end up costing him his life. Because the truth is that, if they had, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m thankful that God’s hand protected my grandpa as he served and sacrificed all those years ago.

The sacrifice of Jesus, however, did cost Him His life. He came to lay down His life for the sake of others. Jesus showed us the Great Love that John wrote about, as He laid down His life for all of us. 

As we head into 2023, my prayer for ALL OF US is that we truly understand Jesus’ love for EACH OF US. And I pray that we would seek to love Him and to love others in the same way.

New Every Morning

For many, the new year is a fresh start. They make their New Year’s resolutions hoping that this next year will be better than the last. The cool thing for those that follow Jesus is that we don’t have to wait until the next year for a fresh start.

In Lamentations 3, we’re told that the Lord’s love never ceases and that His mercies for us are new every morning. Every morning is the chance for a fresh start. We don’t have to wait for a New Year.

God’s desire is that we live every day to the fullest: that each day we receive His mercies and strive to make a difference in the world around us. My prayer for each of us is that this new year will be amazing but, more importantly, that every day will be amazing as we receive His mercies and live the lives He’s called us to live.

I want to end this week’s blog with a benediction found in Numbers 6:24-26, which says: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

I pray that we will experience His blessings and peace today and every day in this New Year as we seek to follow Him and allow His mercies to make us new every morning.

The Season of Love

In our service on Sunday, we lit the fourth advent candle, which represents Love. And when we stop and think about that first Christmas, we realize that LOVE is what Christmas is all about. It’s about the sacrificial love of Jesus. 

At Christmas, it’s so easy to focus on the world’s idea of Jesus. This cute little baby that was born in this cute little manger. But our nice, sterile nativity scenes are far from how it really was.

If we think about it, a baby was born and it’s not like today where we can take the baby into the next room and get it all cleaned up while they change the linens on the hospital bed and get mom into a new gown. And I’m guessing the stable area was pretty dirty. I mean, who knows the last time it had been shoveled out. Which means it was probably pretty smelly too.

This was a huge sacrifice for Jesus to give up the glories of heaven for a scene like that….But He did. And not only did He come to this earth and limit Himself in the form of a man, we know that He did all this so that he could then die on a cross for OUR sins.

In 1 John 3:16 it says: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” He showed us the greatest Love that the Bible talks about because He is Love. And the thing we have to remember is that He came to this earth for all of us—He died on the cross for you and me and anyone willing to call on His name.

Christmas is the story of God’s love for us: The story of the God of this universe who sent His Son into our world to meet us in our mess; The story of His Son looking beyond the surface of all our lives and seeing something worthy of His Love; The story of Jesus limiting Himself to human flesh and eventually allowing that flesh to be crucified for our sins.

So as we open our gifts this Christmas, maybe hoping for that special gift—that gift that we’ve been wanting and waiting for—my prayer is that we don’t forget the perfect gift of Love that has been given to each of us—the gift of Jesus—the gift of eternal life.

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

A Season of Joy

This week at church, we continued lighting the advent candles with the candle that represents Joy. In Luke 2:10, the Angels proclaim: “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

That word Joy is an interesting word. Often times we treat joy and happiness as if they were the same. But the truth is these are two completely different things. Happiness is an emotion we feel when we experience something good or pleasing. It’s a feeling that’s based upon the circumstances around us.

Joy however goes beyond circumstances. Joy is supernatural. Joy is a gift from God. It’s something that we experience through the power of the Holy Spirit. I love what Dwight L. Moody once said about joy:

“Happiness is caused by things that happen around me, and circumstances will mar it; but joy flows right on through trouble; joy flows on through the dark; joy flows in the night as well as in the day; joy flows all through persecution and opposition. It is an unceasing fountain bubbling up in the heart; a secret spring the world can’t see and doesn’t know anything about. The Lord gives His people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to Him.”

We can experience this joy because of Christmas. We can experience this joy because of a Savior who came to this earth and made a way for us to have life in and through Him. That’s what Christmas is all about and that’s why we can experience the Joy of Christmas.

And something I’ve learned over the years is that JOY was meant to be shared. This past Sunday I referenced an old song titled “Go Tell it On the Mountain”. This song is a reminder that we get to go into the world and share with others the Joy that we’ve experienced through Christ—in hopes that they too will experience His Joy.

My prayer is that all of us will experience the Joy of Christmas this year and that we’ll take time to share that joy with others.

A Season of Peace

On Sunday, we continued our season of Advent: a time to celebrate the arrival of Jesus on this earth some two thousand years ago and the anticipation of Him coming back once and for all.

To honor this time, we lit the second Advent candle which represents peace—the peace that Jesus ushered in when He first came. In Luke 2:14, the angels declared to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” 

From a worldly perspective, one might wonder: Where is this peace that the angels announced? When we look around, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of peace happening in our world. But the thing we have to realize is that the world’s definition of peace is completely different from God’s definition.

The world’s idea of peace has to do with the absence of conflict. It’s based on the circumstances going on around us. And from that point of view, we have never experienced peace in our world. Wars and conflicts have raged throughout the ages, since the fall of mankind.

The peace that the angels were talking about was a different kind of peace. In John 14:27, Jesus tells His disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”

Jesus tells us here that He came to give us His peace and it’s not the kind of peace that the word tries to give us. That’s because God’s peace is supernatural and complete. Paul describes it as a peace that passes all understanding. It’s not a peace that’s based on circumstances. It’s a peace that comes from the comfort of knowing that God is with us regardless of our circumstances. 

The peace that Jesus brought was His presence. The Bible tells us that Jesus is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” God is with us and continues to bathe us in peace while we continue to live in a fallen, broken world. I pray that we all experience HIS peace this Christmas, regardless of the circumstances around us!

A Season of Hope

This past Sunday, our church began the yearly tradition of lighting the Advent candles. If you aren’t familiar with the lighting of these candles, it takes place on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and concludes on Christmas Eve. 

The word “advent” actually means coming or arrival. So, we light the Advent candles in celebration of Jesus’ first arrival on this earth and then the anticipation of His second-coming. 

The first four candles that we light represent an aspect of who Jesus is and what He brought to each of us at that first arrival, some two thousand years ago. And the final candle represents Jesus Himself, the One who came to save the world.

The candle we lit on Sunday represents the hope that Christmas brings. Now this isn’t the kind of hope with which many of us are familiar: it isn’t the wishful kind of hope that we’ve come to know, like, “I hope I get an A on my test” or “I hope my family can visit for Christmas this year.”

This hope that Jesus brought at Christmas is so much more. The definition for the kind of hope that this candle represents is the assurance of what WILL come. You see, Jesus has made a way for us to have new life and someday He WILL return in all His glory and bring order to this fallen world, once and for all.

Luke 2:10-11 says: “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

The angel tells us here that a Savior was born—Jesus the Messiah had arrived. God in flesh is with us and in this we find hope. Christmas is a great reminder of the hope that we have in Him. The hope that He WILL soon return and take us all to be with Him. I pray that we can all experience His Hope this Christmas season!

Running the Race

There are a handful of scriptures in the Bible that talk about running the race or seeking to receive the prize. One of those verses is found in Hebrews 12:1-2 where it says: “…And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

These verses are metaphors for the Christian life, as we are all in a race to the finish line. But this race is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and maybe even an ultra-marathon. Which means we have to pace ourselves. It’s like the old children’s story of the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race. And that’s because it’s not about how fast we finish or what place we take. Finishing is the win!

Life is challenging and, as we seek to live our lives for the Lord, we are going to face challenges. At times we will find ourselves tired and weak. And we may even feel like giving up. It’s in these times, though, that we need to run with perseverance. It’s in these times that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. Jesus is the prize and He wants to see us finish. And, the truth is, He’s the only one who can sustain us and give us the strength we need to press on and finish. 

How are we doing in the race? Are we tired and weak? Are we feeling like giving up? Wherever we’re at in this race and whether we feel like were succeeding or failing, we need to make sure we keep our eyes on Jesus, because He is our strength. He is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. So let’s continue to run with perseverance and look forward to the finish.

Being Part of the Crowd Isn’t Enough

In Matthew 5:1, it tells us: “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

Some of you may be familiar with this section of scripture and remember this is what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. This is His most widely known sermon, where He shares some amazing truths about His Kingdom. As He begins to speak the greatest sermon in history, we see that there are two groups of people He is addressing: the crowd; and His disciples. And I think it’s important that we understand the difference between these two groups.

The crowd were those who were intrigued by Jesus. They were fascinated by what they’d heard about this new teacher whose teachings were different than any they had ever heard before. They were amazed by the miracles that He had performed and hoped that they could experience some of what He had. And though the crowds constantly surrounded Jesus, the people who were in the crowds were constantly changing.

Then there were the disciples: a small group of people who weren’t just intrigued by Jesus and His teachings, they were people who chose to follow Him. They were fully committed to Jesus and His ministry.

A little while back in our men’s group, we went through a study titled “Not a Fan.” The study talked about this same idea: Are we simply fans of Jesus who give the occasional nod to Him or are we followers who seek to obey Him and follow His commands?

The truth is, being a fan or a part of the crowd is much easier, but that’s not God’s desire for our lives. He has called us to be His disciples and to follow Him—to not just know of Him and His teachings, but to truly KNOW Him and to live out His teachings. 

Are we merely intrigued and fascinated with Jesus or are we actually committed to Him and His will for our lives? Just being part of the crowd isn’t enough. My prayer is that we can step out of the crowd and become the disciples that He’s calling us to be. 

Shining in Adversity

As believers, we are called to be light in a dark world. It’s something I talk about often. But one of the things I’ve realized is that our light often shines the brightest in the midst of adversity.

People aren’t drawn to someone who finds joy in the midst of prosperity. Because the truth is, anyone can find joy in the midst of prosperity. What intrigues people are those who find joy in the midst of struggles.

The apostle Paul had a way of using his pain as a witness. He wrote from a prison in Philippians 1:12: “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.”

As a prisoner in Rome, Paul wrote many letters to the church that became part of the New Testament. He didn’t allow his circumstances to keep him from letting his light shine.

I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t take God’s power to get through the good things. Honestly, anybody can handle the good stuff. But it does take God’s power to faithfully endure the difficulties and to allow His light to shine in and through them.

The world doesn’t know how to navigate the pain and brokenness we experience in this life. But as followers of Jesus, we can be the examples that they need and help draw them to Christ.

Rick Warren wrote: “Your deepest ministry will come out of your deepest hurt—and your deepest life message will come out of your deepest pain.”

God has this amazing way of working all things together for good for those who love Him. And, as followers of Jesus, we get to allow God to shine through the difficulties and challenges we face—so that we can be His witnesses to the world.