New Mercies For New Years & New Days

New Mercy (1)

I almost always get in a really weird, not particularly good mood on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It’s like regrets from the year coming to a rapid close and fears about the future are combined with a bunch of sentimental crap, making a poisonous concoction. It’s isn’t exactly deadly, but it certainly is sickening.

I also get annoyed by all the fanfare. Maybe I’m just a New Year’s Scrooge, but I can’t help it. People are celebrating all things new when really the only thing new is the year listed on the calendar. And so what? The numbering of years is just an earthy construct used to organize the passing of time. It’s useful, but not exactly earth-shattering. People make ambitious resolutions (and I have too), knowing full well that they will probably fail within the first month. These resolutions are usually good things – like eating healthy, reading the Bible daily, or exercising more – but rarely does one actually succeed in a resolution without falling at least a little. People shout “new year, new me!” as if they didn’t say the same exact cliché last year, only to be stuck in their same old ways by February.

As Christians, we can celebrate true newness every single day – not just one day a year. And this newness isn’t like the newness that the world parades with. The newness that the world offers is really just a mask on the same old deadness inside. The newness that God offers reaches to the deepest darkest places in our souls. It brings what is dead back to life and replaces cold, hard hearts.

As this year comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about one particular passage of scripture: Lamentations 3:22-24. Read it once, and read it again.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

(Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV)

Did you catch that? His mercies are new every morning. Not just the day you first believed. Not just the moment you first trusted Jesus. Every morning. Every single day. His faithfulness doesn’t end. For every morning we wake, His mercies for us are new.

Of course, it doesn’t always feel that way. More often than not, our hearts and minds are flooded with worries, doubts, pain, and the weight of yesterday as soon as the alarm sounds and our eyes open. Mornings are filled with dread and not celebration. In these groggy moments, it is so easy to lose sight of truth. Just like our eyes struggle to adjust to the bright light of day after hours of darkness, our minds struggle to focus on the Light of Christ after hours of sleep. These early morning moments can easily define the rest of our day – at least, they tend to do so for me. Most mornings I struggle to get up – fighting anxiety about the past and the future, doubts, guilt, and just sheer exhaustion.

Whatever I’m feeling though, that doesn’t make truth any less true. The truth is that God is faithful and His mercies are continually new. I don’t have to carry the weight of yesterday’s shame, failures, and struggles, nor do I have to carry the worries of tomorrow. For the past few weeks, my nightly prayer as been “God, help me remember your mercies when I wake.” God is faithful. He has reminded me of them. It makes me almost teary eyed to think of it. Mornings still feel like a struggle. I have to wrestle with the thoughts that flood to my mind. It’s a battle and I don’t always win. Still – God is faithful. His mercies are continually renewed. They were new today, on the last day of 2018. They will be new tomorrow, as 2019 dawns. They will always be new. And thanks be to God.

The Samarias of the Modern World

The Samarias of The Modern World

Who are the Samaritans in the modern world?
The ones who remain individually nameless despite having names.
The ones despised because of some perceived difference or deficiency.
The ones infected and inflicted by the ills and plagues of our sometimes-shady societies.

What can be done about the Samaritans?
It seems we tend to simply avoid them.
It seems that it is easier to just walk around them.
It seems like dull guilt or ignorance is easier to bear than the forfeit of our comfort.

When did the Samaritans become so utterly rejected?
Perhaps it was when differences divided.
Perhaps it was when we fell asleep in our own cocoons of comfort.
Perhaps it was when we made the problems in the Samarias bigger than our God.

Where are the Samarias in today’s world?
Places forgotten by the constantly streaming media fanfare.
Places avoided by those too fearful of losing their own pristine self-made image.
Places privileged society ignores unless there is some possible and probable reapable benefit.

Why are the Samaritans ignored?
Because they are seen as different and potentially dangerous.
Because there is no economical or reputational gain in serving them.
Because messy situations are a challenge – it’s easier to just pretend they don’t exist.

Who are the Samaritans in the modern world?
The ones who were last but will someday be first.
The ones ignored by many but loved and seen by the Father.
The ones with whom even the Lord speaks to and knows intimately.

What are you going to do about the Samarias in your part of the world?
We each ought to soberly ponder this question.
We have a Savior who has led the way before and will lead us now.
We have been called His children, and now we have His light to carry to all peoples.

When are you going to stop ignoring the Samaritans around the world?
Time waits for no man.
Time may indeed be running out.
Time is of the essence, for neither us nor them have been promised another tomorrow.

Where are the Samarias?
The city next to comfortable suburbia.
The shelters, rehab centers, hospitals, refugee camps, and prisons.
The places you perhaps don’t want to go to, but the places that God is calling you to.

Who are the Samaritans?
They are your neighbors, whom you are called to love.
They are the ones with unexpected stories and talents to share.
They are people like you and me – beloved, created, and never too far from Redemption’s hand.


These words were inspired by the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4. If Jesus spoke with and loved even a Samaritan woman, then surely we ought to love the people in our own Samarias – whether they be across the street or across the world. We ought to look them in the eyes as equals, value their stories, and love them. It’s hard, but nothing is impossible with God. Let our prayer be that God would help us love the “Samaritans” in our lives, wherever and whenever we encounter them. 

Let Easter Change your Everyday

Today we celebrate Easter. We celebrate our risen Lord and Savior. Death has lost its sting and Christ is alive!

In the hustle of church, Easter egg hunts and family dinners, let us take a moment to really remember the reason we celebrate. Jesus rose from the dead! He lives forever more! He suffered, bled and died and his blood has washed us clean as snow. Those of us who trust in him will also live. The chains of sin that held us down are broken. Our shackles lay in pieces at the foot of the cross where love died. This is not something to be taken for granted. Easter is one day, but the reason we celebrate is a reason to live everyday. Let Easter change our everyday, and not just this one Sunday. After all, today is just one day. But the reason we celebrate it is forever.

Happy resurrection Sunday!

The Parable of the Sower, the Soil of our Hearts, and the Ultimate Gardener

In Matthew 13 and Luke 8 and Mark 4, we read one of Jesus’ many parables: the parable of the sower. I’ve always thought of this parable as solely referring to when someone first hears the Gospel, whether it be in church, in a conversation with a friend or stranger, or elsewhere. Someone preaches the gospel and people react differently. Sometimes the receivers of the word never have a chance to grow in faith or in a relationship with Christ like the seed on the path didn’t have a chance to grow. Other times, like the seed in the rocks, people hear the message and rejoice…until trouble comes. Like the seed in the thorns, some people gleefully accept the word but the word is then choked out by the cares of the world. Finally, some accept the word and develop a relationship with God. They serve Him and preach His word to countless others.

As Christians it’s easy to assume that we are in the good soil because we have accepted Jesus. The sowing of seed, that is God’s word, is not a one-time occurrence that happens when we first learn of Jesus however. If we are truly following Christ, then the word is being sewn in us on a very regular basis. The seed is sewn in our hearts every time we read and study our Bibles, go to church or Bible study, and every time we pray. Sometimes we are too distracted by everything going on around us and the word we hear or read doesn’t have soil to take root. This is when we just go through the motions of reading the word rather than letting it sink in and applying it. Sometimes we gladly accept the words we read or hear but the stresses, worries and trials of life lead us to forget the promises God made. Other times we accept the word at church or study but temporary pleasures distract us and choke out the message we’ve heard. We are all highly susceptible to distraction and God’s word does not always fall on fertile soil in our hearts. Satan comes at us with all he has and though God is way more powerful, we tend to give into Satan’s deceptive tactics.

My good friend Layla added some more insight to this parable when I was discussing my thoughts with her. Even the healthiest of plants in the richest of soil has hard days. There are days when the plant will wilt in the sun or whither in the cold. Yet the plant still comes back, especially with the loving care of a gardener. Weeds may creep up around it sometimes but a gardener will make sure to pull them out. Like the plants growing in a garden are taken care of by a gardener, our Heavenly Father takes care of us. We can come to Him and ask Him to cultivate the soil in our hearts to receive His word. There will be times when, like the plants, we wilt under stress and suffering in this life or we begin to be suffocated by cares of this world. We still have that “life seed” in us even when we fail however. After all, God’s grace is sufficient for us in all circumstances. As followers of Christ we should of course want to grow in our relationship with God however. In order for this relationship to grow and thrive, we must allow God to cultivate our hearts and remove the things that hinder our growth in Him. Sometimes it is painful as God prunes away the parts of us that keep us from Him. Even in those times, we must trust that He, the One who formed us and loves us, knows what He is doing. Our heavenly Father truly is the ultimate gardener in the soil of our hearts.

The Generosity of a Child

I haven’t posted in a little while. I guess it’s just a dry spell of inspiration to write. I have some ideas written on scraps of paper and hopefully I’ll get to them soon. Last week was Vacation Bible School in my town and I just wanted to share a short, inspiring and encouraging story from the week with anyone who might regularly read or stumble across my blog.

Every year, we have a missions project at VBS and this year we did Coins 4 Kids. Coins 4 Kids is a part of the World Food Program. Money collected goes directly towards funding school lunches for kids around the world that may not have the chance to eat otherwise. Many of the children who will receive these meals would also not go to school if they could not get that meal. The money collected this past week at VBS is going to Kenya. At the beginning of the week, our leader gave a short speech about the missions and told the campers how some children wake up and have no food to eat for breakfast. When lunch comes around, they still have no food. Dinner time comes and goes without food as well. On Friday a nine year old girl came in with her cup full of coins. Her mother told the VBS leader how this girl had put ALL of her piggy bank savings into the cup. She had asked her daughter if she was sure she wanted to do that and the girl replied “Didn’t you hear what [the leader] said? These kids don’t have any food. We do have food. This money will help them so they can eat.”

It’s stories like these that give me hope for my generation and the generations after me. We hear so many crazy stories of kids and teens gone wild but truly there are still young people with generous and loving hearts. I don’t know how much money this girl had but she gave it all. She didn’t give it to receive glory like some of the hypocrites Jesus mentioned in the Bible who gave a small amount of their abundance for recognition. This girl appears to have a firm grip on the lessons about giving and generosity that Jesus taught while he walked the earth. I only hope and pray she will continue to have such a generous and loving heart as she goes through her tween and teen years.

Modern Culture’s Opinion vs. God’s Definition

Our modern culture looks at “church” as perfectly painted steeples and pews in perfect order with a band at the altar.

But truly church is a people and this people is broken beyond the all the remedies this world has to offer.

Our modern culture sees “worship” as a concert and short sermon once a week.

But truly worship is what we do and think each and every day, not just a single hour on Sundays.

Our modern culture calls the Bible irrelevant in the modern era; nothing more than stories and some good advice.

But truly the Bible is God’s word and His word does not change.

Our modern culture likes to focus on the “love, peace and acceptance” part of Christianity.

But truly God’s definition of these words is quite different from the world’s.

Our modern culture labels anyone that goes to church and owns a Bible a Christian.

But truly being a Christian is more than going through the motions and is about developing a relationship with our Heavenly Father.

The First of the Two Greatest Commandments

             In Matthew 22, some men ask Jesus about the greatest. Jesus’ reply is that the first is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Even today in modern American culture, the second resonates with people of all faiths and even those with no faith. Variations and paraphrases of the second greatest commandment such as “treat others how you want to be treated” are posted even on public school walls. The first commandment however, makes some people’s stomachs churn.

            At first glance, this commandment may seem unreasonable. In fact some people get indignant about the fact that God is commanding His children to love Him with everything. Love God with our entire hearts, minds and souls? Love God above everything? Not only is it a commandment but it is one of the two greatest commandments according to Jesus. Many nonbelievers and some believers are skeptic of this commandment. Commandments like “you shall not murder,” “you shall not steal” and “you shall not bear false witness” make sense even to nonbelievers. But what kind of God tells His people to love Him with everything they have and worship only Him? Some may say only a dictator style God would. I believe it is a God that always has our overall wellbeing at heart.

            God’s commandments are not simply a bunch of rules. God is not sitting in Heaven waiting for each one of us to mess up and then zap us with lightning. Nor did God give us commandments in order to ruin our fun. His commands serve their purposes and whether we want to admit it or not, He always knows best. In cases like “you shall not murder,” the purpose is somewhat obvious. Sometimes these purposes are not quite as clear though, especially to nonbelievers or even those new to the faith. Like His other commandments, this commandment about loving God with our all serves a very important purpose. God knows what we need. He knows that we will try to fill our hearts with everything from money to fame to relationships. None of these things are inherently bad but when we obsess over them, we will only be left feeling empty in the end. When we chase after things of this world more than the One who created them, we are always left hungry for more. We end up always wanting the newest gadgets, recognition for every good and/or successful thing we do, the hottest significant other…the list is as long as the ocean is deep. These things will not and cannot satisfy us though. Only He can. Jesus said “… whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

           With this commandment to love God with our all, God is leading us and showing us the way to avoid the deep pain that comes from when we depend on the things of this world and they fail us. He knows that all the things of this world will fail us at some point or other. He’s telling us to cling to the One who lasts forever rather than the things in this world that are fading faster than we may care to admit or even realize. We still have the choice to choose Him or to reject Him. Like any choice there are consequences. If we chose the things of this world, we will be left empty at some point or other. If we choose Him, we will find joy beyond our imaginations.

 

           

The Pain He Endured

On Good Friday, we commemorate the day that our Savior Jesus was crucified. In the ultimate sign of love, Jesus laid his life down so that we may be saved. He suffered more than I can fully comprehend. Still, I’ve heard some people say that Jesus’ death was not anything really special or unique. Lots of people have been killed for various causes. Lots of people have been crucified. Heck, even when Jesus was crucified, two other men were crucified with him! Death by crucifixion could last from several hours to even several days, but Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours. At times I’ve even caught myself thinking that Jesus’ death was not anything spectacular. But in reality, several things differentiate his death from the deaths of other martyrs and victims of crucifixion.

The most obvious difference is of course the fact that Jesus was innocent of all crimes. He was perfect and sinless. Even one of the men crucified with Jesus recognized this fact. None of us can say the same. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Even the saints and the people we honor for their contributions to society have fallen short. We all deserve to die. Romans 6:23 states “ For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus was sinless and yet he paid the price that we should have had to pay.

Obviously the physical suffering of Jesus was extreme. He was brutally whipped, forced to carry a rugged (and heavy) cross through the streets, had thorns pushed into his head and finally nailed and lifted up on a cross. Crucifixion is one of the most excruciating means of execution. Still, others have been whipped and crucified throughout history. While we remember the physical suffering that Jesus experienced, we must also remember the emotional pain he experienced before and during his crucifixion.

While Jesus was human and experienced physical torture, he was also God and knew things that others did not. While Jesus physical torture was perhaps not exceptionally long in duration, the emotional pain he experienced before the day he was crucified was long and excruciating. Imagine knowing the exact way you will die. Imagine having to continue to work despite knowing the pain you will be inflicted with in the near future. Imagine walking into the city knowing that later that week you will be betrayed by your friend, beaten, crucified, and abandoned by many of those you love. If these thoughts don’t churn your stomach, I’m not sure what will. If I knew these things, I’d probably be crippled with fear and unable to continue doing anything. Yet Jesus continued to teach, serve, and love people, even the one he knew would betray him. As the hour of his crucifixion drew nearer, we see that Jesus was distraught by what was coming. In Mark 14:34, Jesus says to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” Luke 22:44 says “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like drops of blood, falling down to the ground.” Even though Jesus knew what must be done and that he would live again, he was still very troubled. He even asked that this awful cup of suffering awaiting him would be taken away.

While on the cross, as life slowly left his human body, Jesus was thinking of each of us. He knew that many would reject him even after he paid the price of our sins. He knew that sin would still fill the world for years, centuries, and beyond. He knew things far beyond our comprehension. If you watch the news, you hear of horrible things going on all over the world. There are bombings, shootings, stabbings…the list goes on and on. It can make us feel sick. Even with the technology we have now and all the media, we still only know a small fraction of the pain and suffering in this world. God knows all that has happened, all that is happening, all that will happen. I can’t even imagine the pain that God must feel seeing the suffering that people, his own creation, has inflicted on themselves and each other.

Despite all the physical and emotional pain, Jesus still laid down his life for us. His love is beyond human comprehension. So as we mark another Good Friday today, let us remember how much our savior loved us and how much he went through so that we could have a relationship with God. Let us also remember that the cross is not the ending though. The cross is nothing without the resurrection but that is another blog post.

The Cost of Following Jesus

“Are you willing to pay the cost?”

I roll the words over in my head.

What cost? Jesus paid the price of my sin. I am free. The price was paid.

Still I hear “Are you willing to pay the cost?”

What cost? I’ve heard the stories. I’ve prayed some prayers. I’ve gone to church. I’ve abstained from sex and drugs. I’ve tried to not curse. I’ve given my 10%. I’ve read the Bible. I’ve done these things that Christians should do.

“Are you willing to pay the cost of following me? Yes, outwardly, you have appeared eager. You’ve honored me with your lips saying you desire to follow me. But have you truly considered the cost of discipleship? What builder would start building without first counting up the costs? If he simply starts building without considering the costs, he may only lay the foundation before running out of funds.”

But still I ask, what is there left to pay? My sins were washed away.

He answers, “Yes, you sins are paid for but there is still the cost of following me. The cost is great, my child. Discipleship will cost your pride, your will, your worry, your worldly desires, and your life. And in addition to that, you will face rejection, snide remarks, sometimes loneliness, even possibly persecution. There will be trouble in this world. The road will not be easy and you will face trials. You will feel discouraged sometimes. You will have to place your trust solely in me and not in this world. You don’t have to fear because I have overcome the world but you have to trust me. I will guide you but you have to let me. You have to let me be God over your entire life; its duration and all that is in it.”

Before I even know what I am saying, my lips blurt out “But Lord, I know you are better than all things I could desire in this world. I’m never alone when I have You. Surely everything will be fine. I just want to follow You. You alone offer me eternal life.” It’s almost as if I had rehearsed this line over and over again just for this moment. I’m so quick to say it. I’ve been conditioned to say it.

He replies “You say these things with your lips. But remember you can’t fool me. I see your heart. You still cling to your reputation, your pride, and your desires. You want to fit in when I made you to stand out for me. Your knuckles are white from holding on so tightly to things that are fading away faster than you realize. You can talk, but in order to follow me, you also have to work. This is not a one time decision. It is a process that will last the rest of your life. I love you, dear one. I am with you and want you to draw nearer to me. I will not force you to though.”

A tear starts to roll down my cheek.

Am I ready to pay the cost? My lips say yes quickly. But talk is cheap. My heart however, wants to ponder the cost a while longer. And time is running out.