Holding the Gun

“I am now a man of despair, rejected, abandoned, shut up in this iron cage from which there is no escape.”
– Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The darkness of night shadows your face…
The house is empty and quiet…
However, there is a cacophony of chaos tearing your mind apart…
You want the thoughts to vanish…
“Worthless. Embarrassment. Burden.” The words become like ghosts…
As you pace your home, your feet find themselves at a box…
You unlock it, lift the lid, and before you lays cold steel…

The pathway isn’t easy to identify. The thoughts can be too chaotic to understand. However, many Christians struggle with thoughts of suicide. They keep it hidden from others so they don’t become a burden or embarrass someone.

What is it like to go through this? What does hope look like to someone who is passing through these dark waters?

Cracking Open the Mind

It is difficult to show the thoughts of the person who struggles with suicide. However, I will share my thoughts as I have been there. I will crack open my mind.

How does it start? The path to suicide isn’t a thought that hits you one time. It is like stepping stones where you feel like you are being pulled to walk on. For me, it started with seeing failures in my life. I saw myself as a failure. As one who could not make it. Others around me pushed an image on me I had to fulfill, but always fell short. I couldn’t measure up, and others judged me for my lack of fulfilling it.

I, then, began to see myself as an embarrassment to others. I saw how I did not fit in, and felt awkward in my skin and in all situations. My quirkiness felt more of an embarrassing trait than a good one. I would be painfully reminded how much I felt like the third wheel or the fifth or seventh or thirteenth. I felt lonely. I felt no real connections. I felt like my whole being was an embarrassment – from the way I walked, to my bathroom issues, to my mannerisms, and my personality.

Then, the two began to combine. I saw my failures and I saw how no one wanted to be around someone who was embarrassing. The weight began to sink in. “I am a freak.” The thought became like a brand seared on my forehead. The weight was too heavy for me. When I would share my thoughts, I would only be told I was wrong. Yet, reality wasn’t the rosy glass others spoke of. It was like a bombed out cathedral – a sore on the eyes, beauty that now lay shattered, and a useless ruin only to be removed so something grander could be erected.

I saw how dark my thoughts were getting. I saw the storm approaching. I ran to what I thought was shelter. Banging on the door, I asked for help. I was given lists of passages to read and memorize. However, instead of helping me stand, the hands that brought me to Scripture brought me back to my spiritual failures. Depression became a smog clouding my path and my thoughts.

That was my path to the thoughts of ending it all. I wanted to end it, because I saw myself as a failure, an embarrassment, and a burden to all who tried to help. I couldn’t poison one more person with the smog of depression.

The pain I felt I stabbed others with drove me to begin to punish myself. Taking a simple blade and wounding myself like I thought I had wounded others. However, I still hurt people. I still pushed people away. I didn’t want them in my life. I couldn’t stop the cycle. So I found myself thinking, “If I wasn’t here, then no one would be hurt; no one would be poisoned by me. They would be better if I was gone.” This became the phantom of my mind; striking fear in me in the dark of night – like a shadowy figure stalking me in my home ready to destroy.

The only way I could relieve my pain and free myself was to stop the story of my life being written. That is how I arrived at my darkest moments. It is not a pretty picture, but it is one story of the path to suicidal thoughts.

Stop Throwing the Life Preserver

So how can one help someone struggling with thoughts of suicide? How can we clear the smog and bring them away from the precipice?

Stop throwing the life preserver. When someone is drowning, the first thing people do is throw something to them. This is the most common thing to do for those drowning in the black sea of depression. We throw out verses like Psalm 139:13-16, Psalm 23, Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4:13. As they are thrown into the water, they splash water in the face of the drowning. They try to hold on to them, but they slip. They can only see the dark waves crashing over them. Verses thrown like a life preserver do not help. Instead, verses feel like stones dragging them down as more thoughts of failures, burdening, and embarrassment wash over the individual.

Dive in after them. Instead, the church should never just throw verses at people. Christ never did that to the hurting. What did he do? John 9 is a good example. A man born blind, healed, then rejected, and then found. Jesus didn’t give him a verse promising persecution. Instead, he brought the man close. John 8:2-11 depicts Jesus standing in front of a woman’s prosecutors. He didn’t give her a lecture on how to live right. Instead, he came to her rescue and forgave her. He knew what the hurting and dying needed: himself. Why do you think God became flesh – taking on a human body and keeping it (John 1:14)? God saw his creation dying and hurting. He didn’t throw verses for us to hopefully float on. He dived into our situation, took our death, and gave us hope of a new life (II Corinthians 5:17).

Why are we not following Christ’s example? Is it because we see this struggle as not being serious? Only for those seeking attention? Or is it because we, honestly, do not want to get involved where all we will get is lashed at? If we are truly being the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-27), then we are supposed to rush to their aid. We are to weep with those who weep. Just like Christ, we can stand in front of their accusing thoughts. We can take the brunt and provide a shield. We will feel the arrows sting us and possibly a knife to the back, but didn’t Christ do the same for us (Romans 5:6-8)?

Are we willing to put our hand over the barrel of the gun, move it down to the ground, and deeply embrace those hurting around us? Are we willing to risk ourselves by holding their gun?

Never Alone

What about to those who are hurting?

It is a very lonely road. We feel like we become more of a burden if we open up. We feel the stinging stigmas of suicide. We don’t want to be pitied. We don’t want people freaking out. Instead, we close up and pretend everyday is Halloween. Except, our costume comes with a weapon that seems to be glued to our hand.

How did I find the start of healing? I had to remove my costume piece by piece. I had to show my real face. I had to become like David screaming to God as he felt forgotten (Psalm 13). Yes, people do care. It may not be who you think. I got burned by opening up. Each time I closed up and built my walls higher. But I cried out, “God, send someone or I’m going to die!” He answered me. His true body came to the rescue.

We need to realize we are not alone. It is so difficult and painful opening up our lives and wounds the past cuts in us. Yet, when we come into the light the body of Christ can weep with us and help us heal.

We have to pull out the gun we are holding behind us, show it to others, and be willing to be hugged. It feels like we will only be burned again. But, God promises he will not forsake us when we search for healing, and he will never put us to shame (Psalm 9:10; Psalm 34:5).

We are never meant to walk alone. We were never meant to save ourselves, and we were never meant to do life alone. Why do you think God made the church? It is to show a testimony of the transforming grace of God through his body living together through joys and sorrows.

We can face any storm. We can face any rainbow. We can face the hurt. Why? Because Jesus doesn’t leave us alone. He gives us a new family. A church that isolates those who are hurting are a disgrace to their savior. We are to be a church that boldly sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Find a place where you can open up. It is there. I promise you. You never have to walk alone again. You need to take off the mask and reveal the gun you hold.

Never Again

I struggle with suicidal thoughts. I can’t remember one year where I didn’t. I know the lonely road that feels like “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” I breathed in searching for that pinch of faith I had and asked God to send someone. He did. Through an interesting chain of acquaintances, God prompted a man to reach out. As he began to reveal his story, I began to feel safe enough to reveal my story. He saw my hurt and pain. He became one I could trust with my pain and thoughts.

I remember after dinner with him, he looked me in the eyes and asked me to promise him, “Never again.” In that moment, I saw compassion. I saw a deep love of someone who would rather take my place than see me go through anymore pain and suffering. It wasn’t until recently after a rough span of time in the smog of depression and dark thoughts I saw how deeply he cared. I saw him cry. He saw what I couldn’t see: someone fearfully and wonderfully made with a purpose. He stood in front of my thoughts feeling the pain as he helped me stand.

God showed me His love through sending me someone who embodies John 15:13. It wasn’t until I quieted my thoughts to experience his thoughts and words that I found how deep God’s love is.

So I keep my promise – Never again. Some days feel like I want to walk across the busy road and let fate decide. But, something stops me: love. When I settle my thoughts to focus on the love of God shown through others I can say to myself, “Never again.”

Moving Forward in the Smog

Smog clouds our eyes and chokes our airways. We feel the pain. I know. I’m there. It is difficult to know how to move forward.

Yet, Jesus is there. He has given us the church. From this comes two challenges:

  1. Christians, wake up! Stop putting on an image. People don’t need a standard to live by. They need people like Jesus living among them. What did Jesus do for you? He didn’t call you to a standard. He came to you in order to save you. You need to do the same for those around you. Yes, it may go against your theology and labels. But, it is what Christ did. This is what it means to be Christ-like. It is not about your theological books and commentaries. It is about loving others like he did. Are you willing to burn your systematic theologies in order to keep someone warm and sit with them by the fire listening to their story?
  2. To those who are hurting… It is difficult. I’m there with you. I have a list of people to call when thoughts get dark. But, we have to open up. A doctor can’t help us unless we are honest. Yes, God knows our thoughts. But, we cannot just memorize Scripture and live isolated in our smog. Instead, we need to call out to others. God will bring the right people. We need to take a risk and open up. Take off the mask. God promises in Isaiah 54:4 we will not live in shame when we trust him. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to live in shame and fear.

The struggle of holding the gun is real. It is not for attention. It is not for a game. To think so is an insult. When we open up we pave the way for others to open up. Let’s stop being Christians handing out masks in our churches, but be Christians telling our broken stories transformed by the grace of God. We need to put down the idea of wanting to always be right in order to be loving.

Someone in your life has a mask on and is holding a gun. You may be that person. What are you going to do?

Isn’t it time we be the true body of Christ weep with those who weep. Isn’t it time we wipe the makeup away and show truly who we are.

Let’s hold the gun barrel of the other, and let’s be willing to be embraced.

Super Mario Faith

“Sanctification will be marked by penitence more than perfection.” – Kevin DeYoung

How many of us remember playing Super Mario?

We played through countless levels as the plumber in overalls. We raced through each level hopping on shells, collecting mushrooms, and entering each castle hoping Princess Peach would be there.

For those like me, I struggled with video games. Thumb/eye coordination was a gift I lacked. At school when other kids would brag about what level they got to or how they beat the game and on their third time through, I felt inferior. I wasn’t as good as them. I could not pass the levels like they could.

Did you ever feel frustrated at a video game as you could not beat the levels like others could?

Ever feel frustrated as you see other Christians “zip through the levels” of their Christian life, and you are stuck on level three? Ever feel like you are playing a Super Mario version of the Christian walk?

Seeing Failure in Scripture

Reading the Bible daily and meditating on it is one thing we encourage each other to do.

But..

Ever read a passage and felt like a complete failure? For example, have you read Psalm 15? The passage speaks about those who can approach God’s holy temple. A list is given. Many of us read such a list, and the first thing we see is how much we don’t measure up. For those who feel the call to ministry may read a passage like I Timothy 3:1-7, and will feel all the shame of not being at that level.

Sadly, for many of us we do not see God’s love or grace or forgiveness in Scripture. We only see our failure. We know passages like 1 John 1:9 and stories like Luke 7:36-50, and we see the love, forgiveness, and grace of Jesus. But, as we look at our lives, we feel more like a Romans 1:18-32 Christian. We may be saved, we hope God forgives us, but all we see is our failures. All we see is how we are unlike Christ (well, more like how we are unlike the other Christians around us).

We feel like we conquer things in life, get ahead, only to find out that the princess is not in the castle. We feel like we run out of lives and exhaust the grace of God.

This is a reality for many of us. Yet, we keep silent. We play the level over and over only living in frustration. Is there any way out?

The Leveling Up Myth

In the world of video games, one of the common features is that of characters leveling up. As we play the game, our characters will (or we hope they will) level up and become better. In Super Mario, eating a mushroom will make Mario stronger, and eating a fire flower will allow him to shoot fireballs (my personal favorite).

In the Christian life, we tend to view our sanctification the same way. We want to become more mature Christians (which is not a bad goal). However, for us to get there, we eat as much Scripture as we can consume. We pray and pray. We attend church as frequently as possible. We attend small groups, post verses, give out tracts all in hopes to “level up” our Christian maturity.

There are many reasons why we do this. But, there is one main one – to be seen as perfect. However, what does God say in Philippians 1:6? He was the one who started this glorious work is going to be the one to finish it. Galatians 5:22-23 talks about the fruit of the Spirit. It is not our fruit where we work and work till it appears. No! It is the work of the Spirit. The first part of II Corinthians 5:14 states it is Christ’s love which drives us. It is not us! The goal of wanting to be seen as this mature, perfect Christian is not biblical unless it is driven by Christ’s love.

When we degrade the sanctification process to how much we can do, we liken it unto an addict hoping to get a better life through taking more ecstasy. A work-based Christian life erases Christ’s work on the cross. We make it about us in order to brag about how good we are in comparison to others (II Corinthians 10:12). When all we do is measure each other by ourselves, our “goodness” comes from an image rather than from the righteousness of Christ.

It is by grace we are saved, and it is by grace we are prepared for things God has called us to (Ephesians 2:8-10). Living the Christian life as one “leveling up” spits on the grace and work of Christ.

More than a List

So what should be our Christian life?

It is not a life of “leveling up.” It is not a life fixated on how much we are a failure. It is more than a list. It is more than just put off and put on. We fixate our minds on those lists, because we want it to become about us and our image. However, when we look at the Epistles, we see many chapters leading to those infamous lists.

For example, the book of Ephesians starts off with three chapters dedicated to displaying the love of the Father, the work of Christ, the spiritual blessings we have, and the wondrous mystery of grace (Ephesians 1-3). If we miss who we are, then we will miss how to live. We are a saved, redeemed people by the grace of God through the work of Christ. We do not have to do anything to gain God’s love. He loves us. These lists are an outpouring of grace. When we live a life of relying on God’s grace, we begin to be transformed.

Scripture isn’t about what we can do to please God. It isn’t about how to pass each level. Scripture is about God loving us so much he comes to live among us in order to redeem us (John 1:14). Scripture is about God’s love. He knows our mess. He knows us even before we understand ourselves (Psalm 139:13-16).

When we begin to see this in our Bible reading, we begin to be transformed. When we feel like failures, God reminds us that we cannot do it on our own. Why would Jesus come if we could be the perfect Christian?

Living in Game Over

I have been here. I still struggle with this. I lived in a mindset where my value as a Christian were measured by how much of an image I could obtain. I struggle with so much in my life. I prayed for God to take away these struggles. I memorized verses, I attended church, went for counseling, spent hundreds of dollars on books hoping I could change. All around me I saw Christians “leveling up,” and reaching new heights. I was stuck on a level that seemed unbeatable.

I was frustrated, depressed, and it drove me to a dark place. March 2020 arrived. I was so depressed about how I could not reach where I thought I needed to be that I thought “Game Over” was my only option. Yes, I tried to end the game, but something shouted at me to stop.

God stopped me and he caused me to realize that I was living my faith like Super Mario. I was comparing myself to others. Proverbs 29:25 illustrated how my life was being lived. I wasn’t fearful of the world. I was fearful of other Christians and churches. God created me to be me with my struggles and my ups and downs. He loves me even though I do not look like other Christians around me. It is my faith before him. We are all different body parts of a church showing the love of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-27). My Christian life will look different than your’s, and your’s will look different than mine.

Living a Super Mario faith just about killed me. Each day I need to remind myself that God loves me as who I am and where I am. The hardest part is accepting myself (with all my quirks) as God intended me to be. This is an ongoing battle. But, I had to put down the gaming system, and turn to the art canvas that God made me to be.

I always thought this line from Beauty and the Beast was the motto of my life – “For whoever could ever learn to love a beast?” But, someone does. His name is Jesus. He tells me I am loved, I am forgiven, and I can rest (John 3:16; Romans 8:1; Matthew 11:28)

I do not have to live with a “game over mindset,” because the Christian life isn’t a game. The Christian life is a life of being an artwork sculpted into the image God wants me to be.

Frankly, My Dear…

Living out our faith like a game of Super Mario will only lead to a life of frustration. Comparing ourselves to others and running after an image will only lead us to a life not following Christ, but following an entrapped pharisaical mindset.

When we emphasize image, we erase the transforming grace of God. Sure, we will not look like how certain religious institutions and churches want us to. But, we will be living as God’s artwork and not as a sweaty and frustrated individual.

There are two movie quotes that stand out to me as we look at a Super Mario faith.

In The Princess Diaries, Joe tells Mia (after her transformation) that, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” How true this is. No one can make you feel inferior without God’s consent. He’s the one who is transforming you. You are never an inferior person when our Creator is the one who is working on you.

However, people will try to make you feel inferior. They will try to shame you and feel guilt over things you are doing and the path you are taking. They will tear you down and manipulate you back on to their way of living. To that, comes my second movie quote. You can turn to them and say the most famous quote in all of cinematic history from Gone with the Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

When we allow others to make us feel shame and inferior to them, we will never fully live as God created us to.

Psalm 9:10 promises us God will never abandon us and never put us to shame. It is not because we fit another Christian’s image. It is because we seek him. Our paths look different. Our stories are different. God loves diversity. It is more than diversity of culture and race. It is a diversity of stories.

I still struggle with a Super Mario faith mindset. Sometimes it can drive me to despair, but I need to remember that it is not based on other’s opinions of me, but God’s opinion. So NEVER AGAIN will I live in “Game Over.” We should never live like that.

John Flavel said, “Did Christ finish his work for us? Then there can be no doubt but he will also finish his work in us.”

Our walk with Christ is not about leveling up. It is about being transformed from the cursed beast into the prince who’s Father is the King of kings.

Dedicated to the one who reached out, continually teaching me this, and who I promised to, “Never Again.” Thank you. I am beyond grateful you are in my life.

A Constitutional Idol

“The earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.” – Augustine

It is coming…

24 days…

The presidential election is upon us. Signs are up. Debates are happening. Social media posts bombard our newsfeeds. The world watches America as it prepares for the election of the next president.

Politics has become entertainment for the masses. Allies of political parties have become more of a rivalry than fans of Michigan or Ohio State. We cannot go even ten minutes on social media without seeing a meme, a comedic article, a slam, or an opinion about politics.

Even in our churches, politics has probably become one of the leading topics of conversation in Christian fellowship and from the pulpit.

Have we made America, the constitution, and our American politics an idol?

What is an Idol?

The classic definition of an idol is anything we worship. Biblically, it is anything we put above God (Exodus 20:3-4). The Ten Commandments are clear – we are not to have any god, but our Creator. We should not worship anything other than the one who made us, sustains us, and saves us.

Therefore, an idol is anything we cling to as it provides something only God can do, or an idol is anything we find stability in more than God (Colossians 1:15-20).

Based on our definitions of an idol, we can create some criteria for what an idol in our world today would look like –

  1. An idol is something we look to for stability in our lives other than God (Jonah 2:8).
  2. An idol is something we look to for salvation out of troubling times other than God (Jeremiah 11:12).
  3. An idol is something we hold as the greatest thing on earth other than God (Isaiah 46:7).

We can all agree with these three items. An idol holds these three characteristics.

Instability in Politics

Think about the various political events that have taken place since 2018. Do you remember the hearings? Do you remember any of the decisions made? Do you remember the protests? Do you remember your own actions and thoughts?

Every month seems to bring another political decision. When that decision is put into practice, we either jump for joy or we fear our lives will fall apart.

What does Proverbs 21:1 say? The king’s heart and mind are in the hand of the Lord. God directs the decisions politicians make. Is God surprised when a law comes into play that makes our lives uncomfortable? Job confesses at the end of what seems like an unfair life that God is in control and will continue to worship his Creator (Job 42:2).

How are we doing with developing the attitude Job had? Are we able to say,”Democrats in charge or Republicans in charge, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)? Or do we tend to say, “Our economy is good, my rights are intact, and I am comfortable. Blessed be the name of the constitution and the president.”?

It seems we have established our foundation for stability on the constitution or who is office rather than God. Colossians 1:15-20 displays beautifully the sovereignty and sustaining power of Jesus Christ. Not only does he sustain the world and is sovereign over it, but he redeems us. Psalm 19:7-11 describes the beauty and power of God’s Word. Can a political document bring more security and stability than God’s Word? Psalm 1 illustrates the deep roots and stability of one resting, meditating, and focusing on God’s Word.

Are we trying to find stability in our current political situation over finding it in God and his Word? We claim to stand on God’s Word, but are we really standing on our American politics and looking to our government for stability?

Electing Your Savior

With the election coming up, we see signs, apparel, and social media posts boldly declaring who should be in office and who should not. The night of the election, we stay up late with eyes glued to the TV as voting results pour in. We see the map of the states turn blue or red. It is the most suspenseful situation to be in.

When votes are counted, how to we react to the results? Are we happy or are we crying? Matthew 10:28 declares we should fear God over those who can destroy our bodies. Yet, when election results are in and they do not go the way we want, how do we react?

However, how do we view the candidate we want? Is it like Israel’s attitude in 1 Samuel 8? They wanted a king that would lead them, so they went with the man who looked good and stood above the rest (I Samuel 9:1-2). The people thought Saul would be their savior among the nations. Yet, where was his heart?

When we look at the candidate of our choice, we may not say he or she is our savior, but from how much we emulate that person could we say we view him like our savior? When we talk about the destruction of America and our way of life unless (put name here) is elected, then we have made a political candidate a savior. When we fear for our rights unless a certain person is elected, then we have made a politician into a savior.

Even if a presidential candidate is a Christian, is he greater than the one who freed you from sin? Or are we more concerned about our rights here in America that we have forgotten the freedom we have in Christ? If our right to have firearms is taken away, does that take away Christ? If our churches are shut down, does that erase our salvation?

If our rights not being upheld is the perseverating thought, then our constitution is our savior. If the thought of having our guns, free speech, and any other freedom we have being taken away freaks us out and we desperately need someone in office to keep that form happening, then our savior is not Jesus Christ.

We may not say a politician is our savior, but when we honestly look at our thoughts and actions regarding our rights, is Jesus really our savior and in control?

This the Greatest Nation

Ever seen The Greatest Showman? The opening song is exciting – Watch Here.
The opening line, “Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for.”
This song is all about how you haven’t seen anything yet, until you’ve seen this show.

Don’t we have the same attitude towards America? Ladies and gents, this is the country you’ve waited for. Since its founding, America has been seen as “the lighthouse to the nations” or even “the new Promised Land.” The pilgrims and the puritans saw America as the greatest nation on earth. Today, many of us do as well. We flaunt our flags on clothing items, we put down other nations and people groups for not being like us. We see America as the greatest nation.

However, is America the greatest nation?

Hebrews 11:8-10 states Abraham, even though he was led to the land that would be called the Promised Land, looked for a better country. He saw off in the distance a better country. He did not see America. He saw what is described in Revelation 21. He saw the greatest country in the world. He saw our home. He saw the country and city built by God for his people. America is not this city. It does not even come close to it.

Yet, why do we see our country better than any other country? Are we not filled with sin or do we have some special blessing? Sure, we may have more freedoms than another country, but is America really the greatest country?

Think about the place where we have true freedom: no pain, no tears, seeing Jesus face to face. Our freedoms in America do not even compare to what is to come.

Since this is true, why do we flaunt our country as the greatest? Have we put our country above our true home with God?

Tearing Down our Constitutional Idol

When we look at the biblical criteria of an idol, and we look at our attitudes towards our country and politics…

Have we made America and its government our constitutional idol?

We are quick to say no. But answer these questions?

Can you be content with the “other party” in control?
Can you be content if your guns are taken away?
Can you be content if America turns to socialism?
Or are you only content if your candidate and your rights are upheld?

Can you really say with Paul that we are learning to be content in all situations (Philippians 4:11)

If we truly look at our thoughts, words, and actions regarding our politics, we can conclude that we have a constitutional idol.

It is not wrong to vote, voice an opinion, or even be concerned about our country. However, how do we view America in our churches? How many times a year do we sing about the greatness of our country, praise God for our freedoms, and then pray that our candidate is elected? Does that show trust in God or in an idol formed with our hands?

Romans 13:1-7 says to submit to the governing authorities, because God is the one who puts rulers on the throne (or presidents in the White House). God knows the outcome of every election. He knows our fears, and he tells us, “Cast your worries on me, because I will care for you (I Peter 5:7).” Our vote does matter, but can we trust God’s voice to carry us through? If we can’t, then we have an idol.

Which country do we glory in? Which country are we more concerned about? Are we concerned about America or our home with God? Which ruler/president drives our actions? God or Trump or the next president? Is Jesus truly the one we can rely on for salvation, or do we see our president as our savior?

There are two cities: America and the New Earth. Which one truly excites you to be apart of? Which one brings stability, redemption, and true worship to your soul? It is only in the King of the New Earth we will find these things. It is time then to tear down our constitutional idol, and to refocus our allegiance to the sovereignty of God (because he promises to always be in control).

If we truly believe this, then how will our thoughts and actions change towards America? How will America change its view of Christians when we find our stability, our salvation, and our greatest joy in Jesus and his country that is to come?

The Christian and Conspiracies

“To the one who delights in the sovereignty of God the clouds not only have a ‘silver lining,’ but they are silver all through; the darkness only serving to offset the light!”
– Arthur W. Pink

Have you heard?

“The One-World Government created COVID-19 in order to cleanse the population!”

What would you do if you saw that headline or statement on social media? What would your reaction be? Would it be to share the post making some comment?

What would you do about this headline?

“Government Uses Pandemic to Close Churches.”

How would that strike you? Would you be quick to share that one? Quick to create a following to protest? Would you post about being fearful? Would you post something like, “These are the end of times! Jesus is coming back any day.” Or in regards to government, “This isn’t Trump vs. Biden. It is Trump vs. Satan!”

If you laughed at these, go on social media. They are everywhere.

Conspiracy theories are all around us. Whether based in facts or not, we all have to admit there is a growing number of these theories today. With that, we have seen an increase in anxiety and worry about the world around us and who we can trust.

When we are faced with an onslaught of conspiracy theories or headlines that cause us to worry, what are we to do? What does the Bible say about Christians and conspiracy theories?

A Problem Defined

As defined by Mariam-Webster, a conspiracy theory is, “a theory that explains an event or set of circumstances as the result of a secret plot by usually powerful conspirators.”

Area 51, the JFK assassination, the moon landing, UFO sightings, the Illuminati and the One-World Government, secret societies, under the table government dealings, and many more things can be considered conspiracy theories.

They usually make great novel ideas, but they most often fill us with fear. That is the main effect of conspiracy theories – fear. When fear clings to us as we read and investigate these theories, we begin to lose trust, isolate ourselves, and try to find snakes under every rock.

Is it healthy for us to live this way? Do we truly enjoy waking up each day thinking about these things? It only robs us of our peace of mind which God has given us (Philippians 4:7).

The problem is not “out there” like we want to think. The problem with conspiracy theories is that they affect us deeply by robbing our peace and stability, and ultimately, our focus on God.

Stop Running for the Hills

When conspiracy theories strike fear in our hearts, what is the first thing we do? We tend to run for the hills, shut our doors, warn others, and bring up the drawbridge.

However, is that biblical?

Psalm 11 reveals a lot of how we should view conspiracy theories.

Read Psalm 11:1-3. We can reword it like this, “Flee to your safe house. The evil in this world is ready to take away your life and your rights. They have their snipers set on you. Don’t you see the world around us? Rule of law and order is falling apart and they sit back and laugh as the world burns for their gain. What can we do?”

Sound familiar? This is generally every reaction to every conspiracy theory. We see evil and we feel a target on our backs. We panic and run for the hills.

What does David say in verse 1? “I trust in the Lord for protection. So why do you say to me…” He knew the news of the day. He was aware of what was happening in the world around him. Yet, he questioned the sanity of those who told him to run to the hills. “Why in the world are you telling me this when I trust God for protection?”

Why did he say this? Psalm 11:4-7 answers that question. God is on the the throne. He is ruling. God sees everything that is going on. This is called God’s sovereignty. David founded his whole life on the sovereignty of God. Without it, I believe David would’ve had a hair-raising giant each step of the way. Read each of David’s psalms. Sure, he had his emotions. But, he went back to the point we need to be at: God is in control, and he will take care of the evil in the world.

The Chicken Little Christian

David isn’t the only person who dealt with this. The disciples also had a similar attitude we have when it comes to conspiracy theories.

Acts 1:6-11 tells us the account we tend to miss. Jesus and the disciples have been reunited after his resurrection. Right before he is about to ascend to Heaven, the disciples ask, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” Basically, they were asking about the end of the world or end times matters. Jesus corrects their thinking. He did not want them being concerned with future events; except to know it is going to happen.

Instead, Jesus speaks one of the most famous verses in Scripture: Acts 1:8. But, the context starts in verse 7 (Acts 1:7-8). God only knows when the world is going to end. He is sovereign, and he knows exactly when and what will happen. Our job is to focus on living in the power of the Spirit while being his witness of how God has transformed our lives through his love and grace.

So many Christians today look like this today – Watch this clip

“Run for cover! The sky is falling!” When any whiff of an event or conspiracy theory tickles our inner prophetic mind, we tend to say the world is ending and Jesus is coming back soon. Guess what? This attitude has been around since the French Revolution in 1789, the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, World War I and World War II. This is not to say Jesus is not coming back. He is coming back. However, it is not for us to worry when. We need to be more concerned about being his witnesses. How are we focusing on that when we post about conspiracy theories and end times rumors? Is posting online about the coming of Christ based on COVID-19 really being a witness to how Jesus’ resurrection freed you?

For Such a Time as This

One of my favorite songs by Elvis is “Devil in Disguise.” He sings, “You look like an angel/ Walk like an angel/ Talk like an angel/ But I got wise/ You’re the devil in disguise/ Oh, yes, you are/ The devil in disguise.”

This song perfectly sums up the mindset we have when we focus on conspiracy theories – we begin to see devils in disguise wherever we go. But it doesn’t end there. Once we have “Devil in Disguise” attitude we tend to develop “Suspicious Minds.” (And Christians say we can’t learn anything from Elvis.)

We do not have to have suspicious minds. We can trust God like David illustrates for us in Psalm 11. God is in control. We no longer have to act like Chicken Little and run for the hills. We can rest in his sovereign control. We can truly have a peace that surpasses all understanding, because we have a God who is in control (Philippians 4:7).

Instead of fearing for our lives, we can do what Esther did. She legitimately faced a conspiracy theory: the destruction of her people. Did she go writing on the wall? Did she write to the gossip column? No, she was reminded that God put her in that position for such a time as this (Esther 4:14). Daniel was in the same situation. He was going to be killed for praying (even with a mask on). Yet, what did he do? Did he form a fiery protest? He prayed like he did before (Daniel 6:10). He rested in the fact that God is sovereign and in control. He did not lose sleep with those lions (even if they had a pizza party).

These true-life accounts were written for our encouragement (Romans 15:14). Is God’s purpose for our lives to live in fear of conspiracy theories? Or are we placed on this earth for such a time as this to be his witnesses? How are we fulfilling that calling?

Instead of listening to Elvis and his “Devil in Disguise,” we should listen to Gloria Gayner singing “I Will Survive,” because we know who our God is.

Who controls your life? A conspiracy theory? The rise and fall of our government or constitution? Who really holds your life stable?

God is not the author of fear. His love casts out fear and gives us soul-stabilizing peace. Conspiracy theories work the opposite in our lives.

We can let those headlines and theories go, because we can rest in the hands of a sovereign God. He is our shepherd. He will guide us through the darkness, and he will prepare a table to eat a peaceful meal in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23).

How are we living to show the world our God is truly our shepherd?

Which Jesus

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
– C.S. Lewis

Spot The Difference

I loved playing this game as a kid (and still do). Some can be quite easy, and some can be very difficult. Some people can identify the differences right away, but others may need hours to do so.

However, there is a Spot The Difference in our spiritual lives that can be more difficult than discovering a forgery from the original. This one is even deeper than discovering counterfeit money.

The question is: Which Jesus? Which Jesus is the correct Jesus to follow?

Did you realize there are two portraits of Jesus in our churches?

And the question is… Which Jesus are you following?

Portrait #1 of Jesus

The first portrait of Jesus at first is what you expect: born in a manger, died on a cross, rose from the dead, and we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Nothing off at all about that, right?

However, the main structure may be the same in both portraits, but the devil is always in the details.

In this portrait you see Jesus giving keys to a heavenly mansion. He points to a door and mailbox with your name on it. He gives you a certificate reading: “Joe prayed to accept Jesus as his savior on June 14, 1987.” We see this image in churches, right? In fact, many of us may have that written in the front of our Bibles.

But the details do not end there…

You see a path behind Jesus leading to heaven. You see signs as you walk this path. One says, “Read your Bible everyday.” Another reads, “Attend church every Sunday.” One in bright lights says, “Do not be worldly!” Another with a picture of an offering plate states, “Make sure you give to God’s work.”

But, then you notice something else. At each sign is a gate. To unlock each gate, you must obey the sign.

We might find that to be an interesting way to describe faith in Jesus. But, isn’t that how we present it in our churches? We accept Jesus as our savior, but then we are handed a Bible reading plan, a list of things to do and not do. We wake up the next day focused on accomplishing each thing as we make our way to our mansion in heaven.

Portrait #2 of Jesus

The second portrait of Jesus still contains the same structure as the first: the incarnation, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.

Both have the basic message.

However, the details in this portrait differ. We do not see Jesus point to Heaven. We do not see signs.

Instead, we see Jesus reaching towards us. His eyes aren’t looking to Heaven, but directly at you. He reaches to grab your hand. He holds nothing but the scars of the crucifixion. You do see a path behind him leading to somewhere over the landscape which we cannot see. The path has no signs. Jesus isn’t even holding a certificate with a name or date on it. Instead, you realize he is at the start of the path and he is wanting you to take his hand and follow him. No instructions or guide, there is only Jesus.

This portrait is quickly glanced over, and most of us return to the first.

The Forgery Exposed

When we look at the two portraits, which one is the forgery? Thinking about each portrait, we can see that the first one is the false one. We would say, “Yeah, that is works based salvation.”

But, isn’t that what we are preaching in our churches today?

Our churches have fallen into the thinking the pharisees had and the thinking Jesus condemned.

Matthew 23:1-7 states that the pharisees tied burdens on people that weighed the people down. Then the pharisees wouldn’t even do everything they would say. Instead, they would parade around with their religious actions to shout how good they are, and to illustrate how close they are to God while on their spiritual journey.

Jesus gives a woe to the pharisees in Matthew 23:25-26. Here, Jesus condemns an attitude of being focused on external actions. They made sure everything looked right. Aren’t we doing the same when we get saved: clothing must be like this, music and movie choices must be this, make sure you read your Bible everyday, make sure you attend this kind of church, and the list goes on and on. While these things may be good, they are only externals. They do not clean the inside. Sure, we may be saved. But, did Jesus call us to focus on cleaning our externals?

Jesus answers that in Matthew 23:23-24. He condemns the pharisees for perseverating over their externals while they forgot the things that matter to God: justice, mercy, faithfulness. Aren’t we doing the same?

The first portrait of Jesus is how we explain Jesus to others. We have them say a prayer to get their certificate and keys to a mansion, but each step of the way is burdened with a new task, and a new standard to set. It becomes our job to do and do. If we truly want that mansion, then we must take hold of the certificate of praying the prayer and do what we are told.

This is a lie. This is not Jesus.

The Christian’s roadmap to hell is belief that a date in your Bible saves you.

We are promoting this. We are just like Jesus described the pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in.”
(Matthew 23:13)

Take Another Look

The first portrait is tempting to focus on. That portrait is all about us. We get to show off how good of a Christian we are.

However, take another look at the second. It is so simple. This is the true Jesus.

What was the phrase Jesus spoke to the disciples? “Follow me.” (Matthew 4:19) Did he require the disciples to do anything else besides follow him?

Jesus never said, “Come to me, and I will give you a list to get you to Heaven.” No. He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Jesus reaches out to each of us. He looks at us in love wanting us to draw us close, and to lead us home. He says, “My grace is enough to lead you home (II Corinthians 12:9). He whispers to us not to worry about striving to bear fruit, because as we follow him the fruit of the Spirit will blossom (Psalm 1:3; Galatians 5:22-25). All we have to do is follow.

Jesus doesn’t want us to do a thing except follow. He doesn’t need us to look perfect. He wants us to look at him as we follow. He loved us to free us from sin and from the law. Why are we loading ourselves up with rules and standards when Jesus says just follow me?

A Change in Mindset; A Change in Heart

I once stared at and studied the first portrait in detail. I knew I was on my way to Heaven, but passing of the gates was difficult. Each day I woke up striving to do my best to live for God – do not sin, read my Bible, attend the right church, listen to the correct music, have the right friends, look a certain way, make sure I have a good testimony. Are these things wrong? No. They became wrong when they became more important than Jesus. Each day was a frustration as I focused on trying to get rid of sins and temptations out of my life. I had to become the image I saw, but it was the wrong image. I wasn’t trying to be like Jesus. I was trying to be a good Christian.

Then, God stepped in and showed me his love and how he draws me close like a father cradling his child close to his chest. I didn’t have to do anything. He loves me no matter what I do. All I had to do was rest in his lap. All I had to do was trust, grabbing his hand, and follow him. No list. No more frustration. Once I learned that, I rejected my former mindset. I wasn’t in love with Jesus. I was in love with myself being seen as a good Christian, and I was in love with an image.

After experiencing the love of God, all I could do was surrender my life to the Jesus who only wanted me to follow him as his grace changes me. The next day I woke up not worrying about pleasing God with my actions. Instead, I woke up knowing I was loved and all I had to do was follow. It was a change in mindset and heart.

Who Are You Following?

When we look at the two portraits, which Jesus are you following?

In reality, when we are following the first portrait we are only following ourselves. We trust in a date in our Bible, a list of tasks, and an image that is not what God wanted. Jesus condemned this thinking, yet we still preach it like it is gospel truth. It is not the Gospel.

Would you rather rest on the ink on a page that can burn or rest in the arms of a loving savior?

The Gospel has nothing to do with us. It has all to do with Jesus.

Which Jesus?

The Jesus who took on a human body, the Jesus who died on the cross and rose from the grave for us, the Jesus who calls us to follow him, the Jesus who says his grace will transform us and be enough for each step of the way.

Our task? Take his outreached hand and follow him.

Romans 12:1-2 is the classic passage on how to live the Christian life. However, we tend to put verse 2 before verse 1. We cannot do the things in verse 2 unless we are being verse 1. A living sacrifice is following Jesus. A living sacrifice lays down his image for the person who is in control. Jesus is in control, and he is the one we give up our image for. When we do that, he will change us.

We are not loved because we are good or following standards. We are good, because God love us. His love constrains us and guides us. We only have to follow the outstretched hand.

Can you spot the difference? When you do, are you willing to give up your way and follow him?

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace hath brought
Us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home

– John Newton “Amazing Grace”

Forgetting Rambo Embracing Brotherhood

“Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you had to pick one movie character to be the ultimate man, who would it be? Rocky, Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, Captain America, Iron Man, Rambo? Who comes to mind?

Each of these characters are strong, masculine, and are confident as they trod down their path with their heads held high. And in the cinema seats, men sit there craving to be that kind of man. It seems like every man’s heart beats to that classic song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” “We must be swift as the coursing river/With all the force of a great typhoon/Mysterious as the dark side of the moon.” These lyrics have become a mantra for what a man should be.

So what do we, as men, do? We stick out our chest, take hold of courage, and become this bold man. Yet, as we begin to walk down the path God has called us to, we begin to look around. The trees seem to be getting thicker, the path twists, and we feel alone.

Is that what God has intended for men? Are we to be Rambo single-handedly slaying the enemy for our wives and kids to look up to us?

The Lone Wolf Myth

Doesn’t it seem like there are more women’s ministries than men’s ministries? Is it because women are more emotionally fragile and need all the help they can get? No! Is it because women have figured out something, and the church has embraced a myth of the man?

Our culture sculpts the man to be the alpha lion and the lone wolf. We don’t need anyone else. We are independent. Those who rely on others are weak. We see this in gyms, clothing ads, and anything else dedicated to men. We have our “buds,” but we can handle life on our own. We are men, right? So we strike down our path of life as the lone wolf. We can handle the Christian life as the lone wolf we are created to be.

What does Scripture say? I Corinthians 12:12-24 states that we are individuals walking our Christian life, and we need to counsel ourselves, pull ourselves up, and be the lone wolf. NO!! That is not biblical. God never intended for men to be lone wolves (he never intended anyone to be). The church is a body. We all work together. Just because you can bench press so many pounds, own an armory, and have a successful career does not mean you can do life alone.

The lone wolf mentality is not from God. It is a myth. Men cannot do life alone. Look through Scripture – Elijah and Elisha, David and Jonathan, Moses and Aaron, Jesus and the Disciples, Paul and Timothy/Titus, Daniel and his friends, David’s mighty men. The list could go on and on. Some were single and some were married, but the thing that connects them is they had men in their lives. They were not lone wolves.

More Than an Accountability Partner

When we think of men’s ministry, we think of guys getting together and sharing if they have been faithful in reading God’s Word and abstaining from pornography, then they pray, and eat. Are Christian men only accountability partners with each other?

No!

Scripture tells us differently. Titus 2:2-7 teaches us that men are to be in close relationship with each other. The older are to teach the younger. In verse 6, we see that Paul is connecting it back to verse 2. Just as the women are to do, so are the men. These relationships are more than about staying away from porn. It is learning how to live life in all aspects.

Men are to be more than accountability partners. In order to learn how to do life, men are to walk with each other through life. There is only so much you can learn from a book.

More Than a Bromance

When we look at men and their relationships with each other in our culture, we hear the term, “bromance.” A bromance is a close relationship between two men. But, what is it like? Can anyone actually give a full description of what a bromance is? Is it two guys chest bumping and sitting around drinking beer, watching football together each weekend? Is it that group of guys that go hunting with each other? What exactly is it?

Scripture actually does tell us, and it gives us a clue on what relationships are to be like between men. The classic verse used in every men’s group (and its so overdone, but so powerful) is Proverbs 27:17 – iron sharpening iron.

This passage reveals what Christian men are to be like. We have this great image of two iron blades sharpening each other. Usually, it only is said, “We need men in our lives to keep us accountable to God.” But, as we just saw men are more than accountability partners.

If a blade needs to be sharpened, it has to physically touch the other one. It must get close enough to be sharpened. Men need to let other men in their lives. Men are to be close to each other. A sword is not going be sharp if it hangs around other swords. It must be close and rubbing against another sword to become sharp. It is the same with men in the church. We need to be so close that we sharpen each other.

This means we need male intimacy in the church.

Clarifying the Forbidden Word

Intimacy.

What comes to mind when we hear that? Sex. We think of passionate sex. That’s one way the word can be used. Intimacy actually means a close familiarity or friendship; a closeness.

There are different types of intimacy. There is sexual intimacy. But what about emotional and spiritual intimacy? That is the act of being open with each other and knowing deeply the struggles, victories, and lives of others beyond the social media image. There is physical intimacy. This is being physically close to another. It is more than a handshake. It is a hug, a hold, a kiss.

Now, how does this apply to men?

Before the 1960’s we see men quite close and intimate in a non-sexual way with each other. Think about the photographs of World War II of men in the buff jumping off of submarines during R & R. Think about the movie Tolkien (watch the trailer here). J.R.R. Tolkien was apart of a brotherhood. They were a close group of men who did not go hunting, or paintballing. They wanted to change the world through art and language. They hugged each other and held each other. They went through war with each other.

Where has this idea gone? Has it gone with the wind?

Men today have forgotten the rich history of brotherhood. Think about David and Jonathan. I Samuel 18:1, I Samuel 19:1, I Samuel 20:41, I Samuel 23:16 all talk about this intimate relationship between these two men. They were both married. Yet, they were intimate with each other – emotionally, spiritually, physically.

II Samuel 1:26 is a curious verse, “I grieve for you, Jonathan, my brother. You were such a friend to me. Your love for me was more wondrous than the love of women.” Is it implying they were having sex with each other? I don’t believe so, because in I Samuel 23:16 Jonathan encourages David in their faith with God. God’s law in Leviticus says that sex between men is wrong. But, these two men were so intimate with each other on all the other levels that it was more wondrous then the love of women.

Men today are so worried about their image that we have forgotten the power of brotherhood. We have forgotten the power of physical touch, of emotional vulnerability, and spiritual openness. Even in the New Testament, four times Paul tells Christians to greet each other with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 13:12; I Thessalonians 5:26). We might push back against that idea, but what is it communicating? It is communicating intimacy. God’s church is to be intimate like a family and like a body working together. Is there a difference between a kiss and making out? Yes. But, how are we as men showing this kind of intimacy in the church?

What are We Men Known For?

So let’s go back to the beginning question: If you had to pick one movie character to be the ultimate man, who would it be?

There may be good characteristics about the character you chose, but what is that character showing? Is it how to be the lone wolf? Is it how to be independent and strong on your own? If we look at the men in Scripture, we hardly see a man without another man beside him. Now, we don’t go against what God’s word says. But, why would he show us these examples of men in Scripture if they were not for our own lives today (Romans 15:4)?

What are we as Christian men known for? What characterizes our lives? Forget the image culture is pushing on us. Is it wrong to workout, go hunting, like sports? No. But it’s also not wrong to like the arts, languages, and aesthetics. Being Christian men is more than a song from Mulan. It is about being together, walking life together, being intimate with each other as we pursue the path God has given us.

We are more than Rambo or Captain America. We have been called by God out darkness into light in order to love each other, because that is how the world notices Christ in us. I Corinthians 13 is more than a passage to be read at weddings. It is the mantra for the church, and it is the mantra for men in the Church following Jesus who was the ultimate example of this.

Are we as men following a cultural image of manhood or a reaction to men in our culture? Or are we following Jesus’ example and being the men he called us to be?

“Simple Faith Bible” Review

“While all else may change, God’s promises remain firm.” – Jimmy Carter

How many of us wish faith and the living of our faith was a simple matter?

There are those days where we just do not know how to live. Yet, many people have come before us and are still living among us who showing us how a life founded on faith can be.

This is the idea behind the Simple Faith Bible with reflections from Jimmy Carter.

Learning From Those We Disagree With

Now, before you close this review… Please continue reading.

I know many of my readers see the name Jimmy Carter associated with a Bible, and they want to stop reading. However, pause for a moment.

Answer this: Is being a Republican a prerequisite for being a Christian? Can a Christian be a democrat? Before bringing up all the reason… are any of those the foundations for being saved? No. Salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is not based on our political standing.

So, can we learn from people we disagree with? Yes. Jimmy Carter claims to have faith in Jesus, and he lives out that faith. In this Bible, President Carter reflects on how Scripture has spoken to him. Jesus said to us that if someone is not against us, then they are for us. So, I sat down and read through this Bible.

Good but Lacking

Overall, I loved the idea of this Bible. I found it interesting to take someone in the faith community and get their perspective on faith. The comments, the devotional thoughts, and prayers are thought provoking and push one closer to a relationship with God and an outworking of the faith with his those around him.

However, the comments, prayers, and devotional thoughts were quite sparse. I wish there were more included At the beginning of the Bible is an excellent index to find them all, but I wanted to see some more. For a Bible that costs $39.99 (hardcover), I would expect to find more.

Yet, the content of the material is good in helping us learn compassion and a fight for peace in such a trying time. Yet, I was looking for more of these things.

Layout and Translation

The layout of this Bible is good for the eyes and easy to use. The print is at a good size where you do not need to hold it so close to see. Layout is key for the use of a Bible, and this Bible is easy to page through to find each note.

The translation is NRSV (New Revised Standard Version). It can be clunky to read at times, but there is an artistic quality to the language used. However, I would not use this for a brand new believer. I would use the NIV or NLT.

A Contradictory Conundrum

I did appreciate all the comments, and a lot were thought provoking in taking the faith from the ideal to the practical. I enjoyed having my faith challenged in how I view people and their situations.

However, I did find a conundrum. The comments, prayers, and devotionals revealed a heart passionate for God and for His Word. Yet, Jimmy Carter once said, “When we go to the Bible we should keep in mind that the basic principles of the Bible are taught by God, but written down by human beings deprived of modern day knowledge. So there is some fallibility in the writings of the Bible. But the basic principles are applicable to my life and I don’t find any conflict among them.

From this quote, it seems Jimmy Carter holds the belief there is error in the Bible and we need to weed out what is truth and what is error. This I would disagree with. The Bible is clear that all of it comes from God, and all of Scripture is for our profit and growth.

Therefore, it was difficult to take some of the comments, prayers, and devotionals serious. I can still learn from them, and appreciate this man’s faith. However, I need to keep in mind this conundrum and check what he is saying with Scripture. Scripture should always come first before trusting any man’s or woman’s opinion or words about Scripture.

An Overall Opinion

After spending many hours with this Bible, I would give it 3 out of 5 stars. While I can learn from Jimmy Carter, I need to be careful in everything that I take from him. It is not his politics that stand in the way, but his view of Scripture.

Another aspect was the sparseness of the notes, comments, prayers, and devotional thoughts. I wish there were more. There were many times where it would be around 50 pages before the next one would appear.

The Simple Faith Bible with reflections from Jimmy Carter can be a good devotional or inspiring Bible tool to help us in our compassion with those around us. But, I would not use is as a daily study Bible. It is great to challenge our faith and to see it become more incarnational, but I would not use it to dig deep into the Word.

The Simple Faith Bible has some good points and some low points, but I do pray God uses it in the lives it comes into contact with as we live out our faith in simple and practical ways – including learning from those we disagree with.

Purchase the Simple Faith Bible here

*I received a free copy of this study Bible from BibleGateway to review as I am a member of their Blogger Grid.

Beautifully Broken

“God is looking for those with whom He can do the impossible — what a pity that we plan only the things that we can do by ourselves.”
– A.W. Tozer

How many times have you seen an “unpreached message” lived out in your church?

It is a message that may not be said out loud, but we all see it lived out before our eyes. Though there are many of these types of messages, one takes the cake or the gold: Christians are to have an image of perfection.

You probably just slammed on the breaks. “That is false. Christians are not perfect.” Yes, we all know this. But, do we live the opposite? Do we promote this image in our churches?

Think about it.

Is there a problem with being beautifully broken?

The Sting of Truth

Let’s face it. We are broken. We live in a broken world. It all started in Genesis 3. Sin entered the world and, like a bull in a china shop, wrecked everything. All the beauty God created smashed in the wake of sin.

We can still see the image of God. But, it is marred and broken. Like a plate that smashes to pieces on the floor. We can tell it was a plate, but in order to get back to its original form something must be done.

The truth is we are God’s smashed artwork. We can tell we are created in God’s image, but something is off. We are not whole. Our desires are wired to something God did not intend. Think about it, is it wrong to long for intimacy with another? No. However, can’t that be taken too far? Yes. See a godly and beautiful desire is there, but it is a smashed desire as it goes after sin.

When something breaks, we feel an emotional sting. That inherited vase that lays in pieces on the floor causes our hearts pain. This is the sting of brokenness. We feel it everyday – death, disease, disability, divorce, etc. Romans 8:22-23 states how we groan for a time for our brokenness to end (even creation groans with us).

This is who we are. We are broken, and our brokenness causes us pain.

The Incarnation and The Broken

We are not the only ones who feel the pain of brokenness. God does. He sees the world falling apart and wasting away like a fresco being eroded by time.

In the garden, God went searching for Adam and Eve. He already knew what happened. He called to them. Yes, he kicked them out of the garden. But, he gave them something to stand firm on – a promise (Genesis 3:15).

God fulfilled his word. He became flesh. He took on a human body. Jesus made his dwelling, rested his head, and lived in the broken world. He didn’t live above the brokenness. He was hungry, he wept tears, he experienced the pain of death, he endured shame, he was abandoned, and he died. Jesus, the King of kings, lived in our brokenness. (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-11)

He did this to heal our brokenness. He did this for you. He saw how much of a mess we are. He knew how twisted and repulsive our thoughts can be. He knew the imperfections we hide in the dark. Yet, what does Jesus do? He fulfills his word (Luke 4:16-21). He comes to the broken, the outcast, the condemned, and the lonely to heal their brokenness. How many times do we read the Gospels but we miss the healing of the broken?

Jesus took on a broken human body to heal the broken. But that is not the end of it. He kept his body to show the scars of what brokenness does: trying to destroy the Creator who loves us.

He lifts those scarred hands to us, and he says, “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest. Go in peace, your sins are forgiven. Your faith has made you whole.” (Matthew 11:28; Matthew 9:22; Luke 5:20)

Living Broken

When we run into his arms and are touched by those scarred hands, we are healed. We experience the freedom of forgiveness from the Father.

Yet, we still live with the fact that the world is broken and we are broken. We still sin and mess up our lives (Romans 7:14-25). Paul, the apostle that is put on a pedestal, said he is a mess inside. He messed up and sinned. He claims it in this passage. Yet, do we believe that Paul sinned? We would say, “Yes!” But, we do not live like he did. We live like he was perfect. We live like the people we see in the Bible somehow had the silver bullet for defeating the werewolf inside.

Yet, time and time again we are reminded how broken Paul, Peter, and the others were. They did not have it all together. Therefore, it is ok for us not to have it all together. We can live as broken people just like Paul did. We do not need more self-discipline to be perfect. Otherwise, we do not need Jesus. Instead, we spread our broken shards before our savior and say, “I need you. Only your grace is enough for me.” (II Corinthians 12:9)

You may have fallen to porn this week, you may have lied, you may have exploded in anger, you may have been prideful. God knows this! He doesn’t call you to more self-discipline to cut sin out of your life. He calls you to walk by faith and not by sight, to be a broken vessel he can use. He calls you to live in the freedom of no condemnation, and come to the throne of grace to find forgiveness. (II Corinthians 5:7; II Corinthians 4:7-9; Romans 8:1; Romans 8:15; Hebrews 4:16)

You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me

Feeling broken? Barely holding on?

Have you ever been shamed by another Christian for your struggles and your brokenness? Yes, many of us have.

Many Christians today put down other Christians for “not being perfect.” We even do that to ourselves. Our churches are full of the message of perfection. Yet, from Scripture that is not what God wants. Yes, he wants us to live for him. But does he expect us to live perfect? No. We are to be perfect as the Father is perfect – perfect to love, perfect to forgive, perfect to show mercy. Perfection of a standard is what Christ pronounced a woe over the religious leaders.

Don’t we treat each others like the religious leader did? We define perfection by a standard. That is condemned by Christ. Our standard is the grace of God which transforms us from the inside out.

When other put us down for not “being perfect,” look at them and say, “You haven’t seen the last of me.” They can say that you will not make it, and you will fail. They clearly do not know you or your God and savior. God makes us stand tall. Our fulfillment of a standard does not. You are far from over. We haven’t seen the last of God’s work in your life.

Beautifully Broken

Have you ever realized what stained glass is? It is broken pieces of colored glass made into a gorgeous work of art. Think of the beautiful cathedrals in Europe. They are stunning. Ever seen a beautiful mosaic. What is it? It is broken pottery arranged to create beauty.

God is not our Creator who sees sin and runs away from the darkness. He pierced the darkness as we pierced his hands. He’s the artist who arranges our broken shards with his bleeding hands into a work of art that stuns the world.

A perfect image does not show beauty. Brokenness changed into art shouts beauty. It shows a message of an artist who does not give up in a world broken. He takes it and transforms it.

Jesus does that with our lives. We are broken. We mess up. We fall. Yet, what does Jesus do? Does he demand more self-discipline? No. He asks us to give our brokenness and marvel at the touch of the artist’s hands.

You are broken. Yet, to Jesus you are beautiful. You need to look at your life from Heaven’s eyes. You don’t need to try harder. You need an artist to show what is possible.

You are beautifully broken, and to Jesus you are a work of art. He uses you broken to tell his story of grace.

Will you allow him to?

When the Wind Changes

“Winds in the east, mist coming in, like somethin’ is brewin’ and bout to begin. Can’t put me finger on what lies in store, but I fear what’s to happen all happened before.”
Mary Poppins

Ever felt the change in the air when a storm is approaching? There is something in you that says something is going to happen. It is not a normal day. Your plans change, and the path you thought you would take when you awoke changes direction. You do all this, because the wind changed.

In our lives, we sense when the winds change. The wind changes directions and our path takes a different course. Where we thought we were going now changes to a direction we never thought we would dare to tread.

Most often we can’t see the end of the path. We can only see there is a curve that will take us in a direction we thought might be wrong because it isn’t following what others are doing.

How are we to think and live when the wind changes?

The Infamous Road

The road to Damascus

It is one of the most infamous roads in all of Scripture. Acts 9:1-9 describes the events that make this road a twist in an individual’s life. Saul desired nothing more than to arrest those who followed the way of Jesus, and to imprison them. However, the wind changed. Saul started a blinded journey on a path he never would have tread.

We see this change in direction as positive, and we romanticize this picture. But, stop for a moment. What did this do to Saul (now Paul)? He abandoned his whole belief system and actions in order to follow a different path. II Corinthians 11:24-27 lists a majority of things Paul endured while following this new path. This all happened because of that infamous road.

Do you remember where you were when the wind changed in your life? We look at that place almost as Paul sees the Damascus Road. This new path might be right before us, and we are fearful. Life will change. Where we stood will now be a road leading us towards somewhere we do not know. However, the wind has changed, and we follow the Spirit where he leads.

Stepping Away from the Crowd

When we feel the wind change in our lives, and we see a new path before us, there is a fear of us losing something. Sure, when someone is saved they step away from the wrong crowd towards the right crowd.

But, when the wind changes will we have to step away from the crowd we have been comfortable with?

In many houses you see, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” This is taken from Joshua 24:15. We love to claim sides, but what if this side meant separating from a church, a Christian movement, or a Christian institution? What if it meant leaving the group of Christians who are familiar to you?

When we personally take II Timothy 2:15 to heart, and study the Bible personally, there will be times we will need to step away from other Christians. We may see something in the Scripture that does not match what is going on in the group we associate with, and we see their path going down a place we feel the Spirit leading us away from. Are we still able to claim, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”?

If we look at the context of that phrase in Joshua 24:14-15, we find Joshua telling the people to choose which side they are on. This meant they may had to step away from the crowd, and follow God.

In Hebrews 11, we see many examples of faith in God leading people away from the crowd. This crowd may be the world, or it may be that church, that movement, or that belief system. Following God by studying his Word forces us to make that decision. What will you choose?

All Happened Before

I love the end of the quote from Mary Poppins found at the beginning of this post. The last part hints to us what is about to play out has happened before. The wind has changed, and another family has been healed.

The wind changes in our lives, and we feel like this has never happened before. We fear what will happen. Actually, we do not fear what will happen. We fear what others will say about us, and how they will treat us.

But, this has all happened before. Watch this

Moses had the winds change in his life. Exodus 3-4 records the amazing windstorm that changed Moses’ life. It came from a small voice from a burning bush calling Moses to free God’s people from slavery. But, have you ever noticed what his fear was? It was not a fear of the unknown. He was fearful of Pharaoh. He was fearful of what people people would say.

But, this was not the only instance of wind changing in Scripture.

Esther was chosen to be queen. The wind changed. Then she discovered a plot to kill her people. Fearful of what the king would do if she went to him, Mordecai reminded her that, “Perhaps you came to your position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). Samuel felt the wind change twice in his life (1 Samuel 3; 1 Samuel 16:1-13).

The wind has changed before, and God led them down a different path than others. Yet, these individuals were blessed. What is happening to you has all happened before. God is the same today as he was in the burning bush (Hebrews 13:8).

Our First Step

The wind changes in our lives. We cannot deny it. We are fearful of what will happen. But, deep inside we are fearful of those around us and what will they think.

I have personally gone through this recently. I was comfortable where I was at. I had a great job, and to those around me said I had a good future if I stayed the course. However, in my personal Bible study I saw things did not match to what I was reading in Scripture. I was weighed down by fear of people. I was under pressure to pretend to be someone I am not. I had to pretend to be perfect; all while saying I wasn’t perfect. But, no one could know how I struggled. I saw people wearing masks as inside they fell apart. Spiritual I was choking on who was Jesus. Was he all about a standard, an image? Or was he really about love and grace and forgiveness and new beginnings? I had to side with Scripture. The wind changed. It led me down a path away from a crowd I knew for years. It led me away from friends. However, it led me to things I didn’t ever see coming. It led me to a church to grow in. It led me to swap life stories with a guy over burgers, and to develop deep friendships I am beyond grateful for. It led me to healing from my past. It led me to a deeper understanding of God’s grace. I was terrified when the wind changed. I did not know what people would think, but when I followed God’s Spirit he smiled. Following God’s path away from the culture of Fundamentalism was difficult, but I wouldn’t go back. The blessings outweigh the chains of the oppression I felt. Following God’s Spirit has led me to be me, and to be free to live in the grace of Jesus.

The change in the wind is not some mystical feeling. It is the Spirit moving in our lives. John 3:5-8 illustrates the Spirit like the wind. In fact, the Greek word used for “Spirit” is the same used for wind. When we are in tuned to God’s Word, the Spirit will lead us. We will have a change in the winds of our lives. We just need to take that first step. It is difficult, but we walk by faith, and not by sight, when we walk down the path where the Spirit is leading us (II Corinthians 5:7).

When we follow God’s path and we hear people say, “Wow, you have changed so much.” It usually means we are not following their plans for our lives (advice from a good friend).

“Everything is possible; even the impossible,” states Mary Poppins. Doesn’t that seem familiar? Luke 18:27 says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”

When the winds change in our lives, we should not fear of what people think. We are following God on the greatest journey ever. He personally placed this path in front of you to run after him (Hebrews 12:1).

Fear of people paralyzes us to follow the Spirit. Yet, instead of fearing people and their images they want of us, can we do something else? Have you ever thought about the possibilities of what the Creator of the world can do in your life? Think about Abraham, Moses, Esther, Daniel, Peter, and Paul. God can do the possible; even the impossible.

What, then, can God do in your life when the winds change?

Can you imagine that?

Two Ways to God

“The law works fear and wrath; grace works hope and mercy.” – Martin Luther

Ever seen The Wizard of Oz?

It is a classic. However, there is one scene to focus on – Watch here

Dorothy and her companions have travelled the Yellow Brick Road in hopes of getting their requests granted by the great and powerful Wizard of Oz. Their hopes are high as they are granted to see the Wizard. However, fear begins to take over as a booming voice, fire, and smoke shakes their very essence. Each step is carefully taken. When summoned, each member of the group states their request. Yet, in order to receive, Dorothy and her friends must perform a difficult task: obtaining the broomstick of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Even though we know how the story ends, this scene powerfully reflects our own spiritual lives. When we come before God, there are actually two ways.

However, which one is the correct path to God? Is one of them man made? And, which path are we showing others to go in order to approach God?

The Woman Who Approached

Luke 7:35-50 is one of my favorite stories in the Gospels. Jesus has been invited to the house of a pharisee named Simon. They are reclining at the table and enjoying a wonderful meal. Then, we are introduced to the party crasher; or a presumed party crasher.

A woman boldly approaches Jesus. The suspense in the room is tense. Everyone clearly knows who this woman is: a sinner. She is an outcast. Just her presence causes concern. But, it is her action that creates the heart attack.

She kneels at the feet of Jesus. Tears flow freely from her eyes. Her hands break open a jar of pricey perfume, and she anoints his feet with it. Then, she bows her head, kisses his feet, and wipes away her tears with her hair.

The scene shocked the pharisee. “If this man was truly from God, then he would stay away from her. She is a sinner. How could he allow her to touch him like that.” The disgust on his face was written as blunt as some politicians’ tweets. This pharisee didn’t even want “her kind” around. He was thinking of all the things she would need to do in order to stand in his presence.

However, Jesus didn’t say anything to the woman (at least not yet). Instead, he asked his host a question about forgiveness. Simon answered, but Jesus’ response floored him. The woman demonstrated a love for Jesus and honor over what the pharisee had done.

Then, Jesus lifted her eyes up to his. With their eyes locked, Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”

We are like the woman. We know we need our sins dealt with. However, when we come to God there seems to be two paths. One is to do the right things, look the right way, and so on. The other is just to go to God, kneel at his feet, and weep as he forgives us.

The Torn Curtain

Each of us feels distant from God. We feel that separation. We want forgiveness. We want the love of God. We want his salvation. Yet, we come to him in fear that we will be doomed. That we won’t get it. We fear he really doesn’t love us.

Yet, we miss something when we read the Gospels. We know Jesus died to free us from sin. But something else happened at the death of Christ. The curtain in the temple was split in the middle (Luke 23:45). Do you know what this means? It isn’t just a decorative curtain. It was the curtain that separated the people from the presence of God in the holy of holies section of the temple. No one could approach this special area. Death was the punishment. An individual had to meet specific, special requirements in order to enter without fear.

When Jesus died, we now have personal access to God. Hebrews 10:19-22 promises us the curtain is torn, and we may approach God on our own without fear.

The Brick Wall

The curtain is torn, but sometimes we like to build a brick wall in front of God. We preach salvation is by grace, and then we make people climb our brick wall to approach God.

Just like the pharisee in the Luke 7, when someone does not fit our qualifications for approaching Christ, we have our opinions. “I can’t believe she would wear that to church.” “I can’t believe he is here worshipping when he struggles with that.” “You struggle with reading your Bible and praying, you must not be a good Christian.” “He spends his all his money on his family, yet can’t give anything to the church.” We may not say these things out loud, but we do think these about the other believers around us.

Jesus condemned this attitude (Matthew 23:13). The pharisees knew the truth to God’s kingdom, yet they made the people climb over their own brick wall. They put their traditions over God’s Word (Mark 7:1-13). The pharisees were all about making sure the right people were in the kingdom and looked right. They wanted five-star citizens in God’s kingdom. But, the people had to earn those stars (like a restaurant overworking itself in order to become the best).

Yet, Jesus didn’t come for the five-star Christians. He didn’t even come for the three-star Christian. He came for those without stars. He came to those who couldn’t even get half a star. He came to sinners who needed someone to rip the curtain in two for them in order to approach God (Mark 2:17).

Approaching With Boldness

In our churches, we preach two ways to God. We may say it is by grace, but after a quick sinner’s prayer we burden people with standards and lists of do’s and don’ts. God becomes just like the Wizard of Oz; how he deals with us is how well we fulfill some task or standard.

This isn’t the Gospel. There is only one way to God – grace. There is only one path to God after salvation – grace. In Christ there is no condemnation, and there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God – not even a missed day of Bible reading, a missed church service, wearing jeans to church, a Bible translation, or music style for worship (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:38-39). If these things could separate us from God and we had to work our way to God through standards and rules, then Jesus’s death and resurrection was never enough for us.

Instead, we have the promise of Hebrews 4:16. We can approach with boldness to God’s personal throne of grace. He is not like the Wizard of Oz. He is holy. But, the true image of God is seen in Jesus Christ. The incarnation is the perfect way God showed us who he really is (John 1:14).

It will be a bittersweet day when we realize that the way to Hell is paved with a collection of stars from Christian accomplishments and awards, and the road to Heaven is a mosaic of stories of grace from the most unlikely people.

When we make people conform to our standards in order to please God, we are preaching a second way to God. There is only one way to God, and that is through the arms of Jesus. We can boldly approach him, kneel at his feet, wipe our tears from his feet, and Jesus will look us in the eyes and forgive us.