condemnation depression despair despondency Jesus reflection Romans the Gospel thought process

Free Range Despondency

The black dog. Depression. Despair. Melancholy. Despondency. Down. Moodiness. 
Does any of that ring familiar to you? Do you, like me, allow some of your thoughts to run free and unchecked? Does the narrative in your head tell you to give up, that it is hopeless? The mind can really be a tangled mess of thoughts, experiences, assumptions and behaviors. I’ve struggled with this kind of thing for several years, so before going to the medical community to address anything chemically off in my body, I sought pastoral counseling to see what the Gospel had to say.
It turns out a lot.
The details of what led me to this point aren’t relevant for this blog, but some of the counsel I received is. The Bible was written for more than just me individually. My pastor walked me through Romans 5, 6, 7 and 8. I’m not able to articulate this as skillfully as he did, but after capturing my reflections and applications of those chapters in Romans in my journal, I felt part of that reflection would be valuable to share here. If you are reading this and feel lost, I suggest reading those four chapters just mentioned to help fill out some of the gaps you may feel in my thoughts, as I am responding to those chapters.
I am either dead under the law or alive in Christ. To the law, I am weak to fulfill it. I am weak to even do the good things I desire to do. The law is good. I agree with it, yet can’t fulfill it. 

Ah! There is Christ!

My condemnation under the law has been poured on Christ, and none is left for me. I am now alive. Yet I am still weak, and look for identity in strength. Poor me, wretched me, hopeless me… FULL of weakness. It is in this gap that I find Christ to be strong. I am so weak that many times I cannot even find words to pray, but the Spirit intercedes on my behalf to the Father, as I am whole in Christ. I am God’s adopted son, even as I am weak. 

God works all things together for my good. All things includes my weakness, struggle, failure, depression, apathy, pride, arrogance, anger, vain pursuits and thoughts. The Father is mine, and in/by the Spirit, I am being transformed more into Christlikeness day by day. Consider who you were 10-15 years ago? I am being made new, more like Christ, but so slowly I can scarcely perceive it. Many times I feel the weakness so fully and tell myself that hope is lost. I become my own judge and forget Christ.

(This next bold/bracketed section is the breaking down of Romans 8:34)
Who is the one who condemns? 
(I do!!)
Jesus Christ is the one who died,
(when it should have been me!!)
but even more, has been raised,
(proving His standing in my place and taking all of my condemnation was efficient to reconcile me to the Father!!)
He is also at the right hand of God
(not condemned Himself, sin has been defeated, death is no more, and Jesus reigns in life!!)
and intercedes for us.
(He is my mediator between God and I, and if Jesus is my advocate when He is the only one to condemn, condemnation left me as Christ left the grave clothes in an empty tomb!!)

and now I say… I AM FREE! I AM FREE!

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 ESV)
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5 Reasons Why I Still Believe In My Church

The church can be a struggle. I’ve had my fair share of struggles at the church My family and I have been attending for 10+ years; however, those are typically centered around my preferences and misunderstandings. No church is perfect. That’s not an excuse, but a reality. 

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us…”

It seems that there will never be a shortage of complaints to have about something or someone. Are you the same as me, that once I start complaining, I get tunnel vision for everything that’s wrong about anything? “Be positive!” sounds trite and Pollyana-esque, but there is a hint of truth to that. As Christians, even though our sins have been paid for in Christ, much sin is still present in our lives. Sometimes we have to search with squinted eyes to see where God is at work in each other. At face value, I’m a giant mess. At face value, the church can look like a giant mess. In the midst of the mess, God is weaving something beautiful. 

So as I’ve been contemplating about my church, I came up with 5 reasons why I’m still there. Every member does not succeed or fail at each of these every time across every year, but the mere presence of some things and absence of others is reason to believe God is at work.

1. The church doesn’t try to impress me.

From the first day we showed up until now, I have never felt like I was going to a show. It has never been flashy or over the top. There has never been a music minister leading a concert and soaking up the praise like we were all there to see him. Whether it’s the singing, instruments, preaching, kids ministry, whatever… I have never felt that the church was trying to be anything other than it was – beggar’s who have found bread trying to tell other beggars where we found bread. We get to hear the good news of Jesus Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection in our songs and sermons and lives. 

2. The church has allowed me to struggle.

Sometimes I have merely been moody, and other times I’ve gone on the proverbial warpath. I have shown up to small group meetings and made them miserable. I’ve made people to feel bad on purpose. I’ve let friends struggle and refused to help them. I’m a mess even below face value. A ragamuffin, really. I’ve been depressed, confused, demanding, accusatory, and unhealthily speculative. In the middle of my mess, I’ve been allowed to struggle and question and wonder what the heck was going on. While there have been instances of guys trying to fix me (I hate that, and I do that!), I have been given room to not have it all figured out.

3. The church has forced me to think, reason, and adapt to situations and people I’m uncomfortable with.

If you consider what the gospel is and how it crosses all boundaries of class, race, status, and more, there is a lot of diversity within the church. Men and women come from all different backgrounds bringing with them all different kinds of ideas. That is an unavoidable opportunity for friction. We all come from different backgrounds and upbringings. From there, we all bring our own unique baggage, burdens, and brilliance. Everyone in the church is united in Christ, but sometimes Christ is the only thing that unites us. This is something that has had a profound effect on me. Through the church, God is growing and changing and loving his people VIA his people. That is a mind load to think about.

4. The church has allowed me to mourn.

My family has seen broken bodies and crooked minds. From miscarriages to chronic health conditions, we have felt the force of our fallen humanity. We have felt our bodies betray us. A lot of time, there is nothing that can be done. It can’t be fixed or made better or put back together. It just sucks, and that’s it. We have had instances of others just mourning with us. People who will be sad for you and with you is a great mercy. 

5. The church is dynamic, not stagnant.

Decisions have to be made. Directions have to be taken. Some of those have been good, and others not so much. There has seemed to me the ever present question of how can we grow together and with God better? How can we do our ministry better? What changes can we make? Where do we need to adapt, make corrections, reinforce what is working, and do things with more transparency? We may miss the mark, but I am encouraged that the church is not ceasing to aim.

Like it not, we need each other. We are frail and fragile and failing and frustrated. We need to remind each other of the central backbone that carries each of these reasons why I still believe in going to my church: The Lord is at hand. He is on the move. He is at work. One day, we will see the beautiful tapestry he is weaving of this mess of people. One day, we will sit at the his table and eat and drink and tell the old tales of waiting for his kingdom. Be encouraged. Love your church, even if you aren’t loving it well. We will spend eternity together. We must remind each other that there is hope in our hurting. The dawn is coming. The Lord is at hand.

“What is the story of my priesthood? It is the story of an unfaithful person through whom God continues to work!” ~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

(While I did not write this as an advertisement for my church but as an encouragement to really seek and contemplate and consider where the Lord is at hand in your own church… you can read more about where we attend by visiting
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Face to Face

Some things have been rattling around in my mind over the last few weeks. I’m just trying to figure some of this life and myself out. You could look at this as a sneak peak into the internal thought process of analysis and decision making.

I need the Lord. Desperately. Subtly, I feel I’ve gone in a “just me and Jesus” direction. I may be on the verge of coming out of that, but it remains to be seen at this point. One of the ways the Lord makes himself known is through his Bride, the Church. The Holy Spirit ministers to his Bride through his Bride. Through fellowship. Relationships with other believers is more important and life-giving that I’ve given a credit for this year. I feel it’s easy to say bitterness has rot my posture toward the church.

Face-to-face time. This has been front and center at my attention over the past couple weeks. Not that I focus on it, really, but that it keeps popping up in conversations, podcasts, blog posts, sermons, etc. Relationships cannot grow, they cannot thrive without face-to-face time. This can be derailed in lots of ways. How much face to screen time takes away from face-to-face time? How many conversations that could knit two people closer together are lost for the sake of eavesdropping into someone else’s online drama or someone else’s white washed social media? Or just shopping and consuming? I don’t want to come to a place where I reject technology, but rather I want to start asking the question, “How can I harness this technology to where it enhances face-to-face time instead of creating a void in the relationship?” This will likely be a balance I will never achieve, but I must never cease to aim for it.

Time. I’m a finite creature. My capacity is only so high before things I engage in begin to suffer and I make halfhearted investments in others. Time is a limited resource, and one I will never get back. When it’s wasted, I feel the seeds of bitterness beginning to root.

When I say yes to something, I say no to something. This is where God, the church, relationships, face-to-face time, and stewardship all come together. What will I say yes to? Bitterness? Laziness? Anger? Prayer? Relationships? The Lord? My wife? My children? If I say yes to staring at my phone or some other screen beyond appropriateness, I say no to play and story time with the kids, board games, deep conversations, honest and open and lighthearted and laugh-filled and scary and fearful conversations? Just some examples. I have several behaviors that I need to change.

Who will I invest in? Who will have access to me? I realize that may sound cold, but I have to be realistic about my capacity.

My wife and kids will have the greatest access to me. This is going to mean they do not get crowded out by others, who will have lesser degrees of access. This has to start at home and branch out from there. Texting, email, social media, etc. Those screen time conversations that can enhance face-to-face time need to take a backseat to my own family. However this has to be the expectation set with the relationships I’m in.

I need the Lord. 

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”
Psalm 127:1 ESV

My wife. 
My children. 
My fellowship of believers. 
My family.
Everyone else.

Fellowship of believers. Those relationships in the church by whom the Holy Spirit minister’s and the father reveals himself. Few are long-term friends, and there are several who are in what I’ve been calling an “ember” stage of friendship. I feel what it looks like, as far as setting expectations, is to tell those closest and ember and beyond relationships my struggle to spend time with the Lord and face-to-face. To explain to them the enhance/void dynamic of technology, and that means I may be spotty in response to them because I’m trying to invest in my family. They will have higher access that most, but not above my wife and the kids. I must be pursuing the Lord above all. I guess this blog post will serve that purpose to those who will slog through it to this point. There may be times my excess ability is extremely limited because my phone may not even be with me. It may be *gasp* in another room of the house or in a drawer somewhere.

Rest is not something I can say I’ve had much of lately, physically or mentally or spiritually. As crazy as it sounds, it sometimes seems like the Lord calls me in the night. “Seek me. I am your rest.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
John 15:5 ESV

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Reflections in Daffodil Flats

Daffodils by Mark Houser. Used with permission.
“[Daffodil Flats is] The best possible and easiest to sell excuse to bring people to Linville Gorge.” Spencer Clary (@canyoneer_engineer)
Every year during the late weeks of February and the early weeks of March, a seemingly insignificant flat patch of land in the south eastern end of the Linville Gorge erupts into a magnificent yellow field of daffodils. Jenny and I were able to visit just before peak bloom in 2013, but unfortunately missed it this year. Several friends of mine went, via several routes ranging from hard to harder to hardest, so I got to see Daffodil Flats blow up my Facebook feed for a couple weeks. It was during this time that it occurred to me there are many parallels to Daffodil Flats. It acts as a sort of foreshadow of Zion. Not the national park, or even heaven, but when the final chapter of this age is over and the beginning of eternity writes its first page in the New Creation. The kingdom of God that is everlasting. The place the book of Revelation tells us about when, in the presence of God, every tear is wiped away, and death and suffering are no more. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Have you ever heard it said of someone that they were so heavenly minded, they were of no earthly good? This seems to me to be an impossible statement. I submit to you for consideration that if a Christian is of little or no earthly good, then they are far too weak when it comes to being heavenly minded. Does any of that make you think of any Christians you know? What are we known for?
Well, we are known for a lot of things. There are plenty of things I could say here, but odds are that you already have a list in your mind if you haven’t given up on me already. Thank you for sticking around! A couple months ago on a Sunday morning, my pastor asked the following question: What if Christians were known for what they were for instead of what they were against? (Matt Rawlings) What if… just, what if… the men and women and children who claim to follow Christ were known for their supercharged vision of a Kingdom and Age to come? Zion. It’s like we are in a slumber, so busy rolling lazily about in bed that we do not see the adventure that awaits. Yes, the road is long and the winters are cold, but spring is coming!
Let’s bounce back to Linville Gorge. Daffodil Flats is located just off the Linville Gorge Trail, over a mile south of one of the most notoriously brutal trails in North Carolina. Pinch In Trail. From the top to the bottom, the trail takes you 1.5 miles through the rough forest, down a rocky and exposed sunbeaten ridge, to a near mudslide embedded with roots until you finally get to the river 1700 vertical feet later. The Linville Gorge Trail is then far from flat with dead blowdown sometimes covering the trail. I mentioned that there was more than one way down, but that is the fastest, most accessible, most direct combination of footsteps to get there. Then you get out the same way you came in, and it’s brutal when PinchIn Trail makes your heart feel like it will burst from beneath your breathless lungs. That trip to Daffodil Flats is one of the hardest stretches of six miles that North Carolina has to offer. People see the daffodils and whimsically say, “I want to go there! How do I do it?” The response, no matter what directions they’re given, always includes the warning: count the cost. The reward is great, but the road is full of obstacles and difficulties. However, we still love to tell people that the difficult road is worth it. Indeed, it is.
My wife Jenny hiking down PinchIn
As a Christian, how do I see Zion? If I am of little heavenly mind, I will think of this Kingdom with little enthusiasm. Do I have to just be good and hope I get to some ethereal cloud city of harp playing goody-two-shoes? Let’s consider Daffodil Flats as we know it. It’s amazing. It’s awe inspiring. It’s a field of flowers that captures us with a passion to see them for ourselves, despite the path to get there. We who have been there tell those who have not that it is amazing and worth it. This Daffodil Flats exists in a world that is under the curse of sin. Sin is not just doing a bad thing. It is a prison that holds us and this world – including our gorges – in chains and bondage. The world will be made new – including our gorges – and this world will be our world redeemed and set free from the thick and oppressive entropy of sin. To quote Matt Chandler, “All creation is eagerly awaiting its liberation.” The field of yellow that we marvel over every year is like trying to see the real thing in a mirror that is fogged over. Spring is coming.
If Daffodil Flats is what we see in a mirror dimly, what is beyond? What is to come? What is in store for this earth (and us, for that matter) when it ceases to be a hope and literally, physically becomes where God dwells with man? Does that sound like a dream or a drag to you? We read in Psalm 16:11 (ESV), King David (Slingshot Goliath slaying David) saying to God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” If Daffodil Flats is a joy and pleasure that we behold, yet begins to fade as we turn our backs…what will Psalm 16:11 joy and pleasures mean? How could we as Christians not be excited to tell everyone we know about this? Our excitement for Zion should be an amplified excitement for Daffodil Flats! We tell people to place their hope and trust and joy in Christ with all the same excitement of telling them that it’ll be a good decision to get their wisdom teeth pulled or ingrown toenails removed. Our hope for eternity with God is lackluster. After the hard winter of life, Spring is coming. Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Every spring, after the cold icy winters, the daffodils emerge in a field of glory like tiny prophets who proclaim to the world that a resurrection is coming.
Daffodil Flats, at nowhere near full bloom
Maybe part of our slumber, what keeps us in the warm bed of not thinking about too much beyond today, is that there is some bad news involved in the good news – that pesky thing of sin that costs Christians to be shunned with the names of bigot and worse. If you’re still reading and rolling your eyes at me, can I ask you to spend your disbelief very briefly? I saw this thing called sin in a new light this past week. We know from the Gospels in the Bible that Judas betrayed Jesus over a measley 30 pieces of silver. Also, the Gospels tell us that Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends, denied him to save his own skin. I heard a song this week, and it really struck me. It is perhaps one of the most honest songs I have ever come out of music.
He sings, “Judas sold you for thirty. I would have done it for less. Peter denied you three times. I’ve denied you more. What have we done?” We are all in either the shoes of Judas or Peter. Once they saw themselves as a wreck, the only difference between them is that Judas attempted to atone for himself on his own terms by committing suicide, and Peter came to Jesus for atonement on Jesus’s terms of asking to be forgiven. Sin is not merely a stain on our record, an F on our report card, or a mistake we once made. Sin is our prison, and it can even be a prison that we love. Its presence is still at work in every aspect of life, especially the indwelling remains in my own heart. Sin wrecks havoc against us in pain, death, and heartbreak. You know how all that feels, and you don’t need me to flesh it out. Sin separates us from God, puts us at odds with him as enemies, and the only way to be reconciled is through Jesus. He is our mediator. I’m here to tell you what I am for. I am for where God is. I am for being where God says he will be, dwelling with man, and I want you to be there too. I get no notch on my belt. I don’t get an A on my report card. I don’t get any brownie points for telling you. Jesus is the only door, which stands open. I want you to go, so you can feel what it feels like at Daffodil Flats without the burden of a curse. I am not asking you to behave yourself and straighten up. I’m telling you that there is a Good King, and a great good is coming. That is what I am for.
2000 years ago, when Jesus was crucified, we are given a window into the scene. We read in Luke 23:39-43 ESV – One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

I realize you may be doubting at this point. You may be like the person who has never hiked yet heard reputations of the Linville Gorge. You’re saying, “No way am I going down there.” From someone who has started walking the road, let me say with the most confidence I can give, that the journey is worth it. Yes, there is a cost. Yes, like Daffodil Flats (or any other place in the Linville Gorge, for that matter), it is difficult and takes effort and cuts and scrapes and exhaustion on the long path, but it is worth it because of the wonder and delight that is set before us. The King is a Good King, and he gives us reflections and signposts of Himself and His Kingdom. Reflections and signposts of paradise, unfading and unperishable joy, pleasures at his hand. That’s a key, though. The pleasures are His. If we reject Him, we reject everything, and gain nothing. If we, like the thief crucified next to Him with nothing to offer, only ask Him to remember us in His Kingdom, then we gain everything. We are adopted by the King, become His sons and daughters, and gain everything. That Jesus died to be the door to Himself for us is indeed great news.
When you see the rays of the morning or evening sun paint the skies, or the dance of the Aurora Borealis dance beneath the stars, do you see the reflection? Do you see the reflection in Daffodil Flats of when everything will be made new? That is why we celebrate. Happy Easter to you, dear friend. Resurrection is coming. Jesus’s has already happened, and ours will be next, either to life or death. May your long road take you to the Good King and the paradise that accompanies Him alone. Please, let’s talk about it together.
Let me close with one of my favorite quotes ever, from the late since rising writer Keith Green. “You know, I look around at the world and I see all the beauty that God made. I see the forest and the trees and all the things…and it says in the Bible that he made them is six days and I don’t know if they’re a literal six days or not. Scientists would say no, some theologians would say yes. It doesn’t matter to me…but I know that Jesus Christ has been preparing a home for me and for some of you, for two thousand years…and if the world took six days and that home two thousand years, hey man, this is like living in a garbage can compared to what’s going on up there.”
Some people are far more eloquent and more fully minded towards eternity than I am. A few of those resources are…
Appreciating Creation While Anticipating New Creation (Episode 87) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Heartbreak (Episode 565) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Sin (Episode 566) #AskPastorJohn 
Easter Breaks Our Mediocrity (Episode 567) #AskPastorJohn 
How Does Delight in God Fuel Delight in Creation? (Episode 452) #AskPastorJohn 
Tales of New Creation (Part 1) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 2) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Tales of New Creation (Part 3) – The Rabbit Room Podcast 
Heaven. A book by Randy Alcorn
Mere Christianity. A book by C.S. Lewis
The Explicit Gospel. A book by Matt Chandler
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What Is Happening 10 Years Later

This road of being a Christian is a rocky one, full of mountain highs, valley lows, hidden pits, stinking bogs, and open fields. Where I’m at right now is kinda like where I was 10 years ago right after God interrupted my life, but different. Then, I hardly knew God beyond His saying, “Trust me.” I didn’t know what that would mean then. Now, I still don’t really know what that will mean in the days ahead, but I do know God a whole lot more. I know that God is good, and I know AND feel that God loves me. I may not know what the next step will be, but I know the Lord. Beyond that, there is a little bit of clarity for me in what’s going on because certain themes have just been present.

If you haven’t read how I got here, you may wish to read about what happened 10 years ago and what has happened over the last 10 years. If not, that’s OK, too.
Last year, my pastor challenged the church to consider that we had lost our first love. We had lost sight of Jesus, like the church of Ephesus we read about in Revelation. This was the case for me. As a Christian, for years I have been chasing trying to get better, when I ought to have been chasing Jesus. Let me explain.
A conversation sprouted a couple months ago around being satisfied in Jesus. I’m not sure I can really explain what that is like, but if you have tasted and seen his goodness, you will know it. On a much smaller scale, think of the feeling of standing near a waterfall. Beyond the roar of the water and the coolness of the mist, there is something that is difficult to express in words, but you know what it is. That is what God and satisfaction in him is like, in the sense of being difficult to describe.
I had been looking to people to satisfy me, essentially making gods out of them. No man, other than Jesus himself, or woman can carry that weight. I have looked to all kinds of places and people to quench my thirst, and that can only be found in God. There are plenty of times I don’t believe that, until He makes himself and his love known in some unbelievable – and satisfying – way. Knowing God is supremely satisfying, but sadly, I still wander. I still seek to find some sliver of satisfaction in things like buying stuff, relationships, harboring bitterness, and meeting some set of extra-biblical standards I heap on myself. That stuff may lessen the thirst for a moment, but to quench it? Not so much. In the New Testament book of John, Jesus has a piercing conversation with a woman. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but 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 4:13-14 (ESV) Jesus is keeping with the imagery of water used in the Old Testament when he speaks to Jeremiah (in chapter 2, verses 12-13) and says “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord ,  for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” I think this is pretty pointed for me. Jesus is telling me that he is the direct source of all life and satisfaction. He is the spring of life. He is beckoning, “Drink deeply, and be satisfied.”

In the midst of that, I’ve been wrestling with what does it look like to really obey God? I think it’s to follow Psalm 34:8. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (ESV) The goodness of God. I am called to rest in the goodness of God, but it’s so hard to rest. I gotta be doing something, I gotta be moving, I gotta be going to the next place. I gotta move. A verse that came across my path a few weeks ago is Hebrews 4:9-10. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (ESV) It’s worth reading in context, but what I think the writer of Hebrews is getting at is not about Sundays. It’s about realizing that when Jesus said ,”It is finished!” while he hung on the cross, he meant it. Jesus is the better and more satisfying Promised Land of the Old Testament. I need to rest from trying to come into God’s presence by how well I’m navigating the ship of life and rest in Christ’s finished work on behalf of those who are his. The ESV Study Bible comments on the verse this way: “The promise of entering now into this rest means ceasing from the spiritual strivings that reflect uncertainty about one’s final destiny; it means enjoyment of being established in the presence of God, to share in the everlasting joy that God entered when he rested on the seventh day.” How this resting connects with obeying is that if I am drinking from the well of God for my satisfaction, I will be living in obedience because I will not be tempted towards idolatry of trying to find satisfaction in something lesser. That’s not to say lesser things cannot be enjoyed, but if they are elevated to the point where I am seeking to be satisfied in them than in God through them, I will be in disobedience, which is sin.
As I read Romans, the essence of sin is not that I did a bad act or deed, but that I exchanged the truth for a lie. The truth of God as all satisfying is discarded, and the truth of anything else being made as all satisfying is lifted up. Living in the lie and trying to be satisfied in it is a life of sin and disobedience. Trying to reconcile myself to God on my own terms instead of his is a life of sin and disobedience. God loves me. The Father knew me. Jesus died for me. The Holy Spirit stirred me to faith in Jesus, then guides me in faith. The gap between me and the Father has been closed, not just to reconciliation, but to adoption. I am in the family. I can exhale. Living in light of that is the essence of rest.
But God does not gift righteousness to a child to allow them to remain in the lesser pleasures of sin or the chains of fear. I woke up on Monday, February 9th 2015 to the still quiet voice of God. “You’re afraid of what people think of you.” The culturally Christian thing to say would be, “I’m going to work on that. I’m going to fix that.” All I can say is that I want to spend more time with Jesus, and I will cheerfully take whatever results come from that. If that’s where I find living water that forever satisfies, and delivers me from all fear, that’s where I want to drink from.
How am I going to do that? I had thought that gap was to be filled with reading about Jesus in Scripture. I had recently watched a sermon preached by Mattie Montgomery of the band For Today, and I reached out to him on social media to tell him I was encouraged from his sermon to spend time with Jesus by reading the Bible. He replied, “Hey man!  Just to respond to your statement: You don’t discover the things of Christ by the scriptures, but by the SPIRIT. Obviously scripture is VITAL, but as you’re reading it, beseech the Spirit to guide you and instruct you while you read. According to his function in the life of believers, as Christ explained in John 16:1-15.” I don’t put that in this post to name drop, but really only to preserve the counsel so I can come back to it. It’s very easy for me to approach God in a mathematical static way (If I read about Jesus, then I will love Jesus) instead of a malleable dynamic way (Holy Spirit, give me a heart that delights and is satisfied in Jesus).

One of the resources I found helpful, outside of the Bible, is a book I read a few years ago called Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, by John Piper. It’s available as a free download if you wish to read it for yourself. My plan is to reread it again this year, as the theme of being satisfied in Jesus is at the forefront of where God has me right now. The Digital Age sings in their song Captured, “I’ve never felt more found than when I’m lost in You.” That is where I’m at, and it is a place of wonder and marveling. They also cover a song called Fall Afresh, which is what I’m desiring my prayers to look like: “Spirit of the living God, come fall afresh on me. Come wake me from my sleep. Blow through the caverns of my soul, pour in me to overflow.” Yes… that is simultaneously where I am and where I am not yet, but desire. 

What a ride it has been. This is all swirling around, not merely for my own souls satisfaction, but to be a loving overflow. In January 2005, God loved me, then he stopped me, and said, “Trust me. Rest in me. Follow Me. Love me. Be satisfied in me.” The most loving thing I can do is to ask you… will you do the same? Do you feel the tug on your heart? Do not try to extinguish what God is stirring, but ask God that he would give you the eyes to see and a heart to love and rest.

Christianity Reading Plan Satan spiritual warfare the Gospel

The Weak to Make War

How does the weak make war? I’m about to find out. It came as a revelation to me about six weeks ago that I had begun believing lies. I had grown sour over my perceptions, a friend came to me and tried to dig beneath the sourness in search of a root, and I began to regurgitate the lies to him. I didn’t even believe them as I said them, but that was how I was feeling. It all starts so subtly, I didn’t even realize that I had taken the bait until the words came out of my mouth that I couldn’t even trust myself! It is terrible advice to follow your heart, trust your feelings, and believe in yourself. It is when we start doing these things that we open the gates and leave ourselves defenseless. This is how the heart works, and we are given an accurate diagnosis of it in Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Taking advantage of my already dumb and dull weakness, Satan is an accuser. He is not so much one to play the boogieman ready to drag me into the closet and poke my bottom with a pitchfork, but that sly fox is a whisperer, sowing doubt, worry, and discontent. Hear me loud and clear: the devil didn’t make me do it. I am responsible for myself, my actions, and my believing of lies. If the Christian life is a walk, then Satan definitely tells us there is an easier path, a lighter load, and it won’t be of any harm to look back.

So what is to be done about it? Clearly I am too blind to spot the gaping holes in my armor, as I had succumbed so fully to the lies that I was believing. Disoriented, distrusting of myself, I need True North to find my way out of the tangled thickets of deceit.

It is with this, I need help. I have nearly abandoned all personal study of Scripture, pursuit of Christ, and defense of myself.  I have no strength of my own to fight with, because my own strength has been proven futile. Many times, I lack the resolve to utter even a weak prayer. It came to mind to begin a Psalm supported book study of Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, written in the 1600’s by a Puritan by the name of Thomas Brooks. The book is exactly what it sounds like, and as Satan means to work in the shadows, it seeks to drag him and his tactics out into the light so the believer might be able, by the grace of God and power of the Holy Spirit, to make war against him.

Precious Remedies has twelve sections on the Table of Contents, and I have divided those twelve sections up to be accompanied by a Psalm (some of my selection, and some of pastoral suggestion as I presented this reading plan) for each reading. So, if I read for 30 second or I read for 10 minutes, I’ll read the accompanying Psalm in an effort to store up God’s word in my heart that I might not sin against him (Psalm 119:11).

The Plan:
(Psalm 1) 
1. The Epistle Directory 
2. A Word to the Reader
3. Introduction
4. The Proof of the Point
(Psalm 23)
5. Satan’s Devices to Draw the Soul to Sin
(Psalm 42)
6. Satan’s Devices to Keep Souls From Holy Duties
(Psalm 50)
7. Satan’s Devices to Keep Saints in Sad Condition
(Psalm 91)
8. Satan’s Devices to Destroy & Ensnare
(Psalm 145)
9. Five More of Satan’s Devices
10. Seven Characteristics of False Teachers
(Psalm 150)
11. Six Propositions Concerning Satan and His Devices
12. Conclusion: Ten Special Helps and Rules
If you are one who struggles with believing lies and want to link arms with me, pray with me, trust in God with me, or if you just simply want to see what in the world it is I’m reading, you can download a free PDF of Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices and YouVersion offers a free Bible for your phone, tablet, and computer.  I use the English Standard Version primarily.
I pray that the Holy Spirit would be my power against Satan’s devices, and that in that power I might make war against the devil and his accusations.
Christianity Eschatology Heaven hiking North Carolina Table Rock Wildfire the Gospel

When All Is Made Right OR Why I’m Not Upset About The Table Rock Wildfire at Linville Gorge

As I write this, Linville Gorge is on fire. 
The wildfire that presumably started by careless campfire practice has brought a lot of attention to Linville Gorge, and to online groups (such as the Linville Gorge Facebook Group, which I help moderate).  This wildfire and the back fires set to contain it, it has consumed more than 2,200 acres of Table Rock, The Chimneys, NC Wall, Spence Ridge, Chimney Branch, and was heading towards Shortoff. A lot of people love Linville Gorge and consider it their sandbox and playground. As people are passionate about something they love, their opinions and feelings are often passionate to follow. Aired on the internet in placing of social networks, forums, and discussion boards, those words that are felt and let out seem to become just as ferocious as the wildfire itself. Which I’m not really surprised by.
What I’m surprised by is my own reaction to this fire. People have often joked and lovingly suggested to me that hiking in Linville was an idol (read: false god) to me, and I think that those suggestions were valid observations. What surprises me is that I am not more upset than I am. I’m really not upset at all. Am I sad to hear the Gorge is burnt crispy? Absolutely. So what am I getting at?
I believe this wildfire is a lesson in eschatology. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it’s a fancy way to the study of the last things. But let’s back up, and start hoping I don’t rabbit trail here.. I’ll try.
Christians especially – if not more than anybody – should be considerate of being environmentally conscious as stewards of God’s creation. This planet should be cared for and fought for so it doesn’t end up looking like…quite frankly…a lot of our lives. But in all honesty, just as our lives are messed up and we haven’t been good stewards of all that we’ve been given, so also will that fault translate into the world around us. Relationships are destroyed, finances ruined, health fails, wildfires start, resources are squandered, nature is devastated, people are lied to, and so much of everything just falls apart. I mean, really, look at the world around you. Can any of us say with integrity that we never look at the world around us and hopelessly feel like this is not the way it’s supposed to be???
There’s a reason for that. It’s because this is NOT the way the world is supposed to be. God created man (Adam & Eve) and he rebelled against God. That rebellion against has translated down the gene pool all the way to me and you, and it’s called sin. We choose our ways, make them god ways, and reject the true God’s ways. This sin of Adam not only translated us, but essentially knocked all of creation off its axis as sin entered the world and devastation began. The world was not as it was supposed to be.
But there is hope.
From that moment of the Fall, God spoke of his rescue plan. These are the words God has for Satan after tempting Eve in Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Satan may strike a blow to God (the cross) but God would make that same blow crush Satan forever. 

We are living in the now but not yet.

Satan and sin have been defeated on the cross, where the fully-God and fully-man Jesus was crucified, and took the penalty that we deserve for all of our sin. That means what we have coming to us from not obeying all the law, God poured out on Jesus. On the flip side, the Christian gets what Jesus deserved! After Jesus was dead for 3 days, he was resurrected to newness of life and ascended to heaven. Not myth. Not lore. Fact. His resurrection validates his work on the cross, and gives all those who hope in Christ hope for their own resurrection from death into eternal newness of life!!

As if this was not exciting enough, once the “not yet” finally gets here, once death is dealt its final blow and claims no more victims, once the final chapter in sin-marred human history closes… it will all begin. Zion. New Jerusalem. Heaven. However you want to call it. To those who have rejected that they can stand righteous in front of God on their own behavior and accord, and trust wholly in the grace and mercy that is in Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection… THEN, not only will we be made new, but so will all creation. That includes the Linville Gorge, which exists to and for the glory of God.

One day, Linville will see its full glory again. We cannot go to the Gorge, or anywhere else for that matter, to find God. God is fully displayed in his revealed word to us, the Bible. We cannot find God in nature, but because of God, we can find more joy in nature. We can see the fire scars, fallen rocks, and devastated landscapes and know that one day, Jesus will return, and all that is crooked will be made straight. All that is wrong will be made right. It will all be held together by Jesus, who is the glory of it all. 

So fight the fires, however you choose. Keep a clean camp. Educate others. Leave no trace. Be a good steward of our natural areas. These are all good things, unless we make mini-gods out of them, then they become bad things. Hold them, but hold them loosely. We aren’t in control. God is. He is bringing a hope, a future, a kingdom to those who wait for him. Only in Christ can we find true satisfaction. We are not God. We are not sovereign. One day, God (and only God) will make everything right.

This is a pretty big topic, obviously larger than one post can cover. In January 2014, I plan to begin to study the book of Revelation in the Bible, as well as the broader topic of eschatology and future grace. I hope to post my notes on this blog. 

In the meantime, I recommend this reading to you:

– The Bible. It is the anvil that has worn out many hammers.
– Heaven, by Randy Alcorn
– The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler

Christianity Freedom God Idolatry Jesus Life Seeking the Gospel

Can Freedom Be An Idol?

Before I start, let me say this post is not directed at anybody specific. If anyone, it’s introspective; however, the theme of freedom has been playing out in several conversations I’ve had with several people lately, so it’s time to ask some questions because I think in all honesty this pertains to more than just me.
A lot of things come to mind when I hear the word freedom, but a quote from Dave Ramsey, which I’ll paraphrase since I can’t  remember it exactly, seems to ring the loudest: “What does one do when they don’t have any debt? Anything they want to.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty dang good to me, especially since I feel like I’m wearing some of those shackles myself. 
We spend our days and months and years fighting and clawing for that which we think will give us our freedom: money, savings, retirement, medication, success, education, promotions, a house in the mountains or at the beach, vacations, cruises to exotic countries, or a giant pool in our backyard. We label those things freedom, and we make them idols, sacrificing to get them. And for what? A family that barely sees and knows you, a huge pile of stuff, a giant property that takes your freedom because you either have to maintain it or pay someone else to, and you’re still left wanting. We can think of idols or demon gods like Molech in ancient times that people sacrificed their children on the altars of, but are we really any different? We sacrifice our wives, husbands, kids on the altar of career and education and more stuff. I sacrifice my family so I can do __________. Sounds like the same ballpark.
We all want freedom so badly. Whether it’s freedom from work, sickness, debt, addictions, suffering, depression, pain, mortgage, government, taxes taxes and more taxes, we all want to taste the sweet air of freedom. This is something we all share. I propose that we all share this because we all share something even deeper, that we are living in a world where sin still exists. Martin Luther defines sin as “the self bending in on the self.” Sin is chains and slavery and the opposite of freedom.
In all honesty, I don’t think our deep desire for freedom is a BAD thing. Mark Driscoll has said that when a good thing becomes a god thing it becomes an idol. An idol would be something that we give ourselves to in hopes that it would provide heaven from our hell. It’s when we go about looking to find a savior that cannot save is when our worlds start crumbling. Or maybe it’s a case of wanting the created over the Creator. Is it that we ultimately want freedom more than we want the only One who can offer it? That would be like marrying someone only for the sex without building any relationship. 
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 ESV)
This is the message that Jesus gives. He is saying “Come to me, and I will give you freedom.” While many good things can give us some rest as gifts from God and foretastes of heaven, nothing will ultimately give anyone rest like Jesus. It is worth noting, however, that Jesus will never give us our idols. He will never allow us to be satisfied with that which cannot. We will never find freedom in that which enslaves.
If you are wondering what that is all about… the best counsel I can give is another from Jesus himself.  Either this or the previous verse would be excellent places to start.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:9-13 ESV)

Christianity Sin soli Deo gloria the glory of God the Gospel

soli Deo gloria

Glory to God Alone.

I have been hearing this Latin phrase soli Deo gloria, and it struck me. The Lord, Yahweh, I AM, Maker of Heavens and Earth, is where the buck stops when it comes to glory. He is big. He is mighty. He is what it’s all about. Do the mountains and seas and skies and valleys have any glory? Only that which is given to them by the Father.

We seek glory and majesty. We have to have mountains. We have to love near the water. We want the sunrises and sunsets. We have to have sex (where we behold the glory of another AND seek our own). We have to present ourselves in ways that lift ourselves up. We have to have a promotion. We cannot bear shame, scorn, or the truth that we fall short in any area. We are not God, nor or any of the things we put in his place (read: idolatry). God alone is able to withstand and bear the weight of glory. Every thing that we try to make God that is not God will crumble under the weight of trying to be God. Try fulfilling all of the characteristics of God to your spouse and see how long it takes for you to realize you are not.

James 1:16-17 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

As I love the outdoors, which is much of what I cover here, this is something weighty to consider. When I stand on the cliffs of the Linville Gorge and behold sights that take my breath away, it is not enough to merely be in awe of the scene. If the glory of Linville is an end in itself, it falls short. The infinite God of the universe has carved this rugged and majestic gorge out by simply stating it “Be.” Our amazing daily paintings of sunrises and sunsets in the sky are simply because God said “Be.” If we behold the glory of creation, we are doing it and God wrong if we do not finish our sentence with soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.

God is glorious. God is also holy. This means that he cannot bear the presence of sin, like when you and I have failed to ascribe glory to him when it was due, and gave that glory to something else. THIS means that we have said to ourselves and God that he is not worth all glory, and belittled the name of the One who has formed the cosmos. Matt Chandler says in his book The Explicit Gospel, “you cannot be sinful and get near God. It doesn’t work. God’s holiness will incinerate you.”

So what is the problem? Jeremiah 2:12-13 tell us. “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

Glory to God alone… So we are in trouble when we assign glory to men, women, children, money, mountains, oceans, beaches, valleys, fame, fortune, reputation, relaxation, security, houses, cars, alcohol, smoking, knowledge, science, celebrities, politicians, the government, policies, causes, sex, relationships, Buddha, Maher Baba, Mohammed, the Virgin Mary, being a good person, methodology, parenting, vaccinations, immunizations, schedules, homeschooling, our good works, the environment, the wolves, the whales, dogs, cats, events, work, play, recreation, respect, health, wealth, prosperity, our business, freedom, traditions, preferences, fear of what other people think, writing a blog, or a host of other replacements mankind is constantly inventing. We have forsaken God, and sought our hope and glory and pleasure in anything but him. So now what, that we have all offended our Creator? Romans 2 tells us that if we continue on in this manner and presume on God’s kindness to save us because “that’s what God does”, we are storing up wrath for ourselves. Who’s wrath? The wrath of the one we have offended. Brothers and sisters, we are ALL in deep dookie here.

But there is hope! It is revealed to us in Romans 5:6-8 that, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This means that the chasm between God and man, created by man’s offense, has been bridged because Jesus Christ the Son of God, fully God and fully man, has paid the penalty that was ours to pay.

You have heard people say repent, and I will say it again, shouting it the loudest at myself because I have repeatedly offended the Creator of the Universe. Repent means to turn away, turn around, a reversal. It looks like saying, “God over all! I have given glory to things that do not deserve it, and ascribed glory to things to which glory was not due. All glory belongs to you alone! I am guilty. The Bible tells me that you sent your son to die on a cross, bear my wrath, take the penalty I deserved, and rose from the dead for my life. Father make this true for me. Forgive me for trampling all over your great and glorious name, and help me to live this out by your power alone, not mine, so all glory will continue to be given to you alone. In Jesus name, amen.”

So now here is the kicker. Lets retrace briefly: you are a sinner who has robbed God of his glory, which God will regain either by pouring his wrath out on you or out on Jesus. You trusted in Jesus! Now, instead of bearing guilt over your cosmic treason, you now rejoice in your cosmic adoption into the family of God! We learn in Galatians 4:4-7 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Further yet, we can lay claim to verses like Psalm 16:11 because we are no longer enemies of God and can approach him with confidence as his children: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” There is rightly no more fear of God for those who have trusted in Jesus. Now instead of the glory of God being the weight of the case against us as sinners, the glory of God is our pleasure, and this pleasure is not one that is fleeting. It is not but for a moment like standing on a mountain top, and then fades as we long to once again stand and behold a behold a reflection of glory. The pleasure of the glory of The Lord is ever satisfying. Drink.

John Piper restates the Westminster Confession and says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.” May that be true of all of us, and if it is, it is to the glory of God alone.

(All Scripture quoted is from the ESV, English Standard Version)