Trouble In Paradise

In October I was blessed to be able to travel to Greece. In the weeks leading up to the trip each time I told someone my destination their reaction was always the same, “oooh how nice!!” And my response was typically a half-smile accompanied by the word “well.”

You see I didn’t go to sit on a beach and work on my sunburn. I went to talk to people. I went to share hope in a hopeless place. I went to share about Jesus and His love.

The island I spent most of the time on was the Island of Lesvos situated just 4 miles from the coast of Turkey. Lesvos is home to an infamous refugee camp named Moria, a camp built for 2,500 people. When I went in October there were more than 13,000 people living in Moria and the surrounding hilly olive grove. As of my writing this my sources in the camp tell me that the number of individual souls, people with real stories, real names, real dreams, is now at an unfathomable 20,000.

One thing, of many, that stuck with me was the incredible contrast that I saw there on the island. If you were to look around and only see 95% of the island you would see an absolute paradise. The sea was clear and beautiful. The olives were plump and picturesque. The sky was clear, and the weather was neither too hot nor too cold. It was beautiful.

And then there was the camp.

The sights, the sounds, the smells. The fear, the pain, the hopelessness.

It serves as a picture of our world. There are great and wonderful beauties, and yet in the same world, there are great and terrible evils.

I am finding that writing this post is a lot harder than I had anticipated. The memories of my time in the camp, the people that I met, and the conversations that I had are all flooding back, and it is truly overwhelming. I will, in time, share more of those stories.

But for now, I have a simple message. Jesus loves.

Jesus loves the half-naked child that I saw playing with a rusty nail and splintered wood next to excrement.

Jesus loves the mother of 5 little ones who stands in line every day for hours upon hours in order to feed her family.

Jesus loves the father who told me his arms were sore from holding his sleeping children above his chest all night so that they didn’t get wet in their flooded tent.

Jesus loves the orphan kid who tried to steal water.

Jesus loves the two grandmothers who got in a fistfight over a piece of cardboard they intended to sleep on.

Jesus loves the 12-year-old who told me he can’t remember life before they left home.

Jesus loves the girl who put his trust in Him and was secretly baptized.

Jesus loves the wealthy person reading this on their phone, tablet, or computer.

Jesus loves the sinner saved by grace who is writing.

There is good news in the midst of all of this. God has a habit of using terrible circumstances for His glory and our good.

Pray that the Good News of the Gospel would shine bright in this darkness. And be willing to be used by God in whatever way He would choose.

Matthew 25:31-46

Pain: An Excuse To Sin?

Recently I was asked a question that I suspect many people have wondered about at one time or another in one way or another.

Is my pain an excuse for me to sin?

What about if life is extra-hard?

What if I have been “dealt a really bad hand” in life?

God understands right?

Let me begin by saying that if you are experiencing some sort of pain or turmoil right now as you read this, I am right now praying for you.

I don’t know who you are other than the fact that you probably have experienced some sort of frustrating pain. So, I pray that in the midst of whatever circumstance you are going through that you would keep your eyes on Jesus. I also pray that God would draw you closer to Himself during this time.

Concerning pain, there are several different types; physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual. The Bible is clear that God cares about us humans in every aspect of who we are. Jesus, when He was on earth, healed the sick and healed people who were out of their minds (taking care of physical and mental pain.) Psalm 34:18 says that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted (addressing emotional pain.) And certainly, Jesus came to address our greatest need which is spiritual when He died on the cross. In doing so He made it possible for us to be free from the pain and ensnarement of sin.

It seems that human beings ever since The Fall have experienced pain of one sort or another in a variety of degrees.

Pain is so much a part of our existence on this earth that God has to go out of His way to declare in Revelation 21 that in the New Heaven and the New Earth there shall be no more pain of any kind! “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Additionally, Romans 8:18 gives a promise to those who have trusted in Jesus. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Wow! God has some really incredible and pain-free things in store for those who have faith in Jesus!

If you are going through some sort of pain at this moment I would encourage you to read the whole chapter of John 9, it really is an awesome and easy read! At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus and His disciples run across a man who had been born blind. When they see the man the disciples ask Jesus who had sinned, the man or his parents? Jesus’ response? Neither. The disciples couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that this poor man had been dealt such a “bad hand.” They were looking for a reason for his pain. Maybe his parent’s sin had caused him to be blind. Perhaps his own?

Instead, Jesus goes around all their expectations and says that the man was born in blindness so that God could be glorified! Jesus goes on to miraculously heal the man. At the end of the chapter, the man can now see both physically and spiritually!

So, to answer the initial question, no.

Pain is never an excuse to sin.

God wants us to have faith in Him no matter what our current situation.

He calls us to follow and obey Him no matter what the circumstance.

We may not always understand His reasons or ways, but we still ought to honor Him with our actions. Because He is good no matter what.

Rooted

Over the last few years, our church has had year specific themes that we, as a congregation focus on throughout the year. These themes have served to focus/refocus us, unify us, and motivate us to move forward in our personal and corporate relationships with God.

We are surrounded by a culture that is constantly shifting. Right is called wrong, the truth is despised, and people are pressured into comprising their values. This is the cultural reality that we find ourselves ministering in the midst of. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we, the Church of Jesus Christ, stand firmly grounded in the truth of God’s Word.

We must remain Rooted.

  • Rooted in the Word.
  • Rooted in faith.
  • Rooted in love.
  • Rooted in hope.
  • Rooted in the Gospel.

My church’s theme this year is one that can be developed throughout the entire year in a wide variety of ways. In fact, in many ways, the theme of Rooted is simply a cumulation of what we, as a church, have been working towards over the last few years.

We desire to Know God—Read and Pray (2016)

We desire to Grow in our relationships with Him – Walk Worthy (2017)

We desire to Go and spread the good news – Beyond the Walls (2018)

We desire to Remain knowing, growing, and going – Rooted

The idea of remaining Rooted can easily and consistently be applied to both the individual as well as the church as a whole throughout the year.

We as individuals are challenged and encouraged to stay Rooted in holding onto our faith and digging into the Word. The church, as a whole, is challenged and encouraged to remain Rooted as the Bride of Christ even as the culture around us quickly shifts.

We can, thankfully, produce a message of stability and consistency no matter what sort of uncertainty lies ahead, we can show that our foundations are unshakable.

Today, next week, and for the rest of the year, my prayer for you is that you remain firmly rooted.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”      -Colossians 2:6-7

Don’t Forget To Remember

Recently, I was on a plane with not much to do so I decided that I was going to pass my time remembering. I allowed my mind to travel back to a specific date and location. I sat there as I remembered the people who were around me, what I was feeling, and what my outlook on life was at that specific point. Some of my memories were sweet and left me feeling warm while others made me cringe from embarrassment. Either way, I enjoyed remembering.

It is a good thing to remember the past.

I have been to many different places in my life and they all have one thing in common. No matter if I am in a big city, small town, or even a middle-of-nowhere wilderness I can always find some sort of memorial. A small sign, plaque, statue, monument, stones, engraving-all these can be found. And they all have one of three messages… “Don’t forget this person.” Or “Don’t forget this thing that happened.” Or “Don’t forget this person that did this thing.”

So why is remembering so important? Because most of the time forgetting can have tragic results.

Now, I’m not simply talking about misplacing your keys (although that can be a bit of a bummer.) I am more so talking about forgetting the people, events, and truths that have shaped you into who you are today.

Deuteronomy 8:11-14 says,

“Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

See, God completely understands our human tendencies. We are forgetful and prideful people. God tells the people of Israel to remember the person-God, the event-God bringing them out from slavery, and the truth-God did it and it was not by their own power.

And then in verse 19, God gives them the tragic results of not remembering, “if you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them…you will surely be destroyed.”

Remembering is serious business. It can literally be the difference between life and death.

There are so many tragedies in history that we need to remember.

The Original Fall of Mankind, The Holocaust, soldiers who bravely gave their lives protecting the oppressed, 9/11, The Sandy Hook Massacre, The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, multiple Genocides, and sadly I have only named a few. But all of these need to be remembered.

But also, triumphs should be remembered as well.

Jesus Rising from the dead, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, walking on the Moon, cures for terrible diseases, The Emancipation Proclamation, Israel becoming a nation again, and the Bears winning the Super Bowl in 2020. (That last one hasn’t happened yet, but I am hoping that one day I will be able to remember it.)

In the same way that we should remember history-defining events, we should also remember our own life-changing events.

I remember when I was trapped and chained by sin. But, Praise God, I also remember when I put my trust in Jesus.

I remember those countless times where I had fears and doubts. But Praise God, I also remember those countless times where God firmly yet gently pulled me through.

I remember when I was unfaithful to the God who loves me. But, Praise God, I remember when He continued to be faithful in spite of myself.

Don’t forget the important stuff in life.

Write things down in a journal. Take pictures. Create something to put in your house.

But whatever you do, remember.