Pray Without Ceasing

10/10/17

Pray Without Ceasing

I walked into my kitchen on Sunday night and looked at the shelf where I keep the coffee mugs. My fiancée, Ali, has begun to move things into the house so that the transition of her moving in once we’re married will be smooth. Between the two of us, we own roughly 483 coffee mugs for some reason. One mug, in particular, caught my eye. My mom got me this one for Christmas a couple of years ago, and I’ve drunk out of it many times, but for some reason, it was like I was reading the words on it for the first time. It says, “Prayer changes everything.” I was stopped in my tracks for a few moments pondering those words.  How had I never noticed that before? I knew that it was no accident that the Holy Spirit drew my eyes to that phrase.

Do we believe that prayer changes everything? The correct answer is yes but do we genuinely believe that deep down? I think that the best way to figure that out is to examine our own prayer life. I’ve heard it said, “The quickest way to humble a Christian is to ask them about their prayer life.” I will readily admit that my prayer life isn’t where it should be. I don’t know if we can ever have a perfect prayer life, but that is no excuse not to give it all that we have.

On the other side of that coffee mug is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” There is a lot to unpack in those three verses. I don’t want to get bogged down in an exegetical dissertation, but I just want to focus on the “pray without ceasing” part. 

Have you ever prayed without ceasing? How does that even look? I went to a conference when I was a freshman in college, and the speaker there used this verse and challenged all of us to try our best to “pray without ceasing.” I was struggling with living out the Christian life at this point and wanted to grab onto anything that I could to try to rectify that so I was all in on this challenge. The speaker said that if there is any moment that you’re alone, pray.

The college that I initially went to placed the dorms annoyingly far away from the academic buildings, which meant that I had several long walks to and from class each day. I usually would listen to music when I walked to class, but now I was replacing it with prayer. I also started praying when I was showering, using the restroom, doing nothing in my room, walking to and from the dining hall, and virtually any other time that I was alone. The results were life-changing. It reshaped how I viewed God. I had viewed Him mostly as the all-powerful king of the world, which He is, but that was being morphed into me seeing Him as a friend. Being in near constant communion with the Almighty brought me closer to Him than I had ever been. It took our relationship to a deepness that I had yet to experience.

I don’t believe that I am the only one to experience that. When I think of all my spiritual heroes that I have had throughout my life, they typically have something in common. They have a living and active prayer life. There is no excuse for a Christian not to have a vibrant prayer life. The only thing that is holding us back is us simply not doing it. God wants us to be continually going to Him in prayer. As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It is God’s will that we pray without ceasing. I have learned over the years that if it’s God’s will, then we should try to be in tune with it. If our perfect Father is offering a deeper relationship with Him, why would we ever reject Him?

Our main go-to excuse is that we don’t have enough time to pray. Listen to what Martin Luther has to say on the subject. First, imagine how busy Luther was at the height of the Reformation, he was changing the church and the world. Luther had gained a reputation for his devotion to prayer. He would spend the first 4 hours of his day doing nothing but praying. Let that one sink in for a minute. How many days would we have to add together to get to 4 hours of prayer? Someone came up to him one day and asked him, “With all that you have going on, how can you find that much time to pray?” That is a logical question considering that Luther would devote about a fourth of his day to his morning prayer. It’s Luther’s response that will always stop me in my tracks. He looked at his inquirer and responded, “With all that I have going on, how can I not find that time to pray?” I know this story by heart, and even still, it moves me. Are you busier than someone who reshaped and changed Christianity? I’m going to venture that you are not. Am I saying that we all need to spend our first 4 hours of the day praying? No, although I’m not saying that you can’t. My big takeaway from that story is that we need to prioritize prayer.

Ali is the most important person in my life. Because of that, we spend a significant time talking to each other every day. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have nearly as close or as strong of a relationship as we do. We take the time to talk about our day and how it’s going. We also like to say how much we love and appreciate each other. That is the type of communication that God desires. He genuinely cares about you and wants to hear everything about your day. He wants us to be intimate with Him and spend time telling Him how much we love and appreciate Him.

God also wants us to ask Him for our desires. Now, there is a disclaimer in scripture that tells us that asking with the wrong motives will lead to God not fulfilling those requests (James 4:3). However, there are plenty of encouraging verses telling us that God will answer those prayers. Look at what Jesus tells us in Luke 11:9, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened for you.” Matthew 21:22 reads, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith.” The apostle John writes, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to His will, he hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him”(1 John 5:14-15). God will answer your prayers if you are asking with the right motives.

Why do we have a God that is so willing to fulfill our requests? Daniel answers that question for us, “We do not make requests of you because you are righteous, but because of your great mercy” (Daniel 9:18). God wants to pour out His blessings on us because He is a kind and loving father. We should continually be going to Him with a pure heart and asking for the things we need because He is the God who provides.

My challenge to you is to spend this week praying without ceasing. Any moment that you get alone spend time with your creator. Turn off the radio as your driving to and from work, pray to Him while you’re brushing your teeth, talk to your savior while your cooking dinner, etc. Also, set aside some time to pray every morning. There are no magic words that you need to say, nor is there a script that you have to follow. Tell God what is on your heart. Tell Him how you’re honestly feeling. Don’t be afraid to ask Him for your desires. He wants to bless and provide for you because He is merciful. He is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20). God is inviting you to a deeper and richer relationship with Him. Will you accept that offer? The choice is yours.



The Light in the Darkness

10/03/17

The Light in the Darkness

When I first had the idea of writing a blog, it was with the thought that I could offer encouraging words to whoever would read it. I feel like I have done a good job of that with each post. However, I am finding it hard to be encouraging today in light of the tragedy that took place in Las Vegas Sunday night.

I awoke Monday to a beautiful morning. The sun was shining through my bedroom window and illuminating the room. I lay there for a few minutes with my dog before finally getting out of bed. My fiancée was coming over to have coffee before she had to go to work. I have Monday’s off, so I had a nice, relaxing day planned. I scrolled quickly through my Facebook, and I kept seeing statuses saying, “Pray for Las Vegas.” I didn’t know what had happened. After Ali left to go to work, I decided to finally check out what had happened and then my heart broke.

This massacre is coming on the heels of what has been a devastating couple of months for this country and beyond. It seems that every day that we turn on the news, there’s more destruction. We have had the hurricanes in Houston, Florida, and the Caribbean. There were fires in the northwest. An earthquake rocked Mexico City. Hopefully, the shooting in Las Vegas is the end of the heartbreak for a little while.

It becomes challenging in times like these to feel particularly encouraged. Even if these events don’t directly impact us, they wear us down. I have heard the question asked, “If God is good, how can He allow this kind of stuff to happen?” This is a sober reminder that we live in a world that has been wrecked by sin. When Adam and Eve ate that first fruit, they didn’t just infect people with sin but the whole world. We see the effects of a fallen world every day. However, it seems to be turned up all the way to ten since late August.

As I struggle through this, I tried to think of anywhere in the Bible that could relate to what we we’ve been going through. It just so happens that I have been teaching through an Old Testament book called Habakkuk with my high schoolers. You’re probably not too familiar with Habakkuk so let me fill you in on what the book is about. Habakkuk is a prophet in Judah (The southern part of Israel after the split) right before Babylon invades and takes over. The whole book (only three chapters) is a back and forth between God and Habakkuk. The prayers of Habakkuk mirror some of what I, and many others, have been feeling recently.

“How long, Lord must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.”(Habakkuk 1:1-3) Does that cry to God sound familiar? I think that Habakkuk has summed up what I have been feeling better than I could ever express myself. Destruction and violence seem to be all around us. We can’t go a day without hearing about it or seeing it. Habakkuk is asking the question of “Where are you, God?” He is having an honest conversation with the Creator. If you look at the title of the section, it’s called “Habakkuk’s complaint.” Have you had an honest conversation with the Creator about how you’re feeling lately? Have you made your true feelings known, as you have prayed to God about the “destruction and violence” before you or have you just been praying the platitudes that you feel that you should say? Be honest with God and tell Him how you feel. He can handle it.

In the second chapter of the book, God proclaims that He doesn’t approve of injustice. I fully believe that God’s heart breaks just like ours when tragedy shakes our foundations. Remember that Jesus wept whenever Lazarus died. He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Although He allows these things to happen, that doesn’t mean he approves of them. God loves His creation so much that He was willing to die for them. Never forget that our God is a loving god, even during these times. If your thought is that God should prevent all evil from happening, remember that we all sin. Very few people sin as egregiously as the shooter did on Sunday night but we are all guilty nevertheless. That’s why we are constantly in need of our savior.

This is how Habakkuk ends his back and forth with God,

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (3:16-19)

He is saying that even though everything seems bad, he will still take his joy and refuge in the Lord. That’s where we need to find ourselves today, even though it isn’t easy. Honestly, it’s when it isn’t easy that we need to cling the tightest to the God of our salvation. He is the only one who can make this right, and He is the only one who can get us through these unbearable times.

In these times where we find encouragement lacking, let us trust in God. This world is a very dark place, and it seems to be getting darker. The only thing that drives out the darkness is light. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us that, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” It is in the darkest places that a light will shine the brightest. We need to live out our salvation with joy so that all people can see.

The second part of that verse is one that became real to me when I got to be in Israel. I was standing on the ruins of Solomon’s temple in Tel Megiddo looking out across the Jezreel Valley, where the final battle of Armageddon will take place, and I noticed the landscape. Israel is filled with hills and valleys. The quickest way to travel in ancient times was to walk along the valleys, and all of the cities were built on hills as a security strategy. When it would get dark, the valleys would become very dangerous, and you would need to take refuge in one of the cities. You would be able to see the fires in a city from miles away at night, and that would become your safe haven. That is who we are called to be. We are to live our faith out so much that people would be able to recognize the joy and hope inside of us in the darkest of times. Then, they will seek us out, and we can tell them why it is that we still have joy, even in the darkest of days.

I am still heart broken over the state of this world. I find myself longing more and more each day for the new heaven and the new earth that God will create in the end times. A place where there is no strife and no pain. Doesn’t that sound beautiful? That, however, is not where we’re currently living. We are residents of the fallen world for the time being. The Bible says that we are just sojourners in this world, waiting until we can go home to Heaven and be with our perfect and loving father. That is where the Christian’s true citizenship belongs. Until then, let us pray for this world and let us be “the light of the world.” I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Are things going to get darker or is it finally going to be the dawn? Either way, I do know that I have the God of my salvation to lean upon. Let us often go to the foot of the cross and always invite others to join us there.



For His Kingdom and Our Good

09/07/17

For His Kingdom and Our Good

I had a plan for what I was going to write about when I sat down to do my last blog post. I had been thinking about the topic for a few days and was eager to get my thoughts on paper, even if it is digital paper. So I did what I normally do, and I began to type away. Once I was finished, I started the less-than-exciting task of proofreading. I became more and more shocked as I read over what I wrote. It wasn’t even close to what I had in mind! I got off track somewhere along the way and never got back on the intended path. Rather than scrap what I had written, I decided to go ahead and post it. I didn’t have much confidence in what I wrote, but I had spent the time and effort, so I didn’t want to waste it. Then something interesting happened. I had multiple people tell me over the week that my blog was just what they needed to hear. I stood amazed each time I listened to that. How could something that I didn’t have much hope for make any impact? Then I was reminded of what it was that I had written about, “If we only knew what God knew.” God knew exactly what I needed to write, even though it wasn’t what I wanted. God decided to use me although I had no idea what He was doing.

That idea is what I initially set out to write for my last blog post. We often only see what’s happening right in front of us. I passed through a town that was preparing for a parade as I drove up to my parent’s for a Labor Day cookout on Monday. There were fire trucks, floats, and all the regular parade participants lining up as people began to crowd around the road. The thing that most caught my eye was a horse and carriage. If you have ever seen a horse in a parade, you know that they are always wearing blinders. Obviously, they do this so the horse can only see what is straight ahead and to prevent it from getting distracted or spooked from anything that is going on around it. Seeing that horse made me think of the fact that we spend most of our lives living with blinders on, preventing us from seeing what God is doing around us and even what God is doing through us.

God has made a habit of using imperfect people. In fact, there was only one perfect person that did God’s work, and He just so happened to be God incarnate. All throughout history God has chosen to use flawed people to accomplish His will. Just look at who the disciples were to see that they weren’t anything special. They were a rag tag bunch of guys who were passed over by other rabbis because they weren’t smart enough. There were several fishermen from Galilee, which means that they were under educated, blue-collar workers. Matthew, a Jew, was a tax collector, a job that required him to betray his people by working for the oppressing Roman government. He made his money by exploiting the Jewish people. There was a zealot named Simon. The Zealots were a group of Jews who were leading a rebellion against the Roman government in Israel. This would also mean that Simon would have despised Matthew in any other context. We can round out this group with Judas Iscariot who was stealing money from the treasury the whole time he traveled with Jesus and would eventually turn the Messiah over to His death. This is the all-star group of guys that God used to build His church and usher in His kingdom on earth.

What made these guys so great (excluding Judas because that dude stinks)? They followed Jesus and did what He told them to do. Even still, they had their struggles. This is evident in what is perhaps Christ’s most famous miracle, The Feeding of the 5,000. You probably know the story but allow me to highlight some things in it. Firstly, 5,000 is an inaccurate measure of the size of the crowd. Matthew 14:21 finishes the story by saying, “And those who ate were about 5,000 men, besides women and children.” This means that they only counted the men. Jesus is at the height of His popularity at this point. If most of the men brought their wives and one kid with them, we’re suddenly looking at a crowd of around 15,000! I’ve seen estimates that take the number over 20,000. Take a moment and wrap your mind around the sheer size of the crowd.

The day was drawing to an end, and the disciples wanted to have some rest. When you know what has been going on, you won’t blame them. Not only have they been traveling around with Jesus as He taught and performed miracles but they also just received some troubling news. John the Baptist has been killed. All of the disciples would have known him personally and probably considered him a friend. Andrew and another disciple (probably John) were even disciples of John the Baptist before they met Jesus. Their hearts, mind, and body were all worn out due to what has been transpiring in their lives over the past few weeks. They just wanted to take a nap. I know I can relate to that feeling and I’m sure you can too. They had an issue though; there was that pesky crowd following them around.

The Disciples go to Jesus and suggest to send the crowds away to buy some food. Jesus, however, has a different suggestion, “They need no go away; you give them something to eat.” (Matt 14:16) Remember how big that crowd was? Yeah, this is a ridiculous request. The Disciples looked around, and all they had was two fish and five loaves of bread. That wasn’t even enough to feed them let alone a crowd that could fill a small college football stadium. Phillip even tells Jesus that they wouldn’t be able to feed them even if they spent all of the money they had on bread. You cannot blame the disciple for being skeptical of Jesus’ idea. They may not have been the smartest men, but they could do the math on this one. Nevertheless, Jesus tells them to break the crowd up into groups. He then broke the bread, gave thanks, filled the disciple’s baskets, and told them to go and distribute it amongst the crowd.

I’m going to go into the realm of speculation which I don’t normally do but let’s imagine what the disciples think as they walk into a giant group of hungry and tired people. Have you ever been around a group of hungry and tired people? It’s not fun, and the first thing that they lose is their patience.  I assume that they thought this was insane. Throughout the gospels, we have many instances where the Disciples didn’t understand who Jesus was and what He was doing and I imagine that this would be one of those situations. Regardless, they went out to the crowd to hand out the food. I wonder at what point did it all click for them. Was it the tenth person they served? The hundredth? The thousandth? Or was it when they collected 12 full baskets of leftovers after everyone ate their fill? At what point did they take the blinders off, quit focusing on the magnitude of the task, and begin to see the big picture of what God was doing.

Even when the Disciples didn’t understand, God used them in a big way. That’s the lesson that I want us to take away from a story that is full of them. We don’t always know or need to know God’s big picture for us to make an impact for His kingdom. We are just like those disciples a lot of times in our lives. We hear what God is calling us to do and we respond by saying “I don’t have enough.” We look at what we have to offer instead of trusting that God will give us what we need or multiply what we have. Don’t think that it is a coincidence that they happened to have the little bit of food that they did. John 6:9 tell us that there just happened to be a boy with the fish and bread. God gave them what little they had so that He could turn it into something spectacular. Would this story be nearly as impressive if they had 5,000 fish and 10,000 loaves of bread? The correct answer is no. God chose to use the little to something big.

God has gifted every Christian in one way or another, scripture is clear on that (1 Cor 12:1-11). You may think that you don’t have much to offer, but I can assure you that whatever you have to offer, God will use. We need to quit thinking of what we can do and think of the fact that there’s nothing God can’t do. He wants to use you to make a significant impact for His kingdom. We must take off the blinders and try to see the big picture of how God is using us. Jesus has called, commanded, and commissioned us to preach the Gospel. If He is sending us, then He is going to supply us. We may not have much to offer, but we have a God who makes much of what we have to offer.

The thing about the Disciples that I am most impressed with is the fact that they went. They walked out into the overwhelming crowd, baskets in hand, ready to do what Jesus told them to do. They had no idea how that was going to turn out, but they knew that Jesus wouldn’t leave them out to dry.

We follow the same savior!

There is no need to wonder if Jesus is going to send you out and let you down. He has promised that He would never leave us nor forsake us. He is going to be with us until the end of the age. All we need to do is go, and He’ll take care of the rest.

We serve a good and loving God. We also serve a God who is going to use His people to change the world. We are never promised safety in Scripture, but we are promised that whatever happened to us is for His kingdom and our good. We need to trust that God is going to use us, even when the task is well beyond anything that we can accomplish on our own. In fact, that’s when God is going to show off the most. He loves to make much of little. What is God calling you to do? What ministry is He calling you to? Who is He calling you to impact? Does the task seem too big? If it does, good. That is exactly where you need to go. I promise you, if you go, He will be with you every step of the way. We may only have a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread to offer, but He can use that to change the world. Take off the blinders, look around you, and know that God can, will, and is using you to grow His kingdom. How awesome is that!

Kyle Smith, Director of Youth Ministries



If We Only Knew

If We Only Knew What God Knew

 

“After all, I’m only human” is a common refrain we say when we make a mistake. We are essentially justifying why we are not perfect because, as we all know, every person is flawed. As another old saying goes, “to err is human.” I don’t think that I am making any ground breaking statement when I say that all people have shortcomings. Each and every one of us has our struggles. There are even issues that we, as in the entirety of the human race, collectively can’t seem to overcome. One of those things is not being able to see beyond our current situation, and when we can’t see beyond our current situation, it leads us not to be able to see how God is working in our lives.

Often, in our staff meeting, we will be talking about what is going on in the life of the church as well as our own lives. We share both the triumphs and the struggles. You will have many highs and lows when you spend your life working in ministry, serving both God and people. Some days I’m chomping at the bit for it to be my turn around the table so that I can share what God is doing through the youth ministry at St. John. Other times, I’m dreading having to speak because I know that what I am about to bring to the table is something that doesn’t seem to be going well. I think that we can all agree that we don’t look forward to those hard times.

I know that you know that feeling. It’s not exclusive just to folks who work in full-time ministry. It’s something that we all deal with. How often do those hard times affect everything in your life? They seem to have a way to beat you down, sometimes slowly and other times in one swift punch to the gut. It begins to impact your mood, your relationships, your energy, your ability to think straight, and your general view on life. Unfortunately, another place in your life that begins to be affected is your faith.

One of the biggest lies that has ever infiltrated the Church is that life as a Christain will be easy. Over the years, preachers started preaching comfortable Christianity. It’s a fulfillment of what is written in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Of course, people want to hear that if you become a Christian, then everything in your life will become rainbows, cupcakes, and lollipops. You’ll never have to face a hardship again. If you have heard that or believe that then let me emphatically tell you that that is false and goes against what Jesus told us.

He explains in John 15:18-25 that the world hated Him, therefore, they will hate his disciples as well. Trials, tribulations, and suffering are all promised throughout scripture to those who follow Jesus. Take the disciples for example, of the twelve, ten were killed. The only two who weren’t killed were Judas Iscariot (who committed suicide) and John. They boiled John alive in oil at one point, but he walked out unharmed. All of that is to say that we will not live an easy life because we are Christians, in fact, we are promised difficulties.

It is when these difficulties come that we often put on our blinders and fall into a woe-is-me mentality. We want to feel bad for ourselves, and we want everyone we see to also feel bad for us. We’ve all been there. We’re having a pity party, and all are invited. This is when we need to take heart and trust in God because we only see part of the picture. When we are living our lives with our blinders on we are missing everything else that God is doing around us. We tend to forget just how big the God that we worship is and that He is in control of every situation. Even yours, no matter how bad it seems. It is only when we look at our difficult situations through hindsight that we can see how God was working through that situation. I’m going to challenge us to keep our eyes open while we are going trough the trials and tribulations.

Tim Keller, a Presbyterian pastor in New York City, once said, “If we knew what God knows, we would ask exactly for what He gives.” This is one of my favorite quotes. It brings me peace and reassurance whenever life has got me down. If we knew God’s big picture, we would not only be happy to go through whatever circumstance life will throw at us but we would be asking God for them. Think about that for a second. What is the most difficult hardship that you have ever faced? How did you feel about it when you were going through it? It was awful, I’m sure. How do you view it now? It has probably become a life defining moment that has strengthened and grown you into the person you are today. That is not by accident. Remember Romans 8:28, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” He will work everything, and I mean

everything

, for your good.

I invite you to start saying the same phrase that I have begun saying whenever things don’t seem to be going quite right, “If we only knew what God knew.” If we did know what He knows, then we would never fall into the trap of self-loathing. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God is using whatever our situation is to make us more faithful, and it is through that faithfulness that we will be made “perfect and complete.” So, my friends let us rejoice in all seasons of life and know that God is always performing a mighty work in your life, especially during the bad times. That is when God is transforming us from coal into a priceless diamond.

 

Kyle Smith, Director of Youth Ministries



More than Conquerors

08/02/17

More Than Conquerors

Hypernikomen. I’ll let you reread that word a few times so you can try to figure out how to pronounce it. What you have just read is a fancy Greek word that Paul wrote in Romans 8. Hypernikomen is the word that gets translated into “We are more than conquerors” in English. This word only appears once in all of the scripture, and that is in Romans 8:37, ” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” This is a verse that should make us feel confident when we read it. Paul is telling us that we have become “more than conquerors” which sounds awesome, and it is. But wait, what exactly does it mean to be “more than conquerors?” What have we conquered? Those are great questions, thanks for asking. I’ll be happy to answer them for you.

Let’s start by examining what hypernikomen means. The root of the word is nikao which means “to be victorious” in war. So when Paul adds the prefix “hyper,” he’s stepping it up in a big wat. He is no longer talking about just winning a war but utterly demolishing an enemy. Imagine it this way, one country has invaded another country and won the war, but instead of taking over their newly conquered land, they decide to destroy everything. Not only are they going to destroy every standing structure that they find, but they are also going to salt the earth so that nothing can ever grow there again. They have made it so that life can never exist there. Hopefully, you are grasping the sheer intensity of this word. The literal translation of hypernikomen is “we are over-conquerors.” The only way to have been an “over-conqueror” to the level that Paul is suggesting would to be infinitely more powerful than your enemy. Keep that image in your mind as we look at what it is that “we are more than conquerors” over in our lives.

The first thing that I think of when it comes to that verse is sin. This is why it’s important to read Romans 8:37 in full, “No, in all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Who is it that loved us? You could answer God or Jesus here. I will even accept the Holy Spirit. There is an obscure Bible verse that you have probably never heard that speaks to this, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It is through what Jesus did on the Cross and proved at the Resurrection that we can “over-conquer” sin. Christ has defeated sin, and He has bestowed that victory onto anyone who believes in Him. Scripture tells us in Romans 6:16-18 that we are no longer are slaves to sin because Christ has set us free and now we can choose to be obedient to righteousness. This is where our responsibility comes in. Christ has set us free, but we much choose to not go back to our previous master. We know that there is no joy and no life there. Why would we ever go back? Jesus has conquered sin for us, He imputed His victory onto us, so now we must live as people who have not only conquered sin but have “over-conquered” it. Let’s salt the earth that sin once lived on so that it can never grow in our lives again.

The second place where I see that we are “over-conquerors” is with the circumstances in our lives. This may come as a total shock to you but, periodically, life can throw some crappy situations at us. Even worse, a lot of times, it’s not our fault. Nobody likes to be put into those circumstances, but that is the reality of living in a world that has been wrecked by sin. We are going to face sickness, disease, false claims, financial trouble, broken relationships, problems at work, problems at school, family issues, etc. Unfortunately, that list could go on and on. I’ve been through several of those circumstances in my life.

I remember one time when I was working for a ministry before I came on staff with the church in a small town. I had big dreams and expectations of how the ministry would go and everything started off going more or less as planned but then we had some hard times. There was one particular day that was the climax of several weeks of things that weren’t going as well as expected, and I remember at the end of the day, sitting in my vehicle weeping and yelling at God. I recall asking Him, “Do you have any idea of what you’re doing.” I didn’t feel much like a conqueror that night.

It’s in those down times when we need to hold on to the truths of scripture the most. We need to cling on to the fact the “we are more than conquerors.” That doesn’t change based upon life’s circumstances. No matter what you’re going through, Christ still rose from the grave victorious over death, and He passed that victory onto us through our faith in Him. He did that simply because He loves us and Paul tell us in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There is nothing that “can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!” It is because of that love that we can “over-conquer” any circumstance that life will throw our way.

The final way that we can look at being an “over-conqueror” is by looking at the battle to which we have been called. Are you aware that we’ve been called into a battle? If not, let me enlighten you with the words that Jesus spoke to us in Matthew 28:18-21,

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

You may recognize that as The Great Commission. When Jesus said those words, He called us into the battle of bringing God’s kingdom into this world. Make no mistake about it; this is an intense battle that has been waging for 2,000 years. Jesus calls Satan the “ruler of this world” in John 12:31 and Paul calls him “god of this world” in 2 Corinthians 4:4. We have been called and commissioned to take this world from Satan and to establish God’s kingdom. That may sound scary and daunting but let me let you in on a little secret; the war has already been won. Satan was defeated on the first Easter morning when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords walked out of that tomb.

We are not entering into a battle that we are hoping to win, for it has already been decided. At this point, we are on a victory march spreading the Gospel and love to all those who we meet. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55) Death has been defeated, once and for all. We now get to live as “more than conquerors” over death because of Christ’s victory over the grave. We now have the freedom to go and establish God’s kingdom in this world by making disciples of all nations. So we must go, as victors, and spread the love of Jesus and the Gospel to all the nations.

You are more than a conqueror through Christ. It is paramount that we live our lives in a way that represents that. Sin has no control over you, life’s circumstance cannot shake you, and death no longer has a hold you because Jesus loves you. Take the freedom and the power that has been given to you through your faith in Christ and go and establish God’s kingdom in this world knowing that you cannot fail for the victory has already been won. Always remember, as you go, that “nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our lord!”
 
By Kyle Smith, Director of Youth Ministries


Flee From Sin

07/26/2017

Flee From Sin

Ants are fascinating creatures. I have always been intrigued by ant farms and watching how they operate. While I was on my mission trip last week, we moved a piece of carpet that was outside on the ground. We discovered that there was a colony of ants living under that carpet and they went into survival mode when we disturbed their ecosystem. Hundreds of ants convened to take their eggs and food down into the tunnels for protection. Within just a few minutes, all evidence of the ants was gone, and they were safe hidden away in their tunnels. It was captivating to watch this happen in real time. However, I hate ants when they end up making a home for themselves in my apartment. This is precisely what happened to me this spring.

The invasion happened the same way that all ant invasions happen. At first, there are just a couple ants, so you kill them. Then there’s a few more the next day and a few more the day after that and a few more the day after that and then, suddenly, you realize “I’ve been overrun!” It didn’t matter how many I killed because they would just send reinforcements and come back even stronger. I tried everything I could to get rid of them but to no avail. Finally, I went and bought the good stuff. It was a slow acting poison that the ants love the taste of so they come, grab a mouthful, and take it back to share with the colony. The entire colony is poisoned and dies within a couple of days. I won back my kitchen and bathroom and achieved sweet victory over the pest.

It takes the poison about 48 hours to kill the ant once digested, so they keep coming back for more. I was watching the ants go crazy over the poison, and I thought to myself, “you guys are idiots! You’re rushing back to indulge in what is killing you, and you have no idea.” Then a sobering thought came to my mind, “They are just like us.” What I mean by that is that we often run to the thing that will kill us and that thing is sin.

I’m sure that you are familiar with what sin means but you may not know the origin of the word. Sin first makes an appearance in Genesis 4:7 with the story of Cain and Abel where they both offer a sacrifice to God, but Cain’s sacrifice was deemed unworthy. The word that is used for sin throughout the Old Testament is actually an archery term. It essentially means to miss the bullseye with your arrow; thus you have missed the mark. That is exactly what happened to Cain with his sacrifice. Able gave God the “firstborn of his flock (sheep) and of their fat portions,” (Gen 4:4) whereas Cain, a farmer, gave out of the excess of his fruit. While Cain still gave something to God, he missed the mark because it isn’t a sacrifice if it’s out of the excess.

As I watched those ants willingly and happily (I’m just going to assume that ants have emotions) march back and forth from the poison to their colony, I thought about how often we do the same with Sin. We know that sin is not good and we know that God desires for us to avoid sin but yet we still willingly and, often, happily march right to it. Just like the ants, we tend to not realize the harm it is doing to us and to others until it is too late. Romans 6:23 tells us “For the wages of sin is death…” I once heard someone explain that this doesn’t merely mean that we are going to eventually die because we are sinful, although that is true, it also means that we are going to face death in this world because of our sin. Just think of how often we see relationships with significant others, friends, family, co-workers, etc. die because of sin that was committed. How often are jobs, income, bank accounts, and lifestyles ruined because it took too long to for us to realize that we were stuck in sin? The consequence of sin is always death.

If there was some way for one of the ants to realize what was happening with the poison, then there is a chance that it would have articulated in Antonese (the well-known language of ants) that all of the other ants need to stay away thus saving them and the colony. While that wasn’t the case for the ants, it is the case for us. We have the entirety of the Bible telling us this very message. Not only that, but we had our savior come and die for us to give us the power to turn away from sin. There is more to Romans 6:23 than “For the wages of sin is death,” it continues to say “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Because of what Jesus did at Calvary “Sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law but under grace.” (Rom 6:14) Sin no longer is our master, and we now have the freedom not to choose it ever again.

Paul takes that truth a step further when he says in Romans 8:13 “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body (sin), you will live.” The term “put to death” is a strong statement in the middle of that verse. The Greek word the Paul uses is

thanatoo

, which is a term that is used in battle. The idea behind it is that you have won the fight with someone and they are down on the ground; now it’s time to kill them. It is a little bit gruesome, but that is how we must treat sin. Sin is on the ground and defeated because of Christ’s resurrection; now it’s up to us to kill it and remove it from our lives.

The easiest way to not fall into sin is to not go near sin. However, our world is full of temptations, and we now live in a time when self-worship is openly accepted. We are constantly told that do whatever makes you happy and that is sin’s greatest deception; that it will make us happy. I am more than willing to concede that sin will make us happy, if it didn’t why would we do it? However, that happiness is fleeting and what we exchange for that pleasure is the joy of the Lord. If we believe that God is good and that He loves us, then we must trust Him when He tells us that we need to avoid sin no matter how enticing it may be.

I imagine that those ants are quite satisfied as they are at an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, devouring all that their little hearts desire. At that moment their life is pretty good but what they are indulging in will eventually kill them. That is precisely how sin works in our lives. Sin always seems great in the moment, but it will eventually come back to hurt us and leave us broken hearted. That happiness that we felt when we gave ourselves to sin will be replaced with guilt, pain, regret, and emptiness. Take it from a man who has fallen into sin more often than he would like to admit. We need to flee from sin the minute that we set our eyes on it.

However, if you find that you are already deep in sin, take heart because your savior is there for you. Repent is a word that litters the Bible and it literally means to turn and go the other way. Once you realize that you are in sin, you need run the other way and go to God for forgiveness. The idea behind repentance is that you then never go back to that sin. Remember, we are under grace, and there is ample forgiveness for us, but we must flee from sin at all cost because we have been set free from its power. I’ll leave you the first verse of chapter five in Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Kyle Smith, Director of Youth Ministries



Living the Abundant Life

07/12/17

Living the Abundant life

As someone who works in full-time ministry, it’s not unusual to be put on the spot with a biblical question. One of the things that I take pride in is being able to think on my feet and handle such questions quickly. However, I tend to struggle with the question of “What is your favorite verse in the Bible?” My brain always draws a blank. For some reason, I immediately forget every verse that I have ever read. I stumble around for a few seconds before something finally comes to my mind. Those few seconds feel like an eternity! The answer to that question, as of right now, is Romans 8:28 but it changes periodically.

My first favorite verse was John 10:10 which reads, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” I attached myself to the last part of the verse. I wanted to have life abundantly even if I didn’t quite know what that meant at the time. All I knew was that Jesus was offering me more life than I currently had and I wanted in. I once heard it said that the book of John is “is like a body of water in which a child may wade, and an elephant may swim.” This applies to John 10:10.

A lot of people associate Christianity with no fun. They think that the mark of being a believer is following a huge set of rules. Christians have become more known for what we don’t or can’t do rather than for what we are doing. If you know me then you know that I’m a diehard football fan. The NFL has made a bunch of rule changes over the past decade that has taken a lot of the celebrations out of the game. Because of this, people are saying that the NFL no longer stands for the National Football League, but rather the No Fun League. Unfortunately, Christianity is seen in the same light. Does anything about Jesus saying that He has come that we ma have life “more abundantly” suggest that we should be associated with not having fun? I hope that you answered no to that question.

The truth of the matter is that we (Christians) have earned that reputation. We tend to be extremely outspoken in our faith when we are condemning actions. Don’t get me wrong; there are things that we need to avoid. We must flee from sin, but that shouldn’t be what defines us. We should be defined by how we are living our living our lives above and beyond. The Greek word that is used when Jesus says “abundantly” is perisson. Perisson  could also be translated as excessive, or, my personal preference, superabundantly. Would you describe the way you live your life as excessive or superabundant?

Jesus isn’t advocating that we live a lifestyle that is above our means. He’s not saying that we all need to go into tens of thousands of dollars into credit card debt so that we can live an excessive lifestyle. In fact, I’m pretty positive that He would be 100% against that. It’s not about what you do but rather how you are doing it. In my opinion, the chief descriptor of a follower of Jesus should be joy.

When Jesus was preparing the Disciples for His arrest and crucifixion in John 16, he kept telling them the same thing; that they were going to have joy once He resurrected. Paul and Silas are in prison in Acts 16, and God had performed a miracle that would have allowed them to escape. Instead, they stayed put in their cell and because of this, saved the jailers life. The jailer was so moved that he gave his life to Christ and Scripture describes him as being “filled with joy because he had come to believe in God.”(Acts 16:34) Throughout the book of Acts and Paul’s writings, we even see the Disciples taking joy in being persecuted. It is out of joy that everything else in our lives should flow.

Jesus began John 10:10 by saying, “the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.” Is there something in your life that is stealing, killing, or destroying the joy that God has intended for you? Is there something that is holding you back from living your life abundantly? I think that we all should take some time regularly and reflect upon that question. We should never let anything in this world stop us from reaching the joy in life that God has promised us.

Often in my life when I have found that I am missing out on joy, the issue is me. Something in life has gotten me down, and rather than facing that problem with the confidence of Christ, I just want to sit there in self-pity. Nowhere is scripture does it say that we are promised an easy life. In fact, it repeatedly tells us the opposite. This, however, does not allow us the excuse of not living a joyful life. When we fall into that trap, it is because we have placed ourselves above God and we are not trusting in His goodness.

Romans 8:28 says “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” We must believe in this verse at all times. If you are trusting that God is working “all things” together for your good then how can anything steal your joy? Often, it’s in the darkest times that we see God’s light shining the brightest. In those moments when you feel that all your joy has been sucked away, take heart and know that God is working for your good.

We must redefine how the world sees Christians. The best way to do this is by how we live our lives. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” We should be living our lives so abundantly that people will be curious of the hope that is in us. What is that hope? It’s the joy given to us through the Holy Spirit.

Kyle Smith, Director of Youth Ministries



Walk in a Manner Worthy of your calling

07/05/15

Walk in a Manner Worthy of Your Calling

Have you ever been reading the Bible and you came across a verse that stops you dead in your tracks? That happened to me a couple of weeks ago when I came across Ephesians 4:1. Let me fill you in on the background of the book of Ephesians. The letter was written by Paul to be read to the churches in Ephesus, which is in modern day Turkey. Paul was the one who started the church in Ephesus, and they held a special place in his heart. He tells them in 1:15-17 how thankful he is because of their faith and love. The pastor of the Ephesian church is Timothy and the apostle John also served there. When the guys who write the Bible are running your church, you’re probably doing pretty well.

In the first two verses of chapter four, Paul tells us to “…walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” It was that first part that caused me to stop and just stare at the page. “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” My mind immediately jumped to the questions of, “What exactly is that calling to which I have been called?” The first thing that came to my mind was youth ministry. I fully believe that that is where God has called me, and I think that my life has been an affirmation to that calling. The more that I thought about it, I came to the realization that this verse is speaking to a more general calling, the calling of becoming a Christian.

Do you know what Jesus said to each of His disciples when he “called” them? He used some variation of “follow me” every single time. That is “the calling to which we have been called,” to follow Jesus. If someone asked you what it meant to be a Christian, what would you say? Often, we tend to attach all kinds of things to what it means to be a Christian. We come up with a set of rules, actions, or knowledge that must be met for someone to be saved. Another group of people who did that was the Pharisees. The only thing that Jesus asked was for His disciples to follow Him.

What does it mean to follow Jesus? I think that it’s simple, believe and follow. I don’t think that those things can be separated. When Jesus calls His first disciples, Peter (then Simon) and his brother Andrew, He made them a promise, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they dropped everything and followed Jesus. They didn’t know what was going to happen, they didn’t have any idea where they were going, and they didn’t really know whom Jesus was. All they did was trust in the promise that He gave them and followed Him. I believe that is what it means for us to be Christians, trust in the promises that He gives us and follow Him. We don’t need to know everything, we don’t need to be perfect, and there is no checklist of things we must do aside from believe and follow. That is “the calling to which you have been called.” If you do those two things, everything else will fall in line.

As the disciples followed Jesus, they learned what it meant to live into their calling as Christians. There are dozens of teachings in the Gospels on how to live our lives, but they can ultimately be summed up in three commandments.

The first is the great commandment, “love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt 22:37, quoted from Duet 6:5) We are to place our love for God above all else. Above money, above fame, above power, above friends, above family, above ourselves, etc. God needs to be our number one, and He desires to have all of us. This may sound like a tall task, and it is something that we struggle with daily.  I am here to promise you that if you are loving God like that, you will experience unsurpassed joy. Not because God is going to love you extra but because you will have aligned all of yourself with the only source of true joy in this world.

The second can be found in John 13:34 when Jesus tell us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you are to love one another.” Why is this a new commandment? In Leviticus 19:18 we are told to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus ultimately one-ups this. There are limits to how well we love ourselves, but there is no limit to how Jesus loves us. His love is a perfect love that is unconditional, sacrificial, humble, serving, and forgiving love. That is how we are supposed to love all people, and I do mean ALL  people. No exceptions! Why? Jesus answers that for us, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” If we want to show that we are following Jesus, we need to love like He does. 
 
The final commandment comes through The Great Commission found in Matthew 28: 18-20.

 

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.                                                             Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them In the name of the Father and                                                               of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.                                                                     And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

The actual commandment is to “go.” We are to go out into the world preaching and teaching about the Savior who has called us to follow him and we are to invite other to fulfill that same calling.

The actual Greek translation of “follow me” means to walk closely behind, that is “the calling in which we have been called.” We are to walk as closely behind Jesus as we possibly can, trusting that He is who he says He is and that He is going to do what He says He’s going to do.

How well are you doing with following Jesus? How well are you walking “in a manner worthy of your calling?” That is a question that is constantly rolling around my mind since I read Ephesians 4:1 a couple of weeks ago. I have even put a reminder up in my office to live my life in a way that is “worthy of that calling.” Above my door, I have put up an index card with that verse written on it. I try to remember to touch it as I walk out the door, kind of like what you see college football teams do as they leave their locker rooms. It is a reminder that I have been given the highest calling of them all, the call to be a follower of Christ.

If you have answered your calling to follow Him, then I highly recommend that you let Paul’s imploring in Ephesians 4:1 permeate your soul. Live every moment of everyday doing all that you can to “walk in a manner worthy of that calling.” Love God with everything you have, love people the way Jesus loves them, and tell everyone about the endless love of our Messiah. If you do those three things, not only will you be walking in a “manner worthy of your calling,” you will be following Jesus so closely that you may step on His heels.

Kyle Smith, Director of Youth Ministries



We Are Holy, as He is Holy

06/28/17

We are Holy as He is Holy

A few weeks ago, in my blog post titled Hagios , I made the statement that “We are holy as Christ is holy.” This may seem like an audacious claim, and it is. We will always fall short when comparing ourselves to Jesus. He was/is perfect, and we are not. Each of us continuously fulfills Romans 3:23 which states, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus never fell short of the glory of God; in fact, He is the very personification of God’s glory. How in the world can we say that we are anywhere close to Jesus when it comes to holiness? Much like everything else in the Christian faith, it all revolves around the cross and the empty tomb. (Quick disclaimer: I am not saying that we are God. Jesus was 100% God and 100% human. We are just 100% human, as far as I know.) 
 
When Jesus went to the cross something spectacular happened, and it has a fancy theological name, Substitutionary Atonement. Substitutionary Atonement is the very foundation of our faith. It may sound complicated, but it is not. If you break the name down then, you get the words substitutionary and atonement. Let’s look at atonement first.
 

What does it mean to atone for something? It’s the act of making amends for some wrong that you have committed. In this instance, it is sinning against God. God established a system in the first few books of The Bible for how people were to atone for their sins; it came through sacrifice and blood. The book of Leviticus is more or less all about the specific sacrifice needed for different sins. It’s a real page-turner. God never changed His system. To this day, God still requires sacrifice and blood for the atonement of our sins. Now if you are particularly observant in church, you’ll notice that there aren’t very many animal sacrifices going on. That’s because Jesus became our sacrificial lamb. When He bled and died on the cross, He satisfied God’s requirement for the atonement of our sins. 1 John 2:2 says it like this, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” When John writes “not only for ours but for the whole world,” he is not advocating for universalism (everyone goes to heaven) but is saying that Christ’s death is not just for the Jews, as they had previously believed. This atonement is received only by faith.

Now let’s look at the substitutionary part. A substitute, which I’m sure you’re aware, is something that stands in for something else. When Jesus went to the cross, He substituted Himself for us. We are the ones who deserve to pay for our sins. We are the ones who deserve that death. Romans 6:23 tells us that “For the wages of sin is death…” Jesus was sinless; thus He didn’t deserve to die. Nevertheless, Jesus willingly took on our sin, our punishment, and God’s wrath when He gave His life on Calvary. As they like to say in cheesy infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!” Not only did he take on our sin but, when we when we become Christians, He gives us His righteousness!Yes, you read that right.

Substitutionary atonement is a two-way transaction. We give Jesus our sin, and He gives us His righteousness. We get the much, much better end of the deal. This is known as (brace yourself for another theological term) imputed righteousness. To impute something means to ascribe something to a person and that is precisely what Christ did for us with His righteousness. “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21) “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that, having died to sins, we might live for His righteousness; you have been healed by His wounds.” (1 Pet 2:24)

Do you see yourself as righteous? My assumption is that you do not. If you are anything like me, then your mind immediately goes to all the sins that you have committed, and you think “I know myself too well to see me as righteous.” God knows you better than you do and yet, He sees you as righteous. If you have given your life to Christ, then He no longer sees you as sinful but as a saint. He looks on you and sees His son.

I was praying as I was driving to the office one morning a couple of months ago and I started my prayer by saying “God I am a sinner” then I paused. In that moment of silence, I heard God speak to me. There is no question in my mind that it was God’s voice. What He said to me shook me to the core, and I haven’t been the same since. He said, “No, my son, you are a saint.” At that moment, I realized that I had been defining myself by my sin whereas God defined me by what Christ did for me.

We are holy as He is holy, not because of a single thing that we have done. We are holy because of what the Holy One did for us. Hebrews 10:10 explains it like this, “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  If you are a Christian, then you are no longer defined by your sin so stop living your life like that. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” When you start following Jesus, you become a new creation and that creation is righteous and is a saint. No, we are not perfect. We will still fall into sin and do what we know we shouldn’t however, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). Let me hammer home my point by quoting one of my favorites. April 4th in Charles Spurgeon’s devotional “Morning by Morning” reads (translated into modern by me English…you’re welcome):

You have learned to hate sin; but you have also learned to know that sin is not yours – it was laid upon Christ’s head. Your standing is not in yourself, but in your Lord; you are as much accepted of God today, with all your sinfulness, as you will be when you stand before His throne, free from all corruption. Oh, I beg you, lay hold of this precious thought, perfection in Christ!

This doesn’t mean that we get to do whatever we want because, as I quoted out of 1 Peter earlier, we are to live for God’s righteousness. Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:25) What it does mean is that there is ample amount of forgiveness and grace for you through Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Don’t let your sin weigh you down; you are holy as He is holy simply through faith in Him. When those times come that you’re feeling down because you have stumbled, remember what Martin Luther had to say “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this; I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know one who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is, there I shall be also.” Fellow saints, rejoice in the title that God has bestowed upon you and do everything you can to live into that title. If you are in Christ, you are not a sinner. You are a saint!
 
Kyle Smith, Director of Youth Ministries


This is the Day the Lord has Made

06/08/2017

This is the Day that the Lord has Made

I meet with some friends a few times throughout the week for coffee and fellowship before we go to our respective jobs. As you probably already assumed, this happens pretty early in the morning. I like to pray as I drive to wherever we meet, and I often need to pray in a way that will correct my mindset off of wishing that I was still in bed and focus it on Him.

I have never been nor will I ever be a morning person and I was particularly tired that day. Also, I had to spend a significant amount of time turning my apartment upside down to find my wallet that I would eventually remember that I left in my car. I’m sure you’ve been there. Needless to say, my mindset wasn’t in the place it needed to be. I started my prayer with that familiar passage out of Psalm 118 “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Then I started to interrogate myself, “Am I seeking my gladness from God or from other places and things?” Then my mind was flooded with all of the things that I derive my gladness from that I have placed above God.

Just in the brief time that I woke up to the time that I started that prayer the things that made me glad were: the result of a sporting event the night before, my dog, the outfit that I was wearing (I felt like I looked good), and the fact that I found my wallet. Notice something that isn’t listed? I’ll give you a hint; He created everything. It was a convicting moment. The crazy thing is that the things that I was getting my gladness from aren’t bad or evil in themselves. It’s the fact that I am looking to those things for gladness above God who is the one who clothes me with gladness (Ps 30:11).

Where do you go to find gladness? Job? Financial security? Significant other? Kids? The list could go on and on! Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying any of those things are bad. In fact, all of those things are great things and James 1:17 tells us that every good gift comes from God. What I am asking is what are you taking your supreme gladness in, the gift or the Gifter? It’s all about keeping everything in the correct perspective. John Calvin once said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” We take what is good and turn it into a god. Paul talks about this in Romans 1 where he says people had “…worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”

Search your heart to see where you are taking your ultimate gladness from and if you’re brave enough, ask God to search your heart and reveal the answer to you. As always, be careful what you pray for because you just might get it. If, like me, your gladness is coming from good things that aren’t God, repent, thank God that He has blessed you with those things, then ask Him to become your gladness. I don’t claim to speak for God, but I do believe that He would be delighted to fulfill that request. Once God is our true gladness then our hearts and flesh will sing for joy to the living God (Ps 84:2).
 
Kyle Smith, Director of Youth Ministries