relentless pursuit

Tree on a Hill Church Worship Background

For all of its immenseness (yes it’s a word – all I had to do was hit “ignore” on spell-check!) the Bible, although a lifetime of study only scratches the surface, entails an extremely simple story.

God creates humanity.  Humanity rejects God.  God relentlessly pursues humanity.

The overarching story of Scripture is the redemptive work of a God who would not let us go.

Whatever the expanse between us and God, He will traverse the gap.

Our God is a pursuing God.

He pursues us with His grace, with His mercy, with His love.

The Gospel message itself is of a God who relentlessly pursues us through Jesus.

Glory to God!

Jason

everyone and anything

We Give You Thanks Christian Worship Background

“In the Kingdom of God everyone is welcome and anything is possible.”

I’ve repeated (and contemplated) that statement a number of times since the beginning of the New Year.

The first week it just sort of came out.

It was Sunday.

I was bringing the first sermon of 2016 to a close.

And, boom!

There it was.

It wasn’t planned.

I did’t have it in my notes.

It hadn’t crossed my mind until the moment it came out of my mouth.

“In the Kingdom of God everyone is welcome and anything is possible.”

The Kingdom in inclusive, not exclusive. Everyone is welcome.

Right?

I mean we believe that to be a valid statement.

Correct?

And in the Kingdom (the reign and rule of God) anything is possible.

Isn’t it?

Do you agree with me on that?

No matter who you are, where you come from, the guilt of your past life, the burden of your present circumstance, the anxiety of the future, God is the God of transformation. He’s the God who creates beauty out of ashes. Life out of death. Light out of darkness. He’s in the making all things new business. It’s what He does.

“In the Kingdom of God everyone is welcome and anything is possible.”

Is it a true statement?

Satan whispers in our ears that it’s not true. It’s not valid. It’s not real.

And so, maybe the question we should ask is not: Is the statement true?

(Because it is!)

Perhaps a better question is: Do you believe it to be true?

(Do I believe it to be true?)

Because enveloped within the answer to that question lies divine reality, purpose, blessing, and peace.

“In the Kingdom of God everyone is welcome and anything is possible.”

Glory to God!

Jason

blessing

blessing

“…pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get. To learn to look with compassion on everything that is; to see past the terrifying demons outside to the bawling hearts within; to make the first move toward the other, however many times it takes to get close; to open your arms to what is, instead of waiting until it is what it should be; to surrender the priority of your own safety for love – this is to land at God’s breast.” – “An Altar in the World,” Barbara Brown Taylor (p206)

Glory to God!

Jason

un-sin me

snowHoliness.  Not the easiest concept for us to grasp.  Oh I think we have an idea of holiness when it comes to God.  But I wonder if we see it and believe it in ourselves?

So often we struggle with self.  We struggle with self-doubt.  And we struggle with self-righteousness.  The question should never be: How do I see myself?  The question should always be: How does God see me?  And, how do I see God?  This places us and God where we need to be.

Isaiah steps into the Temple and he’s not expecting much.  But when he opens his eyes to the wonder and power and holiness of God, it’s then that Isaiah the priest becomes Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 6).

God is holy.  He is pure.  He is righteous.  He is worthy.  We understand His holiness no more clearly than when we are confronted by His magnificence and our own inadequacy.

But in this we find the beginning of our dilemma.  Because no one knows us better than us.  No one knows our inability to measure up to God better than we do.  The Gospel calls us not only to salvation, but to see ourselves through the eyes of God.  As those who have been made holy through the holy sacrifice of Christ.  Holy not because of us, but because of Him.  Holy not because of us, but in spite of us.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21-22).

Holy in His sight?  Without blemish?  Free from accusation?  Yes!  How?  Through Jesus.  God sees us as holy because He sees us through the lens of Jesus.  And this is what we call “Gospel.”  This is what we call “Good News.”

We’re tempted to not believe it.  Maybe we understand it intellectually, but we struggle with allowing it to take hold of our hearts.  Because doing so compels us to relinquish control.  And to allow God to be God.

When King David prays to God, “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7b), literally in the Hebrew his prayer is: “Un-sin me….”  “Cleanse me.  God, take away my sin.  Make me whiter than snow.  Remove all my sin stain.  Remove my guilt.  Make me pure.  Righteous.  Holy.  Accomplish that which I cannot accomplish on my own.  Make me more like you.”  And the amazing thing is, through hearts that turn to Him, He does just that.

To see ourselves as God sees us grants significant insight into faith.  It empowers us to live more into (and out of) the lives that He has created for us to live in Christ Jesus.

Two questions remain: Will we allow Him to make us holy?  And, do we believe that He can?

Glory to God!

Jason

straining at the oars

Sail Boat Bulletin Cover

At times we are tempted to think that we do this all on our own.

I was once talking with a friend who was struggling. He was going through a difficult time in his life and there was no easy solution. It was going to take time and it was going to take God.

In a moment of frustration he said to me, “I feel like I’m a just a speck in the ocean that’s being tossed all around and nobody knows but me.”

Maybe you’ve been there.

Maybe you’re there now.

I had a professor who would say, “Speak to those who are weary and hurting. Speak to them often. We are so very fragile.”

And so if that’s you today, I want to share with you an encouraging thought from God’s Word.

In Mark’s Gospel the account of Jesus walking on the water generally the miracle itself is our focus. The event comes right after the feeding of the thousands on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and His disciples had actually travelled across the sea to spend some needed time away from the masses, but are immediately inundated as they arrive. After the crowds are filled and leave, Jesus sends the disciples on their way, now across to the other side, as He goes on a mountainside to pray and spend intentional time with God (we should learn from Jesus).

“When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on the land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night (3-6am) He went out to them, walking on the lake” (Mark 6:47-48a).

If you go on reading you see where Jesus steps into their boat and immediately, powerfully, divinely calms the wind and the waves and the storm. Looking to Matthew’s account we see where Peter has the faith to step out of the boat and actually walks on the water toward Jesus! But when he takes his eyes off of Christ and becomes fearful of the chaos around him, he quickly sinks (something we should take to heart).

Here’s what I’ve been getting at…. Mark says that the disciples were rowing in the boat in the “middle of the lake.” John affirms they were “three and a half miles out to sea” (John 6:19). Jesus, as He is on a mountainside praying, sees the disciples “straining at the oars.” They’re three and a half miles out to sea! At 3am! Half way across the Sea of Galilee at 3am and yet Jesus divinely sees those He is closest to struggling. He sees those that He loves “straining at the oars.” He sees them pounded by the wind and the waves, tossed back and forth in a sea of uncertainly, and it’s immediately upon seeing His disciples struggle that He is filled with compassion and begins to walk toward them across the water.

The love of Christ is revealed in our Savior’s actions as He comes to us in our time of need.

This is what I want you to hear: You are not alone.

You have a Savior who is filled with compassion as He sees you “straining at the oars.”

Glory to God!

Jason

do not be afraid

sf_HidingInSin_0004_Group 1 copy 6

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

I believe fear drives us more than we are aware. It drives our lives, it drives our relationships, it drives our churches more than we’d ever like to believe.

When children are small they’re often afraid of the dark. Maybe it’s a fear of the unknown or an internal fear of darkness, but many kids (and not a few adults) are afraid of the dark. And it’s amazing how a dim, little light plugged into the wall can put those concerns so at ease.

And so David in Psalm 27 writes as fear gives way to faith. Boldness, because of the God we serve. “The Lord is my light,” he declares. He is our light! And not just some puny Walmart night-light. The Lord is the sun that scatters the darkness in our lives. David continues, “The Lord is my salvation.” He is the One who rescues and the One who saves. “Whom shall I fear?” he asks. And look at how personal David’s words are: He is “my” light and “my” salvation. The Psalm originates out of the trust and reliance of David upon God. A trust that has grown through experiencing the power and provision of Almighty God time and time again. “The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Only when we are close to Him, are we completely protected. Only when we reside in Him, can we fully be at peace.

I wonder what fears you have today? I wonder what might be weighing upon your heart or upon your mind this moment?

• The fear of not being enough.
• The fear of inadequacy.
• The fear of being left out.
• The fear of rejection.
• The fear of past sins.
• The fear of present worries.
• The fear of an unknown and uncertain future.
• The fear of being found out that you aren’t who others think you are.
• The fear of (fill in the blank)….

If you can relate to fear, may I speak a word of hope to you today? God is God! He is strong. And He is faithful.

366 times in Scripture, He declares to his people, “Do not be afraid.” 366 times! One for every day of the year, plus leap year! And I believe the reason He affirms this command to us so many, many times is that we need to hear it! We need to be reminded.

God’s desire is that fear would give way to faith in the lives of those who belong to Him in Jesus.

Do not be afraid!

Glory to God!

Jason

the 2014 top 5

open book

Each year I post the top 5 books (aside from Scripture) that made the most impact on me during the year.

The year’s “must reads.”

5 books that stand out from among all the wonderful books that I’ve read during the previous year.

Some are recently published.

Others are from years ago.

Each however, profoundly influential in my own spiritual journey.

And that I pray, will be a source of courage for you as well….

Randy Harris’ newest book Life Work: Confessions of a Everyday Disciple completes a trilogy of work (cf. Soul Work and God Work) focused upon discipleship and following Jesus. Anyone who knows Randy or has learned from his teaching and preaching is familiar with the humility, dedication, and conviction he brings to every step of life.

I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian, and I Liked Him Better is the most recent book from Rubel Shelly’s pen (keyboard). Rubel has influenced generations of believers, and to me, I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian is Professor Shelly’s Magnum Opus.

I’m working on an eBook focused on the practice of spiritual disciplines, and so much of my reading during 2014 has centered upon this end. No author has influenced my life in this respect more than Henri JM Nouwen. No one. Every word from Nouwen yearns for Jesus. One book from my friend that has been especially meaningful to me during this journey has been The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence.

From Gabe Lyons, the author of UnChristian, comes the book, The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World. If you’ve ever overly-concerned yourself with the future of faith (as if it’s not safe in the hands of God), Lyons assures, the best is yet to come.

ACU professor of psychology, Richard Beck, writes regularly of the collision of theology and psychology at his blog Experimental Theology. In his work he consistently pursues the call of Christ for we who believe, to love God and love others. In his most recent book, The Authenticity of Faith, Beck considers what holistic faith truly looks life.

Glory to God!

Jason

longing to see Jesus

Quiet Paths Religious Stock Image

Each and every one of us brings our own experiences to the table. Our experiences, whether good or bad, influence greatly how we view the world in which we live.

For so many the term “Christian” is one of blessing and comfort. To be a Christian is to be a follower of Christ. It succinctly defines not solely a reality as those who have answered the call of Christ, but also depicts a way of life as “followers of the Way.” There is such authenticity and genuineness found in the simplicity of being Christ followers when we truly see ourselves for who we are called to be in Jesus. When we truly see every moment of life as God designed and God lived.

The reality, however, is that many have not had such experiences. To them the term “Christian” elicits adverse emotions. Perhaps their negative perspective has been conditioned by the hypocrisy of one who claims belief in Christ, but whose life simply does not reflect the authenticity salvation calls for. Maybe their negative experience came by way of arrogance or pride or exclusivity witnessed in the lives of those who profess faith.

Certainly we can only be accountable for ourselves. As well, certainly there are treacherous moments when we do not reflect our Lord. However, not only does the Gospel message call us to fidelity to our Savior, but an unbelieving, skeptical world longs to see it. They long to see faithfulness. Authentic faith. Genuine faith. And they long to see it in us. Even if they don’t realize it. It’s Jesus they’re longing to see.

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:5-8

When they see the reality of Jesus lived out in the reality of our lives, it is then that they will be drawn to follow the Way of Jesus.

And isn’t it this very reality of our Savior that first called us to follow Him ourselves?

Glory to God!

Jason

explaining why

wave

Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna had moved from England to the United States to build a life together. They had 5 children: four daughters and a son. The family settled in Chicago where Spafford began a successful law practice.

Within a matter of a few years the couple’s life began to fall apart. Their infant son passed away without warning in 1871. Later that same year Spafford’s law office burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire, ruining him financially. Two years later, 1873, as they were seeking to rebuild, Anna and the girls set sail to visit family in England. Horatio, delayed by business, made plans to follow in the coming weeks.

On its way to England, the SS Ville De Havre, the ship Anna and the girls were aboard, collided with another ship and sank. As Anna reached the shores of Europe she telegraphed her husband two crippling words, “Saved alone.” All four of their daughters had drowned. Only she had survived.

While trying to make sense of all of the tragedy that had occurred and was occurring in his life, as he crossed the Atlantic Ocean, Horatio Spafford penned these words on a borrowed piece of hotel stationary….

When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”

When peace like a river attendeth my way…. What I hear Spafford describing is a beautiful portrait of a gentle river that runs along side the pathway he is travelling. It is a river that accompanies him on his journey. And it is a river of peace.

The Apostle Paul writes of a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). A peace that transcends reason. A peace that even in the midst of tragedy accompanies us on our journey. A peace that is found in Christ.

I wonder if we truly know that sort of peace? I wonder if we experience it often? A peace that stills anxiety. A peace that quiets stress. A peace that heals tragedy. Does that sort of peace accompany you every step of the way in your journey of life?

True peace is found only in Christ. Only in closeness with Him. So often we find ourselves searching for calm. Searching for serenity. Searching for inner stillness. What we are seeking is a peace that is only found in Jesus. Wonderful, soothing, healing peace.

And when peace begins to overwhelm and characterize our lives – especially in those moments when we cannot explain how – we can indeed explain why.

Glory to God!

Jason

the gratitude we embrace

Daddy and Daughter Religious Stock Graphic

Corrie ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place, relates an incident she endured as she and her sister, Betsie, were housed at the Nazi concentration camp, Ravensbruck.  Upon entering the barracks, they found them deplorable, extremely overcrowded, and flea-infested.  The Scripture reading that morning came from 1 Thessalonians.  From a smuggled Bible quietly verses 16-18 of chapter 5 were whispered to the group.  “Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”  Betsie encouraged Corrie that they should stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters.  Every detail.  Even the fleas!  Corrie at first refused, but Betsie persisted.  Finally, reluctantly, “Father, thank you for the fleas.”  During the next several months at Ravensbruck, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible studies and meet together.  They prayed and quietly worshipped with minimal Nazi interference.  Finally they came to learn how they had been so blessed as to have lived with such little intrusion… the guards had refused to enter the barracks because of all of the fleas!

“Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”

Matthew Henry in the late 1600’s was attacked and robbed.  Later he wrote, “Father, I thank Thee first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.”

“Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”

Helen Keller, blind and deaf from birth, once wrote: “I thank God for my handicaps.  For through them, I have found myself, my life’s work, and my God.”

“Be joyful always.  Pray continually.  Be thankful to God in all circumstances….”

The thankfulness we exemplify in life reflects the relationship we share with our Lord, the objectivity and perspective we have of life, and the gratitude we embrace in His love for us.

Glory to God!

Jason