No Fear in Love (1 John 4:18)

1 John 4 18

Some people have a picture of God standing around Heaven watching us with lightning bolts, ready to strike at us any time we make a mistake. They think of God as a police officer just waiting in that speed trap ready to pull us over and give us a ticket. They think of God as the “Enforcer” – standing by to judge us at any minute.

This view represents a sad misconception.

Elsewhere in John’s first letter, he tells us that God IS love. And in that love, there is no room for fear. If we truly have accepted Jesus as our Savior, then our fear of destruction and eternal punishment should be a thing of the past. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection offers us a chance to be a part of God’s family for all eternity – there’s no need for us to fear that God will suddenly disown us.

John says that if we do fear abandonment from God, then we have not fully allowed his Spirit to fill us with his love – we’ve never fully experienced his love. That doesn’t mean we are not saved; it simply means that we haven’t let that fact sink into the very fiber of our being.

As a parent, I know that there are times when I have to give my children consequences. But the consequences that I give are not designed to be punitive punishments just to make my kids feel bad. Instead, the goal is restoration. When children are disobedient there is a rift in relationship. That relationship must be repaired, and restitution of some sort is required. I don’t enjoy giving consequences to my children – but I know that learning responsibility and consequences is an essential part of their character development.

If we as humans understand this concept, why don’t we understand that God feels the same way about us?

God doesn’t delight in allowing consequences to happen to his children. He’s not secretly happy when we make a mistake and have to deal with the fallout. I imagine he’s discouraged in a way, that we haven’t learned how better to live our lives. But that discouragement or disappointment doesn’t equate to a lack of love. He loves us unconditionally and will never leave us or forsake us. Knowing and experiencing that love will drive out all fear because where there is true love, there is no room for fear.

Choose to Love (1 Peter 3:13-14)

1 Peter 3 13-14

During this time it’s easy to become obsessed with protecting yourself and your family. After all, it’s a noble and necessary goal. We don’t want to become sick and we don’t want those whom we love to become sick either. But the first question in this passage is important, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”

Jesus’ command to love your neighbor doesn’t get put on pause during a pandemic. Jesus’ teaching about reaching people in love with the message of hope found in the gospel doesn’t take a break because we’re stuck in our homes. As followers of Christ, we are still to be doing what we’ve always been supposed to be doing – loving people! And Peter reminds us that most people are not going to be upset with you when you are trying to do good.

However, he says, if you do suffer while doing good, count that as a blessing and reward. Not everyone is going to respond to your actions in the way you will hope – most probably will, but some may question your motives, may question your actions, or even question your character. In those cases, Peter says don’t be worried or afraid.

Sometimes doing the right thing is lonely. Sometimes there’s no on else around who seems to be following the narrow path. But in those cases it’s even more important that we hold strong to the truth of Scripture and love people anyways. Regardless of the cost, God’s call for us is to love our neighbor, and everyone is our neighbor. Don’t let fear hold you back from doing what is good, right, and honorable.

The Money Trap (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Hebrews 13 5

During times of uncertainty people often look to different things to find their security. One of the biggest things people turn to is money. They feel like if they have enough money, they will be secure. So begins the relentless pursuit of money and all it can bring.

My family and I have recently been watching a show called Ultimate Cheapskates on TLC. The show is about people who are saving money by living and doing things in odd ways. One man participated in multiple medical research studies. One man turns the breakers off in his house at 9pm. One family all sleep in the same bed so they don’t have to heat and cool the other bedrooms. Many of them dumpster dive for their belongings, food, and even medication. It’s unreal what people will do in order to save a dollar.

When our focus in on money, whether it’s saving it, hoarding it, wanting it, or spending it, our focus comes off of the Lord. It is the Lord who says he will never leave us or forsake us. No one and no thing can ever say that with complete certainty. Our money will be gone at some point and in the end, what will it matter? You don’t see a U-Haul on a hearse – you can’t take it with you.

The next verse in this passage says, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid’” (13:6a). When we put our confidence in the Lord, we recognize the inability of money to save us or provide security for us and we rest in him and his care. Don’t put your trust in money, put your trust in God.

The Power of the Spirit (2 Timothy 1:7)

2 Timothy 1 7

The Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – who lives inside each believer, gives each of us certain gifts. The Holy Spirit also dispels certain things. In this verse, Paul reminds Timothy that when the Spirit of God is in you, the spirit of timidity cannot be. To be timid means “the trait of lacking the quality of spirit that enables you to face danger or pain without showing fear.” When the Spirit is inside of you, as he is for all believers, he gives you the way to face danger and pain without showing fear! When you feel afraid, simply call on the Spirit to fill you with his confidence and power.

In fact, Paul continues to say that the Spirit gives the believer power, love, and self-control! Power means to be capable of manifesting influence over reality. Love is the agape love that describes the love that God has for us, his children. And self-control is the ability to make sound judgements and wise decisions. All three of those traits are in YOU when you are a believer.

Don’t allow Satan to trick you into believing you have no power, love, or self-control. Don’t allow Satan to deceive you by telling you you have to be afraid! The Spirit of Creator God lives inside you and through him you can vanquish the fear and grasp onto the power, love, and self-control he provides!

Don’t be discouraged if you struggle with this, however. Even Timothy had to be reminded in the verse before this to “fan into flame the gift of God” – that is, if you feel timid and powerless, go back to the truth of Scripture and allow God to rekindle the flame inside you!

Nothing Can Separate Us (Romans 8:38-39)

Romans 83 8

In our passage today, Paul reassures us that NOTHING can separate us from God’s love. God’s love is always present in our lives, no matter what else is going on. But before you think that Paul is just writing some platitude to help people feel better, please remember that Paul is writing out of his own experience.

Paul has endured great hardships in his life. He has been beaten multiple times, imprisoned, stoned, faced death, shipwrecked, robbed, faced danger “in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas,” endured sleepless nights, faced starvation, dealt with severe thirst, and was in the cold with nothing to warm him (1 Corinthians 11:23-27). He is a man who has suffered!

Yet in his suffering, he is able to find solace in the fact that God has never left him; more specifically, that God’s love has never left him. What does it mean that God loves us? God’s love was ultimately demonstrated for us when Jesus died on the cross for our sins. What greater act of love can there be than to take someone else’s place in death? John tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). That means that all that is love is also God and all that is God is also love. And without God’s love, we could not love one another (1 John 4:19).

When you can stop your worry and anxiety long enough to consider who you love, recognize the fact that God loves you even more than you love that person or people. There is no limit to how much God loves you and how much he cares about you. In the midst of our worry, remember that God’s love knows no limits and he loves you more than you’ll ever know. Nothing can separate you from that love!

How Far is Too Far?

The news headlines are littered with stories of celebrities of all stripes falling into moral failure. It’s not a new occurrence by any means, but the reaction to the news seems to be changing.

Bill Cosby has been found guilty of drugging and raping a woman. As a result, he has been expelled from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, been removed from the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame, and all references to “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “The Cosby Show” have been removed from the Television Academy’s web site.

Tanya Harding pled guilty to a felony charge of hindering the prosecution in the attack against Nancy Kerrigan. The US Figure Skating Association stripped her of her 1994 National Championship and banned her for life from being an athlete or coach. However, they did NOT strip her of her 1991 national title.

Mark Driscoll, the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle-area, was removed from his position after it was found he had been, among other things, abusing his power. As a result, his books were removed from Christian book stores and he lost his position in other ministries.

Pastor Bill Hybels was forced to retire early due to alleged misconduct that spans over 40 years. It is yet to be seen what the fall out will be.

Theological differences cause people to react as well.

Rob Bell wrote a book that argues for universal salvation. His books were removed from Lifeway Bookstores, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptists.

When Eugene Peterson made a statement that seemingly supported gay marriage. Lifeway threatened to remove his work, including his The Message paraphrase translation of the Bible. Peterson clarified his stance supporting traditional marriage, and all was forgiven.

My question, and I don’t know that I have a great answer for it, is where is the line?

If we look back at our national history, many of our Presidents have had some serious moral failures. FDR incarcerated Japanese-Americans and he refused to accept more Jewish refugees. Jefferson and Jackson defended slavery and were responsible for executions of Native American peoples. JFK was unfaithful to his wife. Yet all of these men did good for our nation. We celebrate them, we honor them.

So my question is simply, “How far is too far?”

Obviously, we hold those who claim to be moral leaders, such as clergy, to higher standards. If a person preaches about the sinfulness of adultery and then is found to be having affairs, his credibility is shattered. It’s hypocritical we say and we ban his books from our bookstores.

In theological differences we do the same thing – if someone becomes heretical in their teaching (by our standards), we tend to believe that all their previous teaching, not matter how on point or beneficial to us in the past, must be bad as well.

Where do we draw the line? When do we say that someone has gone too far or done too much to be remembered for anything other than their sins?

When Jesus was confronted with the woman who was found committing adultery in John 8, he told the crowd that whoever had never sinned could throw the first stone. Then the accusers slinked away, one by one.

The fact of the matter is that we are all sinful people, and if our whole life’s story was bared out before the world – our inner most thoughts scrawled across the pages of a magazine – we may not look so good either.

I am not saying that there should not be consequences for these men and women – there should be – no one should be given a free pass just because they can make us laugh, make a good product, or pass good legislation. There is no legitimate excuse for sinful behavior.

But before we join in on the stoning, we need to make sure that we remember that we, too, are sinners in need of a Savior. None of us is perfect, and we are all deserving of God’s grace, love, and forgiveness.

Guardians of Fatherhood

Fatherhood. It’s an issue that touches us all. No matter who we are, or how we were raised, we all have a father. Some fathers are absent; some are unknown; some are present; some are loving.

This past weekend my son and I saw “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two,” and I was surprised to the find the theme of fatherhood featured so prominently in a major superhero movie.

The main character, Star-Lord, was taken from Earth after his mother passed away from brain cancer. He was raised by a thief, Yondu. Yondu took Star-Lord in and raised him. Yet Star-Lord (real name Peter Quill) always wondered who his father was. He wondered how his father could have deserted his mother and him, and why he never came to find him after his mother passed away.

In the film, Peter does find out who his father is. They meet and, at least initially, have the reunion that Peter always wanted. Without giving too much away, the dream is almost always better than the reality.

Peter realizes that though he now knows his biological father, his true father was the man who raised him. It takes a tragedy for Yondu and Peter to admit their bond of love, but Peter soon realizes that he has had a father all along in Yondu.

What we see depicted in this movie reminds me of something that I saw hanging on the wall of my own dad’s office: “Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.”

Our father is dictated by biology – our daddy is the man who loves us and shows care and compassion for us. Our daddy is the one who stands by us when things get tough. Our daddy is the one who will lay down his life for us.

I was blessed to have a daddy like that; a man full of faith who would sacrifice for me, love me, and mold me into a man of God.

Some people, unfortunately, never find a daddy. There are no men in their lives who will stand up for them, love them, or sacrifice for them. For those individuals, the only daddy they may ever know is the Abba Father, God himself.

When Jesus taught us to pray, he tells us to pray, “Abba.” Abba is an affectionate word, sometimes translated “daddy.” Jesus teaches us that while our situation on earth may not be ideal, our Daddy in heaven is always with us, loving us, and ultimately willing to sacrifice for us.

Our Heavenly Daddy sent his own Son to die in our place, so that we can be with our Daddy for all eternity. It was the ultimate sacrifice made for us, regardless of who we are or what we have done. His sacrifice, and the obedience of Jesus on the cross, is what opens the door for us to experience true love and acceptance.

No matter what your life experience, know that there is a Daddy who knows you by name, who loves you, and who wants to connect with you on a personal level. Call out to him and experience the true love that only a Daddy can bring.

Be in the Moment

A couple weekends ago I got to take my son to his first home Seattle Seahawks game. (Go Hawks!) It was a playoff game against the Detroit Lions, which we won handily. It was a great birthday present for me! He had never been to a home game, and it was always something I looked forward to sharing with him.

We got to the stadium hours early to participate in the early events provided for fans, and it was a great time together.

The joy we shared together that day is something that I’ll always treasure. I felt like it was sort of a rite of passage for him, being a Seahawks fan living in Kansas, getting to go on this incredible trip. And it got me thinking about other rites of passage that will come down the line.

Logan is 10 years old now, and sooner than I’m ready for he will be going to middle school, learning how to drive, graduating high school, going to college, and starting his life outside our home. As I think about those things, I’m flooded with emotion. I’m excited for him to be able to do all these things that have the potential for such joy, though I’m not looking forward to losing what we have now. But for anything to grow, there has to be change, and part of that change is loss. That’s the part of change we don’t like, but it is inevitable.

I will always cherish the time we have now, even in those moments that are not so picturesque. I’m committed to living in the moment, not looking too far ahead or behind, but really being there with him, my daughter, my wife, my friends, and my family. Learning to just “be” has not been easy for me. My mind often wants to race on ahead, but I’m reminded to enjoy the present and not be so easily distracted by what could have been or what could be.

I’m only going to have one chance to be there for my kids. I’m only going to have one short season of life to play hide-and-seek, Barbies, Madden, and catch. I will only get to coach my kids’ soccer teams for so long. It will be only a matter of time until I won’t be asked to brush my daughter’s hair, tuck them in at night, or tell them bedtime stories. But I can’t think too much about those future losses, because if I do, I’ll miss today. And today is something I cannot get back tomorrow.

Grief is a Strange Thing

Grief is a strange thing.

For those of you who don’t know, we have begun the process of adoption. We decided to foster to adopt, so we went through the process of becoming a licensed foster home. During this journey, at two different points we were told that a child was going to be placed in our home. And at two different points, we were told that that was not going to happen.

With the first child, it was a situation where the kids and I never had visits with him, and so it never felt real to me. I purposely didn’t want to know much about him and I never wanted to meet him until I knew that we were moving further in the process. I guess I was trying to protect myself from getting attached.

With the second child, we had already had family visits with the child, and were, as a family, actively talking about the possibility of adopting him. Due to some things outside of our control, we now know that that boy will be placed with another family as well.

Though the circumstances were different, it still makes me wonder what God has planned for us.

When I shared our situation on Facebook, many of my friends committed to praying for us, and I am grateful for their prayers. I truly do feel a peace that I didn’t have when I initially posted. But now I’m faced with the grieving process. I know that I didn’t know the boy for very long, but there’s something different about meeting someone who you are told could be added to your forever family. You think differently. You feel differently.

I’m feeling stuck now between feelings of peace and sadness and anger. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be feeling. There are times when I feel OK, and there are times, like when I took Kamryn on a daddy-daughter date yesterday, that I feel happy. Yet in that happiness, I felt a tinge of guilt. Can I truly feel happy when this has happened? I asked my friends and family to pray, and I genuinely feel saddened by the situation – I feel the loss – yet now I find myself feeling joy with my daughter. Is that OK?

I’m going this weekend with Logan to Seattle for a guys’ weekend for the Seahawks playoff game. Am I allowed to feel happy and excited to take my son to his first home Seahawks game? If people see me being happy, posting pictures of our fun, will they feel like maybe I wasn’t so heartbroken after all? Should that matter? I don’t know.

All I know is that my emotions are wide-ranging right now and all I can do is be honest about them. I can’t control what people think about me, and I’m going to try not to worry about that and just live in the moments that I have with Logan this weekend.

God sees the whole picture and has a plan. I choose to trust in that and trust that God will never leave me, and that God loves me no matter how I might be feeling at any given moment. Thank you, friends, for your continued love and support! It means the world to me.

Am I a Hypocrite? The More Important Laws

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!” – Jesus, Matthew 23:23-24 (NLT)

I was reading a book tonight and it led me to a chapter in Matthew that I thought would hold deep significance to me. I thought that chapter was 23. I don’t know what chapter I was looking for, but chapter 23 definitely hit me like a ton of bricks tonight.

There have been many discussions regarding The Law as of late, and I’m struck particularly by the words of Jesus above, indicating that the Law is not all equal. There are parts that are more important than others. He clarifies by stating that it doesn’t mean that you can pick and choose, or ignore the less important parts, but there are definitely more important parts.

It seems to me that we often make too much out of the less important parts. Jesus’ example here is about tithing. I think every pastor I know would think that teaching people to give (whether we agree on the tithe or not) is essential. But what about “justice, mercy, and faith”?

When was the last time I preached a sermon about justice or mercy? I have preached many sermons about faith, but the last one I preached (just this last week) was about faith requiring action. Faith is not just what I believe, it’s also what I do. James says that “faith without good works is dead.” Jesus in this chapter says basically the same thing.

The Pharisees and religious teachers are not living the way that they are supposed to be living. They are legalistically requiring people to obey the law that is easy to monitor and enforce, but they themselves are not being obedient to what really matters.

Listen further to what Jesus says:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Jesus, Matthew 23:27-28

What is my heart filled with? I don’t believe I am a hypocrite – but neither did the Pharisees. I tithe on my income, yes, but what am I doing about justice and mercy? Am I obeying the little parts of the law and feeling good about myself without focusing on the bigger, more important parts?

I can think of answers to these questions, but for now, I think I’m going to let them marinate. I believe that I opened my Bible to the “wrong” place for a reason tonight, and I need to allow the Spirit to speak to me.

What words is God speaking to you when you read Matthew 23? Don’t allow yourself to quickly dismiss the idea that you simply can’t be a hypocrite or Pharisee because you do x, y, and z. What are you doing with the parts of the Law that matter more?