Highlights

I first read through the Bible cover-to-cover when I was nineteen years old. I’d been a Christian since I was four, baptized in water at twelve, but I’d never read the entire Bible before. My campus pastors encouraged me to carve out devotional time every day, and so at nineteen years old, I set out to do just that. I read four pages a day out of my thousand-page KJV Bible, so it took me two hundred fifty days (about nine months) to finish.

It was during this period that I experienced something that I never had encountered before. As I was reading, the Holy Spirit highlighted specific verses to me that impacted my heart–so much so that I had to write them down on index cards and keep them close. I didn’t really know what to call the phenomenon, so I labeled the first one “Prayer Card,” since the verse was about prayer. I knew that it would fuel my prayers as I reread the verse in the future. By the end of that first read through the Bible, I had three prayer cards. They are verses that continue to grip my soul, and I’ve read and reread them countless times. Here they are for you to read:

“The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.”–Matthew 9:37-38

“Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; because I Myself am with you, and no one will assail you to harm you, because I have many people in this city.”–Acts 18:9-10

“How then shall they call on Him whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!'”–Romans 10:14-15

I encourage you in this: when you encounter the Holy Spirit impacting your heart through the Word, remember those times well. God may be laying out the foundation of your calling. These verses have stuck with me through trials and joys, both the mundane and the glorious times. The words still burn in my heart. Read, and let His Word burn in yours, too.

Advertisements

God Is Not…

God is not a moral code or a set of rules. He definitely has rules and laws that He’s given to us, but they are not Him. He is the Way and the Truth, and His beautiful boundaries and limits are unmatched in all the universe. His ways are meant to be followed, from the core of our being unto eternity, but they are not Him. We cannot “figure God out” with a mathematical formula or a rule book. He is not an equation or a game, a number, symbol or shape.

God is also not an experiential emotional high. When we seek Him, we are not looking for an intense feeling. We may experience feelings when we are aware of Him, but He Himself is not the feeling. He cannot be controlled or drummed up. Guitar riffs and electronic beats do not create any part of God, because He’s already whole. He was there before the feeling, and He’ll be there forever after. Emotion exists because He was the one who set everything in motion.

God is a person with whom we can have a relationship. The “rules” are part of that relationship. God has things that He likes and things that He doesn’t. He has an original perfect design for His creation. As we get to know Him, we understand what those things are. As we get to know Him, He reveals His mysteries to us. As our heart draws close to His heart in love, these things become valuable to us, because they are important to Him. His ways are only good, and I hope that we all can follow them perfectly.

The emotions are experienced within and because of our relationship with God.  As in any good relationship, we feel good when we are close to Him, when we feel His acceptance. Because our relationship with God is the most important relationship in existence, it stands to reason that we should feel the deepest and most intense emotions when we communicate with Him. When He talks to us, hangs out with us and shows us His goodness, I hope that we are all overwhelmed by the Nature and Beauty of the God we love.

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”–Hebrews 10:16

A Revolutionary Phrase

“People are good and intend to do good.”

The phrase felt like it had punctured my chest, deep to my soul. I’d heard things like it before, but never in the context that it should actually be believed. Actually, it sounded more along the lines of heresy, and if nothing else, just plain ignorant. But it came off the lips of our guest speaker, Eric Johnson. He was quoting a theologian, Harold Eberle, the only theologian Pastor Johnson had mentioned that morning: one for whom he had just given the highest of recommendations. And this phrase–it was the focal point of his sermon. He said it must be believed, for this reason: to empower our effective evangelism.

Anyway, the phrase sounded either ignorant or deceptive to me at first. A thousand different questions started forming in my mind. After all, Pastor Johnson is the lead pastor of Bethel Church, a group that we honor greatly, a local church in California that’s really influential around the world. And here I was in Virginia, listening to this. What in the world was it supposed to mean? The questions kept heaping, one upon another. Doesn’t he know about sin? Is he purposefully ignoring it? If we’re all “good,” then why does he think we need Jesus? Is he a Universalist? If everyone intends to do good, then why do we not do good? Is he trying to confuse people? Is he in denial? Why is this happening? Why does someone in such authority here have to say something so controversial, something I disagree with so strongly? What am I going to do now?

My heart was alert through the close of the service and beyond. The phrase didn’t offend me; it just troubled me. It made think hard about what I believed. That kind of phrase—the kind that makes you think hard—is the most revolutionary of all. As I prayed in the hall after service, I felt the Lord whisper this to my heart: “You don’t have to believe him.” As that word sank into my heart, I felt fear leave and peace enter. Then I just started thinking about Him and His Word, and I started searching for truth.

I looked at the first half of the phrase: “People are good.” In this, what do I really believe to be true? Well, I believe that humanity is fallen, guilty and separated from God. It may have been created good in the beginning, but it fell from that position. In the dimension of purity and holiness, it is so very far from the term good.

“See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”–Ecclesiastes 7:29

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;”–Isaiah 53:6a

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”–Romans 3:23

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’“–Mark 10:18

I also know that God is merciful and that we are loved by Him. He has extended His hand of mercy, to forgive us of every sin, to cleanse us of every stain.

and the Lord has laid on him (Jesus)
    the iniquity of us all.“–Isaiah 53:6b

“and [all who believe] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”–Romans 3:24

“Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.'”–Mark 10:29-30

“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”–1 John 2:2

Our salvation is undeserved. There is clearly no amount of “goodness” present in humanity that deserves salvation. But… God found something to love. He found some potential, an original design, something valuable in us that goes beyond the realm of time, looking past our present mess, to His future spotless bride. If He didn’t love us when we were still sinners, we would have no hope. But we do have hope. We have the path of salvation, because God did everything in His power to redeem us. In this sense, humanity is “good,” for we are valuable to God.

I looked at the second half of the phrase: “[People] intend to do good.” Now, that wasn’t too hard to believe, but I struggled to find a reason why it mattered. Good intentions never accomplish anything unless they are lived out in perfect truth. Good intentions can be twisted by anything, held back because of fear, or placed on something sinful or pointless. In fact, the Bible says many times that people do what is “right in their own eyes,” whether it actually be good or evil in reality.

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”–Judges 21:25

This verse in Judges isn’t talking about righteousness. It’s talking about anarchy. Someone could look at that verse from a morally relativistic view and say, “That’s good! Everyone had the freedom to do the right thing, and they were all empowered to do it!” But the people in that day were not only exempt from external authority and control; their hearts were also far from God. Their “good” intentions (and actions) were, in reality, largely adding to the cycle of moral degradation in their society.

In the end, this was the key for me: people really do intend to follow their own moral code. This might not seem like much on first glance, but it ties directly into the concept of evangelism. If we as Christians carry the message of hope and salvation, we should expect to find an alternate view in the hearts of unsaved people. A conflict is to be expected, but we have the upper hand in any argument. We may carry the moral Truth of God (which is offensive to many), but we also hold their true identity. The true identity of all humanity is “valuable to God.” When people encounter this truth, it doesn’t matter what sin they still have in them. It doesn’t matter what lies they’re still believing. If the reality of His love strips away the barriers of relationship with Him, the power of that relationship will continue to sanctify their morality over time. When Faith enters the picture, when new birth occurs, sin no longer has dominion.

So, I am left with this interpretation of the phrase, which I really do agree with: “People are valuable to God and intend to follow their own moral code.” As we pursue the heart of God, we will value people just as much as He does (which is a lot!). We will love and pursue the lost just as much as He does. As relationship with God grows stronger, our values and morals align with His and become our own. There is no need to fear people or hate anyone, not for what they’ve done or ever will do, and not because of anything they may believe. God does love with an everlasting love. As we love with that same love, people’s hearts are radically transformed. That is revolution.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people”–Titus 2:11

Weddings

Yesterday, my cousin was married to an amazing man.  I haven’t officially met her husband yet, but still I know he’s great.  She did marry him, after all; I trust her enough to make those kinds of good decisions.  It was an incredible ceremony: lovely, sweet and funny; sober and spiritual.  Their promises to one another were kind, sincere and genuine.  Their love for one another was so evident in their eyes.

I’ve been thinking about another wedding: the great day when Jesus comes back to His pure Bride.  I am a part of that Bride.  My worth is measured by the value the Groom places on me.  In this marriage of earth and Heaven, all the angels look at Jesus and ask, “What is this woman worth?”  They see the answer in His tender touch, the kindness in His eyes, His words of love.  On the other side of the aisle, all of the earth asks the Church, “What is this man worth to you?”  They look for the evidence: the faith we have put in Him.

What kind of beautiful dress have we put on?  Have we become righteous?  The point of throwing off those filthy rags, repenting of sin and living in truth and love is much more than just getting tickets to Heaven.  We are literally becoming more beautiful every day, more worthy to be called the Bride of Christ.  I want to be around the ones who are serious about this beautification process.  Together, we can collect the bows, the lace, the fabric.  The most beautiful man in the universe is to be ours forever, and we are to be the most beautiful bride.

“‘Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; is was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’–for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”–Revelation 19:7-8

Outrageous Hope

Jesus is my source of hope.  From the outset, in believing that one truth, I am set apart from the world.  My eyes are set on His face, and my heart moves with His heart.  Every lesser dream must align with the one.  Not to say that we throw away specifics; a great business, a happy family and delicious food on the table are good things.  They are perfect desires, as long as they are subject to the one.  In fact, I will dream even greater dreams than anyone in the world could ever dream: impossible dreams.  For the Jesus I know does impossible things.

Who in the world has the hope of eternal life?  It’s not just any life.  It is full of glory, the ecstasy of delight, the wealth of the King.  Who in this world can claim such mercy and grace?  My God will demolish demonic strongholds to make room for righteousness.  There’s no other way.  It’s been planned out, and I am a part of it!  In every way, the amazing exploits I do are components of His grand Kingdom scheme.

Hope is contagious.  The truth is, this world doesn’t have to be lost.  There is more than enough hope for every creature.  My God is the God of eternal restoration.  He creates things new again.  When that word is broadcast, who knows what will happen!  I’m expecting so much good, because Jesus is perfectly good.  He is only righteous.

Evil will soon be gone, my friends: poverty, famine, disease–everything that sin produces.  We are free.  We’ve tasted life.  It’s never going to stop as long as our hope remains.  It always will.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”–Romans 15:13

Echoes

Jesus said, “It is finished.”  Sin has been defeated.  The fall has been corrected.  Why, then, do we continue to deal with sin’s effects?

Picture this: on the only highway to the capital city, two semi trucks flip over, completely blocking the way.  There’s fire, explosions and carnage everywhere!  Everyone who’s coming after them has to stop, or risk their own destruction.  The traffic jam begins, and every vehicle following those trucks is cursed with an indefinite delay.  Not even one can reach its destination.  Traffic backs up for hundreds upon thousands of miles, and everyone is sick of the sounds of idling engines, blaring horns and a certain amount of cursing.

Then something amazing happens.  The way is cleared completely.  Some people begin to see, but most don’t believe it.  Even the ones in the front deny it.  “Don’t you know?” they say.  “We’re stuck!  There was a major accident, you know, with fire and everything!”  They fail to see the one lane steadily moving towards the horizon.  From the back of the pack, it’s still slow going most of the time.  Some cars are abandoned, their drivers long since venturing into dark woods in search of another way around.  But the ones who know, who have their smart phones running the right app, are making it.

There are sounds of joy and celebration coming from over there.  A Message is shouted.  Can it be true?  Can our troubles finally be over?  In fact, they are.  We move forward with joyful expectation, armed with the truth that what was blocking our way has been completely removed.  It may be a hard road ahead, but we are entirely confident that nothing can ever keep us from our Destiny again.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”–Romans 8:1-2

Put On Christ

I wore a new football jersey for the first time today.  Man, was it weird.  I had two personal encounters that really shaped my view of life.  Who knew that one article of clothing could teach me so much about my walk with God?

First, I was walking down the street to my car, and I passed a man on the corner.  He started grumbling very loudly.  I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but I really didn’t want to.  I’m sure it had something to do with the jersey, his feelings toward the team and/or player it represented and the relationship that his favorite team had with said player/team.  It was slightly disturbing to say the least, but I didn’t take it personally.

Secondly, I was walking through the parking lot towards my office, when a guy in his BMW stopped in the middle of the street and rolled down his window.  He shouted out, “Hey man, blow it up this weekend!  I have you on my fantasy squad!”  While I appreciated his comments, I was slightly confused as to why he was referring to me as a famous football player.  After all, I am not Darren McFadden.  I’m just a fan.  But perhaps, in today’s world, wearing someone’s name means something more.  I’m unabashedly identifying myself with that person.  I can’t deny it.  It’s written on my body.

I though about how Paul instructed the church to “put on Christ” like a garment.  When I do that, I leave no room for denial.  I am an outspoken supporter of Christ.  He becomes my identity.  I am the representation, the revelation of Jesus for the people around me.  Christ and I can never be separated in the eyes of the world.

I should take every comment and sentiment said about my Lord personally.  When people hate God, they should hate me too.  My level of responsibility and purity should be outstanding, for if I do evil, people will attribute it to God.  Unlike random football players, God actually knows me.  In fact, He called me to be His friend and messenger.  That’s something to take very seriously.

“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”–Romans 13:14