Through the Lens of Love

June 22, 2012

1 John 4:10-11 “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another”

Isn’t it great that God doesn’t love us the way we love others?  Too often, we hold requirements and stipulations over our love.  If someone doesn’t meet the standard and expectations we have for our love, then they don’t get it.  If we love them, but then they turn around and do something to hurt us, or at least disappoint us, then our love level drops and they have to work their way back up.

But that’s not the way God loves us.  John, both in his letters and in the Gospel, makes it abundantly clear the type of love God has for us: unconditional, unrestricted, unlimited, unorthodox love.  It is radical and scandalous.  It sustains us even when we want to give up.  It holds us even when we push away.  It surrounds us even when we feel lost and isolated.  The love of God is simple, yet so difficult to grasp because we don’t have any reference point for it.  As I said, we love others conditionally.  Others love us conditionally, and we love ourselves conditionally.  So do we really believe that there is an almighty being holding the universe together, yet loving us passionately and eternally at the same time?

Some of you reading this may not.  You’ve bought in to the cultural ideas about God, creation, humanism, and ultimately, nihilism that says there’s nothing to live for and no hope.  For you, my heart breaks, but more importantly and more intensely, God’s heart breaks.  When we come to understand and walk in the love of God that was exhibited at the Cross of Jesus, the historical, documented person of Jesus of Nazareth, life starts to make more sense.  The Bible, full of difficult images, teachings, and stories, begins to make sense through the lens of love.  And how we ought to treat others makes more sense through the lens of love.

As a band and ministry, our desire is help people see how loved they really are, that their belonging and purpose is not found in the world, but in Christ alone.  Through the roughest times in life, to the most joyous moments we can think of, the love of God upholds us and works to transform us.  In return, when we are loved unconditionally, we are called to love others the same, and also love ourselves.  The love of God should have a trickle down effect, so to speak.  So see the world, God, and yourself through the lens of love, because that’s exactly how he sees you.


Be Strong and Courageous!

February 29, 2012

Joshua 1:6-7 ” ‘Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.’ ”

Change, no matter how big or small, is scary. It can be intimidating when you look out and see uncertainty and the unfamiliar.  I am sure Joshua was intimidated by the view of the new land he was about to cross into as he led the nation of Israel into the land God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The people there were powerful and numerous.  He may have asked himself how in the world a nation as young as Israel would ever be able to cross over into their promise.

All of us at one point or another have felt this same way.  Change has loomed over us like a giant in a strange land.  We probably thought there was no way we could conquer it.  Fear gripped us, and we stood unsure as to whether or not to cross over.

If we did not have a God in front of us who parted the Red Sea, provided manna for us in the desert, and made water come from a rock, then these fears would be well founded.  But God’s call to Joshua to be strong and courageous is for us today too.  What is more, we have the Spirit of God living in us when we come to faith in Jesus Christ, the very Word of God.  That Spirit conquered the grave and now dwells within us,  guiding and strengthening us.  If Joshua could have strength and courage because of the God leading him across the Jordan River, then we too can cross over into whatever change faces us, whatever uncertainty challenges us, knowing that the Lord fights for us.

This doesn’t mean we won’t be left with some bumps and bruises.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have to be obedient and take the steps to cross.  But what it does mean is that as long as we allow the Lord to fight the battles for us, we can be strong and courageous in the midst of whatever change comes our way. So in whatever you are going through, big or small, be strong and courageous; for the very Spirit that raised Christ from the grave is raising you to new life in Christ and the promises he has made to you for his glory.

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Praise on the Other side of the Sea

February 15, 2012

Exo. 15:1-2 “Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: ‘I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.'”

The Israelites saw a lot in their journey out of Egypt: frogs, gnats, bloody rivers, hail storms, and a river parted down the center. The Lord was shown mighty through the stubborn, hardened heart of Pharaoh as he displayed his power in a war against the “gods” of Egypt. After all was said and done, the Israelites stood before the Red Sea, safely on the other side. God redeemed them.

As a worshipper, what amazes me in the text is Moses’ response, and God’s next course of action. It wasn’t here at the other side of the Red Sea that the LORD gave Moses the Law. It wasn’t here that the man of God was instructed to build the Tabernacle. Instead, Moses stood before the people and burst out into song! He and the whole Israelite community began to spontaneously worship God and declare his victory over Egypt.

So I begin to ask myself whether or not I sing to the Lord out of the gladness of my heart for all the things he has done, or because it has become just another chore of my Christian faith. Do I celebrate God’s faithfulness in bringing me through the waters, or do I follow the pattern of the Israelites later on and complain because I am out of my comfort zone.

I believe many of us would be more content to “return to Egypt” where we can be comfortable (though secretly miserable), and never have to step out in faith to praise God even when we do not know what the next step is. Yes, there is uncertainty. The Hebrew people had no clue where God was going to take them next. But if we forget what it was like in the land we came from, then we are never going to be able to celebrate the land we are now in. What if we took time every day to praise God in song, or prayer (or both!) for his faithfulness in leading us out of the places we came from, even if we haven’t “arrived” in the place he promised us. May we follow Moses and Miriam, and praise God for his faithfulness and power that brought us through the waters, to the other side of the sea.

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Living With Your New Name

February 6, 2012

Gen. 32:27-8 “The man asked Jacob, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered. Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with man and have overcome.'”

Names mean a lot.  They are how people call you, talk about you, think about you.  Names meant even more back in ancient times.  Often, names revealed things about your personality, your career path, or your strengths and weaknesses.  In Genesis, Jacob’s name in Hebrew literally meant “he deceives”.  And for most of his life, this is what Jacob did.  He deceived and manipulated almost everyone around him.  And though he knew about the God of his father, he really did not know the God of his father.  But then God appeared to him one night.  This encounter left Jacob with a limp and a new name.  Instead of being known as one who deceives, Israel would be known as one who struggled with God and overcame.

However, I find it interesting that the very next chapter refers to this man as Jacob again.  Why is this?  I believe he is still called Jacob because he hadn’t yet had time to prove the new person he had become.  It wasn’t until he made amends with his brother, met with God for a second time, and had to mourn the loss of his beloved wife Rachael that Jacob would be known as Israel.  Jacob the deceiver had to known what it really meant to struggle before he could be known as Israel, the one who struggled with God.

For those of us in Christ, we have been given a new name.  We now are known as children of God, who are called to walk and talk like our Savior, Jesus.  Though we once were enemies before the Creator of the universe, we now are free to live for him, by the blood of His Son.  This is our reality NOW.  We did nothing to earn it, and could never do anything bad enough to revoke it.  The question now is whether or not we will live with our new name.  Just as Israel had to live out his name, we too bear a responsibility to love as God loves, serve as He serves, and even share in the sufferings.  Here’s the awesome part:

We don’t have to earn it.

This new name was given to us by the obedience of Jesus, not by our obedience.  So now, all we have to do is live it out! All we have to do is be who we were saved to be.  Where Jacob struggled for his name, our name was purchased for us by Christ.  We belong to Him, and nothing can change that.  So live with your new name, because you have been saved by the name above every other name.

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Glorious Joy

January 23, 2012

1 Peter 1:8-9 “8 Though you have not seen him (Jesus), you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

As a band and ministry, one of the things we absolutely love is when we see people at a show truly connect with the Lord.  As a worshipper, you can literally see the change in their face and in their body language.  It is as if someone flipped the switch, as if chains have been broken off of their body and they now can move in freedom.  A joy overcomes them.

You see, this physical change is the evidence of what Peter was talking about to Christians in this text.  You didn’t see Jesus.  But you experienced the hope and freedom of his love and grace.  And this expresses itself in joy.  Now, I’ve heard joy explained as that contentment you have in life because you know Jesus loves.  So because of this love, you can praise God and go through whatever comes your way.  That’s awesome.

But I don’t think that really gets at joy.  I do believe joy comes when we understand who we are in Christ.  But it is much more than just being content no matter what circumstance comes along.  Paul talks about such contentment in Philippians 4.  I have come to truly believe that joy means what it says.  We REJOICE, we celebrate, we dance around, praising God exuberantly no matter what happens.  That is what the disciples did in Acts 5:41.  After being whipped for sharing the Gospel, the apostles rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer for Jesus.  This doesn’t sound like, “Oh, that was cool, I feel content” to me.  They rejoiced! They celebrated.  Another time, they actually worshipped and sang in jail.

No wonder Peter calls this inexpressible and glorious! It doesn’t make sense.  It is one thing to just sit around and “be okay” with your situation.  It is another thing to literally celebrate and rejoice for what God is doing even through your suffering.  So how joyous are we?  If we have this hope in Christ that we call our salvation, knowing that we are in his hands and unshakable, do we rejoice even when things go wrong and negatively for us?  May we be like those apostles who, “Left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41).


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Love Yourself

January 12, 2012

Matt. 22:37, 39b”Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… Love your neighbor as yourself.”

These are words that we as a ministry live by, though so often fall short on.  So why do we fall short? I mean I understand we are human and struggling in our sin.  But something about that doesn’t sit with me.  God calls us to be holy as God is holy.  And if the power of the Holy Spirit, that raised Christ from the grave, lives in us,  then why can’t we love?

As we have been writing and looking to take the ministry to a new level, we have realized that a major problem with how we love and where we place people in our lives is how we view ourselves.  The second of the great commandments is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And so often we say, “Well we have to serve and put ourselves down and let others do what they want, in the name of Jesus.”  But the opposite is actually true.  Lately, we as a band have asked the question of how can we love others if we do not love ourselves?  If I hate myself, how can I love other people?

So be encouraged today by this thought: God so loved YOU that he gave his only Son.  If God could love you that much even when he knows how much you mess up, how much you screw up, and how much you just blatantly do wrong, then how can you not love yourself?  Okay, so its easier said than done.  But maybe if you got a hold of the fact that God loves you beyond words even while knowing every detail about you, then you can begin to love, truly love yourself.  This will in turn lead you to a deeper love for others. You are God’s treasure, his masterpiece.  So love yourself like it.

Give to God what is God’s

January 14, 2011

Many people are familiar with the passage in Matthew 22 where the Pharisees ask Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar.  The were trying to trick Jesus into condoning civil disobedience just because Caesar wasn’t a nice guy.  Yet Jesus so eloquently quipped, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mt 22:21).

The teaching most commonly taken from this is that Christians should obey government rulers whenever possible.  As Paul wrote, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Rm 12:18).  But if the government were to make a law against, say, going to church…should that law be obeyed?  Of course not!  When Peter was imprisoned for preaching the Name of Jesus, he replied, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).  So if the government ever makes a law that says I can’t go to church, bet your bottom dollar that I will go to church every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

That was a nice teaching from Matthew 22:21, but in my opinion, it isn’t the most important one.  Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s – absolutely.  But what about the rest of the verse?  And to God what is God’s – ah!  It’s kind of like the old Texas Revolution cheer – “Remember the Alamo!  Remember Goliad!”  Everyone remembers the Alamo…we just forget to remember the rest of the saying.  (The Goliad Campain was fought before the Alamo btw…)

So let’s pay some hommage to the second half of Matthew 22:21.  While the first half emphasizes our obligations to our human authorities, the second half emphasizes our obligations to our Supreme Authority – God.  In other words, Jesus is saying, “It is true that you have responsibilities that you need to take care of.  I know that.  BUT, don’t forget about God.  No excuse is good enough to justify ignoring God’s place in your life.”

The big question now becomes, what in your life is God’s?  Or perhaps more appropriately, what in your life should be God’s?  Regardless of how busy you become, does God deserve part of your day?  How about just 20 minutes for Bible reading and prayer?  Does God deserve that from you?

1 Samuel 2:30 – Those who honor Me I will honor, but those who despise Me will be disdained.

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Moving Forward

January 1, 2011

I have a challenge for you: hop on your bike and try to keep your balance…without pedaling.  Just stay stationary, pick up your feet, and see how long you can keep your balance.  Not too easy, is it?  Yet when you start pedaling and moving forward, keeping your balance becomes as easy as, well, you know…

Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance you must keep moving.”  How true. Although conventional wisdom would seem to say that staying put and focusing on the task at hand is the best way to achieve success, sometimes the opposite is true.  Sometimes you just have to get going, keep your eyes on the prize, and watch the pieces fall into place.

I’m sure you’ve heard phrases like “the Christian walk”, “walking with God”, etc.  There’s a reason that the Christian life is compared to “walking with God” and not “chilling on the couch with God.”  God loves you too much to leave you the way you are.  He has big things in store for you, but in order for you to achieve them, you have to get going.

How would you currently categorize your Christian life?  Were you recently saved, or have you been a Christian for a long time?  Is your Bible a little dusty, or do you have a daily devotional time?  Do you hide your beliefs, or do you wear the Cross proudly on your sleeve?  Regardless of where you currently are, I challenge you to make 2011 a year of moving forward in your walk with God.  Set some goals to achieve in your relationship with God and others this year. Here are some of mine:

1. Read the Bible in 2 years

This can be done by reading about 11.5 chapters per week.  Great spiritual discipline.

2. Verse memorization

Committing verses to memory can be extremely rewarding and helpful in times of sorrow, stress, depression, anger, temptation, etc.  I have a list of 124 verses that I would like to memorize in 2 years time, about 1 per week.  (Remember Charlie’s List?)

3. Regular fasting as God directs

Taking a break from the preparation, consumption, and eating of food, from tv, from shopping, etc. and instead using that time to draw closer to God in His Word and in prayer is extremely beneficial.  Remember, Jesus gave us instructions for when we fast, not if we fast (Matthew 6:16).

4. Share the Gospel with at least 3 friends from school before graduation

“How many times have we watched it slip by?  The opportunity passes and we wonder why…”  I can recall all too many opportunities that I watched slip by.  Before I graduate West Virginia University, I vow to let God direct me to share the gift of eternal life with at least 3 friends that I have made during my time there.

Wherever you are with God, make a short list of spiritual challenges that can draw you closer to Him.  And then get going.

Ashamed of the Name

December 12, 2010

Acts 11:26 tells us that the followers of Christ in Antioch were the first to be called Christians.  Note that they did not choose this title for themselves, but “they were called Christians.”  It was a derogatory term given to them: Oh, you’re one of those Christians, aren’t you?

Apparently, after a while they said to themselves, “You know what?  Yeah, I am a Christian.  What of it?”  They were proud to bear the name of a follower of Christ, and now there are millions of Christians worldwide.

Yet many Christians today choose to hide their faith.  They’d much rather blend in with the crowd than stand out as being different, fearing that they’d give the world a foothold to criticize them for their beliefs.

But the believers in Antioch were so proud of their faith in Christ that they readily identified with His Name, despite the fact that they were being mocked with it.

Are you proud of Christ?  Or are you ashamed of the Name?

Mark 8:38 – For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man will also be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.

Not Good News

October 26, 2010

2 Kings 7:9 – “We are not doing right.  This is a day of good news, and we remain silent.”

In 2 Kings chapter 7, we read about 4 men with leprosy.  They were in Samaria, which was where Israel was at that time.  Israel’s enemy, the Assyrians, had the city surrounded and under siege, so there was a famine in the city.  Due to the fact that the lepers were outcasts anyway AND there was a famine in the city, they decided to go throw themselves at the mercy of the enemy.

“What’s the worst that will happen?” they thought.  “Either they’ll kill us, which doesn’t matter because we are about to die of starvation anyway, or they’ll show mercy on us and take us in.  Sounds worth the risk.”  But when they got to the enemy camp, they found that everyone was…gone.  Vanished.  The whole camp.  Empty.

Well, not completely.  The people had fled in the middle of the night (God caused them to be afraid of Israel and flee instantly), but all the stuff in the camp was still there.  Tents.  Animals.  Jewelry.  Gold.  Silver.  Food.  Ah…food!  So, the first thing the lepers did?  Eat, of course.  The second thing they did?  Gather up as much gold and silver and jewelry as they could carry.  They went outside the camp and hid it so that they could keep it all for themselves.

Then they went back to the camp to get more, and all of the sudden it hit them (THUD!).  “We are not doing right.  This is a day of good news, and we remain silent.”  They had been so caught up in their own needs and their own greed that they forgot the most important thing of all…the enemy has fled!  Samaria is no longer under siege.  The famine is over.  Israel is free.  Uh, shouldn’t we go tell them, seeing as how they don’t know yet?

Are you saved?  Good news.

Do you have unsaved friends?  Not good news.

Do you ever have the opportunity to share the Gospel with them?  Good news.

Do you pass up the opportunity in order to avoid “social awkwardness?”  Not good news.

As Third From First sings, “we gotta let the world know, every day and night.”

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