What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Do you have that one safe friend?

I have lots of friends, good friends, but there was a time in my life when I didn’t have one particular person who was committed to the role of being that one safe friend. Why? FEAR. The fear that I wouldn’t measure up, fear of not fitting in, fear that I would disappoint…and biggest of all, fear of being hurt.

Fear pushes us around.

That period of my life feels like a lifetime ago and yet I still need to remain alert to fear attempting to shake my faith and push me towards isolating myself from others. Can you relate? I’ve come to the conclusion that I need, we need—no matter our status in life—someone whom we can trust enough to be transparent, authentic, and vulnerable. Someone who will reach out to us consistently, who will encourage us, comfort us, laugh with us, and weep with us (Rom.12:10, Eph.4:32, 1 Thess.5:11).

It’s not that there won’t be several people who could do this for you, but without someone specific to take on that responsibility, you may find yourself in a crowded room, with no one. Being that one safe friend doesn’t take an unusual skill set, nor is it someone who has all the answers. It does need to be someone who is a good listener, someone who is caring and empathetic, and someone who understands you and understands the core challenges of life, regardless of the setting (2 Cor.1:4). It’s not an unusual skill set, but neither is it common to everyone.

Love leads gently on.

Don’t assume that people will come knocking at your door to be that one special friend…maybe because they doubt your need or their ability to fill that role. So if you’re looking, what should you look for? What should you expect from that friend? Here are some suggestions:

  1. That one safe friend will be safe (obvious, huh?) and contact you regularly. You will be able to tell your friend the candid, unfiltered truth. This happens through consistent contact, not in a passing Sunday morning “How are you?’” Your friend will not share with others your private conversations without your permission, unless there are special circumstances that involve danger to yourself or others. Choose someone who you know is good at keeping confidences.
  1. That friend will ask questions, lots of questions, starting with “How are you?” and going much further and deeper. The questions will be based on a firm understanding of who you are. Of course your relationship will go both ways, and you will invest in your friend’s life as well.
  1. That friend will pray for you and with you…OFTEN…and consistently direct you to God’s Word. Your friend will know your heart and seek to not give you his or her opinion, but point you to the Word to experience God’s power, promises, and provisions. Your friend will make it a habit to carry you to God in prayer, voicing your needs and concerns.

There are many examples of “that special friend” in the Bible: Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Paul and Timothy, to name a few. However, the only perfect and greatest friend of believers, who promises to never leave or forsake us, is Jesus Christ. What a friend we have in Jesus!

I Forgot About God

Yesterday, I nearly forgot about God. To make it worse, yesterday was a Sunday.

It seems unlikely that, on the Lord’s Day of all days, I would forget
about the Lord as I prepared to serve Him and worship Him. But here’s
how it nearly happened.

I had prepared my Bible study lesson earlier in the week like I
usually do. On Sunday morning, I arrived at the church early enough to
print out the lesson for class. That’s when the warfare hit. The
website that hosts all of my online documents was down, and so I
couldn’t access my notes for teaching, nor the note sheets for the
students.

Immediately, my mind engaged its Tech Support Troubleshooting
procedures. I ran through all the protocols for “fixing the Internet”
that I’ve learned from working two decades in the tech industry. All
of my efforts led to nothing. The screen just showed an error,
suggesting that I try again later. The computer was calm, but I had
become a sweating, panicking mess.

I decided to take the computer’s advice. I left the office and went to
practice the worship songs with the Praise Team. Before we began, we
were prompted to mention anything on our hearts that we felt needed to
be voiced in prayer. That’s when the conviction hit me square in the
chest.

“Brent,” I said ashamedly to my own soul, “you forgot about God.”

I mentioned the technical struggles I was having to the rest of the
group. As we prayed, I admitted to God that I was striving within my
own wisdom, without even asking Him to be a part of this service I was
offering to Him. I confessed that when I ran into a trial, a bit of
warfare, He wasn’t even on my troubleshooting list, when He should
have been step number one.

But God is good, all the time. After that prayer, we offered some
sweet worship to Him in that brief rehearsal time. And afterwards, my
Internet issues had been resolved. I printed my notes and my handouts
and headed to the classroom just in time.

Yesterday, I nearly forgot about God.

But thankfully He is faithful and never forgets about me. Yesterday,
my Great Shepherd led me into a time of prayer and a time of
reflection upon His faithful character. As the psalmist put it:

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the
nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
―Psalm 46:10

Mission: Possible

Connectedness. Ideation. Context. Strategic. Learner.

Researchers suggest that by becoming aware of and focusing on your natural talents, you can build them and have success in your spheres of influence. While I agree that the above-mentioned themes describe much about me, I am reminded that God is sovereignly governing my life.

My mission did not include attending graduate school. My mission did not include moving to Arizona. My mission did not even include Christ. Yet, by His grace, here I am.

God made it clear that I did not choose Him, rather He chose me and appointed me to go and bear fruit (John 15:16):

Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see
.

God has given me a mission, and it is dynamic. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19-20). It is a mission to fulfill this Great Commission in my city, in our state, my country, and anywhere else God sends me.

Jesus calls for every Christian to step out in faith and spread the Good News wherever we go. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, where has He called you to go? Who has God put on your heart to share the gift of salvation? What small or large steps can you take, with the knowledge that Christ will be by your side, “to make disciples of all nations?”

 

 

Freedom May Be More Complex Than We Realize

Most, if not all, Americans just celebrated the Fourth of July, also known as Independence Day. The history of Independence Day is in connection to the American Revolution when the thirteen colonies rejected the British Monarchy. It was through political upheaval and war that the thirteen colonies were able to declare their independence from Great Britain and form a new nation—the United States of America. So we as Americans annually celebrate our independence and freedom on July 4th.

Living in the 21st century, we have reaped the benefits of freedom that those who lived in the late 1700s fought for our nation to have. When it comes to one’s own personal freedom, the Supreme Court stated in a 1992 ruling, “The heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of the meaning of the universe.” In other words, an individual’s freedom is determined by one’s own understanding of the meaning of life.

I would like to put before you two things for your consideration:

—Freedom is more complex than we realize.

—Jesus is more liberating than we think.

We live in a society and culture that believes compliance to the truth is what causes a lack of freedom. You don’t have to look far to find someone who says truth claims are power plays, a way to gain control and cause constraint. With that in mind, let me ask you: are the truth claims of Christianity (Jesus is God; Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; or even that God created the world in six days) a means for Christians to be seen as superior to those who are not Christians, or is the truth of Christianity meant to set people free? I would submit to you the latter. Freedom comes from the truth (John 8:32).

I believe I can say without contradiction that the content of a truth claim is what makes it either oppressive or liberating. So how does being in touch with the truth set you free? Well, when you hold to the truth that God has done everything that was needed for a person to be forgiven and accepted by God—and that there is no amount of good deeds, praying, going to church, or feeling sorry for your sin that could ever make God forgive you or accept you—then you will be able to experience a life of freedom to enjoy and love God. You won’t have to live under the pressure of trying to earn God’s grace or even serve God out of fear that He will punish you if you don’t do those things.

In Galatians 2:4 Paul says we have freedom in Christ, but in just a few chapters later Paul writes that we are not use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (Gal.5:13). Peter also says something similar in 1 Peter 2:16, Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.

Many believe that the more there is an absence of restraint, the more freedom one has. Well I propose that freedom is more complex then we might realize. Think about this, as we get older our body systems (brain, cardiac/pulmonary system, liver and kidney systems, digestion, and metabolism) slow down. So as we age we can’t eat anything and everything we once could when we were younger. We have to restrict ourselves to what we can eat, and by restricting ourselves to not eating all the sweets and fatty foods that we might like to, we will be able to enjoy the richer freedom of good health. However with that said, freedom is not even the presence of discipline or restraint. Imagine you have a friend and his dream has been to play in the NFL as a lineman. His whole life he has been told he can be anything he wants, however your friend is only 5’ 2” tall and weighs 110lbs (as an adult). No matter how hard your friend practices or how disciplined he is in working out nor even how much he restricts himself to the best diet, it’s going to be close to impossible for him to be a lineman in the NFL.

So freedom is not simply the absence of restrictions or even the presence of restrictions, but freedom is the presence of the right restrictions, the ones that fit in with your nature; the restrictions that are in accord with who God made you to be. So when we find and surrender ourselves to the right restrictions, we will experience the deep and rich freedom God purposed for our lives. Think about a fish that is out of the water and is on dry land—it’s not free. That fish has lost its freedom to move and even to live. That fish has to be restricted to the water to experience the freedom that is fitting with its nature. So that begs the question: what were we created for? As the human race, the pinnacle of God’s creation, why are we here on earth? Just like the fish is obviously created to be in the water and that is where it gets to experience the freedom of life, so it is then, that when we find our purpose for living we will experience the rich, deep freedom God purposed for us. For the bible says, “For by Him [Jesus Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Col.1:16).

That little phrase “created…for Him” includes us; we were created for Jesus Christ, to love, to serve, to know, to enjoy, and to have faith in Jesus Christ. So freedom may be more complex then we might have realized, but faith in Jesus Christ is the reason for our liberty and freedom.

Never Forget

As I reflect on my life as a believer, I have some pretty discouraging memories of faith! I look back and see times of doubt, times where my tongue was used to slander, times where I hurt people who are dear to me in the faith…sin, sin, sin. Of course, I do see progress as well. It’s not all ugly memories. Yet, sometimes I want to just leave the past in the past and move forward. The Devil wants to use these shameful memories to discourage and condemn me.

But, what does God want me to do with my ugly memories? He doesn’t give me the gift of forgetting.

God had Israel celebrate many feasts and at least two were feasts of remembrance:

  • The Passover Feast was a feast to remember God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
  • The Feast of Tabernacles was to celebrate God’s provision of shelter for His people in the wilderness.

These feasts were not about Israel; they were about God and what He had done. Generation after generation remembered these events. These feasts proclaim: “remember what God has done.”

I believe that’s what God wants us to do with our memories of faith, both the seemingly good and bad memories. We are to look at the bad memories and thank God for delivering us, forgiving us, and providing for us. He gets the glory for sanctifying us and maturing us to where we are now. We are to look at the good memories and not think about how great our faith is, but how great our God is. He is using the victories and the defeats to both encourage us to strive on and humble us on the journey.

So, don’t let Satan use your memories of failures in your walk of faith to drive you to despair. Instead, may those memories drive you back to the Savior who continues to love you, despite of you.

The Value of Truth

Truth holds a strange place in our society. On the one hand, we value and advocate for “truth-telling” among certain people and situations. For example, most of us (believers and unbelievers) are very upset with our children when they don’t tell the truth about why their brother or sister is crying, or why they got into trouble at school. Most of us (believers and unbelievers) cry out for truth-telling from our politicians. We want to know the truth about Benghazi and Michael Brown. We want full disclosure on Area 51. On the other hand, for many people, truth about more important matters is not valued. When it comes to questions of God, eternity, why we’re here, and what we should be doing, “truth” takes a backseat to preference. “All religions are basically the same”; “if it works for you, that’s all that matters”; “no one knows what is really true.”

The unfortunate thing is that I am not just speaking of postmodern relativist unbelievers over against Bible-believing Christians. Within the evangelical church, truth can be undervalued, which often leads to it being undermined, and even abandoned altogether. It is not hard to undervalue the truth in the local church. In the preaching, Scripture can be relegated to a supporting role in a clever sermon—and truth is undervalued. In the singing, mood and emotion are the goal at the expense of sound doctrine and praise offered to God—and truth is undervalued. In children’s and youth ministries, games and activities squeeze out teaching of the deep things of God—and truth is undervalued. When truth is undervalued in these, and many other ways, we leave the door wide open for truth to be undermined and even abandoned on certain issues. The results are disastrous as God is dishonored, His people stand for nothing, and the local church becomes powerless in its work and witness.

Started from the Bottom… Now We Here

One of the most humbling things about life is God’s sovereign and providential ability to completely wreck your plans. I mean when God takes His huge eraser and His red correction pen and not just alters, but completely bulldozes your world. What happens when life doesn’t go as planned (or as I planned)? What happens when you are called to start over and start right back at square one? This has been a reality of mine with recent university transfers and starting a new medical program and, at times, it was very difficult for me to see the new beginning as a fresh starting block for the work of God. One way I find continual encouragement is through the Scriptures and I pray that this one verse would lift up and strengthen you all.

Psalm 34:8 reads, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” I know some of you are thinking, what in the world does this have anything to do with starting over? My point in using this wonderful Psalm is to point you, fellow Christian, to the person of God. Everything that God does is good! Every stage in our lives must be centered on the attributes of God and if we know who He is, we will know how to properly respond. Rule #1 in dealing with starting over: We must always start with God.

As sinful humans, we allow our culture, circumstances, and expectations to have way too much influence over our lives and we struggle with new beginnings no matter how great or small. For me, I have found the simplicity of the Words in this Psalm as a reminder that if I focus on who God is, I can now live life with a renewed zeal. His character proves Himself as one who is trustworthy, so dear Christian, trust Him—for everything God does is good. If we know He is good, we will now embrace the new beginning as a new platform that God has appointed uniquely for you to bring glory unto Him. Jesus Christ must be the One in whom we harbor and as soon as we embrace who He is, we will then be able to rightly relate with our new start. We slowly see that it is nothing about us, but that it is all centered around Christ and bringing Him to the forefront of every aspect of our lives so that all those around us may see the work of God. I encourage you to taste and see the goodness of God, be thankful in the midst of fresh starts, and press into Jesus, asking that you would be used as a vessel solely to bring glory to God.

Bloom Where You Are Planted

My friend, Elly, recently posted a quote on Facebook that she read on the bottle cap from Sweet Leaf tea: “Bloom where you are planted.” Elly said she thought that was a pretty good one. Me too!

I think every Christian would agree that our deep heart desire is for God to change us to be more like Christ. We read the Word, put our lives up against it, and see how woefully short we fall of the divine standard. Then, we look at the Savior and are filled with thankfulness that He has lived the life we never can. But, we don’t stop there. Out of that thankfulness, we want to live holier lives.

I will at least speak for myself and say that sometimes I look at my circumstances and wonder how I can change when things are just so hard. If my circumstances were different, I can think, fleshing out this Christian walk would be easier. Yes, that’s it! That’s the change I need. I need to just have a change in my circumstances and everything will be ok…or will they?

See, we really don’t need a change in our circumstances to thrive for God. In fact, the very opposite is true. We believe in a God who providentially orchestrates everything in our lives to bring about our full and final salvation (Rom.8:28-30). At times, I can feel like just running away from the pressures around me. But, the problem is, I cannot run away from my own heart. God has placed me in the city I live in, the church I attend, the family I live with, the friendships I enjoy, and the difficult circumstances (and attacks from foes) I face. Any difficulty I am having to live how God wants me to, where He has me, does not merit a change in my circumstances so much as it calls for a heart change. And, what is so amazing about all of this is that God will use the difficulties to change me, but only as I walk by faith and repentance…here.

If you find yourself consumed with longing for the day when your circumstances will be more bearable on earth, stop yourself and ask:

  • Do I believe that today is a gift from God to me? (Ps.118:24)
  • Do I believe God does all things well? (Mark 7:37)
  • Who will I choose to serve this day? (Josh.24:15)

Choose the Lord, and bloom, by faith, right where He has planted you.

Jesus Loves Me, This I Know

Truth is, I have been wrong about love.

So, writing about love during the month when love is celebrated gave me great pause. Seriously, what do I know about love? So I began to recall the times I thought I felt loved. I thought about The Intellect in college who gave me books instead of roses. No, he loved me not. Maybe, it was The Artist in high school who sketched himself as my charming prince. No, he loved not. You see, unrequited love seemed to be a chorus in a sad song.

Now, no need to break out any tissues because I am indeed written in a “Happily Ever After” kind of love story.

As I am writing this, I remembered the first love song. I’m standing in flower-printed dress, white patent leathered shoes, dress socks with lace fringe in the children’s choir, singing loudly “Jesus loves me, this I know…”

You see, before chocolate became the currency for affection, Jesus loved me. Before I eagerly waited for a Hallmark to express endearing sentiments, Jesus loved me. Before precious stones represented the sincerity of care, Jesus loved me.

How did I know? The verse continues “…for the Bible tells me so.”

As a child I confidently believed that I was loved. Yet I grew up and misdirected the object of my love and began seeking love apart of God. This, I know, was not love. I was searching for unconditional love; yet He was never lost. Too often we try to buy acceptance, when Christ paid our debt on the Cross.

“For God so loved the World that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”—John 3:16

Now, as an adult you must filter through much life, heartbreak, and experiences in order to get to the simple truth of knowing you are loved. In all of the fanfare of Valentine’s Day, it is easy to become overwhelmed with symbols of love and affection. It is easy to become disappointed when worldly expectations of love are not met. I can’t deny being a recipient of such sentiments is desired. You’re right; I could never turn down anything covered with chocolate.

However, I am encouraged that the love of God is incomparable to anything that I have known. He continues to demonstrate His love for me and that makes every day a special occasion. So, when I begin to struggle with loneliness in a city without family, still Jesus loves me. When my best friend tells me she and her husband are expecting baby #3, Jesus loves me. When I see another couple on Facebook, Jesus loves me.

I have found that it is never an issue of God loving me. Rather it is me taking focus from myself and recognizing HOW God is loving me in that very moment. So during this month of love, rejoice in seeing how God demonstrates His love all around and let it be a catalyst to love on others.

For The Bible Tells Me So…..

Loves me on purpose—Romans 8:28-30, Jeremiah 29:11

Loves me unconditionally—Romans 5:8

Loves me with purpose—John15:16

Loves me irrevocably—Romans 8:38-39

Loves me everlastingly—Jeremiah 31:3

 

 

 

 

What’s In It for Me?

As we approach this holiday season, many people will start to set their dials to their favorite radio station, WII FM (What’s In It For Me). Or for those of us west of the Mississippi, it may be KAI AM (Keep Away, It’s All Mine)! We all feel the stress of this time of year—Christians and non-Christians alike—but as Christians, we have a hope, a faith, and a love that are different from the world’s (1 Corinthians 13:13). We hope differently. We believe differently. We love differently. So what better time of year to display that hope, faith, and love than during the holidays? I’m not suggesting that shouldn’t be our disposition all year (it should!); but what a great reminder the holiday season offers us to practice what we believe.

Love wins the day and is the emphasis of 1 Corinthians 13:13. As I consider my assignment this month to blog on faith and “Thanksliving,” I’m reminded that my thankfulness is fully wrapped up in the One in whom I entrust my salvation, Jesus Christ. Instead of tuning in to WII FM, I can now tune into WGHD FM (What God Has Done For Me). Ok, I’m done with the call letters. But seriously, Thanksgiving (the holiday) is typically seen as a “day” to reflect and give thanks for all we have and to remember what God has done for us in His Son Jesus. When I think of Thanksliving, it causes me to go deeper and to think outside myself: to think of others as well. Yes, I’m thankful for what God has done for me in Christ; but let’s remember the disposition that God Himself took when He sent His Son into the World. Jesus came as a servant. He came into a world of sinners who despised Him, persecuted Him, and ultimately killed Him for doing no wrong. He came to serve them and to save them. WOW!

Because we have put our faith in Him and in what He did on our behalf, we are called to a life of Thanksliving to display our hope, faith, and love to a world that may despise us and persecute us, as some are martyred even now. But we should always be thankful and proclaim, like Asaph and the Levites, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting. Then say, ‘Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us and deliver us from the nations, to give thanks to Your holy name, and glory in Your praise.’ Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting” (1 Chronicles 16:34-36).