I Believe in You

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was the way they believed in me.  From their vantage point, there was nothing I couldn’t do if I only worked hard enough.  Their confidence often gave me the courage to keep going when I wanted to give up.  Whether it was making the Varsity soccer team or doing well on a math test, I knew my parents believed in me and that spurred me on to success.

Sometimes all we need in life is someone to believe in us.  Someone to say, “You’ve got this.  Keep going!”  A friend or family member to call us out to be the best version of ourselves and keep believing in us when we’ve stopped believing in ourselves.

You are exactly who God intended you to be.  He who makes no mistakes gave you precisely the right mix of natural abilities, personality, and spiritual gifts.  You are His workmanship, and He has created you perfectly and particularly to accomplish specific tasks in this world (Eph. 2:10).

Over and over again in the Bible, God calls out the screw-ups and least of these and says He is trusting them to carry out His mission in the world.

“Gideon, I know you’re from the weakest tribe of Israel, but I’m going to use you to free my people from oppression.” (Judges 6)

Ruth, I know you’re an outsider, but I’m going to use you to save your family and be a part of the lineage of the Messiah.”

“Peter, I know you’re a hot-headed fisherman, but I’m going to use you to build my church.”  (Matthew 16:18)

I struggle with believing in myself.  Every day I seem to find a new insecurity or a new reason to doubt myself.  It helps me tremendously to read these stories in the Bible and be reminded of how God uses imperfect people to perfectly accomplish His mission in the world.  On good days I can move past my insecurities and believe that God is bigger than my mistakes.  On good days I trust that He will use me and all my flaws to help push back the darkness in this world.  After all, the greatness of the gospel shines the brightest through the cracks in my life (2 Corinthians 4:7).

But on some days, I need more than that.  On some days, my insecurities are crippling.  I need a friend to tell me they believe in me, and remind me that God believes in me too.  I need someone who will call out the good in me, and remind me of who God made me to be.

One of the greatest gifts you can offer someone is to speak the truth of who God has made them to be.  Offer the gift of believing in them, and remind them that God believes in them too.  Is there someone in your life you can encourage today by telling them you believe in who God made them to be?  Be specific, and call out their strengths.  Tell them because you see this specific character trait in them, you know they have what it takes.  Remind them that they are not alone, and that God will provide the strength that they need.

And if you’re on the other end of the equation and need someone to believe in you, then know that I believe in you.  I believe in the potential God has given you, and that you can and will do even greater things than you could ever imagine if you will just keep trusting God.  And, more importantly, know that God believes in you too.

I believe in you

 

 

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Finding What I’m Made For

For a few months while I was in college, my friends and I were engaged in a full scale (yet friendly) prank war.  It was guys versus girls in a game of who could out-do who, and it escalated to a point where, to preserve our friendships, we actually drafted and signed a “Prank War Manifesto” to make sure we didn’t go too far.

One of the girls had this 3 foot tall wooden fork and spoon set that hung on the wall in her kitchen, and the guys managed to smuggle them out of the house one night.  To get even, the girls rallied a few days later and went over to the guys’ house when we knew they would all be in class.  We shimmied in through the bathroom window and ransacked their kitchen, making out with all of their silverware—even grabbing the dirty ones from the sink and dishwasher—to hold as ransom until the other items were returned.  For a day or two the guys got by eating their cereal with large serving spoons before they finally agreed to make the trade.

These prank war episodes were punctuated by midterms, football games, camping trips, and coffee addictions.  But in the midst of all of the fun and frivolity of life at Oregon State, we also were trying to sort out what exactly it was we wanted our lives to be about.  We had made our Prank War Manifesto, but the guidelines of how we would live the rest of our life seemed a bit murky at times.

Even now as I launch into my thirties, I sometimes feel like I could use a clear manifesto on just what exactly I’m supposed to be pursuing with my life.

As I make decisions about how I use my time, what habits and patterns I establish, the people I surround myself with, and the education and careers I pursue, do I ever pause long enough to ask what it is I’m hoping to accomplish when all is said and done?

Life can be about a lot of things.  At the end of the day, when I look back, I want to know that my life, my days, and my decisions were being used for the right things.

One of the verses I keep coming back to is Micah 6:8:

“He has shown you what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Act Justly.

Love Mercy.

Walk Humbly.

3 things.  I can try and do those three things.  I think the world would be a little bit better if all of us learned how to do these three things a little bit better together.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your life?  What do you need to say no to, in order to be able to say yes to the right things?

Micah 6 8

What Love Looks Like: Reflections from the Garden of Gethsemane

Olive Tree

About a year ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel.  Walking the land where the history of the people of God played out provided unique insights and a new and deeper understanding of the Bible.

Instead of reading a story, I could picture it playing out in front of me.  Static interchanges became dynamic monologues with dramatic backdrops.  Brief geographic references became touch-points for visualizing a rich landscape and providing contextual clues to help better understand the story.

Visiting the Garden of Gethsemane, east of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, was one such location.   My time spent wandering through the olive groves there forever changed how I will understand the events that took place the night Jesus was arrested.

Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem

What I never realized before was that the Garden of Gethsemane was one of the best locations from which you could look out over the city of Jerusalem.  Specifically, it overlooked the temple on the east side of the city.  This means that as Jesus is praying, agonizing over his imminent suffering, committing to the Father to carry through the plans to give his life in exchange for rebellious humanity, Jesus is looking out over the city that had rejected him.

How could someone look out over the city that had rejected him, and then still choose to walk back down that hill, through the gate, and willingly offer his life as a sacrifice?

This is a strange kind of love, a love that feels almost foreign in its fierceness.

To help you get the full picture, let me set the scene for you.  You might already be familiar with the story.  Each of the gospel writers describes it with slight variants, but together they clearly communicate that Jesus went to a garden called Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” (Matthew 26:36)

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. (Luke 22:39)

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley.  On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it. (John 18:1)

What I never realized, until visiting there myself, was just how close Gethsemane is to the city of Jerusalem.  From the west slope of the Mount of Olives where the garden is located, to the east wall of the Old city of Jerusalem, it is less than a quarter of a mile.

If you’re a visual person, you’ll see the Mount of Olives on the far right side of this map, directly across from the east wall of the city where the temple was located.

From the Bibleworks Moody Bible Atlas
From the Bibleworks Moody Bible Atlas

And here’s the view from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city of Jerusalem.  (You’ll see the modern day Dome of the Rock in the place where the temple would have been during Jesus’ day).

Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem

This is the view Jesus looked out upon as he prayed in the garden that night.  His vision was filled with the city that had rejected him; the city that would put him to death the next day.  With this picture in mind, read Matthew’s account of Jesus’ time in Gethsemane:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.

Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.  Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.  Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”  (Matthew 26:36-46 NIV)

In Luke’s account, we learn that Jesus prayed so earnestly and in such anguish that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 23:44).


When touring Israel, it’s best to hold expectations loosely.  Some sites will be completely different than what you had expected.  Others you’ll expect to have a certain emotional response, but due to a packed schedule, exhaustion, or a host of other factors that go with international travel, you won’t “feel” what you thought you would feel.

In our two week whirlwind trip that saw over 40 different biblical sites, our time in the Garden of Gethsemane came at the end of the trip.  In contrast to so many other locations that bear the trappings of being overrun by the tourism industry, the garden was simple.  An olive grove on the side of the hill, and no one but our group in sight.

I wandered through the olive grove, reflecting on Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion.  I had expected to be weepy, overcome with the feelings of sorrow and betrayal that transpired in this place. Instead, as I pondered what it must have been like for Jesus to prepare himself for the inevitable, I felt a sense of resolve.

Looking out over the city that had rejected Him, knowing fully that it would cost His very life, Jesus still chose to walk down that hill, across the valley, and re-enter Jerusalem.

I pictured Jesus standing in the garden.  Set jaw.  Lips pressed firmly together.  Eyes intently overlooking the city.  Hands clenched tightly.  Shoulders square.  Spine straight.  Feet firmly planted.  Determination furrowing his brow.

He had a mission to accomplish.  And nothing could stop him from seeing it through.

The soldiers came, one of his closest friends betrayed him with a kiss, and Jesus set his feet towards Jerusalem.  He would give his life even for his enemies, because that’s what love does.

Friends, Jesus chose you.  Jesus chose you even though it cost Him His life. 

Jesus’ love for you is not a fleeting feeling that changes based on circumstances.  Jesus’ love for you is a steady resolve, a determination that leads to self-sacrifices, a choice to love you and keep moving towards you even when you are pushing him away.

I doubt that in that moment in the garden, Jesus had a whole lot of warm fuzzy feelings about what he was about to do.  Rather, he knew what love required.  He chose making a way for relationship with you over personal comfort.  He chose death and suffering because it meant reconciliation.

This love that Jesus shows us in that moment is a strong, fierce love.  It is a love that makes me feel safe, and also scared at the same time.

I feel safe because I know nothing I do will ever change how much Jesus loves me.  If his love led him to walk back into Jerusalem and give his life for his enemies, then surely my moments of sin, selfishness, and stupidity won’t scare him away.  I feel safe because I feel secure in his love, and I trust that he won’t abandon me.

I feel scared because I think we’re called to love how Jesus loved, and that terrifies me.  If his love led him to endure such pain on behalf of the people he loves, what will be asked of me as I try to love people like Jesus loved people?  I feel scared, terrified even, because of what it might cost to love people this way.

I remember specifically at the time I was on this trip, I had one friend who was particularly hard for me to love.  I wanted to be done, and I was tired of being hurt.  The more I moved toward this person and tried to help, the more vehemently I was pushed away.

And yet as I sat in that garden, contemplating what Jesus had done, I realized that love doesn’t care about the cost.  Love is a choice to put someone else’s good before your own.  Love is a resolve to pursue what’s best for another person, even if it demands sacrifice.

Love is not a feeling; love is a choice.

There will always be people I don’t want to love.  There will always be things I don’t want to do.  There will always be pains I would rather avoid and sacrifices I would rather not make.

But this is not the way of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t die for me so that I could spend the rest of my life avoiding hard and painful things.  Jesus didn’t walk down that hill, back into Jerusalem, and hang on a cross so that I could hide in safety and waste my life.

We inhabit a very dark, very hurting world.  People are hurting.  Everywhere.  Not just in other countries, but in your family, in your workplace, in your neighborhood, and in your social circles.

Jesus gave his life so that humanity could once again find hope and healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation to God.

Jesus gave his life so that we could live for him.  So that we could take this new life we’ve found in him, and share it with others.  So that we could love the people around us that are hurting.  Even if it hurts, even if it takes a sacrifice, we’re called to love those around us.

Jesus died for you so that you could live for him.  

Who in your life is God asking you to love today?  

Who in your life have you avoided reaching out to because you know it might be hard?  

How can you take comfort from the example of Jesus and trust Him to provide what you need as you go out to love this world that Jesus died for?

Sitting in the grove of olive trees on the Mount of Olives, with a view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in the background.
Sitting in the grove of olive trees on the Mount of Olives, with a view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount in the background.
The grove of Olive trees on the Mount of Olives.
The grove of Olive trees on the Mount of Olives.
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem
Taken from the Mount of Olives, overlooking the East Gate of Jerusalem
Jerusalem's East Gate
Jerusalem’s East Gate

Donkeys + Palm Branches: What’s the deal with Palm Sunday?

Birthdays and bridal showers.  Work schedule and working out.  Fundraisers and friends.  Trips and to-do lists.

I just turned 32, and when people ask me if I feel any different, I respond, “I feel tired.  I think feeling 32 feels like being tired.”

In the midst of this, because I work at a church and Easter is kind of a big deal for us, I’ve spent countless hours thinking about the significance of Easter and the events leading up to it.

In doing so, I realized I’ve never given much thought to Palm Sunday.  At best, it served as a week’s notice that Easter would be here soon, cueing a rush to get those Easter eggs dyed and stock up on my annual Cadbury fix, because the real show would be coming soon.  It was the advance warning:  If you are singing hosanna and there’s talk of palm branches, make sure you’ve got your Easter plans locked in because you’ve only got a week left.

Poor Palm Sunday.  You’re the opening act.  No one actually buys tickets to see you.

And yet this year, perhaps for the first time in my life, I’m excited to celebrate Palm Sunday.  Why?

Palm Sunday is one big party about how life is better when Jesus is in charge.

Here’s a  little more of what I’ve learned about Palm Sunday, and why you might want to be excited about what it points too as well!

PASSOVER

The original Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem the Sunday before his eventual crucifixion, was taking place at the end of Passover.  Passover week commemorated God’s deliverance of the Israelites out of the clutches of the Egyptians. It was a joyous celebration, a time when people from all over Israel would converge in Jerusalem to remember and celebrate what God had done.  Under the current Roman occupation, hopes for a future deliverance would be running high.

Psalm 118 was on the lips of everyone at the time.  It was a song that looked forward to the Messiah, the descendant of David who would reclaim the throne and restore Israel.  All week, people were shouting:

LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.

The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.

(Psalm 118:25-27, NIV)

HOSANNA

One of the Hebrew words from Psalm 118:25 looks like this:

הוֹשִׁ֘יעָ֥ה

 If you squint just right, or if you know your Hebrew alphabet, this spells hosanna

It’s from the Hebrew verb, yasha, to save, deliver, give victory, or help.  In other words, “Lord, save us!”

Expectantly hoping for the Messiah, the one who would deliver them, the Israelites looked forward to the day when God’s rightful king would once more ascend the throne.  He would lead his people to victory, and he would also lead them back to true worship of Yahweh.

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNT), on the origin of the word “hosanna,” elaborates on the significant role of Psalm 118:

“The Psalm is suited for a description of the Davidic king, in his role as the Melchizedek priest, leading his people in procession to Yahweh’s house.  In this context the cry, ‘O, Save’ would indicate an imploring cry to Yahweh to bring to reality that which the liturgy has depicted.  Judaism later followed out this thought by making the great cry focus on the expectation of the messianic king.”

DONKEYS AND PALM BRANCHES

Psalm 118:27 describes how the Messiah’s procession would be celebrated with boughs (palm branches) in hand.

In addition to the messianic hopes of Psalm 118, another key passage the Israelites would have fresh in their minds as they look for their deliverer is Zechariah 9:9 (NIV):

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The NIDNT continues to expound on the significance of “hosanna” as its use continued in 1st century Judaism:

“By NT times, Hosanna had become a full ‘cultic cry’…. The sight of Jesus fulfilling the kingly prophecy of Zech. 9:9, coupled with the strewing and waving of branches reminiscent of the ceremonial fronds which had come to characterize the Feast of Tabernacles, prompted the shout appropriate to that occasion and, all unwittingly, they greeted the true David with the Davidic welcome.”

Passover, hosanna, donkeys and palm branches

Seriously, who comes up with this stuff?  Now that you have some historical context, read the account from Matthew about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem:

Matthew 21:1-9 (NIV)

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.

A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 WHY PALM SUNDAY MATTERS TODAY

The people of Israel are beat up, broken, oppressed, marginalized, and longing for the days when God’s favor was with them.  They are holding out hope for this promised Messiah figure, the one who would once again establish God’s rule and reign.

 They know that life is always better when it is lived under the leadership and guidance of the rightful king.

 When God’s anointed is on the throne, all is as it should be.

That’s what people are hoping for that first Palm Sunday. And maybe that’s a little bit of what you and I need today.


Even at its best, this life on earth carries with it a level of brutality and brokenness.  I would say there are a lot of good things in my life right now.  But even with all those good things, I’m so aware of my own sin and brokenness, and the profound brutality and brokenness of the world around me.

Even at its best, this life is far from perfect.  And this world will never BE perfect until Jesus comes again and once more humanity is living fully under the rule and reign of the rightful King.

Palm Sunday is about the hope that God will make, and indeed is making, all things right.

Life is always better when it is lived under the leadership and guidance of the rightful king.

Humankind was made to live in a proper relationship with our Creator—a relationship where His divine design for life and human flourishing is realized.  Humanity is at its best when it is submitted to the way God designed life to be lived, reconciled to God as well as to each other.

The first Palm Sunday inaugurated a beautiful opening act, setting the stage for Jesus to conquer the power of sin and death through his death and resurrection.  The rightful king reclaimed his people, his territory.  Since that first triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the story of God taking back the hearts of his people from the clutches of the enemy continues to unfold.  The rule and reign of Christ was undeniably established that week, but it is not yet fully here.

This Jesus life is here, now, in glimpses.  Sin no longer has mastery over us.  Death no longer has the final say.  Hope, joy, love, and peace are abundantly available as we walk through life with God.

There are moments, glimpses, when we see just how breathtakingly beautiful life with God was meant to be.  But then we come crashing back to this earth, and the brutal reality of living in a broken world hits us anew.

Life is always better when it is lived under the leadership and guidance of the rightful king.  As we encounter the places in this world where the ways of God are not recognized or lived out, it serves as a brutal reminder of just how broken this world still is.

Can you imagine what it will be like when there’s no more glimpses, and we are blinded by the beauty that is fully revealed?

Can you imagine what it’s like when, for the first time since the garden, humanity is living fully under the rule and reign of God and sin and brokenness are nowhere to be found?

Palm Sunday is a foreshadowing of what the real triumphal entry will be like.  Jesus came once to Jerusalem and initiated a new way for God’s people to be reconciled, a new way to live, a new way for the kingdom of God to start pushing back the darkness in this world.

But another Palm Sunday is coming, and on that day all the wrongs of this world will finally be made right.

The rightful king will be on the throne, and all will be as it should be.

The King of Kings will be the ONLY King, and the ways of God will rule once more on earth.


For the first time in my life this week, I genuinely prayed for Jesus to come back.

I love my life, and yes, there are definitely still a lot of things I’m hoping to experience and see before my time here on earth is done.  But honestly, I’m also ready to be done with the brokenness.  I’m ready to be done with sin.  I’m ready to not have my heart broken as I hear about the brutal and harsh realities taking place around the world.

God, save us.

Hosanna, God save us!

This world will never fully be right until YOU are once again fully in charge. 


That, dear friends, is a little bit more of what I think Palm Sunday is supposed to be about.  I hope you’ll join with me in celebrating this Sunday.  Let’s celebrate that Jesus is the rightful king, and rejoice in the victory He has already accomplished over sin and death.  But let’s also look forward to the day when the final Palm Sunday arrives!

Together again: The miracle in a manger

For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

From the earliest moments of human history when we rebelled against our Creator, we were separated.  Humanity and divinity were torn apart, humanity choosing to go our own way.  Life became striving and toil as we lived under this curse of separation from the One we were made to be with.

Only God could bridge this gap, unseparate that which was separated, save the human race He had so lovingly created.

We had to wait for God.

Wait for a Savior.

Wait for the one who would reconcile humanity back to God.

Wait for God to make a way to bring humanity and divinity back together again.

And then one night, the perfect solution was born.

Two natures—divine and human—came together in one perfect baby.

One perfect baby who would grow up to be a man who would save all people.  God with us.  Human and divine together again, lying in a manger in Bethlehem.  That which had been separated, humanity from divinity, came together perfectly united in a baby who would grow up to save all of humanity.

Glory to God in the highest.

God has come to that which was his own.

Glory to God in the highest.

Humanity has been reunited with our Creator.

Glory to God in the highest.

God has made a way.

And on earth peace among men.

In this life we now live, reunited and reconciled to God, we can finally find peace.

God is reconciling all things.  God is redeeming all things.

No more striving.  No more earning.  No more impressing.

God has come down.  We don’t have to climb up.

Cease striving.

Be at peace.

God is with you.

For today in the city of David there has (1)

Something You Can Build A Life On

In the swirling chaos of life, the advertisements competing for our attention, the online barrage of news and opinions (that often contradict each other), the relational conflict, the budgeting and financial pressure of making ends meet, the crises all around the world, and the unrest we hear about every day in the news, in all of this thing we call life, aren’t we all just looking for something we can rely on?

What is steady?  What can we trust?  What can we anchor ourselves to and find shelter through the rocky storms of life?

It’s a basic question every human has to answer.  What can I trust?  What foundation can I build my life on?  What can I know for sure?

We need a foundation to build our life on.  We need something we can trust.  We can’t build any sort of structure, any sort of life, if there is not a firm foundation to build upon.

This need for something we can trust, something we can build our lives on, is not new to the 21st century.  When the apostle John wrote a letter to first-century followers of Jesus, he addressed some of these same basic questions.

As he writes to these early followers of Jesus, he is writing to communities of believers who have been persecuted because of their faith.  The Jewish religious leaders of the day were opposing those who claimed that Jesus was God, and the ruling political power of the day, Rome, also sought out and persecuted the followers of Jesus.  It is to these people, the harassed and persecuted, those who have everything to lose by their allegiance to the cause of Christ, that John writes to give them assurance that they can, indeed, continue to build their life upon their faith in Jesus.  John assures these early Christians:

 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).

If you have Jesus, you have life.  If you know Jesus, you can have confidence that you know God.  If you don’t know Jesus, if you don’t have a relationship where you have trusted Christ and chosen to make Him the foundation you build your life upon, then you don’t have this life with God that is accessible only through Jesus.

Can it really be that simple?  Can we strip away the noise and complication and confusion and find this rock-hard truth that there is, indeed, an opportunity presented to us to live reconciled to God, to live a life with God rather than struggling against God, and to have confidence that this life will continue with God into eternity?

John writes to assure his readers, YES!  Yes, it really is this simple!  Yes, you can have confidence in your relationship with God!  Yes, this is something you can build your life upon!

Our confidence is not based in ourselves.  Our confidence is based on the complete work of Christ, and that if Jesus really is who He said He was, if He really did conquer the grave and rise from the dead, then we, too, can find a new kind of life in Him.  A kind of life that not even death can stop.  A kind of life that breathes and thrives and loves and overcomes.  This is the life offered to us in Christ.

The child-parent relationship is one that can never be broken.  Your mom and dad will always be your mom and dad.  No matter the status of the relationship, you will always be their biological son or daughter.  Nothing you do can ever change that connection!  This is one thing in life you can know for sure.

In the same way you can know that your mother is your mother, you can know that your Savior really IS your Savior.  Jesus really has come to offer us a new kind of life, to save us from the ways of this world and the consequences of our sin and show us a new way to live.

If you have come to believe that Jesus is God, and trust that He really did conquer death and rise from the dead, and you recognize that His death on the cross paid the penalty you could never pay for the wrong things you have done in your life, you can have confidence that you really do, through Jesus, have a new and lasting relationship with God.  A relationship that will last through eternity.

That sounds like a solid foundation you can build a life upon.

This reconciliation to God is just the beginning, and we have a whole life ahead of us where we learn how to live this new kind of life, to understand what the ways of God are, to find what it means to trust God and live our lives for Him, and to learn the patterns of walking through life with God.  But it starts with being reconciled to God through Jesus.

You CAN have confidence that you have a relationship with God.  This gives you a foundation that you can build a life upon.

Over the past year, I’ve been developing a curriculum called Following Jesus: Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.  The first lesson is what I’ve just been writing about:  Finding Confidence in Your Relationship With Jesus.  The book includes 9 studies total that look at what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and I’m excited to tell you that you can now check out this resource for yourself!  All 9 lessons are available as a PDF download here.  There are student copies and leader copies, and I’d encourage you to grab a friend and go through these together.  If you live locally in Orange County, you can also pick up a hard-copy at the bookstore at my church (Calvary Church of Santa Ana).

Following-Jesus-Photo

I would also love you to join me as I spend the next few Wednesday nights going through this at my church.  We’ll be meeting Wednesday nights at 7 pm and walking through and discussing these foundational lessons about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Faith, Doubt, and My First Car Accident

I can still vividly recall my first car accident.  Especially the part where I totaled my mom’s car.

I was 17, driving my mom’s forest green Dodge Neon to soccer practice.  I had just pulled up to a stop sign in the neighborhood by my high school, waiting and watching the cross traffic, ready to turn left and hoping to not be late to practice.  I saw the oncoming car slow down to make a right turn onto the street I was waiting on, and then I saw that same car lose control, skid straight towards me, and slam into the front of my mom’s car (thankfully no one was hurt—but the damage to the car was extensive enough to declare it totaled.  Yep, that’s right.  I totaled a car by sitting at a stop sign.  What did YOU do when you were a teenage driver?).

After the dust settled and I was back on my way to practice, my hands shook as they gripped the steering wheel.  For the next few weeks, whenever I sat at a stop sign, I eyed every car driving by as a potential wrecking ball bound for impact.

Before that accident, I had never questioned the safety of sitting at a stop sign.  It took a few weeks of safe driving experiences to finally move out of that stage when I suspected any oncoming vehicle of devious means, but eventually life as a teenage driver went back to as safe as could be expected.

It’s been 14 years since that accident.  Thankfully since then my driving safety has suffered little more than two slight accidents where I was rear ended.  Even with those, I experienced some minor PTSD for the next few weeks of irrationally bracing myself when I slowed down, expecting the car behind me to barrel into my bumper.

As I think about life, specifically in regards to faith and doubt, it helps me to think about how I react to car accidents.

I’m going through life thinking everything is fine and then – WHAM – something happens that completely knocks me off base.  Sometimes it is something unexpected, or sometimes it is something expected that fails to deliver and becomes a major disappointment.  Either way, my regular pattern of life gets hammered by a brutal reality check.

Over the course of my life I’ve driven countless hours in a car, and I almost never suffer anxiety about getting rear ended.  In my day-to-day experience of the world, drivers stop when they are supposed to stop.  It’s not until that regular pattern gets disrupted and I have a reason to question my experience, based on this new data of actually getting rear ended, that I’ll experience some sweaty palms and heart palpitations when I get behind the wheel for the next week or so.  But then, after a few weeks of reassuring normalcy that cars indeed will not crash into me on a regular basis, my anxiety subsides and I go back to my normal driving routine.

Let’s think about this now in the context of faith and doubt.  We all have the things in life that we place our faith in.  By the way, I like to define faith as trust in what we have reason to believe is true.  Based on our understanding and experience of the world and this life as we know it, we choose to place our trust and order our lives according to that which we believe to be true.  Faith, I think, is more of a choice about how to order our lives, what we choose to acknowledge as trustworthy, and how we make decisions in line with what we believe, and less of a feeling.

What I’ve observed in my own experience is that I’ll be going through life as usual, with no reason to question or doubt the things I’ve placed my faith in.  Then — WHAM! — the rug gets pulled out from under me.  Tragedy strikes, hopes are crushed, life hasn’t turned out how I thought it would, someone I trust hurts me, or some other life experience happens that makes me question if my way of thinking about the world, and how I’ve trusted certain things to be true, can really be trusted after all.

The question we’re faced with in these moments, as doubt creeps in and we wonder if we can really continue trusting those things we have set our faith in, is how much we let these unexpected moments define our experience of life.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m a much more fickle person than you.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that if we’re honest with what we really think, we all have moments of serious doubt at times.

What, then, are we to make of the tension that exists between faith and doubt?

While I think there is much to be unpacked in that question, I want to focus on one aspect of the relationship between faith and doubt that I’ve been thinking about more lately.  And it’s this:

Doubt is seasonal.

I think it is normal, natural, and actually healthy for our faith to go through seasons of doubt.

For faith to remain vibrant, and for us to not settle into ruts and do things simply for the sake of doing things, we have to constantly remember why we chose to orient our life and follow certain paths to begin with.  Seasons of doubt make us question what we really believe, and out of that is a healthy process of seeking the truth and either reaffirming that which we previously believed in with a renewed faith, or refining our faith and shedding false belief that hindered us from being growing people.

When I was driving during the weeks following a car accident, I questioned the safety of the drivers around me.  Generally speaking, I have faith in the rules of the road, and faith that the other drivers on the road will be following the same set of rules as I am.  I have faith when I’m driving down the freeway that the car next to me will stay in his lane and not drift into mine.  I have faith that cars will stop at red lights and go at green lights.  I have faith that cars will drive on the right side of the road.  We literally could not function as a society and drive our individual vehicles to and from work, soccer practice, dinner parties, and the grocery store if we did not all have faith that other drivers were following the same set of driving rules.   So it’s no wonder that when someone breaks one of the rules, resulting in an accident, that our faith in the safety of driving is shaken.  We panic.  We reevaluate how safe driving really is.  We question if we can trust what we previously trusted.  We wonder if there’s something we could have done differently to prevent the situation.

Maybe my response to these feelings of doubt is to look into buying a safer car.  Maybe I realize I’m not as aware of the other cars around me as I should be.  Maybe I realize my own guilt of being a distracted driver and resolve to change that.  Whatever my response, this disruption of my normal assumed safety is a good cause for self-examination and re-evaluation of what I’ve previously trusted.

However, just because I’ve been in an accident, it doesn’t mean I give up driving all together.  It reminds me that there really are no guarantees of safety in this world and that at any moment things can come crashing in and disrupt my day-to-day routine and experience of life.

Just because my faith has been shaken, just because I’m experiencing doubt, just because I’m questioning God, it doesn’t mean I give up my faith all together.  It reminds me that I live in a very fallen, very broken, very messy world and there really are no guarantees of safety.  It reminds me that at any moment things can completely fall apart, and there literally is nothing I can do to prevent it.

But just because I have doubts, it doesn’t mean I throw away my faith all together.

I’ve found over and over again that in these seasons of doubt, if I run away from God and stop trusting Him altogether, if I run away from my community of faith, I wind up running away from the very answers I’m looking for.

I’m not saying faith should be blind.  I’m not saying that we should just ignore hard questions and pretend everything is ok.  I’m actually a huge advocate of intellectual honesty in our faith.  I’m saying we should give God the benefit of the doubt in these situations and rather than running away, we should lean in even more.

Yes, ask hard questions.  Yes, be honest about how you’re feeling.  But do so as you press into God.  So the rug got pulled out from under you?  Do you think you’ll find the answers you’re looking for apart from God?

In my own experience, I’ve found that even though it’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings, entering into my doubt and not running from my fears has helped bring resolution sooner and grown my faith in significant ways.  Sometimes it hurts like hell, and often things get worse before they get better, but running away from my doubts and questions has never helped at all.

This is one of those sticky, messy areas of faith.  It’s the real life, dirty, gritty, blood-sweat-and-tears part of faith.  The part where I’m very aware of my humanity.  The part where I do a lot of yelling and cussing and crying in my conversations with God.  But it’s also the part where the dark corners of my heart, the places where the hope and love of the gospel haven’t penetrated to yet, get brought to the table and some real breakthroughs happen.  It’s where the most real growth and change happen.

I wish I had more answers.  I wish I could tell you that bad things won’t happen.  But the truth is, sometimes life can really screw with you.  Hard things happen, and we are left with lots of questions.  The point of all this is to say that when you find yourself with those hard questions, that you can take them to God and see what He does with them.  Don’t hide the questions.  Don’t feel guilty about asking them.

I wish I could tell you I know the answers to some of those hard questions.  I wish you had answers for some of mine.  All I know is that every time I hit one of these seasons, God is right there in the thick of it with me.  And the more I’ve learned to lean INTO him rather that away from him, it’s turned out a little bit better.

Remember that it’s a season.  Eventually, after an accident, you get back to a place where you can be on the road without being driven by fear.  Eventually, after a crisis, your faith will stop expecting the worst to happen.  I know that if you’re in a crisis of faith right now, it might not feel like it.  That’s ok.  This is where community is such a beautiful thing because where your faith is weak I can lend you some of mine.

Lean into God.  Lean into your community of faith.  Bring your questions, your heart, your honest self to the table.  Don’t let your fear drive you.  Lean in.  I know you can.