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
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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!

My journey to Thailand: Where it all got started

It's a dangerous business,

I wanted to catch you all up on something exciting that has been taking shape in my life in the last three months or so.  It’s something that actually has its roots close to 9 years ago, and causes me to continually be amazed at how perfectly God is weaving this story of my life.

9 years ago I was in the midst of student teaching high school English in a small farming community in Oregon known for two things: it’s Future Farmers of America program, and it’s drug use.  I remember 3 things very distinctly from that time in my life:

  1. Trying to convince high school freshmen — who wanted nothing more than to either do drugs or  become farmers — to try and care about the literary nuances of Romeo + Juliet was, by far, one of the most difficult tasks I had ever faced.
  2. Although I was in my fifth year of college, I was still frequently mistaken for a high school student.
  3. Pursuing a career as a high school teacher was not what I wanted to do with my life.

A few months into the experience, as much as I loved my students and the opportunity to help shape young minds, I knew I would be on a fast track to burn out if I stayed in that career.  But not being one to quit, and not knowing what other viable options would be available to me with degrees in English and Philosophy, I decided to stick out the year.

With an open road in front of me, and no agenda of my own to occupy thoughts, I was open to just about anything.

During those key, formative years at university, I was connected with Cru (we still called it Campus Crusade for Christ back then).  This on-campus ministry shaped my understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus in several crucial ways, not least of which was their emphasis on missions: being willing to go wherever and do whatever in order to be able to share the good news that a new kind of life can be found in Jesus Christ.

I knew that an English teaching degree was an open door into any country.  I could go and teach English overseas for 2 years with a missions organization, get my travel and adventure fix, hopefully get to talk a little bit about Jesus, and in the meantime figure out what other than teaching that I wanted to pursue.

(In reality, I probably didn’t think much past the two year commitment.  I was 22.  Seriously.  How do 22 year olds make such big life decisions?)

With this new direction of teaching English overseas and going to live missionally in a new country, I began to think about a destination.  I’d heard from other people who went into missions that they just knew what country they were drawn to.  I didn’t have any magic cloud shapes appear to guide me, but I did start to notice that one country more than any other grabbed my heart and made it beat a little bit faster when I thought about it.

Thailand.

As a philosophy major, I studied several different religions and had been intrigued by some of the classes I’d taken about Buddhism.  Having already spent a considerable amount of time studying the philosophical worldview and religious beliefs of Buddhism, I wanted to go to a country where I could have conversations and interact with people who were on this path.  As a 95% Buddhist nation, Thailand was the obvious choice.

In January, I found a missions organization that wanted to send me to teach English overseas, and I started praying more about this new adventure.  April came around—2 months before graduation and the time to actually formalize my commitment.  With the novelty of planning a new adventure wearing off, I started thinking a little bit more about the situation.

During this time, someone asked me if I had ever thought about going to seminary.  I loved school (can you say triple major?), and loved studying the Bible, so going to school to study the Bible sounded like a dream come true.  What if, before I went off to be a missionary, I actually got some formal training in theology?

Needing to make a decision before graduation, I went for a hike with my friend Adena, one of the staff members from Cru and a trusted mentor.  We went to one of our favorite spots, Bald Hill, hiked up past the abandoned barn, and made our way the 2 miles or so up to the top of the hill that overlooked my college town of Corvallis.  Sitting on a bench facing west, watching the sunset behind the mountains, the conversation went something like this:

Me:  Remember how I was thinking of going to Thailand?  Well, what if I went to seminary first?

Adena: YES!  Absolutely that is so perfect for you.  You’ll never regret getting that training.  I think it’s what you should do.

Without fail, every conversation I had with family/friends/mentors went almost exactly the same.

Message received.  Thailand would have to wait.

So in August of 2006, I packed up my little Ford pick-up truck with everything I owned and moved to southern California and started at Talbot School of Theology.

Over the last 9 years, Thailand has lingered quietly in the back of my mind.  As I had other opportunities to travel, I could still tell my heart was pulled to Thailand.  But the timing and opportunity never seemed to work out.

But then a year ago, I started learning more about an organization that is on the ground in Thailand, helping rescue kids out of the sex trafficking industry, and bringing restoration and healing through the care they offer to these precious rescued kids.  Almost as soon as I heard about it, that little piece of my heart that was tied to Thailand so many years ago started stirring again, and I thought, maybe, just maybe, this is the time.

In December I hosted a jewelry party to help raise money for this organization, Destiny Rescue, where we could purchase jewelry made by survivors of human trafficking.  My friends came over and we learned about the work that they are doing, and the brutal and stark realities of human trafficking.  Then we prayed for Thailand.  We prayed for the kids that were rescued and still in recovery, and we prayed for the kids who hadn’t been rescued yet.  We prayed for this organization that is on the front lines of battling one of the greatest evils of our day.  And while we were praying, that little stirring in my heart about Thailand got a little more insistent.

At the time, I had actually been planning a trip to South Africa for the following summer, but it just recently had fallen through.  I was trying to figure out what to do instead with the vacation time and money I had budgeted for South Africa, and here I was sitting in my living room and praying for Thailand.  Again.

Afterwards, as we were cleaning up, I asked the representative from Destiny Rescue if they ever led trips to Thailand so people could see and be a part of the work that is happening.

And you know what?  They do.

And you know what else?

It’s finally time for me to go to Thailand.

Ok, well, not until June.  For 2 weeks.  But still…it’s exciting!

9 years ago God planted a dream in my heart.  He never forgot, because He was the one who put it there in the first place.  As for me, I can’t wait to see how this story continues to unfold.

You can learn more about Destiny Rescue at www.destinyrescue.org.

Discipleship: 7 Reasons Why It Matters

I love this article by Carey Nieuwhof about discipleship in the church today.  He has poignant insight about how the church has missed the mark on discipleship in many ways, and he provides thoughtful suggestions for moving forward.  I appreciate his diagnosis when he writes:

I agree that often Christians in the West are immature. I agree our walk doesn’t always match our talk.

But I also think the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.

The way many leaders approach maturity is to assume that knowledge produces maturity. Since when?

It’s wonderful that people understand what they believe, but knowledge in and of itself is not a hallmark of Christian maturity. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up. Love, by contrast, builds up. And some of the most biblically literate people in Jesus day got by-passed as disciples.

The goal is not to know, but to do something with what you know.

Discipleship is one of those things the church really can’t afford to ignore.  It can look really different depending on church culture and methodology, and be adapted and implemented in a variety of ways to suit our context….but we can’t afford to overlook it.

By the way, when I’m talking about discipleship, I’m talking about a lifelong process of FOLLOWING Jesus, INTEGRATING our faith into every area of our life, and MULTIPLYING our impact for the kingdom of God as we pass our faith on to others.

When we disciple people, we want to help them deepen their faith as a follower of Jesus in such a way that it translates to actively applying and integrating what they’ve learned into their day-to-day actions and decisions.  Eventually, as disciples draw closer to the heart of God and start to learn and care about the things that God cares about, they’ll have a natural outflow of wanting to serve, and begin investing their lives into others, thus multiplying the impact of discipleship.

The importance of discipleship will never go away.

Here are 7 reasons I think discipleship is essential:

1. A lost culture

The values of western culture continue to move further and further away from how God designed life to be lived.  Accepted attitudes about money, sex, power, and human dignity have never been further away from what God has communicated about his design for human flourishing.  The church has to respond not by telling people they are wrong (because they stopped listening a long time ago), but my showing how the life that Christ calls us to is actually a life worth living.  The answer is not to shout more loudly, but to live more authentically like Christ.

2. A generation gap

These statistics from the Barna group should make us take a long and hard look at what we’ve been doing, and what we need to change to reverse these trends:

  • 5 out of 10 in their fifties and older attend church weekly.
  • 4 out of 10 thirtysomethings
  • 3 out of 10 twentysomethings
  • 6 out of 10 spiritually active teens left the church in their twenties

(For more, check out this article and this article)

3. A loss of literacy

Biblical literacy is at an all-time low.  Fewer and fewer Christians are regularly reading the Bible, much less memorizing or meditating on what they are learning.  Christians used to be “people of the book” and now we are people of bite-size social media theology and feel good sayings.  (Read more here and here)

4. A promise of God’s presence

(Ready for some good news yet?)

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus promises to be with his followers in their disciple-making endeavors.  “Surely I am with you always.”  Sure, we know that God is always with us because of that whole omnipresent thing, but there is an assurance that we will get to partner with God in a unique way in the work of discipleship.  Not many other enterprises come with that guarantee.

5. A reminder of God’s goodness

When we walk through life with someone we are investing in, and as we continue to point them to Jesus, we have a front row seat to the work God is doing in our disciple’s life.  Few things in life will bring greater joy than the living reminder we see before us of God’s active presence and goodness.  You will most likely be changed just as much as the person you are discipling!

6. A fulfillment of God’s command

God has clearly left this task for his followers to do.

Do you really believe Jesus was serious when he said, “Go and make disciples”?

There’s not a lot of wiggle room here that I can see.  Less memorizing.  More doing.

7. An example to follow

Jesus bet his life’s work on discipleship.  Robert Coleman puts it this way:

“His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with the men whom the multitudes would follow.” (From The Master Plan of Evangelism)

Jesus discipled 12 men for 3 years, and entrusted them to carry on his his message after he left this earth.  Jesus didn’t build a structure, or create a 5-year program strategy.  He discipled.  He instilled his life into a few close followers and trusted that they would then pass it on to others, who would pass it on to others. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to follow this example.  We need to disciple.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Why do you think discipleship matters?

Have you ever discipled someone before?  How did you see God work?  What did you learn from that experience?Dallas Willard Discipleship Quote

To All My Single Ladies

single (1)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I know this can be a hard day for several of my friends not currently in relationships.  I know it can also be a hard day for people in relationships, as they face unrealistic pressure and expectations to have a perfect relationship on this day.  I don’t know where you’re at as you read this, or what season of life you find yourself in.  What I do know is that years ago a wise woman talked to me about appreciating each season of life for what it has to offer.  Since then, I’ve tried to live more fully into what each season of life has for me.  I’ve trained myself to look for the benefits of where I’m at in life, instead of wistfully wasting my life wishing for what I don’t have.

Life comes with all kinds of seasons.  When I was in grad school, I loved soaking up the opportunity to learn, to sit under leading scholars, to network with my peers, and to take one too many study breaks getting fresh baked cookies from the café on campus.  When I lived by myself for a year, I learned to appreciate the quiet and solitude, to value more intentional time with friends, to understand more about who I am as a person, and to find out just how clean I really do keep the kitchen when I don’t have others to blame for not doing the dishes.  When I moved back in with roommates, I learned to trade in my space and independence to make room for relationships, and learned to appreciate how great it is to walk through life so closely with a few godly women.

Some seasons come and go more quickly than others, while others seem to linger like an unwelcome guest.  In my life, the season of being single has stretched on for longer than anticipated.  And yet, rather than begrudgingly endure, the longer I stay single the more I’ve learned to love this season of my life.  I’ve learned to not only endure, but to embrace and genuinely love this stage of my life.  With each year that passes I’d like to think I’m learning to live more fully into what this season of life has to offer, and to live more fully into who God has called me to be.

What has helped me, more than anything, is to practice gratitude for all the things available to me in this season of my life, and to pursue the things I know I have time for in this season that I might not have time for when another season comes along.

I choose to think about what I have, and not what I don’t have.  I’ve spent the last year of my life choosing to be thankful for what this season of life can offer.  I can travel.  I can invest deeply in friendships.  I can be independent and plan my schedule without worrying about how it affects someone else.  I can invest in new activities.   I have a LOT of freedom.

I also think there will be other, new things to be thankful for in other seasons of life.  Things like having a partner who always has your back, and settling down and building a family.  Things like never having to find another roommate because you’ve found your forever roommate, and never having to do awkward first dates ever again.  Things like experiencing the joy of children.  I’m not saying one season is better than another.  I’m saying that I think what we are called to do is find the joy and gratitude that comes with each season and do our best to do each season well.

As I think back over the last year of my life, I see so many ways in which being single freed me up to pursue so many incredible opportunities.  If you’re wondering what could be so good about being single, here’s what it has looked like for me over the last year:

  • I picked up paddle boarding and now I love hitting the water and exploring local harbors.  I also started doing yoga and playing basketball once a week.
  • I crossed items off my bucket list, including a life changing trip to Israel where I got to walk where Jesus walked and see the history of the Bible come alive.  I ran a half-marathon, and took a road trip up the whole length of the California coast.
  • I asked a friend to help me build a table, and learned a few new skills in the process.  And now, one of my favorite things to do is have friends over for dinner and we sit around this table that I built and we share life around the table and pour into each other’s’ lives.
  • I went on a 3-day solitude trip and camped out at Lake Tahoe, letting my soul breathe deeply of the beauty of God’s creation.
  • I paid off all my debt, and learned how to make and follow a budget so that I’m able to give, save, and be financially independent and responsible.
  • I studied the Bible and read books that deepened my faith.
  • I started learning about and getting involved with a non-profit that fights against human trafficking, and I’m planning a trip for this summer to Thailand and Cambodia to learn firsthand about the work they are doing.  I’m training for my second half-marathon and planning to use it as an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for this same organization.
  • I practiced being quiet, listening to God, setting aside time for solitude, and seeking God’s guidance for my life.
  • I invested into my community and built deeper friendships.  I hosted dinner parties and practiced cooking.  I learned new recipes, and ate healthier.
  • I did go on a lot of dates, and continued to learn more about what I’m looking for in a man, and, maybe more importantly, more about what I’m not looking for in a man.
  • I took a lot of fun trips to places like Big Bear, San Diego, and Santa Barbara.  I explored new restaurants and discovered new coffee shops.
  • I pursued my dream of writing, and finished a 9-week discipleship curriculum that we are now using at my church.
  • I invested in younger women and poured into their lives, and tried to point them to what it looks like to follow Jesus.
  • I learned to walk more closely with Jesus.
  • I was able to be there for my friends and support them when they were going through hard seasons.
  • I learned more about who God made me to be, and what I want to do with my life.

I could probably keep going, but I’m sure you get the idea.  It’s not that I want to brag about how great my life is.  I really don’t, and my life is far from perfect.  There are plenty of hard things and painful moments and stupid and sinful and selfish choices I made in the midst of all these things.

I really want you to know

But I really want some of you to see that being single can be a beautiful thing.

I really think some of you need to hear that singleness is not a disease.

I really need some of you to know that there is nothing wrong with you.

You are a complete person.  You have a full life to live.  You have a God who loves you deeply and perfectly just as you are.

This season of being single comes with its fair share of challenges.  Believe me, I know them well.

But the beautiful thing about you is that you always have a choice.  You can choose what you will let your mind dwell on.  Yes, your heart will ache, and ache deeply, on some days.  You’ll wonder what God is doing, and question if you can really trust Him.  But you don’t have to let your emotions define you.  Let yourself feel those emotions when they come—don’t ignore or repress them—but don’t let those emotions control or define you.  You might feel alone, and you might feel hopeless.  Those are real emotions.  But there also deep and profound truths you can choose to hold on to and let your mind dwell on.

God is good.  He hasn’t forgotten about you.  You can trust Him.  You can choose to stop feeling sorry for yourself, and instead practice gratitude for what this season of life has to offer.  You can choose to pursue everything available to you in this season of life, because before you know it this season will be gone, and you’ll never get it back.

I’m choosing to use this season to live fully into everything God has for me in this stage of my life, and to become more and more who God created me to be.

Today, for my Valentine’s day, I’m going to have coffee with my mentor and catch up on life.  I’m going to go run and train for a half marathon.  I’m going to go shopping with one of my friends.  I’m going to meet another group of friends tonight and we’re going to have dinner and play games and enjoy life together.  I think it’s going to be a great day, and there’s nothing better or worse about my day, or yours, based on a relationship status.  Your day will be what you choose it to be.

As you go throughout your day, let me leave you with a few questions to reflect on:

What season of life are you in?

What are you thankful for in this season of your life?

How are you using this season to live more fully into who God created you to be?

What truths do you need to be reminded of to help you hold on to God during this season?

Here’s a few pictures from this past year.  As I look back at these memories, I’m pretty sure I would consider myself incredibly blessed to have another year like this!

Riding a camel in Israel
Riding a camel in Israel
A reunion of college friends for our friend Hillary's wedding
A reunion of college friends for our friend Hillary’s wedding
Summers in the park with my LifeGroup community
Summers in the park with my LifeGroup community
Building a table and hosting dinners for friends
Sunset paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe
Sunset paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe
A friend's birthday at Magic Mountain
A friend’s birthday at Magic Mountain
Summer surf days with these girls
Summer surf days with these girls
Santa Barbara and coffee with this sweet friend
Santa Barbara and coffee with this sweet friend
Running a half marathon with these inspiring women
Running a half marathon with these inspiring women
Roommate date to Big Bear
Roommate date to Big Bear

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.