Friday, December 28, 2012

Four words.

Several months ago I read through the book of Hebrews in the Bible and four words stuck out to me, as if they were jumbo sized and flashing in bright lights against the page. Here are those words.

"But we see Jesus ..."
- Hebrews 2:9 NIV

Since it's the end of the year I've been reflecting on these last 12 months and while there have been high points, honestly it seems that this year has been filled with mostly low points. Mostly discouragement. Mostly physical pain. Mostly loneliness. Mostly stress. Mostly disappointment in life. 

Sure, I could blame it on lots of things, like my parents' major health struggles, but nothing would really be a legitimate excuse. I was just beginning to get discouraged. Depressed, actually. My sleep cycle got messed up, I began eating a lot less than normal, I was withdrawing from people, and I've been sad a lot. I was beginning to be glad - but glad that this year would soon be over. It was a self-centered, woe-is-me, pity party kind of glad.

But then I remembered how on Christmas Eve I preached a message about Jesus lighting up our lives, and I started seeing Jesus lighting up different times of this year in my life. I thought about my brother and sister-in-law's wedding in June, how it was the first time in over a year that my whole family had been together, how much fun I had with my brothers, how happy my parents were, and how much I love my new sister and her family. I saw Jesus in all of that. 

I thought about how my parents celebrated their 40th anniversary just two days after the wedding. And how rare that is in a time when many marriages, even among Christ-followers, don't last beyond 10 years. I saw Jesus in that.

I remembered how the Lord has grown Del Sol Church, Northeast and East, and how so many people's lives have been changed. I thought about the couples who had been living together outside of marriage for years, and how they decided to start living a God-honoring life and put themselves in a place where God could bless them - by finally getting married. I thought about the people I've had the privilege of baptizing, and the light bulb moments people in my GrowGroup had experienced, and how people began to see that church can be exciting and fun. And I saw Jesus in all that.

I thought about the good times with friends: zombie parties, movie nights, Walking Dead viewing parties, eating together, laughing together, praying together - and I saw Jesus in those times. 

In many ways, as I look back on this year filled with so much heartache, loneliness, pain, stress, confusion, and difficulty, I see Jesus in all of it. And I've realized the old cliche "I'm too blessed to be depressed" is actually true.

So as you think back on your life this year: where do YOU see Jesus? You don't have to look hard - He's been there all along, in good times and bad. I would encourage you to invest some time before the new year and think back where Jesus has shown Himself to you this year. I guarantee it'll encourage you.

"But we see Jesus ..."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Light.

It's two weeks until Christmas Day. Christmas is more than just a day about family, love, giving, and kindness. Christmas is first and foremost about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior and King of the world. We don't have to fight a war over Christmas or try to "keep Christ in Christmas", because He never left.

Honestly, you can't even say Christmas without Christ. You can be intellectually inconsistent and call it a "holiday tree" and "holiday lights" instead of a Christmas tree, but that makes no sense because the only holiday which we decorate a tree for is Christmas - not Arbor Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, or Hanukkah. Those are great holidays, but Christmas trees are only for Christmas. As I said, Christmas will always be about Christ. 

How can I say that with such confidence? Why do I not need to fight a war over Christmas and boycott stores who don't use the word "Christmas" in their ads? Because of what God says about Christmas in the Bible. John 1:5 NLT says this:

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it."

No matter how commercialized or secularized Christmas becomes, it can never be denied that Christmas is about Christ. Christmas will always have Christ in it because He is the Light of the World.

Now since Christmas is just a couple of weeks away and since Jesus Christ came as out Light, I want to encourage you to do something as a way to worship and honor Christ during this time. Here's what you can do: over the next two weeks, keep your eyes open for Christmas light.

When you're looking for it, you'll be surprised where you find it. Sure you'll see Christmas lights on trees and homes, but if you keep your eyes open you'll also find Christmas light all around you. For example, I was at St. Clement's Church in Downtown El Paso recently and I saw some Christmas light in an unexpected place - shining across the pews in this photo I took:

Christmas Light at St. Clement's Church

Look for the light this Christmas, let it remind you of Christ our Light, and worship Him in your heart.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The last time we talked.

I remember the last time Mr. Paul Fleshman and I really had a conversation. It was brief, but I'll always remember it. It was the first Wednesday of June, right after our First Wednesday communion service at Del Sol. We sat in the cafe and I told him how the next day I was leaving for my brother's wedding in Scottsdale, Arizona, and he, ever the joker, told me not to stay there. "We have a Scotsdale here, you know" he said, referring to Scotsdale Baptist Church. I assured him I would be back. He told me about the time he was driving through Scottsdale, AZ and his Volkswagen broke down. We laughed together about his story, made some small talk, then I shook his hand and said goodbye.

That was the last time we had a conversation. I'll always be thankful for that. Such a simple conversation, but in it I could tell he loved me. And I loved him. And I enjoyed a silly conversation. 

Mr. Paul loved people. He really, really did. He took many young leaders under his wing to encourage them and remind them to stay on track with the Lord. He did that with Pastor Walter and he did it with me.

I remember him visiting my dad in 2004 when he was in the hospital after his heart surgery. I think Mr. Paul visited more people as our hospital minister than anyone else in our church did. So many people met him while they were lying in a hospital bed. He really cared about people who were sick and hurting.

I remember several times when Mr. Paul and his wife Chung Hi had me over for a meal - just to love on me. I remember them insisting I take some of their home grown vegetable and fruit.

I remember him telling me to come over anytime if I needed to use any study books from his library when preparing a sermon. I never did, but I was always grateful for the offer.

I remember going with our youth to re-roof their home, and taking a break, sitting in the garage, eating fresh made chocolate chip cookies and drinking ice cold Coca Cola. 

I remember when I was examined - "grilled", I call it - to be ordained as a minister, and Mr. Paul asked some tough questions. Why? Because he loved the Lord and loved Christ's Church, so he wanted to make sure I knew my Bible and my Theology. He didn't want some young punk running around teaching who-knows-what in our church. He was like a bulldog about our church - because he loved our church family. I'm thankful for his tough questions. 

And I remember when my mom was first diagnosed with kidney disease last summer. Mr. Paul and Chung Hi gave me a bunch of homegrown grapes to give to my mom. That was such a confusing, scary time - and that simple act of love in fruit form ministered to my heart in a way I can't even describe.

My eyes are welling with tears as I write this. Tears of selfish sadness because I'll never again feel the strong grip of Mr. Paul's hand or hear him pray those strong, confident prayers he always prayed. But also tears of joy - because he is no longer in pain. He worked hard all his life, laboring for the Lord and laboring for his family that he loved so much - and now he is resting, enjoying forever the rewards of his labor. 

I remember the last time we talked here on earth, Mr. Paul. I can't wait to talk with you when I go Home and tell you about all the neat things that happened in our church and in my life. And I owe much of who I am to you.

And since you're up there - say hello to God, Mr. John, Oscar, and Bruce for me.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants."
- Psalm 116:15 NIV

Monday, August 6, 2012

My views on homosexuality.

This morning someone I recently met asked me the question "what are your views on homosexuality?" We had a good conversation about that, and here's the gist of what I said.

The starting point of any conversation about homosexuals is to know and believe that God LOVES homosexuals. Just like He loves everyone else. That's very important to understand. John 3:16 says that God loved the whole world - no exceptions. Us Christians, as God's children, MUST accept people as they are(Romans 15:7). It's equally important to understand that love & acceptance do NOT mean approval.

A good parent loves their child, but that doesn't mean everything the child does is acceptable. It would be very unloving for a parent to let their children do anything they want and live any way they want, without correcting them. Because they love their child, a good parent wouldn't let their child play in traffic, play with a hot stove, eat whatever they want, stay up all night, etc. So - God, our Heavenly Father, would NOT really be loving if He approved of everything we do.

The things we do that go against God's principles & rules (which He gave for our own good) are called sin. Things like lying, cheating, cussing, hating, murder, over-eating, and yes, living a homosexual lifestyle. Those things, even though they may seem right to us and they feel good, will ultimately hurt us in the end (Romans 6:23).

The problem with sin is that it distorts and deceived every person (Romans 7:11) - especially our sexuality. When we are tempted to lust after someone - whether a person of the same sex or a person of the different sex, that's a distortion of how God intended us to use our sexuality. Both of those attractions just works themselves out a bit differently. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals desperately need Jesus. We both need a Savior - and His name is Jesus Christ.

Through Him, we can be freed from the power of sin and we can overcome temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). He is our only hope for life. Through Him, we don't have to follow our sinful urges. It will be hard, it will be lonely, but it will be worth it to obey Jesus. People won't always understand it, but it will be worth it all when we go Home to Heaven and Jesus locks eyes with us as He says "Well done, good and faithful servant."

I love homosexuals - AND everyone else - because my Father God does. Homosexuality does not define a person. God does, and for all of us who have been adopted as His children by putting our faith in Jesus, He calls us all His favorites. That means that we are not liars, cheaters, and homosexuals. We are dearly loved, handmade creations of God Himself - who struggle with the sin of lying, cheating, and homosexuality. But our sin does not define us. Our relationship with Jesus does. 

At Del Sol Church, we love homosexuals. And liars. And cheaters. And prostitutes. And drug addicts. And the prideful. And over-eaters. And everybody else, regardless of their sin struggles, because God does. We are not here to judge or point fingers. And we WILL speak God's truth from the Bible to those sin issues - doing so with as much love as we can.

I want my church to be a place of grace & second chances - for homosexuals, and for all other people.

What do you think of my response?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My beef with boycotts.

So as pretty much everyone in America knows, Chick-fil-A supports Biblical values and traditional marriage. Which is about as shocking as McDonald's supporting Big Macs or Coca Cola supporting Cokes or the Michelin man supporting Michelin tires. But, I digress.

So in response to that "surprising" news, I've seen two responses. One is to boycott Chick-fil-A, calling it an intolerant and hateful company. The other is to endorse CFA and encourage thousands of people to go eat there today as a way to show their appreciation for the values they hold.

Earlier this summer, JC Penney put out a print ad featuring two men portrayed as homosexual dads playing with their son. Again, there were two responses - one group of people called for a boycott, another group praised JCP as being progressive and tolerant.

Name a company and it's likely they support gay marriage - Starbucks, Home Depot, Ben & Jerry's, Google, Boeing, Disney, and a plethora of other companies do. And while they are hard to find, some companies like CFA, Cinemark, ExxonMobil, and Walmart. So Christians (usually) call for boycotts of companies that support gay marriage, and most other people call for boycotts of supposed intolerant, hate-filled companies that oppose gay marriage.

So can I just call a time-out and ask why we're boycotting? I mean, does that really work? Has it ever? Take Chick-fil-A. While the gay-rights community have called for protests and celebrities have vowed to never eat there again, Christians have rallied and CFA had a record breaking day of sales today. And while Christians called for a boycott of Home Depot and Starbucks, they're doing quite well. Are you gonna stop using Google and not fly in a Boeing airplane anymore? Or not shop at Walmart anymore? Lotta good that'll do.

It's pretty clear that boycotting doesn't work. So why is that our first reaction?

Condemnation is easier than conversation, that's why. (Thank you to Perry Noble for that insight. And for making it rhyme.) It's easier to say "Forget you" to someone who believes different than us instead of taking the high road. If the homosexual community is really tolerant, why don't they fill up Chick-fil-A restaurants and tell them they tolerate the different opinion of the company. And why don't Christians shop at JCP, get coffee at Starbucks, and eat Ben & Jerry's ice cream?

My biggest beef with boycotting is who it hurts. It doesn't hurt the company; it hurts the employee. If you go into a Chick-fil-A, JC Penney, Starbucks, Home Depot, or Walmart - do you really think those employees work there because they're so proud of their company's values? Or because the company is so tolerant or intolerant (depending on how you see it)? I would highly doubt it. I know someone who works at Chick-fil-A and I know several people who work at Walmart. I've known people who work at Home Depot and I know a guy who works at Starbucks. All of them were not working at their places of work because of the company's ideals; they were working there to provide for themselves and their families.

When we boycott, remember who it hurts - the company, not the employee. And let's be honest - boycotting  doesn't work. It's a lousy way to do things because its fighting "hate" with hate. No way around it.

If we boycott anything, let's boycott boycotting.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A pleasantly interesting weekend of ministry.

This weekend was interesting, in a pleasant way. I preached at Saturday Night Church and the spirit there was just wonderful. Every weekend at both locations of Del Sol is great, but there was just something about this weekend that was extra cool. Maybe it was all the allergy meds I was hopped up on!

When the service ended, a guy walked right up to me and gave me a hug. I didn't even recognize him at first, but it turned out to be a guy I had prayed for the previous Saturday. He was so excited because God had answered my prayers for him exactly as I had prayed them. That was really cool.

Then on Sunday at Del Sol Church Northeast, people in the first service really connected with the message and I prayed with several people. Then in the second service, a young couple walked in. I didn't see their faces at first because of the angle at which I was standing, but when I got up to preach I was taken aback for a moment. 

The young man with his wife was a guy I had worked with years ago - almost 10 years ago - when I was working at a teen center. He was a very troubled teenager who had some issues with illegal substances, and we often butted heads because we were both pretty prideful. There were many times when I had to call the police to have him removed and a few times he threatened to physically hurt me. I went years before I saw him again, probably in 2008 or 2009. By that time he had a steady job and seemed to be making something of himself. I was glad to see that, especially considering our past.

So I was surprised to see him and his beautiful young family walk into the church on Sunday morning. Turns out he lives right down the street and decided on Saturday they should get back into church and find a support system. They left before I had a chance to talk with them, but I had his number so I called him today and had a good conversation with him.

The thing about this guy is that he has SO much potential for greatness in him. Even as much as we fought, I could always tell that he was overflowing with potential. I really believe that God has great things in store for him, and I'm excited to see how our church family can help his family. 

Doing ministry is a difficult job because you deal with such personal aspects of people's lives that they don't tell anyone else. But it's also the most rewarding thing ever to see people's lives change as God works in their lives. 

Needless to say, it's been a great weekend. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Anti-God.

As Christians, we worship the God Who created humanity and who loves all of us. We believe that He has a good plan for every person, and a great plan for the ultimate redemption of all creation. Things in life can get pretty messed up at times because we live in a sinful, imperfect world and we know that not everything that happens is God's will.

And so God gave us the Bible as our guide for life. The Bible, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is how we navigate this life and prepare for eternity. The Bible is filled with life principles, but also has some rules. There are some things that are flat our right and wrong. 

Because of those rules (and usually because of how Christians mis-represent them), society often thinks God is the "anti-God". God is against everything. People think He is anti-alcohol, anti-women, anti-sex, anti-birth control, anti-science, anti-homosexual, and anti-fun. In other words, God is anti-everything good and fun.

The reasoning goes that if God were good, He wouldn't be against everything. He would let people do whatever makes them happy, as long as nobody gets hurt. Live and let live is God's motto because He loves everyone. 

But the truth is this: God is not the anti-God. At the same time, BECAUSE He loves everyone He cannot let us do whatever we want. Jesus made it clear that there are some things He is against. 

He is anti-oppression. Anti-greed. Anti-empty religion. Anti-casual sex. Anti-hate. Anti-favoritism. Anti-wickedness. He is against those things because it's not loving to say "live and let live, as long as you don't hurt anyone". He has standards that He has put in place BECAUSE He loves us.

Jesus is against those things because He is pro-you. And pro-me. And pro-everyone on earth. He is pro-humanity! He even said in John 10:10 that He came to give us abundant, meaningful, fulfilling life. God is for us and wants what's best for us. Like any good, kind, and loving father, our Heavenly Father gives us rules for our good so that we know how we should live. Sin always has a "gotcha". Nobody can disobey God and get off scot-free.

So yes, God has rules. But not because He is the anti-God. He has rules because He is pro-YOU. And when you live life the way God says in the Bible you should, then you'll experience the life that is truly life.

What do you think about the idea that God gives rules BECAUSE He loves you and wants you to live a good life?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My County Commissioner endorsement

* Disclaimer: this post is my personal opinion and does not represent the views of any organization with which I am affiliated or am known to have a connection with. Also, this was totally unsolicited by the candidate whom I endorse. Thanks for understanding that. * 

Politics is such a polarizing thing, but it's also such an important thing. Our great nation was founded on among other things, the right to have your voice be heard through fair elections.

It's no secret that I'm very passionate about politics, yet I try to stay away from voicing my political opinions online because it can be so divisive. Usually to support one candidate is to make a bunch of people mad at you because they support the opponent. And the higher up the political office, the worse it gets. 

Yet in this post, I want to publicly endorse a local candidate for County Commissioner Precinct 1 here in El Paso, Texas. The reason I want to do that is because this is someone I truly believe in. This person deeply cares about our community and has a track record to prove it. This person has previous political experience but is not a crony of the political establishment here. I do not believe this person has been corrupted like many other politicians here in town. I honestly believe this person has no ulterior motives except to do what's best for El Paso.

I first saw this person in action when I was in college and had been given an assignment for one of my classes to write a paper on local politics. I went to a board meeting for my school board and I paid special attention to how this person governed because this person was my district representative. I was pleasantly amazed and grateful that this person didn't just go with the flow, but raised some good questions and started some good discussion, all of which centered around doing what was best for their constituents. 

Years later, after this person was no longer on the school board, I was thankful again when as a part of the local public corruption scandal it was discovered that several other board members at that time had been bribed and were part of the corruption scandal.

The candidate for County Commissioner Precinct 1 whom I publicly endorse is Liza Montelongo. The El Paso Times recently endorsed her candidacy by writing "During her tenure on the Ysleta school board, she showed a propensity for asking difficult questions. She stood her ground, even in the face of withering criticism of fellow board members. Montelongo summarizes her pledge to voters simply: 'that the county's job is to deliver cost-effective, efficient and friendly services to all of El Paso.' We believe Montelongo can deliver on that promise."

Liza's challengers are a Mr. Romo and former El Paso Police Chief Carlos Leon. I don't know anything about Mr. Romo and I do know that Chief Leon is an honorable man and would be a good Commissioner - yet I still believe that Liza Montelongo is the best choice for County Commissioner Precinct 1. I made a donation to her campaign early on and I wish I could have been more actively involved in her campaign, but unfortunately my schedule has prevented me from doing that.

Yet I hope you will learn more about her at at, I hope you will consider making a donation to her candidacy, and most of all, I hope you will trust her with you vote. 

Early voting in El Paso begins tomorrow, and election day is May 29. Find more information here:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why I'm glad to be a Southern Baptist.

For several years recently, I've seen people wonder whether or not Christian denominations (like Lutherans, Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, etc.) are relevant anymore. With the rise of so many great churches that are really focused on what matters most as Christians - churches like Willow Creek, New Spring, Cross Point in Tennessee, Church of the Highlands, and so on - people wonder if denominations are important anymore.

I would argue that yes, denominations are still very important today. I think it's great what the United Methodist denomination is doing, especially here in El Paso with their "Celebrate Segundo Barrio" program among other things. And of course, I'm very proud of what we Southern Baptists are doing around the world, and in my El Paso. Here are some reasons why I'm proud to be a Southern Baptist:

1. Our beliefs. Without a doubt, our beliefs are the main reason I'm proud to be Southern Baptist. The Bible, and nothing else, is our guide. We believe in soul competency, which means each person can directly relate to and is accountable to God on their own. We practice baptism by immersion (dunking) because that's the way Jesus did it, and that's the only it was done in the Bible. Those are just some of our distinctive beliefs, which I am glad we hold so firmly.

2. Our size. You may not know that we Southern Baptists are the largest Baptist denomination in the world, and the largest Christian denomination in the United States. Even locally, there are about 80 great Baptist churches here in El Paso - English speaking, Spanish speaking, and even Chinese speaking. I'm not glad to be a Southern Baptist just because we're big, but because there is great power in numbers. We are able to make a big difference for the Kingdom of God in many ways because of our size. We are blessed so we can be a blessing.

3. Our cooperation. One of the reasons we make such an impact is not just because of our size, but because of our cooperation. It would be useless for us to be over 16 million strong in this great nation of ours if we didn't work together. But we do work together! Through our Cooperative Program we work together to collect and distribute millions of dollars a year to fund outreach, missions, disaster relief, our six amazing Baptist seminaries, and much more. We also have local associations where local, independent Baptist churches partner together in cities and regions to make a difference.

4. Our outreach. When it comes to putting our faith into action, we're pretty good at that! There's the International Missions Board, the North American Missions Board, and Go Now Missions, which is the great missions organization of Texas Baptists. Of course our Disaster Relief program is one of the things we're most known for because many times our Disaster Relief teams start working in places of disaster long before the government arrives at a disaster site and sometimes even before the Red Cross or Salvation Army arrives. When a disaster strikes, look for the people with yellow hats because those are our Disaster Relief volunteers showing God's love in practical ways.

5. Our independence. One of the things that really makes me proud to be a Southern Baptist is our sense of freedom and independence. There is a Catholic Church, an Episcopalian Church, and a Methodist Church - meaning they are authoritarian organizations with a headquarters that passes down decrees and regulations which must be followed by its local churches. But there is no "Baptist Church", meaning there is no top down structure where someone else tells us what we must do at our local church. Instead, there are Baptist churches - all of which are free, independent, and autonomous. We are free to do as we see fit, having sought God and heard from Him the direction in which we should move. We cooperate with others, yes, but we are led by no pope, bishop, or any other person except Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His Church. What's more, Ephesians 5:23 says that Jesus is the Head of His Church - and so we take orders only from Him. That's how it should be in the Church.

For these reasons and many others, I am proud and honored to be a Southern Baptist. And for those of you who are also part of a local Southern Baptist church, I hope you too are proud to be a Southern Baptist. Not in an arrogant pride that boasts, but in a grateful pride that strives to be more worthy of our great and still important calling to be Southern Baptists.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The meaning of the wounds of Jesus Christ.

It's Saturday, and I've always wondered how Jesus Christ's followers must have felt on Saturday. Their hope had died with Jesus. It was now buried and decaying with Jesus. Their minds must have been filled with indescribable fear, anger, worry, frustration, and confusion. Even though Jesus had told them He would rise up from the grave, they couldn't see it and they didn't believe it.  

How terrible it must have been for them on Saturday.

And yet on this Easter Saturday, nearly 2000 years later, we cannot sympathize with them. And thank God for that, because we know Easter Sunday happened. Knowing about Sunday, it's hard to be sad about Friday. 

"Good Friday", it's called. The day Jesus was violently murdered. Why do we call it "good"? 1 John 2:2 (NCV) says: "He died in our place to take away our sins, and not only our sins but the sins of all people." Good Friday is truly good because the blood of Jesus from His seven wounds washes away our sin. It is the payment for the sin of all humanity, even you and me. A few years ago I heard a message from a pastor named Jon Courson, who talked about the five places from which Jesus' blood flowed.

First, blood flowed from His head. The blood from the thorns driven into His skull cleanse us from thoughts we wish we had never thought. The blood that poured down His face tell us He has covered the things in life we don't want to face up to. It washes our eyes from the sinful things we've seen, our ears from the sinful things we've heard, and our mouths from the sinful things we've said and done with our mouths.

Second, blood that flowed from His back. We've all turned our backs on Jesus at some point, and the blood that covered His back on that Good Friday covers our backs when we turn them on Him. When we've fallen flat on our backs, whether out of sin or fatigue, our backs are covered and cleansed by the blood of Jesus.

Third, blood flowed from His hands which were pierced with spikes, pinned to the wood of the cross. That blood cleanses us from the things we've used our hands for which we should not have done. The things we've touched, felt, grasped, held in our hands that were sinful - the blood flowed from His nail-pierced hands in order to cleanse our hands from sin and guilt.

Fourth, blood flowed from inside of Him when the Romans thrust a spear into His side, piercing Jesus' heart, sending a mixture of blood and water out of His side. So the things you feel inside of you - those gut feelings of hatred and bitterness and anger, that unforgiveness you hold in your heart - that sin inside of you and me is washed clean by the blood that flowed from inside of our crucified Lord.

Fifth, blood flowed from the precious feet of Jesus. We've all walked where we shouldn't have walked, physically and spiritually speaking. We've secretly gone places in the darkness of night that we hope no one ever finds out about. We've tried to cover our tracks from those sinful wanderings, yet the blood of Christ that flowed from His feet doesn't just cover over but washes away those tracks. 

As we think about where blood flowed from Jesus' body on that cross, we see that the placement of His wounds was not accidental or haphazard, but strategic and intentional. We see there is deep meaning in His wounds, and the Scripture of Isaiah 53:5 (NCV) comes alive to us when it says: 

"He was hated and rejected by people. He had much pain and suffering. People would not even look at Him. He was hated, and we didn't even notice Him. But He took our suffering on Him and felt our pain for usWe saw His suffering and thought God was punishing Him. But He was wounded for the wrong we did; He was crushed for the evil we did. The punishment, which made us well, was given to Him, and we are healed because of His wounds."

The wounds of Jesus Christ cover over us, head to toe, front to back, inside and out. We are cleansed from our sin, guilt, and shame every which way because of the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

As the old hymn goes: "What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!"

Sunday, March 25, 2012

These things happen.

Recently I read the transcript of an interview with Brennan Manning, an author, priest, speaker, and modern day monk. Through his books he has encouraged Christians to be more contemplative about their faith, and I think he's got some really good things for us to consider in Christianity. You can find out more about him here at his website.

According to his website biography, Mr. Manning is a recovering alcoholic. What I find really interesting is that his alcoholism began AFTER he became a Christian and AFTER he began a successful college ministry in Florida.

His explanation in the interview I read was that, simply put: "these things happen".

I've really had to wrestle with that explanation for awhile. A man becoming an alcoholic ...AFTER becoming a follower of Christ? Isn't Jesus supposed to give us new life? Doesn't the Bible say we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus who loves us? And doesn't the Bible say that sin shall not be your master because of God's grace? Isn't Christianity about leaving your old life of sin and following God in a new way?

Yes ...but.

Being a Christian doesn't mean life will be perfect. Following Christ is not an automatic cure for all that ails you. Sin is still present, addiction is still addicting, and we still have the freedom to resist God's transforming work in our lives. We must have the freedom to choose, so that we can choose to love Him - but unfortunately, that also gives us the freedom to resist and reject living the way He wants us to.

And so in the last year, I have seen some of the darkest, ugliest, most wicked sides of humanity. As a pastor I've been called to bring God's hope and truth and love into situations of indescribable depravity and sinfulness - but as a human, I wish I could forget those things. I've seen Christians confess their sin and humbly submit to God's discipline and experience His sanctifying grace, and I've seen Christians pridefully rebel against God's truth and resist His discipline - which of course always makes things much worse than they should have been.

All of those situations took place in the lives of Christians - people who love Jesus, have asked Him to be the Lord of their lives, and are influential in the local Christian community here in El Paso.

How does that happen? And more personally, why do I struggle with sins that I've been resisting for years? Why was it that I began a battle with depression AFTER I became a Christian?

As Mr. Manning put it ..."these things happen".

Let me be clear: that's not an excuse. That's not a cop-out. You can't just do whatever you want, ignore God's truth, and disobey Him by saying "these things happen". But ...I think it's an important aspect of God's grace that we need to understand when dealing with our own sin or the sin of others.

These things happen. Anyone who does not stay close to Christ can commit the most wicked of sins, while still being a Christian. Anyone who doesn't constantly choose to submit to Jesus can become an alcoholic, drug addict, pornographer, adulterer, cheater, liar, thief, idolater, arrogant jerk, or domestic violence offender - and yet still be a Christian.

So when we fall into those and other kinds of sins, and when we encounter the sins of others, we must live out two words in perfect harmony: grace and truth.

Grace is unearned, undeserved, unmerited kindness and favor. It's remembering the truth of Romans 8:1, that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Truth is calling sin what it is, without sugar-coating or excuses. It's remembering the truth of Romans 6:23, that sin is a very personal offense against God which always produces death.

Grace says "These things happen." Truth says "It better not happen again!" But grace and truth combined say "These things happen. I know you're better than that. Let me help you so it doesn't happen again."

So are you struggling with a sin that keeps snaring you? Do you feel stuck in your sin, like you'll never be able to escape, wondering if you'll ever experience the freedom the Bible talks about? Do you think it would be easier to just give into sin because you're just tired of fighting it? Do you feel like scum because of what you've done? Do you think that if anyone found out what you've done, they would judge you? Do you wonder if you're really a Christian because of how you sin?

Be encouraged. Have hope in God. "These things happen". And be courageous enough to confess you sin to someone Godly, mature, loving, and trustworthy so that they can say "These things happen. I know you're better than that. Let me help you so it doesn't happen again."

"No condemnation now hangs over the head of those who are in Jesus Christ. For the new spiritual principle of life in Christ lifts me out of the old vicious circle of sin and death." - Romans 8:1-2 (Phillips)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How to be single and thrive on Valentine's Day.

Today is Valentine's Day. For many, today is the day of love, chocolate, flowers, kisses, hugs, romance, and all things red & pink. For many others, today isn't Valentine's Day; it's Singles Awareness Day. As a single person you have a choice today: you can survive today, or you can thrive today.

The truth is, God doesn't want you to just survive this day - He wants you to thrive! Here are some ideas I have on how to be single and thrive on Valentine's Day:

1. Don't buy the lie. Lots of single people think that nobody will ever love them and that they will be alone the rest of their lives. As a single person, I understand why sometimes it could seem like that's true, but it's not. It's a lie. You will not always be alone. Someday, when God in His goodness knows the time is right, you will have that unexpected and beautiful collision of your heart with someone else's. So don't buy the lire that you will be single all your life.

2. Celebrate the love that others have. Don't be jealous and angry that someone else has a love to celebrate today and you don't. Don't be upset at your friends for having someone special in their life. You're better than that. Maturity is when you can truly celebrate that someone else already has what you've been wanting. Immaturity is when you're so selfish that you think "if I can't have it, nobody can" and you can't celebrate that someone else is happy. Celebrate that people around you are happy. Don't be bitter; be better.

3. Count your blessings. And by "blessings" I mean all the money you're saving today! You don't have to buy anyone overpriced flowers, chocolates, or cards. You don't have to get all dressed up after a long day at work and go to dinner a busy restaurant, or do the work to cook a fancy dinner for two. As wonderful as all that is, you don't have to mess with that right now. You can just order pizza or get a burger and lounge around at home. Until the day comes when you're with someone, enjoy the single life. And really enjoy all the money and hassle you're saving today.

4. Treat yourself special. Today is a day of love. God loves you. He delights in you. So do something special today to enjoy all His goodness.Maybe that means buying yourself some chocolate, or a flower to brighten up your coffee table, or a bacon double cheeseburger with onion rings and a large Dr. Pepper. Who said you can't spoil yourself a little today?

5. Collect date ideas. Someday you won't be single. And today lots of your friends are doing some very sweet, thoughtful, and romantic things for their main squeezes. Take notes of what works and what doesn't. File away ideas to use for when you have a main squeeze of your own.

6. Dream a little. Think about your ideal guy or girl. Ladies, look up wedding stuff online.  Guys, work on your cheezy pick-up lines. Imagine what your life will be like when you are in love. Go ahead - get your hopes up.

7. Do some self-evaluation. Do NOT bash yourself. Do NOT put yourself down. Do NOT get depressed. But DO honestly evaluate yourself. Think about this question: "Am I the kind of person the person I'm looking for is looking for?" You might need to read that a few times to let it sink in, but that's a REALLY good question to ask yourself. It's something I've been asking myself a lot lately. Look at the love chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, and wherever it says "Love is ___", replace the word "love" with your name. Then ask if you are the things that God says love is. Figure out where you have some room to grow, then do work. Become the person that the person you're looking for is looking for.

8. Serve someone else.  John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that He gave. Love is a verb, not a noun. It's an action, not a feeling. To love is to serve. So do something to serve someone else today. Speak words of affirmation to someone today. Give someone a genuine compliment. Pay for the order of the person behind you in the drive-thru line when you go get your bacon double cheeseburger for dinner. Give someone a hug. Remember, to love is to serve. What better way to celebrate the day of love than to serve someone else?

So there you go - those are my thoughts on how to thrive as a single person this Valentine's Day. I bet if you do even just a few of these 8 things I've listed, you will have a really great day today.

And hey ...I want you to know ...I love you.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The choice is yours.

Nearly every Monday I see a plethora of Facebook status updates about how people hate Monday. And nearly every day I see people posting how their day started off bad or how bad the day is going. There are even some who seem to always be sad or upset, who seem to not be having a bad day but a bad life. I also know many people who struggle with worry, stress, feelings of inadequacy, and many other emotional issues.

As one who has fought depression for awhile and as one who has had far more than his fair share of bad days, I would say this: "the choice is yours".

In the Bible, Joshua 24:15 says: "If serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

I've seen this verse many times, usually used in the context of choosing to lead your family to serve God. But today it hit me - that's not the only thing we can learn from this verse. Something we see here is that you have a choice. You can God, or you can choose something else. You can choose to believe God and what He says in the Bible, or you can choose something else like stress, worry, or to have a bad day.

Either way, the choice is yours.

Monday can be a good day or it can be a bad day. You can choose to believe that every day is a day made by God and you can choose to be joyful (as Psalm 118:24 says) - or you can choose to have a lousy day. The choice is yours.

You get dumped. Or worse, your significant other cheats on you. You can be angry and bitter and put yourself in the torture chamber of un-forgiveness, or you can choose to release them and move on, believing the Bible when it says in Romans 8:28 that God works EVERYTHING out for good for those who love Him. You can believe that God has someone much better for you, which means you live free, or you can choose to be that weirdo who Facebook stalks their ex and ruins new relationships because they never move on. The choice is yours.

You can choose to spend money you don't have by charging clothes, electronics, and other stuff you want on your credit card. And you can take out a loan to buy a new car when nothing is wrong with your current car. And by doing those things you can rack up all sorts of debt and bring the pressure that comes with it on yourself. Or, you can spend responsibly, save up and pay cash, and live in financial peace and financial freedom. The choice is yours.

You can choose to live a miserable life, thinking it sucks, thinking everyone's out to "screw me over", thinking that you need to have lots of sex, go drinking, or do drugs just to feel good for awhile. With that decision can come disease, unexpected pregnancy, a DWI, alcoholism, pictures on Facebook that can ruin future job opportunities, and a pretty pointless life. Or, you can choose to enjoy life and be happy to be alive, knowing that the Bible says God loves you and has good plans for your life. You can do life His way, knowing that He wants you to not just survive but thrive in life. The choice is yours.

So how will life turn out for you? The choice is yours.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Looks like we have things backwards.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized murder under the premise of it being a woman's "choice". Since then over 50 million Americans have been violently robbed of their right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence says.

Yesterday was also the day that Joe Paterno died. He was the most winningest college football coach ever, and he was the long-time coach at Penn State University. I read an article by Bill Reiter on the Fox Sports website that said "Joe Paterno was a sick man. And Joe Paterno failed at the most important thing ever entrusted to him - the knowledge that should have made it possible to stop Sandusky before someone else finally did." That reference is to the child abuse scandal that cause Mr. Paterno to lose his job.

Considering that, I can't help but wonder if we have things backwards in our great nation. We celebrate the legalized murder of defenseless children, but we mourn the death of a man who didn't do anything to stop the horrible abuse of innocent children when it was in his power to do so.

Something's not right with that.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Does Jesus hate religion?

Right now the big thing with a lot of people on Facebook and YouTube is this spoken word video called "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus". You can see it for yourself here:

I've seen many of my friends post it on Facebook, talking about how great this video is. Tonight, I finally watched it to see what the hubbub was all about. After watching it, I have very mixed feelings about it. First, there are several things I really like about this video. It's a really well produced, visually captivating film, with very good cinematography. The building in the background is simply magnificent.

The young man speaking, Jefferson Bethke, seems to me to have a genuine heart in communicating the message that a relationship with Jesus matters more than religion. It's definitely true that "Jesus>Religion", as the screen shows for about 10 seconds in the beginning of the video. I really respect that Mr. Bethke was so transparent in talking about his faith story (his "testimony", to use a religious term), and I think it's what he's trying to communicate with this video. I almost totally agree with him ...almost.

This is a phenomenally powerful video but there are some things about it that in my opinion, are just not completely true. Anytime we watch or hear something about Jesus, God, Christianity, etc. - a very, very important question to ask is "is is true?", because anyone can produce a captivating video that can go viral online. 

So is what Mr. Bethke says true? Not all of it. I think that some very important points of this video are misunderstandings or misinterpretations of what the Bible says. So let's start with the the first thing he says - which is the main point of the video. He says that "Jesus came to abolish religion". Is that true? From what Jesus said and from how we see in the Bible that Jesus lived His life, the answer is no.

Jesus did not come to abolish religion. In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus clearly states that He is not against religion and the rules of the Old Testament Law. In verse 17 (NLT), Jesus said "Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose."

To my understanding, and please do correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that Jesus says anywhere in the Bible that He hated religion or that He came to abolish it. What Jesus spoke against so much was not religion by itself, but abused and perverted religion. That's a VERY important distinction. While Jesus was on earth, He faithfully observed the religious holy days of Judaism. He insisted that people believe in Him and in the teachings of the Old Testament. He commanded that you do certain things to show that you are His follower. If anything, Jesus instituted pure religion by commissioning the Apostles to begin building His Church, and by beginning the religious traditions of Believer's baptism and the Lord's Supper (also called Communion). 

I have read the Gospel records of Jesus many, many times. I've read the Epistles (like Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, etc.) many times. Never once in the Bible have I seen religion condemned; I've only seen abused and perverted religion condemned. If anything, the Bible speaks highly of pure religion in James 1:27 (NIV): "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

Another example of why Jesus is not against religion in and of itself: what He did and did not do when He cleansed the Temple. You can read about that in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, and John 2. What Jesus did was make a whip, drive out the merchants, turn over tables, and condemned the merchants for selling their stuff in the Temple. What Jesus did not do was condemn the merchants for selling their stuff. Did you get that? Jesus never said it was wrong to sell animals for sacrifices and the things people needed for religious practices. He condemned them for doing it at that location, in the Temple, in the Gentile's court, because that essentially kept non-Jewish people from worshiping God.

So you see, it's not religion in and of itself that God is against - it's empty religion, abused and perverted religion, that God is against.

Now there are several other things that rub me wrong in this video - like the cheap shot he takes twice against Republicans. That was unnecessary and somewhat judgmental. I'm not a Republican (I consider myself an Independent), but anyone can see that he could have made his point without taking jabs at the GOP. 

But much more importantly than that, Mr. Bethke is very critical and judgmental of Christianity. He says that religion started many wars. Well, that's sort of true. First, just because someone does something in the name of a certain religion doesn't mean that's what that religion teaches them to do. A great example of that is the Westboro group who protests military funerals and says that God hates America. I don't call them Westboro Baptist Church because they do not practice what Baptists practice, they don't believe what Baptists believe, and most importantly, they do not fulfill the Biblical description of a church. They do and say a lot of horrible, un-Godly things in the name of Christianity - but they do not represent what God says in the Bible.

Westboro's and Hitler's beliefs is not God and is not Christianity - their motivation is purely satanic. So just because some terrible things were done in the name of religion (like the Spanish Inquisition) doesn't mean religion is to blame. And religion is not the only reason wars have been started, so to single it out seems to be pretty unfair.

In this video, he also accuses churches of failing to feed the poor and telling single moms that God doesn't love them if they've ever had a divorce. My question would be "what churches are you talking about?" I know there are some churches that are focused just on themselves and don't live out compassion and justice like God says Christians should - but it really bothers me that he generalizes much of Christianity as being all about big buildings and not about showing God's love in practical ways. When it comes to feeding the poor - I can tell you about many churches in my El Paso who have big buildings but do a great job of feeding many, many hungry people in our community - churches like Del Sol Church, Abundant Living Faith Center, First Baptist Church of El Paso, CrossPoint Church, and Skyline Baptist Church. About divorce - I also know many churches who don't judge but minister to divorced people through programs like Celebrate Recovery and DivorceCare.

So his generalization about churches not caring for the poor and divorced is very, very unfair and untrue.

Now I could go on about the other things I disagree with about this video, but I won't because this post is already long enough. Kevin DeYoung does a great, fair, thorough analysis of every word of the video here:

Here's my point with this post about that video: I'm very grateful to Mr. Bethke for making this video because I'm sure God is using it to minister to people's hearts and to raise conversation about why Jesus is better than empty religion.

But Christians - let's be very, very careful about what we post and promote online. 2 Timothy 2:15 says that we should be careful to handle and explain the Bible truthfully - so let's think carefully about things first and make sure that what we promote will correctly represent God and His Word, the Bible. I'm not saying this video is blasphemy and I'm not judging anyone for posting it on their Facebook - but I am saying it does not correctly and fully represent Jesus or the Bible or reality. It's a good try, but there are some serious problems with this video, in my opinion.

You may not agree with me, but I'm not asking for agreement. I'm just asking you to really think about what the video says and run it through the filter of Scripture. Please don't just believe anything that someone with a slick video and a cool poem says. For us Christians, the Bible is our source of truth - not videos on YouTube.

So Jesus against religion? From what the Bible says and from what Jesus said, the only conclusion I can arrive at is a big, resounding NO. It's very clear that the abuse and perversion of empty religion is what Jesus is against.  Religion is a beautiful, beautiful thing that honors God and greatly benefits people - but only if it's pure, Godly, Biblical religion.

We should all want to be religious - but the right kind of religious.