Seeking after God

When I was little I brushed my teeth every day (I still do), but sometimes I think I get caught up only half brushing my teeth and eventually baby cavities start to form.  When I was in Kindergarten I was brushing my teeth every day when I went to the dentist and was told I had several cavities.  My older brother who I noticed never brushed his teeth, had none.  I immediately put two and two together to realize I didn’t need to brush my teeth to not have cavities.  After that I barely brushed my teeth.

When I went back to the dentist six months later, I was astonished to be told I had several more cavities.  I wasn’t sure how it worked for Cody but yet not for me.  Turns out that he was losing all his baby teeth while I wasn’t so lucky.  I had a misperception in my head that I could reap all the benefits of brushing my teeth while not actually having to ever brush my teeth.

This misperception was one that I put a lot of weight on and was hoping it would all fall into place in the end, but I wasn’t so lucky when I awoken to reality to see it was all a fantasy.  Oddly enough, this is very common in our society.  We half hear something and suddenly mold it to have meaning in our own lives.  It’s only when we hear the whole story, the whole fact, the whole Truth, are we able to fully understand it and apply it to our life.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

One of most well known verses in the Bible and many people’s life verse that carries them through times of trouble to assure them that just over the horizon there is a new day and new promises by God.  It is a great verse.  Often times, I feel that many times this verse is used as a half truth (much like my lack of brushing) in our society.  It’s only when we see the whole passage that we’re able to understand the real meaning for the verse.  God is not simply stating no matter what happens, whatever your actions are, wherever your heart lie, in the end life will be perfect.  We know the world is broken, we’ve seen the pain, we’ve experienced the heartache.  However, there is a life of prosperity in the future for those who find it.

As God is sending out the people of Jerusalem to Babylon.  The people are frustrated with the exile they are undergoing, but God encourages them telling them to start a new life there, to build houses and start families.  He tells them that if they seek peace and prosperity they will find it.  He warns them about those who are lying in His name telling of misfortune and falsely prophesying in His name.  After 70 years of being in exile, God will rescue them and fulfill his promises to them. 

Enter Jeremiah 29:11, however joyful the verse is, let us not stop reading. I feel the real beauty of the verse is echoed in the following verses.

Jeremiah 29:12-13 “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

God promises us a bright future.  We call upon Him and He listens to us.  We find God when we seek Him with all of our heart.  I like to think of this in the descending order to get a best picture of our relationship.  God does promise us a bright future, He had our future carved out and planned for us since before we were in the womb, when he appointed us to be prophet of the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5) The promise was declared to Jeremiah, but it also goes said for us as well.  God has known us since before we were born, He wants us to declare His message to every tongue, tribe, and nation, and the future for us is bright.  However, free will and our sinful nature stands in the way of the future.  The only way to the future of hope and prosperity is by our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Through Him the way of forgiveness was paved for us.  We are free to enjoy the prosperity of His promises.  When we seek Jesus with all of our heart, we will find Him.  When we find Him, we can call upon His name and He will hear us.  He listens to us because He cares about us; we realize this more and more when we learn to understand who He is.  We realize this when we seek Him and when we find Him.

Flashback (or forward, whichever you prefer) to the story of the exiles.  The Lord promises to gather all who have been exiled together.  He then goes on to talk about the other people of the exile who will undergo great punishment (plagues, famine, sword) and then the Lord declares why they are receiving this backlash.

Jeremiah 29:19 “For they have not listened to my words,” declares the Lord, “words that I sent to them again an again by my servants the prophets.  And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the Lord.

Some of the people listened to God’s word. Some of the people ignored it. Some received the prosperity God had promised.  Some received punishment.  

Both people could be in exile process (some did not obey God’s word to be exiled, these people who ignored the pleas were the ones who received most punishment) proclaiming Jeremiah 29:11, but only half the ones proclaiming were living in the full Truth, while the others were living in a half Truth.

Nehemiah 1:5-6 “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants.”

In Nehemiah, it reiterates the message of God keeping His promises of love and prosperity to those who love Him.  By seeking God we love Him.

Flash forward to today.  I am awoken to the half-truth of the toothpaste and how vital it is for my teeth.  I’m no longer able to go days without brushing my teeth, believing God will make sure I don’t have cavities, just because God’s got my back.  God does have my back.  The future however does not come perfectly.  It takes a level of obedience to the laws (and to common sense in my case) as well as more importantly fully understanding them and seeking God out.  Arriving at our perfectly bliss of a future isn’t just passive, it’s aggressive.  Maybe not aggressive in the way we generally think of, but in the terms of aggressively seeking and having a passion for the heart of God.  It’s when we have that passion and that heart of God that we are able to fully get the prosperity of our future.

I love Jeremiah 29:11, however, after years of being blind I can see and understand the rest of the story.  I see the beauty in seeking God and finding Him and discovering who He really is.  I find great joy in calling His name and having Him listen to me, because we all have a bright future planned for us.  It’s within us to obtain it, not on our own, rather through the cross and through Jesus.  The prosperity may not be in this life, but it will be there in the life to come. We’ll find it joyfully with arms wide open when we seek the One who gave it to us with all our heart.

laraplecas:

As most of the United States heard the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, Mike Jeffries, does not want his stores to sell XL and XXL clothing sizes because he wants only the cool people to wear his brand.

As much as I would love to attack him for his discrimination on “fat people,” I’m not going to….

The Speck and the Plank

I’ve been wrestling with this question for a while now, on how to help correct those closest to you when they’ve fallen away or are walking off the narrow path of life and back onto the broad path of destruction.  How do you tell those you love about the areas of their life that you disapprove of or that go against the life they claim to live.  How can you be honest and not overbearing? How can you correct them while still caring about them? And does the life change you want them to have come from your own faults, does it stem from you wanting them to please God, or does it come from you doubting God’s grace for their life?  These are the questions I have been wrestling with.

Over the summer I was working on surrendering my entire life to Christ.  Some parts I held on dearly never wanting to let go and holding onto for as long as I could, like my dating life.  Others I was so quick to give to God that I never wanted to experience them again, like my addiction.  Yet there was some grey areas that I was unsure what to do with or if they were okay or not okay to do.  I needed guidance and I lacked it, I was developing relationships with those around me who were farther along than I was but I was only beginning my journey.  I needed a polite shove to help give me clarity in some areas of my life.

Enter Wyatt Girton.  Our friendship over the summer had evolved into a life changing one of continual guidance, growth, and care.  We had just started our friendship off and two weeks in was when he gave me the polite shove of correction.  I had been unsure if swearing was something I should keep or drop in my life, I had grown up with it being the norm.  As I told Wyatt a story while cutting slaps of wood I let out a curse word thinking he would laugh like everyone before.  His reaction was the opposite with the subtle words of “Garret, what are you doing?”  Immediately I knew what I had been wrestling with for weeks.  It was time to retire my lingo and never turn back.

I could have taken Wyatt’s words in a million different ways.  I could imagine him rejecting who I was and trying to change me to fit who he wanted me to be.  I could imagine his words to mean he looked down on me for my actions and that he was disappointed in me.  I could imagine that he was self-righteous and better than me.  His words while early in our friendship were dangerous words because it could have potentially broke our relationship pending on how I managed to stomach his words and advice.

However, even though we had only been friends for two weeks I trust Wyatt.  I trusted Wyatt a lot and I still do.  I trusted his opinion more than I did my own.  I also knew he cared about me and loved me.  Love.  Love is the key word here.

The motivation behind Wyatt’s heart was love.  His care for me and my life led to his words.  His words weren’t based on correction, he was bringing an issue of my life to light to help me see it more clearly.  His love for me wanted the best for me.  He was trying to help me.  He didn’t see himself as better than me or was disappointed in me to the contrary he was showing how much he cared about me.

Wyatt not only helped me give me clarity to an issue in my life that I was struggling with, but also gave me the ideal example of how to guide people in aspects of their life that you don’t agree with.  Wyatt showed me that you can correct someone and still love them.  That you can not approve or want them to stay on the path they’re on, but still be there every minute of the way.  The key to this equation: Love.

When looking at how we can help those we love without ruining the relationship it all comes down to the one word that we as Christians should live our lives by: Love.  Our words should come from love.  Our motivation should be from love.  As we talk with them it should never be out of frustration or irritation, it should be out of love and compassion.  We should communicate with them as best as we can to share with them our care for them.  We should also be transparent with them.

Matthew 7:3-5 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye.’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

It’s important to always be transparent and authentic with those around us and everyone.  To let them know that we are still struggling that we are not perfect, and that we are not robots.  As we begin to tear down our walls of our faults and struggles our relationships will be stronger and we will be able to receive love from others better.  As we learn to accept and receive the love from others better we will be able to love those around us better.  This will help our conversations with those around us be lifting up and help us to remove the sawdust from their life.  We will be able to bring it to light and help them overcome their struggles and help further their walks with Christ. But the word that helps us help those around us is the same word that sets us free: Love.

Prayers of Silence

Every night before I fall asleep I reflect on my relationship with Jesus and every night I have the same response.  I’m at a loss for words, my throat runs dry, I try my hardest to muster up the words to tell God how I feel, but the words never come to me.  I find myself just repeating the same three words over and over and over. Thank you, Lord.

What do I say when my words never seem to be enough? Never enough to express the joy inside my heart and the gratitude I feel every morning when I wake up.  Never enough to show how grateful I really am for where I’m at in life, for a new heart, for a new life, for freedom and grace.  All the praise in the world wouldn’t do God justice for what He’s done in my life.  How do I describe the indescribable feelings I have in my heart towards Him? I couldn’t, I will always be at a loss of words.  

I wonder what I can say to Him to explain how much I love Him.  Even now, I contemplate my feelings, but can’t find the words to describe them.  I’m lost in gratitude.  I’m lost in love.  I’m lost in grace.  I’m lost in Christ and how amazing He is.

I find myself in this position everyday of my life.  As I reflect on the blessings God continue to give me despite my shortcomings, still they reign upon me.  I can’t go a single day without thanking God for every single things He’s done for me.  Yet often my words come up short, my heart beats faster, but my lips remain shut.  My prayers become mute, but my heart shines radiant from His joy.

That’s the beauty of God though, He knows everything.  He knows the words that I can’t say, He knows the feelings that I can’t express fully.  He understands the beats of my heart in ways I don’t know and he knows the breaths of my lungs that I don’t.  He knows me better than I know myself.  At moments when I’m lost in Him, when my prayers of joy become prayers of silence, He stills hears them, He still smiles upon me.  It brings comfort to my heart that I can get lost in Him.  That my prayers can be silent.  That I can say everything I need with no words at all.  Because as I reflect at my life, I’ll never find the right words, I’ll never be able to express my feelings.  They’ll always come up a little short, not because I am not good enough, not because I don’t try, but only because God is so great.  I am blessed beyond my worth every day.  My Father’s love for me exceeds everything in life.  As I think about what it means I can only describe it one way.

Thank you, Lord.

Jesus Swag

A good friend of mine once talked to me about how powerful our subconscious thoughts are and how they can make or break us.  I was trying to grasp what he was saying but when he used me as an analogy I was blown away at how powerful of our thoughts.

My senior year of high school as a runner in all my races I probably won 95% of my races, in cross country I went undefeated and in track I only lost three races all year.  I worked very hard and I always believed in myself. Confidence.  My swagger was unparalleled that year, I stepped to the line every time thinking I was untouchable.  You can say I was arrogant or that I was cocky, but to be honest I just believed in myself above anything else in life.  He said I won almost all my races because I knew deep down that no one could beat me.  My thoughts powered me to always overcome whatever was in front of me because to me I simply knew I would no matter what.

Somewhere along the way I lost that swagger and my confidence long disappeared.  When I ran, I expected to not run the best and when obstacles arrived I settled for whatever the next place was.  My thoughts powered me down.  I over thought everything, my mind was a hundred different places.  My times plateaued, my motivation for school came to a cease, and I lost confidence in my ability to maintain relationships with any one.  My swagger was long gone, my confidence fell short.

This isn’t merely about running.  Our subliminal thoughts control a large portion of us.  This is about life.  The confidence we hold for ourselves can propel us to the tops of the mountains or drop us to the bottom of the trenches.  I’ve been to the mountain top, but I’ve also laid in the trenches.  When I reflect on my life I see that my thoughts and confidence in myself controlled what I was going to do the whole time.  Our confidence however often comes and goes as our perception of ourself changes.  A prize fighter will think he’s the best in the world for the longest time but when he’s knocked out in the first round what happens then? It’s at the low points of our life when our confidence sinks that we look towards the next quick fix to get our confidence back up, but eventually we need to find something that lasts eternally.

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength”

That’s my confidence.  That’s your confidence.  Philippians 4:13 is without a doubt one of the most recited verses but to what extent do we actually let it sink into our core and let it transform us.  After surrendering my life to Christ and growing in Him more than I ever could have imagined I now have the pleasure of actually knowing and understanding this verse.  I now get to know that my confidence no longer comes from me or anything I’ve done or what I could do, rather my confidence comes solely on the Lord.  

In running, confidence is vital in a good runner and just as mine wavered throughout college I now know that I won’t have to worry about it as long as I always keep my eyes seeking God.  This is my confidence, Garret Ehlers is weak.  I am.  I am incredibly weak.  The fact that I do half the stuff I do in itself points to something larger than me.  I am weak.  The pressure I put on myself tears me down, the perfectionist I try to become keeps those walls of strength from being built.  The way I yearned and fought every day for the approval of those around me to make them proud clouded my mind and blinded my eyes.  My arrogant attitude defeated me.  I am weak.

The God inside of me is strong.  The God that created the entire universe is almighty.  The Christ that defeated death is mighty.  The Jesus that performed miracles, cured lepers, feed thousands, and raised the dead is powerful.  That God is alive and inside me.  That’s my confidence.  That’s all the confidence I need.  That the God of the universe loves me already and nothing I could ever do could make Him love me more or less.  I don’t need to prove my worth, I can just be me.  That’s my confidence.  I can do anything because the Holy Spirit is radiant inside of me.

Our confidence doesn’t come from us, that’s the beauty of following Jesus.  Our confidence in ourselves is much larger than what we are capable of because it was given to us before we were born.  Christ died and left us the Holy Spirit.  The Living Breathing God of the Universe is inside of us.  If he can raise the dead why should we doubt what we can do?  We can accomplish anything, not because of anything we do, but because Christ is alive inside us.  We can do all things through Him who gives us strength.

During one of the first Cross Country meets I ran after my injury I was four miles into the race with a mile to go when I realized my tank was empty.  I had nothing left to give and I remember telling myself “Garret can’t finish the race, but God can and God will.” That’s my confidence and that’s your confidence.  

If our thoughts control us by willing us to do whatever we are thinking subconsciously whether propelling us to health and not to get sick, to ace the test and not to fail, or whatever it may be it’s important to realize the power behind them.  It’s important to always have confidence in yourself during life and know what you can accomplish.  Because we can overcome, we have the strength to reach the mountain tops.  More so, to have and sustain this confidence or swagger because you have inside of you the Holy Spirit.  

A Quiet Voice of Knowing

I’ve spent just shy of six months planning my departure from Morningside College and into the real world.  I had created all the reasons I needed so that I could leave: athletics, education, and money.  As I previously mentioned in Answering the Call, I felt God ushering me to stay at Morningside, but I was working my own hand into his plan for many different reasons.

My classes were disappointing, the price was too expensive, but the main reason I wanted to depart was running.  After years of misusing the gift God gave me and using it as idolatry, my emotions were all over the spectrum.  As I surrendered my life to Christ I wanted to leave everything that held me back in my old life in the dust.  Whether it was swearing, movies, sexual talk, or porn I wanted to eliminate it completely.  However, while running was idolatry for so long I could not simply walk away because the obligations I had to my team, a group of people who are more like a family.  I struggled to maintain the same passion I had for it while still making sure it didn’t control my life.  I attempted to glorify God through it, but was never really sure what that looked like.  After five years of maintaining running as the only important thing in my life I was burned out and looking for an escape.  That sweet escape came in the form of early graduation.  Everyone around me criticized me saying I was wasting a gift not being able to understand the desire I had to free myself from the holds it held on my emotions and life.  They weren’t able to see the stress it put on my life or the fact that it never gave me joy, making it harder and harder for me to pursue it.  If escaping running meant saving a couple thousand dollars and getting a real job, I was ready for it.

As I dive into my relationship with Christ and find the ability to surrender more and more of myself to Him I in turn find more and more freedom.  I was finally starting to get a grip on life and the meaning and purpose for my life.  I began to see some relationships fall apart and others expand so quickly I could barely understand it.  My running wasn’t good, but I was learning to enjoy it and actually have fun.  I was breaking free from the robot Garret who at meets was consumed by my own performance and found the ability to live free and just enjoy the blessing of being able to run.  In running I had always maintained a perfectionist attitude that kept me from being happy; an attitude that always told me it wasn’t enough and I needed to do more.  This season I found myself straying from perfectionism and just being consumed with the experience of running and praising God.  I had always prayed for strength, wisdom, and courage to race my best.  My prayer quickly changed to praising God whatever it meant, whether first or last, I just wanted to praise God.  I was finally grasping that my running wasn’t about me, but about Him.

 I was planning my departure, but God never much cared for my own plans.  His plan for my life, is much greater than I could have ever imagined.

On the bus ride back from a meet three hours away, I sat there listening to my music and contemplating my life and suddenly received a feeling of calmness and peace that assured me I needed to stay.  It was unexpected, but once again a calling from God to answer.  However, this one was unlike the first, it wasn’t revealed to me through Word, rather this time a complete feeling of knowing, trusting, and believing.  After months of planning to leave, in a moment I felt God’s want for me to stay and I couldn’t have been more joyous.  I knew I was going to stay the instant I felt God.  After talking to my parents and having them support me, I immediately went to Coach.  I’ve been blessed with many things and Coach Nash is by far one of the biggest.  Throughout my hectic year of unknowing and frustration with running, my constant highs and lows he’s always been by my side patient.  I told him I was going to stay and we both were ecstatic at what the future lies for not only myself but the team. As I told my family, my teammates erupted in joy and I honestly felt so loved.  My teammates are the reason I stayed at Morningside in the first place and now I get the privilege to stay with them and guide them.  The privilege to not only guide them on the track but more importantly in life, more importantly with Christ.

So it leaves us with why am I staying? What’s left to do? There are many things.  I finally had freedom from running, I firmly believe it took me being completely ready to walk away forever to believe that running finally wasn’t in control in my life.  Now that I knew it didn’t run my life, I knew I could finally enjoy it.  Through talks with Coach and friends, I realized my love for running was just surfacing and that I wasn’t ready to step away just yet.  I had used running for my own selfish desire and succeed all my goals and now I honestly want to reach some with God in my heart and give them all too him.  I’m now eager to enjoy running and glorify God, something I’ve come to see is done with less of performance and more of my heart. God has changed my heart and helped me enjoy running without stress or pressure.  God is Good.

More importantly than running, I’m beyond excited to see where my friendships go and how God uses us.  I’ve met some incredible people at Morningside and God continues to bless me every semester with more and more friends.  I’m at Morningside for the people and God continues to blow me away by the people I get the pleasure to talk to, run with, work with, and be weird with.  I’m excited to have another year with everyone here and pour into them, get to know them, and build relationships that can change lives.  God is Good.

My education may not be the best but great opportunities lie here in ministry form.  I could not imagine leaving my small group a semester early.  The people in it continue to take my breath away and inspire me, thinking about all the people who have come and gone through it is remarkable, I would estimate forty different people over the semester have come and contributed.  As far as money goes, I’ve always said I would pay extra for a worth while experience, I guess I finally got the nerves to take my own advice.  Once again, can I preach it. God is Good!

There is an internship awaiting for me and with staying the full year, I can take a full semester to serve the wonderful Bride of Christ.  Graduating a year early would mean cramming a once in the lifetime opportunity into two weeks of havoc and would take away from how much I can do.  I couldn’t be happier to have this opportunity be for a whole semester now with a church that has changed my life.  The people I will get to work with are phenomenal, I mean honestly the ministry team at Sunnybrook is one in a million, and knowing I get to be a part of it for a semester is unbelievable.  God is truly good.

God calls us, it’s our choice to answer.  Once we answer we have to evaluate how ‘in’ are we.  I’m all in on God’s plan.  I trust His plan more than anything, it’s not always easy to know what His plan is, but for those who pursue Him and seek Him with all their heart, He reveals it.  Whether it’s through the pages of His Word or a quiet voice that assures us and guides us.  The Holy Spirit is within us to help us.  I’m just glad I can be a part of the ride.

God is Good.  I am in love. 

Answering the Call

Everyone has a ministry on this earth.  Every single one of us has a place where we were made to be and a place where we are suppose to have an impact on those around us for the Kingdom of God.  For many of us, finding that place and knowing where to go is much easier said then actually done.  We tend to reach a crossroads where one path is our own desire and the other is God, but it’s hard to determine what one we’re suppose to travel down.  

I hit that crossroad this year.  As I dedicated my life to Christ and decided to follow Him with all my heart I traveled back into my old life not knowing what was going to happen or how people would perceive me.  I came back and I’m going to be honest, I was miserable, absolutely miserable.  I had finally found Christ, but I had never felt more out of place in my life.  I had completely lost my passion for running which connected me to all my friends.  As my foundations for all my friendships was a sport I was struggling to enjoy, my friendships felt so weak.  To go along with that, I was a completely different Garret than the person they learned to love a short three months ago.  I felt out of place, unwanted, and miserable.  I turned to my education in Religious Studies only to be disappointed.  In a depart full of people who don’t believe and mock God, my education lost all clout and credibility as the heresy I was learning about grew more and more.  I didn’t know what to do, I felt my time at Morningside was coming to an end.  I was ready to throw the towel in and start over at a school where I could focus fully on my faith.

Psalm 32:8 “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” (NIV)

I was about to have my world rocked by God in a moment when God would speak truth in my life and tell me where He wants me planted.  God had a plan for me the whole time, I was just blind to it before.  I thought I had been brought to Morningside so I could find God and then leave and plant seeds where it would be easiest for me, but God was about to instruct me and tell me where He wanted me to be.

In a moment when I had enough of feeling like an outcast.  When I was tired of being ignored and left out to dry.  In a moment when I was overwhelmed and couldn’t stand it anymore I turned to God and prayed for clarity.  I asked Him what He wanted me to do because I didn’t know if I could handle it anymore and then I turned to His Word for His answer to me.  So I opened it up to a random page, pointed to a random section and started to read.

"I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me." -Philippians 1:23-26

I was blown away.  I wanted to leave Morningside and be somewhere to cultivate my knowledge and my faith so that I could become who I wanted to be.  My heart loved the people at Morningside though and I knew I should help spread this joy and love to them, but I didn’t know how, I felt no one wanted me there.  God told me right where I needed to be, He told me that Morningside needs me.  That it was His plan all along to place me here, a place that would challenge me to grow in Christ, a place that would be the bridge to where I would surrender to Christ, and a place that would now be my ministry for college.  A place where God wanted me all along.  A place that would challenge me to grow as a leader and follower.  Where I would get to minister and help people find Christ every day in ways I never would be able to anywhere else.  God opened my eyes to my calling, He showed me that this is where I belong that this is where my heart breaks: for these people, my teammates, and family.  It was at that moment that I truly realized that my life isn’t about me.  I don’t live to serve myself, rather God.  I knew that my college experience wasn’t about me at all, rather it was about being a light and guiding those around me to Christ.  It was about helping those who are lost to find that eternal joy that only Christ can give us.  It was a reassuring moment to know that no matter what I face in life, the God I serve will provide and take care of me.  That wherever He sends me, I will guide me and instruct me and take care of me.

Some people may try to say that all this was merely a coincidence.  That the page I opened up to was random and the verse that caught my eye was merely just coincidental.  That may be, but what if it isn’t though? What if that was God calling me telling me where He wants me at, telling me the ministry He wants me to help guide.  In that moment of silence, I prayed, I listened, and I heard God usher truth to my life.  When people ask me what I’m doing at Morningside, the reason will always be radiant in my mind.  This is my calling. I was born to be here, with these people, and tell them the hope, love, and grace found in our Savior.

In a moment of frustration when you don’t know what to do and you look to God the phone will eventually ring.  He will be waiting for you to pick up and listen to His voice as He looks to guide you in your ways and counsel over you, but the question is whether or not you pick it up.  The question is will you answer the call?

 

White as Snow

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

Read that again, let it soak in.  Though our sins are scarlet and crimson, God washes us and makes us white as snow.  The whiteness of the snow and the wool that God renews us daily as reflects the purity that God see’s us behind.  The lens God see’s us through now doesn’t show us wallowing in the blood of our sin sin covering us in the scarlet and crimson that eats us alive on earth.  Rather the lens shows our Christ on the cross redeeming us, with us beside him covered in the whiteness of the purity.  We are renewed in God’s eyes.  We are clean.  We are righteous; at least in God’s eyes.

God’s len changes and we are renewed, but what happens to our lens.  Are we able to see ourselves in the same light.  God forgives us of all our trespasses, but what about us? Do we forgive ourselves?

Are we able as Christian’s to take a long hard look at our lives and all our short comings, all the pain, all the heartache, all the deceit, all the shame, all the embarrassment, and forgive ourselves.  Are we able to see ourselves as new people?

That’s a question that echoes through my mind every shower I take.  As I pray to God out of gratitude for a new day, my knees shake and I lean against the wall.  The worship music gets louder but the water drains out the sound.  The warm water beats across my body, and suddenly I turn it up a notch, and as I stand there the water now scorches my body but I can’t help but think “I deserve this.” I sit down and lean against the wall and close my eyes, the water still burning against my skin.  Pondering all my sin, holding back my tears. I ask myself again and again “Can I forgive myself.”  I pull it together after a couple minutes of pondering it over, pull myself to my feet, thanking God for a new life and a new heart.  As I turn the water off, I put my smile on and step out of the shower that just wrecked havoc on my mind by reminding me of the crimson stains on my clothes, forgetting about the snow I now walk in.

We can forgive ourselves.  It’s not easy, it’s an extremely difficult task because we know better than anyone the deep secrets and scars that hide behind the surface of our smiles.  Our flawed perspectives mask the truth that we are blameless in God’s eyes.  We now hold the gift of new life with Him who set us free.

We have new life, but it seems the pain of the past still burn brights in our minds.  The evil deeds of my past life still haunt my future life, regardless of lens God know sees me through, it still appears that the sin of my past life still lurks around the corner of my new life; waiting to devour my thoughts and remind me how I fell and who I hurt.  Reminding me of how I let down those around me, how I failed my parents, and how I failed my wife wherever she may lie.

God forgives me, but can I find it in my heart to forgive myself.  As I surround myself with followers and I tear down my walls and let them inside I feel their acceptance, I feel their welcome, I feel their love.  Contrary to popular belief, I do not feel judged or condemned, I feel a warm embrace and sorrow that I feel the way I do.  God forgives me, those around me accept and love me, but can I find it in my heart to forgive myself.  I’ve always been the kind of guy who demands the most, who expected the best, and yet now I’m living in a twilight zone of realizing I let myself down.  That I fell in ways I never dreamed of and I’ll never be a able to be whole.

Enter Jesus. Enter Savior. Enter Redemption.  Can I find it in my heart to forgive myself? It’s a struggle every day, but I’m learning to see myself as God sees me.  I’m learning to look at myself by not looking at myself at all, but looking to Christ; by looking at the cross.  

I set out of the shower.  I put on new clothes, clothes of whiteness, clothes of purity, clothes that are me.  I spray myself, I smell of a new aroma one of beauty one of redemption.  It tastes sweet, I love the smell, the smell of hope and renewal.  I open the front door, it’s cold as the snow adds up on the ground.  How perfect. Coincidence? I think not. God you are good.  A reminder of his blessings and mercy.  Growing up I hated snow, but now I love it.  I step outside barefoot.  Ready to live my life in the freedom of condemnation that God planned for me; especially the condemnation of myself.  I raise my hands in the air and open my mouth trying to catch snow flakes on my tongue.  Reminding myself that I am cleaner than to God and to myself than these snow flakes.  I am made a new.

Legalizing Sin

My stomach is upset.  The smile has left my face.  I am sad.  I reflect on my life and seeing the justification we give to sin.  We can point out sin in those lives around us, making ours seem minimal.  We deceive ourselves by believing a little sin here and there is normal, acceptable, and joyful.  It becomes increasingly easy to justify sin in our culture day after day.  We learn to accept sin and believe sin is no longer sin, we learn to legalize sin.

In the Sermon on the Mountain there is a section on Adultery.  In which Jesus sheds knowledge and shows a light.  What is adultery? Is adultery an affair? Is that the extent of it? Or is deeper in bedded in the pit of our heart. Adultery isn’t merely having an affair. It’s the very moment when we look lustfully at the opposite sex.  It’s at that moment when we have committed adultery in our heart. The heart that God looks at, inspects, and molds anew when we let him.  Jesus then goes on to explain how serious we should take sin and to the extent of which we should rid it from our lives.  How evil is the sin in our life? Evil enough for Jesus to advise us to gouge out our lustful eyes and cut off our hands.  Regardless of whether you interpret Jesus advice to severe ties at all costs as literal or metaphorical it serves to show how serious He views sin as.

That should serve as a massive wake up call to everyone, including myself.  I spent a large portion of my life enthralled in a world of pornography.  The evil deeds of my heart oozed out of body in an addiction I couldn’t control.  An insurmountable amount of guilt overcame me.  Through the first five years of my addiction breaking the law.  Fortunately for me, as I turned 18 a small amount of the weight was lifted off knowing that in society’s eyes I am finally normal.  I could breathe a sigh of relief.  I was no longer living in a world of sin.

If that was the end of the story, my life would be different.  Unfortunately for me, it was not society’s righteousness I was being judged against, it was God.  Lust was still harbored deep inside my heart.  Society approved, but God still saw it as a sin.  Whether I fell to viewing porn every day or was able to go months between, I was living in a world of sin.  I was living in a world against God.  While my actions may be pure in between faults, my heart was anything but.  

The Proverbist says “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of your life. -Proverbs 4:23.  I wasn’t able to guard my heart.  It wasn’t until I fled from the world that I was able to gain a new heart.  This is what bothers me the most, that we don’t realize the heart is the problem.  We prioritize, justify, and accept sin into our life.  Our culture is so backwards that people will see getting drunk at twenty unacceptable, but look forward to the day when they’re 21 so they can drink like there is no tomorrow.  That’s what scares me.  In our minds, as Christian’s it’s all to easy for us to justify our sin based not on God’s measuring stick but by society’s.  

More so than that, it breaks my heart to see a Christian who claims to live a life with Christ and then fleeing into this sin.  All to often, Jesus mentions not doing activities that lead to someone else to stumble in their walk with Christ.  Yet, Christian’s are doing just that, willingly adopting a life of sin with the hopes of bringing people down with them.  Whether the government deems it as normal or not is not the question God asks, it is the question of the heart and where does the heart lie.

I know this all too well, from my own life.  I think that’s why it hurts me so much when I see it in other people, because I’ve felt the pain.  I’ve lived the life of confusion and hopeless despair.  Looking everywhere but God to place identity in.  I’ve justified my sin. I’ve accepted it.  I’ve made it a normal part of my life.  However, I’ve also tasted the sweet taste of redemption.  I’ve felt the power of Christ change my heart and my desires.  I’ve seen God’s plan open up, and I yearn for you too experience the feelings of freedom too.  Regardless of what I did though, the Truth of Scripture stayed the same.  Sin is sin.  Porn is porn, whether at 15 or 35 is still adultery, it’s still sin.  Getting drunk is getting drunk, whether at 16 or 27, is still sin according to Scripture.  The problem remains the same, our heart deceives us as Christians at times.  Until we have a new heart, our problems will stay not flee from our lives.  We as Christians need to remind ourselves that we were bought at a price.  That our life is not our own.  That we are reflections of Christ.  Whether porn is legal at 18 or not it is sin.  Whether alcohol is legal at 21 or not it is still a sin.  Just because the government legalizes a sin, that doesn’t mean that God does, God doesn’t merely judge our actions but also our heart.

This isn’t meant to set up a system of legalistic principles, but show us that the importance of our actions stems from the heart.  For the heart is the wellspring of our life.

Treasure of the Heart

Growing up I remember everyone asking what your most important possession was.  For the longest time growing up, I had a “treasure box” that was my most valuable possession.  This “treasure box” as I called it was a draw underneath my bed that contained all my running awards.  From my conference medals, small town medals, to state medals.  It also encompassed all the news articles that ever had my name within them whether box score or articles written on me they were they.  It had all my running stats from every meet, from every time, to every place.  It had my Mustangs from college, it had my state bands, it had pictures of me running.  This draw had every running related achievement and race I had ever achieved inside it and I couldn’t of be prouder.  It was secret, but anyone who was close to me I would show them everything.  I knew if there was one thing I would want to save it would be my “treasure box”, that was my hearts fondest possession.

Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus spends much of His ministry preaching on various topics and ideas, but one of the main ones is the heart.  He talks in great deal how God doesn’t look merely at the actions of the body, but also on the motivation of the heart.  In this short verse, Jesus sums up so much of our life.  We may fail to see it, but it’s there in the back shadows of our mind haunting us or setting us free without us even realizing it.  Where our treasure is and what we care most about is where our heart lies, where our heart seeks out happiness and joy, where we yearn for acceptance and love.  The treasure we have is where our heart will be.

Proverbs 4:23 “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

If you’re wondering why this is important or why we should consider it at all, Proverbs 4:23 should raise some clarity on the situation.  Where our treasure is, there lies our heart.  Where our heart lies is where the course of our life is taking us.  The treasure we have then turn to the very essence of our life.  That’s why we need to guard our heart and be careful, why we must make sure our heart is in the right place.

Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

We may not even realize that our life is spinning out of control until it’s too late? We live life many times based on raw emotions.  We’re always told to follow our heart, but our heart can be the most deceitful things.  It can lead us astray in the blink of an eye. 

Why am I saying any of this? Well without even knowing it that “treasure box” I had slowly started to shape the course of my life.  As the the memorabilia in the draw grew so my attachment grew.  The course of my life was set in motion on a one way track that went round and round.  It started to consume me, it’s all I cared about, it was my identity, yet it was my treasure.  The problem with investing your treasure as something on this earth is it won’t last and it won’t always love you back.  My attachment and obsession with running left me more tears of frustration than tears of joy.  It left me more never satisfied and disappointed.  While it seemed my relationship with running was all love nothing could have been further from the truth.

Matthew 6:20 “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”

My treasure was tucked safely under my bed for years, but as it was earthly it was bound to fall apart and be forgotten eventually.  As I grow older and my understanding of my life, this world, and God grows so my treasure changes.

To this day that “treasure box” has been moved.  All the hours of work I put into getting them now lies in some box under the stairs.  When I went home and realized this I wasn’t heartbroken by any means, it was a shock but it was expected.  I’ve come to realize that all my accomplishments on this earth will one day be forgotten, hidden in boxes somewhere.  That is not being pessimistic by any means, because in times all things of this earth will fade.  It’s a reminder to me that my true treasure lies not anywhere on this earth, but only in heaven with my Lord.  That’s where true ever lasting treasure awaits us all.