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Raising a stone of witness: God is still working in me

Raising a stone of witness: God is still working in me

“Every day something draws it nearer. My personal studies the sermons I listen to, the council of friends, every visit to the “real world,” all seem to be converging upon some unknown point in the nearing future.  …

My life is full, but it is by no means complete. I am often broken by the incredible weight of an unanswered call. I know that the ministries I partake in are not the only gift I have to give. There is something more for me. Please pray that God will reveal this, or else give me peace in His timing.”

https://raisingthebanner.com/personal/birthday-update-25-answering-the-call

I wrote these words a little over a year ago. In the time since, God has been doing some incredible work in me.

When I was in High School, I got a Facebook because I thought I could use it as a tool to share Jesus with others. In 2017, I felt called to start a blog for the same reason. With each venture, I met disappointment. There are so many voices out there already. It’s easy to be a Christian online, and it’s even easier to lose your voice in the crowd when everyone is shouting their own praises. Still, I felt like God had a place of ministry prepared for me, I just hadn’t found it yet.

My search for a place in ministry

In the past year, I spent a lot of time serving at church and praying over God’s future plans for me. But God began to change my desires, not through my work at church, but through my free time. I began to play a couple of video games (something I haven’t done much since high school). It wasn’t long before I decided I’d have more fun making my own. As I began crafting a new world, I kept finding Jesus at the center of it. At the same time, God began showing me the current gaming industry as it looks through His eyes. As my talents, passions, and a newfound hope for the world spectacularly collided, I knew that God was showing me the next step for my life.

Many people are worried about violence in video games. In 2019, there has been a growing concern about gambling in games meant for minors. Video game addiction is now a diagnosable disease. In all of this, there’s one complaint I have never heard. I have never seen a distraught parent complain that their student has become “religious” because of something they were playing on their computer. I have never heard of a kid become inspired to become a missionary and spread the Gospel because they spent too much time soaking in the worldview presented by the games they play. God has given me a desire to change this.

Yes I am crazy, thanks for asking

I have a crazy vision in my head that I just can’t shake, no matter how hard I try. It’s grown beyond a single game, or even a game studio. I see a group of artists and software developers sharing their talents online to create good games with eternal themes. Our nation already loves open-source software, and is increasingly charitable. Open-source gaming might be just around the corner. With little or no costs for development, every penny earned could go to good Christian charities around the globe. Instead of trying to fight piracy, we could distribute free copies to individuals who normally would steal them, bundled with notes of encouragement and hope.

It’s huge, scary, and absolutely impossible for me to do on my own. But if God is with me, then I wonder if my vision is still too small. He does greater things every day. I have shared this idea with a few different friends and family members. At times, I can get overwhelmed by the possibilities and uncertainties. But every person I talked to has asked the same question: “Why hasn’t this been done already? I think it would work!”

“Worship” and “failure” are not synonymous. I am seeking to make God’s name great through a medium that traditionally ignores or mocks God. If this is nothing more than one man’s act of worship, it will be worth every effort. But I carry a victorious hope that God will do great things through the gifts He has given me.

So, why am I sharing this now?

I recently returned from our annual Fall Retreat. While the event is designed for students, God often uses it in the lives of the adults there as well. This year, the staff decided to take a break from the usual themes of repentance and instead celebrate the victories in our lives. Perhaps unsurprisingly (when doesn’t God provide exactly what we need?), the theme verse this year was Matthew 6:33-34.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

On Saturday (the last Chapel of retreat), the speaker spoke on Exodus 17:8-16. It was one of the many battles in the Bible where God provided the victory. At the end of the story, Moses set up an altar of witness. He called it Yahweh-nissi, “The Lord Is My Banner.”

During the last song of the night (Way Maker by Leeland), our worship leader stopped and warned us that we ought to be careful with our words when we worship. I have heard a worship leader say this once before. At the camp where I first received my call to ministry, the lead singer of Addison Road warned us that we should carefully consider the words we use in worship. At that time, we sang a song of commitment with pure hearts. This time, we confessed knowledge of God’s perfect providence in the same spirit.

My stone of witness:

We encouraged the students to make a “stone of witness” during the worship on Saturday, and I decided to make one as well. Disappointed by the limited space for writing, I scratched out the words “You’re working” and returned to worship. I decided to get a bigger rock later. I might have forgotten if it wasn’t for one other thing.

This morning, I decided that I would finally get around to writing the blog post on busyness that I have been putting off for the past year. (Yes, I feel the irony here…) I opened the site for the first time in a long time, and read the words I have quoted above. Without intending to, I had raised up a memorial stone on my 25th birthday. Now it stands as a reminder of the distance I have covered in the past year. Five minutes after I finished reading my old post, I was outside looking for a bigger rock. I wrote the lyrics down so I wouldn’t quickly forget:

“Even when I don’t see it, You’re working.

Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working.

You never stop, You never stop working.”

The first steps of my calling are clear to me. God has proven it to me over and over. I’m continuing onward with no fear, just a furious hope that God will do greater things through me still.

Thank you for your continued support!

After much rework, I am sharing my full story here today. I decided that I would not withhold any detail, since it is more of a story about God than about me. The way ahead is unclear, but I am trusting that God will continue to light my path. I haven’t published a game since I was 16, so I’m starting small. By my best estimates, I’ll be done with that project around June 2020. I can’t say what comes after that. But I am paving the way now with prayer.

If you’ve read this far, will you keep this adventure in your prayers as well? Jessica is in support of my plans, but right now this is something I’m merely doing with my free time. I don’t know if/when God will call me to leave my job. I do know that God is able to more than we ask or imagine. A year ago, I had no thought of making games again. Perhaps there are even larger plans just out of view. But I asked for prayers last year, and God has answered them. I’m ready to see Him do it again. Soli Deo Gloria! Thank you.

The day I stopped to listen (MLK Day)

The day I stopped to listen (MLK Day)

Martin Luther King Jr. day is one of those holidays that I always forget about. It seems to sneak up on me every year, and it passes by with little fanfare. This year as I sat at home with little to do, I decided to finally read Dr. King’s famous speech in its entirety. I was surprised to find how few of the battle lines have moved in the past 55 years. We still are dealing with issues of prejudice, bias, and hate today. Yet it seems like the weapons of our wars have changed drastically in the past few years. Today, I want to take a step back and look at how we fight. Are our actions leading us further into the society that Dr. King spoke of in his dream, or are we drifting out into the sea of injustice?

The day I met a feminist

A little less than a year ago, Jessica and I were out shopping at the Mall of America. Jessica decided to brave the crowds at the Bath and Body Works semi-annual sale to get some scents. We were separated by the crowds, and I began to wander the store looking for her. As I rounded a display table, I found myself in the path of a woman in her forties. She set her face in a scowl as she strode forcefully through the store. Her eyes flashed with anger, as if she were ready to challenge anyone there to a fight at a moment’s notice. I immediately dropped my gaze and stepped to the side (as did everyone else in her path). As she passed by, I noticed a button on her lapel. It read “This is what a feminist looks like.”

In the days following that split-second encounter, I looked back and wondered if the woman’s statement was really true. Is there a way that we can fight for freedom and equality without becoming wearied veterans? Is there a way to preserve my neighbor’s countenance even if we find ourselves on the opposite sides of a debate? Two months after my encounter, “Pride Day” rolled around. My Facebook feed filled up with angry, hateful, and ignorant comments from both sides of a modern debate. As I scrolled through the mutual hate and ignorance, I discovered the root of the problem.

Are we fighting for equality or superiority?

In every debate since history began, the world has been divided into “us” and “them.” But this attitude will never bring us into true equality. As soon as I divide the world into two groups, I lose the ability to set “them” on the same level as “us.” If the issue is about one of two groups gaining power, then I cannot honestly desire to see “us” enter the minority. Many of the debates I see today begin by drawing the battle lines and dividing us into factions. But “us” and “them” debates  will never bring change, save by violence or intimidation. If I want to see the chasms in our nation healed, it is up to me to stop placing “them” in a category and start treating everyone like my neighbor. (see Luke 10:25–29)

2000 years ago, God willingly gave up His power and majesty when He came to this world for our sake. He was the only person in human history to truly deserve a position at the top of Earth’s society. Jesus didn’t take what was rightfully His. Instead, He “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8) When Jesus gave Himself for us, He started a new movement: those in power willingly laying aside their positions for the betterment of their fellow man. If I can live like Christ through His power, I can begin to break down the barriers that exist in my life.

What this holiday has to teach me

As I read a little bit today about Dr. King and his efforts to bring equality to our nation, I learned a little bit about the opportunities I have to make a difference. In his speech, Dr. King called out the white people who joined the march for equality in his day: “many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.”Jesus commissioned every one of us to stand with the poor and oppressed. This means that I have a responsibility to listen and to care.

The answers aren’t always easy. But healing begins when we are willing to stop and understand each other. I cannot find my worth in my worldly position, but from my place in God’s hand. Armed with this knowledge, I can honestly rejoice when my neighbor is exalted, even when they reach a position far above my own head. “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Today, I want to begin placing the needs of others before my own. Justice starts when I lay down my rights and fight for the rights of my neighbor as if they were my own.

More than the Sparrows – Part 2

More than the Sparrows – Part 2

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

Two months ago, God used some car trouble to teach both Jessica and I some lessons about dependence and worry. Shortly after I wrote a blog post about it, my parents lent us enough money to get a good, reliable car. They helped us find a Mazda5 which fit our needs and our budget. Jessica named her “Silvermist,” and we rejoiced that our car troubles were over. We enjoyed two months of safe reliable transport. Then on Wednesday, it all came crashing down. After 8 years of driving, I finally had an accident. I totaled our car, and we returned to the same place of uncertainty we were in two months ago.

For the second time in a row, God was quick to bless us through the trial. First off, I can be thankful that no one was injured in the accident. It happened right next to Jessica’s work, so she was able to walk to the scene of the accident to support me. Our insurance agent (who is next door to Jessica’s office) saw the wreck on his way in. Less than two hours later, I sat down next to the guy I hit and talked through the insurance process with my agent. We filed every necessary piece of paper right then and there.

Alli came down and provided transportation for us. We went to the hospital to get checked out, and then we grabbed a rental car. Friends and family came around to support us in prayer, and my parents began to send us links to potential replacement cars.

On Friday, Jessica and I signed our car over to State Farm, and they cut us a check. It was the fastest claim process our agent had seen in his entire career. God was so quick to bless us that He apparently broke records in the process. Not only did the money come extremely quickly, but we received a check for $30 more than we had paid for the car originally. They claims department had valued our car at nearly a thousand dollars higher than the original price, so we gained money in the transaction, even after they subtracted the deductible.

On Saturday, we found the a nearly identical car to the one we lost. It was $1000 below our budget. The only problem was that we didn’t have money in the bank yet. I mentioned it to the manager, and he offered to hold us the check. “We have been in the business for a long time. We know who we can trust. Just leave us the check and take the car. When you get your money, give us a call.” Jessica and I were able to drive off the lot in our new car three days after we lost our previous one. The manager gave us his number and asked us to let him know if we had any troubles with the car. At the end of the sale, he took us across the street and bought us dinner.

Throughout the whole experience, God’s grace was obvious. At every turn, we were met with compassion. The car dealer and our State Farm agent were both grateful that I wasn’t hurt. Friends and family reminded me of God’s goodness. It felt like God was moving mountains in order to take care of us. Our insurance check cleared the bank yesterday, and this story came to an end – only six days after it began! I suppose there is nothing more I can say about it other than “thank you.”

Thank you to my parents for giving us the advice we needed and for helping us find a replacement. (Also, thank you for helping us finance the first car). To Alli and Sarah, thank you for helping us get around when we didn’t have transportation of our own. Thank you to Steve from State Farm and Jerry from Vera Auto Sales for surpassing our expectations and providing compassion to a stranger. Above all, thank you to everyone who supported us through prayer. I thank God for the incredible story that only He could write.

To anyone who is in the midst of their own struggle, I hope that our story can provide a little hope. God is the author of our stories, and He never writes tragedies about His children. This week required a lot of work on my part, but I never had to worry. With every new day, I find more reminders that my Father in Heaven cares for me. I hope that there is not a “next time,” but I know  God will carry us through if there ever is.

Birthday update (25!) – Answering the call

Birthday update (25!) – Answering the call

Hey friends! I hope that it is not too weird for me to be the first to post on my wall for my own birthday. I wanted to stop and share a piece of my story with everyone who would wish me well today. God has been bringing a clearer definition to my life as of late, and I want to share the life update with you guys.

This particular story starts when I was 17. I spent the majority of my after-school time at church events. But I was still surprised when God began to make claims on my life. I don’t know exactly when it started, but amidst the tangled and embarrassing mess that makes up a high school boy’s inner thought life, a new image came. With increasing frequency, the image of myself standing before a crowd and speaking God’s Word would come to my mind. It was honestly very confusing. It sounded weird and possibly vain so I never mentioned it to anyone. But it felt nothing like the selfish fantasies that my mind naturally produced. It felt entirely foreign, but try as I might, I could not keep the image out of my head. During my Wednesday night Bible study in particular, the image would return, clearer and stronger each day than it was before.

Six months after this began, my church went on a mission trip/retreat. Late in the week, the speaker gave the altar call – something that I had heard many times before. But on the next day, he gave another call that would change the course of my life. He asked if anyone here felt like God was calling them into ministry. The thoughts and images from the past six months flooded my mind. After a moment of wrestling, I began to raise my hand. Simultaneously, the speaker clarified the call: “Again, if anyone feels called into full time ministry, please raise your hand.” It was too late to turn back. I knew that God had singled me out for something apart from my own plans. He wanted to do something with me that would displace my own hopes and dreams. I had no choice but to answer the call.

When I met with my youth group after the service, I was surprised to find that no one else was surprised by my action. My youth pastor told me that he knew I was going to raise my hand. My parents told me that they had committed me to the Lord as an infant to do whatever He willed. After the trip, I wondered what would happen next. Would I have to give up my dreams of becoming an engineer? Would I ever be able to do the things that I love?

Fast-forward a few years. The same call visits my mind from time to time, but no opportunity has ever clearly presented itself for me to follow. I’m turning 25 today. I have been given everything that I feared I’d have to give up when I raised my hand into the unknown. I went to college and became an engineer. After a handful of friendly rejections, I met the one woman who was crazy enough to marry me. We bought a house a few months ago. We are both working our dream jobs. And we spend four evenings per week with our local church. We are blessed on every side with family and friends. In short, my life is full. Sure I will always want more from life (kids come to mind). But my heart is fully satisfied today with the gifts that God has given.

If God took my life tomorrow, I would not feel cheated. But I would feel cut short, like an arrow that was snatched out of the sky mid-flight. I have faced death once already. I spent a week in the ICU in 2015. My friends and family didn’t know whether I would survive. But God came during that time and reminded me of the call I had received. I knew that my life would not end then because I had not yet fulfilled the purposes that God has for me. I had full confidence then that something greater was on the horizon. The same unwavering hope still fills my heart today.

And that is why I want to share this story today. Many friends have inquired whether God is merely calling me to do church ministry on the side. For many people, (perhaps most) this is all that God asks. I don’t challenge my friends to change their career paths to become missionaries or evangelists. But I am serving at my full capacity and I still feel broken for the world (and America in particular). Glimpses of another call shine through the cracks in my life every day. And it’s getting stronger.

I met with a trusted friend on Monday and shared the whole story. He helped me overcome the fear and anxiety I faced over the unknown, but the call still remains. Every day something draws it nearer. My personal studies the sermons I listen to, the council of friends, every visit to the “real world,” all seem to be converging upon some unknown point in the nearing future.

And that’s where you come in. For my birthday this year, there is one thing I desire most. Leave a note on my Facebook (I promise I’ll read it this year). Give me a gift if you want to. But beyond all that, would you pray for me? My life is full, but it is by no means complete. I am often broken by the incredible weight of an unanswered call. I know that the ministries I partake in are not the only gift I have to give. There is something more for me. Please pray that God will reveal this, or else give me peace in His timing.

To be clear: I have never yet felt inclined to leave my job. As a married man, I will not make a move until both my wife and I are confident in God’s leading. I know that God wastes nothing. God has given me my job, house, friends, and church for a reason. I want to be ready to give all for Christ’s sake, but I do truly doubt that I will be asked to sell all these things we have. If God has more to teach me in this season, then I am willing to wait. If it takes 25 more years for God to bring about the realization of the call that I received, then I want to serve diligently where I can even as I wait. But I truly believe that this next step is near. And I want to be ready to meet it when it arrives.

Soul 30 – Learning to live without distraction

Soul 30 – Learning to live without distraction

I would be lying if I claimed to be at peace with my days. My week may be full of great events and opportunities, but I often find that something is still lacking. Many days, I catch myself wasting every moment that wasn’t dedicated to a particular event from the start. My office is littered with unread books, my mind is filled with unwritten thoughts, and my soul is clogged by unspoken prayers. Many times, my career is affected and my work ethic begins to wane. My calendar appointments with the Church become lone islands of nourishment in a sea of apostate lethargy. On my good days, wonder why it’s so hard to live the life that I want to live. On my bad days, I don’t even have the wherewithal to even ask the question.

This past Sunday, I woke up with a very clear conviction in my heart. If I want to overcome my inherent laziness, I need to change the things I am feeding my soul. Of course, this idea wasn’t merely my own. Some of our close friends have recently completed the Whole30 diet. Over the past four weeks, we have been listening to their experiences as they learned to live without some of the foods that they have consumed for their entire lives. The Whole30 diet is unique because it was designed to be temporary. Right now, these friends are re-introducing foods to their bodies one-by-one to see what is good for them and what is bad for them. I have decided to apply the same principles to the things that I am feeding my heart and soul.

The Problem

If you want to get shunned and ignored in most churches today, all you have to do is suggest that perhaps Christians shouldn’t engage in certain aspects of our culture. I understand, the Bible doesn’t directly tell us how we should interact with movies, sports, social media, video games, etc. And I don’t believe any of these categories are inherently evil or should be thrown out by default. But when I read the Bible (the Psalms and Paul’s epistles in particular, just read Psalm 119), I see a love for and dependence on God’s word which I just can’t claim for myself today. It only seems logical that the way I spend my time might affect my spiritual appetite.

The man I am today is much less than the man I aspire to be. I know from my past that my “down time” often becomes a distraction and a source of busyness. I must set aside my preconceived notions and give my pastimes a fair trial. Jesus clearly asked me to deny myself if I seek to follow Him (see Matthew 16:24). I will not lie to myself; if something is holding me back, I first need to know about it and then I need to do something about it.

The Challenge

I’m calling my challenge “Soul 30” because I’m a dufus and I thought it sounded catchy. Naming aside, this is one of the best ideas which has entered my head in a long time. (Likely because it didn’t enter by my own accord.) Everything I have written on this blog so far was meant to encourage. But today, may I step out and offer a challenge? I want you to join me in this endeavor. Please ask yourself, “could this Soul 30 challenge change the way I live my life?” For many of us, I believe the answer to be “Yes.”

It’s okay to be skeptical. I have tried “Facebook fasts” before, and they almost never work. We are very capable of exchanging one distraction for another. I recently heard someone say that he was meaning to watch less Netflix so he could play more video games. I hope to accomplish much more than that through this month. Only by eliminating all distractions will I be able to understand how each affects me. There is no halfway.

The Details

For this month, I am using a whitelist approach to my free time. (A whitelist, in contrast to a blacklist, is a collection of good things which should be allowed to supersede a general rule.) Instead of listing all of the things I should not be doing, I want to focus on the positive. Where can I invest my time? Here are all of the things I will continue to do this month. For anyone who is willing to join me, feel free to modify the list to suit your needs.

  • Work – My career – and everything I am required to do/research, etc. will remain unaffected.
  • Friend/Family/Church commitments – My focus is on my personal time, so I am not going to reduce the number of commitments I have.
  • Prayer – Without this, the whole challenge is meaningless.
  • Reading the Bible and encouraging books
  • Journaling, writing, (this blog)
  • Internet when I have a specific purpose in mind – Paying bills, planning dates, etc. Does not include mindless browsing or online window shopping.
  • Uplifting music – I will listen to music while working, but I will turn it off when I can to provide opportunities to listen for God’s voice.
  • Texting and calling people
  • Budgeting (max 3 times per week) – I like to look at my money more often than I need to. That’s not a good use of time, but I will check in every now and then in case something goes sour.
  • Social Media (Less than 1/2 hour per day) – For me, social media is a small distraction, but is also a necessary way to keep up with certain people.
  • Time spent with friends/family, etc.

The list I provided above may seem awfully sparse. But boredom is not an absence of things to do. I often go downstairs, look inside a full fridge, and then declare that there is nothing to eat in the house. My problem is I have taught myself to crave something which I cannot have at the moment. I fully expect to find myself staring at the wall a few times during the first week. But I hope to see my tastes change in time as I begin to re-train my soul to crave the things of God.

A Word of Warning

My heart behind the Soul 30 is to teach myself (and others) to control distractions and to seek God first. To be fair, this isn’t a strictly Christian activity. You could eliminate distractions for a month in order to become a better businessperson, a better parent, or a stronger athlete. But I focused my list on Christian activities for a very specific reason. God created each of us with a unique eternal purpose in mind. Focusing on the things of this world and cutting out spiritual discipline is like taking a road trip and throwing the GPS out the window. Knowing where you want to go and knowing how to get there are two very different things. The only way to reach our dreams without destroying our souls in the process is to continually lean on God.

If you are reading this and you don’t know Jesus Christ personally, may I suggest that this challenge is not for you? You might unlock the ability sell yourself more wholeheartedly to some specific passion, person, or career. But what happens when that thing inevitably lets you down? You will lose your identity, your very self. God came down to Earth and suffered on our behalf so we don’t have to find our identities in incomplete things. He wants us to give ourselves wholly to Him so He can show us who He designed us to be. We will never discover ourselves until we begin to place our lives in His hands. If we settle for anything less, then we are merely substituting one distraction for another.

In Conclusion

If you have resonated with anything I have shared above, please consider joining me in this endeavor. There is a great need in our nation today for men and women who are ready to wholeheartedly give their lives to Christ. This challenge is not, in itself, going to change the world. But we have much more to gain than we have to lose if we dare to set aside lesser things in the pursuit of the greater. Together, let’s “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:2)”

If I have convinced you to try this Soul 30 challenge, I would love to hear about it so I can be praying for you. If not, please pray for me when you think of it. I expect the road ahead to be rough in places, but I know that it is well worth the effort. Thank you for taking the time to hear my thoughts and to share in my journey.

P.S.

In the past week as I have worked on this blog post and have shared my story with the church, you have continued to encourage me. I now know that this challenge is merely my way of answering the call that millions of Christians have already answered: the call to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Christ. (Luke 9:23) To everyone who has shared your stories with me this week, thank you. I thank God that this road I am on, though difficult at times, doesn’t have to be lonely. I have learned that fasting can result in joy more often than sorrow, and I have been strengthened and encouraged at every turn.

More than the sparrows

More than the sparrows

It has been an interesting week for us. On Sunday, our beloved Jeep lost compression in her 5th cylinder. She was dead, but we wouldn’t know for another day. As I sat in church, distracted and worried, God brought Matthew 6:26 to my heart: “Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they?” God dealt with me graciously through the morning, and by the end of the worship service I was convinced that this problem was not too big for God to handle. Feeling compelled to write, I sat down and began to share the lessons God was teaching me. As I reflected on God’s faithfulness to us, I wrote the following:

Was the car trouble an attack on our faith, or a gift from God Himself? I suppose we won’t know for a while. I do know that it’s time I started making more room for God’s providence in my plans.

When Monday rolled around, we took her to the shop and learned that we no longer had a working car. Repair cost? $4500. I will admit, I fought back tears a little when I told Jessica that the car which took us on our first date and climbed countless mountains with me was no more. But the tears flowed freely when our friends called us to offer their car as a free rental for as long as we needed. The help and support we received on Monday was extraordinary. I received so many phone calls that day that I had a plan together before I got off work with little effort on my part. Things have been looking up since then. Perhaps more importantly, the crisis has given me the chance to reflect on the way we invest our lives.

When God had my back

When I was in college, I had a few thousand dollars to my name, and no way to replenish it once I ran out. As the years passed me by, I learned to trust God with the little I had. There were of course times and ways when I trusted myself to get through, but overall the looming knowledge that one emergency could cripple me didn’t hurt day-to-day. I knew God had my back, and I knew He would provide for my needs. But when I became an engineer, the continual revenue stream began to change my way of thinking. We don’t have more in the bank than we had two years ago, but I see our income outweighing our expenses, and I know the law of averages will eventually begin to line our pockets.

And perhaps that’s the problem. Two years ago, we were hopeful, not just for our own future, but for the ministry that we were going to do. We wanted to set aside an emergency fund for ourselves and another for God’s leading. We were going to go way above and beyond a mere 10% tithe. And for a while we did. My first bonus went straight to the church. But my second didn’t. Neither did my third. I have been slowly training myself to look at the ledger more and more times per day. I have been trying to predict the irregular sources of income that once used to surprise and delight me. But I believe God heard our promises two years ago, and He will hold us accountable to our promised intentions.

Arranging for God’s blessing

Greed is the only vice that blinds before it attacks. A man in adultery is fully aware of what he is doing. A covetous man often is not. When I cling to every penny that passes through my hands, I make it much more difficult for God’s blessings to surprise and delight me. God tells me that all of these material things will be added if I only seek His Kingdom first. So I’m making a change. I am not about to be reckless on all fronts. Jesus had a lot to say about avoiding debt and living within our means. But He also had a lot to say about walking by faith and always asking for the things that we truly needed. If we need a new car, God has a means to provide it. When we are truly putting God’s kingdom first, nothing is impossible. If I refuse to be faithful until I feel safe in my own accomplishments, I will never actually step out in faith.

Living by faith is the most difficult when I feel like I can solve the problems myself. I recently realized that my consistent salary is the true problem I should be solving for. Our low budget will solve itself in due time. But if I’m not careful, I will become like every other dollar-chasing American. “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36) So I am making changes to keep us dependent on God, even during the easy times when were surrounded by consistency and stability. Here are some practical things I plan to do:

Walking by faith when the grass is still green

First, I am going to let the budget go. Mint was a great tool to get us on track, and I would recommend it to anyone who struggles to live inside of their means. But we have the opposite problem today. Every day, I shuffle and tweak our budget to enable us to splurge just one more time. There is just no room for ministry in a life like that. We are going to cash out a fixed budget week so there will be no need for micromanagement. Moreover, I am deleting my finance bookmarks and blocking those sites on my work computer. Can I still access them in a pinch? Of course. Will I be able to sit and watch the pennies add up every day? By God’s grace, no.

When I take my hands off of the wheel, I enable God to once again bless and surprise us. By simplifying our spending habits, I will avoid the temptation to spend a dollar simply because it is there. We will still have an emergency fund, but God’s demands will always come before our own. If God asks us to take a plunge into uncertainty and give every dime to a missionary or event, we will be ready to meet the call, not only without fear, but with joy in the knowledge that a great story of God’s goodness is about to be told.

God’s providence today

I don’t expect this mindset to make sense to all of our friends and family. Reducing our spending and using cash is a good idea. But refusing to watch our finances closely and preparing to give more than we can afford to the things of God? That is crazy talk by all accounts. But “God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27) I know without a shadow of a doubt that our “luck” will never run out if we trust God first, because it is not in fact luck but divine providence. We are stepping up, and we are excited to watch God work wonders as we continue to serve Him in dependent gratitude.

 

P.S.

I am fully aware that I am writing this story before I know the ending. Last night, we found a grey Mazda5 Sport and put a deposit on it, pending inspection. It fits into our budget, but just barely. We’re going to be in a dangerous position for at least a month. Any unforeseen disaster could be crippling. But I don’t mind being here. We’re in a state of full dependence. We don’t know the answers, so we’re trusting God to get us though. And I know I want to keep trusting God like this even when the answers are more clear.

 

Good, Better, More: How God transcends our expectations

Good, Better, More: How God transcends our expectations

I often wonder if Jesus’s teaching is lost on us today. Most days, I approach God looking for a better quality of life. Naturally, I want to live the best life possible. Better, of course means a life full of happiness and devoid of suffering. But when I read Jesus’s teaching, I find something quite different. We are promised suffering in this life. We are asked to take up our crosses and follow Him. The modern church has tried to dull the promise of suffering in an attempt to sweeten the message, but I think Jesus had something else in mind.

More than seven times throughout the four gospels, we find a promise similar to the following: “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22, Mark 11:24, Luke 11:9, John 14:13-14, John 15:7, John 15:16, John 16:23). If we believe God is merely offering us a better life, we are likely expect that God will give us everything we ask for whether it is for our benefit or not. But someone who gives into every one of their child’s tantrums is, frankly, a bad parent. God won’t leave us in our immaturity for long because He isn’t promising us a better life. He is promising more. He wants to transform me so He can better bless me in the end.

Embracing the mindset of Christ

It takes no genius to see how selfishness powers our world’s economy. “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” is the founding principle of modern society. We make friends who can benefit us, whether emotionally, financially, or otherwise. In romantic relationships, give so we may receive a return. If my employer didn’t give me my money at the end of the month, I wouldn’t stick around for long. Even our charity can become about something other than the needs of individuals around us. We are unable to live for more than ourselves without help.

When Jesus went willingly to the cross, He did something no one else had done before. He sacrificed Himself entirely selfishlessly. The Bible assures me that I am incapable of becoming good on my own and invites me to look to Him for help as the author and perfecter of my faith. (Hebrews 12:2) I need His power in my life if I am ever going to become like Him. Through Christ, I have everything to gain, nothing to lose, and every resource at my disposal! Charity becomes not only logical, but easy. Every debt I have to God has been lavishly repaid, so how can I hold a debt over my neighbor? All the wealth of the Kingdom of Heaven is promised to me, so how can I keep my earthly treasure to myself?

The foundation of contentment

This is the great reversal of Grace. Christ already paid my debt in full, and He is preparing infinite joy for me even now as I sit here and write. If I think about these two things and keep my mind firmly fixed on these promises, I will begin to “store up treasures in Heaven” (Matthew 6:19) by living a life of charity and grace here. Instead of living for my own earthly well-being, I am free to live the life Christ prescribed for me here, for every good deed I do will be justly rewarded in due time (Luke 18:29-30). When Christ died on the Cross, He enabled every one of us to care for others with no thought of a return. For the first time in history, we were truly able to pay it forward.

This is the foundation we must lay before we can talk of asking for things from God. As Christians, we should be seeking the well-being of others above our own. Once we have begun to live that life, we will come to find, as Paul did, the “secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Phillipians 4:12) With this secret comes the keys to the Kingdom. Jesus described the life of a generous Christian in the following way:

God’s cycle of trust and giving

First, we give our earthly possessions to those in need (Luke 12:33) and share the good news of Christ’s victory with our neighbors (Matthew 28:18-20). As we prove ourselves worthy, we are given more and more to manage (Matthew 25:29). God promises to pour the blessings we give back onto our own heads (Luke 6:38). These blessings are not strictly “ours,” though. I am a steward for the coming Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 16:10-12). Jesus gave a strict warning to every would-be prodigal. (Matthew 21:43)

There is only one word for those of us who squander God’s eternal wealth on our earthly pursuit of fleeting pleasures: Embezzler. God knows our hearts even before He sees our actions, and He will have a tight fist towards anyone who will have a tight fist. (Matthew 18:21-34, Proverbs 11:24) To those who will freely distribute their inheritance to the world around them, the storeroom of Heaven is wide open. All of the Earth’s wealth is dust to God. Just remember that your primary job is to bless others, not to bless yourself.

The Storeroom of Heaven

Perhaps everything I have learned while writing this can be summarized by a quote from C.S. Lewis: “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. (Lewis, Mere Christianity).” God cannot be bought. There are no tricks or schemes we can pull to “get rich quick” from His Grace. But if we are willing to die to ourselves, to give everything we have to Him and for Him, then we will find eternal riches at our right hand (Proverbs 3:16, Psalm 16:11).

I don’t expect my personal income to double. Jessica and I can tell you our recent story about God’s material blessings, but we fully expect to experience our fair share of loss as well. I am thankful for the things God has entrusted to me, but I am a thousand times more thankful for the friends and family I get to share my mere wealth with. In the end, we will take people, not possessions, with us into God’s eternal kingdom.

Life as a pursuit of more

I’m not naive enough to think that my salary gives me an advantage in the Kingdom of Heaven. I know I am less in the Kingdom of Heaven than the widow who gave both of her pennies in the temple treasury. (Who can give more than their everything, and I have yet to give a quarter of that!) I want to invite my friends to consider their priorities as well. Knowing an account will be made for every penny that passes through your hands, do you trust yourself enough to ask God for these things in prayer? “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

The risks are great. So are the sacrifices. But I can say this much from experience: There is no greater joy than following God’s will for your life. The pursuit of more is a thrilling, addicting, and ultimately rewarding pursuit. If you feel empty, pursue more. If you’re missing love, ask for more. Lacking a purpose? Strive for more. If you need hope, peace, joy, or goodness, seek more. And if you want more, then seek nothing less than Jesus Christ Himself.

Personal update: We’re buying a home!

Personal update: We’re buying a home!

The past few months have been an exciting time for the Stoering family. Two years ago, we moved to Shakopee and joined a local church. We met many wonderful people and joined two vibrant small groups. We have been hosting one of them on our living room for nearly a year now. As the group grew, our house started to feel a little bit too small. Around six months ago, Jessica and I began to seriously consider the possibility of buying our first home. We knew that we wanted to find a home that was fit to host our growing array of ministries. What we didn’t know was that God was about to join us in the search.

God’s providence and the financial hurdle

In January of this year, we had $500 saved towards our new home. Around the same time, we discovered that Jessica needed a LOT of dental work. We wondered whether buying a home would be a possibility at all this year. And then, out of the blue, God provided. My company stock surged, nearly doubling before my stock purchase plan came through. A few days later, I received my first promotion at work along with a significant bonus. Within the course of two weeks, we had the entire 3% down payment ready for our first home. Our health plan, though somewhat limited, was able to cover our needs and get us through the tight squeeze.

If we had saved all of this money over the past two years through our own grit and determination, I would have little to say about it, save for vain boasting. But that didn’t happen. We were praying, but it would be a stretch to say that we were prepared to move any time soon. God has spontaneously met our needs more than once in the past two years, but never this suddenly or to this magnitude. One day, we had a dream; the next day, a reality.

God’s providence in the search

Above all else, we were looking for a place where we can more easily minister to those around us. God was about to grant this request, along with nearly every other desire we had for a home, even the frivolous or silly ones. White cabinets and ceiling fans for Jessica. Double sinks in the bathroom and a fireplace for me.

On Friday, March 16th, we met with a realtor for the first time. We have visited many open houses in the past three months (the Parade of Homes is great!), so we had an idea of what we wanted. The market goes very fast around here, so we were prepared for a rough ride. Six days later, we went out on our first showing. We saw two houses, and we decided to make an offer on the second. Four hours later, I got a phone call during small group. We had the home, but only if we pulled in the closing date. In less than 24 hours, our search was over.

God’s providence in the little things

I must admit, at this point I began to worry. You see, until now, I believed that I was in control of the situation. Like a child who thinks he’s driving the car just because he is holding a toy steering wheel, I thought that I had (somehow) wrestled the money from the stock market myself and negotiated a contract through my own skill and cunning. But I knew that our landlord had us on contract until the end of June, and I couldn’t see how God would provide the money needed for us to pay both a mortgage and rent for that month. As I sat at work, worrying about a situation that was in God’s capable hands from the very beginning, He gently reminded me of His grace.

Throughout the day, I began to remember things that I had forgotten. We had paid the last month up front. June is the month with three bi-weekly paychecks. We had a security deposit that would (mostly) come back to us. I sat in my cubicle and cried silently. God gave us a lavish gift, and here I was worrying about the leftover pennies. His generosity cut to my soul. At that moment, I gave the whole venture back to Him. It was obvious that there is a plan, and the plan isn’t mine. I resigned myself to take a backseat and let Him lead.

In the past few days, things have continued to fall into place. The inspection passed uneventfully today. Our landlord agreed to let us go a month early. We’re on track to close on April 27 – much sooner than either Jessica or I could have imagined one week ago. At every turn, I’m reminded that there are three of us buying this house, and neither Jessica or I can claim to have paid for it or even chosen it ourselves. God is clearly leading the charge.

The part of our story that we can control.

The only thing that I can say to our merit is that we have tried our best to be faithful with our current rental. Plans and intentions aside, our living room has become a place where friends and family can gather and grow in Christ. We are carrying this intention forward in everything we do. I know that God has given us a great gift. My only hope is that we can give it back over the course of the coming months and years.

We plan on continuing to host small groups in our living room. From the office, I plan to continue writing about God’s goodness here on Raisingthebanner.com. We plan on purchasing a spare bedset so we can provide a place for visiting missionaries or friends in need. God has brought this house to us, I believe that our job is to build it into a stronghold for the kingdom of God. For everyone who is able to come and is interested, we would like to invite you to join us in dedicating the place to God’s work. We’ll be sending out details for that event when the time comes. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has been praying for us or otherwise supporting us through our many adventures. God’s goodness through all of youl has not been lost on us.

In Conclusion

I could have told this story in many ways. Some parts of the story might seem like “good fortune.” Other parts could be taken as a reminder to keep track of your own money. If I were more alert, or perhaps more arrogant, I could claim to have had the situation under control from the very beginning. But I have no such illusion now. The story I have told is the only story I know to be true – a story of God’s unending and unrelenting goodness to His children.

Fortune is fickle. My own strength and cunning has its limits. But the mercy of our God is without bounds. We have done our best to be faithful in the little things. It feels like God is not entrusting us with something bigger. But I pray that we never stop at earthly rewards. The home we are buying will be destroyed one day. But the eternal kingdom that can continue to grow from within these four walls will never fade. My prayer is that the memory of our new home will be preserved eternally in the hearts and souls of everyone who sets foot in it. Soli Deo Gloria – may the glory be to God alone!

A modern look at the Gospel – Did it have to be a cross?

A modern look at the Gospel – Did it have to be a cross?

Few Christian teachings have been sanitized and marginalized like the story of the Cross. When the church first came on the scene, they told an unbelievable story to the world. God send His son to die on a Roman torture device so we can walk in newness of life. Two thousand years later, we just don’t understand what this means. Today, a cross is primarily a symbol of hope, freedom, and peace. When you tell someone that Jesus died on a cross, they don’t cringe. They just shrug. The Gospel is buried so deep in the bowels of history that it loses its offense. Or it immediately offends for the wrong reasons. In 2018, the death penalty is all but abolished. The idea that anyone would demand a human sacrifice far any reason seems absolutely morbid.

In light of this, I want to take a modern look at the cross. This doesn’t mean historical revisionism. We Christians believe that the Son of God died after He was nailed to two literal pieces of wood. If we want to understand the fundamental claims of the Christian faith, then we need to take a good long look at the fundamental moment of the Christian faith. A literal cross. A literal death. We can chose to take it or leave it, but modifying or sanitizing the Gospel was never an option.

I am going to start by addressing a very common question today: Why can’t God just forgive us? The short answer is that there are rules that define even God Himself. This is a difficult idea for most of us. Can’t God just do whatever He wants? To quote C.S. Lewis, “Nonsense is still nonsense, even when spoken about God.” For example, If God is good, then He cannot also be evil if evil is the opposite of good. Just like gravity, light, and time are foundational to our universe, love and justice are parts of the Person of God. That is what we mean when we say that God is Love. God may have invented time and gravity, but He didn’t invent love. He is (and has always been) love.

The law of forgiveness

One small part of God’s character (and therefore existence as a whole) is the law of forgiveness. This law states that every debt or wrong must be paid for, either by the offending party or by the offended party. What do I mean by this? Allow me to explain with an analogy.

Suppose a friend borrows your car and gets into an accident. The insurance won’t replace it because you were not in the driver’s seat. What do you do? If you love your possessions more than you love your friend, you won’t ever forgive. But suppose you do love your friend, and you tell him that it’s okay, it could have happened to anyone. You give forgiveness, and you never bring it up again. Was forgiveness free? Of course not! Your net worth took a hit, and forgiveness means absorbing the debt yourself. If you purchase a new car, you have less money than you did the day before. If you opt to do nothing, you will still lose your vehicle along with the value that it brought to your life.

Forgiveness must always cover the full cost of the transgression. If you steal a penny from me, I can forgive you with ease. If you burn my house down and drain my bank account, forgiveness becomes much more costly. Genesis 3 shows us what exactly was broken, and what it would cost to repair it.

The cost to forgive man

When we decided that we knew better than God Himself, we broke three things. First, we broke the universe (See Romans 8:20). When we lost our meaning and purpose, the world we lived in did as well. It was “subjected to futility,” literally cast into meaninglessness. Now, God created the universe, so it stands to reason that He could do it again. It would take time and power, but it certainly isn’t impossible for God to forgive everyone of this offense without the need for a cross.

We broke more than the world around us, though. We broke our own relationship with God. God told us to refrain from one thing without giving us an explicit reason why. Because God wanted us to love Him, He gave us a choice. When we really love God, we do what He asks of us. Selfishness wasn’t a concept until our first moment of disobedience. Since God is justice as well as love, He can’t forgive us without a payment equal to the transgression. This doesn’t make God angry or hateful. There is a third thing that we broke, and it puts the second in clear perspective.

A busted soul

Not only did we break the world we lived in and hurt the God we lived with, but we utterly destroyed ourselves in the process. In the beginning, we were created in the Imago Dei. The literal image of God. That is all we were. The default choice was an eternal coexistence with our creator. But we changed that. Humankind is the only species in the cosmos to sin itself into existence. When we invented selfishness, we embedded it so deep within ourselves that we became something else entirely. We now have a dual nature – we bear God’s image, but we also made ourselves into a slave. God never demanded our worship; He asked for it freely. But we are now required to worship ourselves. It’s not the default option, it’s the only option. Human nature is an unrelenting and cruel master, but we have no way of returning to our prior state without outside help.

So, let’s change our original metaphor a little. You buy your child a brand new car off the lot. Your child then proceeds to total the vehicle. So you forgive him. What good is it? The car didn’t belong to you when you totaled it. If your child has any hope of experiencing the freedom that comes with such a vehicle, either he will have to purchase another, or you will. This problem is beyond the reach of mere forgiveness.

A matter of Heaven and Hell

Did you realize that God doesn’t own your soul? He owns every atom in the universe, but He gave us free will. He gave us the keys and the title to our own lives. This is why Hell exists. It isn’t a place where He angrily throws us despite our heartfelt cries of repentance. The gates of Hell might as well be locked from the inside. God cannot take everyone to Heaven unless He revokes our free will. And He will not take us in as slaves, only as free lovers. I think that this point is important to remember today. God doesn’t cast you out like a leper. He reached across the gap that we made and offers a medicine for our fatal condition. But He will respect your free will, even if you chose to love no one but yourself forever.

I’m not saying that everyone will find their way into Heaven eventually. Jesus made it clear that our time to chose Him is now. We are like clay. God shapes and remodels us over and over again. But when we see God’s face, we enter the kiln. Self-centeredness cannot exist in the presence of the Almighty. What will be left of you on that day? If you lived for yourself, you will not stand. If you tried to be a good person solely so you could prove that you are a good person, you will not stand. (Self-righteousness still begins with self) If you want to survive an encounter with a holy God, you must begin to embrace Him now. But you cannot do that on your own. We are undeniably selfish, so we can only ever come to Him if we want something besides Himself. How then can we be saved?

The beauty of the Cross

God has promised us a redeemed world. He has offered us total forgiveness and a new relationship with Him. But He gave us our own souls. Forgiveness is of little use if we are physically incapable of accepting it in our current state. This brings us to the matter of the Cross. The greatest act ever committed on our behalf and true center of every good story ever told. God may be all-powerful, but it doesn’t mean that He can do the nonsensical. If we are the owners of our totaled souls, then God must either revoke our free will in order to make the necessary repairs, or He must offer us a new heart that is capable of returning to our previous state of glory.

To the amazement of anyone who is capable of understanding it, God chose the second option. Since He is ultimately good, He wouldn’t create another good creature and then destroy it in order to repair us. In the greatest mystery known to man, God gave us Himself. To repair our damaged dual nature, God took on a dual nature of His own. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, permanently became man. He faced every temptation know to man for 33 years, but never gave in to them. He showed us how we can get to Heaven, and then He purchased new hearts for us by experiencing the total alienation from the Father that sin creates. For a few hours, the Father suffered the loss of an infinitely good relationship with the Son, and the Son suffered the loss of an infinitely good relationship with the Father. The magnitude of that loss far outweighs the cost of our individual hearts. He didn’t just forgive, He did so lavishly!

But, why a cross?

God used a cross to enact His will for a few reasons. First, the method of redemption was similar to the offense. God suffered the exact same future that we are guaranteed without His intervention. Physical misery, utter futility, utter loneliness and abandonment, death. The Cross was the worst the world had to offer. I once read a doctor’s detailed explanation of the Crucifixion; it’s terrifying. God came to suffer the fate of the vilest of criminals. There are very few humans in history who suffered worse physical pain than Jesus did. Even if someone did suffer more than Him physically, no one has ever become sin on anyone else’s behalf like Jesus did. No one will ever deserve worse than the Cross, so everyone can be redeemed by it.

Finally, the Cross was our idea. God knew what would happen and He sent prophets ahead of time with the signs to look for, but ultimately, a group of Jews and Romans got together and had a trial. If you can’t stand the idea of someone being whipped and nailed to a cross, you have humanity to blame. Humans invented selfishness and therefore Hell. Humans invented crosses. God merely stepped down and offered Himself to us. We did the rest.

Putting it all together

So we have a nearly complete story. God creates us and gives us a free will in the hopes that we will love Him and love each other. We reject Him and find ourselves in a broken world with a broken relationships and a broken soul. He reached out and provided a means of redemption for us. But we still are in control of our own souls. God will only save those who chose it for themselves. Technically speaking, your sin nature will not die until you do. God will give you a down payment now if you choose to accept it. He will come and live in your heart. You will be granted the strength to overcome every act of selfishness if only you chose to use it.

But you shouldn’t expect God to save you if you don’t desire it. God will respect your free will to the bitter end. If you ask Him to leave you alone, He will (almost impossibly) honor that request. The ever-present God will place you outside of His presence, and the all-knowing God will forget you. In short, you will get everything you ever wanted (life eternal without obligation to anyone), and you will find that it could never be enough. It is the most ironic tragedy, but it is nonetheless true.

In Conclusion

As I child, I used to believe that there were Biblical truths deeper than the Gospel. But I am discovering that this is not the case. Just as the alphabet is foundational to all language, the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to understand every Bible story and all theology. (Full Disclosure: This perspective that I shared today isn’t my own, I have borrowed nearly all of it from men much wiser than me.) As it turns out, there is no inconsistency in the Christian claims that God is Love and that He sent His Son to die for us. The Cross, the real story of blood and dirt, is still the most beautiful story ever told. By examining the offence of the Cross, it’s easy for me to see how it became a symbol of hope and peace. I only pray that we find the faith to embrace the story for ourselves.

Overcoming Spiritual Paralysis

Overcoming Spiritual Paralysis

Lately, God has been reminding me of my own weakness. I cannot do any good in this world except by God’s help. I’ve been trying to follow the plans He has revealed for my life, but I keep getting overwhelmed by all of the things I am supposed to be. It seems like every day, I am discovering a new commandment I am failing to live up to. If I’m honest, I’m living a small life because I’m afraid of failure. I put way too much stock in my own actions, and I forget that the battle has already been won.

But why am I afraid of failure? God is judging me based on His own merit, not mine. If I succeed, it is for His glory. If I fail, it is a reminder of His grace. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Rm. 8:1-2) If there is no condemnation, then fear has no place in my life anymore. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The burden of the Law

If you pick up a Bible and begin reading from Genesis 1, you may notice the abundance of rules. There are an estimated 613 commandments in the first five books of the Bible alone. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, there were groups of the religious elite who made a full-time job out of trying to keep all of the thousand-plus laws that they had at the time. One would expect Jesus to give them a pat on the back for doing such a great job, but He did the exact opposite. After condemning them for being hollow and shallow, Jesus pulled the noose even tighter. It doesn’t matter if you actually commit adultery, you are a unholy sinner if you let your eyes wander for a second! Can you imagine the despair on the faces of the crowd when they heard this? Their best was horribly insufficient.

The point is, and has always been, that we cannot keep the law on our own. The law isn’t just here to enhance our lives, it’s here to show us the extent of our need. The Law exitst to point us to a Saviour. Jesus kept the law to its fullest extent, and He suffered the fate of the worst of criminals so we who can’t keep it for even a day will be treated like someone who never once faltered.

Are we moving backwards?

It seems to me that we’ve returned to the exact same spot the Pharisees were in so many years ago. Our churches are filled with people who want to (or at least pretend to want to) keep the law, but we know deep down that it is impossible. I have, on more than one occasion, suffered paralysis on the light of the law. There are so many things a Christian is called to be. Am I feeding the poor, visiting the sick and prisoners, sharing the Gospel on the streets, being generous with my wealth, putting all others before myself and putting God above all? No. I will never get off the ground if I try to be all things at all times to all people. But God gave us a few secret weapons to help us overcome paralysis.

If we are the body…

The first thing that God gave us is each other. In the past few months, I have come to realize that I can’t be all things at all times to all people (I know, #thickskullproblems). The revelation came through my small group when we got together to buy Thanksgiving meals for families in need. I couldn’t spare a dime that month, but my friends were able to. We all contributed what we could, and God did great things with it. What would happen if I started reading the Bible as God’s letter to His church, not just to me? All of a sudden it becomes manageable. I’ll take the call to proclaim His name, you look after the prisoners, and our other friend can be an advocate for the oppressed. We were called to be the body of Christ, parts in a whole. How foolish have I been for assuming I can be God’s hands and feet all by myself!

God told me to write, and that’s what I’m going to do. I will send my money with those who have taken a different call. I will continue to meet with the Body of Christ regularly to see if we are forgetting something. We won’t be perfect, but we can do much more together than any of us could ever do alone. I recently told a partner in ministry about my plans to transition elsewhere. With incredible wisdom, she replied, “Of course, serve where you feel called. There’s no guilt, only joy!”

The strength of Christ

I would be remiss if I talked about the Body of Christ without mentioning the head. Many of us are so caught up with the worries of this life that we don’t have any time left to think about ministry. We must take our cares to the foot of the Cross. The Law isn’t about rules anymore. Jesus proved to us that we can’t keep the rules, and then He provided a better way.

The apostle Peter told us that angels never tire of looking into the Gospel. How can I? When I fully understand the Gospel, the law will become irrelevant. In Galatians 2, Paul tells the story of Peter acting hypocritically. Instead of quoting the law (which he knew better than any of us), Paul asked Peter to think out the implications of the Gospel. He reminded Peter that if Christ died for all, then there is no superiority among us, and therefore no ground for racial discrimination. If we look for Jesus on every page of the Scriptures, we will begin to find a story that is deeper and more wonderful than we could have imagined. The only response will be to obey with joy.

I am just beginning to experience the joy of God’s calling over me. I’m sure that there will be many failures along the way. But when we fix our eyes on Christ, we don’t have to measure ourselves by our success or failures. Work just becomes work, and ministry just becomes ministry. It’s all an offering of praise to Jesus who did the only truly great work on our behalf. Perfect love casts out all fear, so let us seek to understand the great love He has for us, and let us live out of that love.