Nothing Can Separate

There are many things in our lives we want separation from and other things we want connection to.

In light of our current US presidential race, you may be wishing you could separate from social media altogether.

Or maybe you want to connect with a friend you haven’t spoken to in years.

But what about God?

Deep down, do you want connection to God or separation from God?

Do you think you’ve done something to cause God to separate from you?

Or do you think God isn’t strong enough to stay connected to you?

Take a few minutes and see that once you’re connected with God nothing can separate you from Him.

 

 

Going for a Run

Tomorrow I’ll be doing something I never thought I’d do. I’ll be running in the Gasparilla Distance Classic 15k in Tampa.

I know. It’s not a marathon or even a half. But it is 9.3 miles.

And that’s about 9.3 more than I ever thought I’d sign up to run.

I’m not sure how well I’ll do.

I’ve only been training since the New Year.

Eating healthy is still a work in progress.

I’ve battled blisters and bleeding.

And a conversation with a college student a few weeks ago makes me a bit nervous. It went like this:

Her: “Hey, I saw you running yesterday.”

Me: “Yeah? Awesome. I’m running in the Gasparilla. How did I look?”

Her: “You looked like you were about to die.”

Me: “Ha. Thanks! What about the guy I was with?”

Her: “Oh, he looked great!”

HA! I love her honesty. We have laughed about that conversation since. And I probably did look like I was about to die. 🙂

Regardless of how I look tomorrow, training for this race has reminded me of three things:

1) There is nothing like setting a goal and going for it. My time may be terrible tomorrow. I may pull a muscle and have to walk a couple of miles. But it’s the “going for it,” the journey, that matters. It’s being able to look back on where you started and see how far you’ve come. The journey propels you to carry on in this and in other areas of your life. It shows you how much you really can accomplish when you decide to discipline yourself.

2) Life is better when you do it with others. We weren’t created to do life alone. And that includes training for a race. That guy that “looked great” when I looked like death has encouraged me tremendously. He’s given me tips on running. Texted me to check and see how I’m doing. And we’ve become closer through this process. Thanks, Joe!

3) Your spiritual life is like a race. Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” You and I are on a journey with our faith in God. We haven’t arrived. We may have doubts. Setbacks. Lows. Highs. Some days we are closer to Him than others. That’s okay. Just don’t give up. Keep pursuing Jesus. Keep Jesus as your focus. Look to Him to know how it is you are to run this race called life. And one day you will arrive at the finish line. You will see face to face who it was you were trusting in all along. Jesus.

What is Love?

Today is Valentine’s Day.

It’s the annual day where loved ones profess their love for one another verbally, tangibly and with the rise of social media, publicly. The common gifts are flowers, chocolate and love letters. Some go out for a nice dinner. Others buy jewelry, a stuffed animal or a special custom gift. It’s a “sweet” time of year.

The most profound thing about this day is that the motivation behind it all is this idea of “love.” “I love you” is thrown around more on this day than maybe any other day of the year. There is a feeling of love in the air. And yet, we live in a culture where true love is distorted and misunderstood.

Love cannot be bought.

Love is not cheap.

Love is not easy.

Love is not exemplified by 50 Shades of Grey.

Love cannot be relegated to one day a year.

Love is not a feeling.  

So what is it?

Dr. Tony Evans, defines it like this: “Love is the decision to compassionately seek the well-being of another even when the emotion of liking them is not present.”

I believe he is spot on. But how opposite is this definition of love from the love we see all around us?

In our world today, if someone doesn’t feel like loving, they won’t. If loving gets hard, they stop. If loving takes work, they quit.

So how do we cure this false, pitiful attempt at love we’ve been buying in to? How do we embrace true love? Receive it.

We will always be unable to perfectly show love. However, we can receive perfect love. And by receiving it, we will be transformed in the process and begin loving others the way we were created to.

True, perfect love has a name. Jesus. 

We see what true love is in 1 John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Jesus embodied true love through dying for you, me and every soul who ever has and ever will live. Even though he may not have felt like loving (Matthew 26:36-39) he followed through.

Through Jesus’ life we see that love is a choice.

Love is unwavering commitment.

Love is sacrificial.

Love is unconditional.

Love is selfless.

So when you say “I Love You” today, is it the kind of love that would lead you to lay down your life for that person? It is unconditional? Is it selfless? Or is it some weak, twisted, “feeling-founded” love that has no basis?

If you’re single, you aren’t a loser. Get to know Jesus so that when you are in a relationship you will know what true love is.

If you’re dating, be careful not to say “I Love You” if you don’t mean it, aren’t willing to follow through on it or have no idea what true love is. Instead, get to know Jesus.

If you’re married, engaged or heading in that direction, get to know Jesus. Learn how to love the way he modeled and commit to it. Your valentine is worth it. Just don’t let today be the only day you show and tell how much you love them.

Beyond romantic relationships, we all are called to love one another (John 13:34). But that’s another conversation for another day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

4 Things I’ve Learned from 4 Years of Marriage

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January 7, 2011.

To most people this date means very little. You may not remember where you were or what was in the news, what the weather was like or who you were with. But I do. I was in Charlotte, NC at Hawthorne Lane UMC with my closest friends and family. It was cold and rainy. The anticipation and excitement had been building for close to a year. I cried my eyes out as she walked down the aisle. It was the day I married my wife, Rachel.

That was 4 years ago today. 4 years! I can’t believe it’s been that long. I know it’s an overused saying, but it really does seem like it happened yesterday. I can still play every detail of the ceremony and reception over in my mind. It was beautiful. Emotional. Spiritual. Worshipful. Detailed. Fun. I’ll never forget it.

And while our wedding day 4 years ago was fantastic, it pales in comparison to our 4 years of marriage. Why? Because a marriage is better than a wedding.

Think about it.
It’s great that we made a public commitment to each other 4 years ago, but what’s better is that we’ve stayed committed for 4 years.
It’s great that we said “I do” 4 years ago, but what’s better is that we’ve said 1,460 “I do’s” since.
It’s great that we loved each other on our wedding day, but what’s better is that our love has grown each year.

That’s why we’re not just celebrating 4 years since our ceremony. An event. We’re celebrating 4 years of being married. A relationship.

Our marriage is not perfect. It’s not without disagreement at times. We have many areas to work on as a couple. I have a LOT of areas to work on as a husband. But it’s a marriage. A relationship. Something we are committed to. And that’s cool. That’s worth celebrating!

I don’t pretend to be a marriage expert. I’ve only been at this for 4 years. But as I was thinking about this post, I realized there are lots of things that I’ve learned from 4 years of marriage. And some of those greatest lessons have been discovering what strengthens our marriage. Since I couldn’t write about all of those, I narrowed it to 4 things. They are commitments we will continue to strive for as we press on to our 5 year anniversary and beyond. If you are married, thinking about marriage, or think you might one day think about it, take a look at these. I pray they help to make your marriage better than your wedding day.

1. Assume the Best.
Every relationship will have tension at some point or another. How you enter it could make all the difference in the outcome. I don’t know about you, but I am great at making up stories in my head about the intentions of other people. And those intentions are not normally good ones that I imagine. But that’s my bad. That’s assuming the worst. When you have an attitude of assuming the best, tension is easier to work through. Because you go in believing that the other person is on your side. They love you. They want what’s best for you. And they don’t want to hurt you. It makes a world of difference.

2. Talk About the Deep Things.
I’m not necessarily talking about having intellectually deep conversations. Though those are good to have as a couple if you’re into those. I’m talking more about the deep things you wrestle with. The disagreements. The frustrations. The things in your heart. The questions you have. The doubts. The feelings. The ups and the downs. The emotions. Your dreams. Your goals. Your passions. Don’t stuff them. Talk about them. And say “I’m sorry.” Talking leads to growth.

3. Love Jesus.
This might sound cliché to some and counterintuitive to others. I get that. But this is the single most important factor to our marriage growing. Two people striving to love Jesus learn more and more about the love, forgiveness and sacrifice he modeled and called his followers to emulate. Husbands are challenged to love their wives like Christ loved the church…that’s quite a challenge. And most importantly, couples are called to love Jesus more than each other. As they do that, they actually love each other more than if they were trying to love each other without Jesus. Out of their overflow for Jesus they love one another. It’s a lifelong journey. And it grows the relationship. It’s the foundation.

4. Become Best Friends.
I believe a lot of people who are married love one another, but I’m not sure if they like one another. Once the romance of the honeymoon wears off and the kids are born, marriage becomes tough to tolerate. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Thankfully I don’t just love Rachel. I like her. I like hanging out with her. I like laughing with her. I like going on dates with her, and learning more about her. I like surprising her and not taking ourselves too seriously together. We’re friends. The BFF kind. Become best friends. It’s worth it.

I love Rachel. So much. She’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever known. She loves me more than I deserve. She is a mom who cherishes our little girl. She’s a worshipper who loves Jesus most. She’s my best friend. I’m beyond blessed to call her my wife. I wouldn’t want to spend my life with anyone else. Here’s to another year.

Happy 4 Year Anniversary, Rachel!

7 Things God Has Used To Grow My Faith

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The past two weeks I wrote about how you can grow in your personal relationship with God. I focused exclusively on having a “quiet time” and shared how that has been the single greatest factor in my spiritual growth. It’s what I tell students to focus on as well. Nothing will grow their faith as much as personally owning it on a daily basis through getting alone with God.

While I believe this wholeheartedly, after I finished those posts it got me thinking. What else grows our faith?

What else has been pivotal in growing mine? Because even if having a quiet time is the foundation, there have to be other things that have helped, right?

Yes.

In the same way lifting weights is foundational for muscle growth, doing that alone won’t give you maximum results. There are other factors that contribute to it happening. Good genes, right diet, drinking enough fluids, rest between workouts, proper sleep, etc.

So what are some of those other factors for growing your faith? Here are 7 things God has used, and continues to use, to grow mine.

 1)      Daily Quiet Time.

This is relationally connecting with God through prayer and reading the Bible. Last week I did a whole post devoted to this called “Have a Quiet Time.” You can check it out here.

2)      Relationships.

We were not created to be alone. We were created for relationship. If we are going to grow in our faith we must be in relationship with others because God often speaks in and through them.

Other than having Christian friends, two other strategic relationships have grown my faith tremendously.

Small Group: Gathering together with a small group of people allows for accountability, encouragement and conversation about faith.

Mentor: Finding someone who has been following Jesus longer than you to pour into you makes a major impact on your faith. I currently have a couple of people I consider mentors that I regularly talk and meet with. I’m so thankful for their influence in my life!

3)      Church worship services.

There is something special about coming together with a large group of people to worship through music and learn about how to follow Jesus through teaching. When everyone stands to sing truths about God, that collective “song” is a reminder of the faith you have. And when the pastor brings a message from the Bible, your faith is engaged. Find a church with practical teaching that focuses on Jesus in all it does.

4)      Application, application, application!

Learning a whole lot of stuff is great. But if you do nothing with it, it’s just knowledge that makes you spiritually fat. Growth comes when you apply what you’ve learned. If you don’t, you are deceiving yourself into thinking you are doing okay. (James 1:22) Take what you learn and put it into practice. You’ll always know more than you do, but working to shrink that gap has been pivotal for my faith.

5)      Serving others.

I heard it said a while back that we are never more like Jesus than when we are serving. And it’s so true. More than that, it grows your faith. I’ve experienced some of my greatest times of growth through serving others on mission trips, volunteering at Habitat for Humanity, serving in a nursery at church, feeding people at a homeless shelter, etc.

Also, serving in the way God has gifted me has been an even greater catalyst for my faith. God has gifted each of us in unique ways to serve others. Have you ever taken the time to figure out your gifting and served in that way?

6)      Reading and Listening.

I regularly read books and blogs and listen to sermons and podcasts of influential people. By doing this it allows for other people to speak into my life and help me grow in my faith. I may never meet them. I may disagree with them on certain points. But it stretches my faith and challenges me with a real-life example to follow.

7)      Sharing with Others.

If you want to remember something you’ve been trying to learn, teach it to someone else. The preparation and delivery solidifies it inside of you. It’s the same way with your faith. Since I teach publicly on a weekly basis on matters of faith this is an easy one that God has used. But there are two other ways I can share that grow my faith. I can share with others  what God is teaching me and I can share the gospel with non-believers. When you share the gospel with someone it increases your trust in God and reminds you of what it is you believe.

I’m sure there are more things, but these are the 7 that are most obvious to me that God has used to grow my faith.

What are some other things God has used to grow your faith?

PIC credit here

The Reason You May Be Struggling To Believe in God

young man pulling funny face on white backgroundOver the past year I’ve had multiple conversations with people who do not currently believe in God. (I say currently, because even after walking away from a less-than-stellar conversation I pray expectantly that they one day will.) Some of these non-believers I’ve met only once and others are long-time friends. Some have never believed in God and others confess that they used to.

When I talk with these people I do my best to speak the truth in love and present the “clues of a creator God” that are all around us. I try to clarify their misconceptions and present the facts of Jesus. And I let them know that they can doubt and ask questions to God directly. I’ve written about that HERE.

What I’ve realized is that I’ve not been helping people take another step…especially those who used to believe. And not taking that step may be the exact reason people struggle believing. What’s that step?

Try being in a relationship with God.

Now before you say, “You can’t be in a relationship with God before you believe in him!” Chill out. I’m not saying that you can be made right with God and be in a saving relationship without belief.

But what if “relating” to God and pursuing him might be what brings someone to belief.

I mean get this: I didn’t love my wife before I got to know her. I met her. We started dating. Then I loved her. The relationship came before my love for her. It’s the same way with any close relationship you have, especially a relationship with God.

Even Jesus called people to follow him (be in a relationship with him) before they believed the right things about him. Belief wasn’t a prerequisite for a relationship. But through the relationship many of the people who followed him believed.

The truth is, belief in God is strengthened by a relationship with God.

The more you get to know God through relationship the deeper your belief in him will become. Telling people to “just believe” is unhelpful. And trying to believe more doesn’t make the relationship deeper. It doesn’t make it better. Belief only grows and is established when there is a relationship.

For several years I’ve counseled students that the number 1 way to grow in their faith is to have a personal, daily relationship with God. And I still stand by that.

It will be what keeps them anchored when the circumstances surrounding them go bad and they doubt God’s existence.

It will even keep them anchored when their circumstances are going great and they are tempted to see no need for God.

It will sustain their faith when the “mountain top highs” of camp dissipate after a few weeks.

It will sustain their faith when their friends cave to peer pressure at school.

But trying a personal, daily relationship with God can also potentially bring someone to belief. Not having one could be the reason they are struggling to believe.

Recently a student approached me and confessed that they were struggling to believe in God. God felt distant to them. I empathized with the student as they had been going through some difficult circumstances. Then I asked, “When is the last time you spent time with God?” This student couldn’t remember. It had been a long time. A daily, personal relationship had fallen off their radar. And then I asked, “Do you think you’re struggling to believe because it’s been so long since you’ve talked to God?” The student shrugged, feeling down and defeated. They were ready to give up on believing in God. So I tried a different angle.

I asked, “Do you remember having a best friend in kindergarten or early elementary school?” The student smiled and nodded. Then I said, “Are you still friends with them today?” The student responded, “No. We don’t live in the same city anymore.” Then I asked, “Do you believe they are still alive.” The student responded, “Of course.” And then I said, “And if you could talk to them, you’d believe even more, right?” Then the student saw where I was going. If they could believe a friend was still alive even though they hadn’t been in a relationship with the friend for over 10 years, maybe they could still believe in God. And if that belief would be made stronger if this student could talk to their friend, maybe their belief in God would grow if they began a relationship with him too.

Maybe you’re struggling to believe in God.
Maybe you believe, but your faith hasn’t been growing for some time. The answer for the skeptic and the believer is the same—try having a personal, daily relationship with God. It will be awkward at first. But don’t give up. Push through. And you just may find belief on the other side.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “This all sounds great, but how can I have a personal, daily relationship with God? What does that look like?” We will look at that in the next blog post. Can’t wait!

PIC Credit HERE

Grace and Tacos

Taco

Several months ago I went out to lunch with a friend of mine to a tasty Mexican restaurant.
As we sat there talking and eating chips and salsa I had the thought that I should pay for his lunch. He had enough money to buy his own and he wasn’t expecting me to buy his, but I’ve had my lunch bought dozens of times by others and I wanted to “pay it forward.” So I decided I would buy, but I didn’t tell him. When the checks came at the end of lunch I was going to just pick up both checks and pay. You know, the smooth way.

Shortly after deciding I was going to buy, the waitress came to take our orders. I ordered some cheap lunch special. But my friend didn’t. He ordered one of the most expensive combination platters on the entire menu. Then I went in to “have-a-conversation-with-yourself-mode.”

It went something like this:

“I can’t believe it! Here I was about to be nice and generous to this guy and he goes and orders that!? Oh well. He can kiss his free lunch goodbye. I can’t pay for his now. It’s going to cost me way more than I had planned on spending. Good thing I never told him I was paying. He can just pay this time. Maybe next time I’ll buy his if he stays within a reasonable price range.”

After having the very normal, silent conversation with myself I immediately had a new thought—“I don’t like myself right now.”

Why?

Because my heart had just been fully exposed.

In that moment I was full of pride.

In that moment I was extremely selfish.

In that moment I loved my money more than my friend.

While pride, selfishness and greed are enough to make you feel bad about yourself, I realized there was a deeper issue.

In that moment I had forgotten grace.

Grace.

It’s at the center of the heart of God. It’s what separates Christianity from all other world religions. It’s beautiful to those who need it and offensive to those who don’t. It exposes the self-righteous and makes them mad. It’s living water to the broken sinner and makes them glad.

When we make a mistake in life we want it. It’s so easy to receive.
But when others make a mistake we don’t want to give it. It’s difficult to give away.

Grace is getting something good that you don’t deserve. It’s unearned by the one receiving it. And unconditional by the one giving it.

Jesus is the embodiment of grace. “While we all were still sinners He died for us.” Jesus didn’t wait to see how much we were going to sin and then decide if he would pay for it. He knew how much it was going to cost him and didn’t turn away. Even though we didn’t deserve it, he died in our place. That’s true love. That’s grace.

Maybe more than anything else, followers of Jesus should be known for showing people grace because we ourselves have been shown an immeasurable amount of it.

Currently I have a losing record showing it. I struggle at it. But I want to get better. I have a feeling you do too.

So the next time you’re cut off in line.

The next time somebody says something to hurt you.

The next time a waitress gets your order wrong.

Or the next time you have an opportunity to buy someone’s lunch…show grace.

And when you struggle to show it, remind yourself again of the immeasurable grace Jesus has shown you. And then show grace again. And again. And again.

It’s going to cost you. (Maybe even the price of a couple tacos).

And the other person won’t deserve it.

But that’s just fine.

That’s what grace is all about.

Do you struggle showing people grace?

Pic credit Here