Look to the mountains

I moved to Alleghany County from Charlotte with my family four years ago this week. One of the things that I love the most about living around mountains is that they are a constant presence in your life. They impact so many aspects of the way we live, in many ways they have formed and shaped this regions culture for centuries, and you can see them almost everywhere you go. It is still easy for me to remember the contrast I felt when I first moved here, feeling that the always present and majestic mountains were so much more beautiful than the man-made towers of the city.

For me, the mountains are always a reminder of the power of God’s presence in our lives. Look to those mountains and remember that God is bigger than you can fathom. Look to the mountains and remember God’s power  and strength. Look to the mountains and remember God’s ability to create new and marvelous things.

Lift your eyes yours eyes to the mountains and remember their creator, remember that His desire is for you to be in His presence. I challenge you to create space in your day to focus on God and allow yourself to feel His presence. In John 15, Jesus told his disciples to abide (make their home) in Him. Slow down, be still, and cast your cares and worries on Him.

Which is of course very easy to say or type on a blog and more difficult to do in real life.

So here is what I recommend. Find a passage from the Bible about the character of God or His promises to you (like Psalm 121 below), and read it several times. Maybe read it several times a day for a week until you start to think about it all on your own. It really is possible for God’s word and passages from scripture to float in and out of your brain instead of worry and anxiety. If you have a smartphone, put it to good use and take a look at a psalm when you open your phone. Like any thing else, staying in God’s presence is a discipline. Don’t be discouraged because it takes effort, look to the mountains and remember that the God who created them wants to be present in your life.

Psalm 121

I look up to the mountains—

    does my help come from there?

My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

He will not let you stumble;
    the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
    never slumbers or sleeps.

The Lord himself watches over you!
    The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon at night.

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.


Thirsting for Eden


O God, you are my God;

I earnestly search for you.

My soul thirsts for you;

my whole body longs for you

in this parched and weary land

where there is no water

Psalm 63:1(NLT)

“But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life”. John 4:14 (NLT)

In most Bibles you will see at the top of Psalm 63 that David wrote this poem when he was struggling to survive in the desert. It’s  no coincidence then that this passage starts with an image of a very thirsty person. Thirst is an intense feeling that can drive us to find water at almost any cost. We can feel thirst at a lot of different levels in our lives and I think most of us are “thirsty” for the Garden of Eden.

That may sound strange at first, but just think back to the imagery that the book of Genesis gives us about that garden. It was a place where humans lived in perfect peace with nature, each other, and God. They were able to enjoy God’s presence directly and communicate with Him almost effortlessly. Eden represents the power of God’s presence, a place where we are always loved, always accepted, always at peace. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Doesn’t you every fiber of your being thirst for that?

In many ways, there is a theme that runs through the Bible of God restoring creation and bringing us back to the garden with Him (This culminates in Revelation 21 and 22, which you should definitely read). Jesus recognized this thirst in people, and it is only through Him that we can quench the deep thirst that we have within us. Jesus makes it possible for us to experience a connection with God, to enter into His life-giving presence. Here is the incredible thing- God WANTS you to enjoy life in the power of His presence.

Are you thirsty for Eden? Are you weary of struggling through life on your own strength? Do you crave to be connected to God, to be fully loved and accepted. It’s possible through the power of Jesus, His sacrifice and resurrection make it possible for us to be connected to God.  If you want a deeper connection with God take a look at the Psalm that Bob based his sermon on this week again. Notice how the author describes His relationship with God. He thirsts for Him, He praises Him, He meditates on His words, He is satisfied. Imagine being that close to God.

Being this connected to God starts with prayer and stillness. Find (or create) some quite space at some point in your day and be still before God. Tell Him you want to experience His presence, tell Him you want to trust in His strength and not your own.  Taste and see that the Lord is good!

Grace and the Good Shepherd

Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”

says the Lord.

“Though your sins are like scarlet,

they shall be as white as snow;

though they are red as crimson,

they shall be like wool.  -Isaiah 1:17-18 (NIV)

Grace needs to be a part of every conversation we have about God’s work in our lives and the lives of those around us. In the last post we focused on the part of Isaiah 1 where God clearly communicates that he is not pleased when we serve Him with our actions and not with our hearts. The next part of that passage is my favorite though. Even when our hearts are far from Him, God always has this open invitation “Come now, let’s talk about this”. That’s the beauty of this passage, even though God is frustrated when we are just “going through the motions” of religion, His heart says “come to me”.

God wants us to “Work for justice, help the down-and-out, stand up for the homeless, and go to bat for the defenseless” (The Message translation).  That is an easy set of ideas to read, but hard to know where to start sometimes. So talk to God about it, tell Him you desire to move from hollow religion to a faith that is more pleasing to Him. Allow God to be the good shepherd in your life, let Him lead you to into a life that pleases Him. Trust that His grace is big enough, talk to Him, and follow where He leads.

Being Good News in a Dark World


Just last week I received at least a dozen messages from friends and readers who told me the response from Christians to the Supreme Court ruling confirmed for them what they’ve known in their hearts for a while: they don’t want anything to do with Christianity anymore, not if this is what it’s all about.  -Christian Author Rachel Held Evans

The sermon that Bob preached today was a great reminder that we can sometimes get our priorities all wrong in our walks with God. We can easily put all of our rules and rituals in front of the things that God actually desires for us. Many of these things feel safe, sacred, and productive so we can easily lose sight of what God actually wants for our lives. God is pretty clear in Isaiah 1:7-12 that our  religion is not what matters to Him. What matters to Him is that our hearts are being transformed by Him. When this happens actions of goodness, justice for the oppressed, compassion and mercy naturally flow out of our lives. If this isn’t happening, God doesn’t care how often you go to church. He doesn’t care if you say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” He doesn’t care that you gave extra money to the church this month. All that counts is faith expressed through love (Galatians 5:6). This is what God was calling the Israelites out on in today’s passage in Isaiah. They were doing everything correct on the outside from a religious perspective, but inside their hearts where far from Him.

As I scroll through my Facebook feed several times a day I am noticing that, as a group, Christians are becoming more and more associated with our religious practices and our ethics than we are with living a life of faith expressed through love.  People do not need to see us contributing to the noise of this culture. They need to see faith, hope, and love in action. Maybe taking up our cross means putting our opinions (however right they may be) aside. Maybe  loving others as we do ourselves means spending more time listening than it does talking about what is right and wrong, who is in and out..

As ambassadors of Christ, it is our job to live out the gospel, which is the Good News of Jesus.

Are your friends seeing good news in you? Are they seeing light instead of darkness? Hope and joy instead of anger and disdain for others? The change starts in your heart.

If you do feel like your faith isn’t much more than participation in the rituals of the church, if you know that faith expressed through love is what is missing from your life, hear this Good News: God Loves you. He wants to work in your life, He wants to transform you. In my own experience, I have found that the best place to start is honesty with God. You might even just want to tell Him that you want to love Him more, you want your faith to go deeper, you want your desires to change, you just don’t know where to start.  God honors those prayers, He knows where you are, and He wants you to join Him in the wonderful work of His Kingdom

We Don’t Do Fear

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions that we can experience. As Christians, we need to be careful about letting fear becoming a motivating factor in our lives. There are some lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen song from a few years ago that illustrates fear well:

“Fear’s a powerful thing, baby

It’ll turn your heart black you can trust

It’ll take your God filled soul

Fill it with devils and dust”

You see, God is love and there is no fear in love. In fact, perfect love drives out fear. Followers of Christ should be like a light bulb in a dark room, driving the fear and darkness out where ever we go.  If we are following Christ, we don’t do fear. There are two observations about fear that I would like to talk about.

The first is Christians who let fear control and motivate actions in their lives. It is easy to let fear take control because it seems so logical and safe. In fact, it can almost seem productive sometimes. However, when we let our lives become ruled by fear we are not letting our lives be ruled by God. Mathew 6:26 says: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (NLT)”. I would argue that you could also say, you cannot serve both God and fear.

God is love. He wants to see you grow in your faith, he wants to see you serve others in love, he wants to see you living for the Kingdom. Trust in God’s love for you, trust that even though bad things might happen, He is working all things together for good. Let God’s love be your motivating factor in life, not fear.

The second is Christians who use fear to persuade others to become part of the faith.  As Pastor Bob mentioned in the sermon this week, there are no examples in scripture of people entering into a relationship with God on their own. We do, however, see many examples of people entering into relationship with God because of loving relationship of others who follow Christ. It is difficult to grow in Christ when your only motivation is fear. Fear paints an inaccurate picture of who God is. God is love, there is no fear in love. Jesus calls us to make disciples, not converts. Discipleship happens through developing loving relationships with those around us and never happens through scare tactics.

So, if you are following Jesus, if you are on this journey of faith learning to trust in God and love others as yourself, remember this simple thing: we don’t do fear. We do not live in it, and we do not proclaim it. We live and proclaim love because God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all( 1 John 1:5), because God is Love and perfect love drives out fear.

Some big questions about love

There are a lot of people in the world today who are searching for God and trying to figure out who God is. There are a lot of competing messages, competing theologies within Christianity, and competing voices from other belief systems. There is one message that I do not think is loud enough these days, and that message is this:

God is Love.

When people are searching for answers, when people are at their lowest moments, when they are going through their darkest nights are they hearing from us that God is love? Do they see that in our lives?

When people are wrestling with doubt, when they have questions about faith and how it fits into their lives, are they hearing from us that God is love? Are they seeing love lived out in us?

Unfortunately it would seem that most of the time, the answer is “no”.

The Barna group (a Christian analytics firm) conducted a survey a few years ago to see what the first thought was that people associated with the word Christian. The top three are nothing short of disheartening:

  1. Anti-Gay
  2. Judgmental
  3. Hypocritical

Wow. Not much on that list about love. Even if you feel like these three descriptions are not fair or accurate, it is important to know that this is how many people are viewing Christians. We need to live in a way that makes love louder than any thing else we do. These words from John could not be more appropriate-

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love on another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us…In this world we are like Jesus.”

We have one job in this world, to be like Jesus and show those around us God’s love. No one has ever seen God, but when we love others they see who God is.

As you go throughout your day, remember that you can love, because God first loved you. God loved you even when you were a broken sinner, even when you made mistakes, even when you cast judgment, even when we forget to love. Live your life through the lens of Love and let God be seen brightly in all that you do.

Source: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-10-10-christians-young_N.htm

Fruit of the Spirit

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing John 15:5

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Whenever I see the list of the fruits of the spirit, there is always one or two that really stand out to me. I might read it and think, “Wow, I really need to be more patient” or “I need more self-control in my life”. In our “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” culture, our first instinct is often to buckle down or create a plan to have more of what we want in our lives. This can often happen with the fruits of the Spirit, we want to be more patient so we WORK at becoming more patient. When we live this way, we miss an important spiritual truth- we grow the fruits of the spirit in our lives by abiding in Jesus.

Jesus is the Vine, we are the branches. Vines produce fruit as the sap flows through the vine to the branches. Jesus is our source of life, without him we can not do anything.  So if you want to join me,  I’m not going to try really hard and work to develop more patience by my own strength- I’m  going to ask Jesus to develop it in me through the Holy Spirit as he teaches me to abide in Him.

“How does the branch bear fruit? Not by incessant effort for sunshine and air; not by vain struggles for those vivifying influences which give beauty to the blossom, and verdure to the leaf; it simply abides in the vine, in silent and undisturbed union, and blossoms and fruit appear as of spontaneous growth.

How, then, shall a Christian bear fruit? By efforts and struggles to obtain that which is freely given’ by mediations on watchfulness, on prayer, on action, on temptation, and on dangers? No: there must be a full concentration of the thought and affections on Christ; a complete surrender of the whole being to Him; a constant looking to Him for grace. “

Quote from V. Raymond Edman, They Found the Secret. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1960)

Faith expressed through Love Part 2

I remember being assigned excellent books and passages of literature to read when I was in high school and college English classes. The problem was, I was never able to fully enjoy them because I was REQUIRED to read them. Throughout my academic studies it is easy to compare my feelings toward things was required to read and things that I chose to read on my own for fun and relaxation.

That same feeling is kind of what Paul is talking about in Galatians chapter 5. In our lives with Christ we should never feel burdened by obedience to a set of rules, instead we are free to live lives of love and service. As followers of Christ, we don’t HAVE to do anything, but we are FREE to use our lives to serve others in God’s love. Paul encourages his readers that if they really do want to follow all of those old laws, that they can do it by simply loving others as themselves (5:14).

That really is what life by the spirit, faith expressed through love, is all about. When we are living life by the Spirit, others will start to see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives. God’s spirit within us empowers us to be loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, full of goodness and faithfulness, and self-controlled. When we are living life in the Spirit, we will grow in these virtues. In contrast, all of the fruit of living life  “in the flesh” as Paul calls it in verses 19-21 are rooted in selfishness.

So here is the question to answer today: When you look at your day as wide open to love and service instead of ruled by a to-do list of rules and responsibilities, how different does it look? Are you willing to step out in faith and give your schedule over to God at the beginning of the day and see where he directs you? It’s easy, but it’s not easy. It is impossible to live this kind of life without staying in touch with God throughout the day.  Maybe living life this way would be a really big leap of faith for you, maybe this path is already a part of your Christian journey. Either way, if you want to grow the best thing to do is to speak with God honestly.  A simple and honest prayer about is what God wants to hear from you anyway.

“God, I want to be less selfish and more loving. I want to live in the freedom of your Spirit but I don’t know where to start, please help me.”

That’s a good place to begin.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love Part 1

” I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love” Galatians 5:4-6 (the Message)
Paul wrote the powerful letter we know as Galatians to a group of Christians who were struggling with legalism as they accepted new members into the church. Many people who had lived their lives in the Jewish faith, wanted the new non-Jewish converts to follow their Jewish customs as a requirement for salvation.  One of the specific issues they were struggling with was circumcision, an ancient Jewish rite and means of identification with God.

This specific struggle with circumcision isn’t a stumbling block for many churches today, but we do often struggle with the basic concept that Paul is referencing here. The struggle is that we miss out on the freedom that Jesus offers, because we allow ourselves to become enslaved to other things, especially things that look good on the surface. Sometimes it is easier to create a checklist of “right and wrong” behavior for Christian living than it is to actually follow Jesus. It allows us to feel like we are in good standing with God when we are following all of the “rules”. If we are not cheating, stealing, sleeping around, etc. we feel like pretty pulled together Christians who look great on the outside and say all of the right things.

The problem is that this is a new type of slavery, we are slaves to ourselves and our own pride. We find security in our own accomplishments instead of God’s grace and that keeps us from living a life that is free.  We choose to gratify the desires of our flesh by accomplishing legalistic goals. Even worse, this false righteousness too often  gives us the smug satisfaction of looking down on others and judging them for their faults instead of viewing them in light of God’s grace.

We all fall into this trap for time to time. As the verse at the top of this post says, it often can happen unintentionally, especially during those times that we become so busy with life that we forget to stay connected to Christ. Jesus can easily get crowded out of our busy lives and replaced by a checklist that burdens our hearts.  The good news is this; there is freedom in a faith that is simply rooted in Jesus. Many of us are missing the abundant life that Jesus promised to his followers.  It’s time to stop being proud of how good of a person you are, and it’s time to start living in grace. Paul says this happens through living a life by the Spirit, which we will discuss in our next post.

Faith, Hope, and Love

In a sermon a few months ago, Pastor Bob shared some interesting statistics with us. In a recent survey of unchurched individuals, Lifeway research found that 71% believed that Jesus can make a positive difference in people’s lives and an astounding 78% said they would actually listen to someone who wanted to tell them about Jesus! So what keeps the majority of them from making the decision to follow Jesus?  Over 70% say it’s because they do not see Christians practicing what they say they believe.

Would they say this about the church if they say us living lives characterized by faith, hope and love? When Christians are treated unfairly and unjustly, do they see us respond in love or do they see us resort to revenge and anger just like them? When we are in the doldrums of our workdays, do they see us characterized by hope? When tragedy strikes, do they notice that our strong faith in Jesus keeps us grounded?

Examine your heart and your behavior. Is your life an example to those around you that Jesus can really make a difference in someone’s life, or do you live like everyone else just with less free time on Sundays?