Praying for the Persecuted

https://freemattandgrace.squarespace.com

A friend named Jo

has a sister named Grace

who was wrongfully imprisoned, along with her husband.

They were charged for the murder of their adopted child Gloria, who died suddenly while they lived in Qatar. Their other adopted children have been returned stateside, but their parents remain imprisoned on false charges, as the prosecutor seeks the death penalty for Matt and Grace.

Please pray for them

Read their story by clicking on the link above.

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The Greatest Woman I Have Ever Known

She was a traveling nurse in Hawaii when she met her future husband at a wedding. She was so incredible, that her future husband ditched his girlfriend of five years to spend time with her, and then continued to pursue a long distance relationship with her by living on bologna sandwiches and flying to see her in Hawaii. Needless to say, she was the one.

She moved to New York, they married, then had two children together. Her husband’s job called for a change of scenery every half of a decade, and so they moved from New York to Virginia, then Virginia to Florida, where she now happily resides. Alhough, she is always willing to go wherever her family calls her. She is close with her friends, but her family is always closer.

Two years ago, after several years of caution she decided to have a mastectomy (a removal of the breasts) in hopes of avoiding breast cancer.  The operation revealed cancerous cells on her lymph nodes behind the breast tissue. With that, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her older son received a call from her while on a date with his girlfriend. They needed to talk. He thought little of it. His new girlfriend went to run an errand and he called her while enjoying the bliss of a new relationship. What he would hear next was something he could never expect. Holding back tears and maintaining her strong, invincible attitude, she explained that she was diagnosed. He didn’t know what to do, and selfishly finished the date. He can’t even remember the conversation past “I have breast cancer.” They lived in the same city, yet for some reason he couldn’t go home. He drove to a friend’s apartment after his girlfriend left and he wept. He couldn’t even create whole sentences.

She began chemotherapy a month after her mastectomy. Because of her good health, she was able to take a slightly more aggressive treatment track that would involve a shorter time period for chemotherapy but possibly increased side-effects. She lost her hair 17 days into her treatments, though she continually joked that she loved not having to shave her legs. It was those little things that kept her family sane.

Throughout the course of her treatment, she worked until she could no longer walk. She sang at church until she nearly fainted. And she still would go to the grocery store, even though she abhorred the taste of everything. It all tasted like metal, but that’s what she, as a mother, did. Cancer or not, it is no secret that she loves to shop. Not so much groceries, but regardless, it’s a part of who she is. It’s the escape from her annoying kids. It’s the smell of apartment stores and redundant pop/elevator music. It was her time, and cancer never took that.

She stated at the beginning of her treatment:

“I’m not going to change my schedule for cancer; cancer is going to have to change its schedule to fit mine.”

And she lived it.

It all came down to faith. Her faith was not built on the questions of “why me, God?” but on the “what are we going to do about this? Clearly, you have something in mind for me in all of this, Father, help me see what that is.”

It is a reminder of an interesting passage in the book of John when Jesus is teaching on his death, Christ says:

“Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’” – John 12:27-28 (MSG)

While she suffered, God’s glory was put on display.
During chemotherapy, the immune system is incredibly weakened, thus it is dangerous for cancer patients to be around those who are ill, even with something as trivial as a common cold. However, miraculously, neither of her sons or her husband, experienced sickness for the year of which she was being treated and recovering. Prayer became a necessity and not just an opportunity for her family and friends. Her family became closer than they ever had before and she would continually give God the praise for it all.

She now ministers to friends who have or are currently undergoing cancer treatments. She of course would never call it a ministry, but God has placed her as a light amidst the incredible darkness of cancer. In that way, having lunch with cancer patients is a ministry.

It’s hard to explain the full scope of how God has used her, but to summarize it succinctly would be to say that the love of God shone through her, so that others were inspired by her life. Her older son would go on to teach 8 weeks of students in Mississippi about the unfathomable love of God through her story. Her story became a part of his story. And this story, was written by him.

In light of October as breast cancer awareness month, I wanted to introduce to you the greatest woman I have ever known…

My mother.

She has shaped my faith more than she will ever know. I would not be the man I am today if she did not have the faith that she had. This faith is so strong because it is justified by the faithfulness of Christ, whose love is so great that nothing in all creation will ever separate us from it. (cf. Galatians 2:16; Romans 8:39 NRSV) Therefore, it’s a faith that I have in some ways inherited through her example, which comes from our most excellent Saviour.

While talking on the beatitudes, Tim (pastor at Reality:LA) remarked that Christ is the greatest comforter, and because of this, we as Christians should follow his example. We, bearing the image of Christ, should be a comfort to the world. Through the forgiveness and mercy I’ve received for missing the chance to love on my mother after receiving some hard news, I’ve learned that the challenge of comfort should always be present in our witness as believers. Christ comforts, so should we. Let’s never miss a chance to comfort those who mourn or suffer. It’s what Christ has done for us. (cf. Matthew 5:4)

Paul remarks in his letter to the new Christians in Rome:

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed in us.” – Romans 8:18 (NRSV)

When we go through suffering, sometimes it may look like an experience my Mom had or something entirely different. Regardless, may we always remember that our present sufferings are nothing compared to the glory the Lord has stored up for us, in us.

From now on, instead of asking why, let’s say:

“Heavenly Father, put your glory on display.”

“I Feel Like a Million Bucks, and I Don’t Have a Dime”

I am six Sundays into life here in Pasadena, and the greatest value I have been learning is the infinite worth of community.

There is something powerful about seven peers who eat, sleep, work, learn, lead, and love together for 10 weeks in the name of Christ. This is what I experienced over the summer working with Next Step Ministries. In a community of believers that are so spirit-led and Christ-centered, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of positive impact it has on one’s life until you step out of it in transition to another.

Looking back further, I realize that the local expression of the church I was a part of in Jacksonville was incredible and walked alongside my spiritual growth every step of the way. A church that is grounded over three thousand miles away from my current existence still manages to support me financially and is always there for me if needed. MPC continues to connect me with amazing people.

My mentor back home continues to love on me and teach me through the glorious web-interface known as Skype and my parents have yet to miss a week of checking in on me, giving me new recipes or helping my California car insurance payments go down (thanks Mom & Dad!). Overall, I continue to feel this awesome love from people back in Jacksonville and abroad, I cannot thank you enough for what you’ve done for me. The simple fact that you are reading this means more to me than you’ll ever know.

However, I would’ve never realized the depth of the importance of community if I hadn’t moved to Pasadena; it was a place I could count with one hand how many people I knew when I first moved here.

I could go on with example after example of how faithful God has been, but I now have roommates to call best friends, and two incredible groups of friends, one from Fuller and another from the local church I am attending called Reality:LA. Both of these groups are rapidly expanding, but at the same, I am growing deeper in relationship with all of the above.

This past Saturday, I went with a few new friends of mine on a road trip to San Diego for the day. I had never been, but now understand why everyone loves it. Let’s face it…it’s beautiful! So after enjoying an incredible California burrito (carne asada, fries, and avocado) and the greatest red velvet vegan cupcake known to mankind, I realized something on the drive back to Pasadena:

As this overwhelming feeling of being wrapped in the arms of the love of God swept over me, I knew that I would never have been able to experience or have these incredible memories without the Christ driven Church.

Everything I’ve been learning here, in and outside of school, is teaching me the underestimated, eternal worth of the Church. Church is being defined as not a building where believers congregate but the global body of believers in the salvation of Christ through faith, functioning as both the body and bride of Christ. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul describes the community of believers under Timothy as “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

While learning about the formation of the Canon (or the collections of writings we now know as the Bible), we realize that it’s formation paralleled the very growth of the original Church, the one championed by the Apostles. According to Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology, it states: “the canon thus represents the collective experience and understanding of the Christian community during the formative centuries of its existence.”²

In other words: the Church itself formed the Bible that we carry with us today. This means that the faith we have must then include the Spirit’s leading and guidance of the early church fathers to solidify the greatest collection of writings this earth has ever read.

Wow.

Does that not blow your mind? Just like Christ was 100% human and 100% God, our Bible is thus written by 100% humanity and 100% God. This is part of our inheritance: that the scriptures you read were written by man and put together by man, but also written by God and woven together by his Spirit. This is faith at its core. The gospel that contains our salvation is spoken, written and believed by man in communion with God. Operating at the highest levels of holiness, the breath of God flows through our scriptures like the impressive power of an ocean wave and yet this breath has been given to us as well through his Spirit, that we as a church, would do even greater things than the Son of Man (John 14).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)

A healthy love for the Church as a community is so important because there is an incredible inheritance at stake, being prepared readily in eternity. This is our motivation. When we pray in the Lord’s prayer, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-15 ESV), we are welcoming this inheritance.

Tim Chaddick (pastor at RLA) spoke on the first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount. His sermons are always an hour long and it wouldn’t do the Spirit or Tim’s words justice to try and paraphrase it. However, he told this unforgettable story: He was talking to a woman on a skid-row like place in another city and she had never heard the Gospel. So he’s walking this homeless woman through the incredible story of Christ and all He’s done for us and as they cried tears of joy together at the end she said,

“I feel like a million bucks, and I don’t have a dime.”

This story hit me so hard, because that feeling, the feeling of being swept up in the grace of Christ, is something I want everyone to feel. Whether you have children, or are in college, or grad school, or high school, or middle school, or are in the military or are enjoying retirement, wherever you may be, I want you to feel that feeling; that regardless of what you have, whether it be a lot or barely anything, that you would be “in a state of wonderful well-being in relation to God”¹

Notice that this isn’t a one time feeling you get from a great sermon or worship-filled week of missions but a state, it’s a condition that we are a part of in time. The outstanding reality of this state, is that we can experience it together, that we can build up one another through it, and worship in it as a part of the body of Christ.

As the Church.

So please, before you ever put-down, insult, badmouth or “feel burned” by the Church, just know what that means. Know that the same God who inspired a murderer/adulterers psalms, the writings of a persecuting pharisee, and the letters of a denier of Christ to bring us the Truth of the Lord is the same God who led the Church to give us that Truth. On the surface, both the writers and those who have given us the writings are incredibly broken, but God diplays his splendor through those who are willing to follow him through the narrow gate, to those who are willing to be still and know that He is Lord.
I am in no way saying your local expression of the church is perfect, nor is mine. None of them are. There will always be people who claim to be a “Christian” but fail to act like it. We are all guilty of this, that at one time or another we have not loved one another as Christ has loved us and therefore others have suffered the hurt it brings to forget that love. If the church is not a building but a community of believers, then we know that eventually someone’s going to mess up, because we mess up. But the Church does His work in the world and through it the Kingdom of Heaven collides with us, and the result will be imperishable, undefiled and unfading. Because in the end, we won’t have a dime, but our treasure will be stored in heaven, and we’ll feel like a million bucks.

So know your church, love your church, forgive your church, seek forgiveness from your church, and live in your church, because it is full of us who are poor in spirit, those of us who are broken and in a deep debt of sin, but through the promise and grace of Christ, we will be blessed. (Matthew 5:3)

endnotes:

¹a quote from Tim’s sermon from this past Sunday, you can listen/watch them here
² from one of my textbooks at Fuller – Achtemeier, Paul J., Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson. 2001. Introducing the New Testament: its literature and theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, (608).

May These Words be Salty Pt. 3

What you are about to read is the final installment in a series of three blogs that have spanned September 2 through September 5, as a massive update on what God has been doing in my life through you, my incredible support and readership. You can catch the other previous two posts here: Part One; Part Two. I hope, as it states in the About section of this blog site, that you are encouraged, strengthened (maybe even convicted) by the Spirit’s presence; that the Holy Spirit would speak through my life, and thus through this blog. Thank you, so much, for hanging through this tumultuous and inconsistent past few weeks that I call my life. Lastly, I am humbled that you would even give this page a gander… so it is much appreciated (and most excellent)! In the words of Paul in Colossians 2:6, may these words be salty. 

Well here we are, present day in Pasadena, CA. Let me, first and foremost, put out the disclaimer that I will continue to blog for as long as God inspires me to write. So this is not a “last” blog, rather it’s just putting everyone, including myself, all on the same page. It has been a much needed time of reflection, so thank you for participating in all of this. I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us next!

While I have been writing these blogs, I finished reading Hebrews and then decided to venture into Haggai for a day.

Who?

Have you ever read the book of Haggai? To be honest, if you would’ve asked me that five days ago, I might’ve said that exact word: “who?” It’s one of those books that you randomly find when you’re bored in a worship service (wow, that actually made my soul hurt a little typing that). Don’t act like while trying to find the color maps or cool bible verses you didn’t stumble into Haggai once and thought “I never even knew this one was in here!”

…oh… just me?

Well anyways, I vowed to read it after finding out that the writer of Hebrews quotes Haggai (with some minor changes) in Chapter 12 verse 26: “At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens’ (Haggai 2:6 ESV).” In context of the chapter and the quotation, it’s actually quite confusing at first glance. However, the writer of Hebrews is using the verse from Haggai to reference the heavens and earth being judged in order to establish the future reality, which is eternal, or the Kingdom that is unshakeable.¹ I’m still figuring out what it all means myself, but take what I have with a grain of salt and investigate for yourself! It will totally be worth it. And then I’ll have a friend who can share with me in my love for Haggai.

This book of prophecy, sandwiched between Zephaniah and Zechariah, is incredible because it focuses all on the restoration of God’s house, his temple, his dwelling place on earth. Haggai is a prophet, sent by God, of which we know very little about and have no genealogy of (which is crucial in the Old Testament). He is sent to speak to Zerubbabel, heir to the Davidic throne but cannot actually claim it (not quite as awesome as King David was, but hey we need ol’ Z-babel to carry the line of David to Christ, so he has his moments for sure). Haggai is also sent to speak to Joshua, an heir to a high priesthood. So let’s make this history lesson quick: these people called the Babylonians, in 586 B.C., laid waste to Jerusalem and the temple there. A year after the ransack, the foundation of the temple had been rebuilt but then fast forward half a century later and Haggai, in 520 B.C. is still looking at an unfinished temple. So Haggai, instilled with the word of God, is sent to motivate Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people of God to once again begin building on the squalid foundation.

Here’s the awesome part: what they’re building is God’s house, his temple, his dwelling place on earth; but even before they begin building in verse 13 of Chapter 1 it says:

I am here with you, declares the Lord. 

I would even go so far as to say that it is this phrase is what motivates Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the people to begin working again. As they continue, God again assures them:

Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (Haggai 2:4-5 ESV).

God saw the unfinished temple as a dead corpse that the people of God were touching. The unfinished temple made them unclean in his eyes and he wanted them to be clean and for the temple to be completed and restored to its former glory, that he might bless them with a good harvest rather than blight. But the fact remains that He was with them, engaging in his everlasting promise: before, during, and of course, after. Regardless of whether a temple was there or not.

Let’s be the people our Lord called us to be, knowing his Spirit remains in our midst.

My awesome roommate and occasional impromptu editor of this blog site is named Layne. Layne and I went down to the beach in Santa Monica to walk the pier, watch the street performers, and most of all, become captivated by the incredible west coast sunset. While watching the sun go down, we noticed two small kids, the older, who was around 10, and his younger brother, probably 5 or 6, build a sand castle. But this wasn’t just a mound of sand; we’re talking at least 4 moats around it, each bigger and wider than the next extending out from a pail-formed mass in the middle. The best part was as the tide came in, both brothers would lay down in front of the heavily moat-ified sand lair, sacrificing their bodies to preserve their sand kingdom.

Isn’t that such a beautiful, but haunting metaphor for our own lives? We build and fortify our own little kingdoms, sometimes excessively, and then, when it comes down to it, we will literally risk our lives to preserve that kingdom we built with our bare hands. Be that as it may, it is not what Christ wants for us.

In Haggai, part of the reason God saw the temple as a dead corpse, and was disgusted at its undone state was because the people would build their own houses first before building the temple (1:9). Do we not build our own kingdoms first? Then realize way down the road that ours pales in comparison to the Kingdom of God. In the midst of talking about how we should take up our cross and follow him, Christ says:

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. (Matthew 16:26-27 ESV)

When we build our own kingdom rather than God’s, when we do things to benefit ourselves and not others, when we conform to this world and reject the transformation found in Christ we enter into the business of forfeiting our souls.

This is heavy, it’s not easy to swallow. I know it because I have walked past over 50 homeless persons just within the two weeks I’ve lived here. Each time, when I see their faces, some have scowls; others bear a deep sadness and another is ashamed. Then, there are the few that I make eye contact with… and it’s like they’re peering into my soul, trying to find the piece of it that would have compassion for them. It makes me cry.

I’m not sure if you are, but I’m tired of forfeiting my soul. Because a forfeited soul walks by with everything, giving nothing. I want to give everything, and stand before our God with nothing but my love for him and his Kingdom. I hope you do too.

 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (the words of Paul in Philippians 3:8-11 ESV)

Amen.

 

Footnotes:

¹ESV Study Bible.Crossway. Personal Size paperback Edition. 2011. see footnotes on Hebrews 12:26, page 2384.