Looking for Something?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday Encouragement

It's the middle of the week. It's in the middle of the Holiday week. Crazy. Hectic. Tiring. I for one, am exhausted.

For those who celebrate, it's Holy Innocents day.

Holy Innocents
After -Jesus was born, Matthew’s gospel records that King Herod was so disturbed by the news of a potential contender for the throne that he ordered a preemptive strike, executing all boys in Bethlehem under two years of age. Since its earliest centuries, the church has remembered these “holy innocents” who died because -Jesus’ coming posed a threat to those in power. Today we remember all the little ones, born and unborn, who are sacrificed in a culture of death that has not yet welcomed the good news of -Jesus. And we recall that Herod’s kingdom is now long gone, but the kingdom of God goes on.

Most celebrate by feasting, yet in constant remembrance and prayer of the injustice present in the world.

Remember the lives of your little ones, Lord : and break the sword of the oppressor.
Francis Schaeffer, founder of L’Abri, wrote, “Our conscious relationship with God is enhanced if we treat all the things he has made in the same way as he treats them.”

But again, we are in the middle of the week. I saw this on Mike Donehey's (lead singer for Tenth Avenue North) twitter today, I thought I would share it.

Friend, If Christ lives in you, You are clean. You are forgiven. You are new.
If Christ lives in you, You are no longer a slave to those things you hate. You are righteous. You are loved. You are free.
In Christ, You are cared for. You are blessed. You are the hands of grace to an entitled world. Give in the same way you have received.

May the peace of Christ go with you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Zach Dill: 8/26/1993-12/8/2011

I pray that I have accurately portrayed this man's life. I pray for his family having to go through this tragedy. I pray for those who were closer to him than I ever was. I pray for all of his friends, for all who he had left a mark on. From my friendship with him, this is what I have come to grips with. This is my memory. This is how I will cope. May the Peace of Christ rule in our hearts.

Zach, Myself, and Ben at CIY 2011

Every youth group has that one kid; that one guy that you can always count on to do something ridiculous. He’s the life of the party.  Everyone loves the guy.

Every school has that one kid; that one guy you can always count on to be there for you in your struggles. He’s the caring soul, the shoulder to cry on, and at the end of the conversation will always make you smile… even if it’s just a little.

No one ever knows the things that go on in his mind, the feelings he has, and the emotions that flood his conscience. He’s always willing to take on the extra burden of another's sorrow, he’s always smiling. The kind of guy who appears he could never break.

He never has it all together, but he doesn’t have to. He is the helping hand; the knight that rides in at the right time. The pains that hide behind the shining armor were only known by a trusted few, because that’s all he needed.
Always charismatic.
The epitome of a guy many would love to be, the guy many would love to be with.

Zach Dill was that guy.

I first met Zach just over a year ago, and throughout this past year had the privilege to get to know a little about him. Our friendship never went very deep, he was in high school, had his friends around him and I was the new guy in the church who graduated high school and was waiting for college to start. The crazy thing was that I almost immediately saw in him what everyone else saw in him. He was a genuine guy. However, being a sponsor in the youth group I got to see the reason behind it all.

Zach was a regular attender at Ignite, the youth group I was a part of as a sponsor and helper. It’s a new, growing church. The youth group was small but meaningful. Zach was an important part of our identity. I remember Wednesday nights where before the lesson we would play Cornhole, talk about how the week was going and that crazy place called High school. It always seemed to end in our favorite game of pegging Ben with the beanbags. I loved the guy.

During the lesson we could always count on him saying something hilarious or just poking fun at the things the younger girls said, his sarcasm was perfect for just about any situation. When it came down to getting serious, it was obvious that his answers and attentiveness were sincere. He wasn’t there just for the fun and games. He came because God meant something to him. He came because he wanted to grow, to understand. He wanted to be able to help others.

He traveled with us to a weeklong youth conference in July in Tennessee, before the conference started we went white water rafting on the Ocoee River. I fell out once and got my knee caught between the boat and a rock. Zach was one of the guys that were there to immediately pull me back into the boat… later I returned the favor.

That week is instilled into my mind.
I remember the man cave and phrases like “Hip ciricles!” and “Par Four!” Things you just had to be there for in order to understand. I remember ‘planking’ with him back when ‘planking’ was the cool thing to do… everywhere... and how he almost “face-planked” during one of the Devo times. I remember the Nerf wars that happened just about every night in the dorm rooms we were staying in, and in the RV as we traveled around. I remember the wall ball games: I can’t even begin to count all the games we played of that during free time and at night. I remember meeting a guy named Duc, and how Zach and Ben immediately thought he was coolest guy ever. I was able to witness that friendship being forged. I remember on the road trip back playing poker and it always coming down to me and Zach at the end… what can I say? We both had good poker faces. I remember the youth group time after the evening session where we just talked about our day together and got devotional on a few topics. I remember Zach praying. I remember him always speaking up in those moments just to keep the conversation flowing. I remember his encouraging remarks to everyone throughout the week.

I remember him opening up his CIY Kingdom Worker card: “Send an encouraging note to someone on facebook every day for a year.”

It’s hard to believe he’s gone.

It’s even harder to accept it.

He was a blessing to many. Just reading the posts on his facebook from others has shown that to me.

The last time I saw him was the Sunday before I left for college in August. I remember giving him a bro-hug as I said goodbye. It never crossed my mind that that would be my last in person memory of him. I’m drawn to the words of a song written by Michael W. Smith, “Though you are mourning, and grieving your loss/ Death died a long time ago/ Swallowed in life, so his life carries on/Still, it's so hard to let go.”
Though it’s in these moments we want to cry out, “Why!?” to whoever will give an answer that we can accept, I think it would be an insult to his memory to think that way. He wouldn’t want us wallowing. He would have asked if he could help. He would have stood next to us and said something encouraging, something positive in all of this. That’s the kind of person he was in the presence of those he cared about. We will miss him. We are hurt, devastated that he’s gone. But thankful.

Thankful for a life well lived. Thankful for the beauty of 18 years of life. Thankful for his life living in and through our memories of him.

We can’t forget. I can’t forget. The good lord gives and the good lord takes away… and I’m thankful that Zach is no longer in pain, but in celebration.

Celebrating with all of those who have gone before him.

Let us celebrate our memories of him. Let us celebrate our individual friendships with him. Let us celebrate the mystery and majesty of life.

Zach, we love you. We always will. We’ll miss you, but we will never forget your legacy you left in our hearts and our lives.

As we come to this crossing, pray. Pray for the family that has been affected, the friendships that have been buried in confusion and sorrow. Pray for peace. Pray for love. Pray.

The same song continues to play in the back of my mind:
This was his time. This was his dance. He swam in the sea, drank of the deep. He lived every moment leaving nothing to chance. He embraced the mystery of life, let us follow that lead.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you Zach: wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing: into those Heavenly doors.
Lamb of God
You take away the sins of the world
Have mercy on us.
Grant us peace.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Called to Contend

What many scholars believe to be the most neglected book of the Bible...
2 Peter?
2 John?
3 John?

How about Jude.

The small book that everyone skips over on their way to Revelation... because beasts coming out of the earth and stars falling are more entertaining (and confusing) than a postcard from the past about false teachers in the church.


In fact, Jude is so neglected, there once was a call to take it out of the Bible... mostly due to it's quotation of an apocryphal book and it's brevity.

But nonetheless, it remains. It belongs in the Bible.
Jude is a wonderful, beautiful letter of scripture.

And I hope to prove some of that in this post.

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James,
To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
 -Jude 1-2

Jude opens up his letter introducing himself: a servant of Jesus Christ.
But to specifically give himself some sense of recognition he adds "brother of James"

James was a well known man, he was a leader in the early church, in fact he was an elder of the Jerusalem church. Paul identified James as one of the pillars of the church. (Gal. 2:9) And of course he wrote his own epistle which bears his name, 'The book of James'.

But Jude leaves something out of his introduction... something huge, something that would distinguish himself even more as someone to listen to.

Maybe this just shows his humility... Jude was one of the younger half-brothers of the very man he said he was a servant of.

Jude was a brother of Jesus.

And he had an inspiring, encouraging note that he wished to write to us about our salvation in Christ Jesus... but there's a problem.

Because he finds it necessary instead to write to us about a different topic at hand. One that is also just as encouraging, uplifting, and inspiring.

A beautiful message of God's call to us.

A Call.

God's call on our lives.

To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Because we are called and loved, and because we are kept for Jesus Christ, Jude is exhorting us to contend.
Contend for the faith!

He wanted to write about our common salvation BUT he has seen the perversion of the gospel unfolding in the church... and he instead calls us to contend for grace, contend for the only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

What would we have become, if He had not stopped us in our dead career of living? If we haven't recently teared up or felt that gracious thankfulness in our inner being... then perhaps we need our memory refreshed with our calling. We're called because we're loved.

We're loved... because God chooses to love us.

Even in our depravity?

Especially in our depravity.

God's call on our lives never stops, it never is just one moment that passes by and we have to remember.
God's call is continual.

And it is a call to contend.
Contend for grace.

Because grace is worth fighting for.

Jude is warning us against the false teachers who are perverting the grace of Jesus.
Asking questions like:

Are we saved by grace through faith or do we have to add something to it?

In order to be a Christian do we have to be ________?

This was the issue with the Jerusalem council in Acts 15.

'But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."' -Acts 15:1 (ESV)

For them the 'something else' was circumcision.
Because they were Jewish Christians, they weren't comfortable with the idea of God's grace being given to Gentiles... it was something new, something foreign to them.
They began asking, 'Do they have to be Jewish first?'

Paul said no.
These men said yes.
A dispute arose and a council was convened.

"And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question." -Acts 15:2 (ESV)

When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses."
The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will."
And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
"'After this I will return,and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;I will rebuild its ruins,
    and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
   and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
    says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.'
 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues."'            -Acts 15:4-21 (ESV) 

I believe this issue is so important to Jude that he felt necessary to write a letter because of this event, as well as others.
James, his own brother, had to fight this same topic.
Peter had to fight this issue.
Paul had to fight over this issue.
All at one large meeting.

But James makes a mistake, when he says to write a letter telling them to abstain from four things... he opens the door for false teachers to hold these four requests as laws.
Because they aren't laws.
God's grace is above food sacrificed to idols.
God's grace is above sexual immorality.
God's grace is above strangled food.
God's grace is above the drinking of blood.

God's grace defeated sin. Jesus rose from the dead.

Jude's echo is clear:
Once you start submitting to the first 'rule' there's a string of others behind it...

Fight for Grace.

Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (ESV)

Grace through Faith: Is it Jesus + Something?

The +______ is always for you. It's always about us. Our reputation. Our social standing. Our personal view of ourselves.

Because we want to be moral, good, righteous, etc.

However, if we truly analyzed our motives:
Most of our morality is selfish, not to honor God.
Most of our ethics are to impress other Christians.
Our righteousness is given to us from God, not what we have done.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (ESV)
The Pharisees self righteousness was so inflated... it seems impossible to surpass them... and it would still fall short.

We need to change our vocab.

We have attached ethics to the cross.

Going to Church is God's gift to you, not your gift to God.
Same with reading the Bible, Baptism, prayer.
It is God's gift to us to participate in these activities out of reverence, worship, and relationship with Him.

Doing something FOR God is heresy... because EVERY TIME it is works based.

Don't rob the Glory from God.

Fight for Grace.

Fight for Grace.

To those who have been called, who are loved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ:
Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance.

We are called to contend.

I hope to write another post on the rest of the wonderful book of Jude, but for this, I pray we can all contend for the grace of God.

Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into the our doors.