Guest Post

When I Practice Sinning

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Jeremy is back on the blog today to discuss a topic we all understand; sin. Today’s post challenges us that instead of trying harder not to sin, be a good person who does good things, and practice being righteous, to simply rest in the grace of Christ. We all need this reminder, I know I did. Thank you, Jeremy.

If you could compete in any Olympic event what would it be?

If I had to pick, I would go with downhill skiing and curling.  Yes, curling.

Curling is chess on ice with a lot of strategy and thinking through the shots.  I imagine if I wanted to become good at this game I would need a lot of hours of practice on the ice, strategically placing these stones along the frigid surface.

When it comes to playing sports and games, practicing is really a no brainer.  You simply need to practice to succeed and hopefully with enough practice you will do well at your task.

In his first letter, the Apostle John wrote about a practice of a different sport.  No, not wrestling or javelin throwing, instead it’s practicing our sinning and righteousness.

Think about that for a moment. 

Do you practice sinning?

Quite frankly, I don’t have to practice sinning; I’m already a first-ballot hall of famer when it comes to vice and character flaws!  Unlike curling or downhill skiing though, anger, lust, jealousy, gluttony, and other deadly sins simply comes naturally to me.

To this point John wrote,

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

I wish I could tell you that practicing righteousness comes from doing good things and trying harder. Sadly, putting our time into it will only make you more exhausted and will ultimately destroy you.  Instead of trying harder, try to rest in the completed work of Christ.  Try getting drunk on God’s grace that is never exhausted.  Be like the tree described in Psalm 1, planted and sustained by the riverbank of God’s peace.

Our desires are messed up, and only the work of Jesus can right those desires.  Only in him can we be made new and want to practice righteousness.  As Dietrich Bonheoffer once wrote, in Jesus we learn to rightly love each other.  We want to want to love others.  In Jesus, we want to want to be righteous.  At the core of our being, we will slowly (but surely) be changed.

In Jesus, we learn to practice righteousness and ultimately quit sinning when we see Jesus eye to eye and face to face.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

How do you find courage in practicing righteousness?

7c9b81fd108ed6759a3bfc5517cb7068 Jeremy is a a twenty-something husband, father to a beautiful daughter, and recent graduate student living the dream. A Southern California transplant in San Francisco, he works as a youth mentor and helps them think through big questions of life.  You can connect with Jeremy on Twitter here and keep up with his life here. 

photo credit: Giovanni ‘jjjohn’ Orlandocc

When Your Heart Aches

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While on a blogging hiatus, I’m honored to feature Jeremy again on the blog with a very timely piece. If you haven’t done so, connect with Jeremy on Twitter &  read his blog here.

Do you ever have those moments when your heart is heavy?  When you don’t know quite what to say about your heart or what to think about it anymore?

It seems as if my heart calls out for something more, something beyond what I can see or feel.  There is a yearning that can be captured through the great poets of humanity.  For me it is an aching that is captured in the cries of hope amid uncertainty from the psalmist, and in the haunting lyrics of Mumford & Sons or U2.

While some might be able to thrive in periods of uncertainty, I find myself on the knees of my soul, seeking out the lamp that will light my way.  I find myself in a place of mirrors, asking how long?  How long until he points to a clear path.

When I find that my heart aches and I don’t know what to say, I cling to the prayers of those who have gone before me.  I cling to the wisdom of those who were pilgrim travelers along a barren way.  For now, I cling to the promise that Paul reminded the church in Rome saying

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Friends, let’s tie our lives to this hope when our hearts ache.

But I will hold on, I will hold on hope

Oh, I will hold on, I will hold on hope

Oh, I will hold on, I will hold on hope

I will hold on, I will hold on hope

I will hold on, I will hold on

-Mumford & Sons – Thistle & Weeds

7c9b81fd108ed6759a3bfc5517cb7068Jeremy is a twenty-something husband, father to a beautiful daughter, and recent graduate student living the dream in the O.C. A soon to be transplant to San Francisco, I work as youth mentor and help them think through big questions of life. Christ-follower. Political junkie. History nerd. Book enthusiast. Stand-up desk guy. Dark beer and robust coffee lover.

photo credit: Neal.cc

Books

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Excited to have Jeremy back on the blog today. The last time Jeremy guest posted he was awaiting the arrival of his baby girl. He is now a proud father and has gone through several life changes in the past few months. Today he shares his story of having to downsize in order to follow his dream and God’s calling.

I’ve found that our lives are shaped by many experiences.  We are made by events, like old relationships, sporting defeats, and scholastic achievements.  As in the stories we love, life is full of chapters that are good, bad, and ugly.  I’m sure that this is nothing new, but all chapters have a final page, no matter how great it is.

One chapter of my personal story is marked by a slow appreciation of books, developing over time in college.  It probably sounds a little campy, but the ideas I wrestled with in the books made me better.  Better as a student.  Better as a person.

Throughout the years, I accumulated a small collection of books, with those I’ve read and those I planned on reading.  But like all things in life, times change and we have to part with the things we held on to.

Recently, I received an offer to help plant a Christian ministry in the city of San Francisco.  This ministry opportunity will mean that I receive the incredible opportunity to help plant an organization that can help connect youth to the depths of the Christian faith, but with this move comes the tremendous downsizing from suburban Orange County to the tighter confines of an urban setting.  In preparation for the big move, we had to downsize, and with the downsizing came the thinning of my library.

Now before you begin laughing, you need to understand it was tough getting rid of those books.  Classes, memories, discussions, and epiphanies were connected with those old books.  I wanted to hold onto that collection, but practically we just couldn’t take them all with us.  So off my books went to the library and I went into a period of mourning for my lost tomes.

Moving made me think about all the lost connections I’ve had throughout the years, relationships ending and others changing.  

I’ve discovered that life is filled with exits and entrances, where stories intersect and others are transformed.  Wonderfully enough, it’s God’s story, the one that started so long ago, that helps weave fragmented tales into a larger narrative.  Our stories matter to the Author of life, even when they require sacrifices for something different.  Our stories matter to Him, even when they seem insignificant to us.

Chapters come and chapter go, but the people and ideas that have shaped you and I will continue on for years to come.  That’s how I got over my lost books and lost friendships, they have made me who I am, and for that I am thankful.  Who I am will only change again with the people I meet and the new books I read, even when they need to be donated to the library.

What sacrifices have you had to make lately?

7c9b81fd108ed6759a3bfc5517cb7068Jeremy is a twenty-something husband, father to a beautiful daughter, and  recent graduate student living the dream in the O.C. A soon to be transplant to  San Francisco, he will work as a youth mentor and help them think through big  questions of life. Christ-follower. Political junkie. History nerd. Book enthusiast.  Stand-up desk guy. Dark beer and robust coffee lover.

photo credit: Thomas Hawkcc

It’s OK to Have Vanilla

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Excited to have Jeremy back on the blog today to share his insight about the importance of telling our story Our stories matter despite how boring or bland they seem in our eyes.  YOUR story matters. Are you telling it?

What’s your story?

This question smacked me in the face recently when I was given the opportunity to present a testimony at a camp.  After a lot of thought on how I should deliver my journey of faith to those in middle school, I decided to tell the truth.  I decided to go with who I am and not who I wanted to be.  I decided to leave out fictional accounts of my drug smuggling, binge drinking, and gun wheeling days.  Instead, I chose to tell them about a God who chooses those with vanilla stories and not just those with rocky roads.

Your story is important

In Evangelical circles, there is great emphasis placed on our personal testimonies of faith.  Often times in church settings, we will hear tales of recovering drug addicts, sexaholics, abusers of power, and gang members coming to Jesus.  But for someone like me, raised in a stable home and never venturing too far from the beaten trail, I felt like my story was more bland, and I was embarrassed about my story.  With so many other tales of how the Spirit brought someone into the family of God, I often felt like I was vanilla.  I felt as if I was a boring, old flavor that needed to be apologized for in the world of interesting stories.  But dear reader, know that even a seemingly unsexy story of faith is still important in God’s eyes.  

After a lot of anguish in preparing for this camp, I came to the conclusion that my testimony is not there to brag about my experience.  It’s meant to show how Jesus acts in our lives, whether it is a dramatic conversion like Paul on the “Road to Damascus” or a gradual transition into the Kingdom of God.  Our stories are unique and they’re important in God’s eyes because that’s the road he takes to reach us.

My simple story

I told those kids how I decided to wear the faith of my family for years.  I was a Christian because my parents were, plain and simple.  But when it came to a summer camp in high school, that’s when God had different plans.  That’s when he grabbed hold of me and called me out of the crowd to join his family.  To join the countless others who responded to his call from across the ages.

I remember sitting in the back of a dark chapel, trying to impress my friends and a girl that I liked.  It was there in that dark chapel that I heard how God wanted to restore lives, no matter how broken or frail.  No matter if you were a good kid or a nightmare child.  There in the dim light and amid tears, I chose to follow Christ—and that is exactly what I needed to share with those middle school kids.

Don’t get me wrong, it has not all been downhill from there.  I have failed, gotten back up, failed again, and pleaded that Christ would strengthen me.  It really is a common occurrence in my life.  But in my weaknesses, God has made me strong.  

God’s story

Sure, my history might not be ready for the silver screen, but I know it’s ready for God’s story.  For I will tell you that it is God who redeemed me from the pit, it was he who picked me up out of the darkness.  I realized that I didn’t need to make up some tale of drug abuse, or expand on how I stole a Hot Wheel car from Sunday School (although, that probably counts as double sin points).  What those kids needed to hear from me was an invitation to follow Jesus, regardless if their past life was routine or explosive.

I began to see the importance of my story is that it is a small chapter in the great drama that began in the Garden.  I am important in God’s eyes, and the first step I took in that dark chapel years ago was a small step into the grand adventure of God putting the world to rights.

Yes, God even loves plain old vanilla.  And he loves you, no matter what your story looks like.

How do you see your story?

7c9b81fd108ed6759a3bfc5517cb7068 Jeremy is a twenty-something husband, expectant father, and graduate student living the dream in the O.C. Christ-follower. Political junkie. History lover. Book enthusiast. Stand-up desk guy. You can follow him via Twitter @jeremydriley

photo credit: Martin Gommelcc

Get Up and Eat

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I had the honor of guest posting for a good friend and fellow writer, Jeremy Riley. Jeremy is passionate about writing and has inspired me to pursue my passion in writing as well. One thing I’ve always respected and admired about Jeremy is how he always follows through, he’s consistent, and never gives up.  I’m grateful we’ve crossed paths and honored to be featured on his blog today!

I have a confession:

I used to hate reading the Bible.

I never understood why reading the Word was so important. It seemed more like a chore than a commitment. I never approached the Word with passion and zeal, but with fearful restraint. What I didn’t know then God has since revealed to me now.

God has revealed to me His Word has the power to transform our heart and renew our minds. When we’re burdened, worried, or afraid, God’s Word has the power to focus our attention where it belongs; on His truth. 

Spending intimate time with God and reading His Word has been both challenging and convicting. It’s been in His Word I’ve been set free from a 16 year addiction, learned the healing power of forgiveness, and how one simple of act of obedience can transform our life. I had to face many obstacles and trials to get to this point in my life. I hit rock bottom, stayed in my sinful pit, and cursed and damned the Lord for putting me there. I ran from my problems, hid my sins, and lied to myself and others.

I was a mess. 

Read the rest of the post here.
photo credit: GeoWombatscc

Why You Should Keep On Going

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Today’s post is from a friend and fellow writer, Jeremy Riley. Jeremy is currently preparing for the birth of his first child and has grown so much in the short amount of time I initially connected with him. I’m honored to be featuring him here today!

Friends, if you don’t know this by now: life is tough.  

I’ve come up with a life rule that is similar to Murphy’s Law, it’s called the “Life (Sometimes) Sucks” rule.  Sometimes things will simply not go your way, and you have to maneuver out onto a different path.

Sometimes, your car will break down late at night and you have to pay extra to the AAA truck driver to have it towed the extra few miles to the dealership.  Sometimes you will not get everything lined up financially, and you’re scrambling to cover the bases.  Sometimes there might be something worse (God forbid).  Something sinister like death, sin, and evil could be crouched around the corner.

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  Can you relate to that saying?

Maybe you planned to do something great, like become a doctor and cure malaria.  Maybe you planned to do something on a smaller scale, like raise a family and be a rock in your community.  But then life happened.

In my case, my wife and I planned on having our first child.  But even with our great planning, life decided to show up.  Health, finances, and other issues decided to surface, knocking off our best laid plans.

In Proverbs we are told that a person can plan their ways, but ultimately it is God who will establish their steps (16:9).  A king can prepare his horse for war, but victory will belong with God alone (21:31).  It really is tough coming to a place of relying on the Lord.

Quite frankly, I wish life decided to stick to my script.  But you know what?  Sometimes that detour might be a good thing.  Maybe it is in the shadows of the dark valley that we learn something.  

Victor Frankl, the psychologist and Holocaust survivor, noted in his work “Man’s Search For Meaning” that we need to find a redemptive element to the suffering we will undergo in life.  Whether it is in the belly of a death camp or in the uncertainty of unemployment, we need to find meaning in those times.

I tell myself, once I get out of this present shadow, I will never want to go through it again.  But I hope and pray that it will make me better for it.  As Frankl noted, suffering will happen in life, the trick is to find the redemptive aspect of it.  When life shows up and interrupts your plans, I hope you take courage.  I admit, I don’t have all the answers, but the only thing I can cling to is the claim that God rescues people in the darkness.  He leads them through the valley of the shadow of evil with a rod of comfort and guidance.

I just hope he leads me into the pasture soon.

How do you cope when life happens?

7c9b81fd108ed6759a3bfc5517cb7068 Jeremy is  a twenty-something husband, expectant father, and graduate student living the dream in the O.C. Christ-follower. Political junkie. History lover. Book enthusiast. Stand-up desk guy. You can connect with Jeremy via Twitter at @jeremydriley

 

 

 

photo credit: righteecc

5 Ways Being a Father has Made Me More Like Jesus

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Today’s post is from my dear friend Grayson Pope from A Parched Soul. Grayson writes about discovering God’s purpose for our life. Honored to have him here writing how being a father made him a better Christian and more like Jesus. Be encouraged, friends.

When I offered to write a post for Julie, she graciously accepted and suggested the topic of how my relationship with Christ has made me a better father. That’s a great theme.

But when I sat down to write it, all I could think was the opposite: how my son has made me a better Christian. The greatest statement of personal faith is to be able to honestly say “I am more like Jesus today than I was one year ago.” I can say that with great fervor after having my son.

The lessons of fatherhood, while maybe not the experience, are for everyone. It’s in the father-son relationship we learn something of the Father and son or Father and daughter relationship. In other words, being a father teaches you an awful lot about what it’s like for God to be your Father.

My son teaches me something almost daily about the love of Christ, the sacrifice of Christ, and the suffering of the Carpenter. Here are 5 of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since becoming a father one year ago:

  1. I am selfish: This one hit me like a freight train. No one tells fathers what this will be like after you get home from the hospital and the craziness of the birth experience wears off. Having a wife certainly makes you less selfish, but it’s nothing compared to having a little, warm body that completely depends on you for survival. After about a week, resentment starts to build in a father’s heart. It’s hard to admit, but it’s true. You start to think I wish I could sit down and watch TV, or I just want to do whatever I want to do. After another week, the reality of your selfishness comes crashing down. I thank God for how he opened my eyes to my selfishness through my son.
  2. Patience is definitely a virtue: Most people that know me would tell you I am calm and patient. Before I had a son, my answer would probably be the same. Now that I have one, patience has taken on a whole other meaning. Babies test your patience by nature. Rocking them to sleep at 2 a.m. is no game for an impatient man. My son barely slept for the first 6 months of his life, and then was diagnosed with global developmental delays in his second 6 months. That means he’s behind in development compared to the average child his age, so every milestone takes longer to reach. Other children are beginning to walk and crawl and be busy, and my son is still learning how to roll on his side and spend time on his belly. All of this has helped me realize something deeply truthful about life. It will always be hard. There will always be something that tries your soul. Patience is how you handle the hard stuff. It’s a resilience to fall into the desolate places of the mind and to believe in the deliverance of the Man on the Tree with desperate faith.
  3. Other people need me: Most people don’t realize as they live their everyday lives that other people need them. Badly. I know I didn’t. My son makes it obvious he needs me. He cries when he’s tired or hungry. He looks at me with a twinkle in his eye when he wants to play. His life is dependent on mine in so many ways. And so is mine and yours. We Americans like to think the greatest virtue in life is individualism. Sorry, but that’s crap. The greatest virtue in life is selflessness. It’s giving up your happiness for other people’s happiness. My life is so much bigger than what goes on in my little head. There are people all around me waiting for me to step up and be there for them. They might not know it, but it’s true. You and I were created to serve, and it’s high time we started acting like it. God designed us in the image of Trinitarian community. We weren’t made to go through life alone.
  4. The world’s a scary place: Mostly I think the world’s OK, at least the one I’ve insulated myself in. Nice town, safe community, steady job. But that’s because we’ve been conditioned to accept so much of what goes on in our little worlds. After my son was born and I began to think about raising him in a godly way, everything around me took on a new meaning. The sex-fueled advertising, murders on the news, the lack of God in entertainment and the media, and war in Afghanistan made me realize this world’s a scary place. What on earth am I doing raising a child in it? But that’s the wrong question. Instead, it’s what in Heaven am I raising this child for? That makes all the difference. This world is a scary place. But my son, you, and I have a unique opportunity to be the difference in this world. To be the light that shines brightest in the dark.
  5. God cares about everything. Every. Little. Thing.: I’ve prayed to God for big things in my life throughout the years, but never so much the daily things I think I can handle on my own. Fatherhood fixed that real quick. At first I wasn’t sure if I could even make it. Surely this was a bad idea. So I began to rely on God for what seemed to me like little things. Patience when he wakes up every 2 hours, humility when I don’t feel like getting off the couch to check on him so my wife doesn’t have to, or a slower pace when I didn’t want to be distracted and miss a precious moment. These are what we call the little things. But they are everything to God. He treasures these little prayers offered up in humility. I have seen more prayers answered over the last 12 months than in my first 24 years combined. There are 2 reasons: 1) I am praying much, much more, and 2) I’m giving up the things I thought I could handle on my own.

I want to offer something as a postscript. 12 months ago, these words could not have been written by me. But 12 months from now, they could be written by you. No, I’m not saying go out and have a kid. What I mean is that these lessons are ones we all need to learn. If there’s one you skipped because you think you already have it down, you better go back and read it. That’s the area you’re most open to deception. I hope at the end of the year, you can look back and say some of these same things.

I hope you can look back and say “I’m more like Jesus today than I was a year ago.”

graysonGrayson Pope is a Christ-follower, husband, and father. He helps people look past the immediate and focus on the eternal. You can follow Grayson on his blog and Twitter, and grab a free copy of his new eBook about finding your purpose here.

photo credit: cavalecc

Redemption from Reflection

 

Today’s post is written by Jason North.  Jason is a follower in Christ who seeks to spread the gospel through not only words, but action. Prior to turning his life to Christ, like many of us, Jason lived a life of rebellion, hypocrisy, and self-seeking pleasures.  However, through Christ he has been redeemed and transformed to a Man that not only follows Christ, but seeks to serve him in all areas of his life. Jason currently resides in Texas and in his spare time enjoys playing the drums, listening to music, and reading the Bible.

You can follow Jason on Twitter via @jasonbnorth.

 

Do you know your value? Do you see you for who and what you are?

 Do you recognize yourself in the scope of eternity?

 Are you resting your eyes and thoughts on what mankind has created?

 Buildings. Gadgets. Music. Worldly ideas and ‘wisdom’; what are they?

 We have created much, but what have you created within yourself?

 Are you aware of how you affect the world around you; your family and friends?

 Are you living for yourself, separated from what’s bigger than you?

 

Have you asked yourself these questions before?

If not, it’s time to ask these questions.

If you have, then you know there’s only one answer.

It’s interesting, isn’t it? This whole faith thing. This whole forgiveness thing. We try to describe it. We try to make it a concept that people can swallow and understand.

We try to tell people that they need to die to self, setting it aside so that they can be born anew and we try reflect in our deeds what’s rooted in our hearts.

We attempt to put into words what can only be experienced.

The unbeliever can strive for ‘salvation’, but doesn’t feel or experience anything different, even after years of searching…

… because the responsibility lies in the heart of the individual. And we are inherently broken and fallen things. To become renewed from that brokenness is to know Christ. To know Christ to be renewed.

This is the bottom line. The Big Kahuna.

Once the individual knows she’s been forgiven…

…that the old has become pure and new…

… that she didn’t have to work for it

…that Jesus, by God, went the extra mile for humanity, that He provided the raw stuff needed for us to become all that God has called us to be from before time…

…that in the end all people from all religions, belief systems and philosophies, will bow at the feet of Jesus…

…then she can come from the pain and brokenness and transform to be in His likeness and to be co-creators with God himself, instruments of His creative power.

What else is needed? Nothing.

Have you known a person that was living in sin, but was saved by the knowledge of Christ?

I wish some of you could have known me before I re-dedicated my life to Christ a couple years ago.

If you’ve ever wanted to get mad at a perfect example of a hypocrite, I was him.

My self-serving ambitions were pale in comparison only by my rebellion; to my family, friends, and God foremost. Worst of all, I could still put on a lying front like I was squeaky-clean. But, everybody could see through it, except for me.

If you’ve ever had questions about your purpose; questions about what this “Jesus thing” is really about [without the mega-churches, judgment and shallow-mindedness], then ask questions to a Christ-follower that has a testimony.

Seek out the experience of someone that’s wholeheartedly surrendered to Jesus.

Ask him where he came from, where he’s going, and who he credits for propelling him there. His response should simply be – Jesus. Perhaps then you’ll know your real value in Christ’s eyes [the only ones that matter]. Perhaps then you’ll understand what Jesus did for you.

If you don’t know God, then start to pursue Him today. When you’re ready, after you’ve recognized how broken you are, how fallen you are in God’s eyes, but how much He expects of you, then surrender to Him.  Your life depends on it.

Titus 2:14

Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.