How To Celebrate Halloween

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 11-1-2020

Like most days in the year, Halloween is a day filled with contentious debate. Although this isn’t necessarily everybody who finds the day controversial, but rather Christians who have quite the beef with this day in particular. Yet when examined further, we find that these assumptions about this day of the dead remain buried by the fact that it’s simply not pagan (2). For instance, it’s origins are steeped in the traditions of French and Irish Christians that mixed their cultures with other cultures into the melting pot that is America.

Regardless, a more important question comes up when these holidays within our respective cultures arrive to be celebrated once again. How should we celebrate these holidays? As Christians or believers of other faiths, how should we approach the holidays? More specifically, how should we approach Halloween?

Earlier this month, I was talking with a friend over the phone about Halloween and how it’s okay to celebrate it as Christians. We discussed a lot beyond that, but I’ll just share what I talked with him about on how to approach Halloween. What we centered our conversation on was three key questions.

What is Christian?

The first question is what is Christian? With this question, I wanted to guide the dialogue to the Bible and how Christians have always approached holidays respectively. This first question can be done within any respective religion as well.

For Christians, a key biblical text is Colossians 2:8-23 and how because of the substance of Christ’s sacrifice these cultural celebrations are now merely symbolic if anything to the believer. They went from days of religious repetition to righteous remembrance. We are not obligated to repeat these traditions, but rather we now get to remember what these traditions mean to the Christian faith.

On Christmas, we get to celebrate the birth of Jesus. On Resurrection Sunday, we get to remember how Jesus rose on the third day after paying the debt of sin with his death. Again, look at Colossians 2:14-17 one more time: “having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” From a biblical vantage point, it matters more why we celebrate holidays than how we celebrate holidays. With that in mind, how we celebrate still matters and that ties into the second question. But for now, always ask yourself why before you ask yourself how.

What is Cultural?

The second question is what is cultural? For this one, we focused a lot on the nitty-gritty of how we celebrate holidays. I’ll just bring up one point we discussed during this second question. When it comes to how we celebrate, is there a way to know what’s worth celebrating?

In my favorite passage in the Bible for ministry, Paul writes that we should “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil (3).” In other words: test everything, embrace good, and avoid evil. Now let’s apply that filter to Halloween.

With all of these customs and traditions, we just can’t celebrate everything. I mean, there’s some pretty dark activity done on Halloween and some great fun too. Does that mean we stop celebrating Halloween because bad stuff is done on that day? No, you just don’t do the bad stuff. Let me explain.

Traditionally every October 31st, kids and parents go door-to-door to collect candy in costume as they say “trick-or-treat” to their neighbors. Has this always been the tradition though? No, not at all.

The costumes are originally a French Christian tradition to honor those who have died, the date is relatively new compared to other holidays, and the involvement of parents is in direct response to the Black Halloween of 1933. This was when teenage boys caused so much vandalism nationwide in America in response to the Great Depression that cities considered banning the holiday altogether before giving it a family-friendly revamp (4). So the Halloween you know today is not even historically accurate.

Truthfully, the modern celebration of Halloween is just like Coca-Cola. The original was way more dangerous and fun, but now it’s a watered-down cash grab that has brainwashed you into thinking it’s good because you have so much nostalgia for it. Put in simple terms, All Hallows’ Eve is now just a hollow shell of its former self.

So now what? Well, celebrate it. It’s a great custom that brings communities and families together. If we’re being honest, is there anything remotely morally reprehensible about a kid dressing up as their favorite superhero and collecting candy? Not in the slightest.

But if you want to go holier than thou, then what if a kid in remembrance of Chadwick Boseman dresses up as Black Panther to honor one of those who has gone before us and who in fact was a Christian too. That’s faithfully sticking to the roots of Halloween. On the other hand, the standard celebration usually has some adult woman laced up in a slutty cat costume in the hopes of getting some action with her toxic ex at a party that looks like a high school reunion, but with more botox and booze. Then again, to each their own.

At the end of the day, reject all of the bad done on Halloween or any day for that matter and embrace the good. Learn about the holiday, adopt the customs that are good, and then avoid the bad. You can even choose not to celebrate altogether which is totally fine too, but that leads into the final question.

What is Convicting?

Lastly, what is convicting? After all of this information and knowledge has been discussed, it’s still your choice whether or not you are comfortable celebrating any holiday. Convictions are not meant to be advertised to all, but they are meant to be respected when in the company of others who know of said convictions.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 8, Paul dissects the idea of liberty into two compatible halves: knowledge and love. We all have varying degrees of knowledge and love that combines into your current convictions. That’s why every conviction is different from person-to person. Some of us eat meat and some of us don’t. But what matters most is being aware of your convictions and when aware of other people’s convictions, being the better person and honoring their commitments to a conviction as well.

Paul points this out when he writes: “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ (5).” If you want your convictions to be valued, then you must value the convictions of others. This value is found in the active balance of knowledge and love.

Without love your conviction is prideful and without knowledge your conviction is pointless. Therefore, find the balance between what you know and what you love. For the Christian, this love is Christ. For the non-Christian, it’s anything but Christ. If you as a Christian have a conviction that is not Christ-centered, then you have bastardized your own behaviors and beliefs.

When we were nearing the end of our conversation, we ironically pointed out our different convictions of food. My great friend is convicted about eating pork, while I am a simp for lime pork street tacos. With that knowledge in mind, I can now love my friend by not eating pork around them. If my friend doesn’t eat meat, then I don’t need to either when I’m with them for their sake. What divides us should never get in the way of what unites us.

I have the conviction to take time every Halloween to read up on the Protestant Reformation because the anniversary just so happens to land on the very same day. It’s a tradition I’ve made for myself and I will repeat it every year. Then again, I do also enjoy spending time with others doing more traditional Halloween customs. Either way, I choose to celebrate Halloween. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels
  2. https://youtu.be/fu-5BmAzbrU
  3. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NASB)
  4. https://www.history.com/news/halloween-haunted-house-great-depression
  5. 1 Corinthians 8:8-12 (NASB)

The Potter and the Clay

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 8/30/2020

Wrote this last night in about an hour and decided to post it here on the blog. It’s a poem inspired by a concept in Romans chapter 9.

This is the potter and the clay.

The latter was molded in a day,

While the former made the day.

This is our life I hope to portray.

The potter knows what the clay will become.

Maybe one day a daughter or one day a son.

Could be a father or even someone’s mom.

The potter knows the clay and then some.

The potter molds the clay.

He molds all of it everyday.

The clay has no actual say,

Yet the potter listens anyway.

The potter molds the clay with meaning,

But the clay is dirty and needs cleaning.

The potter finds his creation appealing,

Yet the clay resists for the time being.

The potter adores the clay.

The clay wants to fly away,

But the potter wants it to stay.

The potter is patient with the clay.

The potter is content.

He loves to invent.

Creating with intent.

It was quite the event.

The potter knows all of the clay,

Even that it would choose decay.

The potter created black and white to guide our way,

While the clay pretends that everything is a moral grey.

The potter has the right to make vessels of honor.

The potter has the right to make vessels of dishonor.

The molded always seems to question the molder,

But the clay should be grateful that it gets to be older.

If only we knew our constant need to pray,

Instead we would rather be sin’s daily prey.

Hopefully we learn it’s okay to not be okay.

This is the story of the potter and the clay.

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Moses: From Man To Myth | 1-29-2020

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/25/2020

[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students understand the person of Moses for a series called fresh start.]

Introduction

For the past three weeks, we have been studying this idea of a fresh start. With Adam, redemption. With Noah, a rescue mission. Then with Abraham, reality and reason in conflict. Now with Moses, we’re going to see how God brings revolution after reconstructing a man on the run.

But tonight we’re going to see how Moses had the right motive matched up with the wrong move. He had the right idea, but the wrong execution of it. Go to that first passage in Exodus 2:11-15.

The Motive | Exodus 2:11-15

Now a little context after we’ve just read the text. Moses was born Hebrew, but raised Egyptian. When he was a baby, he was adopted by the royal Egyptian family after he was hidden by his biological mother. This was because there was a decree to kill all male Jewish babies in fear they might grow up to resist Pharaoh by joining opposing nations and becoming free from enslavement. Also, Moses’ biological mother was the nurse whose job it was to take care of him in the Pharaoh’s palace.

With this in mind, Moses was born into Jewish royalty since he was an ancestor of Abraham and raised in Egyptian royalty for the first part of his life. He was a bridge to two worlds. A man torn between two different men’s legacies in his life: Abraham and Pharaoh. God called Abraham to be the founder of the nation of Israel, while Pharaoh was hellbent on their annihilation.

Years later here in Exodus 2:11-15, we see these two motives in conflict. His desire to free his people or to submit to the authority of his step family that ruled the nation. Next, we see his decision. His motivation throughout this whole story is to save his people. He chose freedom over fear. Yet, he went about it the wrong way. 

As a step-son of Pharaoh, he had the authority to order the Egyptian to stand down and stop beating the fellow Jewish slave. He could’ve commanded him to let the slave get back to work, but he chose the fast road to justice and killed the Egyptian instead. Burying him in the sand of the desert and then makes a run for it once he realizes that news of what he did has spread throughout the land. He had better options and chose poorly. Peace is for the patient and this is a quality that Moses has always lacked.

Needless to say, once Pharoah finds out and Moses escapes to hide from his warrant for his death. He chose the quickest solution to fighting injustice and ended up bringing even more consequences then there needed to be in the first place. When we try to fight injustice with what appears to be the easiest solution, we can actually end up bringing more harm than there was before. Because of what Moses did, the very people he was trying to save ended up staying enslaved for even longer in Egypt. 

The Mission | Exodus 2:25, 3:10

Moses is on the run, Pharaoh is even more brutal to the Hebrew people than before, and now God is going to initiate his next move through all of this by giving Moses his mission. We just saw his motivation, but now God is going to give Moses a clear mission to save the Hebrew the way God had always planned. Let’s read Exodus 2:25 and Exodus 3:10.

In life, I usually think I know what I’m doing next. How to make the next move. How to get where I want to go next, but God always has other plans and a better way of getting where we need to go.

For instance, I thought I was going to become a filmmaker who would dominate that industry. But God gave me a series of simple jobs, so that I could pursue serving others in my community by becoming a writer to advance our understanding of God. I had motivation and a mission, but God made it even better.

Likewise, Moses will save his people and this mission will eventually inspire a movement that will influence generations to come. But first, how did Moses free the Hebrews? How did God execute this mission he tasked Moses with here in these two verses?

Well, here’s the brief version of the story. God sends Moses to Egypt to speak with Pharaoh. Pharaoh said no, Moses tried again. Same thing like last time. This goes on a couple times until Pharaoh’s son dies and finally lets the Hebrew people go. From there, Moses leads the Hebrew people on their long journey to the promised land.

The Movement | Exodus 13:3

Jump to today, Moses is the figure of several movements in history. For example, Harriet Tubman was often called Moses because she freed slaves in America. Also, Superman has been compared to Moses in the way that he was born and other parallels within that story.

Just like them, you have two legacies you can choose from in your life right now. You can either go through the motions or be apart of the movement of God. You decide. Let’s pray and go to small groups.

This was my last sermon taught while serving in the youth group of my church. My best sermon? No, but I enjoyed the process of making it and wrapping up this series created by the new leadership for our youth group. Given during a time of change in leadership when I was stepping away as a new team was stepping up to take charge for the forseeable future.

Are they ready? Not even close to ready, let alone qualified. But neither were we when we started the youth group 3 years ago. They may not be qualified, but God has called them and if receptive to the leading of the Spirit will do great things in ministry. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1.  Free stock photos · Pexels

All For One + One For All | 10-16-2019

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/23/2020

[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students study the book of Galatians verse-by-verse.]

Introduction

Last time I preached, we talked about idiots and influencers. This time it’s all about family and friends. But first, let’s read the text and then find out how to treat others, along with why we should treat them well. Let’s read Galatians 6:1-10 first.

“Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them. Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.”

How To Treat Others

This text we just read has two main points: how to treat others and why we should treat them well. We’ll focus on how before we go to why.

Alright, let’s just tear the bandaid off. You’re not that important. You’re really not too important. At least, you’re not too important to avoid helping other people.

It’s just true. You’re not too busy or famous or rich to help others who are in need. No one is too important to help someone else. Why? Because we all face the same issues just in different circumstances. We all have dealt with the same problems, but at different places in time and with different people.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and music throughout the week. Back when I was a video content creator, it was my whole job. To consume content and create it. Follow the latest trends and then start new ones with the company that I worked for at the time.

Anyways, I was listening to a podcast with Dr. Jordan Peterson and he has this quote where he’s talking about what brings meaning to people’s lives. What will help people know they have a role in the world and he said this: “I think of people as beasts of burden in some sense. We’re built for a burden and we’re not happy without that burden. We want to find the one that suits us (2).” In other words, part of our design is to help others with their problems. To serve a need not being met and to meet it to the best of our ability.

My family does this by making sure my Mom has taken her medication that prevents her seizures. Your family might be one where everyone pitches in to help take care of someone who can’t take care of themselves. Whatever that need is, it’s important and it requires your help. If Jesus thought it was important to help you, then you can help others. If not, then don’t call yourself a Christian because to be a Christian is to be like Christ.

How do we be like Christ? It’s pretty simple: obedience, opportunity, and then ownership. We live to obey Jesus by looking for opportunities to help others, so that we can take ownership of our faith. In other words, always be open to helping others and especially if it’s your own family.

But family doesn’t just mean those you’re related to or grew up with as a kid. As Christians, family also includes other Christians as well. When my Dad was in Russia as a missionary at the tail-end of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, he said his favorite part of being a missionary was meeting other Christians. Meeting family around the world who you had nothing in common with and yet you both had a relationship with Jesus.

The family of God is a real, tangible relationship with God that you shared with other people in different parts of the world. For Christians, your family is not just defined by the blood you share, but also by the blood that Jesus shed. Every family is defined by the blood that unites them, including the family of God.

Why Treat Others Well

So we know how to treat others, but why should we treat others well? Why does God want us to treat others the way we want to be treated? Well, for a few reasons.

First off, treating others well helps you have a bigger network. There’s plenty of people who only lookout for number one and they end up empty by the end of it. They burn bridges, they push friends away, and generally are really lonely people. On the other hand, when you help others you build bridges, create community, and give yourself way more opportunities than you could ever get yourself on your own.

Helping others and treating them well is also proven to improve your mental health for the better. According to mentalhealth.org.uk (3), helping others can reduce isolation by giving someone a sense of belonging, increase your happiness, and studies even prove that those who help others live longer because of their healthier well being. At the end of the day, helping others is more beneficial to you than living just for yourself.

Lastly, helping others is one of the reasons we are here as Christians in the first place. Jesus gave every Christian two commands to follow: to love God and to love others. We are commanded to do this as Christians because this is what Christ did. He was all for one and one for all. He loved God with all of his heart, mind, and soul. Then he loved everyone equally.

We too like Jesus are all for one and one for all. We love one God and each of us loves all people. We love because God first loved us. We can help others even when they don’t deserve it because God always helps us. So go help yourself by helping others and honoring God. Let’s pray and go get into our small groups.

I really like this passage of Scripture and loved sharing this message with the students. Like I’ve said in previous sermons for this particular study in Galatians, we were covering a lot of ground and not with time on our side either.

With that said, this message had a lot of good to share with our student body at the time. Being an active member of your community, mental health, personal responsibility, and so on. Very much a boots-to-the-ground kind of sermon where it’s extremely applicable universally, which I liked very much. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1.  Free stock photos · Pexels
  2. https://youtu.be/AscPHmLWo-M
  3. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-does-you-good

Psalm 22

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-24-2020

Here is a poem that I wrote on September 9th, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 22. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

My God, my God, why have you left?

My words, my words, are loudly bereft.

My father trusts you, but I don’t.

I could truly love you, but I won’t.

In his youth, he found you when he needed hope.

Barely hanging on like a madman on a tightrope.

In my youth, I found you simply as a cultural trope.

I only talked to you to confess like you were a pope.

People call me a man of God, but why?

Don’t they know I’m fake and just lie?

They look to me for all of the answers.

Yet I only go to you with inquiries and questions.

My journey is of a man who knows better, but wanders.

Men like me take your commands as suggestions.

Yet you made this man with meaning anyway.

From birth, it’s as if I was born for the way.

I’ve never left you, so why did I stay?

From my origin until now on this day?

I suppose it’s because I know your intent.

That is, I know why you chose to invent.

You gave this man a specific type of mission.

A task unique within the Great Commission.

A calling that would take a lifetime to fulfill.

Like a farmer, this soil I always need to till.

Until it is done and finished, I cannot be still.

If not me to tend to this task, then who will?

Who will be the bridge that unites others?

Returning your sons to join us as brothers?

Bringing those who won’t associate together?

Guiding prodigals home with God forever?

Is it not this modern Saint Christopher?

Carrying Christ across the Jordan River?

Bearing the burden of souls in slumber?

Yes I fast, but my God do I truly hunger?

Reinvigorate this tired man who is your son.

Help him finish what is started and not done.

Let him shine bright like sun-soaked snow.

Allow the inward light within to openly show.

He has been sidetracked by the sins of youth.

Remind him that purity is the path of truth.

He has intrinsic meaning, purpose, and value.

Reinforce the fervor to fight for what is true.

There are many who aspire, but few attain.

We make way for the return of a king’s reign.

I once embraced evil, so now help me abstain.

For this man, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Doing Too Much | 7-31-2019

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-24-2020

[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students study the book of Galatians verse-by-verse.]

Introduction

Last week Dan taught on the latter half of Galatians 2. Tonight we will look at the first 9 verses of chapter 3. Let’s read the text and then break down what it means from there.

“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.”

Now this part of Galatians is really split into two main sections. The first half focuses on the bad example of what the Galatians were doing, while the latter half is centered on the good example of what Abraham did differently. The key is that Paul is first addressing the problem that these Christians are dealing with before getting to the solution. What’s the problem? Well, they’re doing too much. Like most of us, they forgot what it means to be a Christian because they added all of this unnecessary filler. Let me explain by focusing on what they got wrong.

Verses 1 – 5

You see, when you first become a Christian, everything is super simple. You know God, He loves you, and all of life seems right for awhile. But then as you get older and the longer you remain a Christian, the more complicated things tend to get. You learn more, you meet different Christians who believe different things, and pretty soon you eventually find yourself wrestling with some new ideas that you’ve never heard of before.

But there’s nothing wrong with learning something new. In fact, Paul himself who wrote Galatians and plenty of other books in the Bible is always encouraging believers to grow in their faith. To mature and go from being infants to mature, seasoned believers who know more about God.

The problem is that most Christians don’t become mature believers over time who know better when a new thing is introduced that may or may not be true. What’s even worse is that we love to be fooled and tricked. Don’t believe me? Watch this (Play magic trick video: https://youtu.be/OVkmibfFbVI).

Honestly, everyone loves to be fooled. We love it. We love movies without knowing how they’re made. We love celebrity couples, even though they are staged. We love drama and gossip, even if it’s not true. We love to be fooled. Combine that with your longing to belong somewhere and that’s where we get this word in verse 1 called bewitched. This word basically means that they were captivated or thoroughly tricked into believing something that is not true.

The Galatians were bewitched into buying the lie that they needed to do more. They took the bait that by adding all this extra fluff to their faith, they were somehow being better Christians. When Paul repeatedly calls them fools in these first 5 verses, he is literally calling them idiots and stupid for believing this lie where they are doing way too much. The Gospel is not I need to do all of these things to show I’m good enough. The Gospel is I can’t do all these things, so God sent Jesus because he is good enough. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

The more you mature as a Christian, the more you realize how much you need Jesus and what little you can do without him. The older we get as believers, the more humble we become as we realize how much it really cost for Jesus to die for our sins. Now let’s look at this guy Abraham.

Verses 6 – 9

Who was Abraham? Well he was a lot of things. He was the ancestor of Jesus, the founder and father of the Hebrew people, along with being a man known for his faith in God. Here, we’re going to look at him and his faith.

For the church in Galatia, Abraham was a big deal. Especially because they were Jewish and Abraham was the father of the Jewish people. So when Paul mentions Abraham, it would be the equivalent of going to China and talking about Jackie Chan. Everybody knew who Abraham was and next Paul is going to bring up why he is so famous in these last 4 verses.

In verse 6, righteousness just means being right with God. Abraham trusted in God and this is what made him right with God. He trusted God for everything. When he moved to a new land and started a whole new nation. When he struggled to have children with his wife and God finally gave them a son. Through it all, Abraham trusted God in the end and that’s why he was considered righteous or right with God.

Anyways, because of this anyone that trusts God is of Abraham. That’s what Paul is trying to get at here in this passage. We trust in God and that means that we are of Abraham, in that we are righteous in God’s eyes. We are right in God’s eyes because we trust in Jesus.

Conclusion

In Philippians 1:6 Paul writes, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” There is nothing to add to the Gospel. The change that you’ve seen is a result of God working in your life and not the other way around. We might slow down the process when we sin, but we can’t speed it up. Paul writes elsewhere that, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

In the end, there really are only two types of Christians. Those who are all about trusting God and those who try to add to what God has done, which shows they trust in themselves more than God. But what God did is done and finished. Don’t try to complete what God started because God is enough for your faith.

This is admittedly a much shorter sermon than usual. It was 3.5 pages versus my more common 4 to 5 page average with double spaced, 12 point font. Think of each page written as 5 minutes when presented. So this message for instance was 17.5 minutes excluding the video. My video example was just over 4 minutes, which meant I had less time to share and therefore shortened my notes to fit the format.

What some of you may have noticed, is that over the past few sermons previously I have mentioned Romans 8:28 to one degree or another. I did this intentionally, so that students could comprehend their own faith with one very compact verse that sums up what we were learning quite well. An overarching theme throughout multiple sermons.

I enjoyed the simplicity of this sermon and it was nice to focus on smaller sections of Scripture, while adjusting to the change of a topical series to a verse-by-verse format for the book of Galatians. It was the original method I learned on how to teach the Bible back in middle school and was fun to go back to for this series. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. www.pexels.com

Psalm 18

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-22-2020

Here is a poem that I wrote on August 21st, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 18. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

God, you are all of my strength.

My enemies are at arm’s length.

But death has entirely encompassed me.

Capturing many like sand in the sea.

The taken are on a mass sinning spree.

Because of these traps I run and flee.

Then the whole earth shook.

A site that caused all to look.

The mountain’s foundations were shaken.

All of nature’s skyscrapers were taken.

Evil caused the fury of a king to awaken.

This world we live in now God forsaken.

Smoke billowed from his nostrils.

And his fire singed life into fossils.

He broke through the clouds of heaven.

Swooping down to decimate the leaven.

Which is those who committed all seven.

Before they could even count to eleven.

Flying upon the wings of the wind.

His justice collides with the sinned.

From the same God treasured words that inspire.

Also came the hailstones and coals of hellfire.

To put it simply, these times will be very dire.

Somehow we sang these words to the tune of a lyre.

When he returns for the great calamity.

Justice will be administered to humanity.

But only for those who lived wickedly.

Grace will be granted to those of piety.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Freedom For All | 6-26-2019

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-22-2020

[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students study the book of Galatians verse-by-verse.]

Introduction

Now that we’ve finished our mini series on mental health in the Bible, we are going to start a new series going through the book of Galatians. We will be taking apart each verse as best we can and learning how to really study the Bible better. This just means that we are going to critically study and investigate part of this book to see how it applies to us today.

The book of Galatians was written by Paul the Apostle as a letter to the churches in the ancient highlands of Turkey called Galatia. The whole reason he wrote this letter was to defend against this group of people called the Judaizers. Their whole deal was that they claimed that the old laws of Judaism still applied to Christians.

That instead of being free from the law, somehow Christians who were still under the law. It’s wack and Paul spends this whole letter kind of calling them out for it. Think of Galatians as the Twitter rant of the Bible.

Let’s read the first 9 verses of chapter 1 and then break it down from there:

“Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen. I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”

Verses 1 -2

First things first, Paul in his opening of the letter was reminding the church who sent him. He wasn’t sent by some group that hired him or by his own will, but rather he was sent by Jesus as an apostle to guide the church with letters like this one. He was writing under the authority of God to the churches of Galatia.

Also, he was with a group of other Christians who were travelling with him preaching the Gospel. He mentions them as another way of showing that he isn’t alone in calling these Judiazers out, but other Christians were in agreement with Paul in correcting their mistake in going back to the law. As Paul later writes in Galatians, “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you (1).” They were free from trying to earn their way to God, but then they went back to it for no reason.

It’d be like if Martin Luther King Jr. changed his mind about equality for minorities during the Civil Rights Movement. Like what if we went a few years into having equality for all and then out of nowhere Dr. King decides that life was better when everyone was not equal. That’d be dumb, right? That’s kind of the backwards and bizarre thinking that these churches were going through right here. They were living in the past, instead of the future.

Verses 3 – 5

Here in verse 3, Paul is just saying what’s up with a greeting that was common for Christians at the time. After that, he then briefly goes over who Jesus is and what He did for us in verse 4. This is really the start of the letter and Paul is setting up his argument for why these Judaizers are wrong by quickly defining the Gospel. Verse 5 is Paul thanking God for what He did and this verse is finishing the thought in verse 4.

Verses 6 – 9

Now Paul gets to the part of the letter where he hella mad over what’s going on in these churches. He’s honestly shook that these churches that were taught by Paul on what the Gospel is have now left it for something not nearly as good. They’ve traded the truth of God for a lie.

He keeps going in verse seven and Paul points out that what they fell for isn’t even the Gospel, but a twisted perversion of it. That what they left behind was the true Gospel and what they embraced was a sad attempt at humans trying to spice it up. Kinda like when you at the cookout and Karen puts stupid raisins in the potato salad for no reason whatsoever.

No one actually likes your potato salad, Karen. The cookout was fine and good before you butchered it with your HGTV, white suburban trash-salad. Who in the hell puts raisins in potato salad?!

Anyways, you guys get the idea. Paul’s got the same react when he is calling these guys out. Why would you change the Gospel? It was perfectly fine before you showed up and ruined it. The Gospel was super simple until you guys made it all convoluted and complicated. Watch what he does next here in verses 8 through 9.

What does “he is to be accursed” mean? Think of accursed as being damned to Hell or something equivalent. Those people should be avoided and not given a platform where they preach a false Gospel is basically what Paul is saying here.

Next, Paul’s mention of even an angel telling you a different Gospel is in direct conflict with other world religions like Islam where an angel called Jibrīl (Gabriel) visits Mohammed to tell him a different Gospel or when an angel named Moroni visited Joseph Smith to tell him a different Gospel. By this verse alone, neither of those two worldviews can be true because they directly contradict Scripture.

Whether it’s a religion like Islam or a cult like Mormonism, anyone that claims to have a different Gospel is wrong. The same can be said of Jehovah Witnesses where someone made up some horrible way of understanding the Bible while leading a small group at some local church a couple decades ago. Bottom line: there is only one Gospel. But what is the Gospel? Here’s how I would put it and how I share it with people.

God made everything good. We made everything bad. Jesus has made and will make everything better. Now all we have to do is believe in what Jesus did and trust Him in what He is going to do. That’s it. That’s the Gospel. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and easy to understand. Now let me break down each part of the Gospel real quick before we wrap up tonight.

Conclusion

In the beginning, God made everything good. He made the whole universe and all that is in it. Everything that God created, including us was good.

But then something happened. The first people, Adam and Eve, screwed everything up. They had the option to either love God or not. They could do whatever they wanted in the Garden of Eden, except eat from one tree. Why? Because in order for love to exist there must be the ability to choose. In that moment, they chose disobedience and that brings us to today where we all now have the inclination to disobey God and are no longer as close to God as we were back then.

But God loved us so much that He sent His son Jesus to make things right. Jesus lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins, which repaired the broken relationship with God. Jesus has made and will make everything better.

Now all we have to do is believe in what Jesus did and trust Him in what He is going to do. To decide whether or not we believe that Jesus really is God and really did die on the cross to pay the penalty of sin. We all have to decide for ourselves whether or not we want freedom. Let’s pray.

I don’t remember exactly when, but it was during this series through Galatians where I struggled a lot trying to translate our church’s sermon series into something for the youth group. In my mind at the time, I saw too much as a speaker that didn’t seam relevant to our ministry. This was because there are more factors to consider than just the message being communicated.

There is the intended audience, the setting where you will preach, the attention span of listeners, knowing what is relevant to said audience with various illustrations, and so on. I just wasn’t a fan of copying and pasting someone else’s sermon and calling it mine. It seemed lazy to me given my background as someone who knew how to prepare sermons.

For the newer leadership, this was very beneficial and they appreciated following the lead of someone more experienced and that being our main teaching pastor. Each method has its drawbacks, but for me I felt that these sermons were subpar because instead of crafting a message, I was just translating a message that someone else crafted. Maybe it’s evident in these sermons through Galatians, but for me I wasn’t very happy with how they turned out.

Regardless, this was an okay message. Not everything clicked and examples fell flat that were not given enough time to be fleshed out into better ideas. At the end of the day, what matters is that the sermon that needed to shared was shared. This was focused on a specific subset of verses and that brief overview was accomplished. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. www.pexels.com
  2. Galatians 5:7-8

Psalm 15

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5-7-2020

Here is a poem that I wrote on August 10th, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 15. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

Lord, who will live with you in heaven?

Those who forgive seven times seven?

They will walk with integrity.

They will work hard righteously.

They will speak truth inwardly.

But they will not use words to slander.

Intentionally trying to hurt their neighbor.

This is the type of person God will favor.

A brand new citizen of Zion.

Knowing Jesus as a strong lion.

Those truly evil reprobates

Will not enter Heaven’s gates.

Their actions God deprecates.

But those who fear the king.

Will offer their everything.

They joyously praise and sing.

So do not ever be mistaken.

The upright will not be shaken.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Job: A Sermon for the Suffering | 6-5-2019

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 4-21-2020

[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students explore mental health by examining the lives of four different individuals in history. This week was focused on Job.]

During this short miniseries on anxiety and depression, we are looking at mental health in history from the perspective of people in the Bible. First we learned about Jonah and Elijah, so now we’re gonna look at Job’s struggles with mental health when he gets struck by tragedy. But first let’s get a little back story on who Job was exactly. In Job 1:1-5, we read about who Job was before the tragedy:

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.”

So he was the richest man in the east during this time and was a godly guy. He would have been a millionaire in our time and the equivalent of a CEO of a profitable business. Also, Job was deeply close with God and interceded or prayed on behalf of his children everyday first thing in the morning. Overall, Job was what we would consider a good person.

What’s important to understand is that this is a story that is a condensed version of what really happened. In fact, it’s structured nearly identical to other stories of suffering from Egypt written during the same time period. Basically, it’s a true story told through the form of a narrative or what they would call a parable.

Think of it this way: Jackie Robinson was a real person in history who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The movie 42 is a biopic that tells the true story of Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but only shows you the main parts of that story. Essentially, this is the SparkNotes version of Job’s life.

Next in the story, messengers report back to God about what is going down on Earth. One of these guys named the adversary (i.e. Satan) doesn’t buy what he sees as the “good guy” persona of Job. He’s just too good to be true. He loves God because his life is really good.

So God brags that Job is the best and challenges Satan to take everything away from Job, except taking his life. So Satan does just that by killing Job’s employees, his farm animals for his business, and even his own children all within the same day. When he hears the news of what happened, Job reacts at the end of chapter 1 starting in verse 20:

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”

Couple of things to observe here. First, Job follows how people in his culture would react in the face of tragedy. What he does first is a very cultural and normal way of reacting to tragedy at that time.

He then humbles himself by acknowledging that God is ultimately in control of everything and that God can do whatever he wants. This is true when we read Psalm 115:3 or Psalm 135:6 where King David also proclaims the same truth about God. Lastly, Job did not sin at all during this time. In fact, he doesn’t sin at all throughout this whole situation of suffering. Yet he does repent at the end of the book for not relying on God more than he could have when he was suffering, but we’ll get to that later.

[This isn’t necessarily the case. As some have argued, Job did sin during this season of trouble. Notice the passage says “In all this Job did not sin with his lips,” which some have noted as an argument that he did inwardly sin either in his heart or mind. This would add up with why he repented for not trusting God in the latter end of the book. There wasn’t enough time to cover the nuances of this idea, so I opted out of including it in this sermon.]

When this first attack doesn’t work, Satan goes back to God where they talk back and forth before Satan attacks Job again. This time he does attack him physically and these disgusting sore boils develop all over his body. Let’s see how those around him react.

“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.”

So now we get the worst wife of the year nagging Job about still trusting God, even though he has lost so much already. He claps-back and says that if we only trust God during the good times, then we don’t actually trust Him. We’re just following Him for selfish reasons or to get something back in return.

When his friends hear about what happened, they show up to be there for Job. When they arrive, they see the condition that Job is in and they cry with him before joining him in silence. When someone is having mental health issues or suffering in general, one of the best things you can do is just be there for them. Sit there, actively listen to their struggles, and be the comforting friend they can lean on when they are hurting.

When Douglas Groothuis’ wife was dying of dementia, he wrote in his book, Walking Through Twilight, how we can mourn with others as Christians:

“If we take the cross of Christ, we can become more like Christ, more aware of others’ suffering, and more willing to listen and help. I learned that I can keep praying when I am not happy with God. I once believed that prayer was reserved for certain emotional states. To be joyful or thankful is to be prized, but God is still there when those emotions escape us (2).”

The rest of the book of Job is a collection of conversations between Job and his three friends counseling him. They give him bad counsel, even though they had good motivations as Job grapples with all the questions he has for God as to why he is suffering. In the end, God confronts Job and asks him a series of questions that confront his lack of trust in what God is doing. When that’s over, God restores everything and gives Job twice as much wealth as he had when he lost it all. After everything that happened, life is now even better for Job because he trusted in God in spite of his doubts.

The story of Job is a very unique story. There is no indication in the text that God ever tells Job why he had to suffer the way he did. He was never aware of the cosmic conflict between God and Satan. The book of Job is a study on suffering and does not focus on a single solution, but that’s not the point either. The main point of the book was to show two things: how to go through suffering and what it looks like to truly trust in God.

Romans 8:28 says that “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” In life, we go through a lot more bad than good. We cannot control what happened to us in the past, but we can control our reaction. As Viktor Frankl writes as a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, “When we are no longer able to change a situation… we are challenged to change ourselves (3).”

We can’t change how our life started, but we do have the ability to trust God and move forward through our struggles. You could get bitter or get better, but the difference is to switch those letters. Job’s friends and wife chose bitterness, but he chose getting better. Not perfection, but God made him better.

Sometimes it is not for us to know why there is suffering, but rather what can we learn from this suffering? Sometimes suffering is used to make us better people. Job had doubts and trust issues with God, but by the end of the story they are resolved.

God is our guide through suffering, even when we don’t understand why. The moral of the story of Job is that there must be a progression through suffering: from victim to victor. One of the most difficult truths in life is that in order to grow we must embrace suffering and not avoid it. Anyone who has ever overcome adversity or suffering chose to face it and go through it versus avoiding it all together. Tonight, let’s choose triumph in our tragedies through the power of God. Let’s pray and we’ll break into small groups.

This was a tough sermon to crack. First of all, it’s the book of Job and that is an extremely difficult book to understand given its age compared to the other books in the canon. Also, the fact that it’s a summary of the whole book, which is near impossible for one sermon.

The second main challenge was trying to key in on the mental health aspect, which I feel like I failed the most at for this one. Not addressing the issue as much as I could have. It was a sermon that lacked singular vision and needed to be refined a lot because it’s just not presentable in the shape that it is in currently.

A sermon is never ready to share, but some sermons are either more ready or less ready and this was less ready than other sermons I’ve taught. Not a favorite of mine, but another opportunity to learn and improve for the future. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. www.pexels.com
  2. P. 19, Walking Through Twilight
  3. P. 112, Man’s Search For Meaning
    • Key quote on the Fall and our sin nature: “Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright” (P. 134, Man’s Search For Meaning)