The Scale of Faith: Evidence + Experience

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 11-18-2020

About a year ago when I worked at Staples, I had a conversation on faith that was fantastic with one of the coworkers on my sales team. It was one of those moments you pray for and ask God for the awareness to know when one of those moments is happening. As Christians, we call this discernment. The ability to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and what he is doing in the present.

Oddly enough, this conversation was initiated by her when she rolled by my desk and asked a few questions about my faith. This was pretty common because she did this with everyone as an extrovert and loved chatting with everybody on the team, but the subject of our conversation was brand new. It was something we never talked about before and I was very excited to have this conversation because I’m always waiting for these moments to happen.

Unlike most people, I have a different motivation for why I go to work. It’s not for money or the type of work I’m doing necessarily, but rather comes down to a very simple question: what spiritually needs to be done here? That’s my motivation that guides everything I do at work and in life overall. Every day and every moment guided by that simple question. On this day during this moment, I knew what spiritually needed to be done. I needed to answer her question, but not the one she was asking.

When someone is searching their own soul, they tend to discover holes within their worldview. For my coworker, this hole within her worldview was related to her experience with Christianity as a person who grew up Catholic. Her being a Hispanic American that grew up within the family’s strong Catholic tradition lends credence to the idea that maybe her faith wasn’t genuine. Maybe this routine of rituals never actually meant a real relationship with God himself. Maybe the faith she thought she had with its rules and regulations never materialized in her adulthood into something real.

The Conversation

The conversation started with her asking, “You’re religious, right?” and I said yes. She then asked if I was Christian or Catholic. I said I was both, which compelled her to ask how I could be both. I replied that my theology is predominantly Catholic, but my convictions are predominantly Protestant. For instance, my theology is inspired by the Jesuit school of thought called Molinism, but I align a lot with the Anabaptist movement as well. I’m a clear mix of these two different sides of Christianity after studying both for myself.

This answer seemed to resolve her surface-level questions, but now it was my turn. I asked “You’re Catholic, right?” and she said yes. She explained that she grew up Catholic, but doesn’t practice the faith like her family does. I followed up with my next question, “Why not?” and that’s when the real questions came to the surface.

Here she shared how the showy stuff never clicked with her, but that she knows that there must be something like God because she has experienced him growing up. She heard that I was Christian and just wanted to know if what she experienced was real. This is a question we should all ask ourselves. Is what I’m experiencing God or is this something else?

The Scale of Faith

I don’t remember everything that I shared with her, but I do remember the crux of my point. Essentially, faith in God is a scale that’s balancing between evidence and experience. In general, the Christian life is a strange combination of undeniable evidences and unexplainable experiences.

Like my former coworker, we too experience things that we cannot explain and yet know intuitively that this must be God. Likewise, we also observe and measure things in life that logically lead us to God. We all in one way or another experience God and have evidence that God exists in our reality. The key is finding the balance between these two components for a healthy Christian faith.

An Evident God

When we focus too much on evidence, we drown in the rabbithole of not knowing enough. Put simply, you will never know enough about God or be able to define him anymore than he has defined himself for us. As King Solomon put it, “there is nothing new under the sun (2).” There is no secret knowledge that remains undiscovered about God that we can find.

He has intentionally given us all we need to know about him and yet leaves it hidden for us to discover for ourselves. Many avenues in fact from history to mathematics or philosophy and science, but none of them leads to the full knowledge of God. If we knew everything there is to know about God, then he wouldn’t be God. Like any person you come across in life, you will never know everything about them and the same can be said of God.

Then again, faith requires evidence. It’s demanded by our minds trying to make sense of the unknown in the best way that we can, so this doesn’t mean we throw out logic and reason. Instead, this just means we search until we find the edge of knowing God and admire the mystery that stands before us. When we know God and are known by him, then we will know who we are and what we were made to do.

The God Experience

With experience, we find ourselves in the murky waters of the abstract and what has been felt in the fleeting memories of our unique moments with God. It’s not meant to be explained because these moments are to be lived in and felt with all our being. It’s the knowledge of being there that counts and not the incalculable details of the moment.

Why do some dream of Jesus and immediately become Christian, despite every reason to remain a part of their current faith? We don’t know and that’s because it’s not our experience to explain. It’s not our story to tell, but their honor to tell it as a critical piece to the unfinished puzzle that is their life in Christ. These experiences with God are once-in-a-lifetime and at the same respect unforgettable.

Conclusion

Her experience could very well have been God. She didn’t need to doubt it per se because only she would know if it was genuinely a God moment. With discernment, I believe what she shared was a God moment and affirmed it as such to her by the end of our talk.

What I left her with was a challenge: “You seem to know what it’s like to experience God, but is God evident in your life? Before you write off God or your faith from your childhood, look at it again and see if there’s anything to your faith. Could this really be true? You experienced it, so now it’s time to find out if there’s evidence.” Our boss walked by and that’s when we got back to work, but I still hope to this day that she takes the time to reevaluate her faith.

Was the experience truly God or something she made up? Could God be evident in her life? If Jesus is a real person, then is what he said true? Those are questions that only she can answer for herself.

I can’t change minds, but I can compliment critical thinking with the best case for the Christian faith. That case starts when we examine the scale of faith to see if evidence and experience meet at the cross of Christ. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels
  2. Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NASB)

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

The Problem With Evil Is You | 12-4-2019

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/24/2020

[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 understand the problem of evil.]

Introduction

Tonight could go a lot of ways given what we’re talking about, which is the problem of evil. In a minute, we are going to play a clip of a philosopher who studied genocide for multiple years. Now after the video I will preach the remaining amount of time on the logical response to evil, then we will do a Q&A with three additional leaders on stage to talk about the emotional response to evil.

But there’s a catch because you decide which of our two videos we are going to watch. Option 1: we watch a 4 minute video and I teach 15 minutes. Option 2: we watch a 10 minute video and I teach only 10 minutes. But whichever way option you choose, we’ll do for you. So what will it be? Which option do you choose?

[Like most nights in ministry, especially in youth ministry, things don’t go according to plan. This entire introduction was scrapped because we left our projector at another location and couldn’t play either video. In response, I summarized the basic idea of what Clay Jones was conveying about Adam & Eve, along with the general problem of evil. I was going to share one of two clips from an interview that was done by Cameron Bertuzzi from Capturing Christianity with Jones, but God had other plans.]

1) Why are we responsible for what Adam & Eve did?

Based off of the video, we can gather a couple things about who we are as people. First, the problem with evil started a long time ago. It started with the first people and since then has spread like a disease to everyone else. This is what a lot of people refer to as generational sin or in other words “the sins of our fathers.”. But how does that work exactly? How did we inherit something that someone else did?

Let me explain by telling you about my family tree. In my family, we have a generational sin that everyone suffers from and that is addiction. On my Dad’s side of the family, we have my Great-Grandad who was a violent alcoholic. Then he had my Grandad who became a stoic workaholic because of the physical abuse he suffered as a kid. Next was my Dad who returned to the bottle, drugs, and the like because he grew up with a father who didn’t know how to show affection.

Same story is on my Mom’s side of the family too. Her Grandad was murdered by his own sons because they didn’t like that he was a violent alcoholic who physically abused their mom. Next my Mom’s parents also became addicted to alcohol and drugs, which is apart of the reason my Mom has to take medication for seizures because they abused substances during the pregnancy. If you take my Dad’s substance abuse and my Mom’s seizures, you get me who has the same problems because of their decisions and the decisions of the family before them.

That’s generational sin, in that when faced with the opportunity for self-actualization you instead choose self-destruction. Instead of finding an escape, you choose to live in the comfort of excuses. Like my family, all people are born evil because of the evil that’s been done before them.

This is how sin is inherited. By being a bandwagon following other examples and by blood we are naturally inclined to evil. At the end of the day, the problem with evil is you. The problem is me. The problem with evil is all of us because no one is good. We have both inherited sin and have a strong interest in it too. This is the cycle of sin.

2) If God is so good, then why is there so much evil in the world?

Wait a minute. How do you know I’m not good? What determines what’s good? God? Are you kidding me? Give me a break! If God is so good, then why is there so much evil and pain in the world?

Great question! Let’s answer that real quick, but first let me ask you a question. If God is so evil, then why is there so much good?

You see, the question whichever way you raise it implies that God and evil cannot both exist. That it’s impossible for God and evil to exist. Yet science proves God exists (i.e. the Big Bang Model and Evolution), along with all of us knowing that evil and good exist as well. It’s obvious. There’s evil and good everywhere!

[When sharing this message, I do remember expanding on this idea that evil and good are evident by sharing a few examples of these things existing.]

We don’t need to look very far to find any of these three variables. But the question remains: what is the ultimate standard that tells us what is evil or good? To put it simply, there’s only four options: nature, myself, society, and God.

First, let’s start with nature. In the animal kingdom and the natural world, everything is less than humans because we are the top of the food chain. We are the true kings of the world and no other species can top us because we are more evolved to be the fittest species to survive. So why should we find our standard of right and wrong from something that is beneath us? Therefore, nature is not our standard to measure good and evil.

What about myself? Am I the standard of what determines what is good or evil? I mean, you-do-you right? Whatever is true to you is true! But what if my truth contradicts your truth? Your truth is that lying is wrong, but my truth is that lying is right. Whose standard is correct if it’s between each other? Do I have absolute authority over everyone else who thinks they have absolute authority? No, so that’s not it either.

Wait, but what about society? Surely there is a society that has it all figured out! Not exactly because then how do we know which society is right? If there is a specific society, then what happens when it dies like all other societies have in history?

During WWII, we saw this problem in a really obvious way. Americans enslaved and tortured the Japanese, but weren’t okay with the Germans doing the same to the Polish and Jews. Yet the Germans weren’t okay with the Japanese enslaving and torturing the Chinese, even though they did the exact same thing. But then the Japanese felt the same way towards Americans because of what they did to them. Which society is right in that situation? Which society has the authority to say what is right or wrong? None of them if it’s all relative.

Now from the process of elimination, we know that God is the standard of what is right or wrong. He determines what is good or evil. Why is that? Because he created all things (Genesis 1:1), he made each and every one of us for a reason (Genesis 1:26-28), and he has established every society for our good (Romans 13:1). At the end of the day, God is the standard that shows us what’s right or wrong.

Conclusion

God in the beginning created everything from chaos and brought it into order. Then we took what was in order and made it chaotic. Now Jesus has offered to bring us out of chaos and into order, but the decision is yours to make. You can stay in the comfort of your own chaos or join God on the journey to order. That’s up to you because God doesn’t cause chaos, but he does allow us to do so.

God cannot be held responsible for a choice you and I make. If we want to sin, then we can and if we want to follow him, then we can do that as well. Like a parent whose kid decided to get in trouble at school, God isn’t responsible for your choices. In the end, you are responsible and that’s why God is good, yet we are the problem of evil.

[In retrospect, this concluding part was switched up to flow better in-person. Here it’s too rigid and comes off as brute, rather than loving. When sharing this message, I was much more tonally aware of the audience and adjusted to the nights circumstances.]

Now what you’ve just heard is a brief logical response to the problem of evil, but now we are going into a Q&A to talk about the emotional response to the problem of evil. If we could, can our three pre-selected leaders come up to the stage? Alright, let’s get to our first question.

Similar to my sermon about Job during the summer of 2019, I too wrestled to give a succinct response to such a weighty issue. The problem of evil and suffering. How do you approach that? How do you explain to students this extremely complicated problem without being confusing? In my case I attempted it and was not happy with the end result. It’s just a tough thing to understand, let alone explain to someone else.

Despite my mixed feelings about the sermon, the students seemed to engage quite well and the Q&A was very successful as I moderated while a few leaders answered questions I posed to challenge them. The best part was they were answering on the spot and had no prep ahead of time because I wanted them to speak from the heart, instead of their head. Ironic that they ended up giving better responses to the problem of evil then me during my message!

I was very proud of them and thank God for their willingness to jump into any ministry moment with joy. If I remember correctly, it was Mackenzie, Trevor, and another new leader who had only just started to lead with us. 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

Thank You, Ravi Zacharias

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/19/2020

Dear Ravi Zacharias,

Today you crossed from the shadows of the here and now on Earth to the light of the latter end of your eternity. As you have seen from a brand new perspective, many are sharing how they knew and remember you. Whether that be personal interactions or published works like books, radio, speaking engagements, or even YouTube. For me, I knew you from a selection of published works you released over the years.

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Elementary Years | 2000’s

It all began with my Dad reading to me sections of your book, The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks with Buddha, when I was in elementary school. He did so because my interest in these sorts of questions began to riddle my mind. Jump forward a bit to when I was entering high school and my life began to take more shape as I slowly was discovering what I was meant to do with my life.

It was within a period of time where I was regularly babysitting 3 kids after school at night, so that my friend Ben could go to a singles ministry once a week and have a night off. As a single dad, Ben was raising his kids essentially by himself. Taking care of his kids was just something that multiple people in the church would do to help him, so that he could have a break from time-to-time.

Anyways, on one of those nights when he returned from being out of the house, we talked first about how the movie was and then the conversation shifted to my developing interest in apologetics. If I remember correctly, he was watching Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in theaters with a friend. Either way he came back and I asked about the movie, which if you know Ben then questions always will lead to lengthy conversations.

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Entering High School | 2011

So during that hours-long late night conversation, he interrupted my ambitions about apologetics with a strong suggestion. If I really wanted to pursue apologetics and be that leader in my high school, then I needed to read this book that he read years ago. He got up and immediately went to his bookshelf in his room to find it before coming back downstairs. The book he gave me was Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias.

One last story and this one was during my college days at the Colorado Film School. Within this period of my life in 2016, I was wrestling with purpose once again. I was quickly realizing that I didn’t feel called to be in the film industry as a director/writer anymore, yet was unsure of myself because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next.

But God was directing my steps because there was another huge change happening in my life, which was this slow burn call to find a new church home and with that came a long period of investigating different aspects of church like denominations or where churches stood on certain issues. In addition to that, a few peers from school were asking me more complex questions about existence and God.

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College Years | 2016

So in response to these changes in my life and trying to navigate the grey, I began some extensive research for both situations. In all honesty, I have never read so many books or done so much research ever in my life. Of the many resources I poured over for answers, one of those critical books was Why Suffering? by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale.

Not only did these three books deeply impact me during three unique phases in my life, but your lectures and interviews as well. The amount of time I spent studying your work throughout all these years and applying it to both my own situation and eventually to help others has been immense to say the least.

With that said, none of those published works compare to what I’ve appreciated the most about your life. In fact, the reason I and millions of other people have admired you all these years was because of the genuine care you had for the person engaging in ideas with you. The compassion that was evident when you would hear a person’s inquires and walk with them to what always appeared to be an inevitable conclusion. In the same respect, you seemed to arrive to said answer in a way that felt respectful of the person standing before you as an imager of God.

Thank you not just for the knowledge I acquired in my head learning from your material, but most importantly the heart that you had after God. Thank you for helping the thinker believe and the believer think. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. RZIM at Passion City Church (June 26th, 2017)

Psalm 29

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

Here is a poem that I wrote on October 29th, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 29. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

O sons of the mighty.

Ascribe to the Lord glory.

That which is due to his name.

May we all do the same.

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters.

God’s glory changes silent skies to thunders.

The voice of the Lord is powerful.

The voice of the Lord is wonderful.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars.

Yes, the Lord’s voice is heard by seekers.

The voice of the Lord hews out flames of fire.

The wilderness shakes as said fire goes higher.

Yes, the Lord sits as king forever.

The Lord gives strength to whosoevers.

The Lord blesses his own for life’s endeavors.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Influenced By Idiots | 9-25-2019

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

[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

Today we are going to talk about idiots and influencers. This will all make sense as I go on with the message, but for now let’s read about both in Galatians 5:7-12.

“You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised—as some say I do—why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended. I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves.”

Identifying an Idiot | Verses 7-9

In my day, I have met a lot of idiots. Like, a lot. Seriously, they multiply like ants. By idiot, I mean someone who knows better, but chooses to believe or do something anyway. It’s someone who is foolish or gullible because they can be easily swayed to believe any lie. Whether it’s a person with no credibility, an uninformed post online, or even a poorly made conspiracy theorist video.

Someone could literally make something up or provide fake news and this person would totally believe it. You guys have this problem? Trevor [one of the youth leaders at the time] had this problem when he hung out with his flat-earther friends and you probably have too. Let me tell you about my other friend who became an idiot.

I once knew this guy at my old church that Andrew [the youth pastor] and I went to years ago. He was a really cool guy. He helped in youth ministry, he was always there for others in the community, and was just a really solid dude overall. But after Andrew left to serve at another church and I left a couple years later, things changed.

What Andrew and I were hearing about this guy was kinda weird. At first, I brushed it off as he’s just being political or he’s just riled up about an issue that will go away after a few days. But no because for this guy, suddenly everything he knew to be true he rejected. He out of nowhere believed every lie he heard, even though he knew better.

For instance, here is a list of things I got from his Facebook that he believes today. Chem trails are actually poison for population control, fluoride in water is for mass mind control, there is a worldwide frequency that is distracting you from realizing you are in a simulation, you are God, every church that receives donations is satanic, vaccines are evil because they cause autism, all religions are the same, and the list of stupid goes on endlessly. To be an idiot is to be misinformed, not uninformed.

Paul in verses 7 and 8 is talking about this very thing. He sees this collection of churches in Galatia who knew better, yet were now believing a lie. That what Jesus did for us was not enough. That we need to work our way to God, instead of being thankful that God worked out a way for us to be with Him.

They were influencers, but now were idiots. They knew better, stopped running in their faith, and traded the truth for a lie. Fear in exchange for the freedom they had in Christ.

When this exchange happens, we change too. When we throw out what is true for what is false, we end up even more confused than ever before. Like yeast in bread, a little lie can quickly transform what is simply true into something extremely convoluted.

Be an Influencer | Verses 10-12

Yesterday, I was listening to an interview with this philosopher named Peter Kreeft and he said something that I think summarizes verses 10-12 really well. When talking about how personal sin impacts a community he said, “every good that we do has consequences in everybody else’s life and every evil that we do has consequences in everybody else’s life (2).” Basically, when you cause something we deal with the effects.

Think of your choices like a rock thrown in a lake. You threw it, but the whole lake was moved by it. The entire lake physically changed when that rock hit the water. Rather than harming your community, you should help it.

Instead of being an idiot like most people, be an influencer. An influencer is someone who sets the standard of good in their circle of influence. Be about what actually matters and pursue it with everything you’ve got. Maintain your steady pace and forget about that stupid rat race. Idiots hold people back, but influencers push people forward.

When we fall for idiotic nonsense, it takes us away from every influence that is good and true. God will deal with those idiots in your life who are trying to get you to leave the truth. That being that you are made with purpose and are special. You are loved by God and were made to love others.

Conclusion

In life, you’ve got two choices on how you live your life: be an idiot or be an influencer.  Your actions will cause chain reactions that will impact your community. As Thomas Moore once said, “there is nothing neutral about the soul (3).” When we care about something, we give it our everything. We all influence someone, so let’s focus on being the best influencers that we can be as we follow Jesus. Let’s pray.

I remember being pretty passionate about this message. For me, I had less notes and more thoughts that I wanted to get across than my usual messages. This was because I have always seemed to be in a constant struggle with people who know better, but choose what’s worse. It’s puzzled me all my life and still does to this day.

Yes, I understand how Christians grasp this concept with the idea of original sin corrupting all of us. How as Alvin Plantinga writes extensively in his book, Warranted Christian Belief, that our very minds are corrupted by sin. But reading a book and seeing it in person is not the same thing. Why? Because it’s more heartbreaking in-person when you know them.

This was a period of time where having a pastoral heart was a very clear concept. I felt it when preaching that Wednesday night. It’s something that Derek Prime & Alistair Begg wrote about extensively in their excellent work, On Being A Pastor. To be honest, it will always be a struggle for any leader or mentor trying to guide someone to truth.

They will almost always choose the convenience of a lie over the rewarding hard-work of finding the truth. Sadly, the worst part is you will see this a mile a away over and over, yet will have no ability to save them from these bad decisions. They like it and they want it, but one day they will hopefully desire God more than the guise of their empty pursuits. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. www.pexels.com
  2. https://youtu.be/aLqf5EptHJ4
  3. Care of the Soul: Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

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