Psalm 7

Psalm 7

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 10-5-2019

Here is a poem that I wrote on July 21st, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 7. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

God, you are my shelter.

Lord, you are my helper.

Salvation is like a castle’s solid foundation.

Constructed by you the king of all creation.

Fortified and ready to protect me from all of my sins.

No matter my evil resistance, God’s love always wins.

Let the bells of justice ring.

Break me until I am clean.

Forgive me for my failures.

I belong to a band of traitors.

I have wandered from where I once stood.

Grant me passage to all that is truly good.

I long for you, king of the mighty mountain.

Grace covers me like stones in a fountain.

Descend from the peak.

Save those who are weak.

This land needs you.

If only they knew.

We believe we are good, yet could not be more evil.

Like firewood bearing the rings of its initial primeval.

In shame we strive.

To pain we drive.

We’re made to thrive.

Make the dead alive.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

The God Shaped Hole | 10-22-2018

The God Shaped Hole

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 10-5-2019

[This was a short sermon that I gave to the middle school students at my local church for Sunday School. It was about 10 minutes long and was focused on 1 John 5:12.]

People are a lot like donuts. No really, just think about a donut for a minute. It looks good on the outside and they are delicious, but they have this large hole in the center.

The God Shaped Hole

Like a donut, we look good on the outside and on the inside have this hole in our hearts that needs to be filled. What is this hole though? This hole in our hearts is the fact that we do everything we can to look good on social media, fit in at school, find friendships, and whatever else it takes to feel like we belong somewhere. These are all nice things, but they are not why we are here.

We’re tired of being alone, feeling empty, and not knowing where we belong. King Solomon once said that “[God] has also set eternity in their heart” and this basically means that we were made for something greater than what the world has to offer. This is what a lot of people call the God shaped hole: feeling empty without some ultimate purpose in life from God.

Do Less, God Did The Rest

When God made everything, he made Adam and Eve. They were the first humans, for the purpose of having a relationship with them. God gave them the options to either accept or reject him and they rejected him which brought sin into the world. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, we have had this emptiness and no real idea of where we belong. Since then, we have been trying everything besides turning to God to fill the God shaped hole.

This problem is a lot like a kite in the sky. A kite only flies when there is tension in the string. If the kite’s string is cut, it falls to the ground. But if the kite has tension, then the kite can soar as high as the kite flyer wants it to go. By trying to fill this void with everything else except God, we end up empty-handed and not feeling whole like a kite that cuts its own string.

His Sacrifice Secures Our Eternal Life

1 John 5:12 says that “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” A normal donut might be empty, but a cream-filled donut is full! In God, we can be full of life too by being in a healthy relationship with him.

Remember that God made everything good. We made everything bad by rejecting Him. We accepted everything the world had to offer, yet denied what Jesus offers us. But Jesus has made and will make everything better. Now we need to turn away from all that stuff we thought would give us life and trust in God with our life.

We have gotten so busy trying to live without God that we have forgotten that we need God, in order to truly live. We just need to accept where we have failed and embrace what God has given us. That being a family to belong to and a purpose to our life.

It’s not my favorite sermon I’ve preached, but the students seemed to enjoy it. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Psalm 3

Psalm 3

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 9/23/2019

Here is a poem that I wrote on July 11th, 2019 that was inspired by Psalm 3. This was written during one of my daily devotionals through the book of Psalms.

 

What will I fear when God is here?

Is there anything to fear when God is near?

No, there is nothing to fear.

But then why do I live as if God is not here?

As if God is not near?

Lord, please forgive me.

I do not know what I do, but I do know you.

Better than that, you know me.

In this truth, I take comfort too.

In Christ, I am completely and endlessly free.

Jesus, help me to abandon anxiety and pursue piety.

Remind me of your love and show me how to love those I hate.

I am predestined and you have given me a hope-filled fate.

 

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels

Finding Forgiveness

Firearm Fumble

During the summer, the youth group that I help lead went on one of our big events at Bear Creek Lake in Colorado. Like most youth groups, students need rides and before leaving to the event I was on my way picking up a few of the students going that Saturday. After picking up four guys for the event, we were on our way.

While driving to our church to touch base with other leaders before leaving to the event, some of the guys in the backseat of my car decided to pull out their BB guns that they recently bought. Of course at the time, I wasn’t aware they even had them in my car. Anyways, they eventually got pretty excited about them and before you know it they wanted to show me how powerful their BB guns were while I’m driving.

Granted all of this is happening within the span of a few minutes, but at first they pretended to use them and make lots of fake gunshot noises. Then one of them gets the bright idea of showing me what they sound like when they shoot them without any BB’s inside. Without enough time to react, one of the students behind me points the gun directly at my front windshield and fires it twice in quick succession.

Within an instant and by the sound of it, we all realized that the BB gun was actually loaded and my windshield now had two brand new bullet holes. One in the lower right hand corner and the other in the upper right hand corner of my front windshield. My reaction could have been better, but I was pretty pissed to say the least.

We soon arrived at the church and I confiscated their BB guns for the day before leaving for the event. I decided to allow the students to go to the event, even though they just damaged my car. They come from very broken homes and the last thing they needed was to go home early. For these four guys in particular, being at church or youth group is an escape from the Hell that they have to live with on a daily basis.

For instance, one of them lives with their grandparents because his mom chose to stay addicted to drugs rather than raise him. To this day, his mom wanders around looking for her next fix, while her son wonders why she doesn’t love him enough to quit. All four of these guys have similar stories and this cultural footprint influences the majority of their behavior. These boys are simply the byproduct of broken people who don’t know any better.

When we arrived at the lake, everyone seemed to have a fun time except me. The kids were hanging out and having a blast, but I couldn’t stop thinking about why this situation was frustrating me so much. I was angry and couldn’t shake it all day, but I also knew this happened for a reason.

Unlike most people, I don’t believe in accidents or coincidences. Instead, I believe that God works all things together for those who trust in him and therefore every moment is an opportunity to learn something. In this moment, I just couldn’t figure out what that something was or why this moment happened.

When it came time to go home, I told the students that I was going to hold onto their BB guns until one of them confessed to shooting my front windshield. Because they shot it from the backseat, I never actually knew who did the damage to my car. So as I dropped off all of the students and headed home, I kept thinking about what to do next.

I texted back and forth with other people to get advice from them. They all had very similar answers: get justice. Those kids deserve what’s coming to them. They’re guilty and need to be responsible for their actions. At one point I planned on destroying all of their BB guns, but I never did because the guilty student texted me that night.

Knowing this particular student and their circumstances, I believe their apology was genuine. He mentioned that he wanted to fix things and explained to me that it was an accident. He didn’t realize he actually had BBs in his BB gun at the time. After reading his response, it finally clicked for me. I knew what this whole situation was finally about.

Forgotten Forgiveness

You see, I too was in a very similar spot when I was in 3rd grade. After school one day, I was waiting by the hill where the soccer fields were for my Dad to pick me up. I was with a few of my peers and we decided to see who could throw a rock far enough to hit this abandoned house across the street from the school where we were waiting. In between us at the top of the soccer fields hill and the abandoned house was the street where parents were picking up their students.

We each took an attempt. All of us ended up throwing way too short and were hitting the sidewalk across the street. Then we all went again. Everyone got a little closer, but I hit a shingle on the roof causing it to chip a bit. This looked and sounded awesome, so I went for one more throw.

With this third throw, I lobbed my rock way too high and it flew straight down where the cars were lined up ready to pick up kids. My third attempt went directly into the center of an expensive sports car. Like dropping a bomb in a lake, this windshield completely cracked and splintered off in every direction.

Before I knew it, this wealthy man got out of his car and was scanning the perimeter as he tried to find the culprit. Little did he know that this culprit was crying and hiding behind what felt like the only bush on that hill. I barely fit behind it and was hoping he would just go away.

What felt like hours passed and eventually my sibling came by to tell me that Dad was here talking to the wealthy man with the broken windshield. I straight up died inside right then and there from complete terror. After wiping my tears, I went down the hill and got in our car.

Later that night, my Dad was pacing back and forth. By his conversations with my Mom, I could tell that I did something really bad. That this sports car’s windshield was going to be expensive to fix.

When the dust settled, my Dad finally came to my room and told my brothers to leave so he could talk to me in private. He asked me how I was feeling and then what happened. I gave him the gist of it and he listened intently.

After hearing my side of things, there was a pause. Then he broke it by saying that I didn’t need to worry about the windshield because he was going to pay for it. We hugged and then joined the rest of the family for dinner. He forgave me and that was the last that I ever heard of that situation.

Forgiveness Found

Jump back to when I received this text from the student who cracked my windshield and now it all added up. I now knew what I needed to do. This lesson in life was about finding forgiveness when justice was expected.

Grabbing my Bible, I looked up Matthew 18:21-35 for the story of the king and the two debtors. When I found the passage, I prayed about the situation and replied back to the student. To read the screenshots of the conversation we had, I’ll just refer you to the footnotes at the end of this post.

Anyways, I said not to worry about the window and told my story from third grade. Next, I told him to look up Matthew 18:21-35 and asked him to read it instead of paying for the windshield. Like my Dad forgave me, I forgave him.

When I was at fault, I was forgiven. Therefore, since he was at fault I decided to forgive him too. From there, he did his homework and I forgave him again in-person just to make sure he understood what I was trying to show him.

That God offers everyone two choices: justice or forgiveness. The difficult road is getting exactly what we deserve and becoming not only distant to Jesus in this life, but the life to come when this is all over. The easy road is to avoid evil and conform to God’s goodness as we pursue freedom in Christ.

That day I could have gone with either option and been completely in the right, but ultimately forgiveness won out. Sometimes, justice must be done and yet other times grace must take place. At the end of the day, that decision is up to you. So when an unjust moment happens to you and you see an opportunity for the other party to learn something, find the courage to forgive. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Matthew 18:21-35 | “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

The Thorns of Life | 3-17-2018

Photo Cred: Unsplash| Updated: 5/27/2019

So in the first segment in this series on sermons, I’d like to go back and revisit sermons that I have preached in the past, in order to learn from them through self-reflection. The preparation, the prayer, the delivery, and so on for each sermon that I have given to better not only myself but possibly you as well. By learning from the past we can do better in the future and that includes improving our ability to preach.

I’d like to share a sermon that I preached in mid-March of 2018 and breakdown the process of creating that sermon. It was called The Thorns of Life and dealt with the parable of the sower as told in the Gospel of Luke. My sermon was based on Luke 8:7 and 8:14, which was about the thorn-filled soil.

Getting Started

This sermon was given to about 80 students at StudentLife‘s winter camp (i.e. The Growdown) and it was roughly 25 minutes long. I began to prepare for this sermon on February 26th, which was just over a month out from the Growdown retreat and I was pretty rusty since the last sermon that I taught was 3 years ago. Typically, I can start prepping and praying through a sermon within a week’s time, but because it had been so long I started extremely early. There was also the added pressure of this being our first winter camp as a youth group, so I didn’t want to let the other leaders or the students with a sermon that sucked.

Before I even began to work on my sermon, the four teachers (David Margosian, John Lewis, Andrew Morrison, and myself) for that retreat met up a few times to discuss the theme and pray about what we should teach through for that winter camp. Eventually, we all felt led to teach on the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Luke for various reasons. John had just taught it to his youth group, while Andrew and David did this theme years ago as the original Growdown winter camp. We figured that this year we should go with this theme to keep things simple.

After the theme was decided upon, we went our separate ways to prepare. Since I was rusty, Andrew reviewed my outline over gmail twice to help me stay on track for the retreat. He aided in keeping my sermon the right length for a 20 to 30 minute teaching.

When I actually started, I read the text and prayed a lot about the theme for my teaching. What was going to be the main idea to explore and share with the students? What did they need to hear that afternoon on March 17th, 2018?

The Text, the Title, and the Elevator Pitch

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anytime I prepare to teach, I always look for three things first: a basic understanding of the text, a title, and an elevator pitch. To determine the basic understanding of the text you need to comprehend the context. To accomplish this, read past the given text.

For this teaching, I wanted to pinpoint the big picture. When it was reported to Jesus that his Mother and Brothers were trying to get to him through the crowd listening to Him teach, He replies that “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it (1).” Elsewhere, we get more clarity from Jesus when He says to His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (2).” The basic understanding of this text was identifying the true believer.

If we are true believers in Christ, then we will naturally obey him. David and Paul Watson put it perfectly when they wrote that “it appears that God spells love o-b-e-y (3).” The seed that falls on the good soil is the true believer because they obey God.

From there, I asked the opposite question: who does not obey God and why? The text I was given focused on the thorn-filled soil. What happens when we are pricked by a thorn? We are distracted by the pain. This was the basic crux for my sermon.

For my title, I took that basic understanding and distilled it. Making it brief and to the point. For me, the title has to be the main theme of the teaching. It must be the anchor that I can refer back to over and over in the sermon. So I called it “The Thorns of Life.”

Lastly, an elevator pitch is a one sentence description of a story. My elevator pitch was my basic understanding of the text summarized. That being that the thorns of life are the distractions of life. Next, I got into the bulk of sermon prep. Analogies, cross references, exegesis, research, and all that other good stuff. That’s usually my favorite part of the process.

Once my outline was complete, I moved onto revisions and verbal practice. This was roughly two weeks out from the retreat and I was really afraid it was going to flop. During this time I mostly prayed and would practice maybe a dozen times before finally delivering my sermon. I found that prayer would calm me, so I prayed before I practiced verbally delivering it.

The Day of and the Delivery

When we all left for the Growdown, I barely ate. During that Friday and Saturday I only had two meals. When I get nervous, I can’t eat because I get really sick to my stomach.

Had a long day of winter camp stuff and trying to run everything as a leader, so when it finally came to preaching I had about an hour and a half to get prepped one last time. As worship was closing, my anxiety and nervousness just kept increasing. Prayed a lot of little prayers inwardly. Too afraid I was going to forget something, I poured over my outline making last-minute changes and rehearsed a few more times.

Andrew came down and prayed over me. It helped reassure me that this teaching was put on my heart by God, so I didn’t have to rely on my own ability or talent because the Holy Spirit would guide me. Worship ended and I waited a minute intentionally before heading up. I told Jason Best, the worship pastor, that I wanted there to be an awkward moment of silence before I enter the room to set the tone.

This little stunt played into my theme of being distracted. Also, I wore a pink morph suit and did some goofy stuff to distract the students before telling the story of my best friend Zach’s car accident. This was all in the hopes of using body language, humor, and other visual cues to reinforce the effect that a good distraction can have on someone not paying attention.

The silly sermon illustrations went okay. Some landed, some hit an abrupt thud. As a public speaker, you’ll know when what you did worked or didn’t.

I think of the 25 minutes I spent, 5 to 10 minutes should have been used better. I started strong, but felt I wasted the opportunity for a strong ending. I ended up cutting out the Value of Time segment completely because I knew from practice it probably wouldn’t make the cut. I liked it, but it wasn’t necessary for this audience.

Had some obvious slip-ups and an over reliance on my outline, yet I felt positive about the delivery afterward. The students got a kick out of my ridiculous introduction and the call to action seemed to stick that night during the altar call, which resulted in praying with a student named Abe for almost an hour as we cried our eyes out before God. That was the highlight of the teaching for me: seeing a young man run back to God that night.

Overall, loved the time I spent on this teaching and it gave me confidence to return to preaching. Next time, I’ll share my sermon on Exodus from May 3rd, 2018. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Luke 8:21b
  2. John 14:15
  3. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery, P. 45