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Mourning well

Mourning well

Recently there has been a few deaths surrounding me. One of my dear friends lost his father, suddenly, to a disease. Another of my friends lost their unborn child, suddenly, to complications. My heart breaks for them over and over, but why?

Isn’t at the core of the Christian faith the sustained reality of “life after death”? Both of my friends whom I mentioned are strong believers, so why does the pain of death still hurt? Are we not blessed with the understanding that death isn’t the end?

I find it interesting that, at times, I push aside my emotions and focus on the promises of God. Then there are times that I melt into heartbreak and seek the assurance of the promises of God. There seems to always be a battle of the mind versus the heart when confronting grief. I’ve heard many people give their input as to why this happens. Some have said that it’s the battle of the heart; confliction against the flesh. Others have said that it’s the mind; focus and meditation are the issue. I find it to be much simpler than that. We hate death.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit and the believer – we hate death. The unifying and loving embodiment of the sanctified believer is persistently ushered into the reality that WE HATE DEATH – emotionally and logically hate death. Our mind and our heart counterpunch each wonderful stride against death because, praise be to our Savior, it is not meant for us.

For the secular world, however, hope is not a factor in the mourning process. Most times, it is difficult to face such tragedy and loss with positivity. Rather, it is just an aimless agony of desire. I think most often I find it difficult to empathize with someone mourning if the one who died was not a believer. I empathize with their loss, but hope is such a critical element of the Christian mourning process.

Good Friday is a perfect example of what Jesus thinks of death. He didn’t enjoy the journey to the cross. He even asked God if there was another way. Death is the separation from God, so naturally the remedy of such separation would be the contrast: embrace the Lord.

As Christians, how do we mourn well? We worship. A broken and grieving heart is an example of where God’s beautiful handiwork can be seen. My friend who lost a parent and the couple who lost their unborn child had every reason to be angry and hurt, but they sought the face of God.

My friend praised the faithfulness of God in loss of his father. My friends praised God that He prepared their hearts early on. Mourning well looks beautiful, when the body of Christ comes together, hates death and praises the Lord.

Looking over my shoulder

Looking over my shoulder

We all have a portion of our lives that we regret having to go through. For some of us it’s a decision or string of decisions that quickly remind us of how broken we are. A fleeting thought or a year-long battle that put us in a corner we didn’t like.

Sometimes it’s fear; sometimes it’s pride, but regardless of what doorway sin stuck its foot in, we carry that history of ourselves with us.

There is a portion of my past that lasted about six years that I can honestly say I regret. My plan for my life didn’t match up to my reality, so I gave up. I felt defeated-like I had failed. In a matter of days I had lost my apartment, my job and had to drop out of school. After the sting of defeat came the anger. I was mad at myself, at the world, at God, at everything. My anger became my comfort.

I wrapped myself up in selfishness and told myself “It’s not fair!” I dried my tears with it. I clinched my fists with it. I was self-absorbed as often as I breathed.

The American dream became the most real to me during this time. Work (physically and emotionally) as little as possible; do what makes you the most comfortable.

Years passed as I distanced myself from God, responsibilities and obedience. I find it ironic that this season of my life perfectly mirrors the Israelites throughout their story of the Old Testament. They fumbled along, trying to figure out how to “make it” by their own means. Just like them, the Creator of all things hadn’t given up on me.

The renowned musician John Coltrane was very familiar with the Lord not giving up on him. In his liner notes to the album “A Love Supreme” he describes what he experienced as “a spiritual awakening”. He talks about how he prayed and asked God to give him the opportunity to make people happy with his music, and he did.

Those six years I regret ended in the spring of 2016. I was visiting a new church for the first time along with my sister. When the band started to play and sing, I began to worship. I emptied myself to the Lord and begged Him to forgive me of my sins. With tears streaming down my face I asked Him to restore my joy and be the center of my life again. After a series of returning Sundays to that same church, I continued to weep for restoration and fellowship with the Lord. The Spirit has returned my passion. Jesus has restored my faith, and God Almighty has shown His glory in His grace upon my sin.

I look over my shoulder at the six-year span of wasted years, and I regret them. I don’t regret that they brought me back to the warm and loving arms of Christ. I regret that those years had to happen to me, that I had to be the one to go through sin again to be able to glorify God. I wish with all my heart that I could be like the angels in the sense that they never had to taste sin in order to worship. Since I am created in God’s image and lavished with love, I am at an advantage compared to the celestial beings, but I digress.

Brothers and sisters, there are even darker tales than mine of lives lived in sin, but I have good news. You were not designed to wallow in it.

When God formed you in your mother’s womb, He did not do so believing He would regret the breath of life breathed into you. The Spirit does not move throughout your soul with regret of every gentle tug He makes. And Jesus, praise the Almighty, stayed nailed upon a cross not because of regret of His love for the Father and me and you; He stayed for the glory of God. Oh church, there is no regret in righteousness! You were created for more than your past sins.

One of my growing favorite verses in the Bible loudly proclaims this!

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thess. 5:9-11).

Do not stay in sin, church, rather empty yourself to God who has made you for greater things. He will heal and repurpose your life. Put your back to your past, so that you may lift your eyes to the One who will glorify Himself in you!

The Shadow of Self-casted Poverty

The Shadow of Self-casted Poverty

Recently, my sister Hannah, my buddy Karl and I took my youngest brother Jonathan on a surprise birthday trip to Mt. Rushmore. It was fun to spend quality time with each other and enjoy the full depth of a grand adventure.

One part that stuck out to me was the seized opportunities that Jonathan, 17 years old, took by seeking the knowledge and wisdom from the three of us. I am not boasting, by any means, simply honoring his efforts to grow in his relationship with Christ and planning for his future.

My brother is wiser than he thinks he is while he stands on the doorstep of immeasurable odds with college, career, a new life and a faith that will be tested to his perceived limits. These will be the times that he must decide, who is the failure and who is the victor in his life. This sense of responsibility and obedience has been a reoccurring theme the Lord has placed in my path over the past few months.

In these past few months, I’ve had to face my past and peer deep into my previous friendships and wonder, “Where did I fail? Could I have been more supportive in my efforts to be a positive influence? Did I lead my friend into a self-absorbed mentality? Was I empathetic enough? Was I empathetic too much?”

These questions are a healthy part of the Christian nature. The Apostle Paul did a similar self-evaluation repeatedly and encouraged fellow believers to do the same.

The act of forgiving someone has also echoed this overarching theme. Jesus said in Matt. 5:23-24, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

Jesus is talking about 3 things in this passage:

  1. Leave your act of obedience in worship to be responsible and seek out your brother.
  2. Reconcile with them.
  3. Return to your worship.

These tasks require faith, responsibility and obedience. These tasks demand perspective as well. A perspective that must exist in order to have faith, responsibility and obedience.

So where is this all going? What is the repetitive theme the Father has placed consistently in my life? My brother’s pursuit of righteous discernment, my broken friendship and the act of forgiveness all have something in common; Responsibility.

How many times have we witnessed or spoke in defense of ourselves? We are so quick to strike up blame against “forces beyond our control.” When judgment is upon us, we shift the blame on bad luck, death, sin, Satan, God, our parents, family, co-workers, time, bosses, mentors, friends, Facebook, money. We cast a delusional shadow of emotional and physical poverty upon our lives and say “Poor me.”

There is always a responsible party, and the Lord showers us with grace in the opportunity to observe it and appreciate it. There are two views that have my focused attention: either responsibility falls on me or on someone else.

Do you see the lesson the Lord has taught me? Our choices, our sin and even our righteousness fall on the responsibility of individuals. The Lord is sovereign, and we are accountable for our actions.

The two strongest points I’ve learned through this is:

  1. I must allow others to be responsible for their actions and not let myself be the failure or victor in their life. That does not imply that I should be less obedient to the Lord or stop praying for them. But it does mean that my intentionality should not be grounded on either result.
  2. In contrast, I am responsible for my actions. It is a simple yet powerful reminder. Lean on the Spirit for conviction and allow your heart to be sculpted by him.

Rest assured, God will glorify himself. Whether it is through your obedience or the example you become. There are numerous facets of God’s wonderful design of obedience, let this one be another reason to lift His name higher than the losses or victories in your life.

Sanctified & Satisfied

Sanctified & Satisfied

This semester I’m taking Cinematography 2 at film school. For our second short film project, we picked a script from the previous semester’s screenwriting class and shot it. I was fortunate enough to be given the task of directing the third week of our shooting schedule.

Now, many directors approach their projects in multiple ways. Some work (at least in my mind) backwards to forwards, communicating their composition of every frame to guide the script. Some map their visuals based on the location of the shoot. Others let their talented staff guide the story while keeping them within the proverbial rails of script.

I grew up appreciating the storytelling methodology of the classics – analyze your script and then form the visuals to promote exactly who and what the story is about. It’s easy to get lost in technique, your actors, the lighting, the location or your camera and lenses. When all those things work in unison to highlight exactly what the script is about. That’s cinema. So that’s what I did when it was my turn to direct. Granted, I’m a bit biased, but I thought it turned out well.

The week we wrapped on the project was the same week of Thanksgiving. Friends, family, turkey and all the fixins’ contributed to the American tradition of looking back and giving thanks. It is abundantly clear that after looking at my life one year ago to where I am now, the Lord has blessed me. Blessed me in my career, my heart for the lost, my knowledge and wisdom of righteousness, my finances, my passion and love for the excellency of His character and for His written word.

I could testify in great depth of these things individually to His glory and still fall short of accurately describing what has been fully done in His name. These eternally-valuable qualities the Lord has blessed me with are more precious to me than anything I possess.

As Thanksgiving has come to an end and the Christmas decorations are hung, I’d like to offer words of encouragement and reflection. Looking back at what God has done in your life throughout 2017, take those treasures to a place of worship. It’s easy to get lost in those specific aspects of righteousness and value. Sanctification is a process that never ceases and should never give the sense of complacency. Choosing one or multiple of those treasures and being satisfied should not be the finish line. Wrap your arms around them, yes, but do not stop there, my fellow beloved. Use these gifts to pour out through the Spirit to glorify God.

Had I focused on my turn to direct our film project, with only the lighting or only the sound or composition or talent, my footage would look or sound nice, but not complete. When the footage uplifts the script and properly executes the message, it looks and feels natural. The message, the script is what it’s all about. Glorify God through His blessing to you.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

Whether in pretense or in truth…

Whether in pretense or in truth…

“But sin seizing an opportunity…”

Recently I was reminded of what a life of servitude looks like in the church. The examples were people of respect and admiration. Ones heavy at the plow to plant the seed of the Gospel in lives surrounding them. Their intentions and accomplishments holy in the eyes of God, but much like what Paul had encountered with his zeal for holiness, sin entered in.

Sin entering in can be a result of many things. Things like stress, fatigue and lack of support are only a few attacks that quickly become the avenue of self-destruction.

Servitude in Christ begins with the full appreciation and marveling at what Christ has done on the cross. From that demonstration of love outpours servitude and sacrifice. The joy of salvation is the fuel, and the promises of God’s glory are the finish line. Therefore, through the grace of God and fullness of The Spirit, neither sacrifice nor servitude feel like devastating loss to a Christian’s pride or ego.

Does this mean that sacrifice and servitude are easy? By no means! (Winky face) When the lines get blurred and your idea of sacrifice shifts to a self-centered mentality, it’s hard to keep your gaze on Christ. Soon, the war waged against sin becomes heavy and tiresome. Your arms that hold God’s banner high become erratic and feel like a ton of bricks. Two options present themselves:

  1. Take a break. Place our banner temporarily on the ground until we can get our second wind.
  2. Continue to press on even if your heart is not in the right place.

Taking a break from obedience

A few years ago, I was working three jobs – two full-time jobs and one on the weekends. All three were low-paying, physically-demanding jobs. I got little sleep and even less of a social life. But, I needed the money. Tithing was the most difficult for me during this time. I needed every cent, and giving 10 percent of every paycheck was a gut punch to my earnings.

My heart was not in the right place when giving my tithe, so I stopped. I learned a valuable lesson through this time. That obedience to The Almighty is not dependent on my ever-swaying mood.

The passions of the heart are always changing and inherently sinful. Which is why Jesus’ commands are holy and timeless, never waiting for us to decide if we are capable of completing any such tasks by our own might.

If we can justify our own sin, we would be capable of adhering to a perfect life, in which case we wouldn’t even battle with self-centeredness in our servitude. But we aren’t capable of doing any such thing on our own and what we are left with is simply obedience. However, obedience does not mean that we should shut our eyes and plunge head on into holiness with our hearts still gripped with anguish and selfishness.

Running blindly

If obedience is not sourced through the grace of God, it quickly becomes fueled by accomplishments. Success in obedience becomes measured in a checklist of tallying trophies.

It is a deadly trap to fall into when we justify servitude with our accomplishments. Suddenly conviction of sin from The Spirit in the life of a new believer becomes words that WE said. The church becomes a place where WE are the heroes of success and attendance instead of the one sustaining our every breath. The Gospel becomes a product we sell and a prayer we teach to pray. Grace looks like a regurgitated routine instead of arms outstretched to everyone we encounter! Blind obedience is casting aside the essence of truth for an ideology that is sinful.


I urge you, do not fall into either of these heartbreaking-categories. Hold tight to the source of your salvation. Cry out to God with a broken heart to receive joy of His good works. Service and sacrifice are not blind ambition but an opportunity to worship and grow nearer to Christ.

 “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil. 1:15-18).

The Gospel will be proclaimed whether your heart is in the right place or not. Regardless of which category you find yourself in, pursue a heart of joy in Christ.

As you hold the banner high and look up in worship, do not focus on your hands that hold it, but see past them and marvel at the sheer power and beauty of that which dances in the wind. It is for Him that we have been set free.