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Archive for the tag “love”

My Last Decade in Pictures

The last decade was a roller coaster for me. Of all the previous decades, 2010-2019 was the toughest time I ever had in my life. The lowest lows and the highest highs.  So what I would like to do is give you a glimpse of my last decade through the pictures I took.

The first thing I learned is that I didn’t really start taking pictures until about 2012. This means that the lowest time of my life has no pictures to accompany it. The decade started with my divorce. It was rough. I was married for 18 years and it ended pretty rough.

I moved out of a large home on 5 acres and into a small rental home that was built in the 1940s that was freezing in the winter and deathly hot in the summer. I would get the kids every other weekend and the occasional holiday.

It was rough, but thanks to the men at the church I was attending, they brought me back to Christ. By 2012, I became a deacon at that same church. And a little later that year I was asked to lead the mission journey to Peru.

That was one of the most impactful trips I ever took in my life. I learned that even though I was going through a rough patch in my life, it couldn’t compare to the lives that many of the people in Peru were leading.

This would be the first of many trips to Peru over the course of the decade, which you will see more pictures later.

Since I worked at Whole Foods Market, I was able to take several trips throughout the decade to coffee farms throughout the world. I was able to see some of the most beautiful farms and meet a lot of great people.

Throughout the early part of the decade, I spent time simply getting to know my kids again. Working for Whole Foods Market, I was required to travel a lot. There were some years that I was traveling 45 weeks out of the year.

Matt Fred 2013

So I took the opportunity to do all the crazy stuff with Matt that I didn’t have a chance to do earlier. We would hang out, go to DC United soccer games, and practice his soccer skills.

Matt Fred DC United 2013

In 2013 I became an elder at Chesapeake Christian Fellowship. The same men that built me up are the same ones in this picture ordaining me to become an elder.The two of us

Then, early in the decade, I also took a trip around the United States with my kids. I took 3 weeks vacation, turned in all my stock options, and rented an RV and traveled around the United States. It was during this time that I not only got some great time with the kids, but I met a woman who would go on to make a major impact in my life. You see, it was during the trip around the United States that I officially met Mimi Baker (now Mimi Noble). We had spoken online for about 3-6 months prior, but had no idea what each other were really like.

As I sat on the side of a lake while both our children were playing in the water, I got to know her and realized that God was showing me the woman I would eventually call my wife.DSC00893

In 2014 Kenzi went to her first middle school dance. I couldn’t believe how much she had grown up.

Kenzi Fred 2014 MIddle School Dance

That same year, I was able to start seeing Mimi much more often. She moved to Virginia and then eventually, after I moved out of the little rental home and into another one, she moved into the rental home. We were only 15 minutes apart now, not a couple thousand miles.

Fred Mimi 2014

In 2014, as the relationship between Mimi and I grew, we decided to make our first purchase as a couple even though we still didn’t live in the same house. We got a dog. Funny thing is that the dog’s name is Peru. We didn’t give her that name, she was given that name at the pound. Mimi and I had gone to Peru a couple of times by 2014 already and she had fallen in love with the country and the people there as much as I had.Fred Peru Dog 2014

In 2015, I realized that I had fallen head over heels in love with Mimi Baker and I asked her to marry me.

ring 4

SHE SAID YES!!!

wedding day

Later in 2015, we went back to Peru. It was this year that I totally screwed my back up. A few months later in 2016 I would be going back in for back surgery.

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I love serving side by side with Mimi! She has such a tender heart for people and a great work ethic.

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Also in 2015, Kenzi would be playing her final year in sports. From this point forward she would be focusing on her photography and art.

Kenzi sports 2015

When we got back from Peru in 2015, Mimi and I had finished having a home built and we moved into it. We made God the promise that if He were to give us the house, we would use the extra bedrooms to house missionaries and people who were in need. Since we made that promise, we had a whole bunch of children who were rescued around the globe and were now part of a national concert tour, we have had several young adults stay with us, we had a young woman who was lost and has since become a missionary to the nations, and we have housed several other missionaries from around the world.

boyz

2016 saw Mimi and I heading back to Peru and spending more time there with the people. We would meet Paige and Stalin, a couple missionaries, one from America and the other indigenous. They will become more important to us as the decade continues.

franks-house-6Peru 2016

I was also, beginning in 2015, but really by 2016, learning how to be a stepdad. Being both dad and stepdad is a very challenging thing. Each of the kids are so different, and their backgrounds are tough to bring together.

Jake Ryan 2015

Also in 2016, my little girl, Kenzi, got her first job. She would be a junior counselor at the local church camp in the summers. This would become a job she would love and grow with throughout the rest of the decade.

Kenzi first job 2016

2017 came in and was immediately rough. My mom was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer. From the time she was diagnosed until the time she went home to be with Lord was only a matter of weeks. My mom was born on Easter Sunday and she died on Easter Sunday.

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But a week before Easter, my mom wanted to make a big dinner for her own birthday. It would be the last time that all of us would see her alive.

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We went back to Peru later that year and enjoyed a great time there with the people we served as well as the people who joined us on the journey.

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Ryan had a great year. He was on the JV baseball team and was doing very well.

Ryan Baseball 2017

Ryan also received plenty of awards academically in 2017.

Ryan award 2017

Also in 2017, Mimi’s oldest daughter, Brieanne, married the most amazing young man ever. Hopefully he will continue to make foods with Old Bay in them, so I can continue to respect him. 😉

Brie wedding 2018

Also in 2017 I undertook my largest home improvement project I ever did, I built a patio, with my 75 year old dad.

Patio 2017

Matt got his first job in 2017 selling fish and crabs.

Matt first job 2017

And he decided to switch things up a little and play football. He was actually very good! But he didn’t like all the pain his body felt after each practice and game.

Matt football 2017

I took the kids white water rafting in 2017.

Kenzi Matt Fred Rafting 2017

Kenzi had her first art show where she sold her photos.

Kenzi art show 2017

Jacob graduated high school in 2017.

Jake Graduation 2017

At the end of 2017 we had the opportunity to take everyone to Disney.

Disney 2017

And, in 2017, Jacob got his first car, a 40th anniversary Mustang.

Jake first car 2017

In 2018, Kenzi graduated from high school.

Kenzi and I

Those same missionaries, Paige and Stalin, would come to DC and spend almost 2 weeks with us. We took them on the tour of the area.

DC with Paige and Stalin 2018

Also in 2018, which was a good year for Kenzi, she won several awards at a local art show and won over $100,000 in scholarships to college.

Kenzi art show 2018

In 2018, I wanted to give Mimi an opportunity she was talking about for a long time. She had always wanted to take a horse drawn carriage through Central Park in NYC. We decided to do that and it was just as magical as we through it would be.

NYC 2018

In 2018, Kenzi started college at McDaniel in MD.

Kenzi first day of college 2018

Mimi’s and my final trip (for now) to Peru would be in 2018. It was such a beautiful trip and we fell in love even more with the people of Peru.

Peru 2018

At the end of 2018 and really starting in 2019, I left the retail/restaurant world and went into ministry as Director of Ministries for Friendship Community Baptist Church in southern MD. I was sad to leave my church home of 16 years, but in order to keep growing, change is required. And this change has been such a good fit for me and my family.

New job 2019

In 2019, Matt and I had the opportunity to take a skiing/snowboarding trip. It didn’t end so well because the friend that came with us hit his head on one of the final runs of the day and got a pretty bad concussion.

Skiing with Matt 2019

2019 saw Mimi’s aunt Becky going home to be with Lord. But before that happened, Mimi got spend a lot of great time with her in Minnesota, almost a month.

Mimi and Becky 2019

Also in 2019 Mimi decided to start farming Monarch butterflies. Apart from having a few endings that were not so desirable, most of the Monarchs were grown from egg and released into the wild.

Mimi butterflies 2019

2019 was also Matt’s final year of soccer. He had been playing soccer with many of the same boys since he was 5 years old. It was great to see him be able to finish his high school soccer life with those kids.

Matt Soccer 2019

In 2019, Friendship Community Baptist sponsored 5 homes in the county and did construction projects on them. We did everything from adding gutters, replacing windows and doors, and installing hot water heaters.

Christmas in April 2019

Also in 2019, Friendship Community Baptist did 6,208 boxes for Operation Christmas Child. A church of 200 doing 6,208 boxes is a pretty amazing feat!

OCC 2019

We have made a lot of friends at Friendship Community Baptist. Our small group had a Christmas gathering at one of the houses and we enjoyed a wonderful time of fellowship.

Small group Christmas gathering

The Christmas gift that Mimi got me was given to me early, concert tickets for Tran Siberian Orchestra. It was an amazing concert! Not exactly Mimi’s favorite music, but I was in heaven!

Tran Siberian Orchestra 2019

Also at the end of the year we started going to concerts with my dad. This one was in DC, the military Christmas concert.

Military Christmas Celebration 2019

Wasn’t exactly on our financial plan for this time, but Mimi’s car decided to die. We ended up purchasing a new-to-us 2015 Mazda.

Mimi new to us car 2019

Christmas service at Friendship Community Baptist reached almost 300! Not only that, but God blessed us with 20 baptisms and several Gospel encounters throughout the year.

Christmas 2019

This is the picture I will end this with. My Christmas gift for the end of the decade was ending it with a woman who truly loves me and cares so deeply for me.

Christmas 2019 2

So there you have it. My last decade in a few short pictures. A lot happened last decade! I can only imagine what will happen in the 20’s.

 

Which Disciple are you Most Like, part 4: John

John is another one of those people in the Bible that can be confusing. There is more than one John in the Bible. The John of Jesus’ disciples was James the Elder’s younger brother and a son of Zebedee and Salome.

John wrote 5 of the books of the New Testament and was known as the Beloved Disciple. In his books he spoke more of love than in any other book in the New Testament. Unlike his brother, James the Elder, who was the first to die among the disciples, John was the last to die. Some say he was martyred while others say he died a natural death. He was, during the time of Domitian, exiled to Isle of Patmos.

John, along with Peter and his brother, comprised the inner circle of Jesus’ ministry. Those 3 men saw miracles that the other disciples didn’t.

Matthew 17:1 – After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.

One of the things the inner circle witnessed that the other disciples didn’t include Jesus’ conversation with Moses and Elijah. That is something I wish I would have been a fly on the wall for! He and Peter are also the first two disciples to see the empty tomb.

James & John came from a more well-off family than most of the other disciples. They father had hired servants for the fishing business.

Mark 1:20 – Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

This might have fed into their ambition and desire during Jesus’ ministry. For example, in Mark 9 we see John forbidding a man to drive out demons in Jesus’ name because he wasn’t one of the twelve disciples. Needless to say, Jesus rebuked him for that.

Later we see both James & John wanting to call down fire to destroy a Samaritan village because they didn’t welcome Jesus. And yet again, Jesus rebuked them.

Even later we see that, at the request of their mom, they requested to be seated on Jesus right and left sides in heaven. This caused some discord among the brothers and the rest of the twelve.

Matthew 20:20-24 – Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”  “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.  Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”  When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.

But John matured very well.

His proximity to and discipling by Jesus taught him love. He left his explosive temper behind. He was humbled and dropped his need for human ambition. He left everything but Jesus and His command to love.

John’s gospel is the only to record the washing of the disciples’ feet.

John 13:4-5 – so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

I believe this might have been the turning point in the humbling of John.

Jesus had so much confidence in John that, during the crucifixion, Jesus turned to John and told him to care for his mother. John took this task very seriously.

John 19:25-27 – Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

John’s early ambition melted away for humility and compassion.

Eventually, according to historical evidence, John was exiled to Patmos. According to Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher and naturalist, Patmos was an island about 30 miles wide. Other literary evidence shows that Patmos was an island that worshipped Apollo and had fishing villages on it.

Cassius Dio, a Roman historian, outlined how long John might have been exiled. It last up until Domitian’s death, at which point Emperor “Nerva released all who were on trial for high treason and restored the exiles.”

Eusebius, a Christian historian from the second century, adds “the sentences of Domitian were annulled, and the Roman Senate decreed the return of those who had been unjustly banished and the restoration of their property…the Apostle John, after his banishment to the island, took up his abode at Ephesus.”

According to church tradition, Travels of St. John in Patmos was written by the same Prochorus that is listed in Acts 6:5. It is an apocryphal writing that was translated in the 17th century and is very interesting reading, although I don’t put much stock in apocryphal writings as it is also seen as pseudopigrapha. Basically, apocryphal means it goes beyond the revelation given in the infallible Bible and cannot be proven through Scripture and pseudopigrapha means it is outright false. The reason Prochorus’ Travels is in this group is because it cannot be proven to be from Prochorus and there is no earlier text than the 5th century, which makes it a wonder if an earlier text exists. But it does give some accurate history of the island of Patmos around the time of John’s exile.

There are examples of miracles that John performed on Patmos written in the book that, to this day, are celebrated at various churches on the island.

Going back to the canon of Scripture, John has a lot to teach us. There is no one in Scripture that has more to teach us about either love or truth than John (except for Jesus, of course).

3 John 4 – I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

He gave his strongest condemnation against those who perverted the truth, especially those who claimed to be believers.

1 John 2:4 – Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.

Not only truth, but love he preached. He even called himself the “one whom Jesus loved.” His entire first epistle is to believers “whom I love in truth” and he exhorts them to “love one another” as they walk in the commands of Jesus.

John teaches us a lot about the relationship between love and truth. Zeal for the truth must always be balanced by a love for people. Without love, zeal for truth turns to judgmentalism. On the flip side of that, love without care of the truth become simple sentimentality. As John matured, he learned the importance of both.

The next thing we learn from John is that humility needs to win out over personal ambition. While confidence is an important quality to have, if it is not tempered by grace and compassion then we become smug and unapproachable. Jesus took the time to rebuke John when his confidence got in the way of his testimony.

John is an amazing character study when looking at how God trains up people and prepares them for the ministries for which they are called.

Next time I will start looking at the rest of the apostles, those who we don’t hear as much about.

 

 

 

Love Cyanide

Ephesians 4:31-32 – Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Hurting those we love.

Humanity is filled with examples of hurting each other, especially the ones we love.

Too often we proclaim our love for a spouse, child, or friend and then turn around and poison the relationship with what I like to call “love cyanide.”

Just what is cyanide?

Historically, cyanide has been used as a chemical weapon. It is also used in pesticides, plastics, and mining. When shocking a pool to get it ready to swim in, cyanide can be produced in low levels. It is also found in smoking.

One important note about cyanide is that “lethal doses of cyanide results only from accidents or intentional acts.”

Once the body is exposed to cyanide, the chemical quickly enters the bloodstream. The body tries to convert the chemical to a less lethal chemical called thiocyanate. As the doses build up, however, the body’s ability to convert cyanide to something less lethal gets overwhelmed. Large doses of cyanide prevent cells from using oxygen, causing the cells to die. The heart, respiratory, and central nervous system are most affected by cyanide poisoning.

What are the effects of cyanide poisoning? Some of the more profound are: weakness or confusion, sick to your stomach, difficulty breathing, and cardiac arrest.

The quickest way to treat cyanide poisoning is to get away from the poison and into fresh air.

We could easily remove cyanide from those notes above and replace them with the words “disrespect” or “dishonor” or “loving poorly.” If we do that, then we see the effects that disrespect or dishonor have on relationships.

Romans 12:18-20 – If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

It is like a love cyanide.

Many times, we use our love as a chemical weapon. We withhold our true love from someone in order to see them act or behave the way we desire before we will show them love. We expect a person to love us first before we’ll love them completely.

That is a weapon.

But we also hurt those we love accidentally. I know with my children that I have, at times, not lived up to a promise or hurt them in some way through my words or actions. It wasn’t intentional, but it happened. At that moment, my love to them is more like cyanide.

We either intentionally or accidentally poison those we love. Just like cyanide.

Humans are resilient, though. We tend to stay in those cyanide relationships for long periods of time. We think that things will get better or that it will change. What might have started as a small dose of love cyanide turns into the doses building up in our systems.

We are made for relationship. With relationship comes pain from time to time. You will never love anyone perfectly. Our bodies are made to handle small doses of love cyanide. But extended and large doses of it can destroy who we are as humans. It will bring on depression and walls around our hearts.

When we have been affected by too much love cyanide, we feel weak and confused, sick to our stomach. With depression and anxiety comes difficulty breathing. And like the chemical cyanide can cause cardiac arrest, love cyanide can cause broken hearts.

What is the quickest way to get rid of love cyanide poisoning?

Well, unlike the chemical, many times we can’t simply walk away from the people we love. It is why the divorce rate is so high, even among Christians. We see our feelings as more important as those we love.

But you can’t just leave family and friends.

Luke 6:31 – And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

So I want to look at the “fresh air” idea a different way.

Instead of getting away into fresh air like you would with the chemical, the best way to cure love cyanide poisoning is to clear the air. Discuss the issues with the person you are having those issues with.

So why do I bring all this up?

As Christians our job is to not only love God and love others. Our job is to accept sanctification. Sanctification means that we are set apart for God and for those we love. But sanctification is also defined as a process of transformation.

If we are the cause of love cyanide, then we need to seek God more. We need to strive to become more like Him.

God gives us unconditional love.

We will never be perfect at giving unconditional love, but we need to try.

And in the times we get it wrong? We need to be the first to repent of our errors. If we hurt someone, even accidentally, we need to stand up and repent.

Building love cyanide into a relationship will not only hurt the relationship, but it will destroy the people in the relationship.

We need to build love, without the cyanide. Provide living water without the poison. Be sanctified and drive to love like Christ loves us.

Psalm 147:3 – He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

 

Love Me Today

1 John 4:7-8 – Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

For tomorrow just might be too late.

This year has brought about a lot of loss. Some of it was due to sickness and death. Some other was due to people being fired or quitting. Still others were in my life only briefly this year like those I see when I go to Peru each year.

This life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.

We don’t have a lot of time with the people in our lives. Some more than others and some less.

If you haven’t noticed, I have not posted a blog in the past almost month. It started as a bout of writer’s block but it ended as an experiment. I wanted to see what I would fill the time with. Granted, writing my blog is a small part of my week, but when the space is there, what would I fill it with?

What would God want us to fill it with?

That is an easy answer, people.

How much more time am I giving my family? How about my friends? How about the stranger or the sojourner or the widow or fatherless?

Am I spending my extra time with them?

Am I discipling others or seeking discipleship myself?

Or am I wasting the time?

Romans 12:10 – Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

What I found is that very little of my extra time was spend on the family, friends, or others.

You see, I filled a little bit of that time with extra Bible study, some extra time at with work, and then I downloaded a game and spent too much time playing that. Even on our date night, both Mimi and I spent quite a bit of our time on our phones.

When God returns, do you really think he will say, “I am really glad you spent more time reading my Word and less time putting it into practice,” or “I am so thankful that you posted that Bible verse to Facebook instead of learning how to live it out!” or “Great job on getting to level 20 on your game! I am so happy you got that down time to play that game a couple hours a day. Now excuse me, there are a bunch of people who never knew Me that I need to go deal with because you never had time.”

This is especially worrisome for me as a dad with a wife and 6 kids/step-kids. Am I truly being a husband and dad to them or, when Christ returns will He point out the wisdom that I should have been pointing out all along?

Honestly, this has been an issue for both my wife and I. We spend way too much time on other things and not enough on us. We talked a little bit this past weekend about how we are starting to feel a little disconnected from each other. I believe this has a big impact on that.

Micah 6:8 – “This is what the Lord requires of you: Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

Now, admittedly, it would be very difficult to completely do a media fast as my job is based completely online and my primary ministry is this blog and my wife works in social media as a job and is a pretty big blogger out there in the blogosphere. And, believe me, I do not miss the irony of the fact that I am posting this online.

But that means we need to figure out creative ways to unplug and spend more time with each other and those whom God has placed in our lives.

And maybe you do as well.

During the time that the Bible was written, I would say it was actually easier to spend time in community, but I don’t believe it was. You didn’t travel far from home and you spent your entire day from dawn to dusk working to make a living and then would go home and fall asleep. The only real time was at dinner, which would be spent as a family unit. This happened up until the technological age.

So, what can we do?

We live in an age where technology is intertwined with our lives. It is difficult for us to remove it completely. I do believe that we are called to make time for those we love, much more time than we spend on those who have little to no effect on our lives.

We should love people today, not tomorrow.

My mom died this year. While we had a great relationship, the one thing I wish I had was more time with her. My neighbor is fighting cancer. I wish I had taken more time to pray with him and spend time with him one on one. That is definitely something I will be doing in the coming days. And spending time with my wife, something I have not done nearly as much as I should have done the past couple years, is something I will start making more a priority as we continue to learn to love each other more and more.

Song of Solomon 8:6-7 – “My beloved speaks and says to me: Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.”

Oh, and Mimi Noble, I love you and look forward to showing you that over the next however many years of our lives together. Not just on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and our blogs, but together in the private moments we have alone.

I want to love you today, for tomorrow might be too late.

If it were the last day of your life

This week has reminded me about how fragile this life is. On Easter morning my passed into eternity. Each holiday, my mom would make would make an amazing spread of food.

This year the job fell to me.

In the past years, my kids, wife and my wife’s kids would travel to PA the weekend before Thanksgiving to have an amazing meal prepared by her. She would make ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, cherry cheesecake, and many other things.

So this year I started planning the dinner the week before and I baked everything off Saturday and cooked everything after church on Sunday.

But it wasn’t the same.

We were missing someone.

Afterward I thought about what it would be like if I knew it were the last day of my life.

My mom taught me one thing, live life to the fullest!

She enjoyed life and she enjoyed the people that came her way. She wasn’t one that would be seen out in the mission field but she would be seen out in the community. She cared about people and everyone knew that.

I got to thinking, though. What would my life look like if it were the last day of my life?

Would people look back on it the same way I look back on my mom’s?

God has called us to live this life. We aren’t to live a past life, our past has been redeemed. We aren’t to live a future life because we are never promised anything beyond today.

My life changed drastically about 6-7 years ago and since then I have done everything possible to live in the present.

But what about you?

One thing Americans do well is hide away from life.

We wake up early to get in our cars and drive an average of 30 minutes to work (if you live the DC area where I do, that time is increased to 52 minutes average). At work, we hide ourselves away in our cubicles or offices as we focus on a computer screen that only has work stuff and Facebook on the screen. When work is done, we get back in our cars and drive home only to have dinner in a disjointed way. The kids have to get to work or sports, so they ate early. Your spouse may or may not be home because, if you are in the 69% of American families, you are a dual-income household. After eating, you turn on your laptop to get on Facebook or turn on the TV and watch the Big Bang Theory until it is bedtime and then you start the whole thing all over.

If you are one of the people who enjoy exercise, you go to the gym and spend time in your zone exercising and not really in community with others.

But we have been designed for so much more!

We have been made in God’s image!

Just what does that mean?

It means we should not…we cannot…go on living our lives for ourselves!

There is a God who sustains us. He owns us. He defines us. He rules us. One day He will judge us.

To that end, God has given us some guidelines to living a life that is given over to Him, enabling us to live a satisfied and content life without the drama of the world system.

I wish I could say that I came up with these five ideas, but I have to give David Platt a lot of props here. He came up with 5 principles for living a life that will be lived to fullest for our purpose, to worship an eternal God.

  • Work diligently

In the beginning of Genesis, God created man to work the garden. God gave man the duty to work even before sin entered the camp. That means work is a gift of God’s grace! But we don’t see it that way. We see it as something we haaaave to do, not something we are ordained to do.

Genesis 2:15 – The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

We, including myself (especially myself), do everything we can to lessen our amount of work so that we can do other things. Do you believe that going to Bible study at church is more important than the job God has ordained you to do? If you see it that way, then you might be legalistic and pharisaical in your thinking.

I’m not saying Bible study isn’t important. It is. But so is the work we have been called to do.

  • Live Simply

Money is not evil. Money in the hands of a sinful people (which is everyone last time I checked) is.  Most people, including most Christians, believe that money is a blessing from God. The Bible tells us that money can be both a blessing from and a barrier to God.

Money is like the water in the ocean. If you get thirsty while in the ocean, you might think that the water around you will sustain you. Since it is high in salt, it won’t. The more you drink, the more thirsty you become. Eventually you dehydrate, which leads to severe headaches, dry mouth, and low blood pressure. Your heart rate begins to rise. You become delirious, go unconscious and die. In drinking what you thought would bring life, you find death.

1 Timothy 6:6-8 – But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Where do we draw the line in our lives that says, “I have too much ‘stuff.’ I need to stop saying ‘I need’ when in actuality it is really that ‘I want.’”

Stop letting your “wants” drive your purchases. Look only to what you need.

  • Give sacrificially

2 Corinthians 8:15 – as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

The Corinthian church would give sacrificially of themselves to see everyone had what they needed. Imagine what it would look like if all Christians around the world, all the Christian communities, would do the same! We shouldn’t give from our comfort, we should give from our discomfort. Unfortunately, most Christians do not know what it means to give sacrificially. They, and I include myself in this, give after they have already paid the bills or after they have factored in how many triple shot skinny half-caf mochas with no whip they can purchase. Around the world there are many without clean water or food. Even here in our own communities there are people who are losing their homes, children who are going to school hungry, and elderly who are finding they cannot afford their medications. We should give sacrificially to others, like the Corinthian church. If the most corrupt church in the New Testament can be graciously giving sacrificially, then today’s church, and Christians, certainly can!

  • Help Constructively

We cannot neglect those in need, but we also cannot subsidize them to stay in need. We cannot simply help people get through their day without teaching them how to get through the rest of their lives. Paul explains that we need to take care of the widows, for example, but goes on to say that not every widow in truly in need. We are not called to simply give a hand out. Commitment to helping get someone out of need is to share life, not just a meal. We also need to look at diversity as we understand why people are in need. Poverty and need cross all racial, ethnic, religious, and other boundaries. Yes, people can say that one group is more prone than another to being in need, but the truth of the matter is that there are people all around us in need and those are the people we are called to help, regardless of color, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc…

  • Invest Eternally

Matthew 6:19-21 – “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus gives us a choice. We can spend our money on this earth’s pleasures that will not last or we sacrifice our resources for a long term treasure that we store up in heaven. Think of the story in Mark 10 of the rich young ruler. Many people think Jesus is calling him to simply sacrifice everything he owns. Truth is that Jesus is calling the man to satisfaction. Jesus isn’t calling this man away from treasure, He is calling him to eternal treasure.

Think of it this way: If you have $10,000 and put it in the bank, in about 20 years you will have about $100,000. But now, if you took that same $10,000 and gave it to a church planter or missionary in Peru (hint hint, Paige and Stalin Solis: https://www.modernday.org/field-workers/solis-paige-solis/) you could see hundreds or even thousands of lives changed! That is truly the investment we need to be making!

So if it were the last day of your life, would your treasures simply fade away or would you leave a lasting legacy of Jesus that would continue to receive compound interest long after you are gone?

Peru Mission 2017 Day 1 – Fluid

So Mimi and I are taking another team to Peru this year. We left on Friday morning and arrived late Friday night.

We had our schedules and itinerary in hand and we headed out the door.

The first flight to our layover in Miami was bumpy but uneventful. I sat in the back of the plane while the rest of our group sat in the middle and front. In the back with me were 13 women heading from Baltimore to Miami to have girls weekend away. They all had really flashy shirts and were very loud, but fun. I also had about a 4 or 5 year old child sitting behind me, kicking my seat much of the flight.

Mimi sat on her own in the middle of the flight and, since she doesn’t travel well, fell right to sleep and woke up in Miami.

We get to Miami and were to meet up with a woman I had met a few years earlier at a church planting conference. While we had a few glitches there, it was pretty easy to get together and we headed off for some lunch and our first devotion of the journey.

When we got to Lima, we located Paige and Stalin, our guides, and they took us to La Victoria, the area of the place we would be staying.

La Victoria is a very different area than where we have stayed in years past. It is the inner city. Smells of marijuana and prostitution are done in the open here. There are gangs in this area and random packs of dogs roam the streets.

This section of the city is up almost 24 hours a day.

As I sit here right now typing this, I hear about 5 different songs playing throughout the city, someone is shooting off fireworks, and car alarms go off quite frequently.

The place we are staying is a chapel. It is 5 stories and in the middle of the city. The outside is black and white and all of the windows have bars. There is a man who sits just inside the door and opens it for people who are allowed in. Every Sunday, this chapel, the smallest of the 5 campuses of Camino de Vida, has 350 regular attenders.

The first level of the chapel is the church. It is really just a big black box style. They can transform the room into whatever they want it to be for the day. It can be church on Sunday and then on Monday turn into a wheelchair build site.

The second level of the chapel is a kitchen and offices. The missions offices are housed on the second level of the place. There is also an occupational therapy facility on this level.

The third level has a sewing ministry where they make all the shirts for their missions program. They also have a meeting room and a place where people can come and get clothes for free.

The fourth level is where short-term missions teams like ours stay. There are bedrooms for the women and bedrooms for the men. They also have a “living room” where short-term teams can hang out and unwind.

The fifth level is storage. All of the maintenance equipment and paints are kept up here. They also have a small outside living room that overlooks the city. I am hoping to get to use that a lot more later this week.

IMG_20171007_103334

We arrived about 1 AM and went straight to bed. I couldn’t sleep and spent the majority of the cold night laying there in prayer, thought, and yawning.

The next morning came and we ate breakfast and had a quick devotion before we gathered together for orientation. We learned that a few days ago someone had come and sprayed graffiti on much of the building.

I have to say that my heart sank a little when I saw it. 2 years ago my team painted the building, the sidewalk and the bricks. It was a long couple of days, but we did a really nice job. Seeing it tagged with graffiti was a little upsetting.

We were told that we would be spending the day painting the building again.

We gathered all the materials and started in at painting at about 11 AM.

We finished the outside of the building by 12:30 and sat down to eat lunch.

It was a little late to do our original plan of evangelism, so we decided to help Paige get the chapel ready for church tomorrow. This meant a lot more painting. She wanted a few levels of the steps painted as well as one of the offices so that they could move furniture out of another larger office to use for kids ministry in the morning.

We broke up our group and started going to town on the painting.

We finished about 5:30, got cleaned up and headed off to dinner.

It is now 10:30.

The city is alive and very, very loud. Many people are sleeping with ear plugs or ear buds in to drown out the noise. While I am exhausted, I want to take in the sounds of the city. I might not sleep, but I want to experience what the people of La Victoria experience daily.

Tomorrow we will be tourists. We are going to start our day at the chapel and attending church and then heading off to enjoy the touristy side of Lima.

More on that tomorrow.

Frame Without a Photograph

A few weeks ago when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and it was pretty clear that I would soon have to live without her daily phone calls, I told Mimi that I felt like a frame without a photograph.

Then, after mum had passed on Easter, I was putting together a photo collage for the viewing and there was one picture that mum absolutely loved. It was a picture of her and pap on a cruise. I pulled that picture out of the frame to make it the centerpiece of the collage.

Mum a legacy

And then it hit me, in front of me was a frame without a photograph.

I started to cry, realizing that my words had come true. Was that to be the future? A frame without a photograph? Would that be how each of us will feel as time goes on?

I decided to press onward and get the collage together.

As I put the collage together, I realized that the picture had to come out of the frame; not because of making space for new memories, but because the frame was now too small.

As the collage started to come together piece by piece, picture by picture, the full screenshot of mum became more evident.

Mum burst out of the frame and became a much larger word than picture.

She became a legacy.

If you will allow me to, I would like to go section by section and give to you a little bit of the legacy of my mum.

Mum Younger years

In the upper left corner is mum as a young woman. She was beautiful. We see her high school yearbook picture, graduation photo, and blocked by glare, we see her at the place she loved the most, the bowling alley.

Mum loved bowling and she was really good! She taught me how to bowl. I used to bowl in leagues and she would come to every game. After each game she would give me tips on becoming better. It wasn’t unheard of for her to bowl well into the 200s.

Mum and Pap

Moving into the lower left corner of the collage, we find the history of mum and pap. There are a couple different wedding photos. She is in her original wedding dress in one of the photos. On the far right of this section is when mum and pap reaffirmed their vows. Then there are other photos. We see a pic of pap smoking his pipe, holding on to mum. We see them dancing. We see them at the Westinghouse/Northrop Grumman retirement dinner when my dad retired with over 30 years of service to the same company. They had a picture of them taken that night.

Mum loved pap. A few days before she died, we were talking on the phone and she said that she doesn’t know how she ended up with the best man in the world. You see, mum had a tough past. She was married before my dad. It was a physically abusive relationship that led her to take my brother in the middle of night and hop a bus away. Then she found my dad.

The way my dad explained it to me last night was that she was managing the bowling alley. He would go in there with the guys and bowl on league night. After time, they started talking and hit it off.  They would meet up before league night and bowl a few games together. She would always win. Not because my dad would let her, but because she was crazy good! He would bowl in the mid 100s and she would bowl in the low to mid 200s.

Then it happened.

He won a game.

So, right before the league night started, she got on the loudspeaker and proclaimed over the entire bowling alley that “If Fred Noble’s team wins tonight, he will wear a skirt.” Well, that was it, every team tried their hardest to lose.

After dad told me that story, I realized just how much he loved my mom. In a couple days would have been their 52nd wedding anniversary. As he and I sat and reminisced about mum last night, he would spend almost the entire time smiling.

He was remembering all the good times.

Not once since the death of my mom have I seen him without a smile.

He knows he was a very lucky man. He had an amazing wife.

Mum and gramma

In the upper center of the collage is two of mom’s favorite things: her mother and her jobs. My mom had an amazing mother, which is probably where she learned her skills to be an amazing mom. I know for a fact it is where she learned to be an amazing cook and baker!

When my grandma, her mom, was diagnosed with cancer, she came to live with my parents who took care of her along with hospice. One of the really cool things about that is that the same hospice nurse that took care of my mom’s mom is the same one who took care of my mom. Over 20 years ago, a fairly new hospice nurse named Michelle came to the house to take care of grandma. She was there until the end. My mom would rave about how great she did.

20 some years later, that same nurse walked in the door of my mom’s house. My dad explained it as “an old homecoming.” He said they held on to each other for what seemed like forever and just cried until they could cry no more.

Then there are pictures of her at work. When I was in school, she would work in the cafeteria. Not only was I not really the smartest kid out there (2.2 GPA in high school and 2.6 GPA in college, thankfully I got a 3.5 in seminary), but I was also a little trickster. I liked to have fun. My mom worked in every school so she could keep an eye on me.

Honestly, it didn’t work that well. I still was a trickster.

When I graduated high school, I told my mom that she was not allowed to work at the college that I was attending.

Mum fun

Moving into the upper right of the collage there are a lot of pictures of mum having fun, usually with someone else.

You see, mum loved people more than she loved herself. She always treated others better than herself and lived a servant’s life. But she knew how to cut loose from time to time.

She absolutely loved to go to Ocean City, Maryland. It was her absolute happy place. I can understand why it is probably one of my favorite places in the world as well. Every year we would go down and stay at the Santa Maria, which I don’t believe exists anymore. She would never go down in the summer. She always said it was too crowded. Her favorite time, and mine as well, is early October. She and pap would sit on the deck of the hotel and just watch people.

That was her favorite pastime. She loved people-watching.

She said she would make up stories in her mind as to what those people were doing and why they were doing it. I really think it is because of her that I get my creativity.

I know the picture doesn’t do it justice, but in the top right of the above picture my mom has my dad on a dog leash. I really have no clue what is going on here. If anyone has the story to that, please share. My dad seems clueless (perhaps intentionally) about it.

Then there is the picture of my two kids with them when they were young. My mom loved both Matt and Kenzi. When Kenzi was born, she was the daughter that my mom never had. The first few years of her life, Kenzi spent a lot of time with mum and they bonded tightly. Those two were inseparable.

When Matt came along, even through all of the problems that Matt has had with being lovable, mum never gave up on him. Matt was always the strong-willed and stubborn child. If it wasn’t his way, he would shut you out. He still does to this day. But mum never gave up on him. She continued to love him and pray for him to turn around and have his heart feel again. She always knew how to make him smile, even when he didn’t want to.

Mu and family

The final corner shows what mum loved best, family. On her birthday, April 1st, this year she cooked a full dinner for us even though she was in intense pain. She would have it no other way. She told us it was the last meal she would ever make us, as if she knew.

She loved having everyone around the table.

And she absolutely loved the big family we had become. As a divorced dad with 2 kids of my own and adding a wife and 2 other full time kids and 2 other grown kids to the mix, she loved being able to love on people again. She loved being surrounded by those she loved. She loved my dad, me, my wife Mimi, Ryan, Matthew, Kenzi and Jacob.

Right before the viewing, my dad met with each person in the family individually to tell them words that mum wanted told to them. I have no clue what was said to each person. I just know what was said to me.

And it fills my heart to know it.

Mum collage

So now we are back to the original photo that got me thinking about this. My mom’s favorite picture.

But notice something, it is not a frame without a photograph. It is a photograph without a frame. The picture is framed by other pictures. And each of those pictures are framed by others. And all those photos together are framed by memories that we have of mum.

And what that leaves us is not a single snapshot of a person who died of cancer, it leaves us a description of the legacy of great woman. A woman who deserves to be celebrated and called blessed.

The Churches of Revelation: Part 2 – Ephesus

Out of the seven churches in the Revelation, Ephesus makes the most sense. Prior to Christ’s birth, Ephesus went back and forth between being controlled by the Romans and the Bergamian kings. By 4 AD, Ephesus was known for its wealth and luxury. During Augustus’ rule, the population reached 225,000 and the city became the capital of the region. The city continued to thrive after becoming a port city on the Caystros river.

It was a major city in early Christianity. While John planted the church in Ephesus, it was Paul who put it on the map.  When Paul chose this city on his missionary journeys, the city gained in prestige to Christians. Paul worked to evangelize the Ephesians who were worshiping Artemis. The elderly of the city did not accept him, but, over time, Christianity took roots with the youth, who turned it into a major religion in the city. There are also some experts that place the Virgin Mary in Ephesus around 42 AD to settle down for the rest of her life. There is currently a shared Catholic/Muslim holy site that points out her house at the top of Bulbul mountain.

By 1307 Ephesus lost its significance as their port closed and other port cities rose.

The people of Ephesus had both Greek and Roman influence. Ephesians used both sundials and water clocks to be able to tell time. Owning one of those showed a person’s wealth. Typically people woke at sunrise, although the Roman influence with the festivals added a little more color. The Greek population had boys going to school and women most likely not while the Romans sent both boys and girls to school.

Ephesus had a temple dedicated to their goddess, Artemis. Every day there would be animal sacrifices to Artemis. In most Greek cities, Artemis was worshiped as a secondary deity, but in Asia Minor, she was a primary deity. In most Greek cities she is worshiped for her hunting abilities, but in Ephesus, she was worshiped solely for her fertility. This could be a sign of the Roman influence.

John planted the Ephesian church. The disciples believed the larger cities like Ephesus, Smyrna, and Laodicea would help Christianity spread. It is believed that John and Mary traveled together to Ephesus after Jesus entrusted her to John. Around 42 AD, John established the Ephesian church. When Paul came during his missionary journey, he took over the church until he was beheaded outside Rome in 64 AD. At that point, John took the church over again. John died in Ephesus.

During Paul’s journey to Ephesus, he stayed in the city for about three and half years. Under Paul’s leadership, the church in Ephesus became the head church in Asia Minor. The city was filled with magicians, pagans, and a government that was not friendly to Christians. Even with all of that, Ephesus became the third most important city in all of Christendom behind Jerusalem and Antioch. After three and half years, the statue makers, led by Demetrius, who made a living selling silver statues of Artemis, were upset and performed acts of civil disobedience. The city ran Paul out of Ephesus where he went to Macedonia.

So what does Revelation tell us about Ephesus?

The first chapter of Revelation explains that the book was written BY Him FOR Him. This entire book is written to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Each of the seven churches has unique strengths and weaknesses and there is a distinct message to each. The problems addressed in each of the churches are problems that have happened in the church throughout history. This is shown that it is the case when the Lord wants us to make sure we hear what He has to say.

Revelation 2:7 – “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.

There are multiple ways to analyze Revelation. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

  • Preterist – The book was fulfilled in the early church. This would mean that the events have already occurred. The thing that is positive about this approach is that it is interpreted in relation to the historical significance in which it was written. Unfortunately, this view diminishes the prophetic nature of the book and turns it simply into a history book.
  • Futurist – This means that the book only deals with end times. If we look at this as an extreme dispensationalist, we would say that these churches are not the churches of the historical day they were in, but only of a future church and can only be applied to churches today. This makes all of chapters 4-22 of Revelation only prophecy and does not include history into it.
  • Continuous Historical – This is the view that says that Revelation is history of the world from the apostolic age until the end of times. While this does see the book as part of history, it opens the interpretation up to subjective views. Most people who fall into this group will view the book of Revelation in light of current events.
  • Idealist – The idealist sees no historical value in the book, but only a symbolic triumph of good over evil.

I am going to try and look at the historical context of the churches and then analyze them in light of future prophecy.

This means that it is appropriate that Ephesus is addressed first. As seen above, it was an amazing city!

Paul’s first visit was short (Acts 18:19-21) and then Apollos also ministered there (Acts 18:24-28). Paul returned and Christianity flourished throughout the city. Because of the passion that the church had to the gospel, the message spread to the region. To this, Demetrius took offense and had Paul removed from the city.

Paul did pass by Ephesus later because he wanted to reach Jerusalem in time for Pentecost. He called for the Ephesian leaders to meet him at Miletus (Acts 20:16). He explained to them the danger about him returning to Jerusalem.  Paul warned the elders that wolves would come among them and drive people away from the church.

Later, when Paul was writing Timothy, he asked him to stay in Ephesus to deal with those who were teaching false doctrine (1 Timothy 1:3-7).  He focused on the qualities of church leadership with Timothy as those who were leading were driving people away from the church.

1 Timothy 1:3-7 –  As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

As we know John lived in Ephesus in his later years of life, John was instructed to write to the angel of the church in Ephesus. There are a lot of different theories about who the “angel” is that is being admonished, but regardless, the topic is the church at Ephesus.

In opening with the verse that explains Jesus as the One who holds the 7 stars and walks among the 7 lampstands, He shows that He walks among His churches. He is in fellowship with them. He is involved in them.

Jesus points out the good and the bad to the church in Ephesus. He points out that the church in Ephesus cannot tolerate wicked people and that they have persevered. They work hard and have good deeds. They have found the false prophets. They have endured and have not gotten tired of persevering.

BUT…

Jesus tells us that they have forgotten their first love; the love of God and the love of people.

Revelation 2:4 – But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.

How many times have you gone to your church, sat there, and pointed out all the things that are good and bad in your church? Many times we allow our feelings to guide us in what we like and don’t like. Do you like the music? Then it must be a good church. Do you dislike the lack of small groups? It must be a bad church. But that isn’t the case.

I believe God is telling us, by pointing out so many positive points in this, and the other churches, and only a limited number of negative points, that there is really only a few critical things when it comes to being a church community.

In Ephesus, one of those points is remembering your love of God and people.

What does Jesus mean by “your first love?”

It must mean that they had previously had a love that they have left behind. It is easy to say that the primary love they had left behind was for both God and people. And that is partially right.

But I believe that the love Jesus is referring to in this passage is primarily for the people of the church and community.

Why?

First, In Ephesians 4:15-5:2, Paul tells the Ephesians to love one another. The context is an emphasis on the relationship between the community of believers.  Second, in Ephesians 1:15-16, Paul praised the church for their love of one another. Third, in Scripture, we are told that in the last days the love that will be lost is the love for one another (Matthew 24:9-12).

Matthew 24:9-12 – “Then they will hand you over for persecution,and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of My name. Then many will take offense, betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold.

The Ephesian church worked very hard to maintain their doctrinal purity but in doing so, they have passively neglected the love for one another. I could do a word study here that would show the passive nature of the neglect the Ephesians had for brotherly love, but I will leave that for more others who are more well versed with original language.

The consequence for the church continuing to neglect their love of one another would be for the Lord to remove their lampstand. The lampstand is the church’s ability to function as a testimony to the world. Just as Christians are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), the church is a lampstand.  Removing the lampstand could mean that the church’s ability to witness is lost. Please note that this Scripture has absolutely nothing to do with losing your salvation. It is simply the testimony of the church in the world that would be lost.

This is shown in John 13:34-35 when Jesus says:

John 13:34-35 – “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The Christian’s love for one another is a very powerful witness to the presence and power of Christ. If that is taken away, then our power to witness and evangelize is hurt.

The way the church in Ephesus, and consequently the church today, can fix this issue is through the 3 R’s:

  • Remember

Through passive neglect they had forgotten to love one another.  They are called to remember when they had that love.

  • Repent

This goes beyond just grieving. This is a genuine change of heart and mind that results in a change in behavior and overall lifestyle.

  • Renewed Response

Begin to put love into practice once again.

The Ephesian church shows a problem that is common for every church and every Christian. We allow Satan to take advantage of our strengths thereby turning them into weaknesses. The truth of doctrine is important, but doctrine can never be the end in itself. Truth and love should never be separated. Truth needs to be proclaimed in love.

Ephesians 4:15 – But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.

And love must be proclaimed with truth.

Philippians 1:9-10 – And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ,

We need to remember the church in Ephesus and maintain doctrinal purity, but not at the expense of love.

A New Place

Psalm 127:1 – Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.

My beautiful wife and I are moving into a new house tomorrow. This has been a crazy year! We got engaged, married, built a house, went on mission to Peru, she started a ministry at church, I have had my first full year under my belt with the company I started, and life keeps rolling on. To say that this year has been stressful is an understatement.

The money has been coming in just a little above where we need it to be every month, so we are truly blessed in that way.

But, from time to time, I don’t feel very blessed.

In the midst of all of the stress (all of it was self-inflicted stress, by the way), I lose sight of what is really important.

God.

The Bible says that…

Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Unfortunately, many times, our definition of good and God’s definition are askew. In our human terms, we think that “good” is defined as easy, stress-free, and happy. God’s definition is very different. He sees “good” in terms of spiritual growth. With all growth comes hard, stressful, filled-with-pain moments which, in the end, leads to maturity in faith.

So we are moving into the new place tomorrow. And with that we will see a whole bunch of bills hitting us. As a matter of fact, I am not exactly sure where all the money will be coming for these bills. But I know one thing: the God of the universe knows about it and will, as in times past, supply all our needs.

But I write this to please keep my family in prayer for the following:

  • That we may never lose sight of God’s blessings upon us or take for granted all that He has provided for us.
  • That we may maintain our joy throughout the craziness of this life. Satan cannot take my soul. That is with God in heaven. But he can steal my joy and my ability to share my story. May that never be the case. Please pray that my whole family will constantly be joyful in God’s gifts of love, mercy, and grace and that we will never cower from sharing our testimonies.
  • That we strengthen in bond to each other as we continue in this life.
  • Pray that our ministries are fruitful and continue to multiply. That they will do the work that God has given us to do. That we will follow His vision of church and of reaching the lost and equipping the saints.

So I thank you for any prayers you will do for us. And the next time I write, I will be doing so from the new place.

What the American Church can Learn from HersheyPark

Mark 12:31 – The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

I Love You

I mean that. No, really.

Just don’t make me mad. I might not love you very much.

Oh, and just don’t speak against topics I support politically and morally. I don’t have to love you then.

And you better never hurt me or my loved ones because I not only will not love you, but I may hurt you.

I am the American church (and, honestly, society as a whole).

I had a couple things happen over the past few days that got me thinking about love, getting along, and the Bible. First, I went to HersheyPark. Yes, it truly IS the sweetest place on earth. Beyond that, it is also a mash up of most likely every race, culture, and nationality in one small area. The next thing that happened was that I went to church this morning. One of my favorite modern preachers, Brit Fletcher (FYI, I only have about 8-10 modern preachers that I truly listen to), was preaching. His topic today was a very nice exegesis of one of the Beatitudes with 1 John 4. It tied very nicely with what I wanted to say in this blog this week, so I am pretty much going to steal what he wrote, put my own spin on it, and publish it to the interwebs because he said it much better than I ever could.

While at HersheyPark, the first ride we got on was the Comet. It is a wooden roller coaster built in 1946. Not only has it had a very long life, but the line to get on it was extremely long. About an hour and fifteen minutes we waited to ride it. As we stood in line, there were a LOT of different cultures surrounding us. About 20 people in front of us was a woman with her daughter that was in full dress, including a complete facial covering. The only time I saw any of her body was when she went to put her drink to her mouth and her chin was exposed. She did everything in her power to keep herself separate from other people. She held on to her daughter tightly and wouldn’t let anyone get too close to them.

Directly behind us was a group of people that sounded like they were from either Jamaica or Trinidad. They had absolutely no concept of personal space. If I took a step forward, you could almost guarantee that one of the group would not only be stepping on my feet but also rubbing up against me in some way. I should mention that even though they were all standing on top of each other (and me), that they had to speak to each other very loudly, sometimes yelling directly in my ear. But, when I said “bless you” to one of the ladies who sneezed, her face lit up with the biggest smile as she said, “thank you.”

Right in front of us were the PSL (pumpkin spice latte) white ladies. The each had a child and were talking to each other. One had asked the other how long the wait was going to be. When she replied with “I have no idea,” I figured since I had the app for the park that I would be kind enough to tell her. After I responded, they looked at me like I had 3 eyes, said a valley girl “thanks” and went on with their conversation.

After we rode the Comet (which, after going to HersheyPark since 1979, it is still my favorite coaster they have there), we went to get lunch. In line in front of us were two Hispanic women. One knew some English, but the other did not, so the one girl translated her order to the cashier. The Hispanic translator kept running back and forth to the table they were sitting at to ask everyone there what they wanted, leaving the Hispanic-only speaking woman to stare uncomfortably at the English-only speaking cashier. After about 5 separate orders, they had everything and were on their way. They method of speaking was very expressive. If a translation seemed lost, they used their hands. It was quite the spectacle.

Romans 13:10 – Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Then there were the 20-somethings who immediately cut right in front of us in a long line. Being gentler than the average Fred, I was apt to let this go. Mimi, on the other hand, not so much. At the end of the day, those young adults were simply people who had bad manners, foul mouths, and no respect for anyone around them.

I could go on and on about the stories there at the park, but you get the idea. It was a collection of people from nice to rude, black to white, refined to down-home.

But everyone seemed to get along. The park was crowded, and even late at night, as we were on one of our last rides and the operators were having troubles getting the ride turned on in a timely manner, no one really complained. Everyone simply waited, seemingly patiently.

The collection of people couldn’t understand each other linguistically, couldn’t comprehend their cultural ticks, and in many cases looked and acted very differently, but they made the best of their time together.

There are a couple more HersheyPark stories, these are sweeter. Like the one kid I saw fall down and a perfect stranger picked him up. No, this wasn’t anyone from the park staff. This was just a random stranger. A black woman who wasn’t speaking English went over to pick up a lilly white kid who had fallen to the ground. She smiled at him, dusted him off, and sent him back to his parents. Then there was an elderly man who was having trouble navigating the traffic in a motorized wheelchair. A Hispanic man reached down, touched the man’s arm, and helped guide him through the onslaught of people. They didn’t speak each other’s languages, but they knew how to communicate in love.

Matthew 5:46-47 – If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?

And that leads me to today. Pastor Brit (pB) preached about love. Do you realize that love is what proves we are a Christian? Jesus, in Matthew 5, teaches us that we are not only love those who love us. That would be too easy. We are to love everyone.

At the park yesterday, the love shown was not just an absence of hate, but a deliberate choice to make the lives better of those around us.

According to pB’s sermon this morning, love is not only one of God’s divine attributes, but it is a deliberate decision of His. In God’s perfect love, he sent His Son as propitiation for our sins. Jesus was the mercy seat that contained the offering for the remission of sin.

You might be asking yourself, “but what has God done for me lately?”

How vile of a question!

It isn’t what God has done for you lately! It is what God has done eternally!

Christ died on the cross FOR your sin. Even if He did nothing else in this world, THAT would be more than enough.

1 John 4:7 – Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4 gives us a couple of truths about love (and these are taken both from Scripture and from pB’s sermon this morning). First, with perfect love, we can come in boldness in the day of judgment. This means that we KNOW we are saved. There is no question in our minds.

Second, love knows no fear. If you are in a relationship that scares you, then that is not love. Is it due to abuse? Is it due to mistreatment? Is it due to a past that leads to not knowing how to love? Then that is not love.

The terrorist, the racist, the bigot, the hatemonger, the gossip, the slanderer, the cheater, and the people who bash others do so out of fear. Since perfect love knows no fear, those people cannot know a perfect love and those people cannot call themselves Christian.

On the other side of the coin, are you afraid to engage in a friendship or conversation with the terrorist, racist, bigot, hatemonger, gossip, slanderer, or cheater? Then, perhaps, you need to review whether you know a perfect love.

Finally, love cannot hate. In America, and especially the church, it is allowed to hate the terrorist. It is allowed to hate those of a different political party. It is allowed to hate those even in other denominations simply because of that denomination’s political tilt.

That is not love.

That is not Christianity.

I would question whether those people truly know Christ.

1 John 4:8 – Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

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