Slowing Down

3rd Grade. A blissful time. Surrounded by friends in Miss Brock’s giraffe-themed classroom, I was preparing to leave for Christmas break. As our last task of the day, we were instructed to make a wreath to give to our parents. The “leaves” of the wreath would be made from cut-outs of our hands, with a hand-written, heartfelt message in the center. Steven Smith, one of my friends, sat across the classroom. The two of us were locked in an endless struggle to see who could be the first to complete a task. And we both had a disregard for spending a large quantity of time on a project that we could get done in a short amount of time.

Shortly after the last phase of our craft was announced (a page long note), Steven and I both put our noses to the grind. Our pencils flying, scribbling out the beautiful mess of 3rd grade cursive, with little concern for the margins or lines. Who cared what it looked like as long as it was done!? As time wound down, we would shoot glances over at the other, hoping to catch a tell of how far along the other was. I groaned inwardly as Steven made his way up to Miss Brock’s desk as I finished writing my last sentence. So close!

But wait! Steven was sent back to his desk, project in hand. Aha! I triumphantly made my way to Miss Brock’s desk as Steven sat down. She looked at my wreath and meticulously examined my handiwork. She smiled, shook her head, and handed it back to me saying “You missed something.”

I was bewildered. I sat down at my place and hurriedly glanced up and down my project. What could she mean? My eyes darted back and forth from my paper to Steven, as his eyes did the same to me. I couldn’t notice what she was talking about! After a few moments, I noticed a small punctuation error. I corrected it and returned to Miss Brock’s desk. It only took a second for her to look down, and grinning, hand it back to me. Steven and I both made 4-5 trips up to Miss Brock’s desk, only to return back to our seat trying to figure out what we missed. Soon, Eleyna walked to Miss Brock, and quietly handed her the wreath. Miss Brock looked at it for a minute or two, and then accepted it as Eleyna walked away.

GAH!! I couldn’t be first now! What could I do!? I attempted to be more focused in my review reading my paper aloud in my head. What was I missing!?? Steven was finding himself with the same problem. We made more trips up, only to be sent back. Shortly, Kara, Nellie, Gabe, Sam, Rose, Tyler and others began turning their projects in. I couldn’t believe it. Steven and I soon found ourselves at the end of a line, waiting to be done. As others walked back to their desks complete, I arrived at Miss Brock’s desk for about the dozenth time. Only then did I see my mistake. In the middle of my paper, was the word “renumber” erroneously replacing the word “remember.” Embarrassed, I handed in my wreath. Miss Brock slyly smiled as she accepted it. “Kevin, if you don’t learn to slow down every now and then, you’ll find yourself making mistakes like this more and more often.”

I wished I had learned my lesson that day. Those who have known me since my childhood will humorously recall a boy obsessed with speed and quickness. Physically, mentally.. It didn’t matter. In my mind, why would I spend 10 minutes completing a task I could do in 5?

When I was 10, I quickly learned that it would take me an hour and a half to mow the lawn with our self-propelled mower. However, it was the day that our grandparents came to visit that I learned that if I ran behind the mower pushing it, I could finish in just under 50 minutes. Huzzah! Sure, the lawn looked completely uneven and disheveled, but I could honestly tell my dad that I had taken the lawn mower over every section of the yard.

For much of my life, my philosophy has been that same way. Never waste time by doing something you could be doing faster. One of my high-school taglines indicated just as much: “life is way too short to take it slow.”
However, looking back I’ve realized that by flying through life and neglecting to slow down, I’ve missed out on enjoying the sweetest of days. That realization is sadly bitter. Since I thought the best of days were either behind me or in front of me, there was no reason to focus on the present. I would be nostalgic of the past, or optimistic of the future, but there was no way I would try to find joy in the present. It’s like admiring a caterpillar turning into the butterfly, but neglecting the crucial stage that is the chrysalis.

The past was great, and the future is going to be even better. But the present was once the future, and it will soon be the past.

What a sad wisdom this has become, as there are days I surely wish I’d have lived more in the moment. This wisdom, albeit a sad and regretful one, is essential to learning how to live a life found in joy. Because not only is the chrysalis important, its also beautiful.
Though I’ve already made this mistake, I refuse to let myself make it now.

Living a life speedily without truly being in the here and now is like when I ran behind the lawnmower at age 10. At the end of the day, I’ll go to all the same corners and stages, but unless I slow down I won’t have truly ever really been there…

 

 

 

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I Was Wrong

Something about those words doesn’t sit well. Maybe they just don’t roll off the tongue. Phonetically, maybe it just doesn’t blend right? Or perhaps, it’s too difficult a reminder that we don’t have all the answers…

Over the last several months I’ve grown to be convinced that no words are more crucial for the vocabulary of a leader than these three. I’m also confident that no three words are more challenging to truly mean.

So why are they difficult?
Admitting being wrong means admitting a shortcoming. By nature, being wrong implies a shortcoming. A failure. An error. It means that someone doesn’t have all the answers. Pride wrestles with this sentiment, because they cannot coexist. The ideology of being large and in charge merely cannot sit alongside of the recognition of wrong-ness. Take a look at politicians. With some exception, the majority of politicians will never admit that they have been wrong out of a fear of no longer being viewed as competent or qualified.

If it is so difficult, why is it important?
Because of what it communicates to those around you. When a leader admits his mistakes, it opens him up to those he leads. It leaves room for humility, for growth, for correction. A leader who cannot admit his or her mistakes is a leader who cannot grow! Growth flows out of a recognition of a shortcoming and a desire to do something about it.
For the believer living as a part of the Body, admitting when one is wrong is vital. Without this key, pride will swell, tension will grow, and disunity will reign as king.

“Admission of a mistake, even if only privately to yourself, makes learning possible by moving the focus away from blame assignment and towards understanding…
Wise people admit their mistakes easily.
They know progress accelerates when they do.”- Scott Berkun

A leader with a humble heart towards those he or she is leading will admit his shortcomings easily and often. Because they recognize the need for it. They see that their becoming better must come as a result of seeing where they need to improve. At the end of the day, all men and women make mistakes. So why try and hide it? Because even if you don’t realize when you’re wrong, those around you do.

A leader who can’t admit when they are wrong is a leader who has made improvement impossible for themselves. A leader who is open about their shortcomings paves the way for their own growth through their humility.
Be sure to keep an eye on your own fallibility.
Those who you’re leading most certainly already are.

If you’re looking for more wisdom in admitting your failures, check out leadership and philosophy author Scott Berkun’s thoughts here and see what you can glean!
http://scottberkun.com/essays/44-how-to-learn-from-your-mistakes/

My Declaration of Dependence

“This is my declaration of dependence; this is the declaration of my need.” These words used to float through my family’s home, courtesy of my father’s affinity for both Steven Curtis Chapman and a strong contemporary 90’s style of music. I once laughed at these words, for they conveyed a sort of weakness in my mind. Needing others was a sign of inadequacy… At least that’s what I thought. A strong hero rode off into the sunset on his own, unaccompanied, because he was self-sufficient. He needed no-one.

I lived my life by that philosophy, especially over the past 6 years or so. While originally the desire for the company and support of others itched at the back of my mind, eventually it gave way to a stony, egotistical desire to be capable in and of myself. If I communicated to anyone that I needed them, I conveyed weakness, and my pride would allow for no such display. I set out on a one-man mission to prove to the world (and myself) that I was self-sufficient. This arrogance ran deep, evidenced by a recent reminder of an old favorite song of mine. The title of this song is “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.” How much more obvious could my pride get? Yet I sang this song as an anthem of my heart…

I’ve learned lessons in various ways over the past several years. Sudden, like a blow to the head. Studiously: with hours spent trying to understand. But the realization of this area of sin came slowly. It dawned on me over the span of months. Like a creature trapped in quicksand my desire for autonomy and independence pulled me further into danger even as I realized what was occurring… What could I do? Nothing. I finally realized that in order to escape the danger of my pride, I needed something outside of myself. The only one who could rescue me from the grasp of my own pride was the one deserving of all the glory that I had been giving myself. My Savior. Every time I attempted to be self-reliant, I was avoiding depending on God. The praise I awarded myself, was praise owned by Him.

But this pride is not conquered by a one-time realization, it requires a daily surrendering of myself. Every day I must wake up and humble myself before God. “I cannot do this on my own. The praise and glory of all that is involved in my life is yours because you have orchestrated it. This, is my declaration of dependence on You, Father.”

Now, as I come before the cross, the foundation of my relationship with Christ, my pride is stripped away. To stand before the cross is to stand in recognition of my sinful state. My death… in sin. But to stand before the cross is also to stand in recognition of Christ. His death… in unfailing love. The cross means that I see myself for the weak, needy man that I am, and God as the strong God that He is. In the words of Martyn Lloyd Jones “There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross.” John Stott points out that the cross never gives us room for pride. “The cross undermines our self-righteousness, and we can stand before it only with a bowed head and broken spirit.”

We are, as Winston Churchill once suggested, humble people with much to be humble about.

A man or woman of God is not strong. They rely on a God who is. A Godly leader is not capable. They have merely surrendered to a God who is. And lastly, an individual is never sufficient. They must simply humble themselves by trusting in a God who has supplied all of their needs.

So. “This is my declaration of dependence. This is the declaration of my need. On the One who gave His life for me.”

The Hurting Harvest

The church is at war. A fierce battle with the greatest stake of all time on the line. The eternity of billions and billions souls are at risk. Look around. The evidence of the Great War is surely there. Hurt. Pain. Hunger. Loss. Evil. Yet, the church has found itself fighting the wrong enemy. The church often ends up in a battle with the same people they are attempting to save.

How do you view the church in relation to the world? I’ve heard it described from the pulpit as a stronghold, a fort, training grounds for the warriors in their struggle… If the church is ever meant to be these things, it is by no means meant to be against the world! It is against Satan.

The world is not the enemy of the church. It is her mission, her calling, and her harvest. But somehow we have found ourselves fighting that same harvest! We scoff at it, avoid it, condemn it, and train ourselves against the world’s ideologies hoping to keep ourselves from it. Perhaps we think that the world will follow us when they realize how wrong they are. Perhaps once they realize the foolishness of their ways they’ll see how right open are. Yet Satan wins when we think this way. Satan wins as we fight the world, pushing them closer to him. His goal is to see the world lost, condemned in darkness. He has fooled us as we fight the world more than him. The church is the hospital to the world, encouraging them to come to the altar.

But the world is dangerous! The world hates us! The world mocks us and wants to see our end! That is the point! The world crucified Christ. Christ didn’t live his life in fear of the world. Ever. He strode into the very places where his life was threatened, to the point that his closest friends and disciples believed they would follow Him to His death. Christ didn’t shy away from the world, and didn’t fight against them. Whenever you see Jesus responding in frustration or anger in the Gospel, it is against those who claim to be religious followers of Yahweh, who were living in sin? Jesus didn’t try to come in and convince the sinful, evil world that they were wrong. He went to them, sat with them, and let His manner of Life prove it.

Don’t live in fear of the world. Live life with a heart for the brokenness and hopelessness that exists therein without Christ. We must stop attacking the world if we are to ever lead them to the truth and hope that we ourselves found through grace. Did you know that we aren’t instructed to “defend our faith” in Scripture? That phrase has been poorly drawn from 1  Peter 3:15 which actually states “give an answer for the hope that is in you.” Our actions must speak louder than our words, our love louder than scorn. Yes it’s dangerous. Yes the world wants to see our demise. Thats why they are the mission. Remember 1 Peter 3:15? Right before that verse, Peter write “even if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” Our lives are meant to be a testimony screaming truth that necessitates questions from the minds of unbelievers. Primarily: “how do they have hope?” Not “how come they’re always right?” Or “why don’t things make sense?”

Let us go into the world, bearing the message of Christ, proclaiming truth but more importantly living it. Our lives are a living testimony. A testimony of Christ’s love to a world looking for Hope.

Why>What

When I was younger, on very rare occasion my parents would tell me not to do something that I really wanted to do. When I asked my dad for a reason or explanation as to why I should not do these things, he would often respond “Because I’m your dad and I said so.” Why did he answer in that way? Well, 2-year-old Kevin wouldn’t have understood the danger of putting his hand on the hot stove… 14 month-old Kevin wouldn’t comprehend the electricity that would be jolted into his body by shoving silverware into an outlet. In some moments, “What” is more important than “Why”. I couldn’t have understood the detail of the consequences of following through on my intended actions, but I needed to know what to do and what not to do. But what about down the road? As an adult, why do I not do those same things I was once instructed in? It isn’t because “Daddy said so” anymore, but because as a man I understand the reasons and the wisdom behind what he once told me. In the midst of growth, I’ve recognized not just “What” dad told me to do, but “WHY” he told me.

Its easy to have the What figured out, and it seems that sometimes this foundation is accepted by many believers in Christian living. However, in life of a maturing follower of Christ, knowing simply just “What” IS NOT ENOUGH.

Understanding only the “What” of all that a follower of Christ is to do is relatively simple, but leads one dangerously close to a form of Legalism. This is not the “far-right legalism” that is found at “all those other churches.” No, this is a legalism founded in ignorance and even laziness, that can fester in each of our hearts. This legalism can be identified simply through reading through the Gospels, and taking a look at one of the common groups: the Pharisees. Before you lose your ability to connect with them, be reminded of this. The Pharisees had “the What” down. They nailed it, with a Marine-like dedication. The detail with which they did these things is remarkable and even admirable. And What they did was incredible! Lives devoted to service to God and giving of their possessions, What they did was great! The issue with the Pharisees is that they missed “the Why.” See, while the Pharisees had the What down pat, they were still dirt-bags. They They didn’t understand Why they did the What, and managed to forsake every principle behind the doing of the What.

Returning once to those childhood examples, my mother often would correct me, saying “doing the right thing with a disobedient heart is still sin.” If I cleaned my room with a disrespectful, unrighteous heart, I hadn’t pleased God. It is entirely possible to do the What and still be disobedient and displeasing to God.  What the Pharisees failed to realize was that there was a purpose, and we can fall into that trap as well. As we grow in our relationship with God, we must grow in our understanding of What He has called us to. Something more than just What. As followers of Christ, if we make our focus the What instead of the Why, we lose sight of His sacrifice. Our What must flow out of our Why, instead of being the end-all. Where the What becomes that end-all, is where legalism is found. A feeling of satisfaction or great accomplishment over the What, without growth, understanding, or focus in the Why brings us to that same point that the Pharisees arrived at: a misplaced sense of being right with God based on actions alone.

We miss the goal when we feel as though we have pleased God by doing only the What, and neglected Why He had us do them in the first place. Paul hammered home on this too in 1 Corinthians, pounding away at this group of believers who believed themselves to be mature as they argued over the things they could or couldn’t do. Instead of telling them the What as they had asked, he turns them to the Why. In 1 Corinthians 13, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” When we live pursuing Christ, our hearts are transformed. We are called to do the What not just for the sake of doing it, but because of its purpose. Doing the What is a testimony to the “hope that is within us.” The What is a reflection of the change that Christ has brought about in our hearts, not the change itself. The What will always be important, but until it flows out of the Why our deeds will be nothing more than that clanging cymbal. Empty Noise.

The Desert

This is the desert; the moments of your life when everything seems dry. You thought you knew what was coming next. You thought God was right there with you. But now, the road has led you to a treacherous place and the God you had believed to be holding your hand is no-where to be found.

What do you do? Who do you turn to? And how in the world can you make this terribly empty feeling go away?

The fact of the matter is that we aren’t always aware of God’s presence, and we shouldn’t expect to be! Did you know you aren’t the first person to feel this way? There are examples littered throughout Scripture of devout men of God who felt the same way. David, Solomon, Elijah, Job… they all spent phases wondering how God was really there with a plan, and sometimes they called Him out on it!

The most difficult thing about these situations is trying to comprehend the differences between the things you know and the things you feel. You think that you know God is there. You just don’t always feel His presence. You know that God is in control and does things for a purpose, though you don’t recognize it anymore. So, you keep at it. You read through the Word desperately, hoping that you feel something. You pray to what seems to be the ceiling. Your words feeling as though they are falling on deaf ears. You look back on previous times in your life and you ask yourself: “Was any of it real?” You’ve had highs, you’ve had lows, and you’ve spent a lot of time in between. Though now as you sit here feeling more alone then you ever have, you look for answers and pray somehow that you can make sense of it all…

Sound familiar? Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. But personally, I find these moments among the most challenging in my life. Recently, I had experienced two years of spiritual growth unlike any I had ever gone through, and I felt great. But as I came off of a second summer of ministry all of a sudden, without any warning, God wasn’t there anymore. At least, that’s what it felt like. While at other moments (even difficult ones) I felt God’s presence, at a seemingly mundane time it was gone… Now making it through daily life became difficult, a struggle in and of itself. I had thrived off of a keen awareness of His presence and had grown in that situation, but with the feeling of His presence gone I quickly began to flounder. I lost sight of His plan, His purpose, and my Hope.

So how do you handle these situations? What do you turn to, and most importantly: how do you carry on? :

  1. Truth is still true. Regardless of how you feel about it.

This certainly sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It’s almost a throwaway statement without any gravity to it at first glance. But if you think about this, it has the largest of impacts on your life! The most difficult thing about the desert is the fact that God doesn’t seem to be there… But He is! You just don’t feel it! I don’t need to list the many verses and passages that communicate this truth: HE WILL NEVER LEAVE US OR FORSAKE US. “But I don’t feel that way right now.” There certainly must be sympathy towards feelings and an understanding towards the resonance they have in the soul, but FEELINGS NEVER TRUMP TRUTH. They simply make it difficult to always see it for what it is. Sometimes one’s feelings make them more attuned to truth, while other times they cross all of the wires. It’s easy to feel as though truth is true when everything is going well! But when things go bad, we begin to doubt, because it doesn’t feel like its true anymore. But that does not diminish the fact that what was true then MUST still be true now. Because truth, God’s truth, never changes.

Truth never changes… As exemplified by an individual suffering from hypothermia. As their body is freezing and shutting down, one of the last stages is a flood of warm blood throughout their body. As this blood flows through, the victim feels overwhelmingly warm and often takes off their clothes. The truth is that they are freezing to death… yet their feelings tell them that they feel warm. While feelings are helpful, they never, ever ought to be considered more valuable than truth.

  1. Is there something wrong with us when we can’t feel His presence?

The short answer? Sometimes. The fact that we don’t feel God’s presence does not inherently mean that there are issues, though it can be a sign. Most commonly, we’ve lost sight of the truth and have begun to be overwhelmed with trying to hold the weight of the world on our shoulders. Examine your heart before the Lord in humility and see if this current feeling is revealing a problem in your spirit.

  1. What should our response be when we are in the desert?

The guidebook to living in the desert can be found in Habakkuk 3. At the end of the chapter, beginning in verse 17, Habakkuk says this: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, Yet. I will rejoice in the Lord. I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” In the midst of difficulty, fix your eyes on the truth of who God is and what He has done. It does not immediately solve the problem, but the promises (truth) of God tell us that He’s there, and that He reveals Himself to those who humble themselves before Him.

If you’re in the desert right now, fix your eyes on truth.

If you’re not, fill your heart with truth. You don’t know when you may make that journey and need something to hope in.

Don’t make the same mistake of one suffering from hypothermia and make decisions based on current feelings when truth reveals something else. You may freeze to death.

Scars

Scar tissue.

It was the summer of 2008, and I was having a heated conversation in my pastor’s office, with both him and my father. A month or so before, my dad had announced to the family that he would be taking a position with AWANA clubs International and sometime soon we would all be moving. I really had a hard time adjusting to the idea, and had begun to let my attitude reflect what was going on in my mind and heart. I had grown angry, defiant, and was just waiting for the right moment to blow up.

Both my dad and pastor saw this, and this particular afternoon they were making an impassioned plea for me to trust God and those He had put around me that loved me dearly. In my anger and defiance I looked at my pastor and told him “I don’t want His protection. I don’t want your protection. This is MY life and you’re all ruining it.” In that moment, I meant it with every ounce of my being… My pastor looked at me with a deep sadness and pain and responded much like this: “Kevin, one of these days you’ll make a decision and God will let you live with the consequences forever. It’s like scar tissue. The pain will go away, but there will always be a scar. A mark to remind you of the time you disobeyed God’s authority in your life. “

 

That night, the baseball team I played on was facing yet another loss. Being the oldest kid on the team, I took the role of being a leader very seriously and pushed myself to provide the heroics that I imagined they needed.  Late in the game I hit a fly ball to the right fielder… An easy out. I got to first and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the fielder drop the ball! My first base coach shouted triumphantly, and told me to stay. I looked at the fielder and the ball and then decided I knew better. I took off for second base. I shortly arrived at second, and immediately after, saw the ill-advised throw from the already maligned right-fielder scream past the shortstop covering the bag. I turned and saw my Head Coach, standing at third base telling me to stay. I didn’t even hesitate this time and took off for third. Yet again, I made it!  It’s a good thing I knew better than my coaches! How could he doubt me? I knew I could do it!

That’s exactly how I viewed the situation with my family moving. God, however well-intending He could claim to be, was over-stepping His bounds! I had everything figured out and could do it on my own! He was doubting me (a shot at my pride) and was denying me of something I viewed to be great!

Luckily for me, the play in my baseball game did not end there.

The shortstop threw the ball to third base in a desperate attempt to get me. And the third baseman dropped the ball! My coach, immediately sensing my intentions shouted “Kevin, no!” The ball stopped a few feet from third, and the gears started turning.

It would be close, and my coach clearly had told me not to, but I knew I could make it.

So in the ultimate act of defiance, I sprinted for home. I was two-thirds of the way there when the ball landed squarely in the catcher’s mitt, as he stood guarding home. My heart sunk as I realized that I was caught in a rundown… A nightmare for base runners. For a few panicked seconds I darted back and forth… Running towards third to see the ball beat me there, turning around only for the ball to beat me back at home. As I felt the fatigue wearing in, I turned and made one last effort to make it back to third base. I stretched out my left hand and moments before the ball got there, touched the base. Only a second later, as the third baseman caught the ball, he jumped into the air, landing with his metal cleats squarely on my hand. I laid on the dirt for a few seconds clutching my hand. His spikes had landed squarely on the middle knuckle of each of my fingers. I stood up and looked at my coach, who didn’t have much to say. I had ignored his wisdom, and had returned to where I had once stood with him before, with the wounds to show for me foolishness.

God had allowed me to experience the consequences of my choices, and had allowed me to return with a reminder to trust Him.

After the game I sat in the back of my family’s car examining my hand. Each of the knuckles was bleeding, and would eventually scab over. As I recalled my pastor’s words that morning I looked up  at my hand and said to myself: “Scar tissue.”

That was nearly 8 years ago… But the lesson has never been forgotten. We often attempt to take our world and lives into our hands. In pride we try to do things on our own and keep from admitting our desperate need for God.

We fail to realize that the weight of the world is too much for our frail shoulders to hold up. So we suffer under that burden until we see our need of God’s guidance and strength.

Every now and then, when we ignore God and try to take things into our hands, he allows us to experience the consequences of it. And though the pain will subside, the scars will never go away. I’m sure it is my imagination, but I still see the scars on my left hand.  A lasting reminder to trust God’s leading and to admit that I don’t know better than the Lord of the Universe.”

Some scars never go away…

But maybe that’s the way it was meant to be.

Filthy Rags

My 4 year old brother waddled into my family’s kitchen. I was around the age of 6, and was engaged in conversation with my mom (a highly intellectually stimulating conversation for her I’m sure). My mom slowly began to pay less attention to me and shift her focus to my brother Kaleb. He was sporting a very large grin (not uncommon for him in those days) and had his hands held behind his back. He slowly shifted back and forth on his feet, and eventually, once he was sure he had our attention, he held out his hand and proclaimed: “look!”  Inside his little hands, he clung to a tail, and dangling there was… a mouse. And a very dead mouse at that. He promptly stuck it out to show our mother his exciting find! How proud she must be! He had just found this wonderful looking thing dead in the other room on the floor! How great, right!? I won’t even attempt to begin to describe the face and noise that my mother made upon seeing it, but suffice it to say, it was glorious. Once she had overcome the shock of meeting Kaleb’s little friend, she quickly grabbed him and had him throw away his fun, new play-mate away in our trash can outside.

Last week in chapel here at Summit University, we sang a song that I first heard 6-7 years ago. It is called “Not What my Hands Have Done” or “Guilty Hands” by Aaron Keyes. The chorus begins with these words “These guilty hands are raised, filthy rags are all I bring.” Those words are so condemning, yet so true. They’re taken from Isaiah 64, where the prophet compares both his and his peoples’ righteous deeds to filthy rags or “polluted garments.”

Before salvation, we were all dead to sin. Dead. That implies the fact that we could do nothing. We were in bondage and could not overcome it, we had no power. But, Christ and His sacrifice on the cross paid the price for our sin, and now we are redeemed! End of story, yes? We now often times come before the throne of grace and cast all of the deeds we perform at our Savior’s feet as we smugly proclaim “look at what I did for you Lord.” AND IT IS SO TWISTED! On one hand, we as believers are doing things for Christ; but it is completely with the wrong perspective and an arrogant mindset! Perhaps we need to be reminded of our humble standing before God. We aren’t righteous before God because of our own standing, but because of what Christ did! When we were declared righteous, it was because when the Father looked at us, He saw Jesus Christ and His sacrifice! And that is still true in the deeds we perform today! Our “righteous” acts are made possible by Him! When we come before the God with all of the things that WE have done, we’re shoving nasty filthy rags in his face!!! Rags stained by our pride, anger, sin, and the nastiness of a depraved heart! We’re like my brother when he was 4, proudly displaying the dead mouse to my mother! Our righteousness is nothing. When we come before God and show Him the things that we think we have done, we’re only showing off the very dirty rags that reflect the old man

That song I mentioned earlier by Aaron Keyes? The chorus ends with this “now these holy hands are raised, washed in the fountain of Your grace. Now I wear your righteousness.” Our hands have been washed and covered by Christ. His grace has washed away or sin, our shame, our filth. It is through Him that we are made and declared righteous.

How could we ever again be proud of filthy rags if we recognize that Christ has washed us white as snow?

Why Grace is Amazing

I slammed my hands in frustration against the stone wall. The pain soon filling them was nothing compared to the pain that was filling my heart. The night in ministry had been flawless, up until when it had mattered most. I was out on the road with a group from my school. Our ministry: to lead the various ministries we visited in worship, and to serve them in whatever manner we could while we were present with them. That evening had gone off nearly perfectly. Musically, we had done well. The campers had seemed to respond well to the truths of the songs of praise. The camp speaker (a valued brother in Christ and encouraging man of God) had done a grand job. He had shared the account of the cross in a way that was relatable and grabbed your attention, but stayed keyed in on why Christ had to die. The teenagers, who for the majority of the week had shown that they could not have cared less about anything related to God, sat on the edge of their seats for the entirety of his message. Their ears listening intently and eyes following him as he walked around the room. We finished with another song and then went to our night activity. A cross experience. Where each camper and counselor would be able to walk around to different stations.  Each station represented something that Christ went through during His final days on earth. Sandals, to represent that He walked in the same shoes that you and I. 30 coins representing the price paid for the life of the Son of God. Rope to represent what he was tied with. A cross to represent His death. The night was moving, and an undeniable reminder of what Christ endured in the name of love and to redeem you and me, unworthy sinners. In my mind, the night of ministry had been flawless and I completely expected to see the fruits of our ministry in the anticipated conversation with the campers that night. The campers (and more importantly, God) had other intentions. I began to head back to the cabin, expecting to see the campers quiet and reflecting on the hard-hitting truth they had just seen. Instead, I was met by one of the counselors. He explained that, our boys had taken nothing seriously, and instead of going through to focus on the experience had instead gone through and tried to scare each other. They took nothing seriously, and after being caught were told to get ready for bed. After a brief conversation with the counselor I turned and headed into one of the buildings nearby to prepare myself to head to bed. Which brings us to the scene of my hands hitting the wall… In my eyes, the night of ministry had been perfect. Everything went right… We came in with good intentions and the desire to glorify God, but for some reason things didn’t work out. Why??? I slowly began to head back toward the cabin with much angst, frustration, and sadness in my heart and having no idea what in the world God was doing. And I wasn’t just angry, I was angry with God. We had done nearly everything well (which wasn’t always the case) and as far as I saw, God still wasn’t doing anything! How dare God do something like that?! I stalked back to the cabin, but after only a few steps I crossed paths with one of our campers. (For his anonymity, we’ll call him Josh) Josh hadn’t behaved like the other guys that week. He was always the odd man out. While the other boys were loud, outgoing, oft-obnoxious, and indifferent to the messages most night; Josh paid attention. He was quiet and reserved, but sat with us and would discuss things with us openly. He was quiet, but had a sweet spirit. I had completely forgotten about Josh when I had heard the report of the mischief that had taken place that evening. Josh hadn’t had anything to do with it, but found himself in the midst of a crowd that he really didn’t have much in common with. As we walked back to the cabin, I asked him what he thought of the message that evening and his experience. His response stood out to me: “it was good and meaningful, but I know He shouldn’t have done that.” I was a little surprised to hear that and asked Josh to explain a little more. Josh’s answer was this: “I know He shouldn’t have done that for me… Jesus shouldn’t have died on the cross for me. I don’t deserve that. Why would He die for me?”

Wow. In the midst of my grumbling and complaining with God, He had led me right into a conversation that youth pastors and others in ministry dream of having with teenagers. And I tried to answer Josh as best I could… And was surprised by the words coming out of my mouth… “You’re right Josh. You don’t.” In retrospect, I can’t believe I did that…But the conversation didn’t end there (Praise the Lord.) “You’re right Josh. You don’t. I don’t either. In fact, none of us do. And that’s the point.” For the next 2.5 hours, Josh and I talked about the Gospel. He had accepted Christ about 6 months earlier, but came out of a really rough situation and hadn’t fully come to grips with God’s grace. As Josh and I poured into the depths of the riches of the truths of God’s mercy, grace, and love.

See, the whole point of the Gospel is that we don’t deserve it! The whole point of the Gospel is that you and I have nothing to offer and nothing to bring!

That is why it is called AMAZING grace.

If we deserved what God gave us, it wouldn’t be mercy! It wouldn’t be love! And His sacrifice would lose what makes it beautiful, incredible, and ultimately His glory would not be shown as greatly. If we deserved to be loved, WHO CARES IF GOD LOVES US!!!! God’s glory is shown in the fact that we are dirty and undeserving.

The height of this is shown in the words of Paul in Romans 5… “Rarely will someone dies for a just person… for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die… But God shows His love for us in this: While we were STILL sinners, Christ died for us…” In Paul’s example and explanation, for a deserving person rarely does something like that ever happen! But we! WE! Sinners. Christ died for us. That is how He is glorified. That an almighty God would do something like that! And for those that did not deserve it!!! What a love! And THIS is why grace is amazing. THIS is why His love is divine. That the Creator of the Universe would give His life, for you and I…

Jesus Owns Me

Half-way through my summer, I was sitting in a crowded dining hall of Skyview Ranch in Millersburg, Ohio; listening to teenager after teenager get up and share what God had been doing in their lives and give Him the glory. It was a beautiful thing to watch. Students showing their heart for their Savior and proclaiming their  love for Him; but one testimony captured a spot in my mind that night and it is one that I will not soon forget. Near the end of the night, a boy around the age of 15 walked up to the stage and faced the crowd.

The boy was an average height for his age, quite thin, and wearing a Cleveland Cavaliers jersey that didn’t quite fit him. He was the kind of teen that didn’t really stand out from the rest. Not really one of the cool kids, nor very athletic, and he wasn’t known for his humor. In fact, he had gone through much of the week blending in. The counselor in charge of the event, Brennan, asked him the same words he had asked every other student that evening: “what do you want to give God the glory for tonight?” This boy’s voice soon filled the room as he shared that for the first time he had accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior that week! There was a round of applause and shouts of celebration across the room as we waited for him to step down. Many kids had accepted Christ that evening, and their testimony time often ended as soon as these words were spoken. However, this boy stayed… He looked out at us and begin to speak of how incredible God’s love would be to die on a cross for him even though he could never earn this and didn’t deserve it. But then, he said something that spoke of wisdom far beyond his years or anyone else’s in the room. “My life is not my own. Jesus died for me, and I would be willing to die for Him. I’ll do anything to serve my King.” He then beat his chest a few times times, and spoke three words that have rung in my ears since he first said them: “Jesus. Owns. Me.”

Jesus owns me. WOW.

We say we believe that sure, but do we live it?

If you have grown up in a situation anything like mine you heard the Sunday school lessons a thousand times, but that doesn’t mean the truth has translated over into your way of thinking. Surrounding the church is a culture that puts individuals and the elevation of self before anything else! It’s about our opinions, our plans, our future. Our feelings. Our desires. And we as believers often fall into the trap of forgetting that we are not our own. This life is not, never was, and never will be about us. This life is not about us and our desires. For “we are not our own, having been bought with a price.” My life is no longer meant to fulfill my desires, but to live for Christ. In the words of Paul “For I have been crucified with Christ. And it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Because no man can serve 2 masters! It is impossible for us to be “living for Christ” yet still focused on our own selves. They are mutually exclusive states. One cannot be true when the other is. It is either a life for Christ and Him crucified, or a life for ourselves and our desires.

Me, the old me, the individual, was put to death alongside of Christ at the cross. What lives now? Christ, in me. His will, His desires, and His glory. And it is all you or I can do to get our huge egos and consuming pride out of the way and point everything to the One who has paid the price. To live our lives recklessly abandoned for the purpose and glory of our Lord and Savior.

Let us have this mind among ourselves: overcome by his love and the majesty of our gracious God, comprehending the Truth. “Jesus Owns Me.”