Do The Work of an Evangelist

Jason:

Help spread the word about a new book from JourneyBits author Aurea Lewis.

Originally posted on journeybits:

2 Timothy 2:5 – But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

I had been struggling these last couple of months about starting a book campaign. The Lord had called me to write a book. I felt that if I promoted the book, I would be bragging. I felt that I would be shunned by the people for promoting the work God called me to do. Then on the other end, I thought that I wasn’t supposed to promote the book but that God would send someone to promote it for me. I felt since He called me to write it, He would send it out to those He prepared to receive it.

Ha! God must have laughed and shook His head at me. I could see Him sitting on His throne chuckling at the thoughts going through…

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New Friends and Free Books

I spend a lot of time on Twitter.

Through my twitter trolling and reading blog posts from sites like Sojourners, I stumbled onto this:

A Thread Called Grace” by Jonathan Merritt

I first met Jonathan on Twitter. Honestly, he was on a long list of “recommended” people to follow. I just clicked his name without really knowing who he was. In fact, he may have followed me first

In this excerpt from his newest book Jesus is Better Than You Imagined, Jonathan confesses with exceptional courage his struggles with sexuality that began after he was sexually abused when he was 7 by an older boy in his neighborhood. The abuse happened several times and Jonathan kept it secret out of fear, shame, and pure traumatic shock. The experience, he says, “singed a part of my soul in a way I can’t explain.”

But the article isn’t really about Jonathan’s sexual abuse. It isn’t about his struggles with sexuality. It isn’t about the scandal that almost happened when he was later caught up in an intimate moment with another guy.

It’s about grace.

God’s grace. Grace offered to each of us, in spite of our circumstances, regardless of our faults and follies.

It is about a fact that rings painfully true: Secrets keep us from accepting the full grace of God. [Tweet this!]

Jonathan says,

Secrets draw their power from shame. I convince myself that I am too messed-up, too tainted, or too tarnished for others to accept. Or maybe people will think I am a fraud. As I believe these lies, shame grows into fear, which is almost always at some level, fear that if others truly know me, they won’t love me. Or at least love me as much or in the same way.

How often does fear lock us into place because we are worried what others will think? When we make a mistake, when we sin against God and against others, how often do we hide behind a mask, as Jonathan says, in fear someone will discover our secret, dig up the dirt, unveil our true self?

Jonathan even mentions the story from Genesis when Adam and Eve hid from God because they were ashamed.

But God already knows our secrets. You can’t hide from God. If (when) you come out of hiding, you might even find God may be working through your struggle to make something amazing happen. He may be asking you to trust Him more and give up your shame and fear and self-sufficient attitude so that He can transform you  from the inside out by showing you who you truly are: a child of God.

In my favorite quote from this excerpt, Jonathan says this:

“As it turns out, sometimes God lets our house burn down so we can better see the sun rise.”

Fear, shame, those things that give us pause and make us reluctant to let go and be who God intends us to be, they keep us from accepting the forgiveness of God that was proven through the death, burial, and resurrection of His son Jesus.

We are redeemed. We are forgiven. We are made new. We are children of God. [Tweet this!]

So, it’s obvious Jonathan’s story shook me until my eyes became so wet it was tough to focus on the screen.

A few days later, I learned that one of my other Twitter friends, Margaret Feinberg (see the button for Margaret’s blog on the right of my home page), was giving away a copy of Jesus is Better. Everyone knows I love giveaways, especially book giveaways, so I entered.

I didn’t expect to win. I hardly ever win.

Today, after a tough morning and a battle with allergies, I decided to double-check Margaret’s blog and see who the lucky winners were.

“Congratulation, Jason.” My first thought was There’s another Jason. It’s not me. But sure enough, I was a lucky winner. This actually makes the second book I have won, written by someone I met through Twitter. Last month I won a signed copy of Jeff Goins’s The In-Between.

I love the Internet. I love Twitter. Even though real life friendships and fellowship with neighbors and fellow believers is most important, it is a blessing to find a way to connect with others who are in the struggle to serve Christ, to live in (and by) the grace of God, and to reach out to those who need to know that we are not alone, we are not damaged, we are not forgotten.

We are loved. We are accepted. We are children of God. 

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Latest Sojo column: 7 Reasons God Just Might Be Psyched about the Millennial Generation

Jason:

This is an excellent article about a generation of believers who are changing the face of Christianity… and that just might be what God intends.

Originally posted on Tyler J. Francke:

Originally published onSojourners’ God’s Politics blog.

Millennials are the worst generation ever, a recent study by the Pew Research Center confirmed. The other generations already knew that, of course, but the study has given them new insights into what characterizes me and my fellow Millennials beyond “They freaking love Starbucks” and “They refuse to move out of my basement.”

The study’s revelations include that we’re not making all that much money, we have tons of debt, we’re racially diverse and we use the Internet a lot (curiously absent was the fact that 97 percent of us do not like being broadly defined or labeled or otherwise demographed). We also tend to shun institutions, including religious ones, at rates far surpassing our parents and grandparents.

This last little detail has not escaped the notice of conservative media outlets, whose reactions have ranged from cautious reserved judgment to something bordering…

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What is Love? Love Is…

Nearly everyone, Christian or not, has heard the famous “Love is…” verses from 1 Corinthians 13. But in case you’re not familiar, here it is:

         “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does               not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being                           wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins               out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through             every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

To quickly put the passage into context, Paul is talking about love of all kinds for all people. Before these famous verses, Paul says that if he could speak every language on earth and in heaven, if he could prophesy, if he had faith big enough to move mountains, if he gave up everything he had including his own body to care for the poor, he could brag about it, sure. But if none of that was done out of love, then it would all be worthless. It would all be wasteful noise that meant nothing.

Simply put, an act of love without love is just an act. [Tweet that!]

We sometimes think we know what love is. For years I was pretty sure I knew what love was. I had the formula in my head. Spend time with somebody. Start to like being with them. Want to spend more time with them. Get intimate. Fall in love. Make the love stronger by spending more time with and buying nice things for each other. Share stuff, like ice cream and possessions. Eventually get married and move in together (or vice versa).

My views of love and marriage were flawed and even fatal. My expectations for my wife were unrealistic and unfair. Early in our marriage, I don’t think I even worried about my own expectations. Spend time with her. Buy her stuff. Get intimate. I had it figured out, right?

After feeling that my marriage was breaking apart one piece at a time and realizing I was to blame, along with renewing my faith in God and studying my bible more I began to work on rebuilding my wife’s faith in me.

I read about a challenge online. They suggested reading 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and replacing the word “love” with your own name. If your friends, your family, your wife, your children wouldn’t make those sort of statements about you, then were you truly showing love? Even worse, would they disagree with any of those statements?

Jason is patient.

I could make all the excuses in the book about ADHD and hating to wait, but according to Paul patience is a critical element of love.

Jason is kind.

Well, I try to be. But sometimes my mouth works faster than my brain. And sometimes what I need is more important at the moment than what someone else might need. This has to change.

Jason is not jealous or boastful or proud.

These three are lumped together because they point to the same problem. Do I try to make myself seem better than others by constantly bragging or “one-upping” them? How many times have I said, “Well, that’s cool. But I…”  Answer: Too many.

Jason is not rude.

Uh oh. This is getting painful. I don’t think I like this challenge anymore.

Jason does not demand his own way.

Um…

Jason is not irritable.

Lord help me, this one stings. I can’t blame my parents. I can’t blame my circumstances. The truth is I have a temper and I need to control it.

Jason keeps no record of being wronged.

I bring up and point out others’ mistakes like I have a ledger on my heart. And when I’m at my worst I know which wrongs hurt the most when mentioned.

Jason does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.

I really, really wish I could say I’ve never uttered the words, “Well, you probably deserved it,” or “It’s your own fault,” when other people talk about their problems. But I have…

So as you can see, this is a convicting and even agonizing challenge. The first time I took this challenge I felt defeated early on.

And then I read verse 7 and again replaced my name.

Jason never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

I don’t remember if I cried when I did this exercise or not, but looking at it now I’m struggling to keep my composure. I view these last four as words of hope from Paul. It’s almost like Paul is saying, “I know loving people like this is so difficult it hurts, but don’t stop, don’t give up… ever… no matter what.”

In the struggle to love others, never give up, never lose faith, be hopeful,                                and endure every circumstance. [Tweet that!]

In the pursuit of being the best husband and father I can be, it will be a challenge to be patient and kind, to not be jealous or boastful or proud, to not be irritable or keep records of being wronged, and to not rejoice in the failures or injustices of others but rejoice when the truth wins out.

But I must never give up, never lose faith, be hopeful, and endure every circumstance.

If you love your wife, display these qualities every chance you get. You can’t do it on your own, which is why we need Jesus to change our hearts and make us strong enough to be transformed by His love and His mercy.

I’m not perfect. I’m a difficult person to live with. But I do have hope.

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An atheist who prays…REALLY???

Jason:

Some wise words from my friend Kenneth Justice. Check out his blog and follow him on Twitter for more great reads: @culturemonk

Originally posted on The Culture Monk:

chicago 4

By Kenneth Justice

There’s so much turmoil in the world and in my life. I graduated college in 2008, the housing bubble burst and I’ve never felt very much stability” she said

Last week in Chicago during my Drinking in the Culture Tour I met a late 20ish woman who brought up the subject of prayer, “Both of my parents are hardcore atheists, but I found that I feel much better about my life if I pray before I go to bed at night” she told me

How did you learn to pray” I asked, “Do you have religious friends, Christian, Muslim or something that taught you about god?

Nope” she said, “I’ve never really had any Christian friends at all. I guess when I was a teenager I just noticed people praying in movies or on television and…

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Marriage is Difficult… and That’s Why It’s Awesome

I’m a difficult person to live with.

I’m forgetful, hyperactive, and my moods sometimes change with the wind. Some days I’m so grumpy it’s intolerable. Other days I’m so hyped-up it’s annoying. My habits and hobbies come and go like friends on vacation. I open my mouth before my brain warns me to stop. I am a mess.

But somehow, almost seventeen years ago, I met a woman who was willing and able to put up with all of that mess and love me anyway.

One of my daily habits is to start my wife’s car before I leave for work. Obviously in the winter I turn on the defrost and crank up the heat so the van is good and warm for her when she is ready to leave. Sometimes, though, I rush out without starting her car. Or I turn the engine but forget to turn on the heat. A few days when the weather was warm in the afternoon I forgot that the air conditioner was on and just started the car. I can only imagine how frigid it must have been inside when my wife was ready to leave. My wife called me later, laughing, and told me that our baby had said, “My deet told! My deet told!”

Somehow, almost seventeen years ago, I met a woman who could laugh at my mistakes and love me anyway.

I struggle to be the best husband I can be. I read what the Bible says about marriage and I struggle. But when I read what Jesus says about love, true sacrificial unconditional love… that I can do.

I’m not a marriage counselor. But in light of what the statistics say about marriage and divorce, I’m blessed to say that my wife and I have been married for almost fourteen years. Like any marriage, there have been bumps along the way, some of them bigger and more damaging than others, most of them (nearly all of them) my fault.

And yet somehow I live with a woman who loves me just as I am while empowering me and encouraging me to be a better man.

I don’t know the secret to a happy marriage, if there even is one. But I decided a few years ago that most of the bumps I was causing and mistakes I was making were because I was taking my cue for a successful marriage from the wrong places.

Culture says marriage should be 50/50. For years I bought into this idea. I have my chores. She has hers. If I rub her feet, she should rub mine, too. The problems came when I would do my chores but because she was busy or tired her “share” of the chores would be neglected. So either at her request or because it needed to be done, I would do her share. Or on days when I was tired or busy, I would neglect my chores and she would do them for me. Sometimes marriage felt more like 60/40 or 70/30.

If you expect your marriage to be 50/50, you will be disappointed. [Tweet That!]

After hiding feelings of resentment and frustration, my attitude changed. My grumpiness got worse. I snapped at my wife with snarky comments like, “Why don’t you do it?” I made excuses for not caring for her needs, nasty ones like, “Well, you won’t rub my back so why should I rub your feet?” But, I must confess, if I neglected my “half” of the relationship, she rarely complained and almost never snapped at me in similar ways.

This kind of attitude destroys marriages. I could feel it. We argued almost every day about foolish things, problems that might seem funny on a sitcom like King of Queens but are actually not funny at all in a real household.

I could feel it. Because I knew how much my wife loved me and how much I love her and because I believed in our marriage, I knew something had to change.

That something was me.

You see, almost seventeen years ago I met a woman who somehow loves me just the way I am, while inspiring me to want to be a better person every day. What I wanted at the time was a wife who would carry her “share” of the marriage. 50/50, right?

But I couldn’t shake off what the Bible says about husbands and wives… “the two shall become one flesh.” When a man takes a woman to be his bride, she becomes one with him. And he becomes one with her.

Marriage is not 50/50. That measurement divides the two into halves. They are not two halves of one whole. They are one whole. Together. Same. Equal.

I’m still not perfect (far from it). I raise my voice more often than I should. I get distracted and neglect important things. But after recognizing that I was the problem, I made some changes. Keep in mind that this is an evolving list and as our relationship grows deeper, so does this list:

  • Do chores when they need done, especially when I know she’s exhausted.
  • Give frequent foot and back rubs, especially when I know she’s had a rough day.
  • Leave little notes that remind her how much I love her.
  • Tell her every day, in different and specific ways, how beautiful she is.
  • Make her laugh as often as I can, because her smile is so much more beautiful than her frown.
  • Ask her about her day, even if she doesn’t ask about mine.
  • Cook for her.
  • Run errands for her.
  • Hug her and kiss her before I leave the house.
  • Take her side and defend her, even if she may be wrong (which isn’t often).
  • Don’t yell at her (this one is my weakness).
  • Never insult her.

This is not about changing my wife, not about making her love me more, and not about expecting her to do some of these things for me, although those things may happen. This is about honoring my wife because she deserves it and because she is my wife.

And because of this:

“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25

“Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.” Colossians 3:19

“In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who  loves his wife loves himself.” Ephesians 5:28

What is changing is my own attitude. I have always loved my wife. But looking back I think that at first my love came with conditions, expectations, pressures. But now, with God’s help, I love my wife completely, unconditionally.

And because almost seventeen years ago I met a woman who loves me just the way I am, while inspiring me to be the kind of man God has asked me to be.

Marriage is not 50/50. Real, true marriage is 100% togetherness, oneness, wholeness, unity. [Tweet that!]

I leave you with the famous “Love is…” verses from 1 Corinthians 13. In my next post I’ll share with you my challenge to apply these to every relationship you have, but especially to your marriage.

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

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White As Snow

If there is one thing that will make you feel like you’re in the minority, it’s a love of snow.

Sunday, the snow started falling in our area and by early Monday morning there was 3-5 inches on the ground. I watched it from my living room window as fat flakes dropped heavily for a few hours, blanketing the ground with white. As I skimmed Facebook statuses, most of them said the same thing.

“I’m so tired of snow.”

“I hate snow.”

“Where is Spring?”

“It’s March. Why is it snowing?”

So, being the trouble-maker and pot-stirrer that I am, I had to chime in with my own status:

“You can complain if you want, but from where I sit the snow is beautiful.”

I understand the frustration, though. This has been an exceptionally snowy winter. Although we’ve had it better that most of the northeast, every eastern snowstorm this year has hit us with a wintry mix of ice and snow.

I am very lucky. When the weather is at its worst, I usually don’t have to go to  work. School is cancelled, I get to stay home, as does my wife. But there are a lot of people (the majority, actually) who have no choice but to brave the icy/snowy roads to get to work on time.

So I understand the dislike of snow. But I have deep reasons for loving it so much, reasons that reach all the way back to childhood and even deeper into my gratitude for God’s grace and love.

When I was a kid, winter was my favorite season. Every chance I had I was outside in the snow, rolling in it, throwing snowballs, building snow forts. But my favorite winter activity was hiking through the woods with my grandfather. There is a stillness in the woods when the ground is covered with a blanket of snow. Even now, if school is canceled I bundle up and head into the woods for a few hours.

But mostly, it is these two verses that locks snow tightly in a spot in my heart:

“Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.” Isaiah 1:18 NLT

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7

A few years ago I went with a friend to his camp in Pocahontas County, WV. We were spending a November weekend relaxing, fishing, and hiking the Monongahela National Forest. Saturday afternoon, temperatures were in the 60′s. Sunday morning, the ground was covered with about two inches of snow. My friend decided (since were were missing church) to have a morning devotional and prayer service right there at the camp. I don’t remember what the devotional was about, but I remember one small bit of my buddy’s prayer:

“Lord, let’s not miss the symbolism of the snow you put on the ground to what your blood did for our heart, when you washed our sins away and made us white as snow.”

I thank that friend. For choosing the right words at the right time. For having a knowledge of God’s Word and the wisdom to know when to use it. I spent the rest of that day just paying attention to the pure whiteness of the snow on the ground and thinking about the blemishes and scars that were on my heart before I met Jesus. And once I accepted Jesus, according to His Word, I am washed whiter than snow.

Or, as another Psalm put it, my sins are separated as far as the East is from the West. Geographical fact: East will never touch West. You cannot travel East and eventually reach West.

No matter what I have done, the blood of Jesus is powerful enough to wash my sins and make me whiter than snow. To separate my sins as far from me as the East is from the West.

I love snow because of what it symbolizes. I look forward to winter because I know that once again the ground is going to be covered with snow.

I look forward to the reminder that my Heavenly Father loves me enough to wash my sins and make my heart white as snow.

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