RSS

Tag Archives: Romans

My Time Travel Testimony

No, this isn’t my latest theory on what the LOST island was.  No, not about my slight obsession with quantum physics ideas on time travel.  And no, not my fan-fiction screenplay for Back to the Future 4.  No, no.  This is the story about how this January God broke through the walls I had built between him and I over the last few years, and how he completely changed my view of my life.

To do this justice, let me tell you what I thought was my testimony…then I will tell you how God flipped that on its head in my own words from the morning that he did.

I was born in a Christian home.  I have two older brothers, a brother that is only 356 day younger, and a sister that is three years younger.  My parents were great at really trying to raise us the best they new how and really tried to seek God and his will for our family.  I like to quote a Rick Mullins song and say, “They worked to give faith hands and feet and somehow gave it wings.”

When I was six, I went to vacation Bible school at our church.  I remember two things from that week.  I remember earning enough “points” to get a stuffed animal camp, and I remember being scared about going to hell.  We were all in the sanctuary of the church.  They asked if we knew where we would go if we died tonight, and if not we needed to raise our hand.  I was real afraid that my destination would be hell, so my hand went up.  I was wisked away to the pastor’s study with several other kids, who I am guessing were hell-ophobic too.

Someone, the pastor I think, told us about Jesus dying for our sins.  He led us through a prayer.  He said we were going to heaven.  I got a Snickers bar…I remember that because I could not eat it.  I was allergic to chocolate when until second grade.  That’s okay.  It was the hell thing that I was worried about.  Whew!  I was glad that was taken care of.

The next thing I remember on this issue was a few weeks later.  I remember asking my mom why I did not feel different.  Why didn’t I feel nicer?  Peaceful?  Joyful?  She said that would come with time and not to worry about.  Okay.  I’ll wait.

I tried really hard to be good.  I tried really hard to do what I thought God wanted me to do…a theme that carried on for the rest of my life (even now).  I tried to be the best Joe for God that I could be.

When I was nine I decided the I needed to be baptized.  I felt a tug on my heart.  I walked forward at church.  Talked with the pastor, and since I prayed the prayer already I thought it was time for the next step of commitment.  My Uncle David is a pastor, we decided to do it at his church.  He walked me through it all again, and then I took the plunge (yes, pun intended).

From that point on, my life revolved around pleasing God.  Living for God.  I went through A LOT of struggles that I won’t get into right now, I “rededicated” my life a few times, but my focus was usually on trying to make God happy with my life.

That led to feeling a calling into ministry.  I went back and forth between missions and youth ministry.  When the time came, I wound up at a Southern Baptist college studing “Christian Studies”…or for those who don’t know what this means, it is like a Pre-Pastor degree before seminary (like pre-law or pre-med).  During college I worked my first two summers at a Christian Camp called Look-Up Lodge, the next summer I did missions in New Mexico, and then, through a long series of events, wound up back at Look-Up for my post-college summer.

That summer I really felt was a turning point in my relationship with God.  From that point on, my life was no longer about “making him happy” but about growing in relationship with him and serving him because of love for him and for others.  I still had many struggles, but there was a change.  I could talk to him.  I could vent to him.  And he would speak to me.  He would comfort me.

Now in the last few year, I grew a little lazy.  Paul was right in the Bible when he said that once you are married it is hard to devote yourself to God.  You are divided.  Once I got married, I started to have less and less of a reliance on God and our relationship cooled a bit.  Even more so once my son was born.  I think my relationship with him staled a good bit.

This January I was challenged by this.  I knew something had to give.  Something my community group leader from church said made me want to do something.  I don’t remember what it was, and I don’t know if he knows he spurred a change in me, but the next day I knew I needed to get up and read the Bible.  I did.  I started in Romans because I know God usually uses it to speak to me.  That was Monday.  Thursday of the same week was when God took a sledgehammer to my heart and started moving furniture.

These our my words from January 21, 2011:

“I was shown this morning that I did not really accept Christ until my summer after college working at Look-Up Lodge. I just did not really understand my need for Christ until then. I knew about Christ and lived my life trying to serve him, but I did not truly understand his sacrafice for my sins until that summer.

It has been hard for me to realize this because I have been a “Christian” since I was six.  I know now that I really did not understand enough for this to be true.  I lived most of my life trying to “please God” and earn his favor.  But that is not Christianity!  Reading through Romans 5-7 showed me that this morning.

That summer at camp, we were working through the holiness of God and learning about the impossibility of us living up to that holiness.  Our sinfulness can not even be in the presence of his holiness.  We need our sin to be covered.  Only Jesus’ sacrafice on the cross taking the wrath for our sins covers them.  That summer I really started to understand this and find much needed freedom in this.  I am free from having to earn my favor in God’s sight.  It was already won for me.

I even had a vision one night during worship where I was in the throneroom of God…and I felt the total weight of my sinfulness.  I really felt like I should be dead compared to his holiness.  I fell down in the vision.  Jesus picked me up and presented me to God.  The weight of my sin was lifted.

I always thought that was just God reminding me of my salvation.  This morning he showed me (after humbling me) that WAS my salvation experience.  Thank you, Jesus!

Such a weight has been lifted this morning, because I have really struggled with understanding my salvation.  I know I am saved by the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I just have been confused about the changes I have seen in my thought processes over the years and having security in my salvation.  God cleared that up for me, and freedom abounds in that.

Now I need to get baptized and symbolically die to sin.  This is something I know I have needed to do (I did not understand really what I was doing when baptized as a kid), but I just needed clarity on it all.  I have that.  I am going to get baptized the next time they do it at my church (not at the end of this month, I am too late to sign up).

It has taken a lot of my pride to be broken down to come to this. But it is awesome, because it shows that God worked through me even before I truly was a Christian! Anyway, I just had to share.”

God has done a ton in my life since then.  He has brought people, books, and lessons that I needed to grow.  I was baptized on Easter this year (AWESOME to indentify with Jesus’ death and resurrection on that day!).  It has been hard to review my life through this lens, but now so much makes sense.

I will probably write more on this another time (the stuff from my past that makes sense now), so I won’t get into it now.  This post is long enough!

I just listened to an awesome sermon by Timothy Keller called The Prodigal Sons, and this totally summed up my life before I became a Christian.  I was the elder brother.  Please check this sermon out.  It is so good.  So different than most teaching on this passage.  Jesus is the true elder brother!

What do you think?  What is your story?  Have you ever had the change over where it no longer is about “pleasing God” to being about “loving God”?

Performancing Metrics

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Chronicles of OneCupOfJoe: The Lion, The Snake, and The Crawl Space

I will start by telling you about my mixed relationship with snakes.  When I was young, like most boys, I thought snakes were awesome.  I loved them.  They were right up there with dinosaurs.

That was until my first brush with an actual snake on my own.  We lived in upstate South Carolina at the time (my dad was a Marine and we moved around a bit).  I was in our downstairs area looking through some boxes and…a small dead snake.  My older brother convinced me it was a baby copperhead (one of the few poisonous snakes in the area).  Suddenly I was scarred with reguards to snakes.  I no longer felt the same way.  From that point on, I was a bit freaked out by them, or at least the idea of encountering them in the “wild.”  Sidenote: I have come to realize that the snake I found was actually a ring-neck snake.  They are small non-venomous snakes.

This was only compounded several years later when I was in late middle school/early high school.  We were living in Northern Virginia and Mr. Paul, who worked with the youth at our church, took the boys for a nature hike in the woods.  He told us to look out for animals, and specifically snakes.  I was, of course, on high alert.  We broke off into groups, and as the oldest one there I lead one of the groups.  We were walking around and saw something towards the pond.  As we were walking, a couple of the guys said, “Look out!”

SNAP!  Right at my heal was the snapping jaws of a black snake that barely missed me.  Though I know now it is the wrong idea and potentially dangerous if the snake were poisonous, we ran away.  The snake did not persue, but my fear did.  I was now even more afraid.

A few months later, almost the same exact thing happened again as my brother and I walked home from the pool.  The side walk went partially through the woods.  We stopped to pick some honeysuckles, and TD (my brother) yelled.  SNAP!!  Jaws of a black snake next to my leg barely missing.  Only this time we did the proper thing and backed away slowly (our dad had talked to us about what to do when we encounter snakes).

Anyway, these experiences have lead me to an unhealthy fear of snakes.  I hated the idea of them.  I love hiking, but was always uneasy about the snakes I knew were out to get me and usually anxious about the prospect of coming across one.

At some point, I don’t remember when, I decided to try to learn all that I can about them.  As watching G.I.Joe taught me, “Knowing is half the battle.  Yo Joe!”  It seemed that the more I learned about the creatures, the less I worried about them.  I even got to the point during one of my college summers working at a camp that I found a ring-neck snake and played with it instead of running.  I knew it would not hurt me.  The fear was going away.  I started to not even be afraid of the poisonous kind.

That was until recently.  Two years ago this month, my wife, son, and I moved into a house with a pond out back and woods near by.  Snakes were not on my radar at this point until one day when we were getting ready to go to our church small group.  I was holding a cake in one hand and my son’s infant car seat (with him in it) in the other.  As I was walking up the steps to our upper driveway, I heard the familiar SNAP!  I looked down to see a coiled snake just out of reach from my leg.  I bounded up the steps and called out to LA not to come up.  Our neighbor heard me yell.  He came out and was we were both looking at the snake, it went under the steps.  He told me that he was pretty sure that it was a copper head.  My old fear returned.  It was not about me this time, but it was about my family.  It was my job to protect them.

I was freaked out about the prospect of snakes living around our house.  I started to encourage the neighborhood cats to hang out in our yard by putting out treats for them!  I was told that they discourage snakes.  And I guess it worked.  It was almost a year of peace before the issue came up again.

When we move into the house, the door to the crawl space (the space under your house) was warped.  This caused huge gaps.  I knew that this allowed a potential for things to make a home under the house.  It made our list of things to work on, but there were so many other things that got higher priority (it was a foreclosed house and needed a bit of work…still does), so I put it off.  I all but forgot about it, until I had to mow (I kept the mower down there).

Late last summer or early fall, I decided to make one last attempt at mowing and hoped it was the end of the mowing season.  When I opened the door to the crawl space, my old “snake sense” was at high alert (as it usually was when I opened that door).  This time, I was glad…because this time there were beady little eyes staring at me!

I tried not to freak out.  I tried to keep my wits.  I looked at the snake.  It did not move much or coil up.  It was alive, but it was still enough to let me get a good look.  I looked it over and was pretty sure it was not a copper head or any other kind of poisonous snake (thanks to my self-taught snake expertise).  I went and got my shovel anyway (something I bought after the last close encounter of the snake kind).  I poked it with the shovel.  Nothing.  I tried again.  It just looked at me.  Definitely not an agressive snake.  I probably should have left it alone.  I didn’t.  I know my wife.  She would not be jazzed about knowing about a snake living under our house.  I killed it.

Becuase of this experience, and my wanting to protect my family from snakes, the crawl space door gained some priority points.  My dad and I, mostly my dad, replaced the door.  No gaps anymore!  Something that I should have done a long time ago.

Which brings me to my point.  Earlier this year, I went through a study called The Lord’s Table (a really awesome study about our relationship with food…check it out if this is an issue for you).  As a part of it, you reflect on the teaching and Bible passages.  One day in March, I was reminded of me and the snakes, and it is the perfect analogy for sin.  Here are the verses that brought this to mind:

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it”. Genesis 4:7

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” 1 Peter 5:8-9

For me, a lion prowling does not evoke fear.  That is not a part of my reality.  I have never experienced a lion outside of a zoo.  I need something more real.  Something like snakes.

You see, to me, throughout my life snakes have been something out to get me.  Always lurking.  Always waiting.  I need to be on the look out.  I need to take serious steps to protect my family.  I need to study them.  I need to understand them.  I need to “know my enemy.”

Why don’t I take sin this seriously?  I need to view sin like I view snakes.  I need to view the devil (and his desire for me to give into sin) like a snake.  Out to get me.  Something to take seriously.  Something to take steps in order to protect my family.

Why do I let sin live in my house?  Why do I invite it in through the TV through the internet.  And I am not talking about the major obvious stuff, I am talking about the stuff that we take lightly, like primetime network TV.  I do not take the steps to make sure there are “no gaps” that let the devil, the snake, into my life and family.

I need to wake up and take this seriously.  Sure “Glee” is a great show, but do I need those thoughts and ideas in my mind and in my house?  “House” is great, but the same thing applies.  Even my favorite, “The Office.”  Should I be so inviting?

It is more than just TV, but it is a great one to think about.  I take it so lightly.

I know it is a constant struggle for us all.  What do you think?  What are your snakes?

Lord, please help me.  I can’t do this on my own!  Help me to view the things you hate as snakes that I need to protect myself and my family from.  Please help me, Father, to “replace the crawl space door” of my heart so I stop leaving room for the snakes to come in.  Please, Jesus.  Help me.  Amen.

Performancing Metrics

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 1, 2011 in Sin

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Debt-Limits, Deficits, and the Paul Plan

http://media.syracuse.com/news/photo/9827123-large.jpg&w=275&h=253&ei=jw4wTsiAL8ragQfB6r3mCg&zoom=1

Before you skip this blog because you think it is going to be about politics, please consider reading.  Politics is not the point.  God gave me a pretty cool spiritual insight based on all of the debate going on in our government.  Please read on to the end…there is a point!

For those of you who may live under a rock, let me rehash the current dilemma in the Ole USA.  The government is currently running at a sizable deficit (fancy talk for more money being spent than is being brought in).  Though, most families in our country are living in a deficit, spending slightly more than we are making (i.e. credit card and loan payments being a reality), our country is spending a lot more than it is making.  Which brings us to the predicament that is eating up most of the “news hour” on any given station.

With a lot more money going out than coming in, just as I mentioned is the case for most American families, Uncle Sam (the US Government) has run up a large debt (in the sum of trillions of dollars) through borrowing money (like the aforementioned loans most families have to pay on).  The only problem is that our loan payments are compounding the “money going out” issue.  Roughly 40 cents of every dollar that goes to our government is sent back out as interest on the loans it has taken out, and that doesn’t count any money to pay off the debt or payments to other government programs and obligations.  To be able to pay all we need to pay, the government has to take out more loans and run up a bigger debt (which, yes you guessed it causes bigger payments to be paid and more interest owed).

At some point in US history (I am not sure when), Congress decided to put a “cap” on how much debt our country can have.  It takes an act of Congress to raise this “cap”.  This is the “debt limit” you keep hearing about.  The current debate is whether or not to raise this limit, how to increase revenues (money coming in), and how to cut spending (and everything that comes along with this).  The republicans want to increase the limit by the smallest possible increment, not raise any taxes, and drastically cut spending.  The democrats want to increase the limit as much as possible, raise taxes for revenues, and only cut spending on what can be done without affecting many people who rely on government programs.  I am not going to chime in on my thoughts on this, this is not my reason for writing today.

God used this whole government issue, along with something from the Bible, to speak to me in a pretty profound way this morning.  Okay, get your Bibles ready: Romans 3:9-19 and Romans 6 (yes, the whole chapter).

Here is the thing.  We are all up to our eyeballs in debt to God.  Sin (falling short of who God is and what he expects…or as Watchman Nee said it is the act of leaving God’s path) puts us at odds with God.  Sin makes us have to pay a price to be made right with him…the price to pay is our “debt”.  Every sin deepens the hole we have to dig out of.  Every time we “fall short” of who God is, we are even more indebted to him.

A lot of people think, “Alright, then I will just live right and do the right things from now on.”  This is a GREAT endevour…but it does nothing to make any of our “debt payments” to God.  Not sinning will only keep us from getting deeper into debt.  Even if you could spend the rest of your life as godly as God expects, you still have a price to pay.  The first half of Romans 6:23 says that, “The wage of sin is death.”  We owe God death.  You can’t pay for that by not sinning anymore.  You can’t.  And, unfortunately, the bad news is that even death does nothing to make us “right with God.”  It only pays our sin debt.

We can try to stop sinning, go to church, give all of our money to the poor, go to another country and tell others about Jesus, or anything else you can think of to try to balance your debt, but it won’t work.  The payment is still due and you aren’t impressing God.  The only way for the debt to be paid AND allow us to be right with God is for someone who doesn’t have to pay the debt for themselves to pay it for you.  To die for you.

Tadaa!  That is why Jesus, God’s son (fully God and fully man), had to come, live, and die for you.  He did not sin.  He did not have pay with death for his own sin, so his death can be a payment for your account.  And even better news, HE WAS SEPARATED FROM GOD FOR YOU.  Not only did he pay the debt, he took the “interest payment”.  His sacrafice allows you to be made right with God.

“Mr. OneCupof Joe Guy, how do you know this makes us right with God and ends our separation?”  I know because the tomb Jesus was laid in was empty a few days later.  Jesus was raised from the dead!!  This means the price was paid, punishment was carried out, and Jesus left the debtors prison with the keys in his hand!  All you have to do is put your faith in the fact that this is true!  Read the book of Romans and see for yourself!

Okay now back to the debt debate and to bring this all home and tie this one up.  This is where Romans 6 comes in as a whole.  Once we have put our faith in our debt being “balanced”, does that mean we can go on sinning and living like we did?  No, of course not (to quote Paul)!    We can’t keep running up the debt!  If we do, it was never balanced for us in the first place!  If we are truly free from our debt of sin (and the power it had over us), we will be changed.  We will live and “do the right things” because our hearts (and the Spirit now living there) will drive us to.  Our actions will be from internal motivation of acceptance by God and not the external motivation of trying to pay off our debt to him!

As for our country, who knows what is going to happen (well, God does), but I don’t think it is for me to obsess about.  I think I need to focus on the debt debate in my heart and life…and thank you, Jesus, it is not a long debate!  Hallelujah, what a Savior!

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push([‘_setAccount’, ‘UA-24929779-2’]);
_gaq.push([‘_trackPageview’]);

(function() {
var ga = document.createElement(‘script’); ga.type = ‘text/javascript’; ga.async = true;
ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl’ : ‘http://www’) + ‘.google-analytics.com/ga.js’;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);
})();

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 27, 2011 in Gospel and Faith

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Great Coffee Famine of 2011

About two and a half weeks ago I was challenged to do something.  My chiropractor has been talking to me for years about drinking coffee.  He knows that I have been drinking way too much (several cups a day), and he pushed me once more to give it up.  We talked about addictions and the health effects of coffee drinking.  It is a diuretic, and without coffee I barely drink enough water every day already (putting aside the recent news that the minimum amount of water that have come up in the last couple of weeks).  Long story short, he convinced me that coffee has been putting me in a water deficit.  On somewhat of a whim that day, I decided to stop drinking it cold turkey (mmmmm…cold turkey).

Now, let me in on how big of a deal this is for me.  I love coffee.  I don’t just drink it because I like the caffine boost, which I do…decaffinated coffee is pointless to me.  I actually love the experience of drinking coffee.  Smelling it.  Breathing it in.  Tasting it.  It doesn’t matter how hot the temperature is outside, a cup of steaming hot coffee gets my day off right.

More than this, I love coffee enough to be very picky about my coffee.  It must be black (nothing in it), and it must be GOOD coffee.  I am what some may call a “coffee snob.”  I don’t like it from resturants, for the most part, and I usually feel like I have to make it myself to have a good cup.  I will go out of my way to buy great coffee beans, and I even have a coffee pot that will grind the beans for me.  I can smell the delicious aroma of great coffee in my mind as I write this.

I obviously have a passion for coffee.  The problem was, and I agree with this, my passion was a borderline addiction.  The other side of my love of coffee is the amount I would drink.  I am pretty sure my average was hovering between four to six cups on a normal day, and possibly a lot more on some days, especially during the school year.  This was not a healthy relationship with my beloved drink, to say the least.

It was hard, but I committed to stopping.  On Facebook I gave updates on the progress every other day for the first week or so.  My body took awhile to adjust, but it did.  I stopped thinking about it.  I stopped wanting it all the time.  I was even able to make a pot for my parents when they visited without being overly tempted to drink some.

I made it from one trip to the chiropractor to the next, about two and a half weeks.  I was very proud of myself, but something occured to me.

I had a sudden realization, I gave up coffee but somewhere inside of me I was always thinking about it…even if that thinking was only thinking about how well I was doing in not drinking it.  This seemed odd to me, so I started to think about my motivation for not drinking coffee.  As I did this, all I could come up with is that I drank too much and it kept me from drinking enough water.  This did not balance out with my obvious love of coffee…something God created and is okay, in moderation.

A story about Peter in the book of Acts came to mind when he was challenged by God, in Acts 10.   Summary of the story: Peter was praying, a sheet came down from heaven covered in animals, a voice said “Kill and eat”, Peter said, “I have never eaten anything unclean”, the voice said “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”  The story goes on to talk about how God opened the Gospel to the Gentiles and did so through Peter (and Paul).

I know it is a bit of a stretch, but it showed me something in my approach to coffee.  It was focus.  There was no real, hardfast reason for me to give up coffee outside of the vague idea of too much coffee and not enough water.  It made me think about coffee all of the time, even more so than I was thinking about it too much.  Coffee is not a sin.  It is not something to battle over my flesh with.  I was fighting it in my own strength, and in doing so it almost made it want it more than I did before.

Here comes the big lesson.  Sin.  When I focus on fighting my sin on my own, in my own strength, I fail most often.  I focus on the Law.  The Law that makes me guilty before God.  My reasoning is that I need to follow the Law and because sin puts me in a “deficit” before God.  That is the WHY I am battling my flesh.  This makes me focus on it even more, and more likely to fail.

I need to realize I do not have to fight against sin.  I am dead to sin.  I am dead to the Law.  The Law was fulfilled through Jesus Christ.  I do not have to battle my flesh to be made right with God.  Jesus “balanced” my “deficit” with God.  I battle with my flesh, not because I HAVE to, but because I now can, sin no longer has a hold on me.  I can discipline myself now because I am free to and because I am given power to do so by the Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead and who gives me the strength I do not have.

Coming back to coffee, I have decided to have one cup a day.  No more.  Less is okay.  I will drink extra water on the days I drink coffee.  It is no longer a struggle.  I can have the taste I love, but it now longer has the hold on me it had.  I am not focused on it because I now have a balance.  Mmmmm…coffee.

This, by the way, is the inspiration for the name of my blog: One Cup of Joe.

Performancing Metrics

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 26, 2011 in Sin

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,