Twenty Seventeen – A New Year’s Resolution

Every year about this time, millions of Americans begin the process of reinventing themselves. For the first time in close to 300 days, they set goals and strive to become a better person…some for the first time in their lives. I’m obviously talking about the R word here…resolutions.

I’m guilty of falling into the trap of self improvement. In fact one of my goals this coming year is to get back onto a super food diet (bye bye golden arches :P) but there’s something even bigger we can set our sights on for this new year.

Self Sacrifice

I wrote a year ago about how self sacrifice needed to be our goal for 2016. Here I am a year later reflecting on what it looked like over the past year. As I reflect, I begin to realize that it’s taken a new shape; A new form. Much like other goals we set, over time it begins to evolve and become something else entirely.

Since themes evolve, I want my themes to build on each other. To be building blocks firm on the foundation of Christ. As they begin to grow and take new shape, I want to be able to extend my hand out and draw others in. So with that said, drumroll and dramatic silence please….

The theme for 2017 is INVEST.

This is the word the Holy Spirit has put on my heart and mind for 2017. I’m not sure what this will look like in the long run, but for now it flows out of the overarching banner of self sacrifice.

I will chose to invest in God. I will invest in the eternal not temporal perspective. I will continue to invest in others and their eternal destiny, and I will chose invest my love, time, and energy for the sake of the bigger picture taking place before our eyes.

All of this stems from one major concept…

This world is not home.
This body is a temporary vessel.
We are all embodied souls longing for something greater.
Longing for a right relationship with God.
Yearning to restore what was broken in the Garden of Eden.
And through Christ sacrifice the redemption of Mankind is continuing to take place.
And you are invited to be a part of that.

I welcome you to join me. I invite you to lay down the fallacy of self improvement over self sacrifice. I invite you to invest in the things unseen…the things that are eternal. Then everything else will fall into place.

If you desire to set a resolution that you’ll forget about by March, go right ahead. But this is my hope for you:

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

Self Sacrifice is the Banner
Invest is the theme
Hope is the anthem.

Don’t fall into the trap of self improvement this year.

Invest through self sacrifice.


In what ways will you chose to INVEST through self sacrifice this year?

Please leave me a comment below! I would love to encourage you along the journey!

And if you were encouraged by this post, please don’t forget to “like” and “share” so others can see. You never know who may need to hear these words 🙂

From the Inside of Love

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Love is a scary thing.
To love someone, whether it be your family, friends, significant other, or spouse, you have to be vulnerable. To re-quote Lewis, “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” The more God gives me the capacity to love others and the more people He places in my life to love, the more I realize this… love hurts. Lewis was onto something.

On this side of Heaven, unconditional love does not exist. We can strive for it, but it will always be filtered through the fallen nature of our humanity. The brokenness will always remain while we are here on earth. The only way to stay safe from it is to shield yourself. The only way to keep from getting hurt is to build walls around your heart. The troubling thing about walls is the fact that they are two sided. When you begin to guard your love and build walls around your heart, not only are you keeping love out, you are impeding your ability to extend love. It becomes irredeemable. This is where vulnerability comes into play.

You have to be OK with the scars of your past. You have to be OK with your fears being exposed knowing that they are going to still love you when the ugliness shows. You have to be OK with the possibility of heartbreak. After all, if heartbreak didn’t exist, would we ever know what love truly is? Maybe, but it would be convoluted.

How much different would our experience with love be if we considered these things in the microcosm of Perfect Love that we display to each other in our everyday relationships?

Only careful evaluation and prayers for clarity will tell.

I’m reminded deeply of my conversion experience. When you take a man who is consumed with self-hatred, shame, and anger, it is impossible for him to experience any good emotion. Love becomes nullified in light of fear. That’s why our Perfect Savior leaves these words with us through John:

“…God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

You have to abandon fear and cling to the promise that Love exist to cast out fear, and God’s perfect love is not content with your fear. Fear has to do with punishment; love has to do with freedom.

I’m incredibly thankful that God abolished fear from being a controlling factor in my life.
It’s still a struggle, and much like many of you, I battle fear daily…
but His perfect love is casting it out. I hope to resonate this love out of the overflow of the Love of Christ. No matter what type of love it may be.

When we begin to change our perspective and see people from the inside of love, our relationships will begin to be less broken. When we anticipate great things instead of cowering in fear wondering what may be, and when we fight to be examples of the way we wish to be loved, the way we interact with others will begin to change. We’ll begin to look more like Jesus. It doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you a doormat. It does however free you from fear, and fear will make you its doormat. Fear will make you weak.

It took me a long time to trust Jesus. He broke me. He brought me to himself. He showed me what love is. He showed me how to love from His perspective. From the inside of love. I tasted that greatness. It both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. And I will never be the same. I will live of love. I will love others the way I want to be loved. I will love from the overflow of His redemption. I will do this till the day I die. And on that day, my prayer and hope is the legacy left behind will be one of someone who was not afraid to love well, love better, and display the Love of Jesus.

In everyday acquaintanceship, in friendships, in romantic relationships, in casual brushes with strangers, there is no such thing as an accidental encounter. His timing is perfect. But you must choose to love. You must choose to stop spending energy building walls and use that energy to build bridges. You have to choose to use that energy to love well.

As for me, I will build bridges not walls.

Choose freedom.
Abandon fear.
Leave it in the darkness,
Where it belongs.


Father,

Continue to draw me unto yourself. Breathe on me until my frame is knit to Your thought. Lift me until I see Your face and trust Your Almightiness without fear or insidious unbelief. Give me the ability to love others as you have loved me. May your freedom reign in this mortal body. May your perfect love continue to cast of fear.

Your Servant,

Matthew

 

For Freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free;
stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
-Gal. 5:1

No amount of self hate, regret, past mistakes, condemnation, guilt, or shame can take away our freedom. There is NO ulterior motif to the freedom that Christ has given us. Standing firm in the promise of His word will extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry,“Abba! Father!”
Romans 8:15

When I am tempted to despair over the man I was and the people I hurt, these promises ring true. God gave us a spirit of adoption. He set us free and we can stand firm in that freedom. The very offense that brought you to the cross has been redeemed and forgiven. And shame, sorrow, and past regrets are lifted.

Fear not; you will no longer live in shame.
Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you.
You will no longer remember the shame of your youth
and the sorrows of widowhood.
For your Creator will be your husband;
the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!
He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,
the God of all the earth.
Isaiah 64:4,5

And there is NO CONDEMNATION IN HIM. He looks upon us and says
“Who stands to accuse you? Go and sin no more.”


Father,

Continue to wreck me with this truth. You are the true artist, and you have interwoven me into a story you have been writing since Creation. Thank you for your redemption. Thank you for your perfect love that casts out fear. Thank you for the freedom that is found in  your forgiveness.

YOU PAID THE PRICE. NOW I AM FINALLY FREE.

Where the Light Shines Through

Vulnerability is never an easy thing.
Even the thought of it is enough to make me cringe.
But I truly believe that “From Him, to Him, and through Him are all things.” (Romans 11:36). I truly believe that I can not know the mind of God and I know that His ways are not my ways.  So when God creates sensitive places in  your life, when there are scars from past relationships, abuses, neglect, even abandonment, those scary places from the past are exactly where our loving Father is calling us to go.

God is calling us to go to where our deepest wounds exists;
And your calling exist within your deepest wounds.

Your name is graven on His hands.
The very hands that were pierced for our transgressions.
The very hands that paid the price for the wounds we feel.
He understands woundedness.

We serve God…the author and perfecter of our faith.
He is writing our stories… and your past failure may lead to someone’s present victory.

Let’s take steps together toward vulnerability.
We’ll see we’re not that much different.
Don’t be selfish with the story God has written in your life.
It may be the only light of hope someone desperately needs to see.

The Paradox of Pain

In this world, there is a great paradox that exist within the pain we experience.

The paradox  is this:
Though you hurt something good will come from it.

Would it be possible to experience the fullness of joy
without the tyranny of misery?
Would we know peace without tribulation? 

Hope without despair?
Acceptance without rejection?
Adoption without abandonment?

Love without heartbreak?
(and the list could be a mile long)

I’ve been more convinced than ever that the pain we experience exists to give us a greater appreciation for the good things that are to come or may even already be present. I believe that God uses the very pain we experience to draw us to himself. The enemy has hijacked pain to distract us from seeing the good things that Jesus has done and is actively doing in our lives.

I don’t know that I would have ever know the value of God’s unfailing love had he not broken down my perception/perversion of love that was only self-serving and not self-sacrificing. When He made me come face to face with the misery of failure, he was placing in me a scale in which I would begin to notice what love truly is. I wonder how many of you have that same exact story, and how many of you are on the brink of knowing this truth.

The Great Perspective Changer

Painful experiences have a way of placing us in an alternate reality. One in which hope seems unobtainable. It has the habit of minimizing all the good things that God is doing in our lives. There is however beauty within the sorrow.

When we change our perspective on pain and place our eyes back on the cross and boldly approach the throne of God in times of need, it opens us up to know and enjoy God in a way that prosperity may have never allowed us to do.

It opens the door to more clarity.

Since we live in a world that operates in pairs (think sweet vs. salty, light vs. dark, you get the point) the fact that God doesn’t only pour out blessings on us is a blessing in of its self. In this world, in order to fully experience the joys of life we must experience some of its pitfalls. There is no reason to fall into despair when you do. Use painful experiences as an opportunity to shift your perspective from temporal to eternal. From the here and now to Eternity.

We have to come together and fight against the voice of the enemy that says “you are worthless, you are the only one who struggles…” It’s a lie. Though the enemy wants to place you in an alternate reality where it is nearly impossibly to sees pain as a hidden blessing, we have to fight against this and worship through the sorrow. We have to encourage one another to remember the bigger picture that’s taking place.

So, despondent Christian, when you feel like the world is falling down around you when you find it easier to despair than praise, never forget these truths:

There is ALWAYS a bigger picture taking place.
Your destiny is greater than your past mistakes.
Keep pursing Jesus. He is producing in you an eternal weight of Glory. He is calling you to Himself. Worship through the pain. Cling to what is eternal.

I’m incredibly humbled and thankful that our loving Father refines us on this fallen earth. It makes the flip side of that coin, joy, so much sweeter. And what a glorious day it will be when we worship Him face to face and sorrow will be no more!


Scripture to Consider:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
-Romans 15:13 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
-James 1:2-4

…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
-Romans 5:3-5

Future Glory

For the past year in a half God has completely redefined my world.
I’ve never lived with such an utter dependency upon His grace, His Son, and the Word for which we are given to know His will. This dependency wasn’t something that magically happened or popped up over night, It came through suffering.

There were many nights when it was hard to hold onto hope. There were many days I fell into despair and despondency. Fear, anger, and depression defined me, but God has a way of shifting our focus off of self and re-focusing us onto Jesus, where all hope is found.

So, as I write about suffering, it’s not an easy place for me. It’s not an easy place for anyone. But my hope is that you will be encouraged after reading this.

Before Jesus redeemed me, I was like a ship setting out for a journey without a sail. I would be tossed and turned by any wave that happen to come my way. Countless relationships were ruined because of this and I was too ashamed to turn to Jesus, but God in His great love and mercy took compassion on His wandering son.

For the first time in my life I was confronted with the ugliness of my sin. A growing cancer in my soul whispering the lies of the enemy. “worthless…you’ve strayed too far…Jesus doesn’t love you…anger defines you…un-redeemable…” But just as I was confronted with the insanity of my sin, I was confronted by the voice of Jesus calming those winds and waves.

This experience is so incredibly hard to capture in words. At the time I knew He was doing something special, but I didn’t know what. I feel as though, to use producer language, He was writing a new script in my life. He was painting over an old canvas and creating a new image, one that reflects Him. There was a bigger picture taking place behind the suffering I was experiencing.

The Bigger Picture

When any amount of suffering is taking place, it’s incredibly easy to neglect the good that Jesus is doing in your life. It’s incredibly easy to lose hope and see only the temporary circumstance, but there is no reason to fear or give into despondency because there is always a bigger picture taking place

Romans 8 does an incredible job of speaking life into this. There’s a section of it that reads like this:

…I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.. (Rom. 8:18-19)

Paul is letting us in on a big secret here.

Pain produces a peculiar glory,
one of which we may not see until we are with our savior in paradise.

He is introducing a concept called Future Glory. It’s arguably against the American (and millennial) culture of instant gratification.

What future glory begs us to to is to look beyond a temporary circumstance
into the eternal perspective. It invites us to look beyond our temporary suffering into a future in which the circumstance shaped us to be stronger and more fit for Kingdom work.

But that’s easier said than done.

Why is this so hard for us to do, even as followers of Jesus?

Culturally, it is very American to desire instant gratification. We love fast food. We love fast internet. Hate waiting in lines or traffic and love to express every bit of emotion on social media. You are in even more danger of falling for this if you are a Millennial. (because we barely had the chance to know anything different.)

It goes beyond our culture though. Romans was written around 57-58 a.d. and as someone who is reading as a Millennial I feel like Paul is writing this letter to me! The sufferings that the followers of Jesus were facing at that time were much more extreme than anything we face here in the U.S. (we can worship openly without worrying about death) but holistically we still struggle with this when pain hits whether it be physical, spiritual, emotional, or mental.

We have to know that God is working something good through our suffering.

It is inevitable that our peers may not understand why we are able to worship God through hard circumstances, but scripture makes it incredibly clear that we are not defined by a temporary circumstance, or even our response to the said circumstance.

When you look at life through the lens of Scripture,
it changes your perspective on suffering.
You begin to see there is hope found in suffering.

Paul continues to write in Romans 12

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers,by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This is relevant to many situations we face as believers, but can be applied to how we process suffering.

Don’t give up hope.

Remember Romans 5? There is a cycle of hope behind any suffering.

Suffering produces endurance
Endurance produces character
Character produces hope
Hope does not put us to shame

What the flesh will try to dictate is your suffering is eternal.
It is not. It is temporary.

Shame?
Temporary.
Anxiety?
Temporary.
Fear?
Temporary.

Remember, behind every ounce of suffering is a future glory that is being revealed.
Hold onto hope. Keep pressing hard into Jesus. 


Scripture to consider:

“Through him (Christ) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Romans 5:2-5 ESV

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18


A Helpful Song

 

Is Dating Redeemable?

A few months ago I sat across from Ryan in a smoke filled room, the smell of subs and cookies wafting through the air. I nervously took a drink from my cup and he boldly (as usual) asked
“Well, you called this meeting. Who is she?”
Trying to be self-effacing and a little coy I told him
“Oh Ryan…there’s always SOMEONE… Besides, this is more about preventive maintenance than anything… Now what’s your advice?”
A sheepish grin came across his face as he gave me some solid advice on the ever elusive world of Christian dating.

I wrote Ryan earlier that week asking for advice and trusted counsel.
“When I meet a girl I want to pursue, how to I do that in a Godly manner?”
It boiled down to several items, but the most effective comment he made was “It’s not rocket science. Ask her on a date. Find out what she’s like in the context of community. Over everything else ask yourself; Is this someone I can multiply God’s Kingdom with.”

Is this someone I can multiply God’s Kingdom with? 

That thought had rarely crossed my mind. Countless other failed relationships went through my head as I fell into a state of remembrance.  How many of those relationships could have been saved or avoided had I asked myself that for even a second. (The temptation to feel regret was strong, but through all those relationships, I knew the will of God was being fulfilled in my life.) It really hit home and target a place in my life God has recently been peeling away at. The concept of longing. I don’t think I’ve ever asked myself this question, and I wonder how many of you have asked this question while seeking someone to date.

Is There Hope for the Hopeless Romantic?

I wrote previously on my tendency to be a hopeless romantic. A huge struggle for me over the past…well…since High School has been looking for emotional intimacy in relationships. Looking for someone to cure the brokenness in me. I longed for acceptance, assurance, and affirmation through dating relationships. But this outlook on dating never healed my brokenness, it only gave birth to more. Because of this I never really knew how to pursue or love a woman the way that I should and it ruined many countless relationships, but on a bigger note, I know I’m not alone in this battle.

Brokenness attracts brokenness, but juxtaposed to that is the fact that HOLINESS ATTRACTS HOLINESS. This is where I believe a lot of the stress comes from during the dating phase. We are all looking to be loved. We all have an inkling of the hopeless romantic in us, and we all want someone to do life with, after all, even God himself said “it is not good for man to be alone

But when it comes time to pursue, Men are clueless. and more recently than ever, I believe people in the Church are cluing in on this. They are beginning to see that well intended lovers of Jesus are clueless when it comes to pursuing a woman, or how to react when they themselves are being pursued by a man.

A helpful article came out by Marshall Segal on Desiring God titled When the Not Yet Married Meet. I highly recommend reading this article whether you are single or not. It’s incredibly encouraging content on Christian dating.

One of the best points Segal made went like this:

Look for clarity more than intimacy.

Just to wet your whistle a little bit, here is a snippit from his blog post:

The greatest danger of dating is giving parts of our hearts and lives to someone to whom we’re not married. It is a significant risk, and many, many men and women have deep and lasting wounds from relationships because a couple enjoyed emotional or physical closeness without a lasting, durable commitment. Cheap intimacy feels real for the moment, but you get what you pay for.

While the great prize in marriage is Christ-centered intimacy, the great prize in dating is Christ-centered clarity. Intimacy is safest in the context of marriage, and marriage is safest in the context of clarity. The purpose of our dating is determining whether the two of us should get married, so we should focus our effort there.

In our pursuit of clarity, we will undoubtedly develop intimacy, but we ought not do so too quickly or too naively. Be intentional and outspoken to one another that, as Christians, intimacy before marriage is dangerous, while clarity is unbelievably precious.

It is natural to want to be loved.
It is natural to want to feel valued.
it is natural to seek affirmation.

However, if you are seeking affirmation in a relationship, you are feeding into your broken nature. If we spent more energy pursuing clarity, perhaps we would see less brokenness in Christian dating.

But what does it mean to seek clarity in a dating relationship?
Ryan summed it up very well in the statement he mentioned earlier:

“Is this someone I can multiply God’s Kingdom with?”

If we pursued that thought rather than
“does this person make me feel validated/loved?”
Christian dating would be less broken.

Pursue clarity rather than intimacy. The rest will fall into place.

Single Followers of Jesus, can we begin to make this our goal when we start to pursue romantic relationships with our fellow believers?

Can we work together to redeem dating?

I’m eager to see what God does through this new phase of life and through the advice of smarter men than myself. I look forward to one day having a God glorifying dating relationship that turns into a God glorifying marriage.

Do you have any thoughts on the topic personally? I would love to hear them in the comment section below.


Helpful Resources:

When the Not Yet Married Meet : Dating to Display Jesus
Behind the Blog: Christian Dating