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“He cannot have God as Father, who will not have the Church for his Mother.” -St. Augustine.

I love the church. It has been popular in our culture today to say we love Jesus, but we don’t like the church. I don’t think that is possible truthfully. If you really love Jesus you will love His bride because Jesus loves the Church. I feel like even an elementary level reading of Scripture will help you to see that you can’t love Jesus and hate the church.

I grew up going to church in my small town. I was told at a young age that we spend time with people in the church because it is where we learn to love and follow Jesus. I was raised to believe the church cared about me and I saw it lived out by so many wonderful people. At the same time I was so encouraged by some people in the church, I also was disappointed by many as well. I remember the first time I prayed in the service, I said something in my prayer and people laughed at me for it. I remember seeing the church split over issues with the preacher or with the daycare that was in the church. I couldn’t help but think, why are these people fighting so much when God called His children to be peacemakers. I realized at a young age the church was made up of imperfect people, and that was okay as long as the imperfect people sought after Christ with their life.

I have wanted to be a preacher since I was two years old and knew that journey would be a difficult one at certain times. It was going to be a dangerous choice to follow this calling that God had placed on my heart. I knew at some point I would have to say things and do things that would make others uncomfortable. I have had people in the church call me a heretic, a liberal, a false teacher, and even people in my own family calling me a church-basher. It truly hurts me to hear those things, because nothing could be further from the truth. I am just trying to do whatever I can to be obedient to God’s call on my life. 

I love the church so much that I can never stand by and be okay with her being stagnant or comfortable. I can never stop speaking up for people and issues, and challenging the church to grow. If I have church members tell me they are upset that I am challenging some of the beliefs they have had for years. I simply reply, “Yes I am, it is my job.” I don’t know when it became okay to be a Christian for 30-40 years and then say, “Okay I am done growing, because I have been a Christian for a long time. I don’t want somebody to challenge my beliefs or get me to read something that might make me uncomfortable.” It is sad when I hear things like this, because I never want to stop growing in my faith or have a pastor that is okay with never challenging me to think critically and ponder the things of Jesus.

I love the church because Jesus loved the church. Jesus was always challenging the things that people believed in the church. He was knocking down idols that had been made, and encouraging the church to think deeper about issues. He wanted them to know the goodness of God, and also know about His heart for the poor, broken, oppressed, and trampled. Jesus loved the church by making sure they never stopped growing. Jesus loved the church by calling them out when they were lifting up things above the Father. Jesus loved the church by dying for her. It is something that I don’t fully understand. People in the church hated Him, so much so that after his first sermon, they wanted to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-29). After He said to them that they are the sons of devil they wanted to stone Him (John 8:59). They were constantly ridiculing Him for dining with tax collectors, prostitutes, liars, thieves and sinners (Matt 9:9-13; Luke 15:1-2). His love for the church was so great that he wanted them to know He loves them too much to allow them to stay stagnant. He wanted to call them to righteousness and love of others.

I love the church because the church loves me. Although at times I may have been hurt by certain people in the church, I know the church loves me and wants me to grow as well. They love me enough to encourage me and challenge my own opinions on things. If I was having an issue I know that I can go to many people in the church because they would have my back and lift me up in prayer.

My heart of love will never die for the church. No matter how many scars I may get from people in the church, I will never give up on His bride. I will never stop challenging her to grow, and am so glad she never stops challenging me to grow. When the church is truly the body of Christ we show the world what Jesus looks like. We are truly the second incarnation of God on the earth. We must never let our traditions or opinions divide us. We must remain faithful to the God who loves us and is always faithful to us, even though we may not always be faithful to Him.

~Blake

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storyimages_080121mlkvmed6awidec.jpgToday is Martin Luther King Jr. day, it is a day we should remember the legacy of the preacher, leader, and man that he was. He said a few things though that would make us feel a little uncomfortable even to this day. He was passionate about fighting injustice wherever it was, whether it was people of color, poor, or the prison inmate on death row.

Here are seven quotes from MLK that can make us a little uncomfortable. Some of the bold statements that he made that often get forgotten in our world today.

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” -Letters from a Birmingham Jail

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the KKK, but the white moderate that is more devoted to “order” than to justice.” -Letters from a Birmingham Jail

“It is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself up by his bootstraps.” -Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution

“Capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology, and against the highest expression of love in the nature of God. Capital punishment is societies final assertion that it will not forgive.” -Strength to Love

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” -Beyond Vietnam

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” -Letters from a Birmingham Jail

“Being an extremist for a good cause is not something to be ashamed of, was Jesus not an extremist for love?” -Letters from a Birmingham Jail

He wanted to see transformation happen in the culture he lived in and was bold in speaking up for it. I hope that can be said about me someday. May we remember the oppressed, the poor, the inmate, the people of color not just today, but every day. Let us not be silent in speaking up for all people.

~Blake

Words Have Power.

January 10, 2017 — Leave a comment

istock_000025235303_mediumFor some reason in the past few years it has become popular to say whatever you want to say. We often hear people shouting, “I HAVE FREEDOM OF SPEECH!” While that is true, you can say anything you want to say, my question to the church is should you?

In my life, I have used words to build people up, and unfortunately also tear people down. I have seen the damage words can do, but I also have seen the goodness they can do. I am not just talking about “bad words” that we shouldn’t use, but many words we use are not “bad” until we use them to tear people down. Somehow it became acceptable to tear people down with our words, but as long as you didn’t say one of the “bad words” you were okay. We have really lost sight of common decency when we write things on Facebook or Twitter, and we have even been okay with voting for people that use their words to bully others or speak up about how they have abused women. This isn’t a political issue, but a human issue. Somewhere along the line it became cool, or macho to speak crude jokes, and hateful words. There is nothing macho about that. You show your weakness and lameness (if I can use that word), when you speak that way. What I am trying to say is we must watch what comes out of our mouths, or fingers (if we are typing it) and ask the question, does this build up or tear down? My mom taught me as a young child, “Watch your mouth.” I guess that message has disappeared over the years for some people and it breaks my heart.

One of the biggest lies of all-time is sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Today we have kids bullied all around the school, we have adults bullying people at work, we have family members who are bullying others in their families, and the church must speak out against this.  Words have the power to hurt all the time. They can cut to our souls and damage us as people. Words can even stir up hatred and violence. Every war in the history of the world has been because somebody said something that somebody else disagreed with and violence broke out because of it.

Words have real power. God actually created the world by the power of His words, Genesis 1 God spoke (Hebrews 11:3). Our words don’t only have the power to affect us in this life, but also the one to come, according to Jesus. He tells the religious leaders at the time, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks…I tell you, on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:34, 36-37).

Paul recognizes the power of words when he writes in Ephesians 4:29, “Don’t let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful to building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” It is similar to what he says to the Colossian church, “Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).

Peter tells us, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Our words should demonstrate the power of God’s grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

This is what I mean when I say those connected with the church shouldn’t say anything they want to say. We have a responsibility to speak love to those we disagree with. We are called to speak with grace and gentleness to all people. We must use our words to reach out and build people up. I never want to see the church okay with tearing people down, bullying others, saying crude things about people, and speaking more hate in a time when we already have enough of that as it is. If we are doing that, we are not following Jesus. May God use our mouths as an instrument of His praise, may we shout love to our neighbors, and peace to our enemies.

~Blake

16-600x400When I was growing up in the church, I thought the only people that could preach were men, the only people who could pray were men, the only people who could read the Bible were men, the only people who could give devotions were men. I thought, well at least women get to work with the kids, cook food, and work in the nursery. I also thought, thank goodness I am not a girl.

Thank goodness I grew out of this understanding because nothing could be further from the truth. Although, even today some people take a few carefully selected verses of Scripture out of context to fit their idea that men should be superior to women in the Church. We did not get this idea from God that is for sure.

So what shifted my view? My understanding of God shifted my view. Think of how God works, as in the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Just as they are co-eternal, co-equal, no one would say one of those is greater than the other, I hope. Human beings are made in the image of God, we may be distinct with our genders, but like the Trinity, we are equal- no gender is greater than the other. God speaks through women all throughout Scripture. Deborah is a judge and leader, at a time when only men should do that. God uses Rahab, Ruth, Esther to make a lot of changes in world. Thank goodness God used women through all of history to make a difference.

Jesus really shifted my view. Think about the culture of the Bible and Jesus’ time. Middle Eastern culture was seriously Patriarchal. Women had no rights, they must not speak unless they were spoken to, they were literally the property of their husbands. Jesus completely shifts this viewpoint. I mean, Jesus actually had women disciples (Luke 8:1-3), before Jesus that had never happened. He healed a woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17). By doing this he broke several norms of that time: stopping his message in the synagogue, calling a woman up front (they were to be in the back), speaking to her, and touching her. Jesus also allowed women to be in the places of men when he was teaching (Luke 10:38-42). And when he appears after his resurrection it is women who see him first and go and preach the message to the disciples. Thank goodness Jesus had women preach.

The early church shifted my view. I didn’t know what to do with Scripture like Acts 2:17: both your sons and your daughters will prophesy. In Acts 8:12 we have Philip baptizing men and women. In the old covenant only men were able to participate, now under the covenant of Christ men and women can come. Women were baptized in their own right, not through the leadership of men. Women in the early church were prophetesses (the 4 unmarried daughters of Philip- Acts 21:9), teachers (Priscilla teaches the great teacher Apollos in Acts 18), deaconesses (Tabitha- Acts 9:36, or Phoebe in Romans 16), Apostles (Junia in Romans 16 she is called noteworthy among the apostles), Co-laborers with Paul (Euodia and Syntyche- Philippians 4), and also teachers of Timothy (Grandma Lois, and mother- 2 Tim 1:5). I didn’t know what to do with all of these examples in the early church serving as teachers, ministers, pastors, and leaders in their churches in Turkey, Greece, and the Middle East in ancient times. I thank God that He had women preaching in the early Church.

Understanding context shifted my view. There are 2 texts of Scripture that people use to defend their stance for why women should be shut down in the Church. 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2. In both situations Paul is trying to stop the spread of bad theology before it gets worse. In the 1 Corinthians passage you have women asking questions and disrupting the worship service, so Paul says, if you have questions ask your husband when you are home, or do it privately. In 1 Cor. 11 it is clear that Paul is okay with women praying or prophesying in the worship service as long as they are doing it in an orderly fashion. In 1 Tim 2 it is a little different. You have high status, highly educated women who were priestesses in the Temple of Aphrodite or Artemis. They thought they could instantly come to the church in Ephesus where Timothy served and take over. What Paul encourages them to do is literally translated, “as of right now, don’t let women take over.” He wanted them to be educated first, it is the same thing he says about all leaders in the church. He doesn’t want them to be new believers. Paul was trying to fix a couple of problems within the church, and I thank God that he didn’t mean that women should ever be able to speak in church. These carefully selected verses found in Scripture to justify the superiority of men owes more to time and place than to eternal truths. Similar Biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid consent of oppressive rulers. Women in the NT church served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers, and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century after Christ that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted the Scriptures to perpetuate their dominance.

Women Pastors shifted my view. I heard a lot of great messages from women professor/pastors in the Christian University that I attended, and I was so grateful to hear their heart. My wife is a great preacher/pastor, and I have listened to several of her messages as well. There are some great women preachers/teachers out there like Ruth Haley Barton, past writers and teachers like Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, or Hannah Whitall Smith that I absolutely love and cherish what they have to say. Thank goodness these women didn’t remain silent and speak up in the church.

Having a Daughter shifted my view. I really recognized that having a daughter is just as great as having a son. My daughter can literally do anything that, if I had a son, could do. If my daughter someday says, “I want to be a preacher like my dad,” and someone tells her she can’t because she was born a girl and not a boy. I would be tempted to smack them, but me following Jesus stops me from doing so. I had to ask the question: Why am I so against women speaking in the church? I needed a wake-up call to speaking up for women in ministry, and I got several. For the Bible tells me so. Thank goodness I was able to see it and my view shifted.

~Blake

keep-christ-in-christmas-detailFor many years, I have heard the argument if you don’t say “Merry Christmas,” or you abbreviate Christmas “X-Mas,” you are a horrible person who is trying to take Christ out of Christmas. I have come to the conclusion that this is just ridiculous. I am all for people saying, “Merry Christmas,” but that also has very little to do with keeping Christ in Christmas.

If you say, “Happy Holidays” to me, I won’t be offended and scream at you, “NO, I say Merry Christmas!” That kind of hurts my witness as a follower of Jesus anyway. I could even argue that you are kicking Christ out of Christmas if you react that way. Nobody can take Christ out of your Christmas except for you. When I hear people talking about it though, I thought maybe there are some things we can do to keep Christ in Christmas? So here are just four of them that I came up with.

We Worship Him. – It is popular, especially this year because Christmas falls on a Sunday, to cancel worship services or to not attend them. If we want to keep Christ in Christmas we must worship Him. Christmas on a Sunday is a beautiful thing, because we actually get to come to Church on the celebration day of our Savior’s birth. If you are not going to a service, please worship Him on your own. Celebrate His coming. Remember what this day is really about. Read the Christmas story. Sing songs of celebration of His birth. This is the whole purpose of Christmas anyway isn’t it?

We Serve Others. – Christmas can become a time of year when we just focus on ourselves or our family members that we must buy gifts for. It becomes a time of celebrating us, and we kick Christ out of Christmas. I am not saying don’t buy gifts for people, or that it is even bad to want something for Christmas, but the more I look around the more I see good hearted people focusing on themselves and never on others. If we want to keep Christ in Christmas we must feed the hungry, care for the poor, pray for the sick, give to the needy, take care of the orphans and widows. I don’t think you can keep Christ in Christmas any better than when you serve the least of these.

We Offer Forgiveness. – Christmas is a time when we can lay aside our petty differences and seek reconciliation with those who we disagree with. We forgive even if people that have wronged you never ask for it. We offer forgiveness for all things and we love those who have hurt us. When we love our enemies and forgive those who persecute us we are keeping Christ in Christmas. If you really think about it, you can probably come up with a name or two of a person or people that you are holding a grudge against even to this day. What does it take to forgive them? How can start to offer forgiveness today?

We Pray for Peace. – There is a lot of war going on in our lives, and all-around the world for that matter. We must pray for peace and be a person who actively seeks to make peace. Or as Jesus called them “peacemakers.” Fighting going on anywhere is not the heart of Jesus, that is why His desire is to put the swords away and when the world gets redeemed there will be no more war. We must pray that God changes hearts and brings about peace in people’s lives that are hurting all over the world.

When we do these things I believe we are keeping Christ in Christmas. I am sure there are many others when you look at the life of Christ and see what He cares about and you make a conscious effort to care about those same things. When you have the same mind as that of Christ Jesus (Phil 2) then you will be keeping Him in Christmas.

~Blake

Welcome the Stranger.

December 6, 2016 — Leave a comment

iraqi_families_on_the_runI have for a long time weighed the question as a Christian, who is also an American, how do I respond to immigrants, strangers, refugees, and illegal aliens in the country that I reside. Is it my job to keep people out of this country or is it my job to invite them into the Kingdom of God? I don’t believe this is a Republican or Democrat issue, but a human issue. How do we treat people as followers of Jesus? So my first priority must be to discover God’s heart towards the stranger and to understand more of how I should respond as His follower.

Just a quick glance at Scripture will tell you all you need to know about God’s heart for foreigners and strangers in the world, and how we ought to treat them.

Exodus 23:9 – “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”

Leviticus 19:10– “When you harvest do not go over your vineyard a second time, or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien among you. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 19:33-34 – “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat them. The alien must be treated as one of your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “He [God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.”

Ezekiel 16:49 – “This was the sin of Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

Matthew 25:35 – “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.

Hebrews 13:2 – “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

I didn’t even mention the good Samaritan story in Luke 10. I don’t think anywhere in the story does the Samaritan look at the person hurt on the side of the road and wonder are they here legally or illegally?

It comes down to us learning to serve and love all people. The greatest of the commandments, Jesus says, is to love your neighbor as yourself. It also says that again in Galatians 5:14. How do we do that? We welcome the stranger. We love the alien. We care for the refugee because they are human beings first and foremost and loved dearly by God.

This video is about 40 minutes long, but it talks about the need for immigration reform. I am not saying we don’t care who we allow in, but that we recognize that we are talking about real people and real families that are getting divided up because of these laws. Real reform must happen and my hope is the church will always be on the side of the family and the people, that is definitely what I see in the heart of Jesus. I hope you get a chance to watch it sometime, and continue to make a difference for Christ in this world.

~Blake

Beholding the Word.

November 30, 2016 — Leave a comment

look_to_jesusDue to some unforeseen things that lead to the power being out in the town that I serve at a church this past week, we weren’t able to worship in our building. My daughter was pretty tired and cranky so my family decided we were just going to worship at home that morning. My wife played the guitar and we sang some songs, including my favorite advent song: “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” I read some scripture from the text that I was going to preach in Psalm 119, and we prayed together. It was a wonderful time of worship and prayer that blessed me Sunday morning.

While reading the first 40 verses of Psalm 119 I was struck by the language of “the eyes.” I don’t know if I ever realized it before, but there are a lot of words throughout that passage talking about where you are looking.

vs 2 “seek,” vs 6 “my eyes fixed,” vs 10 “seek,” vs 15 “fix my eyes,” vs 18 “open my eyes,” vs 37 “turn my eyes from looking at worthless things,” just to bring out a few.

It made me think about our lives today and how we constantly look at things other than Christ. We are prone to wander, and it is all because of where we are looking. We behold our bank account, we behold the flag of our country, we behold our church buildings, we behold our family and friends, more than we behold Jesus. We build up idols all around us and we pretend they aren’t there. We worship things more than we worship God and we don’t want anyone to tell us differently. We are sometimes so blinded by our traditions that we forget the One behind those traditions. We are often too focused on building up ourselves than lifting up our Savior.

Nothing could be more opposite to God’s Word. He desires us to store up His Word in our hearts (119:11), not so we can attack others with it, but so that we may know Him more and sin less. So that we can fix our eyes on where we want to go. Where you are looking is where you will be going. Who you are beholding is who you will become. Not saying that all of the other places we look are necessarily bad, they just shouldn’t be where our first allegiances lie.

What we understand about Jesus according to John chapter 1 is He is the Word Made Flesh. When I talk about beholding the Word, I am not talking about looking at your Bible, but about getting to know the Word made flesh. As John the Baptist saw him and exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). He wants all of us to look at Jesus. The writer of Hebrews tells us to “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2).

As we have entered this advent season, it is a wonderful time of celebrating the coming of the Messiah, welcoming Him into our world, and our lives. We learn to wait on Him, we meditate on Him, we fix our eyes on Him, and we walk in His ways (119:1). This is what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus. Why would we look to all other things that will fade at some point, when we have the One who speaks the words of life with us? Look to Jesus.

“Born Thy people to deliver, born a Child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now Thy gracious kingdom bring.” -Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

~Blake