Persevere, Persevere, Endure

We live in a world that says give up. If the going gets too tough, if the commitment isn’t what you thought, give up. Endurance is tough. It is easy at times in life to wonder if we are really making a difference. If the words we utter and the actions we take actually hit home. I am in one of those times in my life. But recently God has reminded me of this simple but profound truth: I am at work. Persevere, persevere, endure.

When I was still living at home, every day on my way to work, I would be encouraged out the door by my mother shouting “Persevere, persevere, endure.” I was annoyed to be honest with you because I really didn’t want to persevere. I just wanted to survive.

Years later, I still find life tiring, and in some ways, I’m just trying to survive.

I am a youth pastor now, and it is difficult. Sermons to preach, activities to plan, relationships to build. Sometimes I feel like I’m hitting on all cylinders. Other times, I’m just exhausted and worn out and I don’t even want to darken the doors of a church.

This is ministry. Ministry is tough. Time consuming. Taxing.

Recently though, I have been encouraged. Encouraged by multiple students that I have reconnected with. Encouraged to persevere, persevere, endure. Encouraged to remember God at work in the lives of His children, and His pursuit of those that don’t know Him yet.

I recall two students.

One called a week ago to tell me that through opening up to me about the darkness and sin that was well hidden in his life, that he had come to salvation just months ago.

The other, just last night, called with a question from thorough study of the Old Testament. He is involved in his church, and is even considering becoming a counselor at the camp where we first met.

Those two stories were so encouraging for me. Little reminders from God that He was at work then, and that He is still at work now.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The writer of Hebrews describes the Christian life as a race. Why? Because running a race takes endurance and focus. Each runner has to persevere all the while keeping their mind on the prize.

How hard this is. To stay focused. To stay in the race and not give up when the going gets tough. To not lose hope when all seems lost. To not lose joy when life knocks you down.  In Joshua 1:7, Joshua is encouraged to not turn to the right or to the left. This is difficult!

How do we do this?

How do we persevere and endure?

Focus on Jesus, and know that as we run the race, He is at work, changing the lives of those around us. 

We must cling to Jesus. We must hope in Jesus. We must look to Jesus.

He is the one who gives us the strength to persevere and endure in the midst of all hardships.

He is the one who gives us hope to believe that He is at work in those around you, and that we must continue to keep fighting and praying and loving with the immense love that He has given us so that others lives with transformed by His Gospel.

He is the one who allows us to rest in the depths of our souls, when life hurts, and when life is downright awful.

Life as a Christian is tough. We have so many things, people, influences, trying to pull us from our focus. May we persevere, persevere, endure through looking to Jesus as the author and perfecter of our faith. Only through His strength and love can we ever possibly hope to thrive, and not just survive.

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Picture taken from: http://www.dailygood.org/story/141/manual-for-climbing-mountains-paulo-coelho/

Blessings.

 

Changed: Five Years in the Making

Five years ago on this day, my life was radically transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From darkness to light. From death to being alive for the first time. From sin, shame, guilt, to joy, love, peace. Christ saved me.

When I surrendered my life to Christ, I wasn’t sure about this whole Christianity thing. I had grown up in church, but I had been completely blind to the truth for so many years. I had seen hypocrisy in the church, and evil actions take place there. I had become a skeptic of God and His church, even as far to call those who were Christian’s a fraud and God as not real.

Jesus though, in spite of my skepticism and unbelief, in spite of my anger and utter dis-contempt toward God and His people, was pursuing me and calling me to stop running from the truth and to surrender to His grace and Lordship over my life.

He did this in two ways.

First, God brought strangers into my life in the fall of 2011 who loved me so well. They pointed me towards Christ. They never threw me out of their midst when I mocked them quietly, when I didn’t want anything to do with them or their group, or their God. Their love was constant because Christ was in them, and His love was constant.

Second, People committed to pray for me. My parents are prayer warriors. They prayed for me for seven years straight without seeing one inkling of a change. Their friends prayed for me. I had people all over praying for me, and God heard and answered their prayers.

So on the morning of January 6th, 2012, on my knees, with no one around, I stopped running. I repented of my sins and the life that I had tried to live without God, and I surrendered my life to Jesus and His purpose for me.

Saved. That very moment, I was saved from sins, my past, destruction, hell. I was saved from all those things, but I was also saved “for” things as well.

That very day, after surrendering my life to Christ, God called me into the ministry. I was baffled. “Thanks for saving me Jesus, but you don’t want me to be an ambassador for you.”

His call was clear and resounding. “You will be a minister of my grace.”

Well, five years later, that call has come true. God has gifted me with the opportunity to share His Gospel with those around me.

That is His privilege to all of us: to share the gospel that saved us with those that don’t know Him that He may change their lives as well.

Something I learned is that the Gospel restores. This is what Jesus restored in my life.

Jesus restored my purpose.

Jesus restored school.

Jesus restored my work place.

Jesus restored my relationship with my family.

Jesus restored broken friendships.

Jesus restored my hometown.

Jesus restored EVERYTHING.

And in the midst of Jesus restoring everything, people’s lives were changed, not by my story, or by things that I did. Lives were changed by the Gospel.

Each year on my anniversary of being a disciple of Christ, I have gotten to do something cool. Last year I was starting my church planting internship in Asheville. The year before that I was in Washington, DC working with a church plant. The year before that I was in Nashville, TN witnessing to Muslims, and the year before that, I was being baptized.

This year? Well, I am sitting at my computer typing away on this post. I have seminary work to do this afternoon, and sermon prep for next Wednesday.

But all in all, life is good. Looking back five years ago, seems like a whole nother life time. And yes, it actually was. The old Joseph is dead. The new Joseph is five years old today. And he is very blessed to be alive.

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Blessings.

 

My Aha Moment of 2016

In 2017, I have one question for you. Why do you do what you do? What is the reason behind the actions that you take, and the way that you live your life? The answer to this question can be absolutely life giving, or it can be totally eye opening and bewildering. It is an answer that I have just now remembered. And for me, it has truly been life giving.

This past Friday night I had an opportunity to hang out with friends that I haven’t seen in the last five years. As we reminisced about old times, present ventures, future dreams, I felt myself doing what I have done a lot of in 2016. Complaining.

I complained about all the work I had coming up to do. I complained about the stupid things that had happened over the last year. I complained so much that I’m sure that the people around me were annoyed.

Later that night, I went over to their apartment, and we were sitting there playing video games and chatting, and my friend prompts the question “Are you happy doing what you are doing?”

I hadn’t really thought about that recently. I knew I was supposed to be working with students and teaching them the Bible, but really if I can be honest, my life has been empty over the last year. I was just tired and exhausted. Burnt out. Church had become a chore to do, a work place, not a place to worship God.

My response: “I should be happy, but I’m not.”

As we continued to talk, our conversation shifted. I began to talk to him about what God had done since January 2012. And immediately, as I reminisced about all that God had done, joy returned, in a way that it hadn’t been evident in 2016.

We went to bed and i woke up the next day early to catch the sunrise at the Isle of Palms Beach in Charleston, Sc.

I walked onto the beach, sand crunching under my tennis shoes, the cool ocean air blowing across my face, and sat down. I began to take in the sights and the sounds. The sky was a hazy purple with a tint of yellow and orange as the sun began to make its ascent slowly into the sky.

As I sat there taking pictures, enjoying the scene, I looked to my left noticing a lady sitting there, tears running down her face. I began to pray for her as I didn’t know what her situation was.

I stood up as the sun fully made its way into the sky, brushing the sand from my jeans, and began to shuffle over to where the lady was sitting.

“Hi, is there anything i can pray for you about?” I asked.

The woman looked up, replying “No thank you.”

I began to turn and walk away and then I looked back. “I just want you to know that whatever you’re going through that Jesus loves you.” I smiled and then turned and walked away.

As I made my way off the beach, and into my car, I began to think. Something had shifted for me in the last day.

As I drove along I began to think about the shift in mindset. The shift in complaining about life and its difficulties, to experiencing joy and actually having compassion for this woman on the beach.

For me personally, when something is off in my life, I know it is only a matter of time before God reveals what that is. I call it my Aha moment.

And as I drove down HWY 17 in Mount Pleasant, Sc I remembered why I did what I did. I remembered why God called me into ministry and where joy came from.

My realization: I do ministry and I live life as a Christian because Jesus has changed my life and therefore I want to see others lives changed.

To condense that more, simply, life and ministry is about Gospel Centrality.

As Christians, it is easy to get lost in what we do. Whether we are a pastor, or salesman, or teacher, it is easy to just go about life and do things. But if we forget why we do what do, even why we are who we are, then life become meaningless. Life becomes frustrating and even something as amazingly wonderful as ministry becomes a chore.

My phrase for 2017: Remember the Purpose.  

Its so easy to forget why we do what we do. But we must remember our purpose. We must remember that we live and move and breathe because Jesus has given us life. When we remember that, when we wake up with the gospel on our minds, on our hearts, then our lives will exude joy, peace, patience, love. We will actually enjoy life as Jesus had created for us to enjoy it. We will actually pursue others with love.

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as front lets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). 

I love the intentionality of this passage. The Israelite’s were to take every possible measure to remember who God was, who they were, and what they were to do.

We are forgetful people. That is why everyday we must come back to the Gospel. We must come back to clinging to Jesus. We must return to the fight with the knowledge of who we are and why we do what we do.

May we remember our purpose in 2017. May we seek God and love others out of the centrality of the Gospel. Only there, with the Gospel centralized in our lives, may we see life as it was meant to be seen and lived.

Blessings.