Breaking In

Breaking In

Today i spoke with a publisher online. i am attempting to get my book, “Staying the Journey” published. It would be amazing if it were available by Christmas but at this point, i am not holding my breath. Anyway, the first publisher i sent it to waited eight weeks to tell me that they don’t publish my sort of book, on Christian Living and Spiritual Formation. Eight weeks. So, i started over. i have now sent it on to several publishers at once and even looked into getting a Literary Agent. Because, without one, it is an uphill battle for a first-time author. But it isn’t easy to convince an agent to represent you.  It is a wait and see sort of field, am i good enough? Is my writing good enough, is it clear, with good punctuation, did i dot all my i’s and cross all my T’s? Or am i an editors nightmare? Waiting isn’t fun.

This guy i spoke with today is part of a publishing company that has a division that does self-publishing but with a lot of help. They do this sort of 50-50 deal, it’s not really 50-50 but so that it is better understood and easier to explain let’s just say it’s 50-50. i put up some cash to start the process, in doing so, i unleash their expertise. If i were to 100% self-publish, i would have to do all the groundwork, getting my book into stores and online etc. With them, they do all that for me, along with much more, including websites and digital copies of my book for download. Breaking into this seemingly exclusive club known as professional writers is, well, not as easy as one would hope.

Isn’t it comforting to know that we don’t have to break into heaven? That we have an agent that makes entry into heaven seamless?

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:4-10

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5

We are blessed to have an agent who represents us. He not only represents us but when the God of the universe looks at us to gauge whether or not we are worthy, He sees our agent and our agent says, “this one is good enough, for their sins are forgiven.” Be encouraged my friends, Jesus, our advocate, mediator, agent, doesn’t look at our ability but rather our heart and in Him, we have boundless opportunity, for He loves us!

You are loved,

cj

In Step with the Spirit

In Step with the Spirit

Lent is an excellent time to take time and recalculate whether you are in step with the Spirit of God. The reality is that we as humans can, and often do find ourselves in the weeds of life. Sometimes knowingly, and other times unknowingly, but either way, taking a self-assessment to determine where you are is always a good idea; and what better time to do it than Lent. The period in which we look to the cross, the final sacrifice, the one that tore the veil into the Holy of Holies. Granting us access to the Father, the Alpha, and the Omega, the very Creator of the Universe, which includes you and me.

We know that there is a spiritual battle going on around us and actually in us. The struggle in us is that of the flesh versus the spirit. Paul writes to the Church in Galatia about this struggle.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Galatians 5:16-17 ESV

In the letter to the Romans we read:

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin.” Romans 7:21-25 ESV

It is because of this war that we must remain vigilant to the schemes of the enemy. We know that the devil is prowling around like a lion, looking for someone to devour, waiting for that opportune time to strike! (1 Peter 5:8) Therefore, take heed, and some personal responsibility, to remain accountable to the Spirit of God. Here are some practical ways to stay vigilant in your journey with Jesus.

  1. Study the Word! Be in it, meditate on the Word, day and night! (Psalm 1:2) And, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV
  2. Pray! Jesus’ example to us on the importance of getting away to pray is written throughout the Gospels. We are also instructed to “pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17
  3. Journal. We are told to “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” Proverbs 3:3, In fact, we are told several times to write them on our hearts, and hands, and our very souls.
  4. Accountability! It is important to have trusted friends around you. To share your struggles with and to confess your sins to in order to be held accountable; to help keep you on the right path. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) Also, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” James 5:16

This short list isn’t a complete one, we could talk about the importance of a Church family or small group, the list continues. However, the above list will definitely help one stay vigilant on their Journey with Jesus. Let me close with a simple way to take your temperature to find out where you are:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:18-25

As you look at yourself, do you see more flesh or more Spirit? If more flesh, confess, pray, get in the Word, journal, and get accountable. If more of the Spirit, do not slack! Weed out what flesh is there, confess, pray, get in the Word, journal, and get accountable.

You are loved,

cj

Follow Me (part seven)

Follow Me (part seven)

Have you ever been in a situation where everything you thought was right, was actually, not? i mean not that you were completely wrong, you honestly thought that you had it together and everything was moving right along in life; until confronted with this paradigm shift, a new way to see. You are doing what you do, it’s how you have been raised, like it or not, you are in the throws of life around you and you have your mindset. Then, you meet someone. They’re full of wisdom and information, they tell you things and even if it isn’t new it seems new because they are giving you a new perspective. And it changes your life, whether or not you live out the new knowledge, you are forever changed.

There is a “follow me” statement that is a paradigm shift, for the questioner, and all the other hearers . . . all the way to you and me. It is found in three of the Gospels, we will look at the account recorded by Mark in 10:17-31.

And as He was setting out on His journey a man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’ 17-18 ESV

i have heard this story of the Rich Young Ruler, or Rich Young Man, countless times and in countless ways. i mean the different spins on it, some border on heresy others good and some great, i hope this lands in one of the later categories and not the first. i have read and prayed over this for some time. i find comfort in Jesus’ response, “Why do you call me good?” Not because in some way Jesus was calling Himself sinful, but rather already knew the purpose of this mans coming to Him. And in a nutshell answers him by stating, basically, that there is nothing one can do to earn their way into heaven. You can not work your way there, nor buy your way, only through God can one enter. For no one is good except God alone.

“‘You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ And he said to Him, ‘Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.’ And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.‘” 19-21 ESV

Jesus jumps right to the part of the Ten Commandments that refer to loving your neighbor as yourself. i think it is interesting here that Matthew is the only gospel that references the young man as asking a follow-up question, “What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20) Mark and Luke record Jesus offering the solution out of a deep love for the young man. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said . . .” Jesus saw this mans heart. He knew that the young man was looking for the easy road into the Kingdom. He knew that the young man had another god in his life that he wasn’t willing to give up. He had a net that was holding him back, it was his wealth. He was keeping part of the commandments but was violating the first; “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3 ESV

There is a reason that is the first. You cannot be a partial keeper of the law. You can not follow after God half-way. It’s all or nothing. You either are willing to follow Jesus at all cost or not at all. It’s the question i have been stewing over for the past few weeks, “If He is your creator, are you willing to surrender to God no matter what He says?” or asked another way, “What are you NOT willing to give up to follow Jesus?” It boils down to the state of your heart.

Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” 22 ESV

He approached Jesus with boldness and humility, he left Jesus sorrowful, refusing the invitation to, “come, follow Me.” Jesus uses the opportunity to teach His disciples a lesson on surrendering all to follow after Jesus. But, He makes it clear, that without God, it is impossible, for man is unable on our own, yet, with God all things are possible.” Even a rich person to enter into the Kingdom.

When faced with a paradigm shift, we either choose our understanding or the new understanding. The only right answer with a God-sized paradigm shift is to choose God. It won’t be easy, in fact without God it will be impossible for you. That is why it is so important to follow Jesus, for He and only He, has the Words of eternal life!

You are loved,

cj

Follow Me (part six, Lent)

Follow Me (part six, Lent)

The whole idea of following Jesus is traced back to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. He beckoned His disciples to “Follow Me.” At the beginning of Mark in verse 14 and 15 of Chapter one, we see the starting point. John the Baptist has been arrested. Jesus’ time has begun. His message was simple;

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:15 ESV

Part of following Jesus requires that we repent. To turn from sin, do a 180 degree, an about-face, from the sin in our lives. Then believe in the gospel. Gospel simply means Good News. Jesus is the Good News, we are to believe in Jesus.

As we begin the season of Lent, the 46 (40 not counting Sundays) day period of time in which we prepare ourselves for Resurrection Sunday and Holy Week leading up to the day Jesus conquers the death, the grave, and sin.  It is a period of prayer, repentance, fasting or self-denial, as we seek to right our hearts before a Holy God. The time begins with Ash Wednesday. i am sure you have seen folks walk around on Ash Wednesday with a smudge of black on their foreheads. Many feel as if this is strictly a Catholic event, or Lutheran, or a number of other more liturgical Churches. When in fact it is not.

The idea of repenting in ashes dates well back into the Old Testament. In which in times of National Crises or repentance one would put on sackcloth or a course, uncomfortable,  shawl type garment made of goats hair, with ashes on their head, which symbolized utter ruin. A lament of sorts in which they would cry out to God in mourning of their sin. As we look to Ash Wednesday now, we look at the putting on of Ashes as a reminder to repent and believe in the Gospel. It is also a time to remember that we are, “dust and to dust, we will return.”

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.” Genesis 3:19 ESV

“All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” Ecclesiastes 3:20 ESV

Taking time each year to specifically pray, examine ourselves, and repent, in order to remember and perhaps recommit to “believe in the gospel” afresh and new is, in my opinion, a great thing! And, if we follow this time up by dropping our nets, those things that hinder us, ensnare us, bind us, and maybe even torment us and leaving them behind; we can truly begin, in a new and deeper way to respond to Jesus who says, “Follow Me.” Will you prepare your hearts this Lenten season? Will you mark this time with prayer, repentance, and self-denial, so that you may gain a fresh perspective on who you are in Christ Jesus and what He calls you to do?

Will you Follow Him?

You are loved,

cj

Follow Me (part four)

Follow Me (part four)

Although Jesus said, “Follow Me,” there was one place that He said, they would not go, more specifically, Peter. Not that they wouldn’t all eventually walk that road, in some way-or-other, just that there was still more to be done. Here is the exchange between Peter and Jesus as recorded in John 13:36-38:

Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord why can I not follow you now? I would lay down my life for You.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.'”

Jesus in all of His preparation had not yet completed that work, nor had they! There may come a time when we are called to lay down our lives for the cause of Christ. Yet, we shouldn’t go looking for it. Many times the disciples were arrested, but later escaped because it wasn’t their time. Eventually, each of the disciples came to a point where they followed Jesus, even to death. Some in the same way even, on a cross. All save one, John. He was exiled on the island of Patmos. Whether we give our lives as martyrs or we live a full life, we are called to follow.

There is no one else to follow. There is no other way to go. As we have explored over the past several weeks, to follow means to lay down our lives, figuratively, and quite possibly, literally. There is no question that His will must become our will, “not My will but Your will be done.” (see Matthew 26:39). Although the weight seems heavy, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Listen to Jesus’ words to His disciples after answering Peter; John 14:1-4:

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.

We should be comforted in Jesus words to those who Follow Him. Who truly know Him, and seek to do His will. The disciples were confused by Jesus’ words, “And you know the way . . .” to the point that Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus replied; (John 14:5-6)

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

If we follow Jesus, we come to know the way, the truth, and the life. And when this feeble life is over, we will enter the place prepared for us.

You are loved,

cj

Follow Me (part two)

Follow Me (part two)

There are so many facets to the statement made by Jesus, “Follow Me.” The one that should stand out that i think gets lost nowadays is the fact that following Jesus is not easy, nor is the road always blessed. The only promise is that we will be with Him and He with us, here now, and tomorrow in eternity. Listen to Jesus’ own words in regards to what it means to Follow Him.

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Matthew 8:20

“Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:22

“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, Follow Me.” Matthew 19:21

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.” John 6:53-55

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will also keep yours.” John 15:18-20

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

These are just a few of the verses that we like to explain away or look past or neglect altogether, sadly. Is there an appropriate context for each of these verses, yes there is . . . However, they do quite nicely standing alone, as well as in context, for us, today. We cannot shy away from the hard sayings of Jesus because they make people uncomfortable. We cannot glance over or ignore His words and still say, we follow Jesus. He said these things for a reason. They are truth for the soul. We must seek to understand them or risk walking away altogether because we failed to gain wisdom from our knowledge of Him. After all, Jesus also said;

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” Luke 6:46-49

Are you ready to truly follow Jesus?

You are Loved,

cj

Follow Me (part one)

Follow Me (part one)

Did you ever play follow the leader as a kid? You know that game where one person leads a group and where ever they go you have to follow, and if they jump, you jump . . . That sort of thing? We don’t much play follow the leader anymore like that do we? We still follow; we follow someone who might know where they are going, and so we drive behind them, following them. We follow the directions of our boss. We follow the laws of the land. We even follow sports teams or individuals on social media, twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Although, we aren’t kids and we don’t “play” the game, follow the leader, we still follow. There are in fact, only two leaders. One says, follow me and enjoy life’s pleasures, the other says, take up your cross and follow me. It’s a stark contrast, one is wide and the other narrow.

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:12-14 ESV

Some would say this is two separate thoughts; i would disagree. You see there are two ways, the wide gate, which is easy, and the narrow gate, that is hard to find. Why? Well, because, humans are selfish. Generally, one treats another as they are treated by them. Jesus flips this general rule of thought and says, no, you know how you like to be treated? This is how you should treat others. Let me tell you this, it is not EASY to treat someone, who doesn’t treat you well, in a way that you wish to be treated. In fact, for those who give it a try, it is a tough thing to do!

However, our example in all these things is Jesus. Jesus, who was mocked by His earthly family, deserted by His followers, mocked by the ruling class, the religious, the crowd; All the while treating them, except for righteous anger, with dignity and respect. Obedient all the way to the cross. So what is His secret? The answer is He submitted Himself to God and relied on the Holy Spirit. They were one. He invites us to this same place. He gives us a helper, the Holy Spirit. He invites us to be one as He and the Father are one, He in Him and He in us. It’s a fantastic reality.

The narrow way is difficult because it requires, no, it demands, that we live selflessly. That we consider others over ourselves. This does not come naturally. In fact, unless we follow Jesus, we will never find it. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Many will quit the journey because the way is to hard, yet what they don’t realize is that when we submit to the Lord, there is a Helper. The Holy Spirit who dwells in us, enables us, to live in such a way as this. We need only to follow the leader, we know as Jesus. You see, you have a choice to either follow Jesus, or you will be following the temporary ruler of this world, the devil. The devil, demands nothing from you but in the end, steals your soul. Jesus, demands your life but in the end, grants you eternity.

Jesus says, “Follow Me, and I will . . . save you, equip you, send you, help you.”

You are Loved,

cj