Thursday Thinks: We Are the Saints, We Are the Children

Dan Jackson

“This was written a year ago. I’m so thankful God’s truth never changes.”

Having just passed my fourth anniversary (some of you will know what for, and NO, it’s not Alcoholics Anonymous), I got to thinking. It never ceases to amaze me how much the simple truth of Salvation is something that we simply forget. Being a seminary student, the stuff that I study tends to (well, will really when I move to Massachusetts next Fall) go deeply into things that the average person–heck, even the average Christian–wouldn’t give a passing thought about. But at the center of all that I study, discuss, and debate is the Gospel.

Within Christianity, there seems to be a battle going on between the intellectuals and the anti-intellectuals. Unfortunately, neither of those usually further the Kingdom and spread the Good News. They tend to create division, conflict, and sometimes hurt. Some within the intellectual movement are moving the faith away from what it has been historically, and what it should be, into something that doesn’t resemble knowing Christ, let alone Christianity. The anti-intellectuals simply tell you that you shouldn’t question anything, you need to just believe it–whether you want to or not.

How do either of those stances further the Kingdom of God?! Christianity isn’t about how much faith you have, it’s about WHO your faith is in. Simple, right? Even when that is our intent–having a relationship with God through the atoning sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross–we sometimes mess that up. I sometimes (okay, a lot) mess that up. Thankfully, we’re loved all the same. Humans are inherently impulsive creatures. We want to survive. With eternity staring us in the face, we should be reaching out to the One who can save us.

You want to know the best part about that Salvation? It’s given freely to those who ask it in Jesus. 

It’s so simple. We shouldn’t be reaching out in fear, because “it’s the thing to do to look good,” or anything that’s motivated by greed or selfishness. Christ gave everything so that the gap between man and God could be bridged–all out of love. To be loved is to be known, and still loved in spite of ourselves. That love doesn’t create fear. That love doesn’t say “only if.” That Love says “come to me, and I’ll show you life.” Money can’t do that. Popularity can’t do that. RELIGION can’t do that. To the children who know the Father, I simply want to remind you that your salvation is in Christ alone, and that your rest will be found only in Him. We don’t need to look to anything else to save us.

To those who may be reading this, and don’t know Him, or maybe just don’t know what to think…I’m praying for you. I was that man once. Had it not been for Christ, there is no way that I would stand living, proclaiming what His love can do. Maybe you’ve heard about salvation before, but it confuses you. I’m here to tell you that Christ’s gift of redemption is something that is SO simple, but SO powerful. There is no person too lost, too far gone, too much of a screw-up to not experience what forgiveness is. I’m not a liar–you’re in my prayers, whoever you may be.

Jesus wasn’t simply a man who did a lot of good things, and then hung on a cross to die. He is the son of God. He took on human form, lived as a man, and was crucified–the worst death imaginable–so that we could know peace. How do I know this? For the Gospel says so in ten words.

Christ died for our sins and rose from the grave. Death has lost.


Thursday Thinks: Forgiveness

**Dan Jackson**

Normally when I hear the word “forgiveness,” I think of the Ryan Reynolds/Amy Smart movie Just Friends. In the film, Ryan’s character works in the music business, and his boss wants him to follow around a braindead socialite that he’s looking to sign to his record label. During a flight to Paris, Samantha James (the aforementioned socialite) has started working on a song entitled “Forgiveness.” It seems like the only thing she’s done is sing the first verse of the song since they left. She sings it again. Then again. She then imagines if Bono sang it with her. Again and again and again and again. Then she sets the plane on fire. Hilarity ensues for the rest of the movie.

Back to her song. The first line of the song, “Forgiveness is more than saying sorry” is rather poignant, given the context that it’s presented. When looking at Jesus, forgiveness is so much more than us saying that we’re sorry for sinning. Forgiveness is the acceptance of what Christ did for us. The entirety of it. His life (sinless), death (brutal), and resurrection (miraculous) were all prophesied by the prophets and fulfilled in the Son of God so that every sin could be wiped away. As a mere, sinful man, I can’t imagine what Jesus must have felt to forgive not just my transgressions, but all of humanity’s. Every thing leading up to and following his death on the cross. There’s a saying that when someone has a difficult decision to make, the “weight of the world” is upon their shoulders. With Jesus, it literally was.

No, there is no “logical” way to explain his sinless life, death, and rising from the dead other than the simple fact that he was an incarnate deity–the Son of God. There doesn’t need to be some man-made, scientific, rational explaination for what happened. The supposed “logic” of man is mere folly to God as it is. One act of obedience led to the departure of condemnation for sins. There is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. How is that an allegorical or ficticious writing? It seems quite blunt to me. Christ died and rose again so that our sins could be forgiven.

With that all being said, that means forgiveness is real. It means it’s tangible. It also means that sin and all that it entails is real. We’re weak creatures. We’re not inherently good–we’re inherently sinful, therefore “bad.” We need Him. I thank God for His grace, mercy, and love that He freely gives to us. It’s something that is so simple, yet so often contested and debated. The price has been paid in full. With that entire scope, it almost seems foolish that we struggle to accept His forgiveness (and admit that we need it), as well as forgive those in our lives who wrong us. I’m just as guilty of harboring hurts and pain. They seem rather inconsequential in comparison to what Jesus must have felt to forgive everybody who was, is, and is to come. Wow. It blows my mind.

Even in my walk with Christ now, I struggle to accept His forgiveness. Why am I so special? Why are any of us? We are worthy because He loves us. Everything that this world deems as “love” fails. The one true love? Never. I thank God for loving me enough to forgive me, even when I’m ready to write my life away. It sounds selfish, but everybody is worthy of that love and acceptance into the King’s arms. If you have yet to experience that love, I urge you to run to Him. He wants to know you so that he may love you and show you how to live a life full of His love.

Thursday Thinks: It Made a Difference to That One

An old man had a habit of early morning walks on the beach. One day, after a storm, he saw a human figure in the distance moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that it was a young woman and she was not dancing but was reaching down to the sand, picking up a starfish and very gently throwing them into the ocean.

“Young lady,” he asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

“The sun is up, and the tide is going out, and if I do not throw them in they will die.”

“But young lady, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it? You cannot possibly make a difference.”

“You cannot possibly make a difference…” Have you ever felt that way before? I know I have. I have always had such high hopes for my life. I have dreams of changing the world and being remembered. I confess that one of my biggest fears in life is dying and not being remembered for anything worthwhile, save but by a few. I wanted to be read about in textbooks. To do something that would inspire people. Something that one day, people would tell my story and change their world. I dream big. I dream to make a difference.

I have a hard time accepting that I may never do these things. I may never do anything worthy of historical significance. I may not be remembered for much. I may be soon forgotten. It’s a struggle. I start out with big dreams and goals. I wanted to write a blog that touched thousands of lives, with lively discussions and people saying “Wow, you have GOT to read this!” and sharing it with others. I’m lucky if I get twenty views a day. I wanted to write awesome books. I can barely get a blog entry out sometimes. I wanted to be a motivational speaker and get to travel around to conferences and such and just encourage. I want so badly to DO. And yet, sometimes, I think, I focus too much on the DO, and not nearly enough on the DONE.

We all have those moments. We had a big plan. We put our everything into it. Finally the time comes. We’re all excited for it! And then…it’s here. And it’s nothing like our imaginations thought it would be. Not as many people participated as we thought. We tripped all over ourselves. We didn’t say all we wanted. It’s so easy, especially in our world today, to feel like a failure. And in our world today, if you’re really unfortunate, that failure ends up on youtube.

It can be so easy to look at the small things and think we failed. But there is a lesson that I am learning, the beauty in the ashes, that is making all the difference in the world. What I see, in the small picture, as a failure, in the larger picture might be anything but. When our plans don’t go like we thought, the fact remains that they still went. Which means someone saw. And while it might not seem like it to us, it might have made all the difference in the world to that one person. Then they will carry it to another person. And so on. We may never see the fruits of what we started, but we may never see the end of the ripples, either.

I may never change the world in the ways I dream. But the thing is, those dreams were mine. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re God’s. The way I change the world might have nothing to do with me any longer. But it lives on through the lives I’ve touched. And because I made a difference in their lives, they will make differences in others’ lives, who will make differences in others’, and, before long, my influence on just one person, through countless different channels, may just one day change the world. So while the means weren’t the way I’d planned, the end result will be better than I ever could have imagined.

It only takes one. One person at one time, and the whole world is changed. You never know when that one time will be. It might just be when you feel you’ve had your biggest failure. So be encouraged, take heart, and keep on going, even when it feels like it’s all falling apart. You may not make a difference en masse, but even if it’s just one, it’s all the difference in the world. And you can inspire a generation just by inspiring one. And the world will change.

The young woman listened politely, paused and then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves, saying,

“It made a difference for that one.”

The old man looked at the young woman inquisitively and thought about what she had done. Inspired, he joined her in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.

Thursday Thinks: We’ve All Been There Before

**Dan Jackson**

I actually had an idea of what I wanted to write to y’all about this week! Well, Scripture passage. But hey, that’s a start. I’m a self-admitted procrastinator, and I think you should all know this blog is no exception (read: ILOVEYOUALLKTHXBYE). As part of my Seminary studies focusing on World Missions and Evangelization, I have to look at other religions and study them. Right now, I’m taking a course on Islam. Since the semester is still rather early, I haven’t gotten into the super heavy-duty theological stuff yet. From what little I have studied, however, I see at least one large difference between how God is viewed by Muslims in comparison to Christians.

This isn’t going to be a comparative religion blog post (promise!), but what I have seen in my limited reading of the second surah of the Koran is that Allah does keep a record of wrongs. In fact, Muhammad is apt to point out the destruction of the wicked very often in his writings. In Scripture, we see the wicked destroyed frequently as well—but we also read of Jesus’ gift of salvation through sacrifice on a cross; a gift that atones for all sins of those who would seek Him. Love keeps no record of wrongs.

In Psalm 77, the Psalmist talks of crying out to God in distress. Actually, it goes beyond distress. Asaph paints us a picture that can only be described as wretched. He recounts nights waiting with outstretched arms, refusing to be comforted by nothing other than God. In verses seven through nine, he begins to wonder if God will ever show His favor again. Will God reject forever? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? These are some pretty heavy things that Asaph is pondering in this Psalm.

Haven’t we all been in that position before? Haven’t we all wondered if the things of the past which come back to haunt us are actually keeping us from God? When we’re feeling stagnant in our relationship with Him, don’t we wonder if it’s permanent? I know for a fact I certainly have wondered that countless times. Over the past year, it seemed like an almost daily occurrence to wonder if this spiritual purgatory I was in would continue forever. In the next series of verses, however, Asaph changes his tone. Instead of wallowing in the feelings of abandonment that the enemy beset his mind with, he looks to the times that God has blessed him throughout his life. “Then I thought, ‘to this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.’”

Wow. Our culture is one that demands instant gratification; sadly our Church culture here in America has allowed that to creep in as well. When we feel like we’ve fallen too far to be loved by God, or we feel that our stagnated relationship with Him isn’t improving, we start to whine, make demands, and wallow in our self-pity. Trust me, it’s no good denying it—been there, done that. Instead, we need to be as Asaph and look back to God’s promises to us as His children. He has promised us that He would NEVER leave us nor forsake us, and the plans He has for us are those of prosperity. That doesn’t always mean it will be easy. That doesn’t always mean it will be fun. That doesn’t always mean it will be happy. God is more concerned with our holiness than happiness (thank you Rick Warren. Sorry folks, I can’t claim that one!), and in being that way, His ways will ultimately be higher than ours. We don’t have to always understand to know that He is guiding us.

Feeling stagnant? Seek Him in any and every way. Mother Theresa’s Sisters of Charity strived to spend every second of their day in prayer. Whatever they were doing, Mother Theresa told them to do it in prayer. You may think “oh, I could never do that!” My question to you is, have you tried? Prayer and spending time with God doesn’t need to be a big, elaborate ceremony. He’s our daddy—He just wants to spend time with us. God doesn’t require success, just faithfulness.

Do you feel like you’ve been rejected, abandoned, or ignored? Don’t believe it. God’s promises are made by a holy, perfect God. He promises that not only will he not abandon us, but that whoever believes in the death and resurrection of His son as an atoning sacrifice for sins will NOT perish, but have life everlasting. God isn’t a liar. Don’t believe the lies that the enemy plants in our heart and minds. It would have been so easy for Asaph to succumb to the depths rather than focus on God’s promises and blessings. I’m asking you this week, my dear readers, to not give into the lies that tell us God isn’t there, or that God’s forgiveness is conditional (and that we can’t meet it). Give in to love. Give in to Him.

You have lead me to the sadness
I have carried this pain
On a back bruised, nearly broken
I’m crying out to you

I will sing of Your mercy
That leads me through valleys of sorrow
To rivers of joy

Jars of Clay – Valley Song

Thursday Thinks: Free to Struggle

**Dan Jackson**

Something that I always feel like I struggle with is not trusting in God enough. There is a multitude of ways that I could phrase that—I “box God in,” I “don’t have the faith.” However you put it, it comes down to not trusting God enough. Now, usually what I’ve just said comes as the climax or punch line, if you will, of a blog entry. However, I’m not really one for that kind of thing (at least not tonight!), and I have my reasons for being so up front about it.

It’s almost odd that as Christians, we feel like we can’t be up front about what we struggle with. Given how struggles and sin have been dealt with in the past by the Church, I honestly can say that I don’t blame people for not wanting to be up front with what’s going on. The question that begs to be asked, however, is at what cost has this secrecy come? Immediately in my mind, various things that are shameful and upsetting come to mind. I can’t help but wonder if the Church had fostered a caring, open environment that met people where they were at in struggles, could things have been different?

The most glaring one is the child abuse scandal that has rocked the world of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. This is something I could write about until I was blue in the face, and trust me, you don’t want me to do that. The abuse that these innocent children have suffered at the hands of men who should have felt safe enough within their Church family to be open and talk about what was afflicting them so that they didn’t harm others should be a clear indicator to everyone else in the Church family that we’re not doing what we need to do. Society tells us that these men are unforgivable, disgusting creatures, and deserve punishment—legally speaking, they absolutely do. But these men also are in need of grace. They’re also in need of forgiveness. The spiritual side of me tells me so; no matter how much my stomach knots up when I think of the horrible atrocities that they’ve committed.

I can’t think of a better example than this glaring, painful experience that we’ve begun to come to terms with as a Church body to illustrate just how much in our own nasty, pathetic, evil—no, sinful—selves, we need Christ and His forgiveness. We’re desperate for His healing. We’re desperate for the satisfaction and fulfillment only He provides. Otherwise, we keep running back to our lack of trust in His forgiveness and reach for the things that only leave us wanting more.

You want to know what else we need? We also need each other. As one, we are the body of Christ, His bride. Without each other, we have nobody. Without Christ, we have nothing. This wasn’t meant to be a huge rant regarding the child abuse scandal; this is meant to be a (hopefully) short, concise reminder to those reading that it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to admit when we struggle. It’s not okay to conceal it so that it destroys us, and those around us.

Scripture tells us that we should confess our sins to one another so that we can edify one another, encourage one another, and above all else, love one another regardless. I said it once, I’ll say it again—those who have committed these horrible things are just as needing of grace as we are…we just haven’t been “caught” with the things in our lives that make us His enemies were it not for the grace of Christ.

My “food for thought”/challenge for the week to you, my dear readers, is to stand in the light. Don’t stand in the shadows. Don’t hide behind your struggles. Give it to Him. Give it to the one who makes all things new. In doing that, show your brothers and sisters that it’s okay to struggle and not be the “perfect Christian.” I mean, seriously, whoever says “good Christian” or “perfect Christian” needs to be high-fived in the face with a chair. We’re free to struggle because of Christ, not struggling to be free. Fear is just a lie that holds you back. Don’t let it.