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.

Faith Friday: Do You Know What a Hug Is?

Dan Jackson – “This is an entry from my blog earlier in the year. With my schooling coming ever closer (January!) reflecting on my last mission trip to the Dominican Republic reminds me time and time again how faithful God really is, and how faithful He always will be.”

A wonderful woman of God once asked me after church “do you know what a hug is?” Thinking “of course I know,” I smiled and said “Yes…?” And she laughed, and the conversation went as follows:

“No you don’t! You’re supposed to say no!”
“Oh, okay.”
“Go on!”
“No, I don’t know!”

After I said no, she gave me the best, and I mean the BEST, huge I have ever received. Now, I’m not the kind of person who usually says whether a hug is good or bad. One of my love languages is physical touch (The Five Love Languages), so I’m typically not picky when somebody shows me love with a hug. This hug, however…wow. It wasn’t just Esther, a sister in Christ, showing her love for a brother. 1 John 4:19 comes to mind. “We love because He first loved us.” Today, I have been pondering who God is according to what He has revealed to us through Scripture and how awesome He is. Obviously, the first thing that comes to my mind is love. I’ve written about God’s love and how He IS love a few times before. This wasn’t just a “so glad to have you missionaries here” kind of hug. This was a hug that clearly said to me and everybody else who received it “I love you.” How incredible is that? After the first hug, we (the team) kept getting hugs from people in the church. People showing love who actually meant it. It’s such a blessing to be reminded that love is real, and love is there for anybody who seeks it.

This world is so superficial and full of things that make us think that we’re receiving love or fulfillment, but this tangible, genuine display of true love was mind-blowing. The Bible tells us that when two are three are gathered in His name, He is there. That Sunday in Iglesia Bautista Cristo Para las Naciones–He was there. Fellowship together wasn’t just a compulsory Sunday morning thing. It was a gathering of God’s children to worship the one who has given them life. 1 John 3:16 says “This is how we know what love is: Christ laid down his life for us, and we should do the same for our brother.” Wow. We should love others so much that we are willing to lay down our lives for them! Honestly, I can admit that there are times when I don’t feel that love. But we’re commanded to. And it’s not “I love you because I have to” kind of love–it’s the real love that we give to others because of the love that Jesus has for us. My prayer is that He would teach me how to love like that; that He would teach me how to love like Him.

What I have just come to call “The HUG” kept coming to my mind today. It also reminds me of God’s faithfulness. Today I woke up feeling lonely, and I was struggling with a lot of things from the past. God used this experience to remind me of not only the love we are to have for each other, but also to remind me of the love He has for us. If that huge demonstration of love was just a glimmer of how great He really is, I can’t wait to be before His throne to experience Him in all his awesomeness. He is faithful in His promises, and for that I praise Him. Sometimes all we need is someone to just tell us that they love us. God tells us that all the time. What started as a hug was a vehicle for God to show me a glimmer of the love He has for me. Bondieu li Bon, tout nan. I can’t stop saying this truth.

Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul

Today one of my friends received news that she had been waiting over a year for. After being torn apart from her husband and four young children for about eight months due to false accusations, and having to endure painful words, accusing stares, lonely nights, moment after frustrating moment, court case after useless court case, she heard the words today: CASE DISMISSED. Now she can finally make her family whole again, continue to heal, and grow with her family every moment of every day.

This Sunday, another special family I know will mark two weeks since their lives were tragically altered by the sudden death of their husband and daddy. A wife continues to grieve for the loss of the man she has spent almost half her young life with. Two little girls will continue to ask for Daddy, but Daddy has gone where they can’t see him. This family will continue this life, but never be truly whole again.

The situations are vastly different, yet have many similarities. They were both painful experiences with life-altering circumstances. They both caused a need to adjust to a “new normal”. They both will never be forgotten. They both also caused me to think of the same song.

It seems strange that two opposite situations – one family coming back together, one family being torn asunder – would solicit the same response from me. But they did, because this is God’s life, and He does weird things like that.

Matt Redman has a new song out called “10,000 Reasons”. The chorus goes like this:

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul
Oh, my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
Oh, my soul
I worship Your holy name”

Some people would say there’s a lot of gray in the Bible. I say I know many things to be black and white, and this principle is one of them: Whether it’s a good time or bad time, we are to worship God regardless.” Coach Grant Taylor put it this way in the movie Facing the Giants, “If we win, we’ll praise Him. And if we lose, we’ll praise Him.” Two opposite experiences. Same outcome.

We’re not going to understand everything God does. We’re not going to like everything God allows. But, whether we like it or not, we are to praise Him. Loving God means trusting Him even when everything around us doesn’t make sense. Loving God means praising Him when all we want to do is lie down and cry. Loving God means accepting we may never know the reasons for our heartaches. Many people see a faith in God as a sign of weakness. I see it as being the biggest show of strength imaginable. It’s easy to say “I give up.” It’s only the strongest that can say, “I don’t understand, but still will I trust.”

Two phenomenal women. Two opposite yet incredibly painful circumstances. Two families forever changed. Same unworldly response:

“Bless the Lord, oh my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!” -Psalm 103:1

**Please continue to remember the Hadfield and Erskine families in your prayers. Though the Hadfield’s are restored, there is still much healing to happen. The Erskine family is still under unimaginable amounts of pain, and healing will not come quickly. Please pray for both of these incredible families still hurting, but still trusting in the love of our Savior.**

LOBLA

You’ve got the X-Factor: You’re the Apple of Christ’s Eye

*contributed by Dan Jackson*

I’ll be honest with y’all—I usually don’t plan on what I’m going to write about. Today, that’s no exception. I sat down, laptop in hand, wondering what exactly I could share and I didn’t come up with anything. Being Wednesday night, the X-Factor is on. Being a longtime Britney fan (don’t judge. I mean it!)…I’m watching the X-Factor as she is a judge this season. I’ve followed the X-Factor since it was initially a show in the UK that produced awesome talents like Leona Lewis, Shayne Ward, Cher Lloyd, and Alexandra Burke. Apart from Leona, those names probably don’t ring a bell (trust me, go YouTube Alexandra’s version of “Hallelujah” and you won’t be disappointed)—but they all possess that special something; that “it” factor. Well, that X-factor that sets them apart from others and endears them to millions of adoring fans.

Now, I’m sure that this has been done countless times before (and possibly by high profile blogs that attract thousands of readers), but what I’m looking at on my television screen is begging to be addressed. While I think this is an opportunity for talented people to be discovered and pursue their dream, should we not be reminded that we already have THE X-Factor? Let me clarify: we don’t need to parade around in front of a crowd to get approval. We don’t need a set of overpaid celebutants telling us what we lack or don’t lack.

We already have the X-Factor. In the eyes of Christ His atoning, forgiving sacrifice means that we are looked on as blameless and beloved by God the Father.

I could go on some long winded, theology imbued rant about my previous statement, but therein lies the beauty of the Gospel: it’s simple enough for a twit like me to understand, accept and be transformed by, yet complex enough that the most genius of minds grasps it. The ultimate beauty of it all is that we don’t have to meet the approval of a panel and voters because Christ’s gift of salvation isn’t exclusive. Can I get an “amen” or “hallelujah” or both on that one?!

My recognition of the doors the X-Factor opens for talent isn’t an overly ringing endorsement, however. I don’t like the fact that sometimes worth comes entirely down to whether or not the person looks or sounds the part (read: they’re able to make money for a record label and production company). We’re treasures in the arms of Christ—no matter what this world says. Scripture tells us that we are known before our days begin (and I mean KNOWN. Known in ways that we don’t even know ourselves by a loving God), and we are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image. His fingerprints are all over creation and us—and let me tell you, there is some remarkable beauty in us and in this world. Instead of always thinking that we’re somewhat “less than” those who we see on every magazine cover, hear on every radio station, or see on television, we should strive to live with the knowledge that God has given us His X-Factor: acceptance and love because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

My weekly challenge builds on last week. As we strive to live with the title “Child of God,” add to that in your mindset. We’ve been given a grace that surpasses any type of shallow acceptance that we think we need from this world.

Stay Strong, For There Is Healing

Contributed by Dan Jackson

Healing. That’s a word we throw around a lot. In today’s culture, we’re often obsessed with it. As a matter of fact, this week has been recognized as something that is very close to my own story and heart—suicide. Rather, this has been Suicide Prevention Week (I really should work on my grammar flow a bit better…oh well). Up until a year ago, I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. I think that in our culture, awareness of bullying and the issues it can cause (such as suicide) has opened a lot of doors for people to experience healing and move past the darkness that can cloud their lives. It’s a fantastic thing that people are now aware of the depth and darkness that can consume the lives of people to the point that they don’t feel life is worth living. With that awareness, hopefully there comes a compassion, a heart for helping those suffering, and a capacity for healing.

Now, I’d like to share a little bit of my own story that I’ve alluded to. When I was thirteen, I started to notice that something was different about how I viewed the world and how I interacted with people in it. I really let things get to me; I really let things bother me—and I didn’t have anyone close enough to share my fears, concerns, and fears with. As I got older, I couldn’t help but realize that the people I called my friends weren’t really friends. As long as I was able to do things for them—homework, give them things like rides, money, etc—we were “friends.” I can distinctly remember a time I overheard two people I thought were my friends talking about me, and it wasn’t pretty. Around the age of fifteen, it finally hit me that these people weren’t my friends, and they didn’t care about me. I was just a resource to be utilized as they needed. Being fifteen, and feeling like an outcast to begin with, I reverted further inwards. To deal with the pain, I started to self-medicate with whatever I could find. On the outside, I was fine; a good Christian guy to one set of friends, and the free-spirited, happy-go-lucky guy to the other set. On the inside, I felt nothing but self-hatred and desperation to put an end to the pain, no matter the cost.

Spiritually, I had felt abandoned by God. If he was real, he didn’t care about me. He’d have helped me by now, I thought to myself. The “religious life” wasn’t cutting it for me—all it did was remind me constantly of how far away from godliness I was, and how much I sucked. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I felt alone, I felt unworthy, unwanted, and above all, I felt unloved. I didn’t think I could tell the people in my life who loved me—they wouldn’t understand.  When I was sixteen, I tried taking my own life. I downed a bottle of pills that would have dropped Xerxes from the film 300 (he’s a huge guy in case you haven’t seen the film)…and I didn’t get so much as a stomach ache. I lay down, expecting to fall asleep and never wake up. The funny thing is that I woke up about twenty-five minutes later feeling like I’d just taken a refreshing nap. Instead of realizing that my life was saved by a miracle of God, I grew angrier and raged against God for not letting me go.

After that day, I lived life as if God didn’t exist. As far as I was concerned, he really was cruel and couldn’t even afford me the luxury of peace and quiet in death. The voices in my head were still telling me the million ways that I fell short, but I had a life to live. I was going to go to my prestigious school, get a high paying government job, and live a life that would bring me material happiness. The school didn’t work out, but the government job would still be reasonable. I ended up staying home to complete my undergrad—and would go to church to make my mother happy once in a while. In November of 2007, she was taking the youth group to a Newsboys concert in the southern part of Maine. I agreed to chaperone, and thought nothing of it. I’d grown up hearing their music, and at the very least I’d get a free concert out of it.

After entering the venue, I felt something present and different. I’d been to a fair amount of Christians concerts prior to this, and was repulsed by how materialistic and shallow I found everybody else to be there. However, the energy and dynamic in the Augusta Civic Centre was completely unlike anything I had experienced. Initially, it unsettled me. Can that be God present? I remembered reading once upon a time in the Bible that when two or three are gathered in His name that He is present with them. It weirded me out a lot, so I put it out of my mind. This presence kept nudging at me throughout the concert. About halfway through the Newsboys’ set, Peter Furler introduced a new song entitled “Stay Strong.” The song spoke of the weariness that people can feel in their heart and the desperation of living life. When the song came to the bridge…well, I can still clearly hear the words ringing in my head like I’m still there.  I truly believe it was the first time in my life that I heard the voice of God:

Get up, there’s further to go
Get up, there’s more to be done
Get up, this witness is sure—
Get up, this race can be won. This race can be won.

It was as if God was finally able to break through the heaviness of the stone heart I’d been carrying around. I had so many years left in life, and God knew them to belong to Him before I did. All of the hurt, pain, and exhaustion that I’d carried around for years finally broke open and He took it from me. I didn’t have to be alone. I didn’t have to be afraid. I didn’t have to feel like I was worthless and life wasn’t worth living back in 2005. He had me, and continues to have me to this very moment. He was my healer then as he is now.

Since then, who I am continually being made into as a child of God doesn’t resemble the person I was nearly five years ago. I literally came back from the brink, and not by anything I did in my own strength. Our God is a mighty healer, and NOTHING is impossible for him to overcome. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I lost sight of that recently, but am so thankful that God is true to His word in saying that He will never leave us or forsake us. He is ever unchanging. He is the great physician who overcomes any and every affliction that rages against us.

Love is louder than the voices in your head. If you are someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or just feeling like you don’t add up…don’t believe it. You’re beautiful. You’re created in the IMAGE OF GOD. He knew was He was doing when He made you. He wants to know you. He wants to shower you with the love that only a heavenly Father could. He wants to bless you more than anything this life could. Will you answer the call? From personal experience, I can promise you that He’ll be true to His word and instill a love in you that won’t say goodbye due to sickness, divorce, or abandonment.

I’m alive today simply by the grace of God. The healing begins when we let go and let Him. Are you willing to let go?

Guide

The road is set before me
Though a fork I’ve come upon
I know not which way to go
But I know I must go on

I strain to see what lies ahead
But all stays dark and deep
I cannot see the mystery beyond
This dim light before my feet

I want to stand and contemplate
The road that I should take
But allowing my past to catch up with me
Would be my biggest mistake

I whisper a prayer for You to guide
Choose a path and make my way
Hope the choice would prove right
At the dawn of a new day

I have no clue what is to come
Nor the how or the where
But the one thing I know for certain
Is that You are always there

**”Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” -Hebrews 11:1

Thank You, Lord, for Your great love, guidance, and care upon us, even when we have no idea what we’re doing.**

LOBLA

Broken Down…And I like it.

**This is a guest post from a good friend of mine, Dan Jackson. Dan will be contributing to the blog on a regular basis. Dan is a great young man with a heart for God and a message to spread. I pray his words touch your heart and, wherever you find yourself, give you a chance for reflection, thankfulness, and, if necessary, strength to change. To be all God wants you to be.**

This is my first entry, and as such I feel like what I’m about to ramble on about would be rather pointless if I didn’t do some sort of introduction. My name is Daniel Jackson, and I’ve been a blogger over at www.ceolmahrgael.blogspot.com for around six years. Over the past few years, I’ve been trying, at times almost too hard, to discern God’s call on my life. I graduated from college in May of 2010, and immediately began trying to figure out what my next step was. When I wasn’t sure, I figured more school was in order. I spent a year in education classes—that was a bust. Teaching isn’t my thing. I have the utmost respect for those who are called to the profession, but that isn’t me. I also had the opportunity to go on a short term mission trip to the Dominican Republic in 2010. While there, I began to get some kind of sense that ministry was where I needed to go.

Since then, I’ve spent all of my time and energy focusing on going to Seminary. That was the be-all, end-all that needed to happen. I can’t serve the Lord outside of the Church or working on professional ministry, right? I returned to the Dominican Republic this past February, where I felt my call not only affirmed, but almost fine tuned. I felt called to a life of missions. As such, I planned my seminary education accordingly. Over the past few months, however, various things in my home church life coupled with what I’ve experienced while serving God abroad have really left me in quite a predicament. I felt this immense pressure to always do what I was “supposed” to do. I was living under that burden so much that I completely lost sight of the Son and grew deaf to His voice. I realized that I was deaf to Him in a moment that seemed like it was too late: while working at a Christian camp. It terrified me. What was I doing? What was I doing wrong? I didn’t know. I had no idea what God wanted me to do, or how He could use someone like me to effectively minister. I tried my hardest to shrug it off, while at the same time becoming so engrossed in things that I felt like I couldn’t live without: relationships, religion, saying the right things, looking the part, and leading worship. It slowly started killing me.

In what I assumed to be a headlong pursuit of God and His will in my life, I also allowed the expectations of this world and those in it to run my life. I’m quickly approaching my twenty-fourth birthday, and it hit me for the first time ever: I didn’t know how to live life the way I wanted. Not even that—I didn’t know how to follow what God wanted. Chaos ensued in my heart. Earlier this year, I was let go from my position of youth director at my church. I don’t believe it was handled well, and as such I was left angry, hurt, and bitter. I didn’t want to be those things, but I couldn’t help but wonder “if they’ll do this to one of their own, no wonder people don’t want to come to Church.” Cynicism reigned supreme in my life. Mixing cynicism, expectations of others, and not knowing where I was going was a definite recipe for disaster.

I was supposed to actually move down to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary this coming Sunday. As of this morning, I’m not going. So many things have led to that decision. Last night, when I realized that the money situation wasn’t feasible, I finally allowed myself to let go of it. After the initial let-go, things started coming to my attention. I’m in no way ready for Seminary right now—and it took God slamming the door in my face to realize it. This isn’t the first time in my life that I’ve had this happen. There is so much in my life that I’ve allowed to have dominion over my heart that the term “out of fellowship” doesn’t even begin to cover it. I was living a lie. The smiling, pastor in training, seminary-bound worship leader Dan was a farce. I’d become the very thing I claimed to despise—a Christian Atheist; a follower of a set of religious rules and guidelines. I’d become something I vowed never to be: a label. The inside was governed by jealousy, rage, lust, self-hatred, mistrust of God…the list could go on. Those few things alone shame me. There wasn’t any love—certainly not the love I should have for the Christ who saved me. I figured that all of the negativity I’d allowed to cloud my view of the Church would evaporate when I went to seminary. Truth is…it would have made it worse. My heart was set on a destructive path. I was going to fully transform into what Jesus tells us not to: a whitewashed tomb. I look great on the outside, but the inside is rotten.

During my breakdown last night, I cried out with what little energy I had left to Jesus. I’m not really one for dramatics, but I had no hope left. Thankfully, He heard my cry (okay, sobs).  I felt the presence of our Lord for the first time in months. What does that feel like, you ask? Peace. Love. Calm in spite of chaotic circumstances. The past was just that—the past. The aforementioned sins were counted as no more. I’m looking at this divine intervention in my life as a second chance. Well, maybe not a second chance; more like a five-thousandth chance. I lose count. The point is that our God is true to His promises. One of those promises is that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us, no matter the circumstance. I was convinced with all of my heart that I was on the right path, and regardless of how I felt inside, I was going to serve God and others. My spiritual health wasn’t a concern to me, when it clearly should have been.

The point of this long-winded introduction is to show that there is nobody too far gone, too screwed up, too “wrong” or deemed “less than” for God and His love to reach. People may look at me and say “you don’t know me; you don’t know what I’ve done.” To that, I say I’m no different. God’s love isn’t exclusive. There is more love and grace in His little finger than all that this world could offer. And for that, I am SO thankful. Tony Campolo once said “I’m not who I was, I’m not yet who I’m supposed to be—but I’m on my way.” It’s just that. Forgiveness and salvation in Christ isn’t just a magic pill or spell that we say to be transformed. It is a daily renewal; sometimes hourly. His mercies are new every morning. His love never ceases, never fades, never wanes.

The only label we should be concerned with is the one that says “Child of God.” That label covers everything that we think will remove us from His presence. Over the coming months as I reevaluate where God wants me to be, I’ll daily be striving to live in, not up to, that label. A child of the King. Will you?