The Struggle and the Blessing

I just had a very wild first half of Spring semester.  I just finished and passed my online class while still going through two residential classes; I am also working part time and I was a part of a local community theatre’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. To say I was stressed out is a little bit of an understatement, but it was an adventure.

Spring Break has just ended and our production finished its run.  I breathe a sigh of relief, even though being a part of the performance was a huge blast (more on that in another blog).

I was cast as Napthali in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, one of Joseph’s 11 brothers.  I wore that name with pride.  Looking into the Scripture, Napthali is the sixth of Jacob’s children.  Rachel speaks of him:

With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed. – Genesis 30:8

I would spend a lot of time giving you background on the story, but I trust you are reading your Bible.  Background scripture is Genesis 29-30.

Napthali is understood to mean wrestling, strife, or fight.  When I look back over the past two years of my life, I have been going through a lot of wrestling, though not physically.  I had been battling stress, self-worth, anxious thoughts, worry, “conflicting” theology and how God and I viewed each other.  Priorities were competing with my life: God, work, school, friends, productions, and other things were all vying for my devotion.  Yes, I put God as one of the things competing for me; that’s not a mistake.

I’ve struggled spiritually, but God is forever gracious and patient with me.

God has a tendency of adding pressure in our lives and allows us to struggle; not so He can take pleasure in seeing us flail and fall, but to show us that we are imperfect beings, that He is jealous for us and that He wants us to turn to Him in these moments.  He knows, and He has the best solution.  After all, He is God.

Beloved reader, God blesses us in the struggle.  We cannot fight on our own power; we will fail every time unless we call on Him.  Fights begin and continue until someone is victorious.  If you’re fighting against the world, cling to God.  Seek His face and direction.  If you lose the fight, get back up, breathe, and come back another day.

Jacob would later wrestle with God; he would not let go until God blessed him, which He did (Gen. 32: 22-32).  I submit to you that it’s perfectly fine to wrestle with God; just don’t give up the fight as He wants to bless you.  When you give up the fight and walk away, you miss out on what God has in store for you and a deepening of your relationship with Him.

May we in the same way cling to God as we wrestle with Him and the world around us, never letting go until He blesses us.  Fight, but ultimately submit to God; remember, He is for you, not against you.

The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still. – Exodus 14:14

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” – Hebrews 12:3-6

Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. – James 4:7

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings.

– Jon Pannell

Disclaimer:  God blesses us and provides what we need, not what we want.  If we are contending and fighting for the wrong things or with the wrong motives, He will say no.

Advertisements

To Christmas Sunday, or not to Christmas Sunday?

Alright folks, it’s almost Christmas.  You guys are shopping, doing Christmas parties and wearing ugly sweaters; I won’t keep you for long for this post.

A few days ago, a person I follow, Jon Acuff (@JonAcuff), tweeted:

Shoutout to churches cancelling services this Sunday. We pastor’s kids often leave faith because the church stole our Christmas every year.

A lot of people, myself included, found a lot of humor and appreciation in his tweet.  But others didn’t and lit him up like a Christmas tree.  The 6-7 Year Debate as begun again:  Should churches have services on Christmas Day?  It’s shocking to see how Christians strongly defend having church on Christmas Sunday to the point of arguing against those who don’t.

People tweeted against Acuff, calling him an idolater and offering to pray for his salvation.  I saw an article’s comment section (Pro Tip:  Never go to the comments section. Ever.  Avoid it like sin) saying that churches that don’t do Christmas Sunday should not be called Christians.

I get it.  Christmas is a time for family and friends and most importantly,  for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  What message are we sending to people when we say we are celebrating one of Heaven and Earth’s greatest moments but at the same time trashing other Christians and churches for not having Christmas Sunday services?

I advise that we check our hearts.  We act like not having church on Sunday is going to rob us of Jesus for that week.  Think about that for a second.  Is this the state of our Christian faith and our hearts, that getting Jesus once a week for a few hours is sufficient?  I think not.

So family, go and celebrate our Savior’s birth, whether you have a Christmas Sunday service or not.  You won’t get any judgmental looks or words from me.

Until next time, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with who he is pleased!” — Luke 2:8-14

Dear Christians, whenever atheists say we’re unloving, this is why.  We do this to each other.  We’ve become the people Christ fought against most, the self-righteous religious who have all of the rules but none of the grace.  Why do people who don’t know my Lord show me more forgiveness than those that do? — Jon Acuff

Stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

– Jon Pannell

To the Student Who Didn’t Finish Strong

I see you.

You’re the one who has the support and prayers from friends and family to finish the semester strong.  You try to crack down, writing one more paper, doing one more presentation, staying up one more hour to study for one more exam.

But something happens.

There’s an issue with family or friends; a death or a falling out.  You become overwhelmed with outside projects.  Work becomes a priority.  You’re beyond stressed.  Depression, illness, and/or anxiety relentlessly consume your soul.  Suddenly, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day for you to complete your needed tasks.

Your assignments start coming in late, then later, until you’re finally not turning them in at all while other projects accumulate.  Life seems to give you beat down after beat down without any signs of letting up.

You almost mentally, physically, and even spiritually check out for the semester, if you hadn’t done so already.

You drop or withdraw from class after class.  Or you try to finish your classes, but end with failing grades.  You thought you were at the finish line, only to find it was further away than you thought.

You couldn’t make it.

It’s difficult.  It’s painful.  I know.  I’ve been there.

And I empathize with you.

Personally, this semester was the worst I had ever been through.  I picked up so many projects and work shifts that I lost focus on my schoolwork.  I only completed one out of my four classes this semester.  I was so stressed out every day that twice I almost physically and mentally shut down.  My assignments and tasks were coming in late until I couldn’t do the assignments.  My spiritual life tanked.  Instead of running toward God, I ran away from Him (conflicting theologies, overthinking Him, thinking I can come to Him whenever I have “free time”).

I see you. And it’s okay.

Maybe you didn’t get to graduate on time.

Maybe you needed to change your major.

Maybe you had a personal crisis.

Friend, it’s all good.

Life has a way of throwing us curveballs, and oftentimes we are unprepared to take the swing.  We strike out time after time.  Sometimes we just want to give up and wonder what is the point.

But here’s the thing, friend.

This game that Life plays has multiple innings.  We don’t know when it will be our last, so we must always be prepared for whatever Life has for us.

Sure, you have been beat down by this semester.  But you get back up.

You may have failed, but you get back up.

Alfred J. Pennyworth said this in Batman Begins after Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows burned down Wayne Manor and Bruce was lamenting over how he tried, but failed, to save Gotham:

Alfred:  Why do we fall, sir?

Bruce:  …

Alfred: So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

You may have felt like a failure this semester or school year.  You may feel like Bruce Wayne in that moment.  But friend, here’s the thing about failure.

You can stay down, completely shut down and have an eternal pity party where no one is invited, or you can get back up, dust yourself off, and jump right back in with a newfound wisdom and passion to continue pursuing your goals.

Failure is NOT your destiny.  Failure shows your humanity and helps you become wiser if you let it.

It’s going to take some time to recover.  Don’t rush the process; take all the time you need.  Who knows how long it may be before you can continue?  But the important thing is that you continue.

bruce

You may seem to be a letdown to your friends and family.  You may seem to be a letdown to God.  Your enemies might gloat and enjoy your pain as they refresh themselves with your tears (I don’t know who does that, honestly).

I’m telling you here:  DON’T. GIVE. UP.

If your friends and family don’t believe in you, guess what?  I believe in you.

I have family and friends who believe in me, who will pray for and support me when I can’t see, hear, or think clearly.  You need a good support system to keep you going through the hard times as well as the good times.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. – Proverbs 17:17

Like the verse above says, you need friends who will love you at your messiest, at your worst, and you need people in your life who will lead you through difficult times, like this.

I want to challenge you with this:  Take some time and reflect on your goals and what went wrong this semester.  Have a friend or group of family and friends to help you out.  Also, take some time off.  Breathe.  Exercise.  Do fun things with people.  Get refreshed, refocus, and jump back in.  May you have someone in your life like Alfred to Bruce:

Bruce:  You still haven’t given up on me?

Alfred:  Never!

Friend, get back up, step back up to the plate, and get ready to hit that next curveball out of the park!  You only have one shot to play in the game of Life; make it a good one.

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

 

– Jon Pannell

Pre-Gifted: The Gifts of the Wise Men

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy Solstice!  Season’s Greetings!  Happy Whatever-You-Celebrate-In-December!

I want to wish you an awesome holiday season full of joy, peace, and good tidings, and hopefully no fruitcake.  I don’t think anyone likes fruitcake.  But that’s beside the point.

Social media has become a place where the loudest argument wins, where we have the option to hide behind the safety and security of our screens and proceed to rip apart every statement that comes our way, even if it doesn’t concern us.  We react violently instead of responding gracefully.  We get offended by everything.  We would rather unfriend and unfollow someone instead of discussing our differences over food and coffee.

The truth?  It’s one huge distraction.

This month of December is a time where we are supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  This season is supposed to be a time of cheer and selflessness, Christmas caroling, Kevin saying, “Merry Christmas you filthy animal,” and Buddy the Elf shouting out “SANNTAAAA!”   But I hardly see that nowadays.

Buddy

Yep, I put that here because reasons.

Call me an idealist (ironically I’m an INFP), but we’re missing Jesus.

I was involved in this year’s Annual Virginia Christmas Spectacular by Thomas Road.  During our Nativity scene, I had to introduce the band of scholars, the wise men, who followed a star until it led them to Jesus.

Turn with me to Matthew 2.  After Jesus was born, the wise men (Magi) were summoned by King Herod to find the child so that he could worship Him (Spoiler alert:  That wasn’t Herod’s intention!)

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.

I want to talk about the three gifts here:  Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.

Gold – Jesus as King

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,

Gold I bring to crown Him again,

King forever, ceasing never over us all to reign.

Gold is a precious metal and is often used as a status symbol for those in royalty.  It’s dense and very weighty.  The elements of the tabernacle mentioned throughout Exodus and Solomon’s temple in 1 Kings 6 has elements created from pure gold or overlaid in gold.

Gold is incredibly valuable, but it’s also very soft.  It can be bent, twisted, and beaten down, but that doesn’t change its identity.

Christ the King lived a life that we couldn’t live.  He experienced good times and bad, joy and sorrow, trials and temptations.  He was beaten down, attacked, and broken, but His identity as the Son of God never changed.  He who knew no sin became sin so that we could become His righteousness.

Here’s the thing.  There is no amount of gold that can even compare to the kingship of Christ.  His kingdom will never end.  His love and justice has the final word.  You can mock Him, claim He doesn’t exist, challenge Him, but He is still God.

Christ is King forever and ever!  Hallelujah!

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. — Isaiah 9:6-7

Frankincense – Christ as God

Frankincense to offer have I

Incense owns a Deity nigh.

Prayer and praising all men raising, worship Him, God on high.

Frankincense is a high quality composition.  Some of you burn incense in your homes and it gives off a distinct fragrance.  During Old Testament times, incense was burned daily and nightly as a constant offering to God.  It accompanied sacrifices and was burned by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on the annual Day of Atonement.

Incense represents the prayers and intercessions of people to a spiritual power.  In this case, it’s the saints (Christ followers) to the Almighty Father, with Christ as the mediator.  We offer our incense to God whenever we pray to Him.  Did I mention that prayer is a weapon against the enemy?  When you pray, God is working on your behalf.  He will guide you, protect you, sustain you, but only if you call out to Him.

O Lord, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to You!

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! — Psalm 141:1-2

And when [the Lamb] had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. — Revelation 5:8

Myrrh – Christ as Sacrifice

Myrrh is mine: It’s bitter perfume

breathes a life of gathering gloom.

Sorry, sighing, bleeding, dying, sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

Myrrh served a few purposes.  It was an ingredient in anointing oil, it was also an embalming agent, and a perfume.

Well, if myrrh seems like a good gift, then why is it associated with death per the last verse?

Take a look at Mark 15:23.  This is where Jesus is being crucified.  The sinless Son of God whom the Pharisees demanded His death is being forced to carry the cross to Golgotha (Place of a Skull).  They nail Him to a cross.  The suffering is excruciating.

Look up Roman crucifixion in your spare time.  That’s what Christ went through for you and I.

And they offered Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it.

According to Jewish custom, those sentenced to crucifixion were given this mixture of wine and myrrh to deaden the senses, to make the pain more bearable.  Jesus didn’t take it.  He went through hours of pain with the weight of the sins of the world upon Him.  When He died, they laid Him in a tomb, embalmed with spices and myrrh (John 19:39-42).

But that’s not the end of the story.

Three days later, the tomb is empty and Christ has risen in glory!  The Son of God conquering death so that all who would believe would be born again!  He has given us the task of spreading the good news of the Gospel, that He died for us, killing our sin, so that we can live with and for Him in this world and for eternity (Matthew 28:19-20, John 3:16).

The wise men’s gift of myrrh was a prophetic indication that He would be the great Sacrifice, the one who would give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

Wise Men

Glorious now behold Him arise,

King and God and Sacrifice

Alleluia, alleluia!

Earth to heav’n replies

For this Christmas season, remind yourself.  It’s not about Santa Claus, the presents, or the jaded commercialism.  Instead, it’s about one night in Bethlehem that changed the course of history; a prophecy hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the making.

The Baby Jesus, born of a virgin in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

The angels heralding of Christ’s birth to nearby shepherds.

The wise men a time later presenting their gifts to the future King, God, and Sacrifice.

Reflect on that, my friend.  Read the stories for yourselves.  Slow down and appreciate what God has done for you and I on this one particular, holy night.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. — Hebrews 4:14-16

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings.

Merry Christmas and an awesome New Year!

-Jon Pannell

Disagree?  Let’s talk!

Help! Help! I’m Being Repressed…in America!

It’s been a while since I last wrote as life continues to come at me with uncertainty after uncertainty.  But I think I’ve embraced it.  Life is full of surprises and unexpected turns, but trust God in the process and everything will be great!

Now, to the matter at hand.  I’m going to talk about a word that American Christians tend to, in my opinion, overuse:

Persecution.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few weeks, we come to the story of Kim Davis, a lady who refused to give out wedding licenses to same sex couples in Kentucky.  She was therefore sentenced to jail, but was later released.

The world of social media was split in its judgments.  One side called Davis a hero for standing up for her beliefs, the other side called her a religious bigot and attempted to dredge up her past, while a third side said that jail time was justified as she was breaking the law.  Oh, I forgot to mention that a fourth side wondered why she didn’t quit or get fired.

Whatever your stance is on the matter (there will be no debate on this here), I want to talk about the definition and reality of persecution. Now, I have to be careful here as I do not want to water down or compromise what persecution really is.

Turn to Matthew 5:10-12.  This is shortly after the beginning of Jesus’ three year ministry.  He speaks to large crowds and He calls His first disciples.  In this passage, He preaches the Sermon on the Mount, starting with the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure-hearted, the peacemakers.

I want to focus on the last two Beatitudes:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…

Persecution in the Greek is διώκω (dioko), meaning to pursue in a hostile manner.  It means being forcefully dislocated or relocated on some basis.  In this case, Jesus says you are blessed if you are being pursued because of your righteousness (which comes from believing and having a relationship with Him) and it results in you having to forcefully leave your current location.

We see the perfect example of this in the early church of Acts.  We see Stephen, one of the first deacons, performing signs and wonders among the people (Acts 6).  The religious elite of the day argued with him, but they couldn’t stand against his God-bestowed wisdom.  He was put on trial and he gave them an earful, even calling them stiff-necked people who resist the Holy Spirit.  They sentenced him to death by stoning.

After this execution, Saul passionately persecuted the church, having men and women who followed The Way dragged off into prison (Acts 8).

**Side note:  Notice that there are two types of people who can persecute you:

  1. Those who hate the name of Christ and will do whatever they can to eliminate any mention of Him.
  2. The religious elite, who believe that the traditions of men are immeasurably better than a relationship and belief in Jesus Christ.**

Was that the end of the church?  Of course not!  The people of the church spread the Gospel and preached the Word, even as they were scattered.  The church kept growing, and multiplying.  Christians have been martyred for their faith.  They were put on trial, tortured, whipped, beaten, and killed for believing in the lordship of Christ.

True persecution is when you are forced out of your current location to another location and spreading the Gospel during that time.

Look here, just because persecution is alive and well, that does not mean that you stop sharing the Gospel.

…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Ah, this is such a refreshing promise from Jesus.  If you are persecuted, guess what?  You get the kingdom of heaven!  That is your inheritance as a son and daughter of God!  Let this be an encouragement to you!

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:21

Blessed are you when others revile you…

The word “revile” in the Greek language is ὀνειδίζω (oneidizo), meaning reproach, dishonor, or showing disapproval or disappointment.  This can come through insults, loss of friends, and threats.

Now notice that being reviled is NOT the same as being persecuted.

Being unfriended or unfollowed on the basis of faith or disagreement. Reviled.

Being ripped apart on social media. Reviled.

Having articles written about you in a negative light. Reviled.

…and persecute you…

Receiving death threats and being forced to move for your faith.  That’s persecution.

Someone physically chasing you and possibly giving you a physical beatdown on the basis of your faith.  That’s persecution.

Having your church or house burned down or closed on the basis of your faith.  That’s also persecution.

Here’s my point.  A lot of American Christians got it mixed up.  Yes, Christianity is unpopular, but that has always been the case.  Christians were persecuted and reviled all the time in the early church, but that caused the church to grow and multiply.  When Christianity was recognized through Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 AD and therefore stopped being a persecuted religion, that was when Christianity started to become stagnant.

If you look around the world and witness churches being destroyed and Christians being killed by the hands of terrorist organizations like ISIS, you will realize that you are still blessed to be in this nation.  Trust me, friend, it’s not as bad as you think it is!

Inigo

Don’t get me wrong.  There’s always the opportunity for Christianity to become truly “persecutable” in America.  I just don’t think it’s that bad now.

…and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…

It’s going to happen.  If you’re a Christian and hold on to the Word of God as the authority of your life, you basically have a large target on your back.  People will say things about you.  It will hurt.  It will suck.  It will cause you to question yourself.  But it is also a mark that you are a disciple of Christ.

If you are living righteously through Christ and no one can dig up any dirt on you, people will make stuff up to put you in a bad light.  It’s called slander, libel if it is published.  It happened to Stephen (Acts 6:9-14), Naboth (1 Kings 21), and Jesus.

Notice that I said if you are living righteously:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (mercy), and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 1:12

Here’s my next point, and I’ll draw this from 1 Peter 4:14-16:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murder or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

I’m going to tell you something really quick.  If you suffer, are persecuted, and reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed.  However, if you suffer because you are an unloving jerk, then you deserve it.  End of story.

Folks, being persecuted and being reviled are two different things, but they yield the same result.  Both of them, if done for the sake of Christ, will give Christ glory and will remind us that we are not of this world.  Most “persecution” in American culture is mainly being reviled if even that.

Persecution

In essence, don’t be a jerk in the name of Christ.

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. – John 15:18-19

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…

This is the promise for those who suffer by other people in the name of Christ.  You’ll have a great reward in the next life!  Isn’t that awesome?  At your lowest point, when Satan and others get you down and it’s hard to keep a smile on your face, know that you have a hope, your story is still being written, and that this world is not our home!  Keep preaching and presenting the Gospel, and don’t be a jerk about it!

(the apostles after being beat and charged not to speak in the name of Jesus)  Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.  And every day, in the themple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. – Acts 5:41-42

Until next time, stay hidden in the shadow of His wings,

Jon Pannell

Got questions, comments, or concerns?  Let me know.  Let’s talk.

Church, Be Like Jesus!

Church, I believe there is still hope for our nation.

Okay, call me an optimist, or maybe even delusional, but I truly believe that America can turn around and experience an earth shattering revival that reaches the world.  Why?

Because hope has a name, and His name is Jesus.

As you all know, there have been tons of stories and issues in the past few weeks from the news and social media:

  • ISIS continues to persecute and kill Christians and those who do not adhere to their radical faith and beliefs.
  • The shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • The debate of the Confederate Flag; is it relevant, offensive, and necessary?
  • SCOTUS’s decision to legalize gay marriage in every state in the nation in spite of individual state views.
  • Stories of police brutality.
  • Stories of riots.
  • Instances of racism, whether real, perceived, or made up.
  • Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner
  • The Patriot and Freedom Acts

There have been a lot of contention and heated debates everywhere on social media, resulting in choice words, unfollowing, unfriending, and just flat out name calling.  People are slashing and wounding others within the safety of being behind their screens while the rest of us watch and weep as we attempt to make peace and seek unity.

There are also Christians who insist we are in the end times, that the events of Revelation, 1 Thessalonians, the Gospels, and Daniel are coming to pass.

“The Antichrist is soon coming,” they say, “and it’s (insert person here and reason why).”

“America is becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“This nation is going to hell in a handbasket!”

“There’s no more hope for America!”

But I believe that there’s hope for this nation, and His name is Jesus.

American Church

Church, we forget (and often!) that Jesus has already won.  Instead, we have a tendency to complain and speculate about the current events and issues in our nation.  We withhold love and grace that Christ and instead Bible bash.  We have these unrealistic expectations for nonbelievers and even fellow Christians to be holy as we, not Christ, are holy.  We get all uppity and hurt because sinners are acting like sinners; it’s in their nature.  In our pride, we tell God that we can do His job better than He can.

We mercilessly and remorselessly limit and manipulate the power of God to make it only “effective” through our “spiritual checklists.”  We make others put on a show to please God as we do the same thing.  Our testimony becomes irrelevant as our works and deeds seem to show a Christian life, but our spiritual and moral lives are bankrupt. It is a religious circus doomed to fail.

We judge others because they sin differently than we do.  We try to take the speck of sawdust out of other people’s eyes when we have enough planks in our own eyes to build a log cabin.

I’m working this summer at a Christian camp.  Here, we meet kids and staff members who have great relationships with Christ.  But we also have those who come from deep, dark stuff bringing stories of abuse, addiction, insecurity, and love withheld or revoked with them.  The staff and I encounter real questions and legitimate concerns.  Their brokenness breaks my heart, but we get to show them Jesus, the Healer of our hurts, the only One who can put us back together into something new.

All of a sudden, the desire to be right fades away.  Contention and chaos cease.  People are now seen as God sees them, as humans with flaws who have been wounded and are looking for answers and in need of a Savior.  This, Church, is where we can save the day, by bringing them Jesus.

Bible

Take a look with me to Matthew 9:10-13.  Here, Jesus reclines with His disciples as well as tax collectors and sinners:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when He heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus enjoyed having company with sinners…and we should too!

Would you look at that?  Jesus hangs out with the outcasts, the undesirable, and the lowest of the low.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners are some of His favorite people.  If Jesus was born and living in this day and age, I think He would be in a homeless shelter, talking with the people there.  He would have coffee and conversation with someone in the sex industry.  I would even say that He would share a meal with corrupt business men.  He would be the one who would hug people at a gay pride parade/festival.

I would go even further to say that you would rarely see Him at church.

Before you dismiss me, let me clarify.  The church in the Greek does NOT mean a building.  The church is a living and breathing organism of a people called out that meet together to build one another up and to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus often went to dark places to shine His light.  I mean, He cast out demons for crying out loud!  Now that Jesus is not physically on this earth, we as the Church (universal) have a responsibility to go to those dark places and do what Jesus did; love what He loves and to be the light of the world.

I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. — Isaiah 45:3

Church, darkness rarely finds its way to the light.  Let’s stop praying for people to come to church and instead be the answer to that prayer by doing something!  Let’s go into those dangerous places and shine our God-given light!  After all, if Christ is for you, who can be against you? (Romans 8:31)

The religious took notice…and asked “Why?”

The Pharisees are interesting people.  They know the Word, they’re zealous, follow the commandments, and are often leaders of their time.  In a way, they’re just like you and me.

They’re also like you and me in the sense of hypocrisy.  Some of Jesus’ harshest words were for the Pharisees and religious officials.  These guys upheld the rules (613 statutes of Mosaic Law) and traditions of men over love, justice, and mercy.  They honor God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him.  They shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.  They are blind guides leading the blind.  They withhold love and grace from other people and expect them to act according to their standards of holiness.

Want to take a quick test to see if you’re a Pharisee?  Replace the mention of Pharisees with yourself.  Take some time to reflect, pray, and repent.  I’ve been guilty of this as well.

The religious look at those who are living for Christ and ask others, and God, “Why are they doing this?  Don’t they know about this person or that place?  God won’t even go near them!”  They claim to be God’s spokespeople.  Don’t be that person.  Ever.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. — Galatians 6:1

Who needs a doctor? The well…or the sick?

It’s interesting how Jesus presents this statement in verse 12.  Obviously, you need a doctor when you’re sick.  If you have the life-threatening sickness of sin, then you need the Great Physician, who is none other than Jesus.  The people Jesus built relationships with were sick:  the demon-possessed, the prostitute, the dishonest, etc.  The Pharisees were sick as well, but with a different and dare I say worse illness.

Self-righteousness.

The Pharisees thought they were the special group that’s going to get all the glory from God when they passed away.  They kept the law and saw themselves as more righteous and holy for keeping the law than the layperson.  They looked down on sinners.  They were prideful and competitive.  They had the whole “holier than thou” mentality.

The similarity between the sinner and the self-righteous is that they are both sinners, sin has made them sick and they need the healing power of the gospel in Jesus Christ.

The difference between the two is that the sinner acknowledges their sin and seeks Christ while the self-righteous deny that anything is wrong with them.

It’s amazing to know how sinners can see the face of God and repent while the self-righteous see the face of God and not even feel remorse.

Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.  And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. — Matthew 21:31-32

Mercy, or Sacrifice?

The Pharisees were notorious for stepping over people to accomplish the Law.  In essence, they sinned while trying to get people to not sin.  They tie up unbearable burdens on other people, but are not willing to lift a finger to help them (Matthew 23:4).  They think that God wants sacrifice over mercy and that justify their actions.  In other words, God will grant you mercy if you follow the Law and traditions of man with no help from us.

But Jesus flips it.  Instead of forcing people to conform to our expectations, we should see people as God sees them and have compassion on them.  He gave us love, grace, and mercy in our brokenness and sin; why not do the same thing to others?  It’s God’s job to remake us into His image and set us apart.

So what?

With the nuttiness going on around this nation, we need to stop living our couch-potato, lukewarm, defeatist, fatalistic, and self-righteous “Christianity”:

  • We cry “Injustice!” but do nothing else.
  • We are “slacktivists,” where we throw some of our money at a cause, but do nothing else.
  • We obsess over the end times and wait for Jesus to come back, but do nothing else.
  • We debate over doctrine and theological issues while attempting to shun heretics, but do nothing else.
  • We read the Word of God, but do nothing else.
  • We obsess over getting ready for Christ to return, but do nothing else

As Christians, we are called to be Christ-like in everything we say and do.  When we meet people, they should encounter Jesus who says, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go now, and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).  We need to get up, repent, and get our hands dirty as we win souls for Christ.  Let’s jump into this harvest.  Let’s venture into the dark places.  Let’s get out of our hypocrisy, get away from our computer and phone screens, and make disciples.

Don’t. Give. Up.

People should hate you because of their hatred for Jesus, not because of you being a jerk.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see this nation have an encounter with Christ and for true revival to break out!  Who’s with me?

Until next time, be hidden in the shadow of His wings,

Jon Pannell

P.S. — Enjoy this song from Casting Crowns. Also, let me know if you have any questions!

The Distracted Christian

**Disclaimer:  I am in no way a Greek scholar.  If you are, I would love to take some pointers from you.  Also, line up what I say with the Word; be a Berean (Acts 17:11).  If I’m teaching incorrectly, let me know.**

I’m trying my hand at blogging once again and hopefully, this will become something greater than myself.

The past few days have been very interesting, to say the least.  It’s not because of the snow, but it’s because of one picture.  This one.

The argument about this particular dress was all over Tumblr at first.  What is white and gold?  Or was it black and blue?  The argument flooded over to other areas of social media until it seemed like everyone, including major news outlets, was weighing in with their opinions.  (By the way, I looked at the whole dress deal for about 15 minutes).

But do you want to know something?

For a moment, we all forgot about the 200+ Christians in Syria that were kidnapped by terrorist group ISIS.  All of a sudden, their lives weren’t as important as the color of a silly little dress.

If you ask me, we Americans have a stunning case of ADHD.  Something happens, and we’re all over it, but we won’t remember it in the course of a few weeks to months.  Don’t believe me?  Pick a major story from the past year, like ebola.  Don’t tell me you forgot about that already!

Now, slightly changing gears to another type of distraction…

Today’s culture has an unhealthy obsession with being busy, and the modern, American Christian is no exception.  We rush from one ministry opportunity to another, meeting to meeting, service to service, etc.  We are everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  Add work, family, school, and more to that equation and we become incredibly stressed and overcommitted.  Usually the first thing that goes to “accommodate” this stressful workload is our time and relationship with God.

Walk with me to Luke 10:38-42.  This passage takes place after Jesus sends out the 72 and they come back, and after His Parable of the Good Samaritan.  The text reads as follows:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.  And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving.  And she went up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the signs of a distracted Christian:

  1. They serve…WAY too much. Slowing down and stopping seems foreign to them.

“But Martha was distracted with much serving…”

Here, the word “distracted,” perispao, is spoken in the Passive Voice (where something acts upon the subject), which meant that her serving drew Martha away from Jesus’ teachings.  Oh, did you know that the word for serving is the same word used for ministry?  It’s diakonia, where we get our word “deacon.”

Don’t get me wrong.  Jesus requires all of us to serve; it’s the way to greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven.  When we serve, we empty ourselves as we pour into other people.

But what happens if we never get filled again?

This was an area that I’ve struggled with for a very long time, even to this day.  Sometimes,  I hardly have time with God, yet I’m involved with church, small groups, classes, photography, writing, and the like.  And I’m finding myself tired, burned out, frustrated, critical, and unfulfilled.  My friend Roland told me when I discussed my frustrations to him that I was “giving out of a deficit.”

Wow.

I was still pouring myself out to others even when I was empty.  Talk about a ministry where you have nothing and give nothing to those around you.

So, ask yourself, “Am I pouring emptiness into the people around me, or am I draining them with my issues and problems?”  This kind of serving leads to burnout, eventual isolation, and a possible desire to abandon ministry altogether.

  1. They wonder why others aren’t doing as much as they are, or why they have no assistance in their endeavors. They prioritize other responsibilities over their time with God.

And she went up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.”

Martha’s sister Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, hanging on to every word He is saying.  But Martha is busy, busy, busy.  Eventually, Martha gets fed up with Mary doing nothing and she asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her.

Like Martha, we have a huge burden full of assignments, ministries, etc., and we wonder why no one is helping us in our endeavors to serve.  The word “help” is translated as synantilambanomai, which means to “take a share in.” This is spoken in the Middle Voice (the verb emphasis the subject).  Like Martha, we want someone to help us accomplish and lighten this burden imposed on us.  Truth of the matter is that we want other people and not God Himself to help us.

  1. They are overloaded with many things.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…”

The words for “anxious” and “troubled” in the Greek mean that Martha was disturbed in her thinking due to the cares that were troubling her.  In the same way, Distracted Christians have too much on their minds at any given moment of the day.

  1. They forget what’s most important. Their identity is found in their service instead of in God.

“…But one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion which will not be taken away from her.”

Christ said to Martha that one overarching thing is necessary in the midst of concerns and needs, and it’s what Mary chose.  This “good portion” is agathos meris, a share of something that is useful and life-giving.  The word for “share” is also used in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), meaning “inheritance,” a share that belongs to the children of a father.

Get this, folks.  The good portion that Jesus is talking about is something that breathes life into us; it’s something that we should treasure.  Jesus imparted life, eternity, salvation to those who had time to accept His teachings which will not be taken away or revoked.  This is why having time with God is so critical.

We have avoided spending time with God in favor of that TV show, or so we can make a commitment to a meeting, class, or work.  I’m not exempting myself from this; I’ve done this countless time.

We become too busy and distracted for God.  The same God who breathed life into us, reconciled us, sees us as His sons and daughters, who adopted us into His family.  He longs to be with us.  But we push Him aside.

And when things go wrong in our lives, we wonder where God is.  Or better yet, we pray a half-hearted prayer to Him.  What’s going on with us?

Somewhere along the line, we forget who we are.  Like Martha, we find our identity and worth in serving and working instead of being a child of God, sitting at His feet and hearing what He has to say.  People who find their identity in their work and deeds will find problems really quickly.  Instead of finding security in God, we find it in the praise we receive and the “likes” on our social media.  When that fades, so does our identity.

Folks, the only way you can lose your salvation is if you worked for it.  Salvation is a gift given to you; you just have to accept the gift.

So, how can we get out of a distracted and shallow to empty life?

  1. Find a time to sit at the feet of Jesus and protect it.

Get together with God sometime in the day.  He wants to talk to you.  He wants to teach you.  To put it in more “relevant” terms, He wants to hang out with you.  It can be in the morning, during the afternoon, or before you go to bed.  You have the same 24 hours in a day as a celebrity or a fellow Christ-follower.  Protect that time no matter what.

Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to His teachings.  This was written in the Passive Voice, meaning that something compelled her to sit down and listen.  We can be so distracted and so busy that a moment like this can pass us and we wouldn’t even notice.

Folks, God saved you from a life of sin and eternal condemnation.  Isn’t He worthy to spend time with?

  1. Slow down.

In this Speedy Gonzales type of world where everything is go, go, go, sometimes we need to stop and rest.  Relax.  Lay our burdens and anxiety at the feet of Jesus, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11: 28-30).  The more time you spend with Jesus, the less stressed and worried you become.  If God provides for his creation, He will surely take care of you!  Being anxious is a time and life waster!

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? — Matthew 6:27

  1. Prioritize the “one thing necessary.”

I want you to think of the most important thing or things you have to do today.  Now replace that with Jesus.  This may sound like a hard thing to do, but put the most important thing aside and spend time with Jesus.  Give Him your undivided attention.

  1. Always choose the “good portion.”

When you sit and listen to God, you are confirming your identity in Him as His son or daughter, which will not be taken away.  Your inheritance and treasure is in Him.  When everything else fades, only He remains; all that other stuff, the praise and adulation of others, will fade.  Why put your identity in the temporary?

Folks, what will you choose?  Will you sit at Jesus’ feet and heed His teachings, or will you burn yourself out with distractions and service?  One of them leads to a fulfilling life.

Before I close, I want to quote from A. W. Tozer from The Pursuit of God (emphases mine).

The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture.  It is too slow, too common.  We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action.  A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals.  We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God.  We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.

The tragic results of this spirit are all about us.  Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance (prevalence, priority, superiority) of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in externalities (outward forces instead of the Holy Spirit), quasi-religious fellowships (seemingly Christian), salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit:  these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady (disorder or disease) of the soul.

I hope this encourages you and builds you up.  If you have questions, let me know!

Until next time, be hidden in the shadow of His wings.

Jon Pannell