Rain, Writing, and Forgiveness.

It’s been raining in Joplin for the last two weeks and it’s starting to feel like Seattle. Granted, I haven’t been to Seattle, but I hear it rains there a lot. God said he would never flood the earth again and he put a rainbow in the sky as a promise, but he never said he wouldn’t flood an entire town again. So I’m building my ark as we speak and the only people I’m allowing on are pugs and chimpanzees. Deal with it.

Granted, Seattle has beautiful mountain ranges, good coffee, and Powell’s City of Books, but I don’t think I’ll move there if this what it’s like most days out of the year. I imagine it’s because I probably have that seasonal depression thing. When it’s sunny outside, I’m sunny on the inside. When it’s cloudy skies and rainy weather, I’m as useful as a slug.

But here’s one thing the rainy weather is forcing me to do: stay inside. And I’m the type of person when I stay inside, I start thinking. And when I start thinking, I write.

So here’s what I’m thinking about today:

“but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15)

This is one of those hard sayings from Jesus that I don’t like to hear. Honestly, I’d rather pass over that part of Scripture and pretend it doesn’t exist. Nonetheless, the Lord knows I need to hear it.

The first thing that comes to mind when I read it is the word “trespasses”. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word I think about all the times as a kid growing up that my friends and I would see a sign on someone’s property, which said in big, red, and bold letters: NO TRESPASSING. Naturally that was our invitation to adventure, and the next thing we know, we’re in our neighbor’s yard in an old-fashioned Mexican standoff with their large, slobbery dog. But it’s what we wanted. We were the Sandlot generation and we all just wanted to be Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez.  

I think Jesus calls them trespasses because that’s what sin is. When we trespass against someone, we’ve disobeyed God’s NO TRESPASSING sign and foolishly marched onto the property of someone else’s soul. We stomp our feet on someone’s emotions and trample around on their hearts, leaving boot-sized scars in our wake.

But someone has done the same to us and we remember those scars all too well. Not to mention, some of our guard dogs were chihuahuas, which didn’t make it any easier.

Here’s the really hard thing: Jesus calls me to forgive my trespassers or else the Father won’t forgive me.  Now I’m not a Bible scholar, but that seems pretty straightforward to me. If I don’t forgive others, God won’t forgive me. How is this possible?

Some of us have had terrible sins committed against us. Some of our scars are still fresh wounds. Deep, painful wounds like sexual abuse, bullying, murder of a family member, etc. Why can’t God just forgive us first and then let us worry about forgiving others later?

I think part of the reason Jesus says this is because we cannot receive forgiveness in full as long as we still carry resentment in our hearts.

To put it simply, it’s because resentment and vengeance stand directly counter to the gospel. God goes to the cross to forgive us our sins and wipes away our eternal indebtedness to Him, yet we still hold others in our debt? I’ve been naive enough to actually believe that.

We have yet to fully understand the gravity of God’s love and it’s implications for our lives.

I don’t want to undermine the weight of our scars. Some of the sins committed against us were plain ugly and we didn’t deserve them. But in truth, nothing that has been done to us is as severe as the sins we have committed against our infinitely holy and perfect Creator. If He can forgive us for our atrocities, we can forgive others of theirs.

I know. I really wish Jesus didn’t say this either. But I also know Jesus loves us and want what’s best for us. If we can trust Him, we can find the willingness to change.

“We don’t want to grow. It hurts. And yet we do, bravely and scared, bit by bit. We tell it–it hangs in the air with its amazingness–we begin to cooperate with kindness, and we remember the good we’ve seen in our own lives. We soften ever so slightly, with one to two percent willingness, and I’ll be damned if that isn’t enough.” – Anne Lamott

As Lamott reminds us, it’s going to take a little bit of spiritual WD-40 and a whole lot of help from the Holy Spirit to soften these hard, calloused hearts of ours, but what’s waiting for us on the other side of forgiveness is the peace we so desperately desire, along with the healing our soul craves.

To conclude, it’s still raining outside, I’m still building my ark, and I haven’t forgot about the pugs and chimpanzees. But now that I think about it, I think I’ll go ahead and leave the door open for anyone to come on in. It’s less lonely that way.

 

 

 

Featured image: Jarrell Jackson

Instagram: @jarrellmljackson

Check out his stuff at vsco.co/actionjackson9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Groundhog Day.

I’m a little late to the game, but I watched Groundhog Day for the first time today. I’m in one of those classes where you watch movies instead of doing homework. I don’t know if you’re into that, but personally I really enjoy the teaching style.

If you aren’t familiar with the plot of Groundhog Day, let me fill you in.

*Warning: major spoilers ahead.*

The main character, Phil (played by the one and only Bill Murray), is an arrogant, egocentric weatherman who’s been assigned to cover the infamous holiday, Groundhog Day, in Puxsutawney, Pennsylvania. To say he’s reluctant about his task is an understatement. He’d rather be anywhere else than in the rinky-dink town of Puxsutawney with all of its rinky-dink people (“hicks” as he refers to them).

He’s accompanied by two people: his news producer, Rita (Annie McDowell), and cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott). It’s his fourth year covering this holiday and it’s no secret he doesn’t want to be there.

To his dismay, he wakes up at his hotel and comes to realize he’s reliving the same day over and over again, to no foreseeable end. He’s absolutely shocked, as any normal human being would be.

Once he comes out of shock, he starts to live as if there’s no tomorrow, because…well there actually is no tomorrow. He starts to live lavishly. Plunging into a life of hedonism, he denies himself no pleasure. He robs a bank truck, eats all the food he wants, smokes all he wants, and gives himself over to all he sees fit. He even uses his growing knowledge of daily events to figure out ways to get women into bed.

He eventually tries this in an attempt to seduce Rita, as he did the other women. However, no matter how many times he tries, he finds they’re never good enough to get her into bed. In fact, she slaps him repeatedly as every night ends.

Eventually, he grows weary and begins to despise his existence. He ends up trying to kill himself time and time again, in countless different ways, only to find that he can’t succeed.

Once this no longer works, something begins to change in him. He begins to help a homeless man. Tragically however, the homeless man ends up dying in Phil’s arms. Because of this, he vows to never let a person die in Puxsutawney as long as he’s got something to say about it. So begins a new road of Phil becoming the town hero, as he saves people’s lives left and right, as well as mastering new skills like playing the piano and ice-sculpting, in addition to consuming heavy amounts of poetry. So all the people of Puxsutawney come to love and admire him.

Because of his newfound admiration from the townspeople, he eventually gains the affection of Rita. She falls in love with this new man. And as Phil lies with her in his bed, he wakes the next morning to find that she is still in the bed with him, having broken the curse, liberating him from the eternal cycle. Through it all, he was a transformed person–so much so that he tells Rita that he wants to live in Puxsutawney, the town he initially despised.


In conclusion, why am I taking all this time to explain an old movie like Groundhog Day?

Because it reminds me of a lesson that Jesus taught long ago. The lesson is two-fold.

First, as Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6, do not worry about tomorrow. Each day carries with it its own trouble and it doesn’t do us a lick of good to stress over something that does not exist, just as tomorrow didn’t exist for Phil. Despite how cliche it sounds, it is undeniably true that we are not promised tomorrow. Therefore, we must live each day in light of such a reality. All we have is today. All we have is right now.

Perhaps, we should learn from Phil’s mistakes. Hedonism won’t do the trick. Jesus calls us to something higher.

Jesus reminds us of the real answer: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). Though the movie did not communicate the former, it is important to realize that true love for our neighbors comes from receiving and understanding what it means to first love God above all things.

As Jesus reminds us, it is in forgetting one’s self that we find true life. It was in loving, serving, and saving the lives of others that Phil found a reason to live. Funny thing is, Jesus was preaching this message long before Groundhog Day came around.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

It was in denying himself that Phil found life. Love broke his curse. Love transformed him into a new person.

Jesus is calling us to the same life; a life of meaning, hope, and authentic love. He doesn’t say it will be easy, but he promises it’s worth it. So what are we waiting for?

Pick up your cross today and love someone. Tomorrow might not come.

Thanks for the reminder, Bill Murray.

Some Quick Thoughts on Easter Sunday

If you weren’t aware, for us Christians it was just a few days ago we stopped to reflect and remember Christ’s death on Good Friday.

It’s hard to understand why we call such a day “good”. What’s good about pondering the brutal marring of our beloved Jesus? It’s such a somber time. The word “good” was the farthest thing from the minds of Mary and the disciples as they watched their beloved, son, friend, brother, teacher, and Lord have his body mutilated and then hung on a cross.

Not only that, but He was buried. I don’t know if you have ever watched a close friend or beloved family member get buried, but it’s not pretty.

There’s no disputing it. Jesus was dead. Call death whatever you want–miserable, cold-hearted, imminent–but don’t call it good. That is one thing it’s not.

I think we call it good because of what it meant for us: forgiveness of sins. I hate to say it, at the expense of a person’s life, but that’s actually really good news. Jesus, the perfect and sinless lamb, died as a sacrifice for our sins once and for all. We owed an infinite amount of debt to God for our sins and Jesus paid it for us IN FULL through his death. We should have been on that cross, but He took our place. As much as it sucked for Him, it was really good for us.

But without the resurrection, it means nothing.

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

If Christ didn’t raise from the dead, as Paul states, then our faith is in vain. If we center our entire lives around a dead guy, then we’re pitiful. Absolutely pitiful.

The resurrection of Jesus is the branch that Christianity sits on. Take away the resurrection and our faith amounts to nothing more than a pile of beans.

The resurrection affirms Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. It validates Christ’s equality with God. Jesus’ authority to forgive our sins comes from his divine identity. If he didn’t raise from the dead, he was just some homeless cuckoo who spewed insanity and got away with a whole lot of weird stuff.

But the stone was rolled away.

Three days later, Jesus wasn’t in the tomb. Death could not hold him down. The grave wasn’t strong enough. He got up and walked out.

A lot of other religions worship dead guys, but we worship a God who has conquered death. We worship a Jesus who is alive today, seated on His throne as King over creation, ruling and reigning, waiting for His return.

This is what I love about Easter Sunday. It reminds me that every day is Easter!

There’s never a day that Jesus isn’t alive (after all, there’s a reason they never found His body). Therefore, we have great cause to celebrate. Our Savior isn’t dead. He’s alive.

Happy Resurrection Day!

 

 

When I Found Freedom

I used to think freedom meant having the ability to say “yes” to whatever I wanted. Now I know real freedom is about being able to say “no” to all the things I used to say “yes” to before.

I passed one class my first year of college: English Comp. Other than that, I flunked out of every other single class I took. Apparently that’s what happens when you skip 90% of your classes. But I’m sure I missed class the day they taught that lesson. Figures.

Up until my first year of college, I was the archetype for cliche high-schoolers. I was all about living in the now and not considering the consequences. So naturally, as one can expect, college meant one thing to me: freedom.

Pure and unadulterated freedom.

As far as it concerned me, I was free to do all that I saw fit. Stay up as late as I wanted. Sleep in as long as I wanted. Drink all the beer I wanted. Smoke all the weed I wanted. Party all I wanted. Go to class? Eh, I don’t think so. Class was no place for a free man like myself.

And to be quite honest, it was pretty fun for a while. I was meeting a lot of girls, making tons of new “friends”, and making even more memories. Every night came with a new adventure or risk. I don’t think I had ever felt more free in my entire life.

Then things started to change.

Too much became never enough. The more I consumed, the more I craved–a craving that grew stronger the more I fed it. It was an endless cycle, and the more I succumbed to it, the more my soul became restless.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” – Augustine

Little by little, without recognition, I was slowly letting go of real freedom. The more I said “yes” to my sin, the more I was developing the inability to say “no” to it.

Before I knew it, my sin had taken me as a slave.


I guess that’s the thing about slavery. It’s never as obvious and outright as we think. Slavery is a subtle, gradual, and downward slope into a dark, lonely pit; a pit that we walk ourselves into with naive happiness.

I basically dove head first into it. It wasn’t long before I realized I needed someone to come along to loosen my chains and get me out.

And along came Jesus.

What I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t call me to be obedient for the sake of gaining his love or approval. Rather, in His love for me, He asks my obedience because he knows it offers the freedom my soul truly longs for.

I used to think freedom meant not being held down by rules. But real freedom, I discovered, is found in obedience. And Jesus gives us one big commandment to obey: love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves. It’s in obeying that command that I’ve found the freedom my soul has always wanted.

“But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:21-23)

I eventually gave up that lifestyle. But it wasn’t out of guilt or fear. I wasn’t afraid that my disobedience would disqualify Christ’s love for me. It was the exact opposite. His unconditional love bred within me a desire for obedience.

I suppose that is the paradox of the Christian life. Real joy comes in trading worldly freedom for slavery to Christ, because slavery in Christ means the freedom to live the life we truly want–a life of unending freedom.

Pure and unadulterated freedom.

 

 

Featured Image: Kathlyn Wieland

Instagram: @kathwieland

Grace.

 

I don’t believe there is as liberating a word in the human language as Grace.

If I were asked the biggest reason why I follow Jesus, I would probably answer, “because of grace.” Honestly, there’s nothing like it; especially for a sinner like me. Diligently search every other religion and you will discover that none of them come close to possessing the grace that Jesus does.

Let’s look into that a little further.

We Christians believe that God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, taking on human flesh, giving up the riches and the glory of his throne in Heaven for a lowly position on earth. Then He spends his life teaching, healing the sick, performing miracles, serving the broken and outcasts among him, and preaching good news to those without hope. And in the end, what happens? We crucify him.

Leading up to his crucifixion, he is silent. He is put on trial multiple times, yet never does he defend himself. As the Scriptures note, “he was like a lamb led to slaughter.” Though he would have been perfectly just in damning all of us to hell right then and there, Jesus does something far more radical.

He dies for us.

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)

Woah, woah, woah, he did what?

Jesus actually dies for his ENEMIES. He dies for the people who mocked him, spit on him, cursed him, and put him on the cross. I have a hard enough time as it is trying to be a decent friend.

As Jesus was hanging on the cross, another man was sentenced to crucifixion alongside him. He was a thief. While the people  go on mocking Jesus, yelling at Him to save himself and come down from the cross, the thief looks over to Jesus and says, “for [I am] receiving the due reward of [my] deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he adds, “Jesus, remember me when you have come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replies, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus gives grace freely to those who don’t deserve it.

Some of you think you don’t deserve grace for the things you’ve done. And my response to that is, “Exactly!” That’s why it’s called grace. I promise you, however, that nothing you have done is so big that the grace of Jesus Christ can’t cover it. If Jesus can give grace to a crucified thief who hasn’t done a single thing in his lifetime to merit God’s favor, he can give grace to you. If he can give grace to me, he can certainly give grace to you. And the great thing about his grace is that it’s free. It wouldn’t be grace if we had to work for it. All other religions make you work for it. Jesus flips the script though. He finished all the work for you.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.

That’s what we Christians believe. Pretty crazy stuff, right? I don’t know what that means to you, but to me and my depraved self, it’s astoundingly good news.

If you’re overwhelmed by the weight of your sin today, talk with Jesus. He has a lot of grace He’d like to give to you.

 

 

Featured Image: Jarrell Jackson.

Instagram: @jarrellmljackson

Check out his work at vsco.co/actionjackson9