Hope and Joy in the midst of Death

IMG_2167Death hurts.  It’s not easy, even when it’s expected.  Someone you love and have spent part or all of your life with is suddenly no longer here.  You still have them in your phone, their house with all of their furniture, clothing, and food is still there, but they are not.  It’s a tough thing to wrap a finite mind around and accept – and find hope and joy in the midst of.

My grandma died last night.  She was 89 years old, lived a very long life, but in the end suffered through some things that her body could no longer handle.  A piece of my childhood, upbringing, my life is just no longer existing on this earth.  She loved me and her entire family so deeply, and it’s a love that I will dearly miss. I stared at her dead body in my family’s living room for a long time last night, trying to force feed the concept that the structure in front of me had just days prior offered loving words and hugs.  Standing there looking at this, I couldn’t help but refer my heart and mind to the cross of Christ as I ponder life, death, and eternity.

Death is an inescapable part of life, and it’s rarely something we budget into our life’s schedule, or even talk about for that matter.  Think or speak of it or not, we all will one day come face to face with the very thing we tend to fear most.  Humanity is enslaved by the fear of death, doing EVERYTHING possible with our lives to deny, deny, deny the truth of mortality.  Even when a friend of ours loses someone, we will murmur a “my condolences and prayers” but still not allow the gravity of death to pierce our minds.  Why do we do this?  I think it’s to avoid the implications of facing it, what it demands from our lives, now.  I also think we don’t know how, and are fearful to approach it.

It must arrest my attention. It must rip me out of my subconscious belief that I’m invincible, where I push my own death completely out of my mind. In my period of mourning, I can not deny that I will one day die.  Through disease, an accident, or old age, I will leave this world and enter another. It must concern me of what happens in and after that transition.  Once I can swallow that pill, I can move on to, “So I’m going to die.  Now what?”

It’s scary at first glance… but exciting at second.

When looking to God’s word, death is both displayed as something Christ had to conquer on the cross so that the evil of my depravity and sin could be forgiven, but it’s also presented to us as something that is “gain.”  I don’t need to be convinced of the wickedness of death, but how is this thing something that benefits those of us who call Jesus “King” and “Savior?”

Paul says in Philippians that if he dies, he is glad and he rejoices, and even goes on to tell his readers (2:18) that they should rejoice with him!!  EXCUSE ME are you on drugs bro?? A verse earlier, he tells them why he rejoices at the possibility of dying – “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (1:23).  Here we have the partakers of sorrow on both ends (the dying and the griever) comforted and even invited to celebrate in earthly death as it is the conduit to “be with Christ,” which he says that in comparison to being here, it’s “far better.”

This is the reason other scriptures taunt death, saying “where is your victory, where is your sting” (1 Cor 15:55).  This is why historically recorded martyrs JOYFULLY threw themselves at the stake.  If we truly believe that God is as beautiful, and magnificent, and glorious as He says He is, we can’t wait to get to heaven and be with Him!  I can stare the grim reaper in the eye and laugh, knowing that he can’t take A THING from me except this petty life – which is standing in between me and being with the lover of my soul.  Death does not have the final word.  Death may want to defeat us, but little does it know that for those of us chosen by Him, we invite it for the joy that awaits us on the other side.  Death fears us when we look upon it as a blessing that leads us to true life.  What Mr. Mayhem thinks he takes, he actually is only replacing with something that is incalculably greater.

This is the hope in death.  We can not lose.

In one moment, a life of declaring “Christ alone is more than enough for me” is put to the test.  You enter the afterlife with NOTHING you gained on earth, except the most valuable treasure you could never deserve or earn on your own – entrance granted into forever fellowship, presence, and worship of beautiful, glorious God.  When I stop denying what denial will not prevent or postpone, I am freed from the slavery of fear of death.  I can be EXCITED for the earth/heaven transition for me and the people I love.  I am able to have hope because the person that I love no longer suffers pain, but much more than that, they are in paradise with the lover of their and my soul. My grandma’s life was submitted to Christ, so this commissioning is a great thing, and even a thing to celebrate.  Had she not, this would be a time much more sorrowful than it already is.

For the grieving: there is hope and joy. Much like being happy for someone you love when they get married or get a job promotion, we can have joy for our loved ones that loved Christ knowing that they are in the place we all long to be.  But don’t miss or waste the mourning process.  Let it pierce you.  Let it bring you to your knees and stir your thoughts to ponder eternity.  Let it correct the direction of your life if it is not honoring God.  Death and loss are meaningless if they don’t bring us to the cross.

For the dying: there is hope and joy.  My own body is quickly fading.  I’m one day closer to my death than I was yesterday.  Death is only the gateway, and the best is yet to come.  There will be no more sin in us.  We will be relieved of the pain of this world.  We will finally be able to cure our homesickness for God.  We will be with Christ.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  …having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is, very much, better.”  – Paul

Mike Arnold

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Perfecting Our Faith

11796268_10205076626612427_887800906947236428_nLet us lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.  Hebrews 12:1-2

The cross.  The bloody, horrific, shameful cross.  The object that brings tears to our eyes while watching films of Jesus nailed to it, gasping for air on it, being mocked on it, bearing the FULL WEIGHT of the world’s sin on it.  This passage says that he “endured” the cross, of course, unto death.  Most of us know this, as it is the basis of our faith, but what we tend to forget, or just plain skip over, is the phrase before it – “for the joy that was set before him.”

First of all, lets be honest with ourselves and not try to compare our suffering to Christ’s suffering.  There isn’t enough strife in all of us combined to tip the scale of what Jesus went though for us.  However, the concept applies – “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, LOOKING TO JESUS.”  He set the groundwork for us to faithfully endure this “race” of life in all of it’s temptations and hardships.  The instruction leads us to find joy in our suffering, or at the very least, joy in the outcome, namely an eternity with Him.

What does this mean for us?  It frees us to be hopeful in the face of despair, joyful in the midst of joy-killing circumstances, hopeful when life gives us no reason to, and strength to resist our sin.  The author of this chapter in Hebrews encourages you and me to “lay aside every weight (hardship of life) and sin” so that we can “run WITH ENDURANCE the race (our life) that is set before us.”  This is done by “looking to Jesus” as he is our perfect example to show us how to endure (lay down life’s burdens and sinful ways) “for the joy that <is> set before <us>.”

Is it possible that what “perfected our faith” was Jesus’ joy in his endurance,  motivating his strength to suffer well?  If Scripture is correct, the model He represented can be reflected in our lives, if we simply look to His example.

I, for one, hate not being full of joy, and since my troubles are guaranteed to never cease, I think I’m going to take the author up on His suggestion!!
Mike Arnold

The Wisdom Equation

FullSizeRender-1“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all his ways.”- James 1:5-8
I don’t think this verse needs deep explanation, other than pointing out that if we do not have faith that wisdom will definitely not come from the world or your own natural abilities, or full assurance that God is good, we will not “receive anything from the Lord.” We are “double minded,” unsure whether or not God is faithful and capable to give us the wisdom we seek, considering wisdom could come from any other source.
So, are you like me, you seek wisdom, but you’re uncertain if your faithometer is at a full 100%? What are you doing about that?
Fasting is certainly a great course of action to grow deeper in relationship with God, and in turn, increase your faith in him and his goodness. Check out the story of Jesus’ disciples NOT being able to heal an epileptic boy, then Jesus comes around and of course heals the boy. They ask Jesus why they couldn’t heal him, and he says  “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and FASTING” (Matthew 17:20-21).

There it is – This kind (of faith) does not go out EXCEPT by prayer – which we are already doing by means of request – and FASTING – which we are currently considering. In many cases, this is the missing element, and this is something I know I must be doing if I have a hope of attaining the faith needed to come before God with a wisdom request.
Finally, lets be honest with ourselves about what fasting actually is and isn’t. It is not declining something your body doesn’t need – like television, internet, snickers bars, or Miller Lite as you can survive without those. It is depriving your body of something it actually needs, namely, food, so that you can:

1.) Feel actually weak and can honestly tell God “in my weakness you are strong”

2.) Authentically say “God, YOU are more than enough,” and “I need YOU more than I need the things my body requires to survive.”

3.) ***ask God for wisdom IN (now assured) FAITH, and it will be given to you.

Prayer + Fasting = Faith. Wisdom request + Faith = Wisdom!!!
Mike Arnold

Comfort’s Crucifixion – A Case For Missions

1509774_10203966951351239_8718848223904085236_nA transformed outlook, a broken and enlarged heart, an invigorated passion, a holy rage, a widened vision, an enriched purpose, a deepened desperation, engrained relationships, a changed life. 

In 72 hours flat.


When considering a missions trip, your thoughts could include assumptions that you’re going to transform a culture, that God is going to do a great work through you to impact a people group.  Though these are both possible of many outcomes, the most prevalent take away of a trip I recently took to the middle of Haiti was the transformation and great work He did inside of me.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” – Romans 10:13-15

THE JOURNEY

Having received an invitation to take a trip to serve an organization in Port Au Prince, I immediately accepted because I’ve heard of how things like this can deepen your faith and your appreciation for your life back home.  I had never heard much about Haiti, but knew it was a desolate, third-world nation.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was definitely down for an adventure.

After our initial arrival, we visited a nine-orphan home that is set up by the organization we partnered with there.  We were able to see who they were, and that they were clearly well taken care of by the team in place at that location.  Right away, our comfort zone/personal space bubble was popped as these kids’ faces lit up and ran to us with arms straight out to grab and hold us, or arms straight up in petition to be held by us.  We were told that in the next few days we would visit the orphanage that they came from, and witness the desperate conditions there.

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Garbage piles on every street, raw sewage lining every curb

The next morning, we went to one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of the western hemisphere – Cité Soleil.  The area has been called a “microcosm of all the ills in Haitian society: endemic unemployment, illiteracy, non-existent public services, unsanitary conditions, rampant crime and armed violences.”  It’s a place that should an American get into trouble, I’m told that the U.N. will not come rescue you.  My heart was broken before our van was put in park as I saw little boys running around with barely any clothing, and what clothes they had were torn and battered.  Some of them had only a small shirt, no pants, and nothing on their feet.  Still, they had huge smiles on their faces.  I saw joy in the eyes of the hopeless.  We got out and began to walk with our Haitian guides.  The chaos and devastation of the landscape seems to never end the more you walk.  The smell there is one similar to a portable bathroom at a race track or baseball field; there is no plumbing system, so the street curbs are lined with rivers of sewage.  There is no garbage pick up, so garbage is absolutely everywhere, and best attempts are made to pile up and burn it.  Aside from putrid breathing conditions, the living quarters are boxes with tin roofs, and, if you’re lucky, a cloth as a front door.  The food supply is in high demand, demonstrated by the bodily evidences of malnutrition and the mudpies we were shown – made literally out of dirt, eaten literally just to feel full.  Again, just like at the orphan home the night before, these kids who have zero hope come running up to you, in almost overpowering numbers, to simply hold your hand and walk with you, get their picture taken with you, have an ounce of your attention directed toward them.  We stopped to talk with some people, and a mother tried to give her child to us, to give it a better life.  That was the peak, that was what finalized our view of how depressed this city was.  At one point, our guides interpreted signals from local gang members that it was time to leave, right then.

We hopped in the vans and went to the next destination – the orphanage our guides obtained their kids from.  At first onset, it didn’t seem too bad compared to the rest of the things we saw that day.  There were about 20-25 kids in an upstairs area.  We spoke with them (through interpretation), played with and held them as much as they wanted.  Our guides took groups of six of us at a time down to the basement; there was something they wanted us to see.  It was my turn.  I was lead down some stairs to a hallway where they first told us about a cooking area, but said it never gets used to cook food for the children the building hosts.  We walked next into a very dark, dungeon-type room.  I’ll never forget the things I saw and heard described to me after I walked inside.  At night, the small room is packed full of infants to small children, boys and girls.  The guide told me that when she first came there, there were babies laying in human feces and urine, and basically the most unsanitary, ungodly conditions you’ve never dreamed of.  I was too broken to even speak.  The guides said that they are actively involved in processes to get this place shut down.

This entire day was spent peeling back the veil off of our eyes to witness the depths of depravity in this country.  It didn’t get any worse than this.  We ended this day with a wealth of emotions and thoughts ranging from guilt to confusion to helplessness to anger to sadness… to facedown prayer.

The majority of our next day was spent at an after-school program that kids flock to.  We were able to speak to them about dream pursuit and Christ’s love, then spent time loving on them in whatever way they wanted most, be it games or hugs.  As dusk approached, we took a walk through the worst housing I’ve ever seen.  Their kitchen, laundry room, sleeping area, everything was within a 10’x10’ area in some houses.  We had the privilege of praying over a couple of people that requested it for their sick children, for their frail bodies, for their salvation.  We ended this day with an escalated hope more so than the day prior.  There are things and programs in place for people to better themselves and excel in their country’s economy all in the name and for the glory of Christ.

We ended that night on the roof of the house reflecting on everything we had seen and singing worship to God.

THE IMPACT

We have all seen commercials and pictures of places like this before, but it really can’t grasp your attention like being there to see, smell, feel, and hear what is actually happening.  We genuinely do not have a clue. And how could we? Media will never seriously cover it, celebrities will never bring attention to it, and our couches and cozy homes and living will never allow it to cross our minds lest we grow a holy discomfort.  Public officials attach the term “poverty” to American neighborhoods because they have no access to internet.  American animal abuse rescue organizations advertise moving pictures of puppies in cages with Sarah McLachlan playing in the background to convince you of the priority of their mission field.   As I write this, someone is reading an article about Kim and Kanye two rows ahead of me on my flight… I’m sure it’s important.  Little do we know over here that in other lands, poverty is a word to describe someone who is about to die.  Little do we know that animals there are sleeping in rivers of human waste.  If you had seen what I’ve seen, you’d want to first class ship politicians to the slums.  You’d want to burn down the organizations that elevate the mission field of American animals above Haitian humans.  We are over occupied with things that don’t matter and carry no eternal value in this country.

Haiti is a place that wrecks your American comfort to pieces.  You return feeling like, why do I deserve to drive this fancy truck home?  What makes me greater than them that I can stop at any fast food place or starbucks I want on the way?  What makes me so much better than the orphaned that my parents never abandoned me?  It’s difficult to find my place in a culture that finds discontent and entitlement in having everything after spending time in another that finds hope and joy in having nothing.

When I was little, my mom would always tell me when I was discontent with a food or toy that I should go over seas where children have nothing so I would appreciate what I have more.  Is that the case now?  No, I’m actually MORE discontent, but in a different way.  Everything I have here tries to keep me from being hopeless, and it rarely works.  What I’ve realized is all the things I’m told I should be so much more grateful for are actually barriers to me placing my hope and security in Christ.  I so easily love these things, and they never fully satisfy.  Haitians have nothing else to place their hope in, so Christ is easily within their sights as their only hope.  I envy that desperation.

“If you have pity for perishing people and a passion for the reputation of Christ, You must care about world missions.” – Piper

This is not a petition or plea to increase your gratitude for your home, family, and life.  This is a call to action for the cause of Christ.  God never created us to prize comfort, but we do.  We ignore the uncomfortable truths to evade guilt so we feel fine doing nothing.  We even go as far as creating theologies to justify comfort-seeking as a direct fruit of faith.  To truly worship God is to love what he loves, and he loves the broken.  We’re swift to direct our attention to material things, as they have limited food, water, clothing.  While those are very real needs, they are not the primary need.  They just want to be loved and held!!  Their primary desire is for people to care about them, their primary seek is a source of hope.  They already know that “man shall not live on bread alone,” and they need someone to come in and tell them “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” or HOPE.

We can not claim to be dedicated to laying down our lives and making people eternally glad if we are not caring about world missions.  We can not love people or love God without doing both.  We MUST champion the orphan if we claim to love the broken.  We MUST cry over the living conditions if we claim to help the hurting.  We MUST walk ghetto streets and smell the atmosphere of human waste and hold the hands of the diseased and kiss the foreheads of the unbathed and pick up and hold the young unclothed if we claim to be a representative of Jesus. Because He did.

If in Christ we have hope IN THIS LIFE ONLY, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Corinthians 15:19

That scripture refers to the worldly pleasure we exchange for suffering and worldly abstention to pursue Christ to the ends of the age.  If He did not resurrect, and we do not have His hope of eternal pleasure, hope, and satisfaction, then by all means, chase after and absorb every comfort this life has to offer, because it’s the only life we will ever have.  But if He DID rise, and we DO have eternal life and hope, the comforts of this world will fall so far subordinate to the joy of living a life in full surrender God – which leads to a heart aligning with his purposes and passions, including passion for the broken.  What this all means in light of mission work is that to have a Christ centered passion for missions is certain to deliver greater joy and comfort than to have no passion for missions.

WORK TO BE DONE

The work of spreading the gospel, making disciples, and loving the broken does not exclude your home town.  God has you where you are right now for a specific reason and purpose.  The reason there is such a focus on foreign nations is exposure and poverty. To not hear of Jesus Christ at least 100 times in an American lifetime is to seriously be living in a bubble.  We have tv shows, radio stations, and churches on every corner.  Think of it this way: What seems more reasonable?  50 people changing 1 lightbulb, or 1 person changing 50 lightbulbs?  Haiti is roughly the size of Vermont; Vermont’s population is 600,000, Haiti’s is 10.3 million.  On top of that statistic, Vermont has the same amount of total human beings as Haiti has orphans.  Thats right, there are 600,000 orphans in the nation of Haiti.  I use this place as an example, but there are plenty of other countries that are in similar conditions such as Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia, and much more that are ripe for the harvest.

I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation.  Romans 15:20

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  – Matthew 9:37

There is no doubt that missions care is a mandatory part of the Christian’s heart, but perhaps you don’t yet feel the calling to go.  Thats ok.  But at the very least, send.  There are tons of people who are diving in to this thing head first, and the only obstacle they encounter is financial fuel.  There are organizations like the one I am partnered with called I’m ME.  They are stationed in Haiti and are making large, exponentially growing waves in the community there.  They are rescuing kids from deadly situations, creating opportunities for self-advancement, loving on people and being Jesus to those He came to save. Their success, however, is determined largely by God moving many people’s hearts to contribute resources to their cause.  I encourage you to check out their web site, see what they are about, and pray about supporting them and/or other Christ centered missions organizations.  Where you spend your wallet, you spend your heart.

The world tells us that we are free to live comfortably.  God’s gospel tells us we are free to crucify our comfort.  In doing so, we will have effectively torn down the wall that blocks our direct view of God as the all satisfying source of hope.  For me,  I am stunned.  I’m stopped in my tracks.  I went to Haiti to serve others and be an asset for change, but Haiti changed me.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had a greater sense of purpose than I do right now.  I am so charged up and craving the Lord to pave my way for future endeavors.

Are you craving purpose? Want to be a part of a war that is sure to be victorious?  God’s global missions purpose WILL stand (Matthew 24:14), he “WILL accomplish all <His> purposes (Isaiah 46:10), He WILL enlarge the hearts of those that go to deny their needs and wants, and He WILL fill them with a joy that will last far beyond the limits of this life.

Jump in, the water’s great 🙂

“If you knew what I know, you’d do what I do.” – David Nelson, CEO of I’m ME

Mike Arnold

Abandoning Promises God Never Made

10514397_10202611701790847_87989868010338039_o“Because of the price He paid, we have a right to live in total victory.  Not partial victory, to where we struggle in our finances and relationships, or in our health. That’s not total victory. We are a child of the most high God.  He has paid a price so that we can be totally free from poverty and lack.  He didn’t create you to be average.  He didn’t create you to barely get by.  He created you to have divine health, to be prosperous in your relationships, to have money to pay your bills.  Whatever you touch is going to prosper and succeed.” – Joel Osteen

And they call this the good news of Jesus Christ.


it sounds so good

Writers, speakers, and teachers like Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Andrew Wommack, Myles Munroe and countless others that you’ll see on “Christian television” teach different things, but all in line with the same theme – God promises his children physical health, material wealth, and worldly prosperity.  They teach that you are of a royal bloodline, and royalty doesn’t live in poverty.  Royalty doesn’t suffer ailments.  If you follow Christ, riches await you.  With book titles like “Your Best Life Now” and “God Wants You Well,” they pack their churches and make their way to “NY Times Best Seller” lists, teaching people that if they have lack, it is because they do not have enough faith, do not have a “royal mindset,” or are not “expecting what you have coming to you.”  Things like “If someone were to say ‘I don’t need more money’ I would say you have a poor outlook on life” (Brian Houston) are said during “sermons” to essentially persuade an already greedy and lustful culture that they need more… and that it’s God’s will that you get it.

They believe and teach that prosperity, health and success are part of the gospel. That when Christ died, He did so to redeem us from the curse of poverty, sickness, and disease, a curse for us breaking the law. Through that “gospel,” we are free from poverty and sickness just as we are free from sin. Through that “gospel,” restored fellowship with God means access to the abundant provision of earthly life from our Father in heaven. That “gospel” is therefore about freedom from lack, sickness and distress. Sin is the root cause of all these problems, and when Jesus took care of sin on the cross of Calvary, He took care of these problems too.  If we don’t claim our healing, our prosperity, what did He die for? We are taught to name and claim, and even demand earthly goods in many forms from God, to “partner with him” to pursue riches.

This is their motivator to become a Christ-follower/fill their pockets with your money. Few messages in existence today are as anti-Christ, and wicked as this.

It is a tragedy to elevate gifts above the gift-giver.  It is a tragedy to “gain the world but lose your soul” (Mark 8:36).  It is a tragedy to treasure life above Christ.  In my Bible, right before 1 Timothy 6:6-10, there is a title with larger text that reads: “False Teachers and True Contentment,” then follows with verses that pinpoint today’s prosperity teachers.  “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of <physical goods/health/success> is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”  They are encouraging a wandering AWAY from Christ, they are leading many to lose their soul.

Just so we’re clear on what’s communicated here, the good, model Christian has it all together.  You’ll have money to pay your bills, prosperous relationships, and good health.  And anything less is “not living in total victory (provided by the cross),” brought about by your own lack of faith.  Lack and poverty and infirmity is brought about by sin.
What a perversion!!  Not only have we completely cast aside the Gospel of Salvation, but we’ve diminished it’s value by placing the focus of our pursuit on ourselves. We have shifted from making Christ the center of all things and crying out “Your will be done,” to making our wants and needs the center of all things, sneering “My will be done.”  We’ve created a theology where God must tend to our every beckon call and give us everything we need to survive, and survive materially abundantly.  Myles Munroe teaches that God can not make a move on earth unless he has first received permission from us.  Who, then, is really God???

We chase accomplishment, we chase success, we strive to achieve a worldly light at the end of a worldly tunnel.  We slave to feel like we deserve something.  We do this also with God.  We feel that since we are His, He will treat us like kings on earth.  We feel like since God is so great and so loving, he will give us every little thing our heart desires.  He owes us something.  In chasing after all of this CRAP, our positive and negative mood is dictated by whether we’ve got what “is rightfully ours.”

We’ve made Christ a whore.

We want goods out of him more than we want just him.  We crave and demand blessings and power from him, playing the audacious role of God’s taskmaster.  Like a child not getting his way, we shake our fists in anger at the one person that can “change our bad situation in the blink of an eye.” Instead of loving WHO HE IS for WHO HE IS, we worship what he’s capable of.

Whether it comes from a billboard, a book, or heaven forbid, church, the self-serving appeal is the same across the board, it’s just packaged in a thousand different ways.  It tickles your ears and sounds great… if your scripture-starved soul throws no red flags.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised?  Maybe we should come to expect a message that draws a picture of God existing for our sake out of a culture that keeps coming up with ways to say “I deserve.”  We lust after much, and to avoid the guilt that comes from lust, we create entitlement out of thin air so that we can feel we’ve done justice by serving ourselves.  We’re consistently enslaved by our wants, leave no desire unsatisfied, and create a pretty crafty system to justify it.  We’ve trained ourselves to believe that we are owed something, that we have earned something.  And of course, we hear the above listed teachers preaching from their books “Have Your Best Life Now” or “Create The Life You Want,” which conveys the message that the pursuit of Christianity is literally no different than the pursuit of the rest of the world – we have nothing better to offer, Christ ISN’T enough.

Christians, we’ve bought into and adopted a self-centered gospel, putting words in God’s mouth to validate a sufferless life.


the truth

On the flip side, the true gospel, or “good news” of Christ is that he lived a life and died a death of hardship to take away every burden of sin that we’ve ever had and ever will have.  He was hated, despised, rejected, poor, died a horrific death to redeem us from the eternal penalty of our sin.  If he had not, we would be rightfully deserving a permanent residence in hell.  Are we entitled to our “best life now” in the way these wolves think “best” is as a result of the cross?  We HAVE received our reward for his suffering, it is wonderful, glorious, beautiful salvation from the thing we actually DO deserve and are entitled to – the fruit of sin, or in other words, eternal laps in a lake of fire.

He tells us in John 15:20 that “a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  If the very life of Christ was not a wealthy, or prosperous one, how do we feel that we are entitled to one?  In Matthew 16, He tells his disciples, “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.”  What does this mean to “take up your cross?”  That’s a gruesome statement, considering the gore and horror of the act of crucifixion. This means that you die to yourself (Phil 1:21), you literally put ALL of your own desires to death, even if the cost is death itself.  Your desire to have the ability to pay your bills, to send your kids to college, to have a wife one day, to live long and healthy are included in “ALL of your own desires.”  Luke 14:26 says that compared to the love and devotion you have to Christ, to be His disciple you must hate your own “father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even your own life.”  Outside of the guideline for Christ-followership, the Bible tells us SO much about the suffering and pain we will endure as His disciples, and the everlasting JOY that comes from these sufferings:

  • “Count it all JOY, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
  • “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 10:11

WHY are we rejoicing in our suffering?  Read my blog, “The Purpose Behind Life Sucking” for the reason in full, but in short, it is a tool God uses to get our attention and to accomplish His purposes in our lives in a way that would never occur without the trial or irritation.  Christianity is not a focus group about how to avoid life’s wounds.  In fact, trailing in his footsteps will cost you your very life you’ve been trained to hold dear, enrich, and extend.  “God loves us best by giving us the best to enjoy forever, namely himself, for he is best.  No thing can satisfy the soul.  The soul was made to stand in awe of a person – the only person worthy of awe.” – John Piper.  You have been taught there is bondage in lack and poverty and God wants to free you from that… the truth is that there is bondage in addictive self seeking/serving that God wants to free us from so we can be free to find our supreme joy in him and him ALONE.


context and culture

No, this isn’t a spam advertisement, to illustrate the following point, PLEASEEEE watch this hilarious “Obama Hates Americans” video.


The Bible is not a handbook for how to enhance your checkbook or get out of debt.  It’s not a binder of equations on how much faith is required to demand your healing.  We must look at scripture contextually, that is: When was this written?  Who wrote it?  To whom was it written?  What culture was it written in?  When we don’t, we see blurps of text, like in the video above, that look like it might mean something.. we pick and pull from different conversations in scripture to formulate a message that supports OUR own claims, validates OUR lusts.

We frankenstein together a godless theology, and it’s just as ugly.

You will often see pieces of scripture thrown out as a way of telling you that God wants you to obtain earthly treasure.

  • “You do not have because you do not ask,” for example: James 4:2 is not suggesting the reason you don’t have what you want is because you haven’t asked God for it, or haven’t asked enough, as many would have you believe.  This verse means something completely different when re-inserted back into it’s proper context.  This interpretation completely ignores what precedes it in scripture: Christians fighting over quarrels caused by desires.  Directly after, James states you do not receive after asking because you ask wrongly to spend what you’re asking for on your own passions.   He calls us adulterous!  You won’t find that verse’s abusers reading that part.  Creflo Dollar says this of prayer: “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.”  This whole theme goes against the very prayer Christ prayed the night before he was crucified – “Yet not my will, but yours be done,” Luke 22:42.  You CAN NOT twist the arm of God, no matter how much you pray, no matter how much faith you can muster.
  • Another is John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Extremely common verse used by prosperity teachers.  Completely removed from it’s context, these people suggest this means that God wants his followers to have every good physical thing.  The correct context of the verse illustrates the parable of the sheep and good shepherd who calls them by name.  The “have it to the full” has to do with knowing and being known by Jesus.  Has NOTHING to do with physical things. The Tyndale Commentary explains, “He does not offer them an extension of physical life nor an increase of material possessions, but the possibility, nay the certainty, of a life lived as a higher level of obedience to God’s will and reflecting his glory.”

Aside from prosperity (false) teachers, contemporary Christians have so many expectancies they’ve picked up through years of being a spoiled American.  We feel the “promises of God” include everything from a future spouse, to a place to sleep, to an American utopia where we will always be free to worship.  The next time you feel yourself expectant of something you feel God owes you, immediately ask yourself “Where did I come up with this?”  If it’s from your loving mother, a persuasive youth pastor, and NOT scripture, cast that crap aside or ask, “Could you scripture-verse that for me, bro?”  Every good thing comes from above, but “above” does not automatically offer you “every good thing” like we might think.

Our salvation is what is guaranteed if we are a follower of Christ.  Anything more is a bonus that we most certainly should thank Him for, but it’s demand should never come from our lips.  To be clear, Christ IS enough.  Christ is MORE than enough.  And I don’t mean that in some sort of metaphorical, generic, cliche sense.  I mean that if you are suddenly Hellen Keller’ed, there is still a reason to rejoice.  If you are a tortured prisoner of war until the day you die with no hope of escape, there is still a reason to hope.  Let THAT message be the message our lives are marked by.

God never promised us a spouse, like many well-intending Christians would tell you, “God’s got someone planned for you.”  Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, either way, Christ is sufficient.
God never promised us health.  It is fundamentally illogical to consider this, as death is certain for all of us, and death rarely comes about in a humanly healthy way.  Maybe we’re healthy, maybe we’re sick, either way, Christ is sufficient.
God never promised us ANY kind of earthly prosperity.  He promised we would prosper in our hearts, free from the prison of guilt and shame that died with him on the cross.  Maybe we’re well off, maybe we’re starving, either way, Christ is sufficient.
God never promised he would give us everything we need to survive.  He promised he would give us everything we need to enjoy him forever.  Maybe we live, maybe we die, either way, Christ is sufficient.

While we see this situation as Christ over the pleasures of the world, or the world over Christ, or in other words, trying to balance the weight of desire and struggling to making the Christ side heavier, God doesn’t even see a scale.  He tells us “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4) meaning it’s one or the other.  He says the scale doesn’t exist, or throw away the scale and pick one.  “It’s me or humanity” in other words.  Don’t get me wrong: a prosperous life is not a sinful life.  But the second it becomes a pursuit is the second we fail.  When our life is marked by success chasing instead of eternal investment, we have wasted our life.


The greatest ministry tool our lives can show is joy in the pain, not treasure pleasure.

If I truly find my utmost joy in Christ alone and value him above life and death itself, what will stand in the way of that joy?  My success or failure?  My riches or poverty?  My sustained or declined health? A happy marriage and family or dying alone as a single man?  We find our unfaltering joy in what we value most.  If I am downcast because my company is not doing so hot, I value it above Christ.  If I am pissed off because someone just ripped off my Harley, I value it above Christ.  If I am found depressed because I’m not yet married and everyone around me is, and is already having kids, I value those things above Christ.  Anything less than placing Christ above all else – including your very health and well being, and the health and well being of those you love most – is idolatry.  Are you prepared to lay down ANYTHING?  Are you prepared to count the cost of following Christ?

Certainly,

  • We are ASSURED of hardship.
    “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
  • We are ASSURED of the wages of self-sought living.
    “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8).
  • But we are ASSURED of suffering’s profit.
    “We REJOICE in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5.

Mike Arnold

As an additional resource, please take the time to watch this video by John Piper:

Forgetting The Gospel

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. – Romans 14:1-23

 

I’ve read through the book of Romans before. Maybe even twice. But reading it today, I wonder if I completely skipped over the verse above, or maybe that page was torn out, because if I had truly read and understood it, so much of my life’s ministry would have been different.

Found an interesting piece of literature a few weeks ago. It was a letter I wrote someone, another Christian, about 3 years ago, that I’m not even sure they received. As I read through it, I could visualize myself in the room writing it. With every passing paragraph, I wanted to strangle my own neck. I told this person I was disappointed in them, that I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be connected with someone that acted like such and such, suggested that their love for God was diminished because of so and so, I even had the balls to tell them “I would never even think of doing that,” as if I was the standard for the Christian life.

It was a letter polluted with pride but covered with a form of Godliness. What I mean by that is I was judging the crap out of this person, but doing it in a way that seemed like I was just looking out for their best interests. I wasn’t though; I was looking out for MY best interests. What would never be admitted then was I was hungry for attention and affirmation of the amazing, wise Godly man I was. I fabricated a way to crush this person to further elevate myself with MY knowledge, with MY purity, with MY righteousness. Like drowning in a pool, I was pushing someone down to make myself higher.

To be clear, I was the person Romans 14 describes as “the one who abstains”, but I disobeyed it’s command to not “pass judgment on the one who [does not abstain].”

Is homosexuality and abortion wrong? Yep. Is drunkenness wrong? Yep. But so is the lying, deceiving, lustful, covetous parts of my heart that Jesus died to redeem. I somehow made God’s law and wrath the focus of my life’s ministry, and left out Jesus’ fatal act of saving the world from their sins. It was all rules and regulation without the love and compassion. What I believe is right and not only are you wrong but you must not love Jesus enough.

I forgot the gospel.

Everything changes when your obsession shifts from the judgment of God to the grace of God. I’m so thankful God loves me enough to push ME to my knees, to turn the eyes of judgment upon my own sin, my own desperate wretched existence. What I was doing to others, God, the only person with the authority to do so, finally did to me. He removed me from my self-made throne, and set me at the foot of His. In the past three years since I wrote that letter, I have been made so sharply aware of all my mistakes, the depth of my depravity, and how imperfect I really am. The voice I thought I was hearing for so long, “That is wrong, that person needs to be corrected, that person must not love Jesus” silenced and a new one resounded,

“THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD, AND YOU ARE NOT HIM.”

I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with this. It’s so easy to think you’re doing the right thing and ignore all of your wrong reasons. It feels so good to be told how great you are, that you may lose sight of how much you suck. It’s so easy to know all the rules, think you’re lining up pretty good, and tell everyone else they’re not. What seemed right at that time, now makes me literally sick to my stomach. In the same book I used as a weapon against people, I now look inside and see a Jesus that specifically condemned judgment, and points a finger at me to say “Mike, who are you to tell someone else they’re wrong?? Look at how wretched your own sin is!!”

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5

I will always have a log in my eye, and that’s the point.  I’m indefinitely imperfect, and therefore, an unqualified judge.

The proverb below pierced me right through the heart. Never did I desire to hear someone out and just be a loving ear, I wanted to tell them that regardless of their circumstances, they violated this, this, and this.

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. Proverbs 18:2

And a fool, I most certainly was.

Am I so bold as to claim that I doubtlessly know the mind of God enough to point my finger at any person? God’s primary concern is not rules, but people… people that we are not to judge by rule but to love by grace. “It is before his own master that he stands or falls,” NOT ME. I, nor the way I see scripture, do NOT have the final say on someone’s heaven acceptance. My viewpoint is not sitting on the Throne. I’m faulty, I’m frail, my opinions change, my heart changes. Even if I was appointed to be Judge, I’ll never be in any solid condition to play the role.

Our responsibility is to love. When society deems us hateful and judgmental as a whole, we have it wrong. The gospel is a controversial message, no doubt, but it’s a message that should give the church the display of love, servitude, and humility. OF COURSE people know how screwed up they are, do we really need to beat them over the head with it? Productively speaking, that’s crazy. Instead, we are to “Let all that we do be done in love” (1 Cor 13:4-8). We are to walk alongside people, “become all things to all people so that by all means some might be saved” (1 Cor 9:22).

Some feel we are to judge the sins of a nation or a culture that rejects us, but who are we to say that WE ought to be owed some sort of respect and dignity when this world isn’t ours? We are visitors here, ambassadors of another colony. We are representatives only. We are not sent here with the sole objective to change law and policy, but to reflect the love of the God who came to save this world. We don’t go to third world nations to judge the sins and ways of a people who don’t know Christ, we go to LOVE in any way we possibly can!! So why do we do it here? Because we consider America our home and want to worship as comfortably as possible? That’s not our calling. I read a book that told me that I would be persecuted for my beliefs, not catered to and called a dignified human being. All this is to say that our responsibility is not so much to judge a person or a sinful culture that we’re not a part of, as it is to love them unconditionally so that people can catch a glimpse of what this Jesus is we talk so highly of.

Offer a coffee or beer and a loving ear, not a rulebook and checklist. Use arms for hugging and holding, not pushing down. Love people like crazy. Love people like God loves you. Love people like you’ve just been offered a pardon on an eternal prison sentence. Nobody’s sin is worse than mine, and THAT is what brings me to my knees in desperation before a holy God that saved me, asking “what can I do?” He tells me, “Love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 John 4:7-8, 1 Peter 4:8)

I want to show the world the love he gave to me, not the judgment he freed me from… pedestal kicked aside.

Mike Arnold

Mediocrity Is The Killer

Failure can be described as not coming through on an assigned task, or falling short of expectations from a higher authority or self.  That’s what I feel today as I learned of a death in the community while I was making a stop at my local parts shop.  

The cashier said “Oh hey Mike!  How are ya today?  Ready for the snow we’re about to have AGAIN?”, like normal.  “I’m great!  Just getting sick of this snow, I’d pay to have it stop by now.”  I grinned, she laughed then went to a more serious look, “Did you hear about the guy from Classic Cut?”  I knew exactly who that was as it’s hard to NOT know every landscaper in my town. “No.. what happened?”  “He died a few days ago, the wake was Saturday.”  

I was stunned.  This dude was 36 years old.  He was healthy, I always saw him at the gym.  For all I know, he wasn’t in to drugs, heavy drinking, or terrible eating.  He, very simply, was alive one minute, and dead the next.  They found him in his chair in his house with the tv still on, and expect he had been there for a few days.  I don’t know why it happened, but if I did it really wouldn’t change anything.

I did not know this man too well, but being a landscaper, we did know each other.  He was the guy from Classic Cut, I was the guy from Creekside.  We talked countless times at the gym during the winters and joked about how we’re trying to stay in shape so we can be ready to tackle landscaping season, as well as the traditional crap we deal with with customers.  We’d bump into eachother at the store I was at today and share a quick laugh.  We would pass each other on the road 2, maybe 3 times a week, and we would wave.  Also, his house was less than 1000 feet from mine.

And never ONCE did I share the gospel.  

Never once did I speak of the Jesus I love so dear and claim to be saved from my sin by.  Never once did it cross my mind that he may not know Christ and I could be the only one in his life to introduce him.  I wonder if he even knew I was a Christian.  Not only did our conversations exclude the most important thing to be discussed, but I’m certain I probably entertained foul talk.  You know, manly talk, the talk that we feel justified to have as men, even if we’re Christians, because, well, we’re men and thats just the way it is.  Right?

I’m not judging him, because only God knows his heart and only God can save it.  Maybe he was a devout follower of Christ?  Regardless, I should have known.  I should have steered a conversation in that direction to at least know where he stood.  I should have lived a life in front of him that caused him to wonder, “what is different about Mike?”, and witness to him through my actions and speech.  As much (or as little) as I know, the man I had EVERY opportunity to witness to could very well be at this moment in actual hell.  A man could be in tormenting pain this second because I wasn’t humble enough to look like a fool and be the “dude that won’t shut up about Jesus stuff.”  I fell for the notion that “this is the gym, you lift here, not talk about God,” or “this is just work stuff, we don’t need to include God here.”

I can recall praying in church “God, if you put someone in my path that you want me to witness to, I’ll do it!”  I don’t know if I expected a post it note on someones forehead reading “witness to me” because there was a man that lived 15 seconds from me, was in my field of work, shopped at the same stores as me, lifted the same weights at the same time as me, and my witness was silent.  How pathetic.

What do you do when your favorite sports team wins?  Keep it to yourself?  Dale Earnhardt Jr. (my favorite driver) just won the Daytona 500 (my favorite race).  I must have texted 20 of my bros about how pumped I was about this good news.  We don’t share this truth about Jesus taking our sin and giving us His righteousness because it’s our duty, we share because we are OVERJOYED and can’t find the ability within ourselves to silence our mouths about it.  In fact, our joy is not made complete until we have brought other people to enjoy it with us, just as I did with the race.

When people die, our natural inclination is to always selfishly think of ourselves and how fragile OUR lives are.  How often do we think and give a care about how short the lives could be of the people around us?  What is their eternal destiny?  We don’t have to travel halfway across the world to access a mission base.  We’ve got people to love to life in our own backyard. 

If God works through people to awaken the hearts of other people, then we are responsible for what it looks like.  The fruit displays the root.  If there is no fruit (evidence) of salvation, we’ve really got no business telling people we’re Christian.  Why do we think we can separate our “Christianity” status from our lifestyle?  As if one doesn’t hinder or affect the other?  As if everything we do doesn’t have eternal consequences for ourselves or others around us?

Let’s be honest with ourselves (myself included).
If we’re in church on Sunday but bar crawling Saturday night, we’re doing it wrong.
If we’re claiming to be saved by Christ, but our mouths don’t evidence it, we’re doing it wrong.
If the people we come in contact with don’t see the light of Christ shining from us, WE’RE DOING IT WRONG.

Yes, life is fragile.  God has a number of how many days you will live, so pursue him and allow him to pursue you with your life,  but not just for you.  Pursue God with your life by loving and serving others, so that some might be saved.

“And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.'” Mark 16:15-16

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 1:16

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Mark 5:16

    
I’m embarrassed by my hypocrisy.  I’m angered by my worthless talk and misuse of time.  But I’m fueled to hunt down open doors with sharp eyes and take captive every opportunity I’m presented, to live a life that honors Christ so He can work through me and in the lives of others.

Mike Arnold