Thursday, December 31, 2015

Years Go; Years Come

So, 2015 is about to be over. Eight hours from now, it will be over. And looking back, I must say that it has been one of the best years, if not the best year, of my entire life. I finished undergraduate college at Southwest Baptist University (SBU) in Bolivar, Missouri with a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies. I moved into my first apartment (complete with three other roommates). I worked full time in Bolivar, Missouri for the SBU grounds crew all summer, before beginning my final semester there. I preached expositionally through the book of Jude at a church this past fall (sure, it’s a short book, and it took three weeks, but you’ve got to start somewhere). These were all new things. And then, I began pursuing the heart of a wonderful Christian woman whose heart for others is enviable (and we’re coming up on two months officially in about a week); this was also kind of new.
But then on a more important note, my relationship with the Lord has grown by leaps and bounds this year. I have come to understand on a much more personal level—through the books of Mark and Hebrews specifically—exactly who Jesus is and what He did and what He does now. When that reflective study ended in late May, I continued my hunt for a more intimate knowledge of Jesus by reading through each of the gospels several more times throughout the rest of the year. In reading a book on Christian meditation—puritan style—I was heavily convicted of my lack of a reflective prayer life based out of Scripture and I was pushed to improve in this area. Wouldn’t you know it, but right after my prayer life started improving, I was faced with a crisis of belief: am I a believer? does God want me to serve Him? should I be interested in a certain girl? will I ever really be out of certain sin patterns? and the list goes on. With my new found tool of praying through Scripture passages, I was able to confront those questions head on and answer them, which God used to lead me to move to a different church than the one I had been attending the previous year I had spent in Bolivar, Missouri. And as far as old sin struggles go, by the grace of God this year has been the best I’ve ever had in victory, and by the grace of Christ that victory will continue indefinitely into the future. God is good.
But despite all that, I know, and am reminded daily, that I can still continue to improve my relationship with the Lord. My prayer life can still get better. My trust in God’s provision for me can increase. My reliance on the Holy Spirit’s power as opposed to my willpower can increase. My selfishness—which comes out in all new ways, I’ve seen, when in a dating relationship—needs to die. Frustrations and anger, aimed primarily at my parents ever since high school, are unfortunately not as dead as I hoped, so I must continue murdering that sin. I also need to officially join the church I’m at in Missouri.
So the bolded phrases above are spiritual areas in which I’m called to work this next year. But on a less spiritual level, I have several other personal goals for 2016:
·         Move to Missouri officially (happening January 16)
·         Find a good job in the Bolivar-Springfield area
·         Work out regularly (focusing on upper body)
·         Keep up on this blog J
·         Write a short story every month (to keep creative juices flowing; they’ll be posted on the blog)
·         Put out a new CD before mid-March (preferably before February 29)
·         Finish at least 2 drafts (preferably 3 so it can be “done”) of my novel Stranded
·         Make headway on a huge paper (likely a book) about Romans 7:7-8:17
·         And more important than everything after finding a job: pour into the wonderful relationship God has been gracious enough to give to me at this point in my life, never forgetting to thank Him for her.
Now, lest anyone think that the last one is more important than a job, I can’t survive without a job, and I can’t ever hope to move away from being just in a dating relationship if I don’t have a job. But that’s not on my radar for 2016; I’m just going to strive to grow the friendship, seek to put selfishness in my heart to death, and by God’s grace enjoy every moment with her to the fullest capacity possible.
Well, I’ve been rambling long enough. The following lyrics inspire my prayer for 2016 (because they were playing as I tied this thing up here):
It falls, apart,
from the very start,
it falls apart,
seems like everything i touch, falls apart,
everything around me, falls apart,
when i walk away from You.
That’s Thousand Foot Krutch’s “Falls Apart,” and I’ve found it very true in my own life. More so in the last six months than ever before. If I cling to Jesus like the woman with the flow of blood in Luke 8, my faith will be strong, but if I walk away, even unintentionally, my life feels like it’s in shambles. My ultimate goal for 2016, and my prayer, is that I would go where God wants me to go, do what He asks me to do, say what He tells me to say, and love how He’s loved me.
Happy 2016!

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ready to Answer

First Peter 3:15 says, “But honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” It is imperative that we as Christians live out this verse in our daily lives. There is no time to mope about our position/situation in life, because that centers our eyes directly on ourselves. There is no time to waste in sins, as appealing as they might be in the moment, because indulging in them brings guilt that throws our confidence and assurance out the window. There is no time to let our attitudes grow heated toward anyone, because we don’t know who’s watching.
I’ll be totally honest. I moped around too much yesterday. I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to do anything. It was not a good place to be, and I had to be on extra guard against lashing out at people or wandering into other old, familiar sin patterns. Other than the selfish moping, and a close call as far as lashing out goes, I stood strong. However, yesterday isn’t my point. It’s simply supposed to be a contrast with today.
I woke up this morning and spent time on my knees, asking the Lord, “Help me to honor You today in my thoughts, attitudes, and actions. Help me to think about You always. Don’t let Satan fill my head with nonsense; don’t let me listen to his nonsense. I need You. I need truth.” And with that I moved on with my day, which was great. At one point, the doorbell rang, my dad answered it, and he asked the Jehovah’s Witnesses standing there to leave; my internal response was, “I want the opportunity to talk to one about true salvation.” This afternoon I went to Starbucks (my escape for excessive coffee intake and less-distracted focus on writing projects) to get some writing done. After I got my coffee and had my computer open, I prayed for the opportunity to speak to someone about Jesus and the salvation He offers. I was there for a little under an hour, trying to make some progress on a brand new short story, when an older gentleman walked in carrying a very large Bible under his arm, seemingly showing it off to the world; my thought was, “Wow, this guy is really proud and wants people to see what he’s carrying (I prefer to conceal carry my sword).” I hoped that it was a real Bible, and not one of those New World (Jehovah’s Witness) Translations.
When he finally sat down with his drink, he noticed that I had a Bible on my table. He asked me what I was working on, and I tried to explain that it was nothing directly involving the Word. He proceeded to tell me about a website that could answer my questions about family, marriage, etc. Why those specific topics, I don’t know, but that’s what he said. Being the curious guy that I am, I wanted to ask for him to repeat the website for me, hoping against hope that it wasn’t (the only part of it I’d caught was the .org portion), so I walked over to his table.
When I reached his table, the words printed above “Bible” confirmed my fears: “New World Translation.” He asked me my name, so I gave it, and he gave me his as well: Chester (name changed to protect identity, but God knows who you’re talking about if you pray for him). I decided to ask anyways about the website, knowing the answer I’d get. But then it began. My almost two hour conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness.
I’ve read some about them, but initially I couldn’t remember much. My heart was thumping hard as the conversation began. I prayed silently that God would calm my nerves and give me the words to say, and He answered my request. Chester had the floor at first, and I pretended I was simply a seeker, wanting answers to what was in the Bible. We compared a lot of passages, and he began by “convincing” me that God the Father is Jehovah. I was fine with that, though I prefer to refer to the Father as Yahweh (it’s a better transliteration of the  Hebrew). Then he moved on to discuss Jesus, and this was where the red flags started flying, because I remembered that the Jehovah’s Witnesses hate the doctrine of the Trinity. They believe that Jesus is a separate God created by God the Father. This conversation went back and forth; I tried pointing out proof of the trinity; he tried pointing out proof that Jesus is subordinate to the Father; I tried telling him I agreed with him, and that I think there’s diversity between them though they are still the same being (the Trinity is hard; probably why they deny it). He tried to explain that Jesus was the first creation of God (Colossians 1:15 misunderstood), and that got us talking about how I believe that Jesus and Yahweh are actually the same and that both were really present at creation (see similarities between Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1), and he ignored John 1:1 (thank You, Jesus) and stuck with Genesis 1:2, about the Spirit being present. I was really happy about this move, because technically he checkmated himself. If Jesus is the first created thing, how come the Spirit is hovering before anything is created? That would mean Jesus is at least the second created thing. But when I posed that question, he quickly changed the subject.
After a while, I got tired of the back and forth—no one agreeing—so I asked Chester how to get saved, which made him really happy to talk about. I listened closely, trying to figure out his understanding so I didn’t misrepresent him in my response. It ultimately boiled down to praying, reading the Bible, and knowing that God is ultimately in charge of peoples’ destinies (interestingly, he put a higher premium on reading than praying, but God’s infallible will was the ultimate clincher). I told him I needed concrete proof to know that I can be saved in the end, because I’ve done a lot of bad things in my life, and I could die before I got home tonight (I had ridden my bike in dark clothing to Starbucks, and it was dark by this point in our conversation), so I needed to know that I was fine before I left that building. He said something along the lines of: “Don’t doubt that Jehovah knows best and will place you where you need to go.” I told him I needed assurance, but he had none for me.
At this point I came clean about my beliefs, and told him that only in Jesus is there forgiveness of sins. It was His sacrifice that made me right with God and His resurrection that gives me hope and life eternal after I am resurrected from the dead. I asked him to believe in Jesus as God and as his only hope.
He wanted to recap with me, so he asked me who the creator and ruler and greatest being in the universe was. I said, “Jesus Christ.” He winced. He asked me again. I repeated it again. He winced again. I told him bluntly that Jesus Christ is God, the God, the Creator, and in Him alone is forgiveness of sins. I asked Him to believe, and right before I left I took him back to a verse he had pointed out earlier in regards to praying: Isaiah 64:8. His prayer is that God would mold him into the vessel God wants him to be; I told him to keep praying that and to humbly ask God (Jehovah or Yahweh or Lord or κύριος or יהוה‎ or whatever you call Him in your language) if maybe the vessel he needs to be molded into is one that believes Christ is God and the only hope for salvation.
We shook hands, thanked each other for the others’ time, and parted ways.
My point in all this is: are you living a life that’s ready to give an answer to someone else? Yesterday I wasn’t. Today I was. Because of today, tomorrow I will strive to be ready again. The world will only come to know the Lord as His people speak the gospel: we are sin-full, God is love; Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus rose; the Holy Spirit empowers and He does God’s work through us, but never for us to pat ourselves on the back. The best way for us to do this is to live in His Word, develop a vibrant prayer life, and study other belief systems out there. My plan is to read the chapter on Jehovah’s Witnesses in Josh McDowell’s Handbook of Today’s Religions in the next 24 hours.
I don’t know if Chester was even listening to my points, but I know he was trying to ignore them and brush them aside, and brainwash me into his position. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit would open his eyes so that he would come to know the Lord. Please pray for the same with me. Also pray that if I run into him again (possibly a week from today) that I would be empowered to speak the truth again.
Soli Deo Gloria.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Welcome to da Faith" preview

So it’s been way too long since I’ve posted anything to my blog. I don’t really have a clue how many people actually read it, but I also don’t really care. I write everything I write—sermons, raps, blogposts, essays, letters—in order to organize my own thoughts better, and if they can help someone else, then good for them; I’m glad God can use me for that, but it’s not my primary goal, especially in writing a blogpost.
So tonight it’s 10 pm and I’m less than 3 months away from having my bachelor’s degree work completed, and honestly I have no clue what I’m going to do afterwards, except that I’m releasing a new rap album in February. While my previous album was about assurance of salvation from 1 John 4:15-17, my current project is focusing on living life in light of salvation. I’ve been walking this thing for 5 years and the most helpful verse in my life—from even day one—has been John 15:5, which reads, “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.”
Those are the very words of Jesus, and as such, they are extremely important. In preparing the album, which has been slowly coming together for 3+ years now, I asked myself the question, “What are the most important things that I would have liked to have been told the day I became a Christian (in hindsight)?” And they all ultimately play into John 15:5, because that verse is the center of Christianity. So when I had a list of thirty possible songs, the question posed above was the filter.
Tracks include some of the following themes: imputed righteousness, progressive sanctification, living by the Spirit, the importance of having gospel-centered role models, the deity and humanity of Christ, God’s amazing love for His children, the need for evangelism, the usefulness of Scripture, and more, all presented clearly for the average listener over beats and in rhymes. And included in each track is Jesus Christ, because every day of living the Christian life should make Christ look more beautiful than He did the previous day.
Prayers are much appreciated as I continue this journey called the Christian race and continue working on this project titled Welcome to da Faith. Facebook will have more information and updates over the next five months. Hopefully more blog posts will follow as well, but I am trying to get an education, so forgive me if I don't write again before next year. :)
Grace and Peace.
In Christ,

liL fytr (Josh Wingerd)