George Floyd was a man made in the image of God.

(Photo from Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

George Floyd was a man, made in the image of God. He was a man, made in the image of God that did not deserve to die. The cops that killed him need to be held accountable for their actions. I’m not just talking about being fired from their jobs. They killed a man in cold blood. There needs to be justice. They need to be charged with manslaughter because that’s exactly what they did. They slaughtered a man, a man, made in the image of God. To my black brothers and sisters, I’m sorry. I’m grieving with you. I love you. I’m with you.

To those protesting, please continue to protest, please continue to pray, and please continue to plea for justice. I support you and I am praying for justice with you.

To those looting and rioting, is this really about George anymore? Businesses are being destroyed and more importantly, more people, that are also made in the image of God, are being injured and some have even been killed.

To my Christian brothers and sisters, we are called to be peacemakers. I realize that there isn’t peace until there is justice. We need to keep grieving over the injustice in this world. We need to keep having these conversations. More importantly, we need to keep praying. There are corrupt men and women in this world and nothing will change their hearts except for God.

Above all, let us remember that no sin goes unanswered for. Ultimately, God will bring justice.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'”

Romans 12:19

“Home” by Josh Garrels

I was listening to Josh Garrels’ album from 2015 titled “Home” the other day and I was reminded how this album really got me through a difficult season. I don’t even remember how I discovered this album because I honestly don’t even listen to any of his other music. But I really enjoyed the sound and the lyrics of this album. Now I’m not a musician so I’m not going to give an official review. I’m just going to share how this album helped me process what I was feeling during this season.

Last year, my wife and I were living in Stockton and we didn’t really have a lot of family around. My parents were 3 hours away and so were my in-laws. We had a close group of friends but we had 2 kids and we were starting to really feel the weight of not having our family around. We wanted our kids to grow up around their grandparents.

At this point, I had been living in Stockton for 9 and a half years. My parents were living in Visalia. I had never lived in Visalia but I went to junior high and high school in Porterville which is about 30 minutes away. Visalia started to feel like home for me because my parents and siblings were there. When I moved to Stockton, I wanted to get out and do my own thing. I honestly never thought I would live in the Visalia area again. But with my family there, I started to really miss it.

Josh Garrels has some lyrics on this album that really spoke to these longings. Even the sound of the music, I really related to. It opens with this almost oldies style sound and then concludes with this more country/folk sound. This oldies sound reminded me of my family and even though I’m not a fan of country music, it reminded me of the Visalia area.

Throughout the album, there are themes of missing and longing to return home. There are lyrics that deal with remembering who you are and where you are from. Lyrics like, “I’m my mother’s child, I’m my father’s son” and “Forgot where I came from, Somewhere back when I was young, I was a good man’s child”. During this time, I really felt like my relationship with my dad got better as well. Not that it was bad before, but he was really there for me during a really hard time, and we got a lot closer because of it.

There are also themes of God calling us back to him. Now I wasn’t running away from God but I felt distant from him. I didn’t feel that he was close or that he was giving me any direction with my life. After 7 months of prayer, we believed God was calling us to move to Visalia.

In the song, “At The Table”, Garrels wrote these lines that really spoke to the latter part of this season:

So I put my hand upon the plow
Wipe the sweat up from my brow
Plant the good seed along the way
As I look forward to the day
When at last I see
My Father run to me
Singing oh, my child

Come on home, home to me
And I will hold you in my arms
And joyful be
There will always, always be
A place for you at my table
Return to me
My child

Reading these lyrics right now is even bringing me to tears. After building a life in Stockton, it seemed that God was calling me to return home. To my family and to the area that I spent a good majority of my childhood in. God was never distant from me, I was just growing in my dependence on him. I had never felt the “fatherly” love of God like that before. I was like a worried and hurt little boy that needed my dad. And I got that with tons of conversations with my dad and through my prayer life. It was like my relationship with my Heavenly Father grew stronger while my relationship with my earthly father grew stronger.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out this album, you should give it a listen: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Oj3NQVZjlhji59z6bSKl1

We’re Moving to Visalia

Almost 10 years ago I moved to Stockton to be a part of a church. I worked a few different jobs and served at the church in different capacities before getting hired by the church for an administrative position. I didn’t think I would stay in Stockton forever but I wanted to make it home while I was here.

I met my wife here. She had just moved back from LA and started coming to the church. She joined the community group that I was leading and hosting in my apartment above Empresso, one of the local coffee shops. We ended up dating and the rest is history. Both of our kids were born here. We got to see them be in the nursery at church to running around the sanctuary with their little friends.

I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had here. My homies in Stockton who I would play FIFA, dominoes, and watch movies or binge watch Netflix shows on Sunday nights with. I’ve had friends that have been there to check in on me and pray for me when I needed it most. And my homies outside of Stockton, well we played some dominoes too, some spades, and ate all the wings. These are all friends that all the way up until our last days in Stockton told me “whatever you need. I got your back.” I really didn’t deserve friends like this but I’m thankful God blessed me with them.

A big part of us staying here in Stockton for as long as we have is because of the friends that we made and my job at the church. I had been on staff at the church for a little over 6 years. Although the church and our close group of friends were our family away from family, we started realizing how much we were missing being around our family. My parents live 3 hours away in Visalia. Steph’s parents live 3 hours away in Pacific Grove. We started to feel like Stockton was becoming less and less like a home to us. We started praying and seeking if God was moving us in a different direction. Then about a month ago, I was told that my position at the church was being phased out. We took this as a confirmation that it was time to move on.

We prayed through a few cities for where we would want to live but wanted to keep in mind that it had to be for a reason. We didn’t just want to move somewhere to be there. We made the decision to move to Visalia to be close to family. We decided that we needed to make this a priority since we had been without it in Stockton. We want our kids to grow up around their grandparents and their aunts and uncles.

As I was looking and praying for jobs in the area, I didn’t know where I would be employed next. The first job I applied for was the Marketing Production Manager position at Fresno Pacific University. Then I applied for a lot of other jobs through Linkedin but nothing seemed promising. After about a month, I got a call for an interview at Fresno Pacific and then I got a second interview. Just this last week, I got the job offer. God has been so good to our family.

What’s crazy is that I almost went to Fresno Pacific right out of high school. I actually lived on campus for a couple of months while taking a summer class and was going to be on their water polo team. Financially it just didn’t work out though so I moved home and went to Porterville College.

The thought of moving to Visalia just seems like such a relief. Although I’ve never lived in Visalia, I spent 11 years in Porterville which is only like 30 minutes away so Visalia is pretty familiar. The distance from Visalia to Pacific Grove is just about the same distance from Stockton to Pacific Grove so we still won’t be that far from our family there. And we’ll only be 3 hours away from LA so I’m hoping to see my family down there more often.

We only have about 2 more weeks left in Stockton. As sad as we are to say bye to our life here, we are really looking forward to this next season in Visalia.

Officially 30 Years Old

Yesterday, I turned 30 years old. Before my birthday, multiple people asked me how I felt about turning 30. If I was afraid to turn 30. If I felt old or not. Honestly, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. I got a beautiful wife. Two amazing kids. And I’m thankful for the family and the friends that I have.

Every time one of our staff has a birthday, we go out to lunch and ask what our goals are for this new year. I’ve been dwelling on this for a few months so I guess it can be considered a goal for this year. I just want to be faithful. A faithful follower of Christ. A faithful husband. A faithful father. A faithful son. A faithful brother. A faithful friend.

There are examples of men in scripture that are described as just faithful, God-fearing, and a lover of God and people. And sometimes, that’s the only way the Bible describes them. And you know what, I think that’s great. What a way to be remembered.

Here are a couple of examples of this:

Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many.

Nehemiah 7:1-2

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.

Acts 10:1-2

The Importance of Scripture

I’ve never really been the guy who makes new years resolutions. However, at the beginning of this year, I thought I would set some goals for the year. So I guess you can call them new years resolutions if you want.

One of the goals that I had was to have a regular rhythm of reading scripture.

This may seem odd because it implies that I didn’t have a regular rhythm of reading my Bible. Especially being a Deacon at my local church and having a degree in Biblical Studies. But yes, I did struggle with this.

Why did I stop regularly reading my Bible?

It’s not that I didn’t read my Bible at all, but rather, I didn’t have a daily devotional time. For anyone that has a daily devotional time, you know that it requires discipline. I can admit that I was not very disciplined in this.

Most people get up early before work/school to read their Bibles. I am not a morning person. I would rather sleep until I have just enough time to take a shower, grab some coffee, and barely get to work on time. This was honestly just laziness on my part.

I would make excuses saying that I would just read my Bible at night since I considered myself a night owl but I rarely actually did. Or I would say that I don’t need to set aside time to read my Bible in the morning because you can spend time with God anytime and anywhere.

Now, these things are true but if you’re someone that says this, honestly ask yourself if you actually ever spend time in scripture?

This was a question that I had to ask myself and I honestly answered that I didn’t really spend any time in scripture. So it was time to make a change.

I started to wake up a little earlier so I could read my Bible before work. I’ve been reading 1 chapter of a book from the Old Testament and 1 chapter of a book from the New Testament.

Does it have to be in the morning?

No.

But there is something about communing with God in the morning.

The morning has been the best time for me to sit down and read my Bible. I start off my day with scripture and it really has been refreshing.

I’ve heard this quote before that says:

“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.”

– George Muller

There is nothing better than starting my day off with the Word of God on my mind and my heart is because it reminds me of the truths of God throughout the day. The Holy Spirit uses the scripture that I read that morning to remind me of my need for him and how to pray for my own soul.

I am able to examine my heart daily, repent of sins and be reminded of the grace of God. Be reminded of my new life in Christ.

I am reminded of what the Psalmist says:

“I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.”

– Psalm 119:11

It is also reminds me to pray for others throughout the day. For those family members and friends that have not believed in Jesus. Or to pray for my church family and that they would continue to grow in the love of God.

So why am I sharing this? 

I really just wanted to share on the importance of scripture, how I struggled as a christian to read it daily, and how it has affected my life since I started.

I also wanted to share it because if you are a christian but are not regularly reading scripture, it is your flesh that does not want you to be in God’s Word. Your flesh wants you left with your own thoughts and opinions throughout the day instead of the truths of God.

I encourage you to put aside a time during the day, whether be in the morning or not, to read and meditate on scripture. It is needed for the christian life.

Jesus says this in Matthew 4:4:

But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

If You Seek God, What Else Do You Need?

“The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” – Psalm 34:10

Over the past couple of years, I have read this verse and believed it to be true. However, I still looked to other things for fulfillment. This almost seem natural for me to do; to look for something else other than God himself. I would honestly say that I am still learning that God is all I need for fulfillment.

If I am anything true to my generation (yes, I’m a millennial), I have had this burning desire and longing for change and fulfillment in every part of my life.
At one point, I got tired of the city I was living in. I wanted to move away from Stockton because I “felt” that God was calling me elsewhere. This was honestly because I was tired of living here and wanted to move to another city, meet new people, and try different things.

I have had multiple jobs over the past few years. Working for each job for only 1 year at a time. I would play this off as bettering myself and my career, but if I was honest with myself, I would get bored with my job and start to look for another to fulfill me.

This one is pretty great too. How about for the longest time, I wanted to work for a church because I was at the time, earning a degree in Biblical Studies. Then after about a year of working for my church, I wanted to get a job outside of the church. I know I know, but I still currently work for my church and have been for about 3 years.

Maybe for you, you are trying to find fulfilment in other things or people, but here’s the truth….

….Only God can fulfill you.

God patiently shows us time and time again that he is the only person that we need. This is because he is truly good. He is not like someone else that you say is “a pretty good person”. There is no wrong in God. Everything in his character is good and all that he does is good.

He is not only good because of the things he gives us or has done for us, but he is good regardless. That is to say, that he is good whether you and I think so or not. His goodness is completely separate from us because it is his character. Good, is simply what he is.

This is why he is the only thing that can satisfy our hearts because there is nothing or no one truly good except for God.

And because he is good…

…everything that flows from him to us, is good. He created the world, and everything in it, including us, and called it good.

When we sinned and brought death and destruction into this world, he sent the most perfect gift he could give us, his Son Jesus. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been blessed abundantly.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”
Ephesians 1:3

The greatest gift that God can give us is himself.

For the Christian, not only have we been blessed so abundantly in Jesus but he also tells us to ask him for good gifts because he is our Good Father and we are his children.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
Matthew 7:11

Lastly, if you are not a Christian and do not know the goodness of God, I would encourage you to seek him through reading a Bible, and praying to him, asking him to reveal these truths to you. I’ll leave you with this last scripture passage:

“But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home. For behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. And I will multiply people on you, the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt. And I will multiply on you man and beast, and they shall multiply and be fruitful. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.”
Ezekiel 36:8-11

 

(originally posted on www.realitystockton.com)

The Hope in God’s Immutability

immutability

Have you ever looked back at your life and thought about all of the ways you have changed? Some of the things you liked, you don’t like anymore. Or some of things that you didn’t like, you like now. Think about some of the things you were passionately against, you probably support now. We live in a culture that is constantly changing.

Have you ever just desired something that is sure and steady? You see, the Bible would point us to God as this something that our hearts long for as sure and steady. Even greater than that, He is not just a thing, He is a person that is sure and steady. He is unchanging. This attribute has been termed His “immutability”.

Malachi 3:6 lays this out word for word:

For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”

Isn’t that crazy to think about? The God who has always been, before creation, and will always be, has not changed. As a people that are constantly changing, we cannot even begin to fully understand this. But that is okay. He is God and we are not. If we were fully able to understand this, would He truly be God?

Where is the hope in this?

As God is unchanging, so is His Word. In fact, God’s Word is very much a part of who He is. Scripture would tell us that Jesus is the Word of God that became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-14). So every statement, plan, and commandment that God has said in the Bible has not changed and will fulfill his purpose because it was fulfilled in Jesus.

Luke 21:33 says:

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

There is hope in this because the God who does not change and whose Word will fulfill His purpose, has made promises to us in Jesus, if we have placed our faith in Him.

2 Corinthians 1:20

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him (Jesus). That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”

This is what our hearts have been longing for whether we know it or not. A sure and steady hope in the person that has always been and always will be. This God came to us in the form of a man named Jesus.

Hebrews 13:8 says:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

These promises that have been made to us in Jesus are: the forgiveness of sin (Eph. 1:7), the power to conquer sin (Gal. 2:20), being reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10), His return for us (Rev. 22:20-21), eternal life with Him (John 3:16), where there will be no more pain, suffering, or death (Rev. 21:4) and many more promises.

We can take God at His Word because we can look to his already fulfilled purposes in scripture. Even more, we can take God at his Word because of the great lengths that He went to reconcile us to Himself. He took the full weight of sin upon himself, gave His life for us, and rose from the dead for us, in Jesus. This is the unchanging God that we can place our hope and faith in.

(Blog originally posted on http://www.realitystockton.com)

Common and Bold

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:13

I recently starting reading through the book of Acts again. I always enjoy reading this book in the Bible because it’s beginning of the New Testament church. We, as the church today, carry out what began in this book with these men and women.

Now I got to chapter 4 and I noticed something that was pretty interesting. In this chapter, Peter and John had just healed a crippled man and were preaching the good news of Jesus to a crowd of people. Then the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came and arrested them. After they held them in jail over night, they asked them by what power and by who’s name did they do this. Then Peter, filled with Holy Spirit, responds with:

“Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 

Acts 4:8-12

Peter and John are still under arrest, and then Peter responds by preaching the gospel to these leaders. Pretty crazy. These leaders were pretty blown away as well. Their reaction was:

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”

Acts 4:13

Eventually, the leaders have nothing to say in opposition but still ask them to not teach these things. But Peter and John say they have to do what is right by God, and not man. So they were released because they couldn’t be charged with anything.

What’s interesting about this whole thing is that Peter and John were perceived as uneducated and common. But it is when the leaders saw the boldness that Peter and John had, that they were astonished and recognized that they had been with Jesus. They recognized this because Jesus was perceived as uneducated and common but spoke with boldness as well. I challenge you to read through the gospels again and see how Jesus was.

If you are like me, I struggle with sharing the good news of Jesus sometimes. It could be for a number of reasons of being afraid of rejection, wanting to be accepted, or by trying to stay “relevant” but in a “missional” kind of way. It’s kind of ridiculous to think about because as Christians, we are all called to share what has been shared with us, the good news of Jesus.

Even if we think we are common or don’t know enough about the Bible to share the gospel, we as Christians are called to. We need to spend more time with Jesus, in our Bibles and in our prayer life. And we need a boldness to share this good news just like Peter and John. This boldness isn’t just something they mustered up on their own though. It’s not just because they might have been extroverts. These verses tell us that they were filled with the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we all have the Holy Spirit in us and boldness is gifted to us by the Spirit to preach the good news of Jesus.

If we lack boldness, let us pray and ask God for it. That’s what the disciples did later on in this chapter. They asked for the boldness to continue the ministry of sharing the gospel of Jesus. And they were given this boldness:

“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

Acts 4:31

Even if we are rejected, people will recognize that we have been with Jesus.

Officially a Graduate of Moody Bible Institute

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(The photos in this post are from when me and my wife were able to visit Chicago and the Moody campus in April.)

As of today, I have officially finished my schooling through Moody Bible Institute. I have graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biblical Studies. It has definitely been a long road but it’s been worth it.

I started taking online classes through Moody about 4 years ago. At this point in my college career, I was already finished with my general ed courses and wanted to switch my major from History to Biblical Studies. My friend had told me about the online program through Moody so I signed up for some classes and started trying to earn my degree. This would normally only be a 2 year program but I had some set backs financially and couldn’t continue to afford the tuition. Moody does not necessarily accept student loans because they do not want to encourage debt. Although this is great, it also made it pretty hard to continue to afford the tuition.

So at this point of having to take a break from school, I honestly just prayed if I should continue tying to finish my degree. I prayed that God would provide a way for me to be able to afford the tuition. God answered this prayer through one of the most generous men I know. This brother started attending our church and was asking me about my education. Come to find out, he was a Moody graduate as well. He offered to pay for the rest of my schooling and said that he was blessed to be able to support me in my studies. It was one of the most humbling things I have ever experienced because I have always wanted to take care of myself. God used this brother in much more than just supporting me financially, he taught me how blessed someone can be from giving not just receiving.

Finishing my degree and working full time was tough. It required a lot of sacrifice but I am glad that I was able to do it. I could not have done it without the support of my wife who had to experience me locking myself in our home office for hours at a time so I could do my school work. Also the support of my family, friends, and the leaders in my life that kept encouraging me to keep pressing forward.

I not only studied a lot of God’s Word while taking these classes at Moody but more importantly, I was able to experience how God provides and how dependent I need to be on him.

People have already asked me what the next step will be but I’m honestly just relieved to be done with school for now. We have a baby on the way so I want to just focus on taking care of my family.

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Finding Joy In Your Work

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The reality of work

Hard work is something that we can take pride in. Something that we can take into our jobs, our schooling, or our ministries. Although this has always been something to be admired in a person, we all know that it doesn’t satisfy us. It doesn’t matter if we work so hard to get that promotion, graduate at the top of the class, or have a “successful” ministry, we can often find ourselves unhappy and wanting more. An even more frightening reality is that we will put in all of this hard work and eventually leave it to someone else. That’s the reality of things.

I’ve been reading through the book of Ecclesiastes which is King Solomon’s (The Preacher) writings about how all of life, without God, is vanity and meaningless. In chapter 2, he writes about the vanity of his labors:

“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 2:18-23

Eventually, all the hard work that we have put into something will be left to someone else. We may get fired,laid off, replaced by someone that is better than us, or we may get to the end of our days and our work will remain left here on the earth as we depart from it. Even as Solomon said, this may be the thing that is keeping us up at night. So what do we do about this?

Enjoy your work to the glory of God

Although this reality seems cold and harsh, there is a remedy to it. Our work was never meant to fulfill us. Yes, it does give us some sort of purpose because we get to see the accomplishments of our hard work but it will never truly satisfy our souls. Work is a gift from God to be enjoyed but God is the Giver of this gift, and only He can truly satisfy our souls.

Work is a gift from God to be enjoyed but God is the Giver of this gift, and only He can truly satisfy our souls.

This is what Solomon has to say about this dilemma:

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.” – Ecclesiastes 2:24-26

He tells us to eat, drink, and find enjoyment in our work but this is impossible apart from God. God gave us this need and desire to work but it is to be enjoyed, not something to be worshipped. We work to the glory of God, not to the glory of ourselves. This is how we can truly enjoy our work.

(Blog originally posted on http://www.realitystockton.com)