God has a Role for Rejects

Have you ever tried out for a team or auditioned for a role and been rejected? It kinda sucks, right? Or how about applying for an organization or job and getting that kindly worded rejection email? We’ve all been there.

courtesy of compfight

courtesy of compfight

I was reminded of my times of rejection while reading about Gideon in the Bible recently. I’ve always been fascinated with the story Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, because of his journey from being fearful to a mighty warrior leading a pack of 300 men to defeat the Midianites (sort of like Leonidas, but more successful).

In Judges 7, God devises one of the most preposterous battle plans in history, which couldn’t have done much to ease Gideon’s fears. Gideon started with an army of 32,000-strong to take on the Midianites, but God told him that he had too many people and instructed Gideon to tell all those who are afraid to go home — 22,000 departed… 22,000 rejected.

Down to 10,000 men, God said there were still too many, so he devised a test where all the men who didn’t drink water a certain way (whatever that means) were sent home. That left 300 men.

9,700 rejected.

So with 300 men, Gideon went to the Midianite camp in the middle of the night, they played their trumpets, broke some glass, and shouted and that was enough to cause the Midianites to run for their lives. But the intriguing part for me is Judges 7:23, which says:

“And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.

Though just 300 were set apart for the first battle with Gideon, God used other men to complete the work. And I believe the same men who were sent home because they were afraid or because they were deemed inadequate for the mission by God’s test at the water, were the same ones who gathered together to pursue the Midianites.

God used the rejected.

Despite their original fears, deficiencies, or maybe just not being destined to be among the 300, God still used them. Despite their initial rejection, they still had a role in God’s purpose and plan to deliver Israel.

That should be encouraging to us because despite our weaknesses, fears, and deficiencies, Jesus still has use for us. We still have a role in His plan, and our role is just as important as the 300.

The 31,700 rejected didn’t abandon the cause. They didn’t stop serving God. Sure, they had no clue what Gideon or God was up to. And that journey home was probably frustrating and confusing. They may have questioned God, they may have cursed Gideon, they may have doubted their own abilities. But when the time came to act, when their number was called, they didn’t hesitate. They knew it was their turn. (Heck, they even had the fun part. They didn’t just play trumpets and shout, they actually got to fight).

So even if it appears that you didn’t make the cut and you were initially rejected — whether in ministry, career, business, personal, or professional life — don’t give up, don’t be discouraged, don’t let your dreams die. Your time is coming. God is still calling you to a key role in His plan. Stay ready. You’re not rejected, you’re just reserved for a particular purpose.

 

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5 Lessons for My 18-year-old Self

I read a Facebook post from a friend a few weeks ago that asked: What would your 18-year-old self think of you?

It’s an intriguing question, and as expected, the answers were comical and varied. I think for most of us, life hasn’t life lessonsturned out exactly how we thought it would be when we were 18. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your perspective. I know I don’t have nearly half of what my 18-year-old self wanted, and that’s OK. That kid didn’t know anything anyway. If I could write him an email — to his AOL address — about how he turned out, these are the five key things I’d point out to him:

1. YOUR DREAMS AND AMBITIONS CHANGE

I know you’re driven, and somewhat stubborn, Kevin. You have big goals and dreams. That’s great. But guess what? A lot of that stuff isn’t going to happen. It’s not because you don’t have a good work ethic, or won’t acquire the skills you need, it’s just that most of that stuff won’t matter after a while. The stuff you thought you couldn’t live without? Well, you’re living without it, and you’re doing fine. Your goals and values have changed — for the better.

2. YOU’RE SECURE

This may be the greatest relief to you, and one of the greatest things to happen to you. You don’t care what people think of you. You realize your imperfections, and you don’t sweat them. You’re comfortable in your own skin. Unfortunately, this took a while — years! The awkwardness you sometimes felt in high school, the desire to fit in with certain crowds, and the worry of what other people think of you continues well into adulthood. But it gets better. It’s a process, but you get to the point where you don’t give a damn. That’s a very good thing.

3. YOU’RE NEITHER MARRIED, NOR RICH…AND IT’S AWESOME

Sorry to break it to you, but you’re in your 30s and you’re single. You don’t drive a Benz either. You done crying? OK, now listen. Here’s the weird thing: You’re happier than ever. Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time to get married and acquire wealth — because contrary to what you think, 30something ain’t old — but you’ve reached a status much greater than married or wealthy. It’s called contentment.

4. YOU’RE SUCCESSFUL

Yup, you are a success. But not because of your career or accomplishments. That’s not how you measure success any more. You’re successful because of the people you impact. That’s right, you’re more concerned with people than promotion. You help others. You listen. You love. That means more to them, and you, than anything you ever dreamed of accomplishing.

5.  YOU HAVEN’T CHANGED

I know that sounds weird since Nos. 1-4 don’t mesh with who you are yet, but, at your core, you’re still the same guy. You know why? Because all this stuff is already in you. The wisdom, maturity, confidence, peace, contentment, and character, it’s deep in your soul. You’re a diamond in the rough. You still have a lot of rough edges now. But in the pressure cooker of life, the pretense, the fear, the insecurity, the doubt and dirt are chipped away, and who you really are is revealed.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin, you’ll be OK. Oh, and pull up your pants!

What would you tell your 18-year-old self? What are the key things you’ve learned over the years?

 

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How God Gives Surprise Gifts

By Kevin Howell

photo by Shereen M via compfight creative commons

photo by Shereen M via compfight creative commons

There’s nothing like Christmas time. It’s truly the biggest spectacle in our society. As much as I like the commercialism of it, I stay balanced by reflecting of the story of the birth of Christ in Luke. It’s one of the most dramatic, miraculous accounts in history. And though Jesus is the center of the story, there are so many other characters that teach us inspiring lessons just in the first two chapters of the book.

Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, for example. He and his wife Elizabeth were quite old at the time, and they couldn’t have children. We are told this couple lived honorably before God, kept the commandments, and “enjoyed a clear conscience before God.” They were faithful, devout Jews.

It’s interesting that despite the couple being devout and pleasing to God, they still couldn’t have children. One of their desires remained unfulfilled. There have been times when I felt like I was doing the right things, pleasing God, serving, yet stuff was missing in my life. What I was believing for, what I felt I should have had, I lacked. Does it make sense? No. That’s where Zachariah and Elizabeth were.

Yet, despite the fact the time for bearing children had passed in their lives, they weren’t bitter. They still lived honorably before God. And Zachariah went about his business, serving God.

Zachariah was a priest, and one day he was going about his regular priestly duties when an angel appeared to him, scared the crap out of him, then said:

“Don’t freak out bro. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife is going to have a son by you (which must’ve been a relief, because no man wants to hear his wife will have a son from some other dude), and you’ll name him John. He’s going to be awesome. He’ll be filled with the Spirit and he’ll turn people of Israel back to God and prepare the messiah’s arrival.” Luke 1:13-17 (NKV – New Kevin Version).

Zachariah, still clearly freaked out by all of this, didn’t believe it because he and Elizabeth were too old. Because he doubted, the angel said Zachariah wouldn’t be able to speak (became mute) until his son was born. (Read Luke 1 for all the details).

The day Zachariah went to the Temple was just another day at work. He wasn’t expecting an angel to show up, that’s why he was freaked out. And he sure as heck wasn’t expecting to hear what he heard, that’s why he doubted.

I believe God operates the same way in our lives. I’m not saying you will be visited by an angel (and honestly, I don’t know if I could handle that), but as you are going about your normal business, staying faithful and doing the mundane things, God will surprise you.

He’ll surprise you because He loves you. He’ll surprise you because He’s never forgotten about you. As with Zachariah, He’s heard your prayer. Even if it was months ago…even if it was years ago….even if you feel your time has passed.

It’s clear Zachariah’s faith wavered. He was old; he didn’t think being a father was possible any longer. Chances are, if you’ve been waiting on a prayer to be answered for a while, your faith has wavered too. But God’s faithfulness isn’t based on our faith. He’s faithful, plain and simple, in spite of us.

At the time of the first Christmas, Israel was going about its normal business, not expecting the messiah to arrive. But God was faithful to His promise, and the Lord arrived. This Christmas, even if you’ve forgotten about a dream, or if you feel forgotten, God hasn’t forgotten. He’s bound to surprise you, just like Zachariah.

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Christianity Needs a Facelift

By Kevin Howell

photo by Shandi lee via compfight creative commons

photo by Shandi lee via compfight creative commons

I was talking with a friend recently about the problems within the Evangelical church. Well, less so the problems, but rather the public perception of the church in America. I wondered if it is even possible to change the perception — that Christians are exclusive, closed-minded, homophobic, self-righteous, judgmental, right-wing Republicans.

Too much damage has been done. Too many talking heads have spewed what we’re against rather than expressing what we’re truly about…or at least should be about. There’s been more debate than dialogue when it comes to engaging nonbelievers, particularly in public forums.

Most Christians understand this. However, what the world sees isn’t the practical, reasonable, appealing aspect of the faith; it sees the negative.

If there’s any hope of the perception being changed, we have to make efforts to change it. At the core, the church doesn’t have to change what it’s doing. For the most part, Christians are doing great work changing lives, helping the poor, serving their community, and giving to great causes throughout the world. The problem is, the majority of America sees a politician framing his/her inflaming ideology within a Christian context instead of the missionaries who are helping victims in the Philippines or believers helping fatherless children in the inner city.

It’s not that we need to compromise our beliefs and the Word to change perception. Nor do we have to go on a public relations campaign to promote the more amiable aspects of Christianity. We simply do what we have been called to do: We engage. Not the church institution or your church group engaging with the community and culture, but you, as an individual, engaging with the world, the people around you. The greatest way to change the perception of a group of people is to get know someone from that group.

We all were created to connect. It’s human nature. We’re less drawn to ideologies and institutions and more drawn to individuals. Think about, if you like your neighborhood, your job, your church, you local coffee shop, it probably has a lot to do with the people there. You feel like you belong. You feel like you can relate to them.

Why did people flock to Jesus? Yeah, His teaching was dope, but He was also likable. Way more likable than the Pharisees. It wasn’t about His personality necessarily, but His character, His heart, and His compassion. People connected with Him.

There are people who connect with you. You don’t have to be charming or outgoing. There are people who just vibe with you. And you can be representative of what a Christian is to them. You can communicate without arguing. Disagree without condemning. Discuss without being disrespectful. And most of all, you can listen.

People don’t trust institutions, they trust friends. It takes time to like an institution, but it takes just one conversation to like a person. You can change the perception of Christianity, one friendship at a time.

Are you in?

 

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Living in Faith Every Day

The following is an excerpt from the forthcoming book “The Past is in the Past So Let It Pass: For Women” by Nadia Atkinson. It’s a compilation of testimonies by 16 women about their journeys in finding Christ.  

“…For I will surely deliver you, and you shall not fall by the sword; but your life shall be as a prize to you, because you have put your trust in Me,” says the LORD.’ ”

Jeremiah 39:18 NKJV

Tell me what was your life like before Christ? nadia's book

Before Christ, I lived a life with no direction. I believed that the only person that guided my life was me and those around me. I hung around people who lived a negative lifestyle, and even had those people around my child. I lived a promiscuous and dangerous lifestyle, and at the time, it was fun. I didn’t do drugs, but I allowed myself to be around them and allowed them in my home. I was 19 years old with my own apartment thinking I could do whatever I wanted, never thinking about consequences, or the danger I was putting my daughter in.

What drew you to Christ?

There had come a time when I had hit rock bottom. I was about to be evicted from my home and I needed help and none of the so-called friends that I had around me every day could help me, nor could any of my family members. Everyone had an excuse as to why they couldn’t help me. It was then that I realized that I could only depend on Christ. I don’t remember exactly how it was resolved, but it was from then on I decided I would never put my faith in man again.

What made you decide, the day you were saved, that that was the day to dedicate your life to God?

I became saved when I was young. I attended church on a regular basis due to my mother and stepfather making it a requirement. I said the words and I prayed the prayer, but I never really took it seriously. In my mid-twenties, I was dating a gangbanger who I thought was a great guy but had the bad boy thing going for him that I loved. I never thought that I would ever see that bad boy side of him. One day I decided I was going to check his voicemail on his cell phone, and I did. It was easy because men never use passwords that can’t be guessed. Well I told him I did, and I don’t know what he thought I heard, but there was something on there that he didn’t want me to hear. I confronted him about a girl’s message that was on there, but he didn’t care about her message, he was just angry that I checked his messages. He threatened to kill me, and knowing that he was capable of doing just that, I was scared. He knew where I lived with my daughter and he knew where my family lived. I left my home for about a week. I was staying at my best friend’s house who just so happened to live across the street from a church.

The following Sunday I attended one of the services at that church. I prayed and I cried like I had never prayed and cried before. I promised God that I would change my life if my life was spared in this situation. I dedicated my life to Christ that day and I meant it with my whole heart.  When the service was over, I felt a weight lifted off me, but I wasn’t going home just yet. I went back to my friend’s house and she told me that while I was gone a lady knocked on her door to get help because she was having car trouble. Now my friend lived in an apartment complex, so the lady could have knocked on 10 others doors that were around my friend’s house. My friend welcomed the lady in to make a phone call. Before the lady left, she told my friend I don’t know what’s going on, but know everything is going to be fine, and then she left. Till this day, my friend has never seen the lady ever again. When she told me what happened, I felt like it was confirmation from God that He heard my prayer and my cries. I went home that night and never worried about the situation again.

If you could save someone by telling them one thing God has done for you in your life, what would it be?

God has spared my life in many ways. There are so many things that could have happened in my life due to the lifestyle I was living such as diseases, homelessness, incarceration, and the list goes on. I am disease free, never have been without a roof over my head, and never been incarcerated. Only by the grace of God was I spared, so I take every chance I get to tell someone to go to God and He will see you through.

 

Nadia is a small business owner in NJ who is God-fearing, trustworthy, and a student of the Word of God. She loves reading, writing, praise and worship, food, the beach, learning about our universe, spending time with family, giving advice, and being in love. You can order her book here.

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The Blessing of Hope

By Kevin Howell

photo by Michael Yan via compfight creative commons

photo by Michael Yan via compfight creative commons

There’s a misconception of what it means to be blessed.

Blessed is a common word used in church, and we often invoke it when things work in our favor:

“I was blessed with a job.”

“I was blessed with a car.”

“God blessed me with a house.”

“God blessed me with a spouse.”

“God blessed me with ____,” (you can fill in the blank).

Though those things can be considered blessings, they are not the primary example of blessing according to scripture. To be blessed means to be fortunate, well off, or happy. And though the aforementioned things certainly make us happy, we can create a culture within the faith that ties the idea of being blessed solely to receiving some sort of gift from God (or someone else).

So, if you don’t have a job, a car, a house, a spouse, or other things you desire and see others with, then you’re not blessed? Maybe according to modern-day church culture, but not according to Jesus.

I’m no theologian, but when I read the words of Jesus, I see a much different definition of blessed, none clearer than in Matthew 5.

Those whom Jesus described as blessed aren’t people we would considered blessed in our culture: poor in spirit, meek, those mourning, and the persecuted. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t call people blessed based on what they had or received, He called them blessed because of what they will receive.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matt. 5:3-10)

The blessed shall be comforted, shall inherit the earth, shall be filled, shall obtain mercy. Being blessed is based on a hope. Not on something you possess, but on the hope of Christ and His promise. It is a matter of faith in Him, realizing Jesus Himself is the blessing. It’s not the gift, it’s the One who gives. Therefore, being blessed is independent of what you receive.

Even if we look at our forefathers (men and women) in the faith, we see blessing isn’t based on what they had. I think we’d agree the Apostles and other disciples of Jesus were blessed — they walked with Jesus after all. But Paul nor Peter never said they were blessed because of what they had. They were blessed because they were in Christ, children of God. Even during persecution, even during lack, even during trials, they were blessed because their blessing was based on hope, not their current circumstances.

The hope they had was in Jesus and the kingdom of heaven. It’s the same hope we have today. The hope of peace, provision, and all the kingdom of heaven is composed of. As singer David Crowder put it, “It is the hope in a rescue that has come, the hope in a rescue that has found us, and the relentless hope in a greater rescue that is still coming.”

So regardless of whether you’ve been given the things you’ve been believing for yet or not, you’re blessed if you’re in Christ. And you have a hope and bright future in Him.

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Your Past has a Purpose

By Kevin Howell

The Past

photo by kusito via compfight creative commons

Your past has a purpose.

I know we’ve been told to move on from the past in order to grow, and even a certain R&B singer hates it when we bring up the past, but what we’ve been through shouldn’t be forgotten or hidden.

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy that God shows him off as proof of His mercy and patience to those who have yet to trust Him.

His past had a purpose.

As wrong and forgettable as it was, his past pointed to a beautiful attribute of God. Your past and mine are no different.

If you’ve been around the church, you’re familiar with hearing testimonies of what God has done in people’s lives. You may have even shared your testimony with a friend, relative or co-worker in hopes of changing their lives.

But that doesn’t come easily for everyone. Some of us don’t freely and confidently share our past. No matter how much we’ve changed, no matter how much we’ve grown in God, it’s still difficult to reveal our “past life.”

The primary culprit is shame. We’re ashamed of what we used to do and who we used to be. That’s understandable. But if we keep letting shame of the past impede us from sharing our lives in the present, it not only hinders our growth, but also the growth of others.

OVERCOMING SHAME

If anyone had a shameful past it was the Apostle Paul. His mission was to persecute Christians, throw them in prison, and rid Israel of what he considered heresy. I’m sure along the way he may have cursed Jesus and His followers. He was anti-Christ in many ways.

After his dramatic conversion, Paul probably felt a sense of guilt. And even when God called him to share the Gospel, he felt inadequate, unqualified, and unworthy because of the shame of his past. Yet, he recognized Jesus made him adequate for the work, and “grace mixed with faith and love” cleared the shame that hindered him from ministry.

His testimony became his greatest tool in ministry. He realized his past was not about his mistakes but about God’s character. Paul’s past is evidence of God’s “endless patience to those who are right on the edge of trusting God forever” (1Timothy 1:16).

Paul began to freely share his testimony because it could help others who felt shame. Those who felt they weren’t good enough for God. Your past can do the same. It can help those who think they need to get their lives together before they can go to church. Those who think they’ve done too much to be forgiven and accepted by God.

SECURE TO SHARE

We carry shame of the past because we haven’t given it to God. Either we haven’t fully accepted His forgiveness because we haven’t forgiven ourselves, or we still feel the sting of past hurt so we can’t bear to bring it up.

Security in our relationship with God buries shame. It gives us confidence in His forgiveness. It helps us find a redemptive value in our past. Once we do, the past no longer becomes shameful, but useful.

God has made us adequate. Adequate and strong enough to share our past without fear. Our past, no matter how bad or hurtful, doesn’t hinder our purpose, it empowers it. So go ahead and bring up the past. It points to God’s redemptive work and will help set someone free.

Kevin is the founder and editor of Transparency Magazine, and yes, he used the Shaliek song as partial inspiration for this article.

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Why Your Destiny Doesn’t Matter

By Kevin Howell

photo via Creative Commons

photo via Creative Commons

I was reading the book of Jonah recently, and my eyes were opened to just how meaningful of a story it is. For the most part, Jonah is taught in children’s church, seen in Bible cartoons and whatnot. But there are powerful, relevant lessons in this Old Testament prophet’s life.

Many times when we hear a message based on the book of Jonah, a minister will point out that no matter how much you run, God will get you to your destiny. Or that nothing can stop God from seeing you fulfill the plan He has for your life.

Those messages are encouraging and inspiring, but that’s not the theme of Jonah.

The book of Jonah is not actually about Jonah. Sure, he’s the central character and involved in every scene, but the book is about the people of Nineveh.

It’s not about Jonah’s calling to preach. It’s not about him running from God. It’s not about him eventually fulfilling his destiny. Jonah is a love story. A story about God’s love for a city of people. A love so strong that God had a big fish swallow and spare a prophet so the people could be saved.

The people of Nineveh were wicked. They probably deserved judgment. But God was so slow to anger, merciful, and rich in love — yes, even in the Old Testament — He not only sent a prophet to preach to them, but He ensured that they’d hear the message.

We know Jonah was quite resistant to going to Nineveh. In chapter 1, he’d rather die than obey what God said. When he was swallowed by the fish, he then thanked God for rescuing him. Then he finally obeyed God, preached the message in chapter 3, and the people of Nineveh listened and repented.

Jonah’s attitude is quite similar to ours. Well, at least mine. Sometimes I resist obeying God and sharing the faith because of how people will respond. I think this person is so far from God, there’s no way he/she would receive the gospel. The truth is, just like the people of Nineveh, people we encounter today will listen and respond to the grace and love of God. People desperately need the grace and love of God.

The last verse of the book of Jonah, the conclusion so to speak, sums up what the story is about. God calls the people of Nineveh “more than 120,000 childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong.” That’s the heart of the Father. That’s how He sees the lost.

Jonah didn’t get it. Even at the end, he still didn’t get it. It’s not about punishing wickedness. It’s not us against them; saints vs. sinners; the church vs. the world. It’s not about our fears or our abilities or our knowledge. It’s about having the heart of our gracious, merciful Father. The same way He described Nineveh is the same way He sees the lost today: childlike people who don’t yet know right from wrong.

The principle of the story of Jonah applies to your story and my story. Your story is not about your destiny or call. It’s about those people around you. The hundreds of childlike people you encounter who don’t yet know right from wrong. Your life is about their destiny more than yours.

Kevin is the editor of Transparency Magazine. You can connect with him on Twitter @kevbhowell or email kevin(at)transparencymag.com

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Why I Love Jesus and Jay-Z

By Kevin Howell

Jesus and Jay-Z

Associated Press

I used to be a big fan of Jay-Z. I’m talking the Reasonable Doubt, In My Lifetime vols. 1-3, Streets is Watching era — i.e. his early stuff. I stopped listening to secular music for a while in the early 2000s, so I can’t speak much of his discography during that time — though attending a historically black university where hip-hop was the soundtrack of the campus, I heard plenty of his music then.

Jay has gotten some backlash from the Christian community in recent years, particularly because lyrics to his hit Empire State of Mind. There’s a subtle line in the song, that really, if you aren’t a Christian you probably didn’t even notice it. But it ruffled some feathers when he rapped:

Hail Mary to the city, you’re a virgin
And Jesus can’t save you, life starts when the church ends

It didn’t help that he later released a song with Kanye West called No Church in the Wild. I remember seeing Christians ranting on blogs and social media about Jay’s blasphemous lyrics, his supposed connection to the Illuminati, and how he’s the anti-Christ. Seriously?

Jay’s been taking subtle jabs at religion for years — calling himself Jay-hova, and even making the song Izzo (H.O.V.A.), which is sacrilegious, but catchy as hell.

For some reason, I was interested in hearing his latest album, Magna Carta Holy Grail. His Samsung commercial for the album, despite being 10 minutes long, was intriguing because as big as a mogul Jay has become, you don’t hear him speak much. The commercial, and subsequent clips discussing the meaning of particular songs, gave us a peek into his mind. This clip for the song Heaven was particularly interesting.

As much bravado and swag Jay-Z boasts, as much as he’s worshiped by a generation, and as much as he angers some Christians for his lyrics, he’s simply human. Being so, he has the same questions, internal conflicts, and paradoxes we all experience.

He doesn’t come off anti-Christ in the commercial or the song, but rather agnostic. He’s someone who questions how “a just God could make you burn for eternity for free will that He gave you.” Or how can we not accept others’ ideas of God if none of us has ever been to Heaven. His thoughts are not much different from our neighbors, co-workers, classmates, family members, friends, and at some point, ourselves.

We’ve all had to face the tough questions of our faith.

How can a loving God send people to Hell? 

Jay-Z with Kevin Durant and Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church NYC

Jay-Z with Kevin Durant and Pastor Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church NYC

How is the Bible relevant with scientific discoveries?

Is there really just one true way to God? 

Even if you’ve found peace in the faith with these questions, we live in a secular, pluralistic society with many beliefs. People around you have these questions.

I love living in a diverse society. I love the fact most people are just seeking truth. And even if people aren’t convinced there’s a Heaven, they still want to go there.

Jay-Z is one of those people. I believe God loves him. I was one of those people. With baggage, with flaws, with unbelief, with questions. God loved me then. Before I knew Him. Before I recognized Him. Before I had faith in Him. The truth of His love and grace convinced me and changed me.

I’m hoping it does the same for Jay.

 

Kevin is a writer, editor and lover of old school hip-hop. He wasn’t impressed with “Magna Carta,” so he’ll go back listening to his old Tribe Called Quest, Outkast and Public Enemy CDs cassettes.

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Understanding Grace

By Kevin Howell

grace

photo by Crazy Ivory via Compfight Creative Commons

 

As a young Christian, I struggled with sin. I understood it was part of the process of growing and maturing in God, and though I was no longer a sinner, I would still have to deal with sin for the rest of my life. In fact, I was told that in some way, every day, we all sin. So each night, before I went to bed, I reflected on my day to figure out how and when I sinned, because for sure, I did at some point.

I was sin-conscious, and more than bad habits, human depravity, my own lust, or temptations in the world, that’s why I sinned. Because sin and repentance was on my mind, daily.

There’s a theory in sports, whether shooting a basketball or a pistol, bowling, throwing a baseball or football, that whatever you focus on, that’s where the ball will go. Likewise, when my mind was focused on sin, avoiding sin, and repenting of sin, sin remained in my consciousness. So in spite of efforts to avoid it, I’d always come back to the same sins. Why? Because I was focused on them. I was trying to overcome sin by denying my flesh and building my spirit, based on principles we hear within Christian culture. However, I’ve found that to be ineffective and unbiblical.

I don’t have to try to overcome sin because sin has already been overcome.

My efforts were futile trying to win a battle I was incapable of winning. That’s why Jesus fought it for us already. Grace has taught me to accept the finished work of Christ. Do I still sin? Of course. But I’m no longer looking for it. I don’t try to figure out if and how I sinned every day. The Spirit of God will bring conviction to an area I need to address. I decided to live in grace instead of live in fear of sin.

Grace has become a controversial topic lately. As some people are leery of a hyper-grace message that is accepting of sin. But a true understanding of grace motivates us to live righteously.

“Amazing Grace,” the classic hymn by John Newton, has a verse that illustrates the power of grace:

“T’was grace that taught my heart to fear,

and grace my fears relieved”

Grace teaches us the fear and reverence of God. It gives us understanding of His power, sovereignty, authority, and dominion. It reminds me that I exist, breath, and am not consumed because of grace. Yet at the same time, that same grace relieves me of the fear of sin and its consequences. I don’t have to fear judgment; I don’t have to constantly repent to be accepted. Grace has taken away those fears.

I no longer struggle with sin. Not because I’m perfect, or because I don’t care about how I live. I’ve taken my focus off the negative and put it on the positive. That’s why I’m moving toward grace.

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