Let Your Walls Down

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were talking about what line of work we would be in if we were not both in ministry. She would be good at a lot of things (she is awesome!). But as I looked at myself, I said: Suzy, I don’t know that I would be good at anything else, and I would probably be miserable doing anything other than ministry.

She looked back at me with a smile on her face and said: no, I think you would make a good lawyer. You’re stubborn and like to argue!

I wanted to debate her statement, but I knew that if I did, I would just be proving her point. So I kept my mouth shut. But I have been thinking about that comment ever since. Why am I stubborn? What happened in my life that made me so stubborn? I know that my immediate family would completely agree with my wife.

We have a word in Spanish that my mom would always use at the end of every argument: necio. This word means stubborn, but when you use it, the person that hears it is finally acknowledging that they were wrong and they stop arguing. Using this word means someone has won the argument and the other has lost.

I think this is one of the reasons I am so stubborn. I don’t like admitting that I was wrong or that I lost. Just this past Memorial Day, I was playing corn hole with some friends and we were getting beat 15-0. My friend, who knows me all too well and knows how much I don’t like admitting defeat, asked me what the score was. I looked at him and said, “we have less than 1 point”. I could have just said zero, but doing so would admit that they were almost done and we were yet to score.

I think the other reason I am so stubborn, is that I don’t want to give up control. In my stubbornness, I have a false sense of control over my life. By being stubborn, I at least have a false sense that I control the way the story is being told, I control the things happening, and I control the outcome.

In that game of corn hole, as long as I was not willing to admit our eminent defeat, there was a part of me that thought we still had a chance of coming back. There was a part of me that felt that by not admitting the score, I could make it sound like the game was a lot closer than it actually was and I could potentially motivate myself to try harder. I felt that by simply stating the score, I would be raising a white flag and admitting that there was no hope of coming back.

So what is it? Why am I so stubborn? Where does my stubbornness come from?

Perhaps the best way to talk about my stubbornness is that I am afraid. I am afraid to admit that I was wrong, I am afraid to admit that I have lost. I am afraid to admit that I am not good enough to beat everyone. I am afraid to admit that stuff catches me off guard. I am afraid to admit that I have limitations. I am afraid to admit that I am not perfect. I am afraid to admit these things because I fear that if I do, people will think less of me. And as long as I am stubbornly standing up against reality, I can at least hide my fears.

You see, in my mind, if I admit that I made a mistake, people will begin to define me by my mistakes rather than by my success. In my mind, if I admit my inability to do something, maybe people will stop turning to me for help. In my mind, if I admit that I can’t beat someone at corn hole, maybe I will never again beat someone at corn hole. In my mind, if I admit to something negative in my life, I am afraid it will rob me of the good that can come.

It is a horrible place to live in. But there is hope.

This morning, I am reminded of Sarah in the book of Genesis. God had promised Abraham that he would have as many descendants as the stars in the sky. Abraham and his wife Sarah were so excited for this opportunity, but as they got older, Sarah could not get pregnant. Eventually, in Genesis 18, we are told that Sarah was “old, advanced in age, and it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” In other words, Sarah was too old to have kids and now she was giving up hope that she ever would.

This is where her stubborn side comes out. Abraham and Sarah had some unexpected visitors show up at their tent and as they were hosting them, the strangers told Abraham that Sarah would have a child soon. Sarah, eavesdropping from afar, laughs at this comment. She knows better. She is too old. She has lost her ability to have children. She laughs because she knows how ridiculous this sounds.

And then a very funny conversation ensues:
“God says, ‘Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At a set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.’ But Sarah, denied, saying, ‘I did not laugh’; for she was afraid. God said, ‘Oh yes, you did laugh.’”
(Genesis 18:13-15)

As funny as it is to read of God and Sarah going back and forth in this argument, and as funny as it is to see Sarah be as stubborn as I am, there is something that stood out to me this morning, that I had never caught before.

She was afraid…

I wonder if she was afraid that if she admitted that she laughed, God would take back his promise of having a child. I wonder if she was afraid that if she admitted that she laughed, God would get angry and upset at her. I wonder if she was afraid that if she admitted that she laughed, that she would disappoint Abraham.

Fear is a horrible thing that causes us to build up walls. And when we hide behind these walls, we get a false sense of security. As long as our walls stand tall, there is no need for us to admit the all things that my wall hides and I can go on in life pretending that these things don’t exist.

But our walls are not perfect. And unlike regular walls, our walls are not held up by cement. Our walls are held up by stubborn strength. We hold these walls up at whatever cost necessary so that we don’t have to admit defeat, mistakes, shortcomings, or even limitations. We hold these walls up with stubborn strength because we are afraid of what will happen if people see what sits on the other side of our walls. The bad thing is that eventually our walls get so big, that it is nearly impossible to keep holding them up. Eventually, our walls do come crashing down.

I love this story, because I relate to Sarah so much. As I look at my own stubbornness, what I really see is fear. I am afraid of what people may see if I let my walls tumble down.

But I want you to hear something. You will not experience true life and purpose as long as you allow your stubborn strength to hold these walls up. If you are tired of pretending to be happy, pretending to have it all together, pretending that everything is okay, pretending that you are not stressed, pretending that you are financially stable, pretending that your relationship is okay, pretending that anxiety and depression is not getting the best of you, pretending that there are no struggles in your life, if you are tired of pretending, then let those walls crash down. Let those walls fall hard and loudly and let the whole world know that your walls are down, because in doing so, you will find that what you have been afraid of has no power over you at all.

So how do we do this?

I want to turn to 1 John 4:15-16, 18-19. The author writes this: God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us…there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear.

I think there are three things in this text that we need to know, and do today, in order to let our walls fall down and discover true life and purpose in Jesus.

First, God knows the things behind your walls. We come to know this when we confess that Jesus is the son of God. We ask this of every person that is baptized or becomes a member of our church: do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

Confessing that Jesus is who Jesus says he is, reminds us that we don’t need to hide our limitations and shortcomings. Because Jesus is who he says he is, he already knows what stands behind our walls and is calling us towards something more beautiful and life giving than just holding up a wall that hides our mess.

Second, God loves us despite the things behind our walls. When we confess that Jesus is the son of God, we also come to believe the love that God has for us. Limitations and all, God loves us. Shortcomings and all, God loves us. Anxiety and depression, fear, worry, shame, and guilt and anything else we may carry, God loves us despite our thoughts that God may not.

God is not waiting for you to get your life together before He will have a relationship with you. You will never be able to do that. Instead, what God is saying to you is that if you let your walls down, and let Him into the real, raw, mess of your life, then He can help you overcome those that mess you have made. It is possible for you to have power over all of your struggles. But first, you must let God close enough to help you. And this only happens by letting your walls crash down.

Third, God wants to help you never be afraid of these things behind your walls ever again. Scripture tells us that God’s love cast out all fear. I shared earlier that I am afraid to admit things because it might change people’s perspective of me. I also shared how Sarah may have been afraid that God would take away his promise for her if she admitted that she laughed. But we don’t have to be slaves to fear. God wants to help us break the bondage that fear has over our lives.

You see, every time we hold on to fear, we loosen our grip on God’s love. And every time we let that fear speak louder than God’s love, we go back to building our walls. I hope you know that there is nothing you have ever done, or ever will do, that will change God’s mind about how much He loves you. And when we come to accept this truth we realize that on our own, we will never be able to live up to the expectations of this world. The truth is that we will never be the perfect person who has it all together and struggles with nothing. But when we truly make room for God’s love, we are no longer afraid of coming face to face with that reality because we know that God is by our side every step of the way, through whatever journey we may experience.

If you are tired of holding up your walls, let me say this again:
(1) God knows the things behind your walls.
(2) God loves you despite the things behind your walls.
(3) God wants to help you never be afraid of these things behind your walls ever again.

So let your walls down and let Jesus in.

I pray that you may find the will to let your walls fall down and discover the true life and purpose that Jesus is calling you towards. Life is beautiful and you will come to enjoy it more when you spend it surrounded by God’s love rather than holding up walls. I know I long for that and am moving towards that truth more and more every day. And I hope you will join me on that journey.

As always, if you want to talk, reach out to me. I would love to get coffee.

Together on the journey,
Pastor Fernie

More Than Conquerors

Last week in our small group, we read through Romans 8:37-38. Paul writes this:

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things of the present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I don’t know about you, but every time I read this text, I lose my breath. I read through this text and there is something within me that longs to feel like a conqueror. I want to believe these words, I want to know that they are true, I want to feel like a victor. But the truth is that I don’t always feel that way.

And as I sat there listening to everyone talking about their similar longing and desire, I felt God nudge me. So today, I want to share that nudging with you.

First, let me admit once again, that I don’t always feel like a conqueror. And you probably don’t either. But whether we feel like it or not, we are all conquerors. You see, this text states that we are conquerors not because of what we do, but rather because nothing, not even death, or leaders, or struggles can separate us from the love of God.  

We are conquers because at the end of the day, we know we are still children of God and no matter what we went through, what we did, or how we responded to things, God still claims us as his very own. We are conquerors because at the end of the day, the struggles of this world did not defeat us and we held on tightly to God despite it all.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself that that sounds great, but that you still don’t feel like a conqueror. Let’s fix that then.

Are you a mom or dad? Have you had to split yourself in a million directions? Have you had to learn patience when your child throws a temper tantrum? Have you had to sacrifice your personal preferences for the sake of the family? Have you had to help your family through grief, sorrow, anxiety, worry and so many other things?

If you said yes to any of these and you are reading this, you are a conqueror. Being a parent is hard. It was never meant to be easy to be a parent. From the very beginning of the bible, Adam and Eve have to struggle with raising their children. And they have to deal with a horrific experience dealing their kids. But let me tell you something: at the end of the day, they made it through. As tough as it was, they went to bed at the end of every day, woke up the next day, and did it all over again. And the same is true for you. The struggles of being a parent have not defeated you this far, and that makes you a conqueror.

How about this. Are you struggling to balance your finances at home or work? Are you constantly stressed that you won’t make ends meet or that you will have to let people go? Do you carry the burden that all of these things fall on you and you are afraid of letting people down?

If you said yes to any of these and you are reading this, you are a conqueror. Balancing our finances is hard. It was never meant to be easy. In the bible we hear of a servant who owed his king millions of dollars. It was so much money, in fact, that he ended up threatening others for money that was owed to him as a response to the fear he felt for his own debt.  But let me tell you something: at the end of the day, there are many characters throughout the bible who despite their struggles with money, they made it through. As tough as it was, they went to bed at the end of every day, woke up the next day, and tried all over again. And the same is true for you. The struggles of balancing our finances have not defeated you this far, and that makes you a conqueror.

What about your marriage, or relationship? Is it struggling? Do you find yourself arguing  more and more? Do you feel like you are both just eternally irritated with each other? Do you feel like you can’t even bring up an issue anymore because it causes a bigger problem?

If you said yes to any of these and you are reading this, you are a conqueror. Relationships are hard. It was never meant to be easy. In the bible we hear of so many relationships that are broken and people part ways because the brokenness is so big. But let me tell you something: at the end of the day, there are also many characters throughout the bible who despite their struggles in their relationships, they made it through. As tough as it was, they went to bed at the end of every day, woke up the next day, and tried all over again. And the same is true for you. The struggles of your relationships have not defeated you this far, and that makes you a conqueror.

What about your health? Is it deteriorating? Do you have a sickness that you just cannot shake away? Did you receive a terrible diagnosis?

If you said yes to any of these and you are reading this, you are a conqueror. Taking control of our health is difficult. It was never meant to be easy. In the bible we hear of people whose health deteriorated so quickly that they lost hope and some even lost their lives.  But let me tell you something: at the end of the day, there are way more characters throughout the bible who despite their health related struggles, they made it through. As tough as it was, they went to bed at the end of every day, woke up the next day, and tried all over again. And the same is true for you. The struggles of your health have not defeated you this far, and that makes you a conqueror.

Let me give you one last example. Are you a student? Do you feel like you are constantly overwhelmed with school and homework? Do you feel like your parents or your school have unrealistic expectations of you and your anxiety level rises every time you look at your grades?

If you said yes to any of these and you are reading this, you are a conqueror. Balancing our schoolwork is hard. It was never meant to be easy. In the bible we hear of people who just could not understand what Jesus was teaching them. Many of them got frustrated and stopped paying attention. But let me tell you something: at the end of the day, there are many more characters throughout the bible who despite their struggles with education, they made it through. As tough as it was, they went to bed at the end of every day, woke up the next day, and tried all over again. And the same is true for you. The struggles that come with pursuing an education have not defeated you this far, and that makes you a conqueror.

You are a conqueror not because you go to bed unscathed at the end of the day. Rather, you are a conqueror because despite the million things this world throws at you, you clung on to Jesus and made it through another day.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with depression.

I can tell you that I never felt like a conqueror because I felt like at the end of every day, my depression was kicking my butt. But let me tell you what. Depression can kill. Depression can lead you down some pretty bad rabbit holes. Depression is evils way of telling you that you are not good enough, not smart enough, not attractive enough, and so much more. Depression doesn’t try to slow you down, it tries to stop you.

And despite me not feeling like a conqueror, I was a conqueror because at the end of every day, depression did not get the best of me. At the end of every day, no matter how tough depression was, it did not defeat me. And eventually, I was able to overcome my depression.

I want the same to be true for you.

Whatever it is that you are going through today, remember that you have conquered the struggles of this world. And even if at the end of the day you don’t feel like a conqueror, remember that this world did not get the best of you. So, get a good night’s sleep, and face the world all over again tomorrow. For it is through your faith in Jesus Christ, that this world will never, ever, be able to knock you down. Remember that you are a child of God and that  through your faith in Jesus, you can, and will, conquer all things.

Together on the journey,
Pastor Fernie

While we were enemies…

This morning, as I was drinking my cup of coffee I came across an article by The Advocate about a 37 year old named Andrew Hundley. A couple of years ago, he earned an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Baton Rouge Community College and last week, at LSU’s graduation, Andrew graduated with honors as he received a Bachelors in Sociology with a concentration in Criminal Justice. But his story does not end there. Now a resident of New Orleans, he plans to continue his education at Loyola University at New Orleans as he works towards getting a Master’s degree in Criminology and Justice.

On top of that, he helped found, and is now the executive director, of the Louisiana Parole Project which is a non-profit that helps juvenile lifers and long-serving prisoners through the parole process and, if granted, their re-entry into society. To this date, 43 of 53 juveniles that he and his team have worked with have been granted freedom and have received helped as they re-enter society. It get’s better…none of the clients whom he has worked with have returned to prison, most are now employed, have stable housing and doors are being opened for them to continue into higher education.

Andrew says this about the Louisiana Parole Project: The clients that we serve are able to achieve great things if given the opportunity.

As I was reading his story I was absolutely amazed at how much he has accomplished and his passion for helping the least, the last, the lost and the lonely. The work that he does is not easy and very few choose to do it. And I for one, am very thankful for the work that he is doing.

Unfortunately, many of the comments on this article were pretty negative. Despite all of the good work Andrew has done and continues to do, people argue that he doesn’t deserve this opportunity. Someone even commented on a friends Facebook post that celebrating Andrew’s accomplishments is an act of horrible media coverage. I even read another post about how Andrew did not deserve to go to college in the first place.

This is where Andrew’s story gets interesting. Andrew was convicted of second degree murder in 1997 for killing a 14 year old. This girls body was found burned and badly beaten behind a grocery store in a small town called Mowata, LA. At the time, Andrew was 15 and was convicted as an adult despite his age. This meant that he was sentenced to mandatory life without parole.

At the age of 15, he had lost everything. He would be in prison for the rest of his life and would miss out on so much. He would not experience high school football games, prom and homecoming, high school graduation, the journey of being an 18 year going off to college, graduating from college, buying his first house or car, trying new restaurants, starting a family, going to church or anything else.

At the age of 15 he lost everything. From that point forward his life would be lived behind bars.

Now, here is where some of you might get upset and stop reading, but I want to encourage you to read until the end.

You see, I absolutely believe that there are consequences to all of our actions. In fact, I will admit that it is within our human nature that if someone hurts us, we want them to experience that hurt and pain in return. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

We see it all through scripture. When God picks Abel’s offering Cain is hurt and angry. And with that anger, he ends up killing his brother Abel. When Joseph’s brothers become jealous of him and their fathers preference of him, they are hurt. And in that hurt they sell him off to be a slave. When Jacob steals Esau’s blessing, Esau is hurt. So Jacob decides to run away because he is afraid his brother is going to kill him. Even in the New Testament we see Judas take away his own life because he turned Jesus in to the authorities and the guilt from that was killing him. From the very beginning of the bible, we have this desire within us that tells us that if you do something wrong, you deserve to not only feel the pain you inflicted in return, but that you must feel that pain permanently until the end of your life.

Andrew says this about his journey: I recognize that all the good that I could do would not undo what I did years ago. But I will say that if I’m given a second chance, I will spend every day trying to give back to this world, even though I can never replace what I stole from it.

His words make me cry…

“IF I am given a second chance…”

Can you hear the guilt and shame he must carry as you read those words? Imagine it, despite his perseverance, difference making, and all the transformative work he has done, he journey’s through life wondering if people will give him a second chance.

This is such a horrible place to live in. You make a mistake (for him, a mistake that cost someone their life and forced an entire family to live with the grief of losing a child) and you feel as if you will never be forgiven. You know that what you did was wrong and if you could go back and change it, you would. But there is nothing you can do except to do your best to prove to people that you have in fact changed. You can speak over and over again about how horrific your actions were, you can tangibly show people that you have changed and have been transformed, you can ask for forgiveness a million times and still you go to bed wondering if you will forever be who you used to be or if you can be defined by who you are and what you have done today.

It’s kind of like Jekyll and Hyde. Which one are you?

Now don’t get me wrong. What he did was wrong. He should have had to deal with the consequences of his actions. We all deserve to deal with the consequences of our actions as well. Please do not assume that I am somehow assuming that what he did was okay. But hear me out for a second…

Moses murdered someone then ran away in order to not deal with the consequences.

David was an adulterer who had an innocent man killed in order to get away with sleeping with a married woman and getting her pregnant.

Noah was a drunk who took out his wrath on his children.

Peter had a temper and cut off a guards ear.

Paul spent a large part of his life killing people simply because they believed in Jesus.

There are biblical heroes who were prostitutes, liars, deceivers, adulterers, drunks, filled with unhealthy tempers and so much more. Over and over again, people whom we celebrate as God’s chosen have a past and a history. Yet somehow we look past their mistakes because we believe and read that God has either changed their hearts or has used their past to make an impact in the world around them. We do not define our biblical heroes based on what they did in the past, but rather by what God did through them despite their past.

This is very powerful. And I want you to hear this twice.

Our biblical heroes are not defined by what they did in their past, but rather by what God did through them despite their past.

And the same goes for you. Whatever you are going through, or whatever you have done, I want you to know that God does not define you by your past, but rather by what he will do through you if you only give your life to Him.

Romans 5 says this: For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Hear this: despite what you carry from your past, you have been reconciled to God, you have been forgiven. God offered you this forgiveness before you had your life together or earned perfect attendance at church or before you even picked up a bible or prayed. God paid for your sins so that you would not be defined by them. And all you have to do is invite God into your life.

Let’s be honest, you carry a past just like everyone else, including our biblical heroes. But you do not have to let them or others define you based on your past. God is offering you a new identity in him. And I don’t want you to miss this next part. Paul reminds us that God forgave us while we were his enemies. Imagine how much more God would do for us now that we have been reconciled! God loves you too much to just forgive you and let you live in that regret and pain the rest of your life. God wants you to live a life of freedom from your past, a life of power over your past and a life of reconciliation despite your past.

I don’t know if this will ever get to Andrew, but if it ever does, I want him, and you, to know one thing. The god we worship is a God of second chances. When God looks at you, God doesn’t see your past, God sees who God has called you to be. So give your past over to God, invite God’s forgiveness and reconciliation into your life and live in the freedom that is being offered to you.

I want to invite you to say this prayer with me:

God, you know my heart and you know the guilt and shame that I carry from my past. Help me come to see that my past has been forgiven and that I have been reconciled to You. Let me trust your power which empowers me to overcome the shame and guilt of my past. And in finding that freedom, I invite you to use me for the furthering of your Kingdom in whatever way you will. Amen.

As always, feel free to email me or set up a meeting with me. I would love to talk more with you about this.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

What do Game of Thrones and Scripture have in common?

About once a month, a friend of mine sends me a picture of his bible with some new found insight he has just read. Every time he texts me, he asks two things. First, he asks me if I already knew this information. Then he asks me if I learned this in seminary. This ritual that he and I have is an important part of my life because I love to see and hear of people who wrestle with scripture and begin to connect some dots. Every time he texts me, I know that he is coming closer and closer to God, and I cherish that he invites me to be on that journey with him as he engages more and more with scripture.

This ritual that he and I have reminds me of Acts 8 where the disciple Philip encounters an Ethiopian Eunuch. This eunuch is reading scripture and he is struggling to understand it. But instead of putting it down, he chooses to keep reading through it and engaging with it. At one point Philip comes to him and asks the eunuch if he understands what he is reading and the eunuch begins to ask Philip questions about scripture. It becomes clear in that moment that the eunuch had chosen to engage with scripture and in doing so had lots of questions. But it was also clear that he had made a commitment that he was never going to stop because he knew that in scripture, he would find all things necessary for his life.

As I have reflected on this scripture, I am reminded of the United Methodist Articles of Religion. In a nutshell, these are statements of faith that help define what we as a church believe. These articles contain our beliefs on resurrection, the trinity, original sin, free will, justification, good works and much more.  (Click here for the whole list).

Recently I have been particularly drawn to Article 5. The very first line of this article states that scripture contains all thing necessary for salvation. If we want to know what is necessary for our salvation, we have to read scripture and immerse ourselves in it. And in doing so, scripture will begin to create a change in us. When scripture becomes a central part of our life, we begin to find hope and freedom from anything that oppresses us. It is because I wholeheartedly believe this, that I choose to engage with scripture as much and as often as I can. Every time I do, I find words for when I have no words and hope and strength to face the day.  

Let me give you an example.

In 2013, I was diagnosed with depression. During that time, I was really drawn to Psalm 143. There were a couple of verses that simply spoke to me loudly every time I read them.

Verse 3 says: The enemy has pursued me, crushing my life to the ground, making me sit in darkness like those long dead. Every time I read this verse, I found words to describe the defeat and agony that I felt in that season.

Verse 5 says: I remember the days of old. These words made me cry every time because in my prayer life, I kept telling God that I just wanted things to be the way they used to be.

Verse 7 says: answer me quickly, do not hide your face from me. There were times in that season that I came to believe that God was disappointed in me and had given up on me.

Verse 9 says:  save me O Lord, from my enemies. I had it in my mind that everyone was out to get me and I felt like my walls were crashing in all around me and my enemies were defeating me.

Verse 12 says: I am your servant. I made a decision in that season of my life that even if none of these things happened, I would choose to still follow and trust God.

You see, the more we read scripture the more we begin to see its truth become truth in our life. The more we read of the Israelite’s struggles, the more we see our struggles in theirs. The more we read of the victories of God’s people, the more we trust that we too will experience a victory. The more we read of peoples doubts, the more we hear our doubts in them. And the more we read of people’s faith deepening, the more our faith deepens. Over and over again, the more we engage with scripture, the more scripture begins to take a life within our own life.

So we read and engage with scripture even if we don’t understand, because we know that in doing so the dots will begin to connect, the stories will begin to relate and its promise will become fulfilled in our life. And in doing so, we will find all things necessary for salvation.

For the last four weeks, our Sunday night ritual in the Rivera household has come to include the watching of the newest Game of Thrones episode. Like many of you, we have gone through a roller coaster of emotions with each episode not fully knowing what exactly happened and wondering what will happen next. So I have added a second routine to my weekly schedule. On Monday mornings, I look for articles online that help explain what happened, and what could possibly happen next.

This Monday I found an article from a guy who wrote all the things he did not like from the last episode. I agreed with most of them, but there were also a lot of things that I just did not understand. He talked about how some things didn’t make sense because in the book something else was supposed to happen. He also talked about how there are characters missing that are in the books who are not in the tv series. He also mentioned stuff that happened in past seasons that came to fruition in this last episode. But the thing that struck me the most was that he put forth his theory as to how this series would end.

Don’t worry, I am not about to ruin anything because I didn’t read the end. I didn’t want to ruin it for myself!

But I will tell you the premise of his prediction. He argued that in Episode 2 of Season 3, a random character appeared who told Daenerys a prophesy about her future. This guy argues that if you listened closely to this characters words and followed the storyline even closer, you would see that two of those three prophesies had been fulfilled and that he believed that the third of those prophesies was how this series would end. I stopped reading when he said “the ending has been right in front of our face this whole time.”

I stopped reading there because I did not want him to ruin the ending for me. But to be honest, I was a bit annoyed. How in the world did he make that connection? If he is right, how did he come up with an answer while everyone else had to wait week by week? How in the world did he remember what some vague random character said? How did he have the time to even connect those dots? And he read the books too? That’s not fair. I wish I could have as much knowledge as he does.

As I was getting frustrated at all of these things, I remembered my friend who texts me once a month with a new connection he made. I realized that he has those same questions every time he reaches out to me with a new insight. When he asks me if I learned something in seminary, what he is really asking is how in the world I had time to learn what I know. There is a longing within him to know as much as his favorite authors and worship leaders and mentors because he truly believes that through scripture he can find all things necessary for his salvation. And in his question is a desire to find out how to fulfill that longing.  

Perhaps you are wondering the same thing.

You see, making that longing come to fruition boils down to one thing. We must make the commitment to endlessly and deeply engage with scripture over and over again for the rest of our lives.

I have been engaged with Game of Thrones for about two years now. I know most of the main characters names and in many ways I feel like that is enough to get me through the whole story. I think that that’s how many of us feel about biblical characters too. People such as Moses, Noah, Jonah, David and Goliath, Peter, Paul, Mary and many others are very well know characters throughout scripture. We know these main characters and in knowing them we have an understanding of scripture and the good news it brings. But there is so much more to the good news if we just choose to go deeper.

You see, two years may seem like a lot of time for me, but did you know that the first Game of Thrones episode came out in 2011? For 8 years, people have been watching and re-watching this series making connections beyond the basic main character story line. For 8 years people have been coming to know the smaller characters, and their significance. For the past 8 years, people have come to memorize the map of the Seven Kingdoms and understand the history of each family. And to top that off, the first book came out in 1996! If you have been reading the books, you have been engaged with its characters and storyline and plot twists for over 20 years. When you spend that much time engaging something, it begins to make sense in a different way and the storyline becomes not just familiar but it comes to mean something.

What I was reminded as I read that article on Monday was that the guy who wrote that article has the knowledge he has, because he has engaged with this story over and over again for years. He has invested time and energy into this story and in doing so, it has come to life in his life. For him, these are not just characters on a page or a screen. For him, this story has become a part of who he is.

And the same can happen to us when we approach scripture the same way. For many years, I believed that if I could just read through the bible from cover to cover, everything would make sense to me. So I did. But what I realized had happened was that even though I understood the overall story, I had missed so much of it too.

It was at that point that I had to decide to engage scripture more fully. I had to read it and re-read it more often. I had to take time to study it and read the sub notes and commentaries and articles. I had to be open to the interconnectedness of the characters and the storyline. I had to engage scripture beyond just a “one-time-through” mentality if I wanted to grasp the wholeness of what it offers us. And in doing so, the good news of scripture has become the good news of my life.

But don’t get me wrong, I still have a long way to go. I still look at many people and how far they have gone and how deep their knowledge is and I am encouraged to keep engaging scripture so that I too can come to the place where my teachers, mentor and coaches are.

So today, I want to encourage you. Whatever it is that you are going through I promise you that you will find an answer and direction in scripture. If you are in a season of despair, you will find the power of joy. If you are in a season of hopelessness, you will find the power of hope. If you are in a season of doubt, you will find the power of faith. If you are in a season of transition, you will find the power of God’s constant presence. Scripture contains all things necessary for your life and all you have to do is keep engaging with, keep wrestling with it, keep asking questions of it. Even if it doesn’t make sense right now, keep engaging it.

It might not make sense now, and you might struggle to go deep at this time. But I promise you that the more you engage, the more you study, the more you persistently wrestle with it, the more scripture will come to life before you and make a deep lasting impact in your life. It has made an impact in the life of my spiritual leaders. It has made an impact in my life. And I know it will make an impact in yours as well.

Together on the journey,
Pastor Fernie

Are you a workaholic?

For the past two days, I have been at a silent retreat at the St. Joseph Abbey & Retreat Center in Covington, LA. The whole point of this retreat is to create a practice of stepping away from the busy-ness of life and taking a moment to slow down and notice God’s presence all around us. This is a practice that I have experience the last two years as a part of my ordination process and have come to love and look forward to each year.

As I woke up this morning though, I woke up with a bit of sorrow in my heart knowing that I would not be here next year, gathering with clergy colleagues, renewing my spiritual faith and finding intentional, set aside rest from the busyness of my work and calling. That thought, to be honest, was a bit overwhelming as I began to think about everything that has to get done when I make it back home this evening. So in order to fight back against that feeling, I decided to open my email, work on set lists for worship and start replying to the people who had messaged me in the last two days. I chose to overcome my feelings by trying to get as much work done as possible

Do you every feel that way? Do you ever feel like the best way to tackle your day is by working harder and harder? Do you ever feel like the work you do is not enough? Do you struggle with workaholism?

I do. Many times I go to bed wishing I had more time to do certain things, or I go to bed wrestling with different ways of doing ministry. I have an unhealthy urge to keep working, because to be honest, I am a bit of a workaholic. And while that workaholism has led me to some great experiences, it has also led me down some bad ones.

I remember times when I missed out on family time because I wanted to figure out a more effective way to connect with first time visitors. There have been times when I am on vacation with my wife and I am constantly checking my email. I tend to stay at the church later than necessary because I want people to view me and my work as good, acceptable and perfect. And because that is my goal, I always feel like I am falling short of it. So I choose to work some more.

Last night in worship, a quote was read by Carey Nieuwhof that states “Workaholism is the most rewarded addiction in America today. You may get fired for drinking too much, but working too much usually gets you promoted. It will also get you a raise.”

The first time I read that quote, it bothered me. I wanted to argue that my “workaholism” is not equivalent to alcoholism. So I decided to ask some experts to justify my thinking. I reached out to a friend that works with AA groups and I asked him what some signs of alcoholism are. Here is what he said:

  • Choosing to drink over other responsibilities
  • Making excuses for drinking
  • Isolating yourself from others to drink
  • Feeling sick when you’re not drinking

As I was reading through this list, I thought to myself, see Fernie, you don’t have a problem. But then I read these again, except that the second time, I changed the word “drinking” with “working”.

  • Choosing to work over other responsibilities.
  • Making excuses for working.
  • Isolating yourself from others to work.
  • Feeling sick when you’re not working.

If I am honest, this second list made me sick to my stomach. There are many times when I choose to work rather than getting things done around the house. I have been called out for working on vacation and I always have a brilliant excuse that gets people off my back. And when that happens, I isolate myself so that I don’t get caught working. Even worse, when my excuses don’t seem to justify my working and I have to put my work away, I can get sick to my stomach hoping that nothing bad happens.

Let me be clear about something. This is not healthy. This not the way God intends for us to live. This is not a full abundant life. And if you are anything like me, I want you to hear the words that I read from scripture this morning.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

-Romans 12:2

I had to stop and catch my breath when I read this text. You see, something became clear to me for the first time. I have created unhealthy work habits because I try to find my worth in whether or not the world around me thinks my work is good and acceptable and perfect.

But I want you to know something, by the standards of this world, you will never be good enough, your work will never be acceptable enough, and what you do will never be perfect. The world will always expect more and more from you. And if you are not careful, you will end up so tired from trying to achieve that unachievable goal, that you will get burnt out.

Instead, listen to what Paul is saying in this text: do not be conformed to this work, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.

You see, if you struggle with workaholism as I do, I want to encourage you to do three things.

  1. First, don’t conform to this world. May you acknowledge that our work ethic is unhealthy and not the way God intended it to be.
  2. Second, take time to transform your way of thinking by renewing your mind. Set time aside this week to just breathe, to just catch your breath, to rest. On Monday, I took a 30 minute nap and I felt like I had wasted the day away. But when I sat down to read through scripture, I was so refreshed and renewed, that I engaged scripture in a way that I wouldn’t have without that nap. Take time to renew your mind and spirit. Find some rest, get away from your work.
  3. And third, may you come to know that you are already good, acceptable, and perfect in the eyes of God. When you realize that you who you are trying to be is already the person God see’s in you, the weight and pressure begin to fall off. When you come to that realization, you begin to search for yourself in God and not in your work; you begin find and experience life abundantly as it was meant to be.

As you go about your day today, may you find the freedom from your workaholism; may you find rest today. And above all, may you come to see and experience life the God intended for you to do so. You deserve it.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie