Finding Self

Have you ever become a part of something and you simply felt like you didn’t fit in or didn’t belong? Maybe you showed up to a new job, or a new city or tried to make new friends and you always felt like an outsider. You might understand what it feels like to not be able to get plugged in.

I remember moving to Louisiana back in 2015 and finding it so hard to make friends and always feeling like I didn’t belong. Everyone already had their niche and I just didn’t belong in any of them. I tried nudging my way into different friend groups and community events but I was having a hard time fitting in. And for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why.

But as I have spent more time here and found my niche, I have realized that there are a variety of reasons why stuff like that happens. In particular, I think the biggest one is because we have not found our full identity yet.

Knowing who we are and what we are called to do, changes everything about how we respond to the world around us. Knowing who we are and what we are called to do teaches us who we are not and what we are not called to do. And sometimes knowing this difference, can change everything in the way we view the world around us.

Let me explain.

In the 1860’s, a brand new product called Listerine was invented. At first, it was meant to be a surgical antiseptic to reduce the rate of post-surgical infections. It sold, but never got full traction. It later began to sell as a floor cleaner, then as a cure for gonorrhea, and eventually in the 1920’s as a solution for bad breath.

For 60 years, Listerine went from identity to identity, always making a difference, but never able to make enough of an impact to change this world. As a surgical tool, a floor cleaner and as a medication, Listerine made a difference. But it wasn’t until it finally found its identity as a solution for halitosis (chronic bad breath), that it made waves.

Which leads to a very important question: have you found your true identity yet or are you still trying to find your self?

In the book of Genesis, we encounter a guy named Moses. He was the son of an Israelite woman, but because Pharaoh was afraid the Israelites would soon outnumber the Egyptians, he ordered that every male child be thrown into the Nile River after they were born.

Moses was one of these babies thrown in the Nile, but as he was floating in the water, the daughter of Pharaoh came to the river to bathe. When she got there, she found this child and chose to raise him as her own.

Years later, after Moses had grown up, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite man. In his anger towards this oppression, he ran towards the situation and killed the Egyptian. By the next day, word had spread that Moses had killed an Egyptian. Fearing for his life, he chose to run away from the reaches of Pharaoh.

One day as Moses was traveling, he noticed a bush that was burning but was not being consumed  by the flame. Intrigued by what it could be, he approached it. To Moses’ surprise, God had manifested himself in this burning bush to tell him to go back to Egypt to free the Israelites out of their oppression.

Moses’ response was to automatically say no. As he argued with God about the many reasons why he shouldn’t be the one who goes to Egypt to free the Israelites, what I hear him saying is: God, I’ve tried this before and look how it ended up.

Think about it. Back when he was growing up in Egypt, there was something within him that knew the Israelites should not be treated the way they were being treated. But when he acted upon that nudge, things didn’t turn out the way he thought they would and he had to flee. Surely he was not the one called to lead the Israelites away from Egyptian oppression.

You see, as he was killing that Egyptian years earlier, his identity was wrapped around being the one who temporarily rescued one Israelite from one mans oppression. But that was never meant to be his identity. I don’t believe he was called to be remembered as the one who stood up for that one injustice. I believe God had called him to be the one who rescued all the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians.

These are two very different identities.

See, finding our true identity can make a huge difference. When Listerine figured out its identity as a mouth wash, it made a huge impact in our lives today. When Moses figured out his true identity, he led the Israelites away from the oppression of Egypt. And when you figure out your identity, and live into it, God will do some amazing things through you as well.

So today, know that I am praying for you. I pray that you may find your identity and live into it. And if it doesn’t work out, or it doesn’t feel right, maybe it’s not a reflection of your ability to do something, but rather a reflection of that not being the identity through which you can make the biggest difference.

It is okay to not fit in. It is okay for a job to not be the right fit. It is okay for you to wonder why things don’t feel right. It is okay, because these things are not a reflection of who you are. It just means that you are still searching for your identity and purpose in this world. And if that is you, I pray that you may turn to God as you search for your identity.

Like Listerine in its early years, you may be making a difference, but think about how much of an impact you could make if you lived into your full identity.  

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

Posture of No-Forgiveness

My family has a bad tendency of not talking to each other when we are upset at each other. There have been times when we haven’t talked to each other for months and when we stop to wonder why, we realize that we don’t even remember why we were upset at each other in the first place.

I remember my senior year of high school my dad and I got into a huge disagreement. To be honest, I don’t remember what the disagreement was about, who started it or why it even happened. All I remember is that my dad and I did not talk to each other for about four months.

It is important to note that my dad works at the high school I went to, so not only did we not talk at home, we also didn’t talk at school, we didn’t talk on our drive to and from home, and we didn’t talk on any school trips. We were so angry at each other that we basically just ignored each other.

After a while, I started missing my dad. I wanted him to acknowledge me, to talk to me, to forgive me. But the longer this disagreement went on, the less I knew what to ask forgiveness for since I had forgotten why we were mad in the first place. All I knew was that I missed my friendship with my dad and I didn’t know how to fix it.

When I remember that experience, I can’t help but think of two brothers in the bible: Jacob and Esau.  

The whole argument revolved around the fact that Jacob stole his older brother Esau’s blessing. This was a huge deal in biblical times. The oldest son always got the largest piece of the inheritance, would be the family patriarch after the father passed away and was entrusted with the family possessions and needs. This was something that the eldest sons did not take lightly.  

But in Genesis 27, Jacob’s mom Rebekah tells Jacob this: I just heard your father saying to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and make me some delicious food so I can eat, and I will bless you in the Lord’s presence before I die.’ Now, my son, listen to me, do what I’m telling you to do. Go to the flock and get me two healthy young goats so I can prepare them as the delicious food your father loves. You can bring it to your father, he will eat, and then he will bless you before he dies.” Because Rebekah loved Jacob more, she helped him trick his father so that he could steal his older brothers blessing.

A little later in the story, Esau finds out that his brother stole his blessing. He becomes so furious that Esau says to himself: When the period of mourning for the death of my father is over, I will kill my brother. This causes Jacob to pack his stuff and run away from home in order to avoid his brothers wrath.

For a long time, these two lived apart from each other. Both started families, both acquired property, both moved on with their lives, but they still did not make amends. But later in the story, Jacob begins to make his way back to his brother’s house to ask for forgiveness. And the encounter is absolutely beautiful.

In Genesis 33, as Jacob approached his Brother Esau, he began to offer gifts to his brother, he began to introduce his family and servants and eventually his wife. But this was not an easy encounter. Jacob was ready for his brother to retaliate. He was positive that his brother would kill him right then and there but instead Esau looked at his brother and said, “what’s the meaning of this? I already have plenty.”

In that moment, they reconciled, they helped each other, and they moved past their differences. But did you notice how scared Jacob was to ask for forgiveness? He was convinced that his brother still had a grudge against him; so he almost doesn’t ask for forgiveness out of fear. In his mind, his brother had a posture of no-forgiveness and he was afraid to seek forgiveness.

As I read this story  I can’t help but wonder if there are people out there who want to ask me for forgiveness but are afraid to ask me for it because of the posture of no-forgiveness that I give off. Are there places in my life where my attitude, my ego or even my pride make people feel unwelcomed to approach me? Are there places in my life where I can let my walls down so that others feel like I am willing to offer forgiveness?

Let me ask it this way: are there places in your life where someone may see you as an Esau? Is there a place in your life where someone may want to reach out to you and ask for forgiveness but they are afraid of how you might respond? If so, maybe it’s time for you to bring your walls down, and have a more inviting posture where people feel comfortable coming to you to ask for forgiveness.

I need to be challenged by this. Maybe you do too.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

Jesus Exceeds Expectations

I was reading through Romans earlier this week and I was struck by the introduction that Paul writes in this book. Here is what he says:

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus.”

Romans 1:1-6

Let’s talk a little bit of biblical history for a second. Before Paul was a follower of Jesus, he was a religious leader who persecuted and incarcerated Jesus followers. They were, after all, making claims that they had encountered the Messiah. Paul, on the other hand, was convinced that they were making up lies.

One day, as he is traveling to a town called Damascus with an arrest warrant in hand ready to keep living out his civic duty, he had an encounter with Jesus and it changed everything for him. One day, Paul claims that following Jesus is punishable by law and the next he claims that following Jesus is an expectation even if you are punished by the law. What a contrast right?

I think that by reading through his introduction in Romans we can see exactly what changed for him. See, before he began to follow Jesus he had an expectation of who Jesus would be and what Jesus would do. Before he encountered Jesus, he had an expectation that the Messiah would be a descendant of David, the son of God, who would have the power of the Holy Spirit to defeat the Roman empire and offer Jewish people their freedom from Rome.

But instead, people were celebrating a guy named Jesus who had a humble birth, did not have an army and was killed by the Roman authorities. His expectations of who the Messiah was supposed to be and who Jesus actually was, were very different. Which meant that surely Jesus was not the Messiah they were waiting for. (This is called a Messianic Expectation).

But this letter is written after he encounters Jesus on his way to Damascus. In this introduction, Paul states that what Jesus came to do was to defeat death through resurrection in order to offer grace and apostleship to all who choose to follow him.

You see, who Paul expected Jesus to be is not who Jesus ended up being. But Paul came to see that what he was expecting is not what he needed after all. The Roman empire being defeated is not the kind of freedom God was offering (and it wasn’t the type of freedom the Jewish people actually needed). Instead, Jesus offered them true freedom. The type of freedom that is not dependent on people but rather God’s power over the things that harm us and separate us from God.  

I remember praying to God about six years ago and asking God to help me cross paths with every single person I had ever hurt, so that I could personally apologize and find the freedom from my past that I was searching for. Six years later, I am still waiting to run into them.

There have been a couple of times when I was at a conference, I ran into someone and we got to have a great conversation. There have even been times when I have been able to have a text or phone conversation with people. But for the most part, I am still hoping to run into most of these people to make amends and “move on” from the guilt and shame of my past.

My expectation was that if I could just run into these people, all could be made well. But somehow even after having conversations with some people, the shame and guilt still persist. But as my expectations have shifted and I have learned to trust God more, somehow I find myself knowing without a doubt that I am loved and forgiven. I know today that even if I don’t make face-to-face amends with people from my past, I can find freedom from the burden my past brings.

Don’t get me wrong. The mistakes of our past were wrong. And we should make every effort for reconciliation. But even if that reconciliation never comes, you are a beloved and forgiven child of God and nothing can change that.

You see, if we are open to it, we can see that Jesus’ life exceeds expectations in our life. I wanted to hear words of forgiveness from people, but Jesus’ life reminds me that even if I don’t, I am a forgiven child of God. I find myself wondering if my past defines me, but Jesus’ life reminds me that who I used to be is not who I am today. Jesus’ life reminds me that grace is for all people, including me and you. Jesus’ life reminds me that I don’t have to have it all figured out before God welcomes me with open arms and calls me forgiven. Jesus’ life reminds me that even if others don’t forgive me, my forgiveness comes from God; that I am already forgiven. Jesus’ life reminds me that if I hold on to him with everything I have, that I don’t have to go back to my old ways because in him I am made new.

The reality is that I had my expectations for what I wanted Jesus to do in my life in order for me to feel forgiven. But it did not happen the way I had expected. It was better than I could have ever imagined or expected. Jesus went above and beyond in my life. I know today without a doubt that I am forgiven. I am not captive to my past. And I am emboldened to share my story to help others do the same!

Over and over again Jesus has exceeded my expectations. I keep turning to Jesus every day because the more I pursue my relationship with Jesus, the more freedom I find in every aspect of my life. I know that you carry burdens as well. And I know that at times it feels like you need to take matters into your own hands. But I promise you that there is no other way. Turn to Jesus, even if you have your expectations of the way things are supposed to go. But always be open to the way Jesus will exceed your expectations. You may come to see that even though things don’t go as you planned, the journey you end up on may be far more life giving and purposeful than you ever thought it could be.

Together on the journey,

Pator Fernie

Dealing With Frustration

I woke up frustrated…

For starters, I did not sleep very well. I had some nightmares. Then, after getting out of bed, I decided to check my social media accounts. Post after post, I kept reading comments of people tearing each other down for their political beliefs, their stance on certain issues or even their personal opinions. Over and over again I saw a very polarized image of who we have become as a society. I decided instead to turn on the news but once again I saw more of the same. After a few minutes of this, I went back to social media.

I got more frustrated.  I got more annoyed. And then I decided to join in. (Not my proudest moment).

I could feel myself getting more and more frustrated with every comment and every response. I could feel myself getting more and more upset. Eventually I had to stop and walk away from that conversation. I needed to catch my breath.

I sat on my couch for a second, but I still felt frustrated. I poured myself a cup of cold water and walked around the kitchen but I still felt upset. I was running out of options, so I decided to  grab my bible, go to my desk, and turn on Christian music.

After a few minutes, I felt myself become less irritated. I would read a bit, then pause to reflect and take notes. I would pause at moments to listen to the music and reflect on the words that were being sung. The longer I sat there the less frustrated and upset I became. Before I knew it, I had completely forgotten about the frustration I had felt. I felt better, more at peace, and ready to start my day.

As I reflect on this experience, I am reminded of Psalm 143:6 (CEB) that says: my whole being is like dirt, thirsting for you.

How true was that for me this morning. My annoyance had nothing to do with the stuff on social media or the news. My annoyance didn’t even have anything to do with the fact that I did not sleep well. I used all of this as an excuse to justify my frustration.

What was really happening was that my whole being was thirsting for God. My whole being was longing for an opportunity to center myself around God; to refocus myself on what really matters.

I don’t know what you are going through this week, but I hope that you can make time to listen to your thirst for God. Doing so can help you overcome the sense of frustration that you may be feeling. Maybe you can turn your radio to the Christian station on your way home today. Maybe you can find a daily bible verse online and spend a minute reflecting on it. Maybe you can stop whatever you are doing right now and spend a couple of minutes taking deep breaths and saying a prayer to God.

Whatever you are going through today, I know that our whole being is longing for God and the only way to quench that thirst is by giving our beings over to God.

I pray that you may give yourself time to do so today. May you find that just a few short minutes with God a day can completely reshape your day and what happens in it.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

The voice of the world or the voice of God?

I recently read an inspirational quote on Facebook that says:

 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours (Luke 4:7).

I smiled when I read it because at first it seems like a very good quote. But when you realize that it is actually the devil who is speaking (and not God), you realize it’s not so inspirational. But that is the way the world speaks to us right? The world makes us think that by worshipping what this world has to offer, we can find true life and purpose. And if we don’t listen carefully, we might even believe it’s God talking to us.

But when that voice speaks, the world is lying to you and me. If we live by the rules of this world, the only thing we will truly find is that we are never quite good enough. The voice of this world can be so loud, sound so life giving, and sound a lot like the voice of God. You see, if we don’t fully know the voice of God, it is so easy to confuse the voice of God with the voice of this world.

Here is the thing:

The voice of this world tells us to desire success and wealth. But God tells us that he will place life giving desires in our heart.

The voice of this world tells us that anxiety is a weakness you must overcome on your own. The voice of God reminds us that freedom from anxiety comes by surrendering all to God.

The voice of this world tells us that sorrow is a lonely place to live in. But the voice of God tells us that God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. We may feel alone, but we are not truly alone.

The voice of this world tells us to be brave because we are strong and prepared for anything. But the voice of God tells us that the only way we can truly be brave and courageous is by finding it in God.

The world speaks lies that places tremendous amounts of pressure on us to rely on our own ability. But the voice of God says that no matter how prepared we are, how strong we are, how courageous we may be, what everything boils down to is whether or not we can let go and let God lead our every steps.

See, the world may tell you to try harder, to give more. But I promise you that that voice is lying to you because you will never have enough to give. On the other hand, if you rely less on yourself and rely more on God, it’s actually comforting to realize that you are not enough. It is comforting because we come to see that the God who dwells within us is more than enough. You see, the way we make it through this crazy and messy thing called life is not by our power, but by the power of the God who created the heavens and the earth.

As we prepare to launch Mid City Church, there have been moments when I have allowed the voice of this world to speak louder than the voice of God. I am tempted to feel as if I need to constantly do more to have a successful launch. I am tempted to feel as if I have to have my whole life perfected if am going to be an effective pastor to this new community. I am tempted to believe that the success of this new campus is dependent on my ability. I am even tempted to believe that the success of this campus will define me as a pastor. I am tempted to believe that the difficult things I experience along the way don’t hurt. I am tempted to pretend that I don’t lay up at night worried about the launch. I am tempted to pretend like I have not cried at night wishing I could do more.

That’s the thing about this world: listening to the voice of this world forces us to pretend and believe things that are simply not true. But when we listen to the voice of God we are able to realize that the truth that God speaks is more life giving and purposeful than anything we can even begin to imagine.

Beloved, whatever you are going through today, whatever pain you may carry, whatever doubts you may have or shortcomings you may see, I pray that you may stop judging yourself by the voice of this world and instead listen for the voice of God. For I promise that in doing so, you will find the life and purpose that you are seeking.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

Raise My Ebenezer

Last week I traveled to Houston to visit my mom. She had some appointments at MD Anderson and I decided to make the short trek over to see her and see how the appointments had gone. Now, if you have never heard of MD Anderson, it is a cancer hospital, and in my opinion, one of the best. But to be clear, my mom was not necessarily there because of a cancer diagnosis.

Back in 2015, she had double knee replacement, and since then she has had trouble with one of her knees.  It swells up, it gives her lots of pain and at times immobilizes her. My mom is one of the strongest women I know, so when she says that she is pain, I believe her.

The reason we went to MD Anderson was because we were hoping they could run tests and figure out where the pain was coming from. Doctor after doctor back home kept saying they couldn’t find anything, and we hoped that if we went to the best hospital out there, maybe they could find answers.

Thursday, when I got to Houston and met up with my family and they told me how, once again, the doctors were not able to find anything. And as long as they can’t come up with a diagnosis, no one is willing to come up with a treatment. I could sense the feeling of defeat as my mom shared her disappointment with me.

It broke my heart as I heard her share this with me. It also broke my heart because I was reminded in that moment that so many of us live in that place. Things haven’t gone the way we want them to. Things seem to be falling apart all around us. Things feel too overwhelming. We see no end in sight to our struggles and we begin to lose hope.

So what do we do when we begin to lose hope? How do we hang on to hope in the midst of fear and despair? How do we keep from carrying this heavy burden on our own?

Perhaps this would be helpful.

In the book of 1 Samuel, the Israelites are at war with the Philistines. Even though they had been a very powerful people, this battle was not going their way. They were losing people left and right and as the Israelites began to lose, they also began to lose hope that they could turn this fight around. They decided to take matters into their own hands. They took the Ark of the Covenant and marched it into camp and as they mustered up enough energy to keep fighting.

This was a big deal. The Ark of the Covenant is not a big boat like Noah’s, rather, it was a box that the Israelites built to house the ten commandments. For the Israelites, this is where the presence of God lived and this would surely be their lucky charm just as it had been many times before.

The Ark helped clear impediments and poisonous animals as the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness. When they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, the river gave way when the Ark bearers stepped into the river. The Israelites carried the Ark around Jericho before the walls fell down and they defeated their enemies. The Ark had always been their lucky charm that helped them hold on to hope when things didn’t go as planned.    

But this time, their lucky charm didn’t work.

By the end of the battle, about 30,000 Israelites died and the ark had been captured.

They had lost and were on the verge of losing all hope. Where else could they turn for help? Their own strength could not get them through this, and even the ark was not strong enough to help them through this time. Many were in disbelief, many scattered and they felt as if “the glory had departed from Israel, for the ark of God had been captured” (1 Sam. 4:22)

I think that is how my mom felt. I think that is how I felt. I think that is how many of us have felt throughout our lives. The ark was supposed to give them victory and it didn’t. The doctors were supposed to give my mom answers and they didn’t. Maybe you were hopeful that counseling would help you work through some struggles but it hasn’t. Maybe you were hopeful that the new job or new house or new endeavor would bring healing but it hasn’t. Maybe you were hopeful that your financial struggles would be done by now but they are still there. Maybe you were hoping your relationship could make it through some difficult things, but you are still in the middle of the struggles. Maybe you too are on the verge of losing hope and don’t know where else to turn or what else to do.

You see, the problem is that we put our hope on things rather than God. And the reality is that things will always disappoint us; they will never be enough. But when we put our trust in God, we can hold on to faith even when we feel like we are being defeated by our enemy. For in doing so, we know that God always gets the final word that that nothing here on earth, not even death, can separate us from the love, care, and direction of God. So in seasons of struggle and despair and hopelessness, we must hold on to God rather than things.

Have you ever heard the hymn Come Thou Fount? The second verse in it says this:

Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’m come. And I hope by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.

This hymn became so much more powerful to me when I understood what an Ebenezer was. You see, a little after the Israelites were defeated, a guy named Samuel rose to lead the Israelites. And after encouraging them to give their hearts fully to God, to cry out to God and pray to him without ceasing, they were able to muster up enough courage to fight back and this time rout the Philistines.  

Samuel knew without a doubt that God had helped them thus far and he knew that God would do it again. They  just had to have faith and trust that no matter what happened, God  was with them. Even if they had remained captured, he knew that God was faithful and would not leave their side. Even if they had never regained their power again, he knew God was faithful and all would be okay. He knew without a doubt that God would always be with them, because up to this point, God had always been there with them.

So in order to never forget this truth again, Samuel did something really powerful. Samuel took a stone, lifted it up and named it Ebenezer for he knew that God had helped them thus far and he would do it again as long as they trusted God all the days of their life.

You see, when we sing, here I raise my Ebenezer, what we are saying is that we are choosing in that moment to believe that God is our helper and that as long as we hold on to God, we will make it through whatever it is that we are going through.

So when we walk out of the hospital and we don’t have the diagnoses we had hoped for, we raise our Ebenezer because we choose to keep trusting God. When our relationships continue to struggle, we raise our Ebenezer because we choose to keep trusting God. When our struggles become overwhelming, we raise our Ebenezer because we choose to keep trusting God. When our doubt grows so big that we can’t see beyond it, we raise our Ebenezer because we choose to keep trusting God.

Whatever it is that you are going through today, raise your Ebenezer, let the world know that there is nothing this world can do to pull you away from your trust in God. And while I cannot promise you that your struggles will simply fade away, I can tell you that there is something comforting about knowing that the God of all creation is right there with you. I could not face life any other way, and my prayer for you is that you may choose to do the same.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

Lessons From A Fig Tree

Last year, just before my wedding, I got really intentional about watching my weight. After all, I wanted to look good for my pictures! For six months, I watched what I ate, I exercised, and checked my weight on the scale every couple of days. About two months before the wedding, I weighed myself and I had lost 32 pounds. I was so excited because I was about 10 pounds from my goal. But after stepping off of the scale that day, I also lost part of my motivation.

In my mind, I had two months to lose ten pounds and I was convinced that it would be easy. So I started cheating every once in a while. But soon my occasional cheats, turned into cheat meals and those cheat meals turned into cheat days and those cheat days turned into a cheat lifestyle. And while I looked good for my wedding pictures, by the time our wedding came along, I had not lost the ten pounds. Soon after that, I lost all motivation and within three months I had regained all that weight.

I was tempted to just give up on ever losing weight and let go. But like most, my New Year’s resolution became to lose the weight again. Once again though, I would lose motivation pretty quickly. I wanted fast results. I wanted to keep eating the same way and lose weight. I wanted to spend more time on the couch and lose weight. I wanted to snack in the evening and lose weight. But as we all know, losing weight doesn’t work that way.

The reality was that if I wanted to lose weight, I had to do something different than what I was doing.

In Luke 13, Jesus tells this story:
“A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ The gardener replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

I can relate to both the gardener and the owner of the vineyard. If I have stuff in my life, I expect them to bear fruit. I expect my budget to help me save money. I expect my roof to keep me dry. I expect my vehicle to get me from point A to point B. I expect my phone to connect me with people. I expect my AC to keep me cool.I expect my lawn mower to cut my grass. I have expectations of my stuff.

But if we want our stuff to meet our expectations, we have to invest into them as well.

I believe that the gardener gives us a great lesson as to how to do this. If we want our stuff to work, we must nurture it; we must “dig around it and put manure on it.” In other words, if I want my AC to work, I have to continually upkeep it. Because if I don’t, it will not produce as I expect it to. If I want my roof to keep me safe and dry, I have to do maintenance work on it so that it lasts longer. If I want my vehicle to take me from one place to the other, I have to do oil changes and check the tire pressure and maintain it. If we want our stuff to work, we have to do maintenance work on it. We have to nurture and cultivate our stuff if our stuff is going to produce any fruit.

But there is also another thing that this gardener reminds us to do: give it time. Notice that he did not ask the vineyard owner to let him dig around the tree and put manure on it and if it didn’t bear fruit by the next day, then he would cut it down. This gardener asks for a year of taking care of this tree before they even considering getting rid of it.

You see, if we want something to produce fruit in our life, we have to care and nurture that “thing,” whatever it is, but perhaps more importantly, we have to give it time. If you want to lose weight, start exercising, choose healthier meals, and get plenty of sleep. But know that you won’t lose the weight overnight, it takes time. And when you reach your goal, you have to keep taking care of yourself if you want to maintain that level of health.

If you want to become better at your hobbies, or work, or a certain aspect of your life, start going to conferences, get training, ask for help, let others teach you. But know that you won’t develop your skills overnight, it takes time. And when you reach your goal, you have to keep fine tuning your skills if you want to maintain that level of ability.

If you struggle with anxiety, depression or any form of mental illness, go talk to a counselor (as someone who has not only struggled with depression, but benefited from counseling, I am a huge advocate for this). But know that you won’t overcome your struggle overnight, it takes time. And when you do overcome, you have to keep taking care of yourself if you want to maintain control of your struggle.

If you are searching for life and purpose, I promise that you will only find true fulfillment of that by deepening your relationship with Jesus. But know that you won’t do that overnight. It takes time. And when you finally feel like your relationship with Jesus is on track, you have to keep going deeper if you want to not only maintain that level faith, but go as deep as you possibly can.

We all have goals and dreams in life and it is so easy to get disillusioned or to believe that maybe these goals and dreams are not for us. But I promise you that, if like the gardener to the fig tree, you dedicate yourself to nurturing your goal and give it time, you will meet those goals.

Whatever your dreams and goals are, I want you to hear this. None of those dreams and goals will help you experience true life and purpose. They are all temporary fixes for a permanent longing. But if you choose to deepen your relationship with Jesus, I promise that everything else becomes conquerable. The best place to begin is by nurturing your relationship with Jesus.

As always you can reach out to me by replying to this email. I would love to connect with you and talk some more.

Together on the journey,
Pastor Fernie

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