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

Christ is Risen!

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Peter, ‘Peter son of John, do you love me more than these?” John 21:15

Happy Easter! It may seem a bit late to you, but did you know that Easter is a season and not a day? This season in the life of the church is called Eastertide and it is a season in the church in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. This 50 day celebration begins on Resurrection Sunday (Easter) and ends at Pentecost. It is a beautiful season in the life of the church in which we rejoice and celebrate every single day that Christ is risen indeed! Imagine this: for 50 days, the church celebrates the resurrection with as much joy, enthusiasm, excitement and devotion as we did three days ago on Easter Sunday.

I don’t know about you, but at first, Eastertide seemed weird to me.  Why would we celebrate resurrection for 50 days if Jesus was already risen from the dead? Why would we need to keep remembering the resurrection if we have already claimed the victory over death? It seemed really confusing to me.

But the reality, is that when look at Jesus being raised from the dead, we also assume that all of the disciples find out at the same. But this miracle, this victory over death, took days to reach all of Jesus’ followers. The women may have been the first to know Jesus was resurrected, but through this season, the disciples began to encounter the resurrected Christ. It took Thomas a week to realize that Jesus was indeed risen. It takes days for all of Jesus followers to hear this good news. So we journey through this season, because we acknowledge that the good news of the resurrection took a season to get to all of Jesus’ followers.

On Good Friday I preached a sermon about Jesus’ death. I encouraged the congregation to try and picture and imagine what the disciples may have felt that night. We remembered how for three years the disciples got to hear lessons, and stories and parables from Jesus. For three years, the disciples got to travel all over the place with Jesus. For three years they went to the mountain together and to the lakeside together and journeyed through the desert together. For three years they cooked together, they ate together and they invited people to join them. For three years, they did life together.

But on that Good Friday night, Jesus was gone and they had to decide if their hopes and dreams had died with him or if Jesus really was who he said he was.

Let’s go a little deeper though. That Friday, Peter had promised Jesus that he would never deny him, but after Jesus was arrested, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.

Can you imagine the kind of guilt Peter may have had that night? The one thing he promised he would never do was the one thing he ended up doing. And unlike every other night before this, on that Friday night he did not have the ability to run back to Jesus, to ask for forgiveness, to be told by Jesus himself that he was indeed forgiven. That Friday night, Jesus was lying in a tomb and the last thing Peter did before Jesus died was deny his friend, mentor and teacher. Can you imagine the guilt, the anguish, the regret, and the tears that he felt that night? Your friend has just died and the last thing you ever did while he was alive was deny the fact that you knew him. Can you imagine how he felt as he tried to go to sleep that night?

I love to remember Peter’s story during Eastertide, because he is a perfect example of why resurrection is a season and not a day. You see, Peter’s conflict is not resolved on that Resurrection Sunday.

In John 20, we are told that Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb because Mary Magdalene had told them that Jesus’ body had been taken away. In disbelief, they all ran back to the tomb. When they arrived, they realize that Mary was right and that the tomb was indeed empty. Can you imagine what Peter must have felt? Perhaps he was still holding on to the hope that he would see Jesus again and he would be forgiven for denying Jesus. But the tomb was indeed empty and the gospel tells us that they returned to their homes.

The fact that scripture says they returned to their homes may seem insignificant, but it means a lot to me. At this point in the story, they were all in Jerusalem which is located in the southern end of Israel. But Peter was not from around there, he was from Bethsaida which is in Galilee (the northern part of Israel). These two cities are about 80 miles apart, so it would have been at least a 3-4 day’s journey (assuming Peter walked about 20-25 miles a day).

Can you imagine the types of questions he must have had in his heart as he journeyed those 80 miles home? If Jesus was who he said he was, would Jesus ever forgive him? Would he still have a place in Jesus’ church after his denial? Would Peter just have to go home, go back to what he used to do and count these last three years as time wasted? I think the questions must have been endless as he made this long trek back home. And I believe that perhaps at times, he was beginning to lose hope and thought he would have to live with this guilt the rest of his life.

A week later, Peter is back home at the Sea of Galilee and he is fishing, just like he used to do before Jesus came around. Picture this for a moment: many of the disciples had seen the resurrected Jesus, Thomas had seen the wounds on Jesus’ feet, hands and side, Mary encountered the risen Christ outside the tomb. Word was beginning to spread that Jesus had risen from the dead.

But Peter is not celebrating with everyone else, he is back on his boat, fishing and probably still filled with regret for having denied Jesus.

But then we get to chapter 21 in which Peter and a couple of other disciples are fishing. They have had no luck catching anything and suddenly a person standing on the beach told them to switch their nets to the other side of the boat. When they did, they caught so many fish that they could not pull the net back in. As they were trying to pull the net in, they begin to realize that the guy standing on the beach is not just a random guy, but is actually Jesus.

Peter gets so excited that Jesus is there. Jesus is indeed alive and he is standing right there in front of him. He jumps off of the boat and runs to Jesus .

Can you imagine the joy he must have felt? Jesus is physically standing there in front of him and he can run to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. He can finally hear Jesus tell him that he is indeed forgiven. He can rest assured that Jesus was who he said he was and perhaps he would finally know if he still had a role to play in the life of Jesus’ church.

And sure enough, they take some of the fish they had just caught, they cooked it, they ate breakfast together and then Jesus looked at Peter and he said “do you love me?” Peter responds by saying: Yes Lord, you know that I love you. This happens three times and at the end of it, Jesus tells Peter: follow me.

Those two words, I believe, meant the world to Peter.

Follow me was not just an instruction, but it was an indication that Jesus had triumphed over sin and Peter was indeed forgiven. Follow me was not just an instruction but it was a reminder that Peter still had a role in Jesus’ church. Follow me was not just an instruction, but it was a proclamation that this movement was just getting started and no matter what Peter had done, Jesus was not holding anything against him. These two words meant that Peter did not have journey through life with guilt and worry and pain. He could let those things go because Jesus had already washed those sins away.

So what does this mean for you and I?

Whatever it is that you are going through today, whatever doubts and fears you may have, whatever disbelief you may carry, Jesus is not finished. This Eastertide, we know that Jesus is indeed risen. Jesus has trampled over death. Jesus has defeated sin. You have no burden to carry. You have no sins to repay. Jesus is standing on the beach calling you, waiting for you with arms wide open ready and eager to remind you of this great truth and to invite you to be a part of the story that is continuing to unfold.

Jesus wants to have a relationship with you. And perhaps like Peter, there is a bit of doubt or disbelief in you. Perhaps like Peter, you carry around stuff that makes you think Jesus would want nothing to do with you. But I hope that this Eastertide you may come to see Jesus standing on the beach calling your name. And I pray that when you hear him calling, that you may run to him and hear the good news he has to offer you today.

You are forgiven. You have no need to carry guilt for your past. You are not who you used to be, but rather Jesus is offering you a new identity in him. If you long for that, may you jump of that boat and run to Jesus. Because believe it or not, this good news if you and I as much as it was for Peter.

Together on the journey, Pastor Fernie

Jesus over Everything

Do you ever feel like you have way too much going on? If you are in school, you are trying to balance every assignment, while managing to still have a social life and hopefully find some time to sleep. If you have recently been married, you are trying to balance making time for each other and still being the independent person you  have always been. If you have infants at home, you are trying to balance taking care of this new baby, while also finding time to care for yourself. If you have older kids you are trying to balance your schedule with theirs. And if you have elderly parents, you are trying to balance your family’s needs with theirs.

These are just some of the many things we try to balance in our lives. Between paying bills, staying in touch with friends, having to repair things at home, unexpected car troubles (the list goes on and on), it is easy to feel overwhelmed. We can try with all of our might to balance all of these things in our life, but if we are honest with each other, we all eventually reach a point where we feel like we can’t maintain that balance and something has to drop.

That happened to me this week…

For the most part, my wife and I do a good job of balancing our finances. So earlier this month, when we had some unexpected car troubles, we looked at our budget , made some adjustments and decided to go ahead and do the work on our vehicle. The problem was that I did not follow through with our plan and late last week I started to worry about our finances. In that moment, my brain went down a rabbit hole: I started thinking that I shouldn’t have bought that shirt, or we shouldn’t have gone out to dinner that one night, or we shouldn’t have repaired the car. I started losing balance in my life and in that misbalance I started causing chaos in my life. (Surely I am not the only that panics when I start losing balance in my life.)

And the problem was that my loss of balance, led me to hurt other people. For starters, I know my wife was upset (and probably caught off guard) with my sudden worry. And just like my mind went down a rabbit hole, I caused hers to do the same. When our dog chewed up my phone case, I felt like it was the end of the world because in my mind, I couldn’t afford to buy a new one (even though I didn’t need a new one). I also became distracted at work because I kept trying to figure out how to find balance again. Even sleeping became difficult because instead of letting my brain relax, I was trying to bring balance to my life once again.

As I was driving to the church yesterday, I felt defeated because I could not regain balance. In that moment I started praying and I said these words: God help me get over my fear and help me put my trust in you. This past week has reminded me of a powerful truth though. I will never be able to balance my own life. And the fear and worry that I experience are simply fear and worry of having to admit that I cannot bring balance to my own life. As Christians, we believe and accept that we can only find balance in Jesus, and nothing else. And I don’t know about you, but for me, that is a hard pill to swallow.

In Luke 10, we are told that Jesus was traveling and when we got to this certain village, Martha welcome him into her home. I can imagine that this visit was unexpected. They didn’t know ahead of time that Jesus would be coming to their home. Jesus simply showed up and they welcomed him. This is how we lose balance in our lives: stuff happens unexpectedly. Think back on it, every time we feel like we are losing balance, it happens after an unexpected event. And that is the place that Mary and Martha find themselves in. Jesus has shown up at their house and they were not ready for it. The unbalance comes in the fact that they now have to make the house look presentable for their company. Maybe that day was not “cleaning day” so the house looked like a mess. Maybe that day they weren’t planning on doing the dishes and the kitchen looked like disgusting. Maybe they hadn’t dusted in a while or maybe they were running low on water or maybe they were not ready to provide hospitality. This unexpected visit created chaos because they now have to rearrange their life in order to look like they “have it all together.”

So they both start working on finding that balance once more. Martha got to work right away creating balance in her life by working on the many tasks that need to be taken care of due to this unexpected visit. Mary also goes to work in creating balance in her life by sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what he is saying.  They each respond differently to their need for balance in light of an unexpected event.

“I believe that all of us balance life in one of three ways.”

You see, I believe that all of us balance life in one of three ways. The first way is that some of us place Everything over Jesus. This means that taking care of everything else is more important than making time for Jesus. We have this belief that if we can take care of everything else first, we can then dedicate all of our leftover time to Jesus. But it never works that way. We always have more and more things to balance in our life and we end up always putting everything over Jesus.

I believe that this is where Martha found herself. She knew that her unexpected guest was Jesus but if she could just take care of everything else first, she would eventually make time for him. But here is the reality of living in this mindset: when we place Everything Over Jesus, we always end up feeling empty and like we need to do (or have) more. The reality is that even if our intent is to take care of everything so that we can eventually make room for Jesus, we will never be able to make room for him without intentionally choosing to place Jesus first.

Which leads to the second part of the diagram: Jesus&Everything. Unlike Martha, some of us try to balance Jesus alongside everything else. We try to balance Jesus into our lives along with everything else. And in doing so, we become legalistic about our relationship with Jesus. We begin to say stuff like “I can only give one hour a week on Sunday mornings because I have so much other stuff going on.” When we do this, we end up feeling overwhelmed and are constantly worried that we are going to disappoint someone.

Going back to the story, this would be like Martha trying to finish her tasks while also talking to Jesus. Trying to accomplish two things at once means that both things get less of our attention and sometimes they are not accomplished correctly because of that distraction.

Then there is the third part of the diagram: Jesus Over Everything. You see, when we realize that we do not have the bandwidth to keep our life balanced, we turn our lives over to Jesus and make him our one and only priority. This is what Mary does. She knows the things that have to be done, she knows that the house might look like a mess, but if she is ever going to have balance, she has to turn her attention to Jesus first. She has to make room to notice Jesus’ presence in her life. If she is going to experience balance, she has to place Jesus over everything else in her life. This means that the mess can wait, because she has to spend time with Jesus first.

You see, life is messy and overwhelming and impossible to balance. But when we place Jesus over everything else, we are able to approach everything else with a different perspective. What Mary realized by placing Jesus over everything was that her worth and value are not dependent on her ability to do the tasks. I truly believe that no one would doubt her ability to accomplish those tasks. She understood that by placing Jesus first, she would find her worth in Jesus and not in those tasks.

That is the lesson I had to learn this week with our finances, and the lesson I hope you find as you search for balance in your life. Everything you are trying to balance will never give you life, or peace, or joy or hope, or fulfillment or true value like placing Jesus first will. In Jesus you will come to find that you are more than the things you accomplish or own. And if that doesn’t bring you balance, I don’t know what will.

So take time today to make Jesus first. Before you start worrying about your meetings, spend some time in prayer offering to God all of your worries. Before answering any emails, open your bible and read through it. You will find that over and over again, people find balance in their life by placing Jesus over everything else. Before you start listening to all the things that need to be finished at work or home, listen to some of your favorite Christian songs. Place Jesus first today, and I promise that you will begin to experience true, authentic balance in your life.

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

(Re)shaped Image

Two nights ago, after a very long day, my wife and I sat down to watch some tv and decompress before going to sleep. We had started watching Queer Eye on Netflix last week, so we decided to watch an episode before calling it a night.

If you have not seen this show, you should. Queer Eye is a Netflix show in which a group of five guys called the Fab 5 do a complete makeover for someone. Each of the five plays a vital role on the show. One guy, Tan, is in charge of the wardrobe makeover. It is heartbreaking to hear over and over again how people use clothing to hide emotional scars. Some of the people simply lose touch with caring about their wardrobe because of a major loss in their life. But others have been body shamed so often that they use certain clothing to hide the very things they have been made fun of. As someone who has struggled with weight his whole life, I can relate to this. 

Then there is Antoni who helps with food. He normally takes time learning the eating habits of the person and then helps give them healthier, affordable alternatives. Over and over again I relate to this part of the story. For me, ramen did not end right after college because healthy options are not cheap. And through some difficult times, food became a source of comfort. As someone who has struggled with allowing food to control him, I can relate to this.

There is also Karamo. He is my favorite. His main job is to help with “culture.” Basically, he helps people find new hobbies but he also helps them connect with their true selves once again. Two nights ago, we watched an episode that wrecked me.

Without ruining the episode, there was a guy who was struggling with his self-confidence. He was constantly make derogatory comments about himself while using laughter and humor to brush them off. At one point in the episode, Karamo sits this guy in front of a mirror and begins to play back the audio recording of all of the derogatory comments he had made about himself. As I was sitting there watching, I could not stop crying. Everything he was saying about himself, I had said about myself.

“You are not smart enough.”

“You are not good looking enough.”

“You are not talented enough.”

“You don’t work hard enough.”

“You are not enough”

I wish I could say I have never said those things about myself, but I have. And as I sat there watching this guy tear himself down, I began to see what I was doing to myself every time I did the same.  

As the tears ran down my face, I was reminded of the water running down my face the day of my baptism. Even though I was a baby, they day I was baptized, I was reminded that I am claimed by God and that nothing can ever separate me from that truth. The day of my baptism, I was reminded that I am enough. And more importantly, that I don’t have to do any works or meet any checklist in order for God to love me. I am already more than enough. YOU ARE ALREADY MORE THAN ENOUGH! God is longing to have a deep, real relationship with you in which you come to see that you are more than enough. God wants to help you find your true identity, because it is already enough.

When you do, you begin to see yourself becoming transformed into the person God created you to be: a Kingdom builder full of grace and full of love bringing about heaven here on earth.

To be honest with you, this is something that I at times still struggle with. But the deeper I dive into my relationship with Jesus, the more I come to see that my identity is found in God and not in my abilities. I may struggle with fear at times, but In God I stand up to that fear more and more every day. I may struggle with self-confidence at times, but in God my self-confidence grows more and more every day. I have struggled with depression and anxiety in the past. But in God, I am able to overcome and conquer that depression and anxiety. I may not be perfect, but in God I am moving toward a better, healthier version of myself because while I know that I am enough, God wants me to become a more wholesome version of myself.  And I want you to experience that for yourself!

Matthew 3:17 says this after Jesus is Baptized: A voice came from heaven and said. ‘This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

I want you to do something today. I want you take that verse and use it as a reminder from God. Write this sentence down in your bible, on a sticky note, or your even calendar: “This is my son/daughter, (Name), with whom I am well pleased” (Example: This is my son Fernie, with whom I am well pleased).

As your day goes by, remember that God loves you more than you will every fully understand. Remember that you are enough. Remember that there is no need to tear yourself down because when God looks at you he wants to remind you of God’s unending love for you.

And as you come to acknowledge this deep truth, I want to invite you to go deeper. If you are already connected to a church community, then go deeper in your faith. Read your bible more, pray more often, gather in worship more regularly. And whenever possible, remember your baptism and the great truth that was claimed for you that day.  
If you have never been baptized, I want to invite you to reach out to me. Let’s talk! God has a life and purpose for you that goes beyond your wildest imagination! And I promise you that in God, you will come to see that there is no need to tear yourself down because who you see in the mirror is nothing compared to the amazing person that God sees in you.

I hope you have a blessed week and know that I lifting each of you up in prayer.

Together on the journey,
Pastor Fernie

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Getting started…

As we begin our Mid City Church
launch season, there is one question I get asked over and over again. Where is your building? After smiling through that question, I explain to people that the way we used to launch churches no longer works.

You see, we used to find a building, pick a date, send out a bunch of invitations, posters and advertisements and wait for people to show up. And on that launch date, we would open our doors and tons of people would show up.

But the sad reality is that people no longer show up for church like they used to. Society no longer shows up at church because it is what you do on Sunday morning. This means that we have to do things differently if the Church is going to remain relevant in this century.

So instead of finding a building and choosing a date, we are working to build a launch team. We are growing our circle of friends so that when it is time to launch, we are not just inviting strangers, but actually inviting people we know. And by doing so, the probability of people showing up and sticking around increases drastically.

As I was sharing this with a friend last week, she looked at me and told me “That is an interesting idea you have there, I hope it works for you.” I simply smiled, and said thank you.

That conversation really stayed with me though. I could not understand why it is so difficult for people to understand that the church needs to make itself relevant in society again. The idea of growing the launch team, growing our group of friends, seems like such a foreign concept to us as Christians. Yet it is so central to the Gospel.

When Jesus began his ministry, he didn’t begin by picking a building for them to meet in. He began by making friends. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus first invites Peter and Andrew to join them in his mission of fishing for people. Then they go out and meet James and his brother John. They are invited to be a part of his launch team. Later in the gospel, he meets a tax collector named Matthew. Jesus goes to Matthew’s house and eventually calls him to be a part of this launch team as well. Jesus also meets another tax collector named Levi and he invites Levi to join his launch team. And then the really cool part is that they start inviting others
to be a part of this! In the Gospel of John, Jesus invites Philip to be a part
of the launch team and Philip invites Nathanael. This begins to spread!

You see, Jesus’ ministry does not begin with him healing people. It does not begin with him having a building and a date. It begins with him going out and growing his launch team (his group of friends). So I want to invite you to be a part of our launch team!

Never underestimate the power of making new friends for the mission. We are here today, calling ourselves Christians, because Jesus began his ministry by gathering with a group of friends. They were so wrapped up by the mission that this small group of 12 changed the world. Those twelve, went out and brought people into a relationship with God. And you get to be a part of that same mission!

So here is how you can help:

First of all, be in prayer for what God is doing in Mid City and how we will get to be a part of it! Second, next week, we will send out a full schedule for the rest of the year. We want to invite you not only to attend those events, but to also bring a friend. That is the most important part, BRING A FRIEND! And third, keep telling people about Mid City Church and help them get connected to our launch team!

Together on the journey,

Pastor Fernie

P.S. If you want to invite someone to get these emails, they can text the word “LOOP” to 225-307-0662. They will be invited to give us their information and will be automatically added to these weekly emails.

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