Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

It is All in Our Perspective

You have heard if said... (The Beatitudes) Matthew 5

We hear phrases all of the time like “The cup is half full…” or is it “the cup is half empty?”  “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”  These phases all revolve around how we see things.  Do we try to find the best out of a bad situation or do we focus on the negative despite the good that surrounds us? 

This last week I was working out on a Saturday morning, the Saturday where it was 95 degrees and with 45% humidity and I thought I was going to die, not because of the heat, but because of the humidity.  The funny thing is growing up in Indiana we often had days where the humidity would be 85-90%, the kind of humidity where you need to take a shower from your shower because it is so humid that you sweat simply getting out of the shower.  However, having lived in Southern California and now Arizona for the last 14 years, low humidity is something I take for granted.

I leave in just three days to lead 21 senior high students on an international mission trip to Belize.  As we prepare for our trip I have been telling our team that it is going to be hot and humid there, like nothing we experience in Arizona.  With temperatures during the day in the mid 90’s and the humidity around 90-100%, it will be a new kind of hot for many of our students.  In my mind, I am prepared for the weather in Belize and I can justify it because it is Belize, but if that same humidity hit Arizona I would probably “die.”  On the other side of things when it drops to 50 degrees here people talk about “freezing to death.”  (note: 32 degrees is freezing.)

In Jesus’ day people had a way of living, rules found in the Old Testament that if you followed them meant that you were “good.”  So you could do things, but hate doing it, or do them, simply because you had to do them and that would make you “good.”  When Jesus starts his public ministry he starts off by giving what is known as the Sermon on the Mount.  His very first sermon He challenges people to change the reality in which they know. 

He says over and over, “You have heard it was said…”  “Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.” But then he adds “But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastely, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” You have heard it said… You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.   But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God…”  “You have heard it said…‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

When Jesus came to earth, he became a game changer.  Instead of a distant God who only reacted to our behavior, we saw a God who loved us so much that He would come to earth and later die so that we might live. People often look at Christianity as a religion of rules to follow, things to do, but if that is how you see it, you are missing the point.  The rules that are given in the Bible don’t determine whether or not we get to heaven, the rules are given to us so that we might fully experience God’s love here on earth. 

We know that we are not perfect.  God knows we are not perfect, that is why He sent Jesus to die for our sins.  God’s wants us to be people of joy and grace and love, not people of fear, hatred and anger.  Jesus came so that we might see God as a loving God, not as a God who is out to get us when we do something wrong.  The Bible is not a book of do and don’ts.  It is a guide to how we can live life and live it to its fullest knowing that when we mess up, God’s grace will stretch beyond our sin.

To do that we have to be willing to change how we see each other with the same grace, joy and love that God see us.


Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? ~Matthew 9:1-5

As I write my blog this week, I am sitting at the airport getting ready to fly across the country to attend a leadership conference in Atlanta. In a little over three hours I will be 1,900 miles away. Away from my house, my family and my church. I will get on an airplane and leave everything behind. Or will I?

In this modern day of social media and technology, I can call, text, email, Facetime, check Facebook, and know everything that is going on back home. I can leave it all behind, yet take it all with me. That hasn’t always been the case. If, 100 years ago, I had left on a trip, no one would have been able to reach me until I returned back home. It is amazing how technology can bring us together and makes the world so small. 

In all of the advancements that social media and technology have brought to us, the younger generation of children and students know nothing else. There is a generation that doesn’t know a world without a cell phone, Google, Facebook or unlimited texting. Many have no recollection of MySpace or Napster, as technology just keeps advancing. With these advancements, the thing that we often lose sight of is how it effects how we understand God.     

When we talk about prayer and how we can always be in contact with God, we can reference a cell phone. God is with us everywhere. We can reference Facetime as a way of making God more relational and available. However, when we talk about forgiveness and sin it is much harder to talk about. We are told that what we post or put online will last forever. I tell Jr. and Sr. High students to be careful about what they put online and text because what they do today could affect them 10-15 years from now when they look for a job after college.

We live in a time that doesn’t forget. In fact my wife, Becca, has an app on her phone that looks at her Facebook page and brings back memories that happened on the same day years earlier. Some are good memories, like the birth of our children. Some are sad, like the passing of loved ones. The app doesn’t miss a day because it doesn’t forget,

In Matthew 9:1-5, Jesus heals a paralyzed man simply by saying, “Your sins are forgiven.” When accused of blasphemy, Jesus responds by saying “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” The idea of forgiveness is easy to understand, yet it is so hard to fully comprehend. When we come to God and ask for forgiveness it is more than just deleting a post or text, or taking down a picture, which still leaves a footprint of what we have done. 

 As technology continues to advance and social media becomes a constant reminder of our past, we must not forget to experience God’s forgiveness. When it comes to our faith in Christ, We must never lose sight of the fact that when we ask God for forgiveness, when we turn our sins over to God, through the work of the cross he makes them disappear; vanish. He cleans the slate, not just for now, but forever. No matter what social media tells us, we can have confidence that when we humble ourselves before our Lord and ask for forgiveness, we can leave it all behind at the foot of the cross.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.   ~Romans 8:12-17

A few weeks ago, while sitting in the airport waiting to catch my plane, I met a couple that was traveling back home to Tennessee. When I travel, I typically put my headphones in and try to leave the rest of the world behind me. But for some reason, I struck up a conversation with this couple.

I found out that they had just spent their last 12 days at an orphanage with two of the little girls they hoped to adopt. They told me that they had been in the adoption process for almost two years. This “12 day trail” was one of the last steps to adopt these girls and to provide some bonding time with each other.

As I talked with them about the process they were going through, they were very forthright in telling me about the highs and lows of the adoption experience. They mentioned how they already saw the two girls as their own. They told me how anxious they were about leaving the girls behind as they went home. They talked about setting aside everything in their lives and moving, temporarily, to another country to be with the girls until the adoption was final and they could take them home with them. They weren’t just talking about a couple of weeks, or even months, but it could take an additional year for all of the paperwork to clear so they could become a family.

After they left to catch their flight, I wondered how people who just met someone for the first time, face to face, would be willing to set aside everything for them. How, in just 12 days of knowing these two girls, 8 and 6 years old, these soon-to-be parents, would be willing to change their lives in order to provide a home for these orphans.

But this is exactly what Jesus does for us.

We are all born of mothers and fathers, but in our baptism, Christ claims us as His own. We are no longer children of the flesh, but children of God. Not having adoptive children of my own, it is sometimes hard to understand what it means to be adopted by Christ. The image we often get from Hollywood about adoptive parents is not always great - Harry Potter, Cinderella, Snow White, Huckleberry Finn, etc. None had a great relationship with their adoptive parents, but that makes for a good story. More often than not, however, the real image of adoption lies in a couple like the ones I met in the airport - two people who have spent years, and thousands of dollars, to bring someone into their family. They are people who love, not because they were first loved, or because they have to, but simply because they love.

God loves us, not because God has to, not because we love Him, but simply because God loves. We are told that those who know Christ are adopted into the family of God. We become heirs to God, as Christ is an heir. In fact, we are told in Galatians that we are able to refer to God as “Abba”, which is often translated as “daddy”; the same intimate word that Jesus calls God when he is in the Garden of Gethsemane facing his crucifixion. (Jesus said, “Abba, Father, for in you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want. Mark 14:36).

Like the couple I met, God often times waits years for us to respond to His invitation to become a part of God’s family. No matter how long the process takes for us to realize God’s redeeming grace is waiting for us, God waits. God waits for the process, not ever leaving our side; willing to set aside everything so that we might know His love. And once we get there, God doesn’t give up on us when things get tough or we turn our backs. No matter what temper tantrum we throw, no matter how our priorities get changed. Even if we get upset and say, “I never want to talk to you again” God is there. Waiting, as a loving parent, not to say, “I told you so”, or to chastise us when we finally come home, but to embrace us and welcome us back home.

We are a part of the family of God. Like all families, we sometimes have good days, and sometimes we have bad days. Sometimes our siblings drive us crazy, and other days they are our best friends. To God it doesn’t matter; we are His children, adopted into the family of faith, and no matter what we do, His love for us will endure forever. 

Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. ~Matthew 13:16-17

I spent last week with 14 high school students and four leaders serving the people of San Francisco and Oakland. While we were there, we had the opportunity to help feed the homeless, serve in a hospital, and deliver food to those who were sick. Besides helping others, we had the opportunity to help ourselves too. When I say help ourselves, I am not talking about a buffet or a much-needed vacation; no, we got the opportunity to help ourselves understand, hear and see. We could have worked in soup kitchens and passed out food to nameless people and had a very successful trip, but that is not what we did. We spent a week eating with people, walking with people, and hearing the stories of the people we served. 

On our first day in San Francisco, each of us was given $2.00 and four hours of time. We broke into groups of four and five, and were given the task of feeding ourselves and helping someone we met on the street. To feed four people with $8.00, when we typically spend that on a meal for ourselves, is difficult. But the most difficult thing about this exercise wasn’t feeding ourselves, but what to do with 4 hours of time. It raised questions of “what do homeless people do with all of their time?” “How do they find resources they need?” “How do they communicate with each other without cell phones?” This exercise helped set the tone for our understanding the people that we served in San Francisco and Oakland, as well as the people of Phoenix. 

Often in our lives we get so focused on what we have to get done that we don’t see what is going on around us. As we walked the streets of San Francisco it wasn’t hard to see people on their cell phones texting or talking, walking past and sometimes over, the poor and less fortunate. If we had our cell phones while in San Francisco, we might have found ourselves in a similar situation. Fortunately we didn’t, because we were forced to turn our faces away from our screens. This allowed us to see people, meet people and have face-to-face interaction with people we might not ever have noticed; and not just in San Francisco, but also within our own group. 

Often times we get so caught up in “liking” someone’s comments on Facebook or Instagram, texting our “friends” emoji’s or playing games that we neglect to see. But Jesus wants us to see. 

From the beginning, humans were created to be in relationships. We are told that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Yet as our society evolves, we spend less and less time in relationships and more and more time acting like we do. 

I got a lot out of this last week with our Sr. High teens in San Francisco, but if there was one thing that I truly understand after this trip is that we have eyes to see and ears to hear. Eyes to see injustice, see poverty, see hurt as well as hope, love and compassion. God gave us ears to hear the cries of the poor, the sick, and the hungry, as well as the sound of prayer and songs of praise. However, it becomes very difficult to see these things if we are always buried in our phones, and it is hard to hear if we always have something in our ears. 

I would challenge you this week to set down the phone and turn off the music. Take time to look and listen so you might see and hear what or whom God is calling you towards. Maybe it is taking an extra bottle of water with you to give to someone on a street corner during these hot days. Maybe it is giving up your seat to someone else. Maybe it is getting together with a friend you haven’t scene in a while, actually face-to-face, and listening to what is going on in their lives. I challenge you to have the courage to set down the phone turn off the music so you can see and hear.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. ~I Corinthians 13:11

I remember the first time I was old enough to sit in the front seat of the family car. I remember when I was old enough to spend the night at a friend’s house. This last weekend Becca and I took our daughter, Savannah, to get her ears’ pierced as a sign that she is no longer in preschool, but is growing up and moving to kindergarten.

Whether we realize it or not, rites of passage are all around us. We have PG-13 movies; one day you can’t watch a particular movie and the next you can? At my son’s school, third graders are old enough to work with horses in a leadership program, but second graders are too young. 

When I was in college, I was part of a fraternity which had rituals and rites of passage you had to do to become a member. The year after I became a Phi Delt, I went through another round of “rites of passage” as I became a member of Sphinx club, a group of students on our campus that worked together to run the student body. It was made up of students from every living unit on campus and every grade, sophomore and up. On my campus, we had Inter-fraternal Council and student government, but things didn’t move unless the Sphinx club supported it. It was like a secret society, but everyone knew who its members were.

To become a member of Sphinx club, we had to do a number of things. We had to ring the school bell every hour, on the hour, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. We had to shave one leg and paint it green. We had to wear little hats called “pots”, which looked like Popeye’s hat. Any time someone yelled “air raid”, we had to do a summersault and act like we were shooting down airplanes. Those were just a few of the things that we had to do to be in Sphinx club. 

I look back and wonder why I did it - what was the point? But upon further reflection, I realize that I did it because my roommate, who was also a Sphinx club member, asked me to join so that our house would have a voice on campus. The things we did were silly and pointless, but they had their purpose. Does ringing a bell or doing an air raid drill make you a better person? No. But what it did was to make a group of guys, who came from different houses and different backgrounds, come together for the same purpose. Doing air raids in the mud in February with ten other people somehow makes you closer to those people. Going through something with someone by your side makes you closer.

This past weekend, despite the weather and conflicting school events, we had sixteen 5th, 6th and 7th grade students show up for our Jr. High "kidnapping". This is a yearly event when our current Jr. High students welcome the upcoming 5th graders into the Jr. High group by going to their house and “kidnapping” them for a night of fun. The night is full of Jr. High-led activities designed as rites of passage for the upcoming 5th graders. This is a night when those who have older siblings in the program look forward to their time to be “kidnapped.”

As I reflected back over the night and talked with some of the parents who helped chaperone, the comments that they heard were “the best night of my life” and “this is the coolest thing I have ever done.” But why does kidnapping someone and making them do some initiation rituals make it such a great night? It is because those 5th graders, who got to be a part of the night, are no longer children; they are now Jr. Highers. They have gone through the rites of passage that those before them have gone through, and now they belong. They will remember it the rest of their lives.

You might have similar experiences in your own faith life. Maybe it was when you were confirmed in the church. Maybe it was when you were first asked to be an elder or deacon. Maybe it was your first night in youth group or when you were asked to be a leader in a study. 

As Christians, we should always be looking to invite people into the faith. We should be looking for those people, young and old, who are ready; ready for an invite to something new, something special. I wonder who out there is just sitting and waiting to be invited into something greater? Who is ready to take the next step in their faith? Who is ready be asked to do something they haven’t done before? Maybe it is you?