God’s Patience

Do you know the story of Jonah?  The one about the guy and the whale?  Most people are familiar with Jonah’s story found in the Old Testament book of the same name.  However, our familiarity with this story can make us miss the point.

I am a huge fan of teaching the Bible to children.  Jonah is one of those stories we teach them.  Why wouldn’t we?  It involved a boat, water, sailors, a whale, a miraculous story…These things capture the imagination of kids.  They need to know the story of Jonah.  The danger is when this story becomes a tale about a whale and we miss the heart of God.

God called Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh.  This was a huge city full of people who did not follow or honor God.  God told Jonah to go and preach so that they would turn to God and escape destruction.  Jonah didn’t want to do it.  He knew it was an evil city and he decided that they didn’t deserve God’s mercy.  They deserved judgment.

Jonah responds to God’s command by going the opposite direction and getting on a boat to head even farther away.  While on the boat God sends a terrible storm.  The sailors cry out to their gods begging for relief.  The storm intensifies.  They begin to throw their possessions and the cargo overboard in hopes of easing the ships turbulence.  All the while Jonah is asleep in the hull.  They wake him so he can pray to his God since he had already told them he was fleeing God’s presence.

Jonah says if they throw him into the sea, the storm will stop.  They didn’t do it.  They valued Jonah’s life more than he valued his life!  Jonah had run from God and would rather commit suicide than get his heart right with the Lord!  Had he repented in his heart, the storm would have ceased.  We don’t say it this way when we teach this story to the kids.  Jonah’s disobedience had caused these sailors to lose their possessions and fear for their own lives.  His sin, like our sin, always hurts other people.  We think we are only hurting ourselves, but we always hurt others too.

Eventually the sailors throw him overboard.  The storm ends.  God sends a whale, or large fish, to swallow Jonah.  He remains in the belly of the fish for 3 days.  You can translate the text as “whale” or “large fish”.  When we get caught up in the debate over the miracle of the fish, or the miracle that he is unharmed, we miss the biggest miracle of the story.  It is the miracle of God’s patience.  God could have ended Jonah’s life at any point.  We see in this story that God was patient with him throughout his sinful behavior.  He is patient with all of us.  This isn’t a story about God’s fish swallowing a man.  This is a story about God’s patient pursuit of a sinner.

After 3 days Jonah prays and ask God’s forgiveness.  He repents of his disobedience and promises to obey the Lord.  God directs the fish to spit Jonah up onto the shore.  God tells him a second time to go to Nineveh and preach.  This time he obeys.  The people repent.  They praise the Lord.  God doesn’t destroy the city.  At this point, Jonah gets depressed.  He wanted the Ninevites to be destroyed because they didn’t deserve God’s mercy.  We’re susceptible to that as well.  We can look at others and think they don’t deserve God’s mercy…we miss the fact that we don’t deserve it either!  How ironic.  Jonah had received God’s mercy but didn’t think others should be so fortunate.

Take a fresh look at the story of Jonah.  Look past the fish and see the glorious, loving, patient, and merciful God who pursued a man like Jonah.  He will do that for you too.

Lessons from running

Last June I told Matthea that I wanted to start running.  I realized that I was approaching my 41st birthday and I’d like at least 41 more.  I know I have to be proactive to stay healthy.  Health doesn’t happen on its own.  Over these past 8 months I have learned so many spiritual lessons through this new hobby.  I want to share some of them with you.

Our adopted Dad, Dave Black, began running a few years ago at the ripe young age of 62.  Within 2 years he had run his first marathon.  7 months later he had just completed his 8th marathon!  He is an example to us.  I thought, “If Dad can do this, so can I.”  I decided I’d run the Birmingham half-marathon.

dave 576575757575

My very first run was in our neighborhood.  There’s a simple 1 mile loop with some elevation, but not too bad.  Here’s a tip…if you live in Alabama and want to start running, DON’T START IN JUNE.  It’s hot.  We had to run early in the morning when the temps were only 80 and just 90% humidity.  I wanted to run 25 minutes, it was awful.  But isn’t every new routine difficult?  How many New Years Resolutions don’t make it to February?


First run. Almost my last.

Before long, Matthea and I started to run together.  She was happy to join me in this challenge.  We found a level, shaded spot a few miles from home.  Running together was great fun and provided accountability.  Some days she pushed me to run, other days I pushed her to run.


After a few weeks we needed a goal so we signed up for the Shake and Bake 5K.  It is run every year in August.  Did I mention this is Alabama?  It was HOT!  We needed a goal to keep pushing and working hard.  Paul says in Philippians 3 that he presses on towards the goal of knowing Jesus better.  Goals motivate us.


After reaching that milestone…an actual race…it was time to push ahead and cover more miles.  After all, we can’t run 13.1 miles after only ever running 3.1!  I would have never dreamed I would run 5 miles!  In fact I used to say to people “I’ve never run on purpose before.”  If we are to grow, we have to stretch ourselves.  We have to set new goals, otherwise we grow stagnant.


By this point my time was improving.  But I’m no young kid.  I’m only racing myself.  I have found that running is about 90% mental.  I have come to realize that the hardest part of running is getting out the front door.  I have to say that there has not been a time after running that I regretted having run.  It’s mental.  Such is life.  We can defeat ourselves before we ever try something.  It was time to set a new goal.  To be ready for a half-marathon, we needed a good 10K race in our training.  The 5K we ran in August was a “fun run”.  This 10K was a race.  Our goal was to complete it.  We decided to run the Vulcan Run 10K.  Its a great race in downtown Birmingham.


After this race we continued adding some distance.  It was hard to run in November due to the colder weather.  I didn’t have the clothing for it.  It was tough to run in the evenings because it got dark so early.  We have to be prepared for whatever situation we may face.  I think about Paul’s words in Ephesians 6…be ready.  A few weeks before Christmas I knew I had to get in a good longer run.  I decided to run 7 miles and not quite early.  I was determined to cover that distance, even it meant dragging myself to my car!


Just after Christmas I went on a trip to South East Asia.  It was a great time.  My half marathon was coming up soon so I had to run some while I was over there.  I don’t know if that qualifies me as an “International Runner” or not.  Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 that he is to be ready in season and out of season.  We must always be ready to do what needs to be done.  I couldn’t take a 2 week break from my training.


International runner!

After returning I dealt with some sickness.  I was dealing with intestinal issues from the trip and then the flu swept through our house.  2 weeks before the half-marathon I had to get a longer training run in.  It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty, but I did it.  ne step at a time.  Isn’t that life?  One step at a time!


Finally race weekend had arrived!  Dad flew down from Virginia to run with us.  He was such a cheerleader the whole time.  We needed that.  His example let us know we could do it too.  Who is watching your life?  Who are you an example to?


Race day has arrived!!

Just prior to the start we lined up with our group.  We’re in the back, in the 12+ minute/mile group.  We were no less enthusiastic than the 6 minute/mile group.  Again we weren’t running to beat anyone…we were running for ourselves.


We’re off!

Just before we began, a great friend from church found us.  Wendell had to stop running a few years back, but not before he completed 108 marathons!  He has been a constant encouragement for us as we have trained.   He came out in the rain to see us off at 7 AM.  He also appeared along the course every couple of miles and cheered for Matthea and me as if we were in 1st place!  Every one of us needs encouragers along life’s race.  Who encourages you?  Who do you encourage?


Finally, after 13.1 miles.  After 3 hours and 20 minutes, we crossed the finish line.  We crossed the line together.  In the last mile, Matthea got focused.  She became the cheerleader for about a dozen of us running together.  At one point she said, “let’s do this! I had a C-Section 15 months ago and I’m getting ready to finish a half-marathon!!’  Some around us who had stopped running were motivated to run this last mile along with us.  It was a beautiful sight.



We didn’t get a medal because we beat anyone.  Every finisher gets the medal.  Each of the 5200 runners was running their own race.  8 months of work for us has paid off.  The feeling is indescribable!  We had decided before the race that when we were done we’d have 2 options.  We could either never run again, or this would be the first of many half-marathons hopefully leading to a full marathon soon.  I have to say we’ve been checking the race calendars to schedule our next races.  We crossed that line having taken one step at a time.  Such is life.




identityWho are you?  I don’t mean your name, I mean your identity.  Do you identify yourself as a wife, a husband, a mother, or father?  Do you identify yourself as a businessperson, or nurse?  Are you a retiree?  We often identify ourselves with these terms.  These words shape our identity and we make decisions from that identity.  Who we are affects what we do.

As important as those words are to our identity, those things can change.  Every one of them.  When that happens, we may go through an identity crisis.  We don’t know who we are or how we are to live.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you have a different identity.  As a follower of Jesus, you have an identity that never changes.  This new identity when you come to Christ should affect how you live and the decisions you make.

In Ephesians chapter 1 the Apostle Paul writes about our identity in Christ.  This chapter is packed full of words to describe this new identity.  They tell us the truth of who we are in Jesus.  It is so important for us to know who we are at all times.  We have an enemy that wants to confuse and distort our identity.  But we must know the truth and find freedom in the truth of our identity.

In this chapter the Bible uses words like, “saints, blessed, chosen, holy, blameless, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, knowledgeable, wise, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and recipients of God’s power.”  This tells us who we are in Jesus.  What an incredible list!!  Take time to read this chapter and soak in the truth of who you are as a follower of Jesus.

In the final chapter of this letter Paul will remind us that we have an enemy who lies to us to destroy our lives.  We must stand with the truth of who we are so that we live the lives God has called us to live!

“Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” Eph. 1:18-19

Sitting in silence

Have you ever sat in silence?  I mean for more than a few minutes.  If you’ve done this with someone nearby it might feel awkward, maybe even rude.  Of course, if you know the person well it doesn’t feel as awkward.  How about sitting for 7 solid days with someone without saying a word?!  That would feel like years!

In the book of Job, we have an account of 3 men doing just that.  They sat with their friend for 7 days in total silence.  If you’ve been around church any length of time you know parts of the story of Job.  You at least know that he lost all his children, all his livestock, and all his servants in one day.  You also know that he was struck from his head to his feet with infected boils and blisters.  You know that his three friends showed up and talked to him, a lot.  Their words were of no comfort to Job.  In fact, they had the audacity to blame Job for this turn of events!  The Bible says that Job experienced these things because God allowed Satan to bring this into his life.  God knew that Job would still praise God amid tragedy.

There are many lessons we learn in this story.  I want to focus on 2 little verses that we often overlook.  In chapter 2:12-13, Job’s friends have arrived at his home, they wept, tore their robes, and put ashes on their heads.  This was a sign of mourning.  Then, they sat down with Job in silence for 7 days.  No talking for 7 days.  Just sitting quietly.  Why did they do this?  The Bible says they were silent because they saw his suffering was very great.

In Romans 12:15 we are told to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.  We get the rejoicing part.  We do that very well.  The mourning part is harder for us.  After all, who enjoys being sad.  We are usually no good at mourning with others.  But God created us to live with one another.  We need each other.  We need to share joy and we need to share sorrow.  Too often our response to someone’s tragedy is, “I don’t know what to say…”  Then we go on to talk while saying nothing helpful.  Instead, we could simply be quiet.  We could say, “I don’t know what to say” and then just sit in silence with the one who is hurting.  Is it an uncomfortable silence?  It sure is!  Is it difficult?  Usually.  Those who are suffering tragedy don’t need to be instructed.  In fact, there is nothing you can say that can ease their pain.  We see that in the next few dozen chapters of Job as his friends have very unhelpful advice.

After the 7 days of silence, Job began to speak.  He started by wishing he had never been born.  Did he really feel that way?  At that moment, he did.  But he was really just lamenting.  If you are with someone who is in deep pain, let them lament.  You don’t have to respond to their every statement.  You don’t have to try and fix them.  You don’t have to help them get over it.  You just need to be there.  Sometimes in silence.  Mourn with those who mourn.  Just show up.

You’d be 3 today.

Kai, today you’d be 3 years old. You were born straight into the arms of God. I can’t believe it’s been 3 years, although it feels like 10. I won’t ask how you’re doing…you’re in Heaven with the Lord… words can’t describe how good you’re doing! I miss you little guy. Your whole family misses you. I wanted to write and let you know how we’re doing. 
On the afternoon of June 20, 2014 I had a choice to make. Your brief life forced me to recognize that God is still a good, loving God in spite of the pain, sorrow, and loss. I had to choose to trust Him. I had to choose to acknowledge that He is always good. This is a broken world and one day God will put it all back together again. Until that time there will be pain, suffering, and hurt for every person.
In the past year God has given us another daughter. A little sister for you. Don’t worry, she doesn’t replace you! We still miss you every single day. You have 2 sisters and 3 brothers here. That’s more kids than most people have. However when people ask how many kids we have, the word “six” gets stuck in our throats and we usually say “five”. Every time we get that question we have to decide, “do I want to tell the whole story? Will it be awkward?” Kai, we think about you every day. We miss you every day. When we’re out somewhere we do a headcount and have to remember to count 5 and not 6. Your brothers and sisters talk about you all the time. Don’t worry, you’re as much part of the Glass family as they are.

People may say (and some have said), “move on, get over it.” We never will and that’s ok. Losing you was like having a leg amputated. We’ll still live, but always with difficulty. And that’s ok. We have learned to live with your death. We have come to expect the seemingly random times that we start to cry. That’s ok. We have seen God give us strength through very dark places. We have seen that He is still good. We know now more than ever that this world is broken and that pain and suffering is everywhere. We know now more than ever that this is not the world as God created it, sin came into the world and shattered everything. It was so bad that God sent His Son Jesus to the earth to die in order that all will be restored one day. We’ll never get over your passing. People who say “get over it and move on” have never lost someone close to them. 
I’ve been a follower of Jesus for 20 years. I’ve never looked forward to Heaven more than these past 3 years. I can’t wait to see you as we worship Jesus together for all eternity. Until then I want to be the best husband and dad I can be. Since you went to Heaven, I’ve been more intentional to be a better husband to your mother and better dad to your siblings. I’ve learned to treasure every moment. I’ve learned to slow down and be thankful in the little things. I’ve learned to laugh more…and cry more. I’ve learned how to love others more. Thank you Kai for helping me. Your brothers and sisters help me to be a better person…you do too.
I love you my dear son. I miss you. Happy Birthday. 

God’s Love Never Fails

God always loves you.  Such a simple yet profound truth.  He does love you.  Nothing can change His love for you.  You cannot be good enough to earn more love…you cannot be bad enough for Him to stop loving you.

This week at McElwain Baptist Church we are having our annual Vacation Bible School.  We are teaching the kids about Paul and the early church.  Each night they meet with Paul in his Roman jail cell to hear about God’s work and God’s love.  It’s been a great week!  dozens of volunteers have put in many hours for this week.  Our desire for the week is that these children (and us adults) learn the lesson of God’s love.VBS2017

We’re teaching children this simple lesson of God’s love.  Don’t be mistaken…it’s not a childish message.  I was watching a movie recently and someone commented to a priest, “if I want a child’s story, then I’ll come talk to you.”  We want these kids to learn of God’s love at an early time in their lives.  We as adults know that life gets harder the older you get.  When those hard times come we are prone to question God’s love.  Though this is a simple truth, there are misconceptions that we have.  The Bible says we have an enemy.  He is an enemy who lies to us.  He takes a little truth and mixes in a lie.  He has done that with the truth of God’s love.  When we misunderstand the love of God, it leads us to question His love altogether.  He are some truths about God’s love.

  1. God’s love won’t prevent bad things from happening.  In our churches we are quick to equate God’s love and God’s blessing with good things in our life.  The danger of this one-sided equation is that we can only draw one conclusion when bad things happen – He doesn’t love us.  We are eager to present the Christian life (or our own life) as being so happy and easy that we shy away from any talk of hardship.  When hardship comes, we don’t know what to do or think.  We cannot miss the fact that Paul, author of much of the New Testament, spent his last years in prison for his faith.  God’s love (and God’s work through Paul) did not diminish while in prison.  God loves you even when bad things are happening in your life.  He is always there with you, even in the worst of times.
  2. God’s love does not change.  His love caused Him to send His Son to die on the cross for you.  Nothing can change that level of love.  The Bible says that while we were sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  His sacrificial death occurred while we were sinners…therefore we cannot be super-sinners that then cause God to stop loving us.  In our world of earned love, this truth is often hard to receive.  So often our love for one another is conditional.  Not so with God.
  3. God’s love is not a license to sin.  Some mistake God’s love as God’s agreement with any and all life choices we make.  God loves us despite our sin.  His invitation to all people says, “I love you, come to me, follow me, obey me.”  Parents love their children, but that doesn’t mean they condone or approve of every decision the child makes.  God loves us and wants the best for us.  The best we can live is in obedience to Him.
  4. God’s love doesn’t make Him a pushover.  Some think of God’s unconditional love and assume Him to be like Santa Claus, or a benevolent Grandfather.  The truth is that He is a righteous and holy God.  He is a judge.  The Bible is clear from Genesis 3 through Revelation 22 that God punishes sin.  He has made provision through His Son to take on the punishment for all who ask.  That’s His free offer of forgiveness and salvation.  But like any gift, you must receive it.  For those who do not receive it, they must pay the punishment themselves.  He is not a pushover.

Celebrate His love today.  It is a message for children and adults.  It’s a message of freedom for everyone.

7 Responses to Sin

Our biggest problem is sin.  It is universal.  Everyone sins.  Sins are different and we sin for different reasons, but we all sin.  The issue becomes how we respond to sin in our lives.  A few weeks back I celebrated 20 years as a follower of Jesus.  I have been in ministry for more than 18 years.  In my time as a Youth Pastor and Senior Pastor, I have seen many responses to sin in my life and in the lives of others.  The graphic above is a good picture of the truth that sin separates us from God.  What we choose to do about sin makes all the difference.

It’s not easy to talk about sin.  It’s not a pleasant conversation.  Sin is an affront to a perfect, righteous, and holy God.  As followers of Jesus we have a responsibility to help one another deal with the sins in our lives.  (Galatians 6:1).  Over the years I have observed 7 responses people have towards sin in their life.  These responses overlap and get messy.  They are messy because people are messy.  The first two responses don’t consider the reality of the sin or the consequences of sin.  The next five acknowledge the reality of the sin but differ in the remedy.

  1. People embrace their sin. When people are confronted with the reality of their sin, they embrace it.  They acknowledge it is sin, yet they continue with little to no regard for the consequences.  In Romans 1:21-32 Paul describes the downward spiral when people have no qualms with their sin and even invite others to join in.  Sometimes they embrace their sin because they think there is no hope for them.  They believe they will never change and so why should they expect for anything different in their lives.


  1. People deny their sin. This happens when a person denies the reality of their sin.  This can take the form of denying their role in it, or denying that it is sin altogether.  We live in a culture that seeks to label sin in other ways to give justification.  People confronted Jesus in His day for spending time with “sinners.”  Jesus replied in Luke 5:30-32 saying that He came not for the well but for the sick.  His point was those who believed they had no sin…had no need of a savior.  They were in denial of their own sin.


  1. People fall into self-hatred. For some people when they see the reality of their sin, they acknowledge it is sin, and they become angry with themselves.  With this response, a person acknowledges their own sinfulness and then begins to punish himself out of hatred.  The thinking is like this, “since I sin, I am a bad person.  Since I am a bad person, I should just continue to do bad things.”  This leads to further sin and despair.  It finds no remedy.  Paul addresses this in latter part of 2 Corinthians 7:10 “worldly sorrow leads to death.”  The choice to sin more spirals into death.


  1. People get angry at the truth-teller. This response acknowledges the reality of sin, but responds in anger towards the means of learning about the sin.  In some cases, people get angry at the Bible.  Few would say they are angry at the Bible, but it comes out in phrases like, “you can’t believe the Bible…you can’t trust the Bible…the Bible is an old book…the Bible isn’t relevant anymore…”  A more common response in many churches is to get angry at the pastor or teacher who talked about your sin.  In my 18 years of ministry, I have seen this response many times.  I have seen people angry with me for simply reading a Bible passage that hit on a sin in their life.

People respond in this manner to deflect their negative emotions on the person who caused the negative emotions.  It is an unhealthy response.  It is unproductive.  Being the target of someone’s anger can be frequent for those in ministry who seek to help people live the abundant life that Jesus offers.  Jesus said that would happen.  After all, He himself was crucified for proclaiming the truth!  Paul reminds Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-5.  He says people will turn from the truth and turn to those who tell them what they want to hear.  He then then reminds Timothy to endure suffering in his ministry.  If you seek to preach and teach the truth, you will suffer.  I have seen it.  I have experienced it.


  1. People blame others for their sin. When people respond in this manner, they do not deny their sin.  They do fail to take responsibility for it.  Instead, they place the blame with someone else.  If it becomes someone else’s fault, then they are off the hook to respond appropriately.  They may blame their parents, siblings, their boss, their neighbor, society, or you.  This is not a new phenomenon.  When sin first entered the world in Genesis 3:12, God confronted Adam about his sin.  Adam’s response was “the woman you gave to me did it.”  Adam blamed God and he blamed Eve.  We have been doing this ever since.  If you do not take responsibility, you will not do anything to remedy the situation.


  1. People seek out self-improvement. This is moving in the right direction, but is dangerous.  A person acknowledges their sin.  They know they must do something about it.  They turn to self-help.  This gets closer to a biblical solution.  But, it can lead to further sin and bondage.  This self-help can look something like this.  A person realizes their sin, so they decide to work harder at doing good things to make up for it.  They may sweep it under the rug to focus on the better things they are doing now.  The danger in this approach is that we can never do enough to bring about forgiveness and restoration with God.

 Other times this self-improvement turns into a competition.  Instead of dealing with their sin, they begin to look at others.  It goes something like this, “yes, I sinned.  But at least I’m not as bad as ________” This may make them feel better about their own sin, but it does nothing to deal with their own sin.

On other occasions the self-improvement turns into a person convincing themselves of a lie to deal with sin.  It looks something like this, “I’m a sinner…no I’m not…I’m worthy, I’m good, and  I’m beautiful.”  The Bible says we are not worthy and not beautiful in and of ourselves.  When we come to Christ, He transforms us.  This kind of self-improvement takes God out of the equation.  When someone responds this way, they often try to convince themselves that they are a good person and that they can fix themselves.  The Bible says we are sinful people who need a Savior.

This self-improvement response is dangerous since it removes God from the being the solution to our sin problem.  It looks good.  But it is a subtle danger.  In 2 Timothy 3:5, Paul warns Timothy about those who have an appearance of godliness but deny it’s power.  This is a dangerous response.  It is close to the truth, but it leaves God out of the equation.


  1. People respond with repentance. When someone responds with repentance, they have acknowledged their sin, there is a change of mind about the sin, and there is a desire to grow and be made whole.  The Bible says that we must repent and turn to the Lord.  This is when forgiveness comes.  In 2 Corinthians 7:10 Paul says there is a godly sorrow which leads to repentance.  This happens when someone says, “yes, I sinned.  It was sin.  I need forgiveness.  I don’t want to sin in that way again.”  In 1 John 1:9 the Bible says if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  That’s healing!  That’s how to biblically deal with the reality of sin in your life.


Do you need to repent?  Are their sins you need to acknowledge and deal with in a biblical way?  The amazing truth is that God loves you even though you are a sinner!  The truth is found in Romans 5:8, “God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  You don’t need anything more than the cross of Jesus to prove to you that God loves you.  You can embrace the ugly reality of your sin and find healing in Jesus.  You don’t need to deny, get angry, blame others, or look to yourself for the answer.  You can come to Jesus.  The man who took on flesh to die for your sins.