Overcoming Evil

Overcoming EvilEvil is all around us. Most people agree on this subject whether they are a Christian or not. When we see a child brutally murdered or a government horribly oppressing its people, we can see darkness and it is blatantly obvious.

The Bible uses different words to describe evil. We see synonyms like “wickedness” or “malice” among many others used to convey this intention. When these words are used, scripture goes on to describe details that include a wide range of activities. Many times, in fact, we see the perpetrators seeming to have a great time and falling into very comfortable patterns when they are called out in this way.

Sometimes, it is easy to throw the word “evil” around at our own discretion. For instance, if something inconveniences us enough or someone behaves outside of our understanding of “goodness” then we may be tempted to use this significant word to describe the event.

The Word is clear that we are to stay away from evil of every kind. It also indicates that we should avoid associating with those who practice evil. Yet, in even more places in scripture, the example is given that shows us we are to come alongside the sinner and even serve them. We see healing, teaching, feeding, loving, and caring for these people who are living lives directly opposed to God’s law? So, how do we reconcile these thoughts? Do we avoid these folks, or do we love on them? Do we stop at praying for them? Or, do we get into their lives?

These are thoughts I am still tossing around in my mind, but I do know that people will not accept or follow the life-giving message of Jesus if they do not hear it in our voice and see it in our lives. Granted, we are never the ones who convert people, but we can still convey a message of hope and show that there is a way out.

Evil is born from a full embrace of sin. When we reject God and His abundance, we begin to look at the world in a way that was never intended through the process of creation. We also begin to look at ourselves as the one true authority in the universe.

Here is something interesting to ponder, though. So many times, when God comes down hard on sin in scripture, it is in response to the actions of people who claim to follow Him. Sure, people who don’t know Him are mentioned, and even rebuked, but often they are being spoken about in third person. Essentially, they are referred to as the mission and part of the purpose of believers.

So, what are we to do with the verses that tell us to avoid evil and those who promote sin? Well, in many cases these things are being said to believers who are very immature in their faith. A mature follower of Jesus has grown and prayed for the mind and heart of God. He or she has established in their own heart that their deep passion is to see that the lost are found, and the wicked are made clean. Also, their mindset changes as they begin to see these “evil” people through God’s compassionate eyes.

I can’t say that I fully grasp God’s grace and mercy, but I can make assumptions based off what I do know. Here is the way I see it. While sin and evil are synonymous, I think God’s perspective is much deeper than simply writing off transgressors.

Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life…The question, I have is “what are we doing to offer people life as an alternative to death?”

We need to stop looking at people as evil and instead start looking at them as hurting, dying, and in need of rescue.

That man who is on his third drunken binge this week…is he sinning? Yes

That single lady caught up in promiscuity…is she sinning? Yes

That person who abandoned their family…are they sinning? Yes

But…before we call them evil let’s ask ourselves if…

that man is trying to medicate the memories of a past abuse,

or

this lady has never seen a healthy relationship…

or even

if this person went through a crisis that they never worked through in a healthy way.

Leading people out of sin means investing in them. It means sometimes getting dirty. God wants us to be a living sacrifice, and while we are never called to participate in evil and sin, we are called to help mend broken hearts.

Be someone’s way out today.

Love you all

-Landon DeCrastos

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Grateful

My belly’s full of food

My heart is full of love

My family is all around me

And even more looking from above

I can’t thank God enough

For everything I possess

I deserve none of it

It is all by grace; I confess

Sure, these material things are great

And the money I earn is fine

But I honestly can’t say

That the any of the credit should be mine

I owe absolutely all I have

To the one who gives grace and hope

When I am standing on the mountain

Or at the end of my rope

I know I do not have much

In comparison to most

But, I can say I am content

Even though I cannot boast

I am truly grateful this year

For all the little things

And I pray that I will continue

To thank The Lord for what He brings.

-Landon DeCrastos

7 Things I Do That Upset Jesus

Highway7In today’s Christian subculture it is trendy to spend a lot of time pointing out what “Christianity” is doing wrong. Many Christ followers get whipped into a lather when they start talking about “religion” and how our faith life should reject this concept and a relationship should be embraced instead. I get it…God is looking for a relationship not a religion…Christians constantly mess up and make the Kingdom look like a joke, but while I could sit here all day and talk about what everyone else is doing wrong I get uncomfortable when I think about the ways I make Jesus upset. It is hard to admit, but it may speak to others.

Today, I want to talk about 7 things I do that make Jesus upset:

1. I incorrectly define “blessing”-Too often, when I think about the concept of blessing I get it mixed up with being pampered by God. Blessing, in my experience, has more to do with enjoying God’s favor…not collecting more possessions and marinating in temporary happiness. Remember, even though we do not like to admit it, Job was blessed. Not because he got his stuff back at the end of the Old Testament story, but because of his closeness with the Father.

2. I label too many things “legalism”- When I am confronted with a Biblical truth that puts me in my place or rebukes a pattern of behavior; it makes me uncomfortable. I want to live my life the way I feel is right, and often when approached in this way I claim that the information being presented is legalistic. I would rather stick with the way I think about things or react to situations and convince myself that Jesus is still happy with me despite my disobedience to Biblical truth.

3.  I put down the Body of Christ- I always post statuses on Facebook that talk about how the average Christian misses the mark. I have to remember that each believer is a sibling…and just as valuable to the Kingdom as I am.

4. I trust God only with my surplus- It is easy to give God praise when there is money in my bank account. It is also easy to trust Him when I have extra. God desires that I step out without a guarantee that my foot will hit pavement. The Lord, who is perfect in love, knows what I need, and has historically always provided.

5.  I spend too much time talking to God- Much of my prayer time consists of me asking for things, or different circumstances. I think that God has more to say to me than I allow Him.

6. I study His word instead of living it- God’s commands are not meant to be merely memorized, but obeyed. Enough said here.

7. I don’t thank God enough for my family- My biggest support system consists of my wife, children, parents (and in laws), grandparents and siblings (including sister in law). I always yearn for encouragement, but it seems to always come for free with them.

I am so glad that grace is a real thing. Jesus puts up with so much that I do.

-Landon DeCrastos

Follow the Way

Have you ever heard something over and over and, after a while, it sounded like nails on a chalkboard? Every once in a while I hear something that does this to me. Many times it is a phrase or piece of advice that is meant to uplift people’s spirits but the central message is against scripture and often harms development.

A few days ago, I happened upon a facebook page that was dedicated to posting different inspirational phrases to uplift people. It was rather pleasant. I decided to scroll down and check out the phrases that have been used and then I saw it…..it was ugly…it was terrible….it was incredibly misleading. It said, “Be a leader….not a follower.” I almost choked on the water I was drinking…..My first thought was  “did I read that correctly?” Yes….yes I did.

Now, before you send me hate mail, let me explain why I do not like this phrase.

We always hear stories about great leaders and their influence on others. Whether it be politicians, pastors, CEO’s or supervisors, many of us love the idea of having the ability to lead others. Leaders are visioncasters; they guide cultural change. The purpose of this inspirational phrase is to motivate people to want to change the world, set trends, and be unique. It is misleading.

What about followers? God teaches us in the Bible that followers are equally important. For some reason we have gotten the idea that followers are non-thinking robots and ultimately easily manipulated. This is simply not true.

The disciples are a great example of how followers are needed. I know what you are thinking….The disciples of Jesus eventually became leaders and preached the gospel publicly. This is true but they had to go through a period of sitting at the feet of Jesus to learn and assist Him. They were organized and effective in the ministry because they followed.

Do you feel called to ministry? This is great, but I encourage you to pray about whether God has called you to a formal pastoral ministry or to being a passionate lay person. Pastors yearn for lay people to help implement vision.

Today, instead of seeking to be a leader….seek to be a follower of Jesus…..then simply obey. God will lead you to the opportunties necessary to build His kingdom. If you are a Godly follower others will be influenced by you.

Don’t discount those who follow. They may be specifically called of God to do so.

Avoiding Alligators

balanceYou played the game too when you were a kid. It was a terrifying game with fatal consequences. If you lost focus even for a split second then you were doomed. It is hard to imagine that we played games with such a high risk factor.

The game is simply explained. Walk and maintain your balance on a narrow beam, or appropriately placed landscaping without falling to your doom into the (gulp) alligators below. Some kids replace alligators with lava for increased difficulty.

In all honesty we adults know that the consequences were mere figments of our imagination. We certainly acted as if they were real….doing everything possible to not fall. It definitely required focus.

There are things we encounter daily that are distractions to us. Even the word “distraction” doesn’t really do them justice. These are things that, if we were to lose focus, we could fall. The long term consequences could be a negatively redirected life.

When we think about our faith life it is obvious that we cannot afford to lose focus. Our desire to know God more, and serve those around us is vital. The fact is, though, there are sometimes when we try to show off, get distracted or give up altogether. Many times we even discount the reality of our faith. This makes us fall. The good news (aptly named) is that grace puts us back on track. God’s grace gives us chances that we don’t deserve using resources we have no business taping into. For some reason, that still can’t be explain, He desires for us to access this gift.

Today, don’t lose heart….lean on grace and regain focus.

-Landon DeCrastos

The Truth About My Church (and others)

churchCurrently, the church I pastor is seeing more and more new people each week in our worship service. On a personal note, I have been incredibly encouraged concerning the growth I am seeing and the excitement on a weekly basis. Some people have approached me after a short time of attending and have sought to become more involved in the church. This is also great!

As I have reflected on this in the last few days, I have felt the need to tell people what they should expect when joining my church. The following are the 7 things that you should expect when taking the step to become a leader or generally involved in this worship community….these things are universal and can be applied to any other church.

1. Someone will eventually hurt your feelings….Someone is going to say something to you, or step on your toes, or even blurt something out randomly that will offend you.

2. You will encounter hypocrites. Churches are full of them and many are leaving the church for this reason…..grocery stores, civic groups, concerts, political groups, bus stops, restaurants, parking lots, hospitals, call centers, parties, and family reunions are also full of hypocrites….good luck avoiding those too.

3. Someone in my church will annoy you. Fact: everyone has an annoying side.

4. My message will not make sense to you on occasion. That’s okay…perhaps God will use it in your life later.

5. The music may not connect with you this Sunday. That’s okay….perhaps God will use it in your life later.

6. There will be discouraging times in our church. You can bet on this…..we are a church full of people with problems and regular discouragements. It just makes sense that a group of people would reflect this….

7.  Church will be boring at times. ….umm……..I got nothing. Sorry.

Overall, the church is not only a family but it is a redemptive and purpose-oriented community. Due to the fact that it is filled with people, not everything is going to be perfect. When we are interacting with people with wounds, hang ups, and brokenness we have to understand that grace is not just something for people on the outside but we are the prototype before distribution.

Redemptive communities require imperfection to participate.

-Landon DeCrastos

Healthy is the New Holy

healthyholy“You know what your problem is? You need to get into church…” This was a line from a very loud conversation going on behind me while I ate my lunch at my favorite restaurant a few weeks ago. The two ladies were good friends and you could hear the relationship in their voice. “I have tried to go many times, but things come up and I have been so busy… plus I have gone a couple times, for several months in a row, and they seem to really cast judgment on me when I miss a couple Sundays.”

50 years ago, in public, it was acceptable to call out people and tell them to get into church. It was a matter of spiritual health and in a lot of communities, it was expected. People took the concept for granted, and assumed everyone in Mayberry went to the Baptist church downtown. This is not the way it is anymore…People get uncomfortable when you tell them that they need something they may perceivably be lacking. In 2013, you simply can’t do this… Wait?!?! Is this true?

Actually, when you think about it, everyday, we see a similar campaign in every avenue of media. When, back in the day, you would see a television preacher on every major network, and churches packed to standing room only, you now see physical health/ wellness oriented programs that show how you can get rock hard abs in 5 minutes a day, and spin classes with waiting lists.

People don’t seem to feel judged when their friend calls them out for skipping their run for the last 2 weeks. They get back to it.  When we hold people accountable to their spiritual growth, in today’s society, we are in danger of making people feel uncomfortable. Granted, we should not be hounding people (grace must abound) to get into church, but I just think we have it backwards.

The concern in our day (my goodness I sound like I am elderly) has transitioned from spiritual wellness to physical…that which is supposed to be eternal to that which is temporary (our body). The gym has become the church.

Let me just put a disclaimer to the above subject…Our body is a temple and should be kept in shape to honor God and what He gave us, but entire communities are now birthed from relationships found on the treadmill (and those who run marathons)…and many will not go to church because of hypocrisy they find inside (might I note those who do not follow their nutritional plan).

We have accepted, as a culture that we are in need of change. We are told that we should eat eggs and the next week we shouldn’t. I just think the change must go deeper than a number on a scale.

That’s my two cents.

-Landon DeCrastos

Playing with Shadows

A few weeks ago, I was lying on my bed with my son and we were making shadow puppets on the ceiling. It was fun to spend time with him just being silly. My artistic expression in this realm is very limited. I can make a rabbit, a dog, an angry dog, and a slightly different looking dog….oh…and an alligator. Since my son is two, his shadow puppets looked more like hands that were slightly contorted in different ways.

When I was playing this game, it occurred to me that the answer to an age old question could be staring me in the face. What does it mean to be made in God’s image, or likeness? The Bible says it clearly….but humans come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. So, what then, is the answer?

While making shadow puppets I realized that the word “likeness” could mean, in this context, something closer to shadows. I can see the shapes, sizes, and movements of an entity that is only seen in this form if the light is behind it. So, our lives could only, at their best, be a shadow of the true nature of God…we can’t see details but we can see form. Our lives and this earth are not what is truly real.

Shadow is not only a noun, but it is also a verb. To shadow means to follow someone around. Perhaps if you were to shadow someone, you may do the same occupational tasks as them in order to learn the functions of a certain job.

God is telling us something here. Even though we cannot see everything that is going on (the details and what the light is projecting), we are still called to follow. We, mere shadows, are called to shadow.

Take a step today to follow where the light is coming from.

-Landon DeCrastos

What am I really doing?

I am a pastor. This means that I have accepted an occupation that has certain demands and responsibilities. I love what I do because I feel that it gives me purpose. This career gives me the opportunity to meet people I would never meet otherwise and also I have learned so much about the way humans think, behave, and interact with one another.

Ultimately, my job as a pastor is to encourage people to become better versions of themselves (looking at it from a foundational perspective) and to equip them with the tools to be able to accomplish this task. It is so fulfilling….and each week I get the opportunity to energize people from the “pulpit” and persuade them to adjust their thought process or look at a subject in a new way.

There is one problem with my job, however, that is fundamentally different than any other occupation. It is all based off of volunteer attendance and support. This is true in other nonprofit situations, but sometimes in the church setting it is hard to sell giving and volunteering when there is no immediate reward or result for the individual.

For a pastor, it can be a tough task to convey the mission and get people excited to act. There is an interesting dynamic that exists with many in a congregation. In larger churches, of let’s say 1000, it is possible that around half of the people look at church as a weekend hobby (or somewhere to be seen). So the difficulty for the pastor (who gives their life to this profession) is to convince these people that what he/she is teaching is something that is important for everyday…and not simply an inspiring word to reflect on.

Pastors must look at the people as missionaries to their school, workplace, and home. The people that support and attend a local church must also look at themselves as commissioned employees to God’s kingdom. This mentality will infuse energy, passion, and efficiency into the church body.

-Landon DeCrastos

Avoiding Trouble

A few days ago, I revealed a deep dark secret about my childhood. It was one of those times in which my brother and I did not have the wisest of judgment and God was gracious to protect us from harm. Stories that end in barely escaping harm seem to take up a large part of my memory. Being a boy, daredevil stunts came naturally.

One particular activity that I regret as I reflect on my childhood (in which I participated in a few times) was the ridiculously stupid firework war with my friends. These wars didn’t include harmless poppers or makeshift sparkler swords….no….we would shoot bottle rockets at each other and throw small explosives in the opponents direction. It was dumb.

My friend’s dad happened to have some old cars on his property which he would use to harvest cosmetic car parts. One time, when we were engaging in our ruthless war, one of us accidently shot (with pinpoint accuracy) a bottle rocket into the gas tank (no, I am not kidding) of one of these cars. The world stopped spinning, and we all looked at each other with panic. We did the bravest, and most manly thing we could think of….we ran. Somehow, by the grace of God, the rocket was a dud and no explosions occurred.

If we were to list the things that God has saved us from, how long would the list be? Perhaps these things are situations that we have prayed about for a long time, or maybe they are things that we were complete ignorant about. In either circumstance, God, for some reason, helped us escape the most severe of all the possible consequences. One has to wonder, then, if we have some greater purpose, or in those times, if there was a reason for this rescue.

In life and even in death, God has a plan for all of us. It is up to us to recognize this truth, and obey God to see it fulfilled. This doesn’t mean we are always clear on the details, but it does mean we trust that God desires the best for us.

-Landon DeCrastos