Posted 16 hours ago
Hi! I've really enjoyed and appreciated your blog and the wisdom with which you've advised people. I saw in your last Q&A that you worked as a missionary journalist in Chile, which sounds amazing! I've considered going into something similar, maybe working as a missionary/English teacher in a foreign country. What was the process of getting there? What education did you complete? What kind of work did you do? I'm really curious about this, anything you could tell me is appreciated!! Thanks (:
sherlokiholmeson asked

Hi Moriah,

I was always interested in missionary work, but didn’t make any serious steps toward it until my last year of college. I was a part of a Southern Baptist campus ministry called Christian Challenge (the Baptist Student Union). And one night we had a guest speaker from the International Mission Board share his experiences with us.

He told us about the IMB’s “Journeymen Program” for college grads. Journeymen go on two-year missions terms to get exposed to missionary life, and something like half end up returning for life-long missions work afterward.

I studied journalism and public relations in college, and that didn’t seem particularly applicable to missions. So I figured I would have to take a professional hiatus in order to be a Journeyman. But I signed up anyway.

Then, at an orientation for new missionaries, I found out the IMB actually does have use for journalists. They have communications teams stationed on four continents, who create videos and articles about the work missionaries are doing in the field. These materials are then used by churches in the States to raise funding for the missionaries. (IMB missionaries are fully funded by Southern Baptist churches.)

The South American communications team just happened to be in need of a writer. So I studied Spanish with a small group of new Journeymen in Guatemala for three months. Then I moved to Chile where I lived for the rest of my term.

From there, I got to travel to the DR, Haiti, Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Paraguay. I lived through a major earthquake, interviewed a drug lord in Rio and flew over the Amazon in an experimental airplane. More importantly, I met and interviewed some amazing people who are making big sacrifices to build the Kingdom of God. 

(You can read more about those experience here.)

But as exciting and enriching as my time in missions was, it was also really hard. Because my work was in missionary support, my Spanish never got strong enough to build any deep relationships with the Chileans. And because I was the only single 20-something on our team, I didn’t build many deep relationships with my fellow missionaries either.

It ended up being the most isolating experience of my life. God used it in some important ways, but it wasn’t healthy for me to stay in that lonely environment. So, even though I was given the rare offer of extending my term, I chose to come home when my two years were up.

Loneliness is actually really common among missionaries, and it’s something you should keep in mind when you pray for them.

Still, I’m grateful for the experience. It was a time of learning and growing for me personally. And I’m honored that God would allow me to serve His Kingdom in that way - even if it was for just a season.

Thanks for the question.

Peace, love and Jesus,
-James

Posted 17 hours ago
Hi James. I was the anon to said that "once saved, always saved" wasn't Biblical. Well, I'm very confused because of Hebrews 6:4-6, that basically states that a Christian can walk away from God, and at that point they can't be restored. I guess I know I can't "lose" it, but I feel like I have walked away. I DON'T want to go to hell, but God has felt so silent for so many years. I'm not growing in Him. Death terrifies me because I honestly wonder where I'm going :/ He was my best friend once.
Anonymous asked

Hello again Anon, 

Thanks for giving me a chance to follow-up.

Hebrews 6:4-6

A lot of people are confused by these verses, and scholars have debated them for years:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallenaway, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

My own belief is that this is not about people who have actually been saved. It’s about people who play church but never really put their faith in Jesus. 

They’ve been enlightened by hearing the gospel. They’ve tasted the heavenly gift by sharing in communion. They’ve shared the Holy Spirit through prayer. And they’ve tasted the goodness of the word of God by reading the Bible.

They’ve been very religious. But they’ve never actually repented in faith.

And it’s impossible for them to come to true repentance, because they think that doing churchy things means they already have it. It would take more than just the Gospel to convince them to truly have faith, and that’s why it would be like crucifying Jesus all over again.

All this being said, I don’t think it’s helpful to try to guess who is or isn’t saved. Only God knows what is in each person’s heart.

These verses aren’t talking about you

You’re not like the person Hebrews 6:4-6 is talking about. If anything, you’re like another person the Bible talks about:

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living… When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

A person who has put their faith in Jesus may stray for a season, but they can never truly stay away.

I used to be a missionary journalist, and my first assignment was to go to Haiti immediately after the 2010 earthquake. What I saw there shook me, and I returned deeply angry at God. I couldn’t understand why He would allow so much pain to exist in the world, and I resolved to cut ties with Him completely.

And I did …for a few months anyway. But I hated living without God, and I eventually came back to Him in prayer and worked out my anger.

Remember how the story ended for the person you and I resemble?

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 

Someone who has truly put their faith in God can’t lose their salvation. And they can’t stay away when they stray either. It’s why I eventually went back to God in prayer. And it’s why you’re concerned and messaging me about this now.

You may have strayed, but you belong to God as much as you ever did – just like the son never stopped being his father’s kid. And like the Father, God is waiting for you to come back so He can throw His arms around you.

Stop worrying, Anon. Just go home. 

Peace, love and Jesus,
-James

Posted 1 day ago

Esther 1 - Men who fear women

Big Idea:

  • King Xerxes of Persia hosts a banquet for his nobles, officials and military leaders. He then spends six months showing off his wealth and power to them and follows it up with a second, week-long party in his palace garden. All the men of his capital city, Susa, are invited and “the royal wine was abundant. 
  • At the same time, Xerxes’ wife, Queen Vashti, throws a party for the women in another part of the palace. 
  • On the last day of the party, Xerxes is drunk. He sends eunuchs to fetch Vashti from the woman’s party so he can show off her beauty for all the men. 
  • But Vashti refuses to come, even though the king’s word was law. Xerxes is angry.
  • The next day, Xerxes asks his legal counsel, the seven nobles of Persia, what to do about Vashti’s defiance. They convince Xerxes that the queen’s refusal to obey him will cause all the women of Persia to obey their husbands - unless he divorces and banishes her.
  • So Xerxes divorces Vashti, banishes her, and sends out an edict to all the people of Persia saying that “all the women will respect their husbands” and “every man should be ruler over his own household.

Jesus:

Note:

  • Historians speculate that Xerxes may have thrown this party to build support for his invasion of Greece which led to the Battle of Thermopile (think the graphic novel/movie “300”).
Posted 2 days ago
I saw the picture from when you proposed and I wanted to ask you...what kind of ring did you buy?Was it hard to find, was it expensive? Does the stone matter, like I know girls want diamonds...but I was shocked when I saw some of the prices. Did she knew that you were going to ask het that night, did she tell you what she wanted... pleaase share this story with us, I am getting really confused about things :) Thanks!
Anonymous asked

Hi Anon,

Yeah, ring shopping is one of the most intimidating things I’ve ever done. Your wife is going to wear this thing as the symbol of your commitment and love for each other for the rest of her life. So you want to get it right.

The Setting

Ashley was really helpful in this. She put together a photo set of rings she liked so I could get an idea of her taste. 

Based on this, I knew she wanted white gold or silver, a simple design and something vaguely floral. I ended up choosing my favorite from the photo set and doing a reverse-image search on google to track it down.

The ring I got her was was the “Willow” setting from Brilliant Earth:

image

Brilliant Earth is a great company by the way. Their rings are conflict free and “ethical origin”, and they have great prices, selection and customer service.

If you can, have your girlfriend go to a jewelry store and get her ring size measured. Most Jewelers you buy from will resize for free, but it’s better to get it right the first time if you can.

The Stone

I did some research before shopping and learned that there are certain things to look for in buying a diamond: The Four C’s.

  • Cut - The better a diamond is cut, the more light will reflect back out of it. This is the “sparkle factor” of the diamond.

  • Clarity - Diamonds are rocks, and they will have specks, spots and impurities in them. The fewer the spots, the greater the clarity. (Although some people want a small, distinct spot somewhere in the diamond so they can identify it if it’s stolen.)

  • Color - The lower the quality of a diamond, the more it will have a yellow tint to it. The higher the quality, the clearer it will seem.

  • Carat - This is the size of the diamond. Bigger diamonds cost more, but some girls want a more modest diamond size.

The Four C’s of the diamond you buy will depend a lot on what you’re willing to spend for it. I did my best to balance all these aspects and still ended up spending a LOT more than I had planned. (But if there’s ever a time to splurge on the cost of something, this is it.)

The diamond I got Ashley looks great and was even mined in Canada’s Northwest Territory - So Ashley always has a little piece of home with her. (She’s Canadian.) ;)

The Moment

Anymore, the way you give the ring to your fiancee is as important as the ring itself. So do your best to know what kind of proposal your girl is hoping for.

  • Does she want to be surprised? Some girls want a build-up to the moment. Others don’t want to see it coming.

  • Does she want it planned? Some girls want to be surrounded by candles and flowers when their guy drops to one knee. Others will love it if he pulls over in the middle of a rainstorm and kneels in the middle of the street.

  • Does she want it public? Some girls want the attention of a crowd for their big moment. Other’s want the intimacy of a private moment.

  • Does she want it documented? Some girls don’t care about this so much. But our generation generally expects to see a video or photos of the proposal afterward. So it’s probably smart to give your fiancee something to brag with later.

I knew that Ashley wanted to be surprised by a private, outdoor proposal and I knew she wanted photos. So I picked a mountaintop and my friend Dan and I went to check it out. He’s a photographer and was able to find a great spot where the city lights were visible.

image

On Ashley’s first night in Colorado, I took her hiking up the mountain, telling her we would just go to watch the sun set. But when Dan showed up “accidentally” with a camera, I dropped to one knee and asked her to marry me. (SHE SAID YES!)

So, yeah, there’s a lot to consider. But hopefully I’ve given you a good starting place.

I hope she says yes, Anon!

Peace, love and Jesus,
-James

P.S.
If you’re a girl and reading this, help your future husband out. He wants to give you what you want, but guys can’t read minds. So let him know your tastes, your ring size and your proposal expectations. Spelling it out for him might seem unromantic. But it’ll be worth it when he actually puts it all together and proposes.

Posted 2 days ago

Happy Easter, Everybody!

image

"When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

- Aslan, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Posted 3 days ago
How can we learn to be detached of earthly things(money, career, home, car, computer, fancy clothes, or whaever else)? How can we learn to use correctly earthly things, to have a balance in this?How are you learning to do this, as a family, and how did you do it before?
Anonymous asked

Hi Anon, 

It’s all about our attitude toward the things God gives us. If we see our possessions as gifts to meet our needs and tools to be used for serving others, we’re in a pretty good place.

But we’re in trouble when things start to mean more than just that. Sometimes our possessions become status symbols, making us feel like we’re better people because of what we own. Other times our possessions become security blankets, making us feel like we’re safer because we have our things to protect us.

I read Into the Wild a few years back, and I was struck by Alexander Supertramp’s desire to own nothing more than what he could carry on his back at a dead run. I never went that far myself, but his minimalism became an example for me. I used to challenge myself to live with as few possessions as I could. And if I hadn’t used something for more than a month, I gave it away. 

THEN I got married. And there’s something about having to provide for another person’s needs that makes a security blanket look really cuddly. I started worrying about employment, health insurance, rent, grocery money - event theft. I felt like we would only be OK if I could just obtain the right financial situation. …And the more I strove and worried, the more stressed out I became.

But I’ve been taking these feelings to God, and He’s shown me a few important things.

So I’m learning to seek my security in God instead of things, to trust Him more than I fear my situation and to put my faith in His daily provision rather than in what I can see coming.

I’m learning slowly, but I’m learning. 

Peace, love and Jesus,
-James

Posted 3 days ago

Nehemiah Retrospect

Nehemiah illustrated by chapter

Posted 5 days ago
I was thinkint at Judas. If God had always knonw that His Son will come to earth, He must have had someone in plan to sell Him. Or not? It seems a little sad but also confuzing, that God knew from the start Judas was going do to such a thing, or maybe He just knew somebody will do it, and as time has passed, something happened in Judas heart and this is how he became the one to sell Him.
Anonymous asked

Hi Anon,

This is a really interesting question to think about, particularly because the Bible doesn’t directly answer it.

Still, there are some hints at an answer:

God knew

If Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus, somebody else would have. The world has always hated Jesus enough to kill Him. And Judas wasn’t the only one to betray Jesus that day.

But God always knew that Judas would do what he did. The Old Testament even prophesied it:

So God always knew it was going to be Judas.

Judas still chose

Still, God knowing that Judas would betray Jesus isn’t the same as God causing Judas to do it. Judas still chose to do what he did.

Paul says that we all face the same temptations. So Judas wasn’t tempted to betray Jesus any more than anyone else. Judas was just the one who gave in.

Ezekiel says that God holds us accountable for the things we do in life - and only for the things we do. So we all have personally responsibility for our choices — Judas included. Judas did what he did because he chose to do it.

And Paul also tells us that the choices we make follow a pattern. If we give in enough to small temptations, we will eventually give in to bigger ones. And Judas had already set up a pattern of betrayal in his life by stealing from the disciples’ treasury. So God didn’t set Judas up — Judas set himself up.

Judas wasn’t lost

History remember’s Judas a “damned” individual. But up until the point he actually offed himself, Judas was just as redeemable as anyone else.

And we know this because of Peter.

But unlike Judas, Peter repented.

The Bible tells us that redemption is available to everyone. And even someone directly influenced by evil, like Judas was, can still come back to God.

So the same redemption that was available to Peter was also available to Judas. Judas just refused it.

It is sad and confusing, but hopefully this helps you to understand it better.

Very interesting question!

Peace, love and Jesus,
-James

Posted 5 days ago
I was wondering, what are yout thoughts on how cruel God seems to be in the New Testament, and how often now we just lean and say God is good and forgives. I know that a lot of people now take methaphorical a lot of things from the New Testamen(like battles, then they were real battles, now it is with our flesh or Satan) but still God is the same , He does not change, right?
Anonymous asked

Hi Anon,

(I’m going to assume you meant to say “the Old Testament”, because that’s where we find battles and God’s apparent cruelty.) But you’re right, God does not change. So this is a good question.

It might seem like we have two Bibles - One with a kind Jesus in the New Testament. The other with a cruel God in the Old. But they are both actually telling the same story - the story of the gospel:

All have sinned

The New Testament tells us:

There is no one righteous, not even one … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

And The Old Testament demonstrates this. The people in these books show us what our sinfulness looks like. These nations are pagan, idolatrous, sexually-immoral and violent. They build altars to the god Baal. They worship the fertility goddess Asherah with orgies. And they sacrifice infants and children to the god Molech. Even the Israelites consistently turn away from God, unfaithful at best and idolaters themselves at worst.

As Christians, we can get so used to being forgiven, we forget why we needed forgiveness in the first place. But the truth is we are all sinners.

We’ve all lied. We’ve all held onto anger. We’ve all lusted. We’ve all wanted what other’s have. And we think that because these sins aren’t as bad as the sins of Old Testament pagans, we’re somehow not as bad ourselves. But sin isn’t graded on a curve - It’s pass/fail. Christians and non-Christians alike, we have all earned God’s wrath.

The sinfulness of the Old Testament just holds a mirror up to our own faces and shows us how bad sin really is - and how much we need Jesus.

Sin leads to Death

The New Testament tells us:

The wages of sin is death.

God is light. To turn away from Him is to choose darkness.
God is good. To turn away from Him is to choose evil.
God is life. To turn away from Him is to choose death.

For those who sin and turn away from God, there is nothing left but darkness, evil and death. And the Old Testament demonstrates this. Sinful cities are destroyed. Pagan kings are empaled on spikes. And those who break God’s commandments are killed.

If we have all sinned, then we all should meet the same end - but we don’t. The really amazing thing isn’t that God would be so wrathful towards sinners, but that he isn’t more wrathful than He is.

God is slow to angerjust and patient with us, because He doesn’t want anyone to die. So we can assume that those who receive such seemingly harsh punishments do so because they’ve chosen it.

The wrath of God in the Old Testament just shows us what we all deserve and would receive if not for Jesus.

Christ died for us

The New Testament tell us:

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Today we take communion - eating bread that represents Jesus’ broken body and drinking wine that represents His spilled blood. It’s an expression of our faith in Jesus, a way of symbolically looking back on His sacrifice on the cross for us.

Believers in the Old Testament did the same thing. But instead of looking back on the cross, they had to look forward to it.  And instead of communion, they had the sacrificial system - a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross.

The sacrificial system had to be bloody, because Jesus’ sacrifice was bloody.

All of the sin and death we see in the Old Testament is just as present in the New. Only, instead of falling on sinners, it falls only on Jesus.

The bloody descriptions of the sacrificial system just remind us of everything He endured for us in our place.

We are made righteous through faith in Him

The New Testament tells us:

Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is really the foundation of our faith. Not only that God loves us, but that He saved us by dying for us.

Sin leads to death in one way or another. Those who reject God will experience the death of their own sin (as the Old Testament shows us). But those who put their faith in Jesus will see the death of their sin go to Him instead. And He conquers it, giving us new life and making us right with God.

So when you read about sin in the Old Testament, be reminded of our own sin.
When you read about death in the Old Testament, be reminded of the death we all deserve.
When you read about the sacrifices in the Old Testament, be reminded of Jesus’ work on the cross for us.

And be thankful for the life we have in Christ. Because thanks to Him, we will never have to experience the sin, death and sacrifice we deserve.

This was long, but I hope it helped.

Peace, Love and Jesus,
-James

[This is the same answer I gave to a similar question previously. I hope you don’t mind]

Posted 5 days ago
Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?
Posted 6 days ago

Nehemiah Retrospect

In Ezra, the Israelites returned from exile and rebuilt the Temple. In Nehemiah, they rebuild the rest of Jerusalem and rededicate themselves to God.

But the process isn’t easy. In addition to rebuilding their city, the Israelites also have to fight off their enemies. And they don’t just fight against the hostile nations surrounding them; they also have to fight against the unfaithful neighbors among them.

The job is difficult and complicated – But God leads them through Nehemiah. And in the end, the city is rebuilt, the covenant is protected and the people are restored.

This is an important chapter in the history of Israel. But it’s also an experience that all of God’s people share. 

Years of breaking God’s covenant led to Israel’s exile in Persia. In the same way, our sin separates us from God. But through Jesus, we are made right with God. We are restored to Him just like Israel was restored to its homeland.

And just as Israel had to go through a process of rebuilding and rededicating, we have to go through a process called sanctification—becoming more like Jesus.

This means rebuilding. We have to protect our hearts with the Armor of God, just like Israel protected itself with the wall of Jerusalem. And we have to develop our character with the Fruits of the Spirit, just like Israel rebuilt the city of Jerusalem. 

This also means rededicating. We have to give up our old selves and identify with Jesus, just like Israel left Persia and re-identified with God’s covenant. And we have to rid our lives of sinful habits, just like Nehemiah rid Israel of unfaithful influences.

But the most important similarity between the restoration of Israel and the Sanctification of a Christian is this: None of it happens without God.

It was God who led, protected and restored Israel. The Israelites didn’t do it for themselves. They just surrendered to God, and He reestablished them.  

In the same way God saves, leads and changes us today. We don’t do it for ourselves. We just surrender to God, and He makes us more like Jesus. 

Nehemiah shows us that God will restore His people.

Posted 1 week ago
Hi James :) What are your thoughts on relationships between a male and a female, and the female is older than he is (by four years)? The current situation is that, we both go to the same church and minister together. Her parents get to see that, his parents doesn't (in another country). Based on the age knowledge, his parents have said to "just be close friends", however a male and a female can't really be close friends?
Anonymous asked

Hi Anon,

I think a male and a female can be close friends. But I also think they shouldn’t have to be if they want to be more.

Ashley and I are actually friends with a couple from a similar situation to the one you describe. She is also four years older than he is, and they also met in church. And like the parents you describe, his parents also urged them to “just be close friends.”

Our friends chose to pursue their romantic relationship anyway. And his parents disapproved the whole time they dated. But they’ve been happily married for two years now, and the parents have finally come around.

There are definitely cases where a relationship is unhealthy due to deception or abuse, and parents are right to step in and fight relationships like that. …But a four-year age difference hardly falls into that category.

From what I can gather, parental disapproval of relationships (and especially marriages) is really common for our generation. Parents who seem completely reasonable beforehand become weirdly controlling when their kids get romantically involved. I have no idea why this is, but it seems to be a trend and it’s not right.

So I would tell you to keep pursuing the relationship. You should expect push-back from your folks, and you should respond to it with gentleness and respect. But you shouldn’t let your parents make decisions for you into your adulthoods.

If you want to be together, you should be together. And your parents will just have to learn to accept it.

Peace, love and Jesus,
-James

Posted 1 week ago
What is your prayer for you and Ashley, in this stage of newly married couple?
Anonymous asked

Hi Anon,

I asked Ashley for her input on this, and we essentially have the same prayers:

  • We want to focus on establishing good habits in our marriage – things like serving others and each other, praying together and resolving conflict in a healthy way. We’ve heard that the first couple years of a marriage set the pattern for the rest. So we want to be thoughtful and intentional about the habits and patterns we establish.

  • Beyond that, we want our marriage to be about more than just us - We want it to be a blessing to others as well. So we are also asking for God’s vision for our marriage and what He wants our ministry focus to be.

  • And personally, I’m praying that I will trust God to protect and provide for us. I feel a lot of pressure to take care of Ashley, which tempts me to worry and stress. But I’m consciously trying to depend on God and be at peace in His promises.

Thanks so much for asking!

Peace, love and Jesus,
-James

Posted 1 week ago

Nehemiah 13 - Final Reforms

Big Idea:

  • While reading from the law of Moses, the people realize that no Ammonite or Moabite should be included in worship. So they force the decedents of Moabites and Ammonites to leave.
  • Nehemiah goes to Persia to check in with King Artaxersees.
  • While he’s gone Eliashib the High Priest secretly allows Tobiah, Nehemiah’s Ammonite nemesis, to live in an offering chamber of the temple. (Eliashib and Tobiah are cousins.)
  • When Nehemiah returns, he discovers Eliashib and Tobiah’s arrangement. Angry, he throws Tobiah’s belongings out of the Temple and cleanses the chamber.
  • While returning the offerings to their rightful place in the chamber, Nehemiah finds out that the offerings haven’t been properly distributed to the Levites, forcing the Levites to leave Jerusalem and fend for themselves.
  • Nehemiah tells off the officials. Then he appoints men to be in charge of distributing the offerings.
  • Nehemiah asks God to remember his faithfulness.
  • Then Nehemiah sees people working and trading on the Sabbath. “What is this wicked thing you are doing—?” he says. “You are stirring up more wrath against Israel.” [Not doing business on holy days is one of the things Israel promised not to do in Chapter 10.]
  • Nehemiah orders Jerusalem to close and guard its gates during the Sabbath. And any merchants who try to camp outside the gates are threatened with arrest.
  • He asks God to remember this and be merciful to him.
  • Nehemiah then discovers that some Israelites have inter-married with pagans, even after Ezra’s reforms - and The High Priest’s grandson Jehoiada is among them. [Not marrying pagans is another thing Israel promised not to do in Chapter 10.]
  • Angry, Nehemiah calls down curses on them, beats them, pulls their hair and chases Jehoiada away. He forces them to take an oath. “Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned?” he asks them.
  • So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign,” Nehemiah says. “Remember me with favor, my God.”

Jesus: 

Note:

Posted 1 week ago

Hi Megan. Yep, it was the Journeymen program. Totally recommend it.