Thursday, April 30, 2015

When You're Rejected

Towards the end of March of this year Jenny and I visited Chicago for a day. It was kind of a long drive for a 24 hour visit, but it was totally worth the 10 hour trip each way.

We went on the trip for a little Valentine's Day getaway. We were able to visit a couple different friends, and we also saw Beauty and the Beast at the Chicago Broadway. It was an awesome show! We had a really good time.

Before we went to Cadillac Palace Theater for our show, we ended up going to a SUPER tasty coffee shop called Ipsento (click here). If you're ever in Chicago, you definitely need to check it out. It's one of the best places I've ever had coffee. It's safe to say Ipsento is in my top 5 favorite coffee shops.

One thing Jenny and I enjoy about traveling to bigger cities is the ability to ride on the subway or metro. It's nice not having to drive everywhere and get stuck in traffic. And it is really easy once you've done it a couple of times. It's fun seeing all kinds of different people and it's also fun getting a little glimpse of how the locals live.

On our way from our hotel to the coffee shop we, of course, took the subway. It's pretty common to see homeless people while you are on the subway. Jenny and I have always attempted to be sensitive to the Lord. We ask God if there are any people we should help, give money to, buy food for, or witness to.

I know there are homeless people where we live in small town northern Minnesota. I see them every so often, but it's nothing like being in a big city. There are people in need all over the place. And I realize, that for locals, seeing homeless people is completely normal. It's become part of their daily life.

They're used to people asking for money. They're used to seeing people on the streets. They're used to seeing people push all of their belongings around in a shopping cart. Considering the frequency, I'm sure it would be difficult to not grow cold towards and turn a blind eye to the hurting people they come across. If the average person helped everyone they saw that needed help, they would soon be on the street themselves.

I realize one person can't help everyone. But one person can help someone, and even multiple someones. Jenny and I accept that truth and try to act accordingly. We try to help the people that God leads us to help.

Well, while we were on the subway to the coffee shop, a homeless guy about my age spoke up and talked to everyone in the car we were in. He stood up in between stops and said he had been in the hospital and had found out he had blood clots in his legs. He was waiting on medical assistance and paperwork to go through so he could get the medication he needed. But in the mean time, he had no money, no food, no place to live (besides the train), and he was asking for whatever help and assistance people could spare.

Over and over again while he was telling his story he said things like, "I hate myself for being in this position. I know you guys hate when people do this stuff. I'm sorry, but I need help. I hate when people ask for help and beg. I'm sorry."

It was easy to tell he felt defeated, had no hope, and was ashamed of his situation.

My heart went out to the guy while he was talking. I definitely felt sorry for him and had compassion for him. Whether his story was true or not, which I believe it was, I knew God wanted me to talk to this young man.

Almost as soon as he started talking, the story in the Bible of Peter and John in the temple popped into my head. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you." (Acts 3:1-8)

I knew we didn't have much, if any, cash on us. BUT, we did have God inside of us! I was absolutely convinced that when I prayed for him, God would heal him of the blood clots in his legs.

Jenny and I looked at one another once he was done talking and we both knew we were supposed to talk to him at the next stop. He just happened to be getting off of the train at the same stop as we were. Coincidence or God set up? I'll go with a God set up!

ESPECIALLY considering Jenny and I live in MN and we were only visiting Chicago for a day. AND Chicago has a population of nearly 3 million people and about 10 million people if you count the surrounding metro area. AND we decided to go visit a coffee shop we had never been to before. AND we decided to ride the subway. AND we just happened to be on the same train. AND we just happened to be in the same car of that same train. AND we just happened to be Christians. AND we just happened to listen to God and obey Him. What were the chances!?!

God wanted to meet this guy. God was pursuing him. God cared enough about this man to send us his way, to touch his life. I was pumped!

As we were waiting to get out of the car I introduced myself to him and started talking to him. We exited the car at the next stop and he told us a little more of his story and we told him a little bit of ours. We talked for about 10 minutes. It was a pretty good conversation.

From our talk, I was able to learn he did not believe in God. He could not understand how Jesus would let the world be as messed up as it seems to be. He could not forgive people for judging, turning away from, and ignoring him. He said he didn't see any hope in the world. All he had witnessed and experienced in his life was pain and suffering.

I told him the only reason I see hope in the world is because of Jesus.

I've witnessed to many people in the past. I know how to be led by the Lord in what I say and what I talk about. I strive to be very sensitive to the Lord. I know how important those conversations can be. I realize they can literally have eternal consequence.

I explained that God, and I, wanted to give him something more than just money. I then asked if I could pray for him. I knew God would heal his leg if I prayed for him. (Mark 16:18) And I knew after his healing, that would be an awesome opportunity to introduce him to Jesus.

He politely declined and said that's not something he was interested in or ready for. I asked him a couple of times if he was sure. I assured him it wouldn't take long, but he had already made up his mind. His answer was a polite, but firm, "No."

After our talk, we gave him all the cash we had... one dollar... and inside I had a folded up Gospel tract. I told him that was, unfortunately, the only money we had on us. I could tell he appreciated us talking to him and actually caring about him. I don't think he had experienced many genuine acts of love in his life. At least not recently.

As we went our separate ways, I couldn't help but start to feel discouraged. I was driven to tears as we walked away. That's what compassion feels like.

On our walk to the coffee shop, Jenny and I prayed for that man. I still pray for him every couple of days. I hope his heart has softened and he has opened up his life to the Lord.

It can be easy to get discouraged when people don't accept Jesus. It's difficult to see people walk away and not want to taste and see how good God truly is. Especially when they are so close to a life changing moment with the Lord. It sucks when they reject you, when they reject Jesus.

It's our job, our calling, our responsibility to GO and PREACH the Gospel to the world! (Mark 16:15) It's the world's decision and responsibility whether to accept Jesus or not. But, if we never go and preach the Gospel and choose not to witness, then we are making the decision for them! That is not a good place to be.

Even if they rejected Jesus this time, it doesn't mean we weren't supposed to talk to them or minister to them. Be faithful and bold in what God has called us to do. Be a light in dark places. Be someone that plants and waters seeds in people's lives. And then let God bring the increase.

I want to leave you with a few excerpts from an awesome book on witnessing by Mark Cahill called One Thing You Can't Do In Heaven. I hope they can be an encouragement and/or a kick in the butt for myself and for you!

  • Page 17- "Everyone in heaven is a believer. Do you realize that when you take your last breath, you will never again be able to talk with a lost person?"
  • Page 35- "Every time we share our faith it is a winning situation. If they accept Jesus it is a winning situation. If we plant a seed it is a winning situation. If they reject Jesus it is a winning situation." (1 Peter 4:14, Luke 6:22-23)
  • Page 51- "What kind of friendship do you really have if you would go to Heaven when you die, but your friend would go to Hell? If you are not eternal friends, are you really friends at all?"
  • Page 66- "We can't imagine the value of a soul to God except to look at the cross."
  • Page 175- "Matthew 4:19, Jesus said, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' If you are not fishing, then you are not following."
  • Page 217- "It is our responsibility to speak the truth, whether our listeners listen or whether they refuse the message."

Ask God for opportunities to preach the Gospel.
Ask God for boldness.
Step out of your comfort zone!
Ask God why am I not witnessing- Am I scared of what people will think? Am I nervous? Am I scared of being rejected? Will I not know what to say? Am I uneducated on this topic? Do I need more teaching? Am I lazy? Is it not a priority in my life? Am I overcomplicating the Gospel, overcomplicating the love of Jesus?

GO PREACH in word AND in action! (Talk the talk and walk the walk, both are equally important. I'm pretty sure Jesus did both in His life and ministry.)
- Joel

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jesus Wasn't Enough

Don't worry, I'm not talking about salvation! You can put the intervention plans on hold and get rid of your tar and feathers for the time being. But, seriously, Jesus Wasn't Enough.

Please hear me out, or at least hear Jesus out.

Jesus Himself said He wasn't enough. We needed something else... Or I should say, we needed Someone else.

In John 14:26 in the Amplified Bible Jesus said,
"But the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, Standby), the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name [in My place, to represent Me and act on My behalf], He will teach you all things. And He will cause you to recall (will remind you of, bring to your remembrance) everything I have told you."

The Holy Spirit was sent to represent Jesus and act on Jesus' behalf. He is just like Jesus. He has our best interests in mind at all times. He wants to teach us. He wants to remind us of different things.

In John 16:7 & 13 the Amplified Bible says,
"However, I am telling you nothing but the truth when I say it is profitable (good, expedient, advantageous) for you that I go away. Because if I do not go away, the Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby) will not come to you [into close fellowship with you]; but if I go away, I will send Him to you [to be in close fellowship with you].
But when He, the Spirit of Truth (the Truth- giving Spirit) comes, He will guide you into all the Truth (the whole, full Truth). For He will not speak His own message [on His own authority]; but He will tell whatever He hears [from the Father; He will give the message that has been given to Him], and He will announce and declare to you the things that are to come [that will happen in the future]."

It is the Holy Spirit's job to be our Comforter, Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener, and Standby. He is to guide us into truth. He is to tell us things to come in the future. He has a lot of jobs, and He is great at them all.

It is profitable for us, good, expedient, and to our advantage that Jesus left this earth and sent us the Holy Spirit. If Jesus did not leave the earth, then He could not have sent the Holy Spirit to give us the power to be effective witnesses. (Acts 1:8)

Even Jesus Himself didn't begin His earthly ministry or perform miracles until He had the power of the Holy Spirit! (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:32-34)

Why would we be any different?!

Considering Jesus needed the Holy Spirit for His earthly life, surely we need the Holy Spirit for our earthly lives.

It is to our advantage to have the Holy Spirit with us, rather than having Jesus with us. Or another way of saying it, we are better off now than what the disciples were 2,000 years ago. Having the Holy Spirit living with us is better than having Jesus living with us.

Those aren't my words, those are Jesus'!

Let's look at the huge change in Peter's life once he received the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus was living with him physically, Peter denied Jesus 3 times. (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:54-62, John 18:15-27)

When Jesus left this earth and sent the Holy Spirit, Peter preached the Gospel and led 3,000 people to the Lord immediately following Pentecost! (Acts 2:1-4, 14, 41)

If I didn't know any better, I would say these are two different men... and they kind of are...

Peter received a boldness and effectiveness he did not possess earlier in his life. Peter received that power once he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit!

I won't pretend to know all of the reasons we are at an advantage by having the Holy Spirit, but I do know at least one. When Jesus was here physically, He could only be in one place at a time physically. The Holy Spirit has the ability to be with every believer, all at the same time.

Jesus was limited. He could only be in one place at one time. He could only be with a set number of people at any given moment.

The Holy Spirit is not limited in this area. He can be in MANY places at one time. He can be with many, many people at any given moment.

Most Christians think life would be so much easier and they would accomplish so much more if Jesus was walking side by side with them, but that's just not true. According to Jesus, we would be at a disadvantage to have Him here with us physically in comparison to having the Holy Spirit with us spiritually!

In the book Forgotten God Francis Chan writes,
Have you ever thought about the significance of having “another” Counselor who is “just like” Christ? Right now, imagine what it would be like to have Christ standing beside you in the flesh, functioning as your personal Counselor. Imagine the peace that would come from knowing you would always receive perfect truth and flawless direction from Him. That sounds amazing, and none of us could deny the benefit of having Jesus here physically, guiding and enabling us every step of the way. Yet why do we assume that this would be any better than the literal presence of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus needed the Holy Spirit. Peter needed the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit.

Challenge: Here are a few questions to ask ourselves:

Am I utilizing the Holy Spirit in ALL of the ways mentioned in John 14 and John 16 in MY life? (Comforter, Counselor, Helper, Advocate, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby) (teacher, reminder, guider into truth, teller of things to come)

Am I letting the Holy Spirit do the job Jesus sent Him to do?

Am I a bold and an effective witness for the Lord?

Am I led by the Spirit? (Romans 8:14)

Do I have ALL of the Holy Spirit I can have? Or is there more of Him, or another experience with Him, I am missing out on?

If you have any questions on this subject or how you can receive the Holy Spirit, then feel free to contact me!
- Joel

photo & graphic design by Jennifer Juni of Jennifer Christi Photography

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

2014 Was The Worst

The year 2014 had some of the best times of my life, but it had even more of the worst. Honestly, it was one of the hardest, if not THE hardest, experience I've gone through. I've heard from and talked to quite a few different people who had similar situations in 2014. I hope this blog post can be an encouragement to those of you who have gone through, or are going through a hard time. There is hope.

I will lead off with April 20th. 4/20 was one of the highest highs of my life. No, not because it's national pot day! My son, littleATJ, was born on Easter Sunday last year, which just so happened to be 4/20. My wife and I had been wanting a child for quite some time, and we finally received what we felt was our miracle baby. He is an incredible blessing from God. We love him so much and couldn't imagine life without him. I love being a dad.

The Birth of ATJ

Fast forward to a month later. My wife Jenny was feeling very sick. Her diet consisted solely of green beans, strawberries, and drinking healthy juices. We thought her symptoms were normal recovery after childbirth. Her symptoms became unbearable nearing the end of May. So the day after our wedding anniversary, we skipped a family baby shower for our little boy and took her into urgent care. The doctor ran some tests and, after about 30 minutes, they transferred us to the emergency room.

After a few hours of tests in the emergency room, the doctor ended up admitting her into the hospital. They found she had abscesses (an infected pocket of fluid) on both of her ovaries, and believed the end result would be a hysterectomy. This came as a complete shock and totally blindsided us.

We had been praying for her healing. We had dozens of family, friends, church family, and friends in ministry praying for her. But nothing seemed to be happening.


I thought I was much better prepared for something like this to happen to me or my family... but I wasn't. This shook my faith like nothing else ever had.

I've witnessed people being healed on the spot before. I've prayed for people and they've been healed before. I knew God was capable, but I didn't feel He was coming through for us. I grew increasingly frustrated and angry with the Lord. I felt helpless, hopeless, and alone.

At one point, I finally broke down. I talked to my wife and my father-in-law and told them I didn't know how I could continue to be a pastor, a leader, and the spiritual leader of my family when I was struggling with these big of doubts and fears. I felt like I was the blind leading the blind.

They helped me bring those fears and doubts to the Lord, and I am so thankful for them helping me when I was in such a dark place. The Lord kept reminding me of the verse in Romans 8:28 which says, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." I didn't know how, but I believed God was going to work all of this out for our good in the end.

Jenny ended up staying in the hospital for 7 days before they finally sent us home. She didn't need the surgery, and the doctors were hopeful antibiotics would take care of the infections. All of this was going on while we were trying to figure out how to be parents for the first time. It was crazy. It was so hard. Thank God we have awesome family and friends; we could not have done it without them!


Fast forward another month. Jenny started having similar symptoms, so we called the doctor and he told us to come in so they could check her out. She had another 7 day stay in the hospital and this time it was over her birthday and Independence Day. This hospital stay wasn't nearly as hard as the time before. We were diligent in bringing our fears and doubts to the Lord, and God kept reminding me of that verse in Romans 8:28. I knew He was going to take care of my family.

So with Jenny's two weeklong stays in the hospital, we didn't get to celebrate much for our wedding anniversary, Jenny's birthday, or the 4th of July... except for the fact that we racked up a $70,000 medical bill. I joke with Jenny about giving her a super awesome anniversary and birthday gift. I gave her two weeks to an all inclusive resort. She had room service, three meals a day and had 24 hour care and assistance whenever needed. She even enjoyed air conditioning, cable, and a sweet bed. She doesn't seem to think it counts...

Jump ahead to the end of the fall. Photo sessions and weddings had slowed down for our business, and by the time we reached December we were in a really tough spot financially. To top it all off, we had an issue with our business and a former client was threatening to sue us. We were worse off financially than we had ever been before.

December is a crappy time to have money problems. It stunk not knowing if we would be able to afford Christmas presents for our family, besides the fact that we really needed to pay some bills AND get food in the fridge AND put gas in the car. It was a really hard time. Every day I contemplated reaching out to family members to ask for help. I knew different family members were willing and able to help, but the Lord kept telling me no. I knew to obey even though it made no sense to me whatsoever.

I attend a prayer meeting once a month in DL with other pastors and leaders in the area. For the second time in 2014, I broke down. This time it was at our December meeting. I opened up and let the other pastors know we were hurting financially. I felt like a complete failure as a husband, as a father, and as a provider for my family. And we still had that $70,000 medical bill hanging over our heads.

Thankfully, these awesome men of God gathered around me and prayed for me and my family. They were a God send. Within the next week, we received 3 or 4 random checks in the mail or gifts of money from different people. It was awesome. It was God.

With that money, we were able to pay the bills we needed to and we had enough left over to purchase the rest of our Christmas gifts for people. We even received one check large enough to cover the settlement we had reached with the former clients. God is cool. He cares about the big stuff and the little stuff in our lives.


I give you this summarized version of my year of 2014 all to say this:
Yes, I did go through a few of the hardest times of my life. Yes, I doubted. Yes, I struggled. But I did not give up. We kept fighting. I brought those doubts and fears to the Lord and He replaced them with His truth and His peace. I have experienced Romans 8:28, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." And when we had done all to stand, we kept standing (Ephesians 6:13-14.)

These are SOME of the things that God has worked together for our good:
My wife is healthy and has been off all medication since November.
She didn't need a hysterectomy and still has all of her lady parts.
We have a healthy baby boy who celebrated his birthday yesterday.
We are doing well financially.
We didn't get sued.
Because of an awesome Christian healthcare ministry, our $70,000 medical bill was paid for in full and we didn't spend a dime.

I don't believe God brought any of these circumstances into our lives. He gives life (John 10:10.) But I do believe He was able to use these situations and these struggles we went through to make us stronger. We are better now than we have ever been before. And if God did that for me, then He can do that for you!


If you are struggling, if you are going through a hard time or a tough spot, DO NOT GIVE UP. Keep fighting! Keep standing! There is hope. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Bring those doubts, fears and situations to the Lord. Tell God where you are at and how you feel, and let Him give you His truth and His peace. He will work those situations out for your good and you will be stronger in the end.

With love,
- Joel

*The healthcare we have as a family, which is Obamacare approved, is an amazing share program. It was a huge blessing to us at such a great time of need. If you want more info, feel free to contact me using the contact form at the bottom of the blog.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

No Electronic Entertainment For A Year!?

I attended a men's conference last weekend hoping to find some direction for my life, for my church, and a rekindled fire for my faith. Little did I know, I would be leaving with a God given New Year's Resolution: give up electronic entertainment and time wasting for a year. For a year!

Hey God! You know New Year's Resolutions are SUPPOSED to happen in January, not on April 11th right?!

That isn't exactly what I had in mind when I decided to attend this conference, but I trust God. I may not be the most educated guy around, but I know enough to listen to the Lord AND be obedient when He shows me something.

Most of my friends and family know I like electronics. I enjoy watching movies, watching Netflix, playing video games on my 55 inch TV, and playing around on my iPhone. In the past I had given up some of these areas of entertainment for short periods of time, for a month or so... But a year. This was definitely new.

Doesn't God realize I most likely won't have a tweet featured on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon again if I'm not being informed and entertained by electronics?! Day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, moment after moment.

Yeah, I think He probably does.

Do I realize I won't fulfill all God has planned for me, my family, and my church if I don't stop spending the majority of my time scrolling mindlessly and lighting up my face with screens of different shapes and sizes?

Yeah, I think I probably do. If I'm being honest and transparent... I KNOW that's true. But sometimes, most of the time, I'm either indifferent or I just don't care. That hurts to say. That sucks to say. But that's the truth.

Many times I'm lazy. Many times I'm disconnected from God. Many times I'm disconnected from my family. I'll blame it on the introvert in me, but I enjoy just vegging out on the couch and not doing anything.

Too bad Jesus called us to GO OUT into all the world, (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:47, John 20:21, Acts 1:8) because it is way easier to just stay in.

I realized these different areas of entertainment had become idols and time stealers in my life. I've decided to live intentionally and purposefully without distraction and time wasting... Or at least a LOT LESS distraction and time wasting than before!

In the short week since the conference, I have obeyed God's leading by cutting out electronic entertainment and getting rid of many of the time wasters in my life. Consequently, I have accomplished quite a bit! I've been able to: spend more time in study and prayer, read books regularly, start this blog, spend quality and quantity of time with my wife and son, spend time with friends, and get some random projects around the house done.

It's been great! It's been a refreshing and productive week! It's amazing to realize how much time I ACTUALLY do have when I'm not straight up wasting it!

Starting this resolution got me wondering, what would someone's view and understanding of Jesus and Christianity be based upon how I lived my life today? Up until April 11th I would venture to say this would be SOME of their thoughts based on my life:

"Jesus drinks a lot of coffee, and worries about money a lot, and snaps at his wife a lot, and eats a lot of bacon."
"I'm not too surprised Jesus plays FIFA soccer on Xbox, but it's kind of weird He plays Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto."
"Jesus watches a lot of Netflix."
"Jesus drinks beer sometimes?"
"For being a carpenter's son, Jesus sure isn't very handy!"
"Jesus has a sweet beard."

We are the only Jesus some people will ever see. We are the only Bible some people will ever read. This is a good question to ask ourselves, "Based on MY life TODAY, what would people think of Jesus?!"

I know for myself, this past week has been WAY different than the many weeks prior. I'm looking forward to the remaining 51 weeks of this entertainment fast. I'm excited to see what God is able to do in me and through me during this year.

We hunger for what we feed on. That's why I like bacon so much.

I believe that hunger or appetite for entertainment and time wasting is one of the reasons God is having me take a break from these areas in my life. Over time they have gotten out of balance.

I'm not worried about messing up during this resolution or fast or whatever you wanna call it. I'm sure I'll watch a video or do something I'm not supposed to eventually. But if I am led by Him, I know God will give me the strength and wisdom to do what He has directed me to do.

There is grace and mercy from the Lord when we trip up and mess up, but there is even greater grace and mercy to fulfill what God has shown us to do!

Challenge: Talk with God and ask if there are any areas in your life needing to be cut back on or completely cut out all together. You won't regret it!

Be led!
- Joel

Here's the link (click here) to the video of my tweet that was on Jimmy Fallon. It's the one about pancakes. My grandparents were hilarious.