Friday, December 25, 2009

You Don't Have to Like It, You Just Have to Do It

Does God ever ask us to do things we really don't want to do? I don't know about you, but it seems like there are a lot of times that God tells me to do stuff, that without Him telling me, I would probably never do. So I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that God WILL ask us to do stuff we don't want to do. Maybe a better question is, Do we have to like everything God tells us to do? I was talking with a friend the other day about this (I'd give him a blog mention, but he still blogs on myspace. I thought they actually shut down myspace or that it got hacked and turned into a recipe sharing site, but he insists it is still functional as a social networking site.) Anyway, while talking about this, he mentioned God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

If you're not familiar, God promised Abraham, when he was 99 years old, that he would be the father of many nations and that his descendants would number that of the stars in the sky. At this point in his life, Abraham had no sons. But God fulfilled that promise through Abraham's son, Isaac. Isaac was the hope and beginning of the entire Israelite nation. Many years later God commanded Abraham to take Isaac and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Now, God did not actually want Abraham to sacrifice his son, it was a test of faith, but Abraham did not know this. Abraham had faith that God would take care of the situation and that God knew what He was doing. If Isaac was God's fulfillment of the promise to make Abraham the father of many nations, surely He would take care of this. But...imagine just for a second what Abraham must have been thinking. Not only was Isaac the way that God would fulfill His promise, but he was Abraham's son. It was his son, his only son and he loved him. In Genesis 22:2 God even acknowledges Abraham's love for Isaac by saying, “"Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love...”

Imagine the pain and frustration that Abraham must have been experiencing as he traveled, with Isaac, to the place of the offering, as he led Isaac up the mountain, as he bound his son (whom he loved) and placed him on the alter and finally as he raised the knife to offer his son to the Lord. I can barely comprehend the excruciating agony in all those tasks. How much anger, sadness, hurt, confusion did he carry? I' sure that he did not like or agree with what God had commanded him to do. Regardless of how he felt, Abraham did it. He was obedient to God. Now, he didn't actually sacrifice his son, but he went as God commanded. The Bible doesn't record whether he struggled with what God commanded of him, it simply says, “Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.” (Gen 22:3) There is nothing written between God's commandment in verse 2 and Abraham's action in verse 3. Abraham just simply obeyed God, whether he liked it or understood it or not.

I don't think God expects us to be excited about everything He requires of us, but He does expect us to be fully obedient to everything He commands. Will we fall short? Of course we will, but we should desire to get to a point that when we hear the promptings and direction of the Holy Spirit, we obey them. Obedience is how we express our love to God. Being obedient in the things we desire is easy, real obedience is found in the things we don't understand or like. That is where God grows us and accomplishes God size stuff.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pastor Tim Ross - Are You Worth Following?

Now that I got that suffering stuff out (by the way, that is not the last post on suffering or brokenness. There is so much more to it, but that’s many other blogs.), I want to focus on some of the leadership stuff from RightNow ’09. Pastor Tim Ross, The Potter’s House, spoke a few times at the general sessions and I went to a couple of his break-out sessions. Pastor Ross had some great words from God about leadership. The first topic he spoke on focused on Philippians 3:17-19 and was titled, “Are You Worth Following?” Pastor Ross had so many important points; I’m just going to list them in a bullet format. Here’s the verse:

17 Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. 18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth.

- Paul is a confident leader. He tells others to follow him (imitate him). He’s telling them that if they want to be like Christ, then do what he (Paul) does.

-- This begs the question: If you told people to follow you, would they get to Jesus or something else?

- Unfortunately, there are people in the church that call themselves leaders, but their actions don’t match what they’re saying.

- Paul was unarguably a great leader and man of Christ. But what about his past? His past was horrible. It was riddled with bad stuff, stuff that was specifically directed at persecuting Christ.

- So what made him a good leader? What was different about Paul? Paul was different because his past propelled him forward. It didn’t hold him down or back.

- Paul was very honest about his past, he hid nothing. This drew people to him because they knew he was genuine and they could relate to him (and vice versa).

- What does that mean for leaders in the church today? It means we need HOT leaders!

-- Leaders that are Honest – Open – Transparent.
-- The truth is, whatever you are hiding, your followers can handle it. They are not fragile and they won’t be surprised at you past.

- How can we, in good conscious, pick up the Bible and find weakness in any of those leaders, but not see ours?

- Leadership is a calling!

-- If you are not called to it, it will kill you.
-- If you are called to it, it will kill you (it will kill who you thought you were).

- Being a leader in the church means you have to be an ally of the cross. Paul was an ally of the cross regardless of his past. Paul allowed the cross to transform his life.

- Part of having a transformed life does NOT mean omitting that you have wounds.

- When your followers see that God used you in spite of your wounds that gives them hope that He can use them.

- It’s an upside down kingdom. People don’t want to follow someone that they think can’t relate to them. Your followers want to know you’re wounded too, so they know you can relate to them.

Pastor Ross led a great discussion. There is absolutely nothing I could even feebly attempt to add. I’ll leave it with this, God became a man and suffered and was wounded. He didn’t need to go through everything He did. He’s God, He could have done it anyway He wanted to. But He chose that way. He did it so we could know that He could relate to us. He did it out in the open, for all to see, so we could know that He understands what we go through. He did it so we would know that our King can relate to us and us to Him. What makes any church leader today different?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Suffering for Fellowship

This will probably be one of a couple postings prompted from the RightNow '09 conference at Irving Bible Church in Irving, TX. There were a bunch of great speakers, but I think the topic that resonated with me the most was Pastor Francis Chan speaking about suffering. The verse that was the focus of his discussion was 1 Peter 4:12, which reads:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Peter said to expect suffering, so we should be surprised if you are not suffering. Knowing that suffering will come is important, but it’s also important to know that we have an enemy that desires us to quit. Satan will use your suffering as a means to frustrate you and get you off your game. Moses became frustrated and instead of speaking to the rock, he struck it, against what God commanded. This act of disobedience, birthed out of frustration, prevented him from entering the Promised Land. Pastor Chan made the point that we may not see the reward on earth, nor can we expect that. But the God of all Grace will restore you. You have to expect, accept and maybe like some of the suffering, knowing that it will be a little while, but God will restore you. Suffering and brokenness is the place God grows you (but that’s another post).

That growth comes from the fellowship you experience in suffering. Pastor Chan spoke about suffering as a means of fellowship with Christ. Shared suffering provides the most honest and intimate form of fellowship. He said consider what it would actually look like if you really, truly shared in Christ’s suffering. Imagine being chained to the same piece of wood, staring into the eyes of your Savior as the roman soldiers laid devastating blows to both of your backsides. There is not another moment that two people could be closer. In those moments, you look into your King’s eyes and know exactly what he is going through for you and you see the love, mercy and grace as He looks at you. That is fellowship; that is connection. In that moment, just briefly, you know God. You at the least know a little more than before. The point is, we are going to suffer and that’s a good thing. Without suffering, there is no comfort. Why would we experience the comforter (the Holy Spirit), when we’re comfortable? We don’t need Him then. God said He’ll be there in the Suffering. We should love Jesus so much that we can accept the suffering as a chance for fellowship with Him (this was probably one of my favorite quotes). When we’re able to do that, the suffering becomes ok, because we want to experience Jesus so much that the suffering isn’t important.

I think this lecture got to me the most because my view of suffering has changed quite drastically over the past year. No longer do I equate suffering with bad things outside of me happening TO me. Instead suffering has become this unexplainable feeling inside me that is almost a constant drawing to God. Of course there is physical suffering, but I’m talking about spiritual suffering, suffering of the heart. I always feel like there is more of God that I long for, that I am constantly aware that I am not good enough to approach Him yet He still invites me to Him (all I need is but to ask), and that no matter how much time I devote to Him, it’s not enough and He expects more from me. As scary and as hard as it sounds, I want to fellowship with my Messiah in that way.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Update - Kind of...

Wow has it been a long time since I've written anything. I've almost forgot what it was like. I've had a ridiculous amount of stuff happen since my last post. So there should be multiple posts in the few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Probably nothing any good, but I'm still still gonna write it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I was Lame!

He made the lame walk
And the dumb talk
He opened blinded eyes to see
That the sun rises on His time
Yet He knows our deepest desperate need
And the world waits
While His heart aches
To realize the dream
I wonder what life would be like
If we let Jesus live through you and me
~ Big Daddy Weave ~

I heard an interview in which Big Daddy Weave lead singer, Mike Weaver said that the song is meant to get us to consider what life would be like if we let Christ completely consume us and our life, instead of just trying to be better for Him. The chorus of the song is intended to get us to understand the awesome power that is our Savior and that we need to realize that same power is available to us, today. When we understand this, wholly surrender to Christ and allow Him to live in and through us, then life is entirely different. There is no other way to get the same result and once you surrender, there is no way to stop or avoid the change that comes.

I get that out of the song, but the other day when I heard it, God gave me something different (coincidentally it was while showering, again). God told me that not only has He done all that healing before, and still does today, but that He did that to me...for me. He said, I was lame, dumb and blind. At first I was like dumb – absolutely, blind – I could see that (no pun intended...ok, maybe a little), but lame – what? Here is what I realized over the last year (with God's assist): For most of my life, spiritually, I was all three of those things.

For a lot of years I was completely dumb to who God is and what a relationship with Him even meant. I had zero understanding (it's still fairly limited, but I continue to look for Him) as to who Christ was and what He actually did for me, without me even deserving it. Now, I know BDW is really talking about the actual miracle of Christ healing the deaf and mute, but it's the same. I was ignorant about Christ, because I couldn't (probably more accurate to say “didn't want to hear”) hear anything that actually held me accountable to what Christ wanted from me. Anytime anyone would say something that would even remotely cause the Holy Spirit to stir conviction in my heart, I ignored it. That caused me to not be able to speak truth. I was deaf and mute.

Because I never accepted direction, I never saw clearly. I was blind to the fact that the life I was leading was one of death. I had a skewed vision of Christianity and an absolutely wrong image of God all together. I was able to keep my blindness firmly intact by holding on to the darkness in the lie that “I was basically a good person” and Jesus loved me too much to send me to Hell. That sad and warped bit of logic caused my lameness. Because I was blind, staggering through a life of unbelievable darkness, I couldn't walk down the right path. Sometimes not only did I not walk down the right path, I just didn't walk. I sat around in a my misery, too lame and crippled by sin to even try to get up and walk.

It is a sad state of affairs when you finally realize just how dumb, blind and lame you are. The possibility of recovery seems hopeless at best. But, like BDW says in their song, “That it's when I'm at my weakest, I can clearly see.” Just over a year ago I was at my weakest and God showed me this broken, pitiful, sad excuse for what I assumed was a man. But He didn't leave it there, He also showed me this guy that I didn't know. This guy was filled with joy, peace, was in a relationship so perfect and personal there was nothing to compare it to and best of all, he was healed. He wasn't dumb – he could hear the truth, he wasn't blind – he could see Christ for the love and perfection he is, and he was on a path that led to life.That guy was the me I didn't know yet, but I wanted to. Really, God didn't give me some prophetic vision of what life would be like, but He gave me a glimpse and over the last year He has revealed more and more. But I can look back and see it now.

I think that whether you're currently saved or not, the words in that chorus are important to understand. We need to realize that the power from the same hand that formed the universe and actually did all those miracles is available to us today. God wants to pour out that power into and through us. When we “get” that, our lives change. Life becomes different, it has to. We also need to realize that while He heals our actual physical ailments such as being blind, lame or deaf and mute (I believe He absolutely does today), He also heals us from being spiritually blind, lame and dumb. That healing is just as amazing and miraculous.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Measuring Success

There are actually quite a few things that have come together to build this post. Back in May, I attended theLEAD Network (a college leadership ministry of theMILL at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO) and listened to Aaron Stern, New Life Church's college and 20-somethings Pastor, deliver the first sermon in a series titled "Success". During that sermon, Aaron talked about what we consider successful in today's culture and what success looks like before God. He used the prophet Jeremiah to illustrate this. At the time it really didn't strike any specific cord with me. Months went by and really I hadn't thought about it. Then a few weeks ago I got to the book of Jeremiah in my daily readings. Still really didn't think nothing of it, beyond the fact that Jeremiah had a horrible job and life must of sucked.

A short time later God really started prompting me to consider what it means to have a servants heart. It was about that time that I started my Contemporary Evangelism class and Pastor Jeff, Element Church Lead Pastor, started a new series called "Be". The new series is centered on realizing the potential of the local church to meet the needs of their community and BE Christ's love to them. With all that, God helped me to see the book of Jeremiah in a very different way.

Undoubtedly, the task that God gave Jeremiah was a difficult one. Basically God commissioned Jeremiah to be the prophet that told the people of Israel that they were going to be destroyed. He was to warn them that Jerusalem would fall and they would either die from famine and disease or by the sword. And those that did not die, would be taken into captivity by the Babylonians and die in a foreign land. Not the guy you want to be in Jerusalem at that point. Needless to say he was not often received well and often time was rejected and threatened to be killed. Yet through him sharing all God's warnings and pleading for the people to repent, they did not. Ultimately, Jerusalem was destroyed and the Israelites were lead in to captivity in Babylon. By all accounts and outward appearances, Jeremiah was not successful. He never got the Israelites to repent.

But, in God's view he was successful. God didn't tell him to rescue the Israelites, but to simply deliver His word to them. God told him to "Go and shout this message to the people of Jerusalem" and he did. The fact is that God did not judge Jeremiah's success in the number of people that listened to his message, but by His obedience to take the message to them, regardless of his feelings.

Here's the twist, God has given us the same command. In Acts 1:8, Jesus said, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” He said we will be His witnesses to all and just tell them about Him. He never said you have to convince anyone to repent. It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict people and have them wrestle with God and His word.

In going through my evangelism class and the current "Be" series, it becomes inarguable that our actions must match the words we speak. Jesus did not just talk about being a servant, He lived it. If we simply talk the talk without walking the walk, there is zero credibility in what we say. A pastor friend of mine, Charles Robertson, asked a few weeks ago, "Do people believe that you believe what you say you believe?" The only way to convince people that you believe what you say you do is to live it. Then it becomes real.

The way we live and what we say, must be connected to each other and one must validate the other. In an article titled Incarnational Apologetics, by Dr. David Wheeler, he said, “Think about it, 'informational' apologetics without 'incarnational' validation will often lead to hypocrisy. On the other hand, 'incarnational' apologetics without an 'informational' foundation of biblical truth will often lead to heresy.”

The bottom line is, we do need to tell people about Christ and His love, but without showing them, our words are useless. The best way to prove Jesus is to love people and we do that by meeting their needs. But, we have to go to them to meet their needs. We can't expect them to come to us, that isn't what Jesus commanded.

So, how do we measure success before Christ? Do we measure it by the number of people outside the church that we bring inside? Or do we measure it by the the number of people inside the church that are obedient to God's call and go to those outside the church?

Going for Christ,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Year in Review

Today marks one year since the day that my entire world changed. One year ago, on September 10, 2008 I discovered some horrible stuff that resulted in my wife subsequently leaving my boys and I. If you know me then you know the story and I've shared my testimony, which include some of the details, on here in a two part blog (HERE & HERE).

So where am I now. To my surprise, I am doing really well. I had assumed that healing would be a LONG and dreadful process. At times it was very difficult, but God has done some amazing stuff in my heart, as well as my life. I am still married, but only because we are waiting for the court date later this month. The point of this post is not to pity party the past. I figured I'd share some of the stuff that God has revealed and taught me this past year. This list is not all inclusive, God has taught me some stuff that is just for me and will stay that way until God says so. So here it is:

1. Obedience is the axis on which everything in God spins. God requires our obedience in every part of our religion and relationship with Him. The ultimate expression of love (and spiritual maturity) is hearing God's word and obeying it. In John 14:15, Jesus says, "If you love me, obey my commandments." Pretty clear, right?

2. If you spend intentional, right intentioned and consistent time with God (everyday) He will direct your steps. If you actually dedicate time to God and talk to Him, get a load of this, He'll talk to you too. This conversation can only be realized through the real, committed, and spirit lead actions of prayer and study/meditation of His word (i.e. reading your Bible). When you actually start spending time and talk with Him, he will offer direction and guidance immediately. Truth and revelation come quicker also. That's one of the bonuses. Not with everything, but I've found I've had to wait far less lengths of time for God to reveal why something has happened and what I should have learned from it.

3. God still disciplines His people, even today. Proverbs 3:11-12 says, "
My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights." Not only does God still discipline, when you actively seek Him and are disobedient to His direction, He is quicker to issue that discipline. He is no longer satisfied with waiting for your obedience and allowing you to figure it out on your own. He loves you enough to offer that discipline immediately when needed, to get you back on the correct path. That's the flip side to the revelation and truth thing. He'll tell you what you needed to learn, but He's still gonna swat you.

4. Not everything that happens is part of God's plan. Bad stuff sometimes just happens. God is sovereign over everything, but He doesn't will EVERYTHING to happen. He does allow everything to happen, but the bad stuff is the result of a sinful world. Sometimes God will allow you to reap the consequences of YOUR actions, as a means to draw you back to Him. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope"

5. Some of the greatest learning takes place in the deepest valleys. At least for me it did. I really feel like God revealed the most when I was in those valleys. At the time they sucked - a lot - but I wouldn't trade them and what God revealed, for anything. Psalm 119:71 says, " It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees." God taught me a lot while I was broken. I'm still there from time to time (currently I'm in the middle of a valley - but I can appreciate it), and I find myself often looking for what God is trying to show me instead of sitting in self misery and pity.

6. I think the most important thing I learned is this: I love Jesus. Sounds simple, I know. But until I went through that crap a year ago, I only thought I knew my Savior. I knew about Him, but I had NO idea who He was. I am still far from knowing who He is. But I know two things, I love Him and He loves me. He reveals a little more of Him everyday that I'm willing to seek Him. He wants to show us all His glory, we just need to be willing to seek it and receive it. When I got a hold of the idea that relationship is so much different than religion, I was amazed. I wanted to understand it, to unpack it and look at it. But you can't, you have to spend time with Him. That is the only way you can build a relationship, time and talking. When I finally understood that and did it, oh my word how things changed.

Things are different now. God has done some amazing things in my life. I am completely a different person and can't wait to see what God has next. I know there was probably other stuff I wanted to add to this list tonight, but being that it's late and I could probably sit up all night and type, I'm gonna call this good for now. It captures the most important things, for the moment anyway.

Excited for the next year,

Thursday, August 27, 2009

God's Training Grounds

I just started taking classes toward a degree in religion at Liberty University. With that said, I AM PSYCHED, STOKED, EXCITED whichever you prefer. One of my classes is Contemporary Evangelism. One of the books I have to read for it is The Art of Personal Evangelism, by w. McRaney. This class and my first required discussion board thread has a lot to do with my last post "Are We Adding to the Church" (HERE) that I wrote after the Summit Leadership conference. So I thought I'd add a “part 2” of sorts, since it's still been on my heart.

McRaney identifies God's desire is to “have an eternal relationship with His people", evidenced by the fact that He created us to live forever. From the very beginning God established relationship. He gave Adam and Eve each other, then instructed that man should leave his mother and become one flesh with his wife. God also made sure He had an active relationship with Adam and Eve in the garden. Genesis 3:8 reads, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day...” This desire is expressed continually throughout the bible. In Exodus 29:45, God again reveals His desire to have relationship with His people by stating, “Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God.” God created us to have relationship with us and so we could have relationship with each other. He created us as vessels to pour His overflowing love in to and the fact that He gave us free will is evidence that He desired willing reciprocation of that poured out love.

But He didn't stop there. God also expects us to continue pouring out our love to others, our neighbors. In the same instance that Christ commands us to love God with all our heart, He gives equal weight to the command to love our neighbor. This is the foundation for community. God revealed His desire for us to live in community by establishing the desire and need for relationships and modeled it in the Trinity. McRaney speaks to this point by saying, “God was living in community with Himself as Trinity and created all things to enjoy the benefits of such community." God intends us to live in community, not only with other Christians, but also (and especially) with non-believers. Most often when the Israelites would turn from God he would send a prophet that was already a part of the community. Christian community is very important because it helps us to sharpen each other as believers. It also strengthens and prepares us to go to the unbeliever. C.S. Lewis describes Christian community by saying, “Consequently, the one really adequate instrument for learning about God is the whole Christian community, waiting for Him together.” We are intended to be united in relationship and community as one body. Our church should provide that relationship and community. But it should not be our stronghold, rather a training ground and a safe place to find comfort and support in between our attempts to bring others into God's community and a relationship with Him. That is where we become equipped and prepared to evangelize in today's world.

In Training,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Are We Adding to the Church?

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a satellite session of Willow Creek Leadership Summit at Cheyenne Hills Church. The Summit was phenomenal to say the least. Even though the focus was on leadership (pretty much all facets), there was one thing that kept jumping out at me. During the Summit, bringing the good news to the lost, being the church for the needy was talked about a lot. We, as a church, are commanded to be witnesses for Christ to the ends of the earth. So I left the Summit with this feeling that we as a church don’t do enough to fulfill that command (I know I don’t, at least).

Now, I’m not saying that we all need to run out to the far reaches of the isolated ends of the earth and preach to some indigenous tribe. It needs to start at home, where we live. In that same command to be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth, He commands his disciples to be His witnesses to Jerusalem first. That is where they lived, that is where He commanded them to start. There are plenty of lost right where we live. I’m pretty confident in the fact that if every church focused on the vision that God has given them for the city they are in, then the world will be touched. It’s a chain reaction. If our churches focus on their God given vision for their local area (their neighborhood, zip code, town, city) then they will provide people in that area with a path to Christ. At the same time the Church is serving it's community, they should also be training and raising up disciples for Christ. When that happens, God will begin to show those people His vision for them. When that happens, some might be called to another city, state, or maybe another country.
Keeping in mind that I know there are churches that God has given vision to reach other countries, my point is that God has really given us all the same vision – to be His witnesses to the world.

With that said, I've been reading Acts as part of my devotional and after the Summit I started to realize the similarities in how many of the chapters end. Here's what I noticed:

Acts 2:47b “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Acts 3:31b “Then they preached the word of God with boldness.”

Acts 5:42 “And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.”

Acts 8:40b “He preached the Good News there and in every town along the way until he came to Caesarea.”

Acts 9:42 (after Peter raised a woman from the dead) “The news spread through the whole town, and many believed in the Lord. “

Acts 10:45 “The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too.”

Acts 11:24 “Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.”

Acts 12:24 “Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.”

Acts 15:41 “Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.”

Do you see a trend? I could go on, there are other chapters that end with “added to the church”, “believers were encouraged”, etc.

What I've begun to see is the book of Acts is not just a chronology of how the early church was born and developed. It also, repeatedly, punctuates most chapters with the point that as the apostles witnessed for Christ they added to the church and encouraged and strengthened other believers. Luke makes sure to point out, numerous times, that the apostles were successful in taking Jesus' message to others, because of the boldness at which they preached the word of God.
Acts is intentionally filled with comments about “strengthening and encouraging” our churches and believers and adding to The Church by leading people to our Messiah.

Just in typing this, I am prompted by the Holy Spirit that it is equally important to preach the good news to those that don't believe or know AND to encourage each other in Christ. That encouragement helps strengthen us to bring the message of Christ to others. As a matter of fact, Acts should serve to encourage and strengthen us today.

The point is, our goal as followers of Christ should be to have our days punctuated by a statement similar to those found at the end of many of the chapters in the book of Acts. Christ commands us to be His witnesses “telling people about [Him] everywhere”, but He commands us to start where ever you are first. Shouldn't we want to add to the church?

Encouraged and Strengthened,

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Say the Words

A couple nights (Monday, I think) ago I was praying before bed about something I really didn't want to be praying for or about and God hit me with something that wrecked me. So here it is.

Shortly after my wife left back in September God began prompting me to pray for a variety of things involving her. One of the main reasons, I believe, had to do with God healing my hurt and helping me to forgive her. Part of me wanted the prayer to be fulfilled (primarily because I didn't want that anger, but more importantly my boys needed her), but the other part of me wasn't ready for that much kindness (whether I was ready or not, God was so it didn't matter). Regardless what the reasons, with mixed feelings I was obedient and began praying for her.

Since September, at God's directing, I've been praying almost the same prayer everyday. I make sure to pray it at least once during the day by myself and once with my boys. Over time, I began to really feel God begin to heal my heart and a definite release from the hurt and anger toward her. However, recently some of that anger has resurfaced based on some very specific events (I'll get back to this part). Point is, whether I wanted to pray for her or not, I did, even through the times where she made me mad. Then as if that wasn't enough, during my lunch break on Tuesday (after the God wrecking night), God prompted me to pray for the guy my wife is currently with. I know, it made me ill too. If there's two things I've learned through all this it's: 1 – God expects you to do what He tells you to. 2 – He doesn't like to have to say it twice. So, with a pit in my stomach, I prayed for him. I almost asked God not to make me do it again, but figured that'd be fruitless.

So, back to the God wrecking me night, Monday I hadn't yet prayed it at any point during the day, so I included it in my prayer before bed. I said my prayer and said amen. After praying I was unusually irritated with the whole having to pray for her and him thing, so I thought something along the lines of, "I'm really tired of praying this, why am I still doing it." Almost immediately I felt like God answered, "I don't care if you're tired of it and because I said to keep doing it." How do you argue that point with God? So I shut my mouth. Then God wrecked me.

Here it is: I really felt like God was trying to make the point that He doesn't need me to want what He prompts me to pray for. I really felt like He was saying that sometimes He just needs us to say the words, in prayer to Him, so He can fulfill that prayer and prove His power for our sake. God doesn't need us to ask for something for Him to be moved to action. He's not a genie sitting around waiting to grant our every wish. God has a plan, a perfect plan, and is going to accomplish the things He wants and needs to see that plan come to completion. Basically, I think God was like, I want you to pray for this, I'm going to make it come to pass (whether you want it or not), I'm going to crush any misconceptions or notions you have about me, and I'm going to use it to grow you. I immediately ran for my bible (well, anyway) and started looking for a story that might confirm some of that line of thought. I even asked a friend and he referenced the story of Jonah and Nineveh (Here). That kind of fits, but not exactly what I was looking for. The only place I could find that God told some one to pray when they weren't really wanting to, was when Jesus was in the garden and caught his three disciples sleeping. The NLT says, “Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Matthew 26:41. But I think the way The Message translates it is maybe more applicable. It says...

Stay alert; be in prayer so you don't wander into temptation without even knowing you're in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there's another part that's as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire."

There was part of me that was eager and ready for anything in God (that's why I was obedient and prayed...because He's amazing and I love seeing him work), but there was also a part of me that wanted to be lazy and not do the work I didn't think was worth doing. It would have been easy not to pray what God wanted, but that would have lead me down a pretty dark road of disobedience (I'm sure of it – if you compromise obedience in one area, it gets easier to do each time).

So that's what God hit me with. If He says pray about something, you pray about it. I think sometimes He just wants us to say the words, He gives us, out loud, so we can hear them said. If we do that, that makes them more real, more solid, you can't take them back. The main thrust of my prayer for my wife had to do with her coming back to God. The next day, I found out that she began emailing specific mutual friends (and she emailed our boys) and asked for forgiveness from all of them. She even told one of them she found and is attending a good church. That may be small and she still has a long way to go, but that's how it begins. He's amazing!

I think (and maybe I'm way off) sometimes He prompts us to pray for and do things that we never expected and never wanted to help build our faith and other virtues. If we only ever prayed for what we want and God fulfilled only those prayers, we'd be spoiled freaking brats. In order to create a heart filled with compassion, forgiveness, love, humility and a burden for the lost, God often times does stuff to make us uncomfortable (at least for me He does – a LOT). Like I said, I wasn't able to find a specific instance where God directed someone to pray for something they didn't want (anybody that knows one, please feel free to comment and share), but I can very clearly see that being something God would do. It's part of His modus operandi (m.o.) to do stuff that doesn't make sense to us.

More than building our faith, I think He might do it to make our hearts fall in tune with His. It's important to pray God's heart often. He'll give us the desires of our heart, but He changes those desires to match His. He desires for EVERYONE to be saved (regardless what we think of the person), that should be our desire too.

Maybe that's what he was trying to teach me. I also think He might have been showing off a bit too, He knows that I enjoy seeing Him do that.

Praying God's Heart,

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Married to Him

I know I haven't posted anything in a few weeks, but rest assured that doesn't mean nothings been happening. Actually the reverse is quite true, a LOT has been going on, but most of it is for me right now (mos definitely a few blogs to come). I just want to share this revelation I recently had that was huge. Actually, you may not think so, but for me it was earth shaking big.

So, not to get to deep into everything, in the last couple months I have struggled with not feeling the same "connection" with God that I had in the previous 9 or 10 months. It's not that I didn't feel His presence, it just wasn't the same. I had been on this spiritual high, where I had connected with Christ in a way that I never had been before. Everything was going AWESOME in my relationship with Christ, then some stuff came up and BAM! It just didn't feel the same anymore. I actually, at one point (only for a short time), considered the possibility that God had departed me. I knew he hadn't though, there were instances where I still felt His prompting and still felt His presence. I was doing all the same stuff (praying, reading the bible, abstaining from the stuff He had already called me to), but His presence didn't feel the same. I really struggled with it and didn't understand. So through talking with friends, mentors, coaches, through reading (just finished Seconhand Jesus by Glenn Packiam - GREAT book), and prayer, I came up with this: Our relationship with God is, in essence, a marriage. I know "The Church" is called Christ's bride. But I mean in the literal sense, we (individually) are married to Christ. Like I said, maybe not new to you, but huge for me.

In discussion with a friend, I was able to put in perspective the religion v. relationship topic. I always knew both were important, but never really knew the difference. I have a grasp on it now, but I'm still figuring out a lot of it (I almost said I have a firm grasp on it, but just when I think I do, God shows me something else and proves that I don't). Anyway, what my friend helped me put together is WHY both are important. This was huge in helping me put into perspective this whole difference in the closeness I felt with God and the marriage analogy.

Be patient with me while I try to pan this out...When you first start out in seeking God, you have to have the rules - that's the religion. You need them to help you develop the discipline, devotion, and dedication required to follow Christ. In doing that, Christ begins to change your life, you start (and stop) doing stuff, not out of obligation, but because you know it helps you draw close to God and it pleases Him. All of the sudden you realize you are in love. You have a desire to be with Him always. You begin to feel that passion that keeps you in the clouds. The same as when you meet that person that God has for you. It's an amazing feeling; one that you never want to end. But alas it does. When that happens, hopefully you have allowed God to build a strong enough relationship that religion and relationship have intertwined and you are left with this deeper love and respect that you can't have in religion or relationship alone.

I was told that religion is what you lean on when the relationship is weak. That is true, but it's more than that, it's the bedrock of your relationship. When the burning flame of passion fades to glowing embers, that's where the real fire is. It's like lighting charcoal. You can't cook until the flame has penetrated deep into the coal and is burning throughout. Until that happens the flame is at the mercy of the wind. Think about a time when you've had to relight the charcoal because the wind blew out the flame (especially those of us in Wyoming). Once it is burning within the coal, not just on it, the heat produced is so much more intense and is not easily extinguished. Same with religion/relationship. The time spent developing your relationship with God allows the "rules" of religion to penetrate deep into your heart. At that point they aren't just rules anymore, they're a way of life (that's the whole BE holy part). Now the flame burns deeper and is sustainable.

So that all kind of helped me get to the marriage part. God is constantly trying to woo us to Him. Once you respond to that wooing, He begins courting you. He'll start revealing all this marvelous truth and showing you such beautiful things. He'll ask you to give up certain things, but not without replacing it with something better. This is the dating and early married years. Things may not ALWAYS be perfect, but you just can't believe you found someone so great, some one that "completes" you (by the way - if you're looking for someone to complete you, the only person that can do that is Christ). You want to spend every minute with them. You may disagree on somethings, but the romance is so perfect you're willing to make any exception.

At some point that intense passion gives way to what may sometimes seem like the "everyday". You know you still love your spouse, you're committed to them, but the "flame" is gone. For the record the flame is gone, but the passion is always there and can be reignited over and over. It's the same with God. At some point, you'll stop feeling that intensity. You'll still feel Him near, but it won't feel exactly "new" or "exciting". It'll feel like you've been together for a bit. Of course you can reignite the passion, moments of worship, prayer time, retreats and conferences, but those are less frequent. The important part is that the deeper fire is burning hotter than the initial passion ever did.

Soap Box time: I've said it before and I'll say it again. Love, real love, is not a feeling; it's a choice and an action. The things you do for your spouse reflect the love you have for them. It's the adoration you show them, the respect you give them, the dedication and commitment you chose to honor. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes the point that "being in love" enables us to make the promise to commit to being true to our beloved even when we cease to be "in love". He reinforces the promise of commitment and love being about action by saying, "A promise must be about things that I can do, about action: no one can promise to go on feeling a certain way." Love is a decided action. That's my soap back to the analogy.

Then inevitably you'll have your first big disagreement (again for the record - in any disagreement with're wrong). In marriage, it may seem like devastation. "How can I be fighting with this person that I love so much". Same with God, you're going to mess up or do something stupid and God is going to allow you to reap the consequences of that something. I'll be honest with you, it's gonna happen and it's gonna suck. But this is where that deep love comes in. Just because you get in a fight in marriage doesn't mean you leave. It's the same with God. Just because you mess up or aren't obedient, doesn't mean He'll leave you; He won't. So you're upset, hurt, whatever, but the truth is: He's still there, always, arms open, waiting to comfort you.

The fact is, God loves you. Our walk with God was never meant to always be high on the mountain. I'm actually discovering I spend more time with God in the valley. Probably my own doing, but God works wonders in growing you in those valleys. God doesn't want to date us, he doesn't want a flame that is extinguished by a breeze and at the mercy of the wind. God wants to marry us and be with us always. He wants to build this relationship with us that is sustainable and burns deep. He wants you to say, "I do" and honor your commitment. That's when everything's beautiful!

I do,

Monday, July 20, 2009

How Do You Argue With That?

I had previously mentioned that I had never read the entire Bible. I think I have anyway, if not, I haven't. Currently, I'm like half way through. I'm not following any regiment, just reading kind of scattered. Right now I am reading through the Psalms (which I just love - even the laments, they are so applicable sometimes), Isaiah, and Matthew.

Isaiah is one of the books that I have never read. I knew that Isaiah prophesied a lot about the coming of Christ. And I know that Jesus referred often to Isaiah's prophecies. What I didn't know was how very specific those prophecies were. Today I read the what is called The Lord's Suffering Servant. It goes from Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12. It is, of course, about Jesus and talks about how He would suffer for our sins. The thing that got me was the exactness of it (which I guess is probably a good indication that the prophecy is actually God inspired...regardless, there can be ABSOLUTELY no doubt this one is).

If you've never read it, it is a must read. Here is just a sampling of some of the stuff Isaiah prophesied about:

53:5b - He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.

53:8a - Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream.

53:9b - But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave.

That's just five prophecies and Jesus fulfilled them all. I had heard it before (and I know Jeff has said it before), but the odds of one person to fulfill just 8 of the Old Testament prophecies is something like 1 x 10 to the 28th power. That is a one in 10 with 28 zeros behind chance of 1 person fulfilling just 8. Jesus Christ fulfilled all of them (and don't quote me as exact but I think there were something like 39).

I knew all that before, but until I read Isaiah 53 for myself, I didn't get how exact it was. After reading it I was in awe. I literally did not know how to respond or what to think. I needed to see what else was said about it and how else it was said, anywhere I could. I was reading an New Living Translation bible, so I got my New International Version bible and yep same thing. Then I looked up the New King James Version on my blackberry bible and it was the same thing (only fancier).

Then I grabbed my Halley's Handbook (thanks for introducing me to Halley Thomas). Here is what Dr. Henry Halley said, "So vivid in detail that one would almost think of Isaiah as standing at the foot of the cross...It cannot possibly fit any person in history other than Christ." Perfect, smart guy (that's why he has a bible handbook and I don't). How do you argue with that? In the very least, serious consideration must be taken as to who Jesus of Nazareth was and is. But regardless of whether you're on the fence or not (don't know how you could be after reading that), I know who He savior, my redeemer, my God.

Oh yeah, here's the best part of the whole chapter (in my estimation anyway):

Isaiah 53:11
When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.

Because of Jesus and what He did, I can be counted as righteous. You can too. How amazing is that?

In awe,

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Holiness is What You Want From Me

"Holiness, holiness is what I long for. Holiness is what I need. Holiness, holiness is what You want from me."
Holiness - Sonicflood

Lately, God has been singing that song a lot to me. Not that I don't think that I am not living Holy. Well, not blatantly living unholy anyway (I still struggle and God is still working to change a lot in me), but God has really been bringing this up a lot. I think it has come up so much lately just as a reminder as to how so important Holiness is.

Holiness isn't just a collection of actions that you do and then are all of a sudden holy. Holiness involves so much more than just what you do, it also concerns the condition and focus of your heart and soul. I've heard people say that there is no way to achieve holiness, I've done too much. This is true to an extent. Apart from God, there is absolutely no way to achieve holy living. Because God is a holy he commands us to be holy. Just because I decide to say that in a blog, really means nothing. I can tell you stuff all day, but I'm just Bruce and little of what I come up with on my own is ever really deep or right for that matter. Anything that I ever say that is even close to thought provoking comes from God.

Fortunately you don't have to take my word for it. God commands this in Leviticus 19:2 by saying "Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy." Notice God did not simply command us to be holy. He also gave the reason. He is holy, so we must be.

The bible is packed with holiness (no pun intended). I did a search for the words holy and holiness using BibleGateway (King James Version) and came up with 621 times that either of those words are used. I think God may have intended it to be important.

So if it's that important and by our very nature it is impossible for us to live holy, how can God command us to "Be Holy"? Because of Jesus. God came to Earth as a man to show us how to live holy. God will never command the unattainable. Remember He said be holy because I am holy. If the focus of our heart and soul is to imitate Jesus, then holiness is attainable. That is not to say that we won't ever sin again, we're human (you're gonna sin), but the intent of our heart and our actions can reflect the holiness that is Christ Jesus.

But I digress, as I write this God is steering me back towards the idea that someone can not achieve holiness because of what they've done in the past. That is ludicrous to say the least. What we have done in our past, once confessed to God and repented of, has no impact on the person that God is molding us to. If it does, that is only because WE allow it to. God fully intends us to be so much more than what we were before and he isn't going to stop at "good enough". When you think that you are finally "good enough" for God, He isn't even close to finished with you. I love how C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity. He said, "You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: But He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself." That is how you achieve holiness, by letting God live in you. It doesn't matter what you did. Listen to what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:14-16,

"14 So you must live as God's obedient children. Don't slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn't know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, 'You must be holy because I am holy.'"

Two things that stick out to me: 1. You didn't know any better then. That tells me that after you accept Christ, you do know better. That says to me that you are no longer the same person. That is exactly where God wants you. 2. He chose you. He chose you to be His children and holy. If God chose you to be holy, then it must be something that He has made capable of attaining. With that said there is no secret formula. Being holy is being obedient. The life style we chose to live is part of that holiness. Our purity (which by the can still chose to be pure - and yes, I'm talking about sexual sin, all of it premarital sex, the way we talk, our thoughts, our eyes, all of it - even if you've done any of that prior to coming to Christ), the way we talk, the way we treat others, and so much more. But all of that needs to be grounded in a relationship with God, in which you allow Him to enter your heart and form it to look like His, take your mind and transform it to think like Him and take your will and conform it to His (which won't always be what you want).

Bottom line is this: God has called us to "Be Holy", not become holy. He has already provided the example (Jesus), the instructions (His word - the Bible), and the desire (that longing we all have for "something more" - BTW that longing can only be filled by a relationship with Christ). But he also gave us free will, so the decision to "Be Holy" is fully ours. Keep in mind though, there's really not much of a choice there. Either we chose God and holiness and we get to experience the most intense, deep and meaningful love that you can't even imagine or we chose the world and our desires and we get to experience the intense pain and devastation of Hell and eternal separation from our God and His love.

I hope this all flowed the way God intended it to. I read it like 10 times before I posted it. If it doesn't make sense, I am sorry. I am but a man and some times I get in the way of what God is trying to say or do (not intentionally, but it's our nature).

Trying to Be Holy,

Monday, July 6, 2009

Live Alive!

While I was visiting my parents I had the opportunity to attend service at their church (Prairie Avenue Christian Center) on July 5th. Their head pastor was away on business, so that gave his son an opportunity to preach.

The topic of the morning dealt with living Holy. He said we are dead to our sinful nature and alive in Christ. People that are alive do stuff. God expects us to take an active part in our sanctification. It goes back to the spirit following the flesh. The state of our heart is not automatically good because we believe in God. We do not do good because we are good. Through our faith in Christ, we have a desire to be holy and do what is good and right, that is what causes us to take action and following His example. Through that, our heart is turned toward holiness. Dave (the pastor's son) went on to say, "God commands us to BE holy, not become holy." God has already done the work for us. He has already given us what we need to BE holy." It isn't enough to say, "I am going to be holy." You actually have to BE holy and that takes action. Dave gave a list of 10 things that should cause us to want to be active in our faith, so that we can BE holy before God. I'm not going to go though all of them (you can get the podcast at the above link if interested), but here are the few that really stuck out to me:

1. Our desire to please God (1 John 5:3-5)

I've blogged on this before: obedience. The best way that we can show God love is through obedience. This is pleasing to God. Obedience takes action. You have to decide to be obedient, then actually be obedient. Obedience is being active in you faith.

2. Our need to keep a clear conscience before God (1 Tim 1:5-7)

This is important because a clouded conscience creates a clouded view of what God expects from us. A clear conscience allows God's Spirit to work though us and direct us. This is where other stuff comes into play. A clouded conscience prevents a whole host of things: obedience, love, kindness, etc. Confession before God is an essential part of active faith. That act of taking responsibility before God is an act of submission. Submission is being active in your faith.

3. Our desire for a deeper walk with God (John 14:21)

This is (as far as I'm concerned and can tell) the most important reason to be active in our faith. Without a deep rooted relationship with our God there is NOTHING else. No ministry, no lost saved, no family, no community/fellowship, nothing. You can NEVER grow a deeper relationship with anyone without being active. James 4:8 says "Come close to God, and He will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world." God is always there, but will never force Himself on you. You have to draw near to Him (action). The second part of that is that you have to focus on one thing: either God or the world. We have to be active in our relationship with God. When we are active in our relationship with God and that is our only focus, everything else will be right. Intentionally drawing near to God is being active in your faith.

Bottom line is: with out being active in our faith we are not living as we are alive in Christ. God has already given us the tools to live alive and be holy. God desires us to be Christ like. That is the ONLY example there is for being holy. If you're not actively pursuing Christ, you can't be holy. C.S. Lewis said it perfectly in Mere Christianity when he said, "God looks at you as if you were a little Christ: Christ stands beside you to turn you into one."

Living Alive,

Thursday, June 25, 2009

He Went Away

The last couple weeks have been a little rough, but pretty enlightening. I got a lot out of the time I was able to spend with God, away from the hustle and bustle of the Internet. Although a couple weeks was not very long, I was still able to spend some time reflecting. Maybe next time will be longer. Anyway, like I said, I was able to focus on some real truths, all of which are gonna stay between me and God for right now.

With that said, I did want to share something I recently got from Matthew. My church is currently doing a sermon series called “One Prayer” and through that we are reading Matthew together. A few days ago we read Matthew 19, in which Jesus encounters a rich young man. The man asked Jesus how he could receive eternal life, to which Jesus answered, “...
If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." Easy enough, right? The man responded that he had and inquired what else he lacked. Then Jesus hit him with his proverbial “Jesus stick” (reference to Mr. Echo's scripture stick from the television show Lost). Jesus said, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." That's huge, a lot of commitment, right?

If you know the story, then you know that the rich young man did not accept Jesus' invitation. Unlike other's that Jesus called, one's that dropped everything to follow Him, the rich young man chose not to. The bible says, “When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.” I always got hung up on the fact that he “went away sad”. I always thought it made some sense though. Of course he'd be sad, maybe he was unsure that Jesus was actually The Messiah and he had a lot to give up. Doesn't make it right, but maybe he was afraid to give up everything for someone that was “just another prophet”. How could he have known the trade off for all his wealth would be a relationship of true and real love with our creator that would last for all of eternity. That's just me speculating, but that is how I've thought of it in the past.

Lately though, God has helped me see a different part of that story. Not that he went away sad, it doesn't matter that he was sad. The important part is that “he went away”. Just that, “HE WENT AWAY”! Jesus told him exactly how to receive eternal life and the young man chose to go away from Christ. It doesn't matter how he felt when he went away, just that he went away. How many times do we do that? How many times does Christ tell us what we need or ought to do and we decide the cost is too high, it makes us angry, sad, doesn't fit our plans or whatever excuse we use and just go away from Him? How about this...How many times do we ask God to deliver us from some trial and when He does, we're happy, we thank Him, then we go away from Him? Oh, we come back. When things get tough again, we come back, but the fact is we still went away.

Why do we go away? I wrote a blog (Here) awhile back about God running to us and us running to Him. But this is more than that. It's not about us running to God (although we should EVERY single chance we get), it's about not going away from Him. He will always pursue us, Psalm 23:6 says, “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” He will NEVER take His love from us and He will always take us back if we go away, but I'm sure of this: He would prefer to never loose us. We may not always like the path God has laid out or the answer He gives us, but rest assured God's plans for you “are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

It doesn't matter whether we leave Jesus because we're angry, hurt, sad, disenchanted, disappointed, or even happy (because for the record, a lot of people walk away when things are going good). The point is that you left. Our feelings have nothing to do with who God is. Make no mistake, God cares about how we feel, where do you think we got our feelings from. But God does not waiver in the way He is, like we do. Our feelings do not play any role in who He is. God has not changed. He is the same everyday, ALWAYS. C.S. Lewis put it like this in his book Mere Christianity, “But the thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not.”

God loves you ALWAYS FOREVER, don't just go away from Him.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blog Break

When I started this blog it was strictly to record the excitement with my new walk with Christ. I intended to use it to look back, at some later date, and see all the amazing things God has done in my life. I figured if it helped someone or revealed a some truth to anyone, then bonus. Recently, God has been beckoning me to spend some personal time with Him. With that said, in keeping with my FB hiatus, I have decided to break from blogging also.

I plan to continue writing (albeit for me only, as it currently stands), but who knows, maybe God will prompt me to share some great truth He'll reveal during this break. Regardless, I know I'm being called inward to focus on me and Jesus. I know God is going to continue to do just awesome stuff for me and I'm excited to see what that is.

Talk to you later and God bless.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

God Right Now!

Over the last 9 months, God has done some amazing things in my life. Obviously the greatest, in my view, was His calling me to ministry on January 14, 2009. Since then He has clearly defined the path that will get me where He wants me. It hasn't always been straight, but it has been very visible. God hasn't stopped doing those amazing things for me and I have faith that He'll continue to do so. Goes back to that whole obedience thing (I have a two part blog post on it, HERE & HERE). Long as you're obedient, God is faithful and generous with His blessings (may not always be what you want, but it will always be what you need). Anyway, I intend to actually keep this shorter than normal (maybe), so here it is.

I've actually spoke with a friend about this topic a number of times and I actually talked about it the one opportunity I had to preach, but it keeps coming back around. Specifically having to do with the plans that God reveals for our future. I have NO doubt that God routinely shows us what He has for our future (not always, but He has for me quite a bit over the last 9 month). Probably more often than not, He won't show you. That way there isn't this “shiny” object off in the distance that can side-track you from what He is trying to teach you and develop in you. But whether He shows us or not, how often do we find ourselves trying to serve a God of our future or our past? With that said, I'm not talking about hope for the future. On the contrary hope is essential to our faith. Ephesians 4:4 says, “For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.” We have been called to hope for the future and I can't wait for it. On the other hand, we can also get hung up on the God of our past. We look back and see all the stuff He has done for us. When a time comes that we don't perceive the future to be as promising as what He has done for us already, we long for the “good times”. Again, not talking about detaching from past blessings. His sacrifice on the cross was the most amazing thing He has ever given us. And, all of how God moved in our past (long as we were obedient) shaped who we are today, God is good that way. What I am talking about is when we live so much for the future or hold so tight to the past, being so focused on what He might have for us or what He's already done for us, that we forget what He is giving us right now.

God is a God of right now moments. He wants us to appreciate and remember what He did for us. He wants us to look ahead and hope for the future. But more than anything, He wants to affect us right now. He wants to be with us today. To pour out His love and favor in this moment and every moment. 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 says, “1As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. 2For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” Paul is quoting what God said in Isaiah 49:8. NOW is the part of your life that God wants you to see Him working in. NOW is when God wants to be with you.

So, do you serve a God that is only concerned about your future? Or a God that you can only look back and see what He’s done in your past? Or do you serve a God that is right here, right now; a God that is present and fully concerned with you walking the path He has currently laid out for you? I can tell you this, we serve an ALWAYS present God, that wants our obedience and wants to impact us right now. Not just a God that has impacted us or will impact us. Our relationship with him is and always should be active and dynamic. He is constantly moving in and trough our lives, we just have to open our eyes and see Him.

I know God has marvelous things for my future, but He also has marvelous things for my right now. I'm loving what He has done, is doing and will do.

Living in God Right Now,

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Motions

Since I've started to understand what an actual relationship with Christ is supposed to look like, I've had a few opportunities to share my faith and new things I've learned about that relationship. All of those opportunities have been very easy and not at all aggressive. I don't know if aggressive is actually the right word. Maybe there was more passion for what was being said on my side, than on the other's side. At any rate, the conversation was usually very mild, with little opposition to what I was saying.

Not the case last Thursday night. I actually had the opportunity to defend and share my faith. It was rather odd, because the person I was defending my faith to is a friend. He wasn't attacking my faith, but the amount of passion that he argued with was like none I'd ever actually dealt with in regards to religion. I will say that he attends my church and although he is not "religious" he does appreciate the messages that Jeff preaches and is willing to consider much of what he hears. He has a lot of questions and some deep convictions, but I would worry about him if he didn't question. When God gets him to come home (notice I said WHEN), he'll be a strong man of God. At the end of the night he told me he loves me and we were good. I actually think God set that situation up with a friend to throw me off. Like He was saying, "Things won't always be sweet when you talk about Me." But I also think he picked my friend to have this exchange with to make it safe, kind of a practice run of sorts.

There was a lot that he brought up, but one of his biggest complaints was with how worship is conducted. He argued that if singing at church was intended to be worship to the "one and only God" (he did the finger quotations thing), everyone at church should be on the same page and not be singing off key, especially if you're on the stage. He said something to the effect of, "If you are going to worship God, (emphasized) I MEAN - THE GOD, then everyone should be on the same page, the same rhythm and do it right, even the band. Otherwise, it's not worship." He continued by saying that it was somewhat hypocritical to be singing off key, not even following what was on the screen and really think that because you put your hands up, that you're worshiping God.

With that said...I think Element's Praise team brings the heat every time they play, I love'em. You can tell Adam (Blog love HERE) gets on stage every time with the intent and desire to chase after God's heart.

I really felt ill prepared to defend some of the points that were being made. But I put my trust in God and a lot of stuff, some I don't even remember reading or hearing necessarily, came running out of my mouth. I tried to explain the relationship part of Jesus, we talked about the Church being "intolerant", and a variety of other topics, but when the music thing came up, I was floored. I thought, "Seriously? This is your big issue with church, the music?"

Our conversation at that point turned to talking about worship being more than just singing at church. It's about the way you live, the time you spend with God, the rejoicing in Christ in the light and dark times. But it did get me thinking about worshipping in my daily life and it made me think of the song "The Motions" by Matthew West. Matthew West talks about not spending our life asking, "What if I had given everything, instead of going through the motions?"

So that begs the question, "If I don't feel up to worshiping or 'off', shouldn't I just not do it, instead of going through 'the motions'?"

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not going to win the next season of America's Got Talent or American Idol with my singing. So for all I know, my friend may have very well been speaking of me, although he didn't say that. Without even getting into the deeper parts of worship, i.e. the way you live, time spent with God, etc., worship at church has nothing to do with the actual verbal singing or the hand movements. There are sometimes during worship that I don't even sing. Sometimes I simply stand there, listen to what's being said and pray. Sometimes I raise my hands, sometimes I don't. There are even sometimes that I don't feel "it", when it comes to worship. In the past if I felt "off", I would go to church, stand and sing and still raise my hands. I would simply, go through the motions. Now, I'm not content with that. This last Sunday I felt "off" at the beginning of worship, but not by the end. When I go to church, I always pray for the Holy Spirit to move and worship with the full understanding that I am worshiping a God that glories in my praise and I have an absolute expectation for God to show up.

I think sometimes, regardless of how you feel, even if you feel "off", you need to understand one very important thing with regards to worship: It's not for you or anyone else, but GOD! I don't concern myself with anyone else during worship, except my Lord. There are times that I don't hear anyone but me. I try to always sing just as loud as God wants me to, without regard for how excruciating it may be for the person standing next to me.

When I feel "off", I still sing and still "go through the motions", but my intent is not to show everyone I'm a "good Christian", its obedience. God wants that obedience and discipline. Even if you have a bad day, God is still there and wants you to talk with Him and sing praises to Him. He wants to comfort us; he wants us to delight in His comfort. That is done through our praise.

Sometimes we assume that God will understand that we're having a bad day, that's why I didn't read, pray, praise, _________ (you fill in the blank). God is worthy of our praise ALL THE TIME, regardless of the day we're having. Who are we to take away and withhold that praise from a God that pours out His perfect, undeserved love on us? The real answer is we're no one, we have NO right. But the better answer is, to God we're everything, important enough to die for. How can we have a bad day and as Mercy Me says it, let "circumstance possibly change who we forever are Jesus?" In Psalms 84:4 David acknowledges God promise that if we live in God's house ALWAYS singing His praise, what joy we will have.

I think Matthew West is saying is even in the midst of everything, he wants his worship of our mighty God to be real. Even if you feel "off" you can still offer real worship without "going throught the motions". Worship is between you and your Lord. It doesn't matter how you feel, what anyone else is doing or what anyone else thinks about how you sing/dance/raise your hands/etc. God is God no matter OUR circumstances. What matters is that you ALWAYS sing His praises. Then no matter how you feel, He will make sure you have joy (that's different than happiness and another blog for another time).

Always Singing His Praises,

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lonely or Alone?

Yesterday a friend asked me if I ever intend to marry again. Immediately I answered, “Absolutely I do.” The reason I answered that way yesterday is completely different than the reason I would have answered “Yes” 6 months ago. Six months ago my answer would have been based on the fact that I didn’t want to be alone. Not the case anymore. It was funny that he asked that, because I’d been thinking a lot about that lately and had already actually started putting my thought on paper (when I say paper I mean my Note app in my Blackberry).

A few weeks ago I heard something on the radio about being single and Christian and it started me thinking about my motivation to eventually remarry. That started me thinking about the difference between being lonely and being alone. You might be asking, “Is there a difference?” I think the answer is…100 times, YES!

I think the way I looked at my loneliness before was based on the void of companionship and intimacy created when my wife left. When that happened I secretly hoped that I would move on quickly to fill those voids she created. I started to realize that no matter how much you involve yourself with one person and no matter how many people you’re surrounded by, even if they are people that love you, you can still feel alone. I’ve seen that happen first hand to someone I loved very much and it is probably one of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed. Slowly, I began to understand how important it is to have that one rock solid relationship before you develop any other. I began to discover what it actually meant to be consumed with pleasing and following Christ. I also began to understand the importance of transitioning from religion to relationship with regards to Christ.

I realized it is harder to feel lonely when you invite Christ to come in and you actually build a relationship with Him. I have a friend that has told me a few times that it’s kind of an unfair arrangement between us and God. He put it this way: We get all of God’s love and grace poured out on us and He (in the grand scheme of things) gets nothing. It amazes me that even though we have absolutely nothing to offer God, He still loves us, pursues us and wants every one of us to be saved. Our goal should be to be so consumed by Christ that you don't feel alone and you stop searching for that person to "complete you". There is only one person that can complete you, Jesus. When you get to that point of realization, the only validation you need comes from Jesus Himself.

This is not to say that God doesn’t desire us to have relationships. On the contrary, fellowship among believers is essential to our growth. Some may be called to singleness (for the record, I don’t hear God call me to that), but many of us aren’t. What we need to accept first is this: the first and most important relationship is the one between you and Christ. Without that, every other relationship is surface level strong. A relationship grounded and tested in Christ is unshakable. His is the ONLY relationship that is unwavering, unshakable, unbreakable and sustainable. All others are subject to fail. God has promised us repeatedly that He would never leave us. In Joshua 1:5 God said, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.” In Matthew 28:20 Jesus told His disciples, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He is the only one that can MAKE and KEEP that promise.

So you might be thinking, “Ok, I have Christ. I’m definitely not ALONE, but I still feel LONELY at times.” Open your eyes. I think (and maybe I’m way off, but this is what God has done for me) when God spoke in Joshua 1:5 He didn’t mean He’d be with us exactly like He was with Moses. Moses got to see God as a burning bush, a pillar of smoke and fire, God’s glory on the mountain, and the corner of his robe. Jesus’ disciples got to actually be with Him. Even though Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor and Comforter. Once Jesus fills that void in our heart, the spiritual loneliness, the deep longing for companionship is gone. But I also think He takes care of the human and emotional element also. That is where community comes in. I think our pillars of smoke and fire today is the community of believers that God surrounds us with. It is this community that God uses to keep us accountable and speak love into our lives. This community (or our friends and families) are part of the promise God made to never forsake us and Christ made to be with us always.

When you have Christ you won’t be or feel alone. He will fill your heart and surround you with people that will love you. He did for me anyway. I think back and don’t understand how I functioned for as long as I did without that relationship. I can’t imagine ever going back.

So, do I hope to re-marry? Yes. I hope to find that woman that God has for me, so I can share my successes and failures with, that I can partner in my ministry with, that I can laugh and cry with and that I can share my love and life with. But all that will be grounded in and modeled after the deep and meaningful relationship that I have and continue to build in Christ.

I do have to apologize. I had about a million things flying through my brain. Because of that, I feel like this blog was all over the place. Really like its four different topics smashed together. Hopefully you get the gist.

Consumed by Christ,

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blew my Stinkin' Mind

Let me start by saying, I've never been to a conference, retreat, bible camp, etc...Either never really had a desire or the capacity (time, money, etc.) to attend one. Well I got the chance to attend my first pastor's conference. Really it was a roundtable (we actually sat a rectangle one) discussion for college pastors. It was presented by theMILL (link: theLEAD Network), which is the College/20-Somethings Ministry for New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. First off, theMILL staff, lead by Pastor Aaron Stern (Blog Bump Here), did a phenomenal job. I took away SO much that my head is spinning. Second, that 1 1/2 days I spent with theMILL, and other College/20-Something Pastors, changed a lot of perceptions I had and gave me a deeper and more clear desire to walk with this generation as they walk with Christ. Third, that 1 1/2 days will probably end up spawning a few different blogs as I go through my notes, so look for that. I am so STOKED (that's my new word lately) for what God is doing in my life, with Element Church and what is on the horizon for theSHIFT. Here are some pics from theMILL (albeit not good ones, but still conveys the size a bit):

theMILL empty

theMILL filling up


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Learning to Learn

I've recently been challenged on what it means to be a "leader" in ministry. Now, I have no doubts that God is calling me to the college/20-somethings age group, but I really didn't have a very strong idea about what leadership should look like, especially in that group. It's hard to discern sometimes because just starting in ministry I kind of fumble over myself at times. And hanging with college age adults is quite different than 1st - 5th grade kids.

If you know me or have read any of my blogs, you've probably figured out that I'm a bit of a talker. I actually had a counselor tell me that I talk a lot...isn't that the point in counseling??? With that said, my new found desire to intimately know and build a relationship with my Lord has only served to enhance that trait. So I talk way more than I used to. Not that I think I have a whole lot of profound wisdom to share, on the contrary, I have been trying to learn as much as possible and I feel like I have to share all this new stuff. I feel like I am learning all this new stuff that no one else knows and I have to get it out. Part of it may also be that I keep trying to rush God's plan for me. It's not that I don't think he can handle it, I fully know he can, but I am just too excited sometimes to resist pressing forward.

Regardless of all that, I was able to talk with a friend recently about what that "leader" role really means in the beginning of dedicating yourself to a ministry. What it comes down to is...being quiet. Not a virtue I hold close at all. The bottom line is most people, especially the college age group, are not looking for answers. Most people just want someone to listen, understand and love them. They want your ear and your time, that's it. That is what will build that relationship/connection. Then that will develop into respect and trust, then it's real. At that point they don't come to you for guidance out of obligation because you're "their pastor", they come to you because you're their friend and because you love them.

The biggest thing I was able to take away from our conversation (which I already knew, but need to be reminded) was that I'm still learning too. I was able to talk with another friend recently that is actually considerably younger than I. Now, with my impending divorce, it's no secret that I'll be single again and I have thought a lot about different scenarios that come with that territory. It's probably worth mentioning, if for nothing more than an accountability thing, that I fully intend to remain pure until I find the woman that God has for me and I'm married to her. I want to be fully consumed by Christ and have that relationship right, before I even attempt another Earthly one. That's one of those issues that I've gone over, it was a difficult decision, but one that I'd make all over again. But I digress, the point is I'll be single soon. This friend of mine is dealing with some of the same scenarios that I already assumed I'll deal with. Let me just say how super awesome he's handling those issues. Not only did he teach me a thing or two, but I was just awed in admiration for his dedication to following Christ. I want to be like that.

The wrap up is this: Leadership is Love and Love is Christ, they go hand in hand. People don't need or want answers, they want your time. I am learning a ton, still have tons to go and I'm loving it. I've said it before, but I'll keep saying it a million times - I love having the group of friends and family that I do. They keep me accountable, they're there when they're needed, they care and they're kinda fun to hang out with. I'm truly blessed and constantly amazed by His goodness.

Blessed and Amazed,

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Friends Were Right!

If you read my blogs on obedience (Part 1 HERE & Part 2 HERE), then you know that I recently faced, what I thought was, a pretty bleak financial situation. By human standards, there was absolutely nothing I could do to correct it, I thought it was absolutely hopeless. Initially, I only looked at it by human standards, although I did try to put a God spin on it that helped me reason in a completely messed up an illogical way that God was letting me skip out on my tithe. But there in lies the problem...I thought it was hopeless.

Hopeless??? With everything that has happened over the past 8 months, hope has been in short supply. But, recently I have depended heavily on a hope that I never did before. I've written blogs about obedience, faith, and trust (all to our Lord, of course). I began to really develop this deep hope that I would experience God in absolutely every aspect of my life. I've even repeatedly asked God for that . Funny thing is, one of the only parts of my life that I NEVER wanted or planned to let God into was my finances. With that said, not that I am an idiot when it comes to knowing the right thing to do with my finances, but I was never very active in trying to maintain healthy finances.

Anyway, rather illogically, I had always believed I could manage my finances better than God. I never tested him like Malachi 3:10 says to and I never planned to, until back in February. For the record, I can't manage my finances better than God. That concept ended in failure back in November, only a couple months after my wife left. So, I have been writing all this stuff about obedience and praying to experience God in every part of my life, then when I'm given the perfect opportunity to have both, I almost blew it.

God knows that I had never experienced faith and trust in him with my finances and also knows that I so badly want to be obedient. God gave me the opportunity at the beginning of the month to trust, test and be obedient to Him by giving my tithe. At a time when it seemed impossible to pay this unexpected (rather large) bill and provide for my son's birthday, He asked me to continue to be obedient and trust Him and I couldn't see it.

Luckily He put people in my life that love me enough to hold me accountable and people in my life (some that have known me a little longer than others) that care about me enough to offer whatever help they could. Because of those people, God has made it more than clear that I'm very blessed. I feel that it is often more than I deserve, but somehow I'm that important to Him. Somehow, through all my failures and everything I've done, He loves me that much.

I WAS obedient to Him and He took care of EVERYTHING!!!! He provided a way to pay the unexpected bill and take care of Andrew's birthday (and there was some left over). I'm speechless. The coolest part is, it didn't matter to Him that I thought about not being (and really had already decided not to be) obedient. He didn't withhold His blessing and favor, "to teach me a lesson" not to doubt Him. Instead, because I was obedient, He poured out His blessing and favor to prove His love and that His word STILL applies today. The other cool thing is He doesn't just love me that much or offer that blessing just to me. He does it for EVERY single one of us.

Whether you believe it or not (I didn't use to believe it), there was NO, and I mean NO, way that I should have had the money to pay that bill or get Andrew presents by Tuesday evening. But I gave my tithe on Monday morning and by Tuesday afternoon He took care of all of it. There is only one explanation: GOD!

Experiencing Christ,