Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Long Time, No Post (There’s a Point to this Post…Promise)

I know I haven't posted “My Testimony - Part II” yet, but I plan to this weekend. After that post I'm going to do my best to limit the length of my posts. I read on another blog that blogs should not be super long. I guess I'll do more multi-post blogs if something is important enough to warrant a longer post.

So here’s the point to this post...recently God has really been showing me where he wants me to walk in ministry. He’s really been directing me toward college age ministry. But lately He's been putting it on my heart just how much this age group is neglected. As a church we seem to do well ministering to youth and older adults. We have tried and tested programs that provide the spiritual nourishment those age groups need (I personally think we can always do better in all areas).

But somewhere between high school and "figuring it all out" we lose them. It just can't be that way anymore. We have to stop assuming that the only way to minister to someone is to invite them to church. Then when they don’t show, we chalk it up to, “Oh well, I tried; now it’s on them.” CA adults don’t want to be pushed through church’s doors and into a seat where they become just one of the faces. They just want to know you love them and you care about what they’re going through. They want to know that we’ll (The Church) be there for them no matter what.

I think CA adults (especially those that have grown up in church) are ready to move from the religion to the relationship (props to my buddy Thomas Hogan, we’ve talked about this at length - religion v. relationship). I think that by the time a high school student is ready to graduate, they understand the religion part enough to know there is more to it. They know there is something that is far more satisfying then just sitting in church on Sundays. I think they just want someone to guide them to that place, to walk with them and care about their journey as much as they do. I know that I have ridiculous amounts to learn about “ministry”, but I also know that we can’t afford to fail at this.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Technology Rocks

I just learned that Blogspot offers mobile blogging. So now I can blog from anywhere on my Blackberry. I know...like I need another avenue to say more. Well, I don't. Truth is, I don't know how much I'll actually use it. But it doesn't matter, because it's super cool either way. Just thought I'd post my first mobile blog to tell you that I can now mobile blog (kinda redundant, right?). Technology Rocks.

Blogging on the fly (is that still a cool term),

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When God Ran

I know I haven’t posted “My Testimony - Part II” yet, but this is something that God put on my heart and I need to share. I’m sure most have heard the song, “When God Ran”, by Phillips, Craig and Dean, if not, it’s totally “off the hook” (if I can borrow a term from Curtis Marshall, blog love HERE). I love that song, it is such a great explanation of how much God desires for us to come home and how absolute His love for us is. Recently, I’ve been trying to learn and understand as much as possible about having a relationship with Jesus and listening to, then DOING what God wants and needs me to. I feel like I have 20 some years of learning to catch up on. One of the things God has been revealing to me lately is the love that He has for us.

I haven’t talked about it yet, but when God finally got my attention to go into ministry, I was in the shower. Then a few months later, at one of my life groups, one of the guys said God called him to do something, while he was in the shower. Today, God laid this on my heart…again, while I was in the shower. At the same life group another guy asked, “Why does it seem like lately God wants to have life changing conversations while people are showering.” I thought it was pretty funny at the time, but it got me thinking. God does his best work when we are at our weakest. When we are at our most broken, God is at his best. It’s at that point that many of us realize we can’t do it on our own, then we turn to God and he does amazing things. In line with that I think God gets the most talking in when we’re at our most vulnerable. At the point when we have nowhere to run to, God runs to us.

As far as the shower thing goes, when are more vulnerable than that? Think about any horror flick you’ve seen with a shower scene. That’s one of the WORST things you can do in a horror film (that and say, “I’ll be right back”). Anytime someone takes a shower and are attacked, they die. Now, I’m not saying that God wants to attack you in the shower, but what I am saying is that maybe, for some, God has been trying to tell you something for years and you’ve just ignored him. Maybe (I know this is my case), God has been chasing you around, trying to get you to listen and you run away, pretending not to hear him and giving any excuse you can think of when he does get close and whispers in your ear. Maybe when you’re at your most broken, God will corner you at your most vulnerable (for some it might be the shower, because you’re naked, have shampoo in your hair – shaving cream in my case – and you can’t run anywhere), then He’ll tell you exactly what you need, but don’t necessarily want to hear.

So the song chorus goes like this:
The Only time I ever saw Him run,
Was when He ran to me, He took me in His arms
Held my head to His chest, said "My son's come home again"
Lifted my face, wiped the tears from my eyes
With forgiveness in His voice He said,
"Son do you know I still love you?"
He caught me by surprise when God ran
Wow! Doesn’t God tell us that all the time? Doesn’t he rejoice, when His sons & daughters “come home again”? Unfortunately, some of never get to hear it, because we’d rather run away than run to Him. Why are so many of us suprised at the fact that God would run to us. Often times, we tell ourselves that we've done too much, that God could never forgive us and we're not worthy of God. Part of that is right, we're not worthy of God, but He still runs to us. That's how much we mean to Him, that's how much He loves us. The greatest example of God running to us, is when Jesus ran up that hill at Calvary. Now I know that Jesus did not actually run up the hill, in fact he had to have help to even carry His cross all the way to the top. But think about it for a second, at 33 years old would any of us be ready to die. Jesus only actively ministered for 3 years. Yes I know that for 30 years prior to that he ministered through the way he lived, but he only traveled and spread the Good News for three years prior to his death and resurrection. He could have very easily said, “I need way more than three years of ministry to spread my word and save people.” But he didn’t. At 33 years old he ran into the hands of the people that would betray him, beat him, mock him, spit on him and kill him. He didn’t run away, He ran to. Was he sacred? You bet, he even asked God to take that responsibility away from him if there was any other way. But there wasn’t. He knew the ONLY way to save all of us, wasn’t through walking around Judea and Samaria for 60 years. He knew he was on Earth long enough to commission his disciples to spread the Good News, then to run to the cross and provide a way for us to come home to him.

If God is willing to run to us, why are so many of us reluctant to run to him? That is where it is the responsibility of those that already know him, to show those who don’t the “road” down which He lives. Then God will see them walking down that road and He’ll run to them. God never said we need to cover some of that distance. We can’t, we’re not capable. That is why Jesus dying on that cross was essential. He covered the whole distance, he ran all the way to us.

When you finally understand how God ran (and continues to run) to you, it is such a humbling and breathtaking moment. So much so, that running to Him (not just when we’re in need, but all the time) becomes a deep desire and need. Proverbs 18:10 says, “The name of the Lord is a strong fortress; the godly run to him and are safe.” God has already run to us. But He also promises us that if we’ll run to Him, He’ll take care of us. He longs for us to run to Him, just as He runs to us. Isn’t it time to stop running away and run to Him?

Still Running to God,

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My Testimony - "The Shipwreck"

I had previously said that I would eventually share my testimony, today I felt like God was telling me it was time. This is gonna be a two parter because, for one it’s long (I know you’re shocked) and two, there are two very distinct parts of this testimony. This first part is what God used to help me understand who I had become and where I was at. The second is what God used to tell me who He wanted me to be and where he wanted me to go.

For the last five weeks Element has been going through a series called Wild Goose Chase, (you can listen to the series’ podcast on Elements home page HERE) based on the book of the same name by Mark Batterson (Lead Pastor, National Community Church, Washington D.C.). If you’ve never read it, great read…pick it up, it’ll be life changing. Anyway, today’s cage was the Cage of Failure. Not moral failure (like sinning huge), but as in failed plans or divine detours. Where I am now, is NOWHERE close to where I planned on being one year ago, or even five months ago. As Jeff put it, “God will frustrate your plans” and boy will he.

My testimony actually starts when I was first saved, something like twenty years ago, when I was eleven or twelve. From that point on I knew I was a “Christian”, but I had NO idea what that meant. I never lived anything like Jesus, didn’t even have a relationship with him. Thought the Bible was the equivalent to a large novel (same as War and Peace). I learned to read it as a penance for when I did something wrong, so I grew up thinking that it really was just a collection of stories, not the inspired word of God that He uses to communicate everything to us (I know that now). I was so disconnected to what Christianity was that I actually faked tongues in youth service once, because I thought we were supposed to do that. Bottom line, I had a much skewed view of Christianity and a very surface level presentation of it.

In October 1995, I met my wife Dana and we married on August 13, 1996. We soon had two wonderful boys, James in April 1997 and Andrew in May 1999. Four years after we married, I’m ashamed to say it was shortly after our fourth anniversary, I became involved with another woman. The details aren’t really important, just that I betrayed my wife, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I had failed as a husband and father. Dana went home to Alaska taking my boys with here. I knew as soon as she left the mistake I had made, but I had no idea of the impact that would have in the coming years. I eventually called Dana, said I was sorry and asked her to come home. By the grace of God she did. After she came home, my physical affair ended, but mentally I continued it in my head. As time passed, I wasn’t able to include the “other woman” in my fantasies as easily. So I started looking at pornography on the Internet. At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal. It wasn’t often, once a month or every couple months. But I was only doing it when Dana wasn’t around. It took me 4 ½ years to realize and accept that I was doing something wrong and that it was hurting our marriage. I again had failed as a father and husband. I should say that I truly did love my wife and there was no other reason for me doing it except I was selfish. I had EVERYTHING I needed and wanted at home, but I thought I deserved more - SELFISH! Toward the beginning of 2005 I quit, with a few relapses, but I quit. I started to focus all my attention on pleasing Dana. But my focus was still not right. Recently I told her all this and she said she didn’t know about the porn at the time, but she did feel the gap it caused in our relationship.

Fast forward to January 2008...I thought things were great in our marriage. I was due to separate from the military in June and we had everything planned out. Then Dana mentioned re-enlisting (seven more years and I had a retirement). She said it was the best thing for our family, so reluctantly I agreed and re-enlisted on February 13, 2008. On February 16th Dana told me she wasn’t happy and wanted a divorce. I was devastated. All I could think was I just re-enlisted, now my wife may leave me and I’m stuck in the military and I was the one that didn’t even want to stay in. Eventually Dana agreed to go to counseling, we got orders to move to Cheyenne, WY, and things seemed to be getting better. We arrived in Cheyenne on July 27, 2008. Things were good, until September 9th. That was the day that everything fell apart. Dana admitted she still wanted a divorce and never really intended to try. A lot of stuff came out that night (needless to say she confessed a lot of stuff to me that she did, which hurt more than I can say...I'm sure it's close to how she felt in 2000). What she told me was devastating, but it’s not my place to confess it for her…just know that it changed everything! ALL of our plans were dead in the matter of one night. This was my shipwreck (Mark uses this in the WGC, it is a reference to the detour God gave Paul in Acts 27). This was the event that God used to show me who I was. This was the detour God was going to use to change the course of my life and set up some divine appointments with people he would use to help me “get it”.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Give It Up!

In today’s society, “Give it up” can mean a couple different things. It can mean, “don’t even bother embarrassing yourself by trying”, as in when I attempt to play any kind of sport, even ping pong (if that can be considered a sport). Or it can be used to arouse cheers from a group, as in “Give it up for the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Brett Farve.” But I’m not talking about those uses. I’m talking about giving it up for Christ. Not like cheering for him, although that is ALWAYS welcomed, but giving up that thing that you may have held onto or put before Him.

Lately God has bombarded me with that question, “Bruce, what are you willing to give up to follow me?” The first time it came up was in a blog by Morgan Clark, can be read HERE, (Element’s Small Group Pastor’s, Grant Clark, son). He talks about God asking him if he would give up music to follow him. As he writes in his blog, “For me it was extremely tough. I’m not going to lie. I’m not sure right now. I think I could, but….” Didn’t really lend too much thought to it. Thought it was a great point, but wasn’t one of those soul shaking things…at the time.
Then, Andy Hazelet (Element’s Youth Pastor) spoke on the rich young ruler that asked Jesus how he could inherit the kingdom of Heaven and compared him to the Apostle Matthew. Jesus told the young ruler to sell everything, give it to the poor and follow him. The young ruler went away sad, because he didn’t want to give up all he had. Matthew on the other hand left everything the minute Jesus called him.

So I started thinking about it…What do I have that Jesus would want me to give up to follow Him? I really don’t have much. I know I would give up any of my personal possessions for him, it’s just stuff, it doesn’t mean anything. I have my sons, but I would hope that God wouldn't ask me to give them up. I think he has awesome things in store for them and I am trying to guide them down the path that He is directing me to. So what is there…nothing! Then it just popped in my head…or God put it there (I lean more towards the latter, especially lately).
The one thing that has ALWAYS been very important to me is having someone in my life (my wife, namely). Since I was 18 years old, I have had my wife there to love me, to be there with and for me and for me to love. I loved being married, but not just married, married to her. And I loved having someone to share my life with. Since she left, that has been my biggest struggle…Not having her. Not having anyone really. She left a huge void. Honestly, I could very easily find someone to try and fill that void, but it wouldn’t be the same. I started believing that as soon as my divorce was final I needed to get “back on the horse” and get in the dating scene so I could find someone to be with.

It wasn’t about replacing my wife, I know I could never replace what we shared when things were good, but it was about having someone. Then God asked, “Would you give up being with someone, to be with me?” Immediately I was scared of that question, I didn’t even want to acknowledge He had asked. But He did, and I’ve learned ignoring Him doesn’t work AT ALL!
The thing is that I’m not afraid of being alone, but I am afraid of not having someone to share life with (if that makes sense). I’ve thought on it a lot since He asked. God wasn’t necessarily asking me to actually give up on ever having a woman that loves me in my life. I think he was asking me to focus on my relationship with Him before even thinking about starting another intimate relationship with a woman. I’ve realized that I we all need to realize that before we can find comfort in another person (or provide comfort for that matter), we need to understand that God wants us to share our lives with him, before anyone else. Kind of like the tithe thing, He wants the first of us (really in that regard it amounts to ALL of us – not just 10% of us, but the point is he wants us to give us to him first). If we are willing to enter that relationship with Him, HE will cultivate it into something more beautiful then we can even imagine.

I’m not taking responsibility for my wife leaving, but I know that I failed my family in the area of spiritual leadership. I have NEVER had an intimate relationship with Jesus. I know I never entered in and let him work on Him and I. I know now, had I actually focused on being with God and letting Him build that intimacy between Him and I, my spousal relationship would have been on the same intimacy level. I think that intimacy would have resulted in a stronger relationship and equated to her not leaving…I believe that wholeheartedly, but the devil won that round.

I know that I have been thinking so much on what my next earthly relationship would look like and how things would be different, I began to lose focus on the new relationship I just entered. God was telling me to focus on building our relationship before even thinking of any other relationship. In the end my right, deep and intimate relationship with Jesus will only serve to strengthen ALL my earthly relationships, from my friendships to my possible future spouse. Besides the fact, this new God ordained passion I have in my heart demands my FULL attention on God. I want to learn as much as possible about God’s kingdom, Jesus’ life and desire for mine, all of it. I know God has work for me to do. 1 Corinthians 7:32 says, “I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him.”

I want to learn how to please my Lord and do the work that He has called me to, then when He is ready to give me someone to share my success with, I’ll be ready to nurture and build a strong relationship with her through Him. So would I give up being with someone for the rest of my life to be with Jesus? I don’t know how to answer that. But I do know that I want a relationship with Jesus, so deeply rooted in faith and love, that nothing can shake it and nothing can destroy it. In order for that to happen, there is one relationship I will focus on for now, mine and Jesus’.

Giving it up for Him,