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,