Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lazarus At Your Door!

First off, let me say that this is by NO means meant to call anyone out. This is 100% based on what I feel God has challenged ME with over the last few days. If you feel a twinge of conviction, it’s not me doing it. With that said, normally I don’t feel a need to defend or disclaimer stuff I say, but I felt it was important this time.

So the last few days Sarah and I have been presented with the task of helping one of her friends find a place to stay for a couple weeks, while she waits for her new apartment to become available. We’ve asked a couple of people and so far no luck. Keeping in mind that there are some absolutely valid reasons for not being able to accommodate her staying (i.e. accountability, etc…) and I’m not challenging any of them. Anyway, I was talking with my father-in-law about the difficulty of finding a place for her to stay and he brought up the parable of Lazarus at the rich man’s door. (Ftr, he’s a stinking smart guy. I’m really blessed to have him as a father-in-law. <--Heh, brownie points!) I’ve read that parable a number of times and have always read it as conveying the importance of listening to those that preach The Truth of God (that being that Jesus died to save us from our sin and reunite us with God). I’ve always read it as a warning to “listen AND act now, because later is too late.”

There are so many different commentaries as to why this parable is important and what Jesus meant by it, but as I talked it out with my father-in-law, it hit me a different way (mainly because he presented it differently). He pointed out that Lazarus, a poor man who was covered in sores (v. 20), lay in a place that the rich man had to pass routinely (probably multiple times) throughout the day. What’s significant about that fact is that the rich man never noticed him, never once offered to help, and never gave a second thought to him. That is until they sat across from each other, staring over the chasm of eternity. Then the rich man noticed Lazarus. I'm not going to speculate as to what the rich man's sin was that landed him on the far side of eternity, separated from his God. But, by his own request for Abraham to send Lazarus to “warn” his five brothers, Jesus makes the point that the rich man refused to listen to the teachings of Moses and the prophets. So where does that leave us as it applies to our Lazaruses and listening to what Jesus taught? Here's some of what He said:

On loving each other: So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. - John 13:34

On serving others: And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ - Matthew 25:40

On our status among others (and serving): And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each others' feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them. - John 13:14-17

Here it is. We are called to love and serve others. Even when (and I'd add especially if) it is uncomfortable for us. To truly be love and community for others, we have to give generously and sacrificially. That's where Jesus lives. We say we follow Jesus then refuse the ones He loves. I follow a God that, in human form, lowered Himself to that of a low servant and washed His disciples' feet. Who hung out with the least of these and loved them. Who told us point blank that He came for the lost, broken and hurting. If that's the Jesus we follow, why do we make excuses and choose not to actually follow His example?  How do people that don't know Jesus experience His love?  Through US loving them with the love He gave us.

Even as I type this I am challenged with the excuses that I had for not reaching out and we (Sarah and I) are going to remedy that tonight.

Opening the door to my Lazaruses,

Friday, August 19, 2011

Where From Here?

As I write this I am bombarded with thoughts of the countless number of “I knew it” comments I’m sure to receive. But “know” this, you didn’t know. I didn’t even know what the future looked like, only God did and being that I desire to be obedient to Him, I was always open to ANYTHING and ANYWHERE HE moved me.

With that said I know that many have spent the last few years hearing me say that I felt like God was leading me to separate from the military at 17 years and forgo the guarantee of a forever retirement check and medical insurance. I’m not recanting that. Over the last few years I felt lead to that and I believe that God would have absolutely honored that decision and provided for me had I done so. Sometimes I think God asks us if we are willing to do certain things without expecting us to (the whole Abraham and Isaac story). Maybe He asks as a test; maybe He asks just to get us thinking like Him. Regardless, I’ve prayed, fasted and cried out to God for confirmation to stay in the military or go and He just didn’t confirm either way. Sometimes I think God gives multiple ways, all of which glorify Him, allows us to make the choice and uses and blesses us with which ever we choose.

So here’s how this thing went down. Over the last few years and up to this point God has confirmed every other major calling in my life with scripture. Here’s the list:

     -   Call to ministry
     -   Call to theSHIFT
     -   Call to inner-city ministry
     -   Call to Element South Campus
     -   Call to my gorgeous & lovely wife, Sarah
     -   Call to Oakland, CA to plant a church (I’ll get into that in a sec)

All confirmed with scripture. I’d put them on here, but they are scattered about in various journals I was writing in at the time. But separating from the military… never confirmed. So where does that put us? For that I need to back up a little. The decision made about the military is largely connected to our call to plant a church in Oakland, CA.

After God confirmed that call in my heart to Oakland, Sarah and I attended a church planter’s assessment in Las Vegas, NV. It was an amazing couple days, we met some truly wonderful people and God connected us with some people that I have no doubt will have a face in our future ministry. Prior to going to that assessment, Sarah and I talked about everything we could think of surrounding us being capable and ready to plant a church in Oakland, CA. Here’s what we discovered:

1. We’re absolutely NOT capable. We know we’re called to it, but it has to be ALL God because if it depends on us, it fails.

2. We’re scared to death. This is not only a big calling, but a dangerous one. God is asking us to take our family to the 4th most dangerous city (in 2009) in America. We don’t fit the demographic and I cannot relate to a lot of the issues faced there, except that we all need Jesus. But it doesn’t matter. God will use us, protect us and sustain us. We trust Him.

3. We’re not ready. There is a difference between being called and being called and ready. God has absolutely placed a burden on my heart of Oakland, CA (ftr… I’ve never been there. EVER.), but there is some preparation that has to take place before we answer that call. We need to spend time allowing God to prepare us as a married couple. We need (and want) Him to season our marriage and build a strong foundation for us. We need to spend time allowing Him to prepare us as a family. Our call is ALL of our call. It isn’t simply my call, but our call as a family. Our children need to be prepared as well.

So we went to Las Vegas knowing this and God used Vegas to confirm all of that. The assessment team didn’t tell us anything God hadn’t already revealed to us. We came back from Vegas sure of our call and sure that we needed time to prepare. With that said, we know that we are at LEAST 2 to 3 years from starting any ministry. Once that realization was made, we began talking about what that meant for getting out of the military. We started to discuss the logic of separating in June 2012 and not being ready to plant a church until at least 2014. The question that came up was, “What do we do for the 2 years between?” Do we give up a guaranteed job and look for another job for those two years? Do we stay in the military an additional 10 months to get retirement and then pursue the ministry God has given us a heart for? Realistically the choice to stay in the military is obvious. Knowing that we are at least 3 years from planting a church, why would I give up a steady job for the uncertainty of no job for two years prior to moving to Oakland? The choice to stay in the military all the way to retirement was largely based on how that would affect my family. Because I was unsure about my job in the military and whether it would require me to leave my family for up to 4 days a week I was not certain I would stay. Had my job moved towards me having to do that, I would absolutely separate in June, because I’m not willing to sacrifice my family for anything.

So, here’s where we’re at.

We are staying in the military.  I have some guarantees from my leadership that provides my family and I the security we need, not only financially (or medical insurance), but stability wise too.  We have 3 years 10 months left and then I will retire with 20 years of service (and not a day more… maybe a day or two).  After we retire we’re moving to Oakland, CA (we’ll need a team… hint, hint) to serve the people there.  I have a whole blog on the vision God has given me for Oakland, so that’ll follow in the coming days. 

In the mean time, we will most likely (and I say that because God can do whatever He wants) remain in Cheyenne until we retire. We’ll continue to serve at Element (where ever God and Element need us), and we’ll continue to prepare ourselves and family for what’s to come.

Love to you all.  I look forward to the next few years.


Monday, August 15, 2011

You Are Known (Recap from Sunday's Fusion Message)

Pastor Andy invited me back to teach at Fusion last night. I stinking LOVE hanging out with our youth. We have an amazing group of young people in our church. I’ve said it before and I hold to it, this generation is poised for great things and I’m stoked to see what God does in and through them.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some of the stuff that I shared with them. I talked about the Samaritan woman at the well. That encounter with Jesus can be found in John 4:4-42. I have read the story of this conversation so many times before and there are SO many lessons that can be drawn from it.

For one, it is so obviously a passage that talks about salvation and how it’s offered to everyone (equally) regardless of whom you are or what you’ve done. It also addresses the power of testimony and evangelism. And as near as I can tell (someone correct me if I’m wrong, like I even need to say that), the Samaritan woman was the first person that Jesus declared who He was to, which is a sermon all its own. Did you get that? A Samaritan WOMAN! Jesus told a Samaritan woman that He was the Messiah before He told anyone else! Crazy. But that’s not any of the stuff that I felt God saying to me. This time it was about being KNOWN.

As people we have this desire to be known. We want others to know us deeply and intimately. We spend time with those we love and share our hearts so that others might know us. The joy and fullness that comes with realizing another person KNOWS you is indescribable, but pales in comparison to the joy and fullness that comes with the realization that you are known by the Messiah. You are known by a King, by the Creator and Savior of the world, by our God.

So here’s the take-aways from last night:

1.  Jesus knows everything about you.

When Jesus encountered the woman for the first time, He asked her for a drink of water, to which she questioned why He (a Jew) would ask her (a Samaritan woman) for a drink. There was some very deep and rich dialogue between the two about living water, then Jesus tells her to go get her husband. Her response and Jesus’ response are seen in verse 17 and 18.

17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

She didn’t exactly lie to Jesus, but she did try to hide her real situation from Him. But, here’s the thing, she didn’t need to tell Him anything because He already knew. He told her about her circumstances and the best part is, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter where she had come from or where she currently was, He didn’t condemn her. He understood her pain and offered the same living water to her that He offers to everyone else. A Samaritan woman, the lowliest of the low, was given the same offer of life as everyone. Once the junk she was trying to hide from Jesus was exposed, she was ready to hear what Jesus had to tell her, but not before. Jesus knows us. He knows EVERYTHING about us, so maybe it’s time we ask ourselves:

     -  What am I trying to hide from Jesus?

2.  Jesus will reveal Himself to you.

Once she opened her heart to Jesus and laid it exposed before Him, she was ready to receive what He had for her. And can I tell you that He didn’t split hairs. He was VERY clear. Verse 26 says,

26 Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!”

He flat out told her who He was. Jesus used the same “I AM” as God did in Exodus 3:14 when Moses asked God His name. He said tell them “I AM has sent me to you.” Jesus straight said, “I AM HE! I AM THE ONE YOU”VE BEEN WAITING FOR! I AM THAT SAVIOUR YOU WERE PROMISED! IT’S ME!”

And here’s the beauty part, He offers us the same thing to us. The Bible is God’s declaration of who He is and who Jesus is. But Jesus also reveals Himself in other ways. In His creation, or the way that someone extends love you, or helps you in a difficult time, through the study of His word, in prayer, or even through the blessings we might receive and often (though it seem odd) through our times of suffering. Jesus is active in our life and wants to reveal Himself to us. Once you open yourself to Christ, you should be looking for ways that He reveals Himself and ask:

     -  How is Jesus showing Himself in my life?

3.  Jesus wants you to tell others about Him.

Once Jesus told her who He was, she couldn’t keep it to herself, she had to tell others. Jesus told us to go and make disciples (other Christ Followers). Jesus reveals Himself to us so that we will tell others that are hurting and lost. The woman was so excited that she left her water jug. After Jesus revealed Himself to her, she wan back into the city saying,

29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?”

(Ftr, I think it’s funny that Jesus flat out told her and she still said “Could he possibly be the Messiah?” HE JUST SAID HE WAS! WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!! But, maybe we all do that with Jesus from time to time. I do, sometimes.)

There are lots of ways we can tell others about Jesus. One of the best ways is to live what He teaches us. Our lives should reflect Christ to others. People should see Jesus in us. So maybe we ask ourselves:

     -  How do I tell others about Jesus?

4.  Jesus will use you to reveal Himself to others.

Once we start telling others about Jesus, He will use those encounters to reveal Himself to others and we get to be a part of that! Part of our relationship with Jesus is meant to involve other people. If we are fully surrendered to Him, Jesus will show Himself, to others, through us.

And when that happens, hopefully people will respond to you as they did to the woman:

42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”

So we should be asking:

     -  How am I letting Jesus use me?

The last thing I left the students with was this:

There is nothing you can do to save others from anything. You are not their savior and you’re not meant to be. But, you can introduce them to their Savior.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Long Walk

I actually started writing this almost 2 weeks ago.  But with Cheyenne Frontier Days, my time to do anything but be an honorary carny was limited, so it's been sitting (unfinished) during that time.  Should this bare any resemblance to Pastor Jeff's sermon Sunday (which was amazing btw), it's not wholly intentional.  Of course God often speaks to my heart through our Sunday morning teaching so there will be some that is gleaned from Sunday's sermon.  But, being that we serve the same God and this is something He has been moving Element towards, it makes sense that He would be speaking the same stuff to different people's hearts.  
~Ftr, this happens a lot~

This was originally meant to be Part 3 of "Who Needs 'Revival'?", but it took a different turn, so it's not.  Part 3 will come in a couple days... In the mean time, read this.

I have a friend that recently texted me something that caught me.  The topic of his text was ultimately the importance of testimony, but he started it out by saying that so many new Christians lack hope and asked how we can best address this issue.  Then he said, "many younger (not age, spiritual maturity) Christians have not taken the challenge to trust in God and lean on Him so that they could have the honor of seeing God move in their lives."  I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do know if you seek God, He will show Himself to you.  The Holy Spirit draws hearts unto the Father and needs nothing from us.  

But there is still that one thing.  There is still the tiny issue of the commission that Jesus issued to all of us.  He said we would be His witnesses to the world (Acts 1:8) and commissioned us (or gave us the authority to) make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19).  Pastor Jeff delivered an amazing message on discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus (check it out HERE).  One of the closing points he made was that once we fully surrender all of us to Jesus, and WILLINGLY take up our cross, Jesus carries it with us.  He walks beside us.  In our surrender we get ALL of Him.  All of His strength. All of His victory. All of His purity.  All of His love... All of Him!  This is the amazing truth of Christ.  So knowing that truth, how do we address the concern of the "many younger Christians that have not taken the challenge to trust in God and lean on Him so that they could have the honor of seeing God move in their lives"?  

That's where the great commission comes in.  Once someones spirit is awoken to the truth of Jesus' love, they begin a walk.  It's important to remember that just because someone feels the Holy Spirit's drawing and responds to it, doesn't mean they get or understand the decision they've made.  This is where discipleship becomes vital.  At first the walk seems lonely.  And it is.  It's long too.  This is the way I've seen (and experienced personally) the new Christian walk happen.  First, you make the decision to follow Jesus and everything starts out amazing.  You're swept up by this idea that the living God loves YOU.  Despite all the wrong you've done, you're loved and accepted.  You feel peace for the first time in... who knows when.  You're reading your bible and talking to people about God and out of nowhere the things you used to do BC (Before Christ) become significantly unsatisfying.  You start feeling like Jesus wants you to give stuff up.  Maybe a bad relationship or a habit.  At first you thing it's for the better, but eventually it becomes harder and harder and more painful to let go of it and you can't understand why you "just can't let it go".  Eventually the "Jesus thing" just become too hard and it just fades out of your life.  You allow the BC stuff seep back in and they choke out those early "feelings".  You don't see Jesus "work" for you, so it must not be for you.  It wasn't as easy as you thought it would be, so you return to what you know.  That's how it happened for me so many time.

I so desperately wish that the church would get into the habit of telling new Christ followers this,

"The decision you've made to follow Christ is the best one you'll EVER make, IN YOUR LIFE!  It's amazing, but it's hard, especially at first.  It does get easier as you learn to obey Him, but He told us that we'll experience trials and we do.  So this next season of your life is going to be hard.  He's going to ask you to give up stuff and ask you to take on some stuff.  He's going to completely change your heart and the very core of who you are.  It's going to hurt because you have to die to be reborn.  It will suck a lot; there's no telling how long that season will be and realistically, He changes you continually, forever until you're made perfect.  But for all that initial pain.  Through all the first parts of tearing the bad away to replace it with His good, it's worth it.  Because NONE of the pain that comes with Him changing you can ever compare to the love that you feel when He's close to you.  If you faithfully commit yourself to Him, He'll be faithful to you.  He takes all the junk from you that keeps you from experience Life and this is what you get: Love, Truth, Victory, Glory, Righteousness and so much more.  And you know what?  I've been there and I will walk with you in this season, until you experience the majesty of the Lord and KNOW it's real.  And I'll do that because I know it's hard.  Then when you've experienced His glory, I'll walk with you just to keep you company and we can sharpen each other."

Because of His love, Jesus can't leave you unchanged.  He wants better for you.  We are meant to look like Him.  The truth is that He commissioned us to make disciples, because we are disciples.  As disciples we are meant to embrace and assists in spreading the teachings of Jesus.  For all the places that Paul brought the Good News, he never simply taught about Jesus and left them to their own journey.  He would disciple someone, (Timothy, Titus) building them up in their faith and leave them there to disciple others.  Then, even if just through letters, he remained in a giving relationship with them.

How do we address the issue of the many young Christ followers that have not yet taken the challenge to trust in God and lean on Him so that they can have the honor of seeing Him move in their lives?  We lead them, journey with them, teach them, share our testimony with them, encourage them, cheer them, weep with them and love them.  We do that  until they get to that place where they can look back and see the string of victories given them by Jesus., until they have seen and recognize His glory and  until they have experienced His undeniable faithfulness.