Silence Can Be Golden

It’s been Quite the Month Around Here

I’m about to try and dialogue a little about what God has been doing in my life over the past month or two. Bear with me as some of what you’ll read is fairly scatterbrained, but is what life has been like for us.

June…the month it all began

Sometime in June I started noticing that I was struggling with my voice. I thought it was just regular wear and tear from teaching and preaching and all that good stuff. I started worrying whenever a month had gone by and there was no improvement. Partially concerned because I was given the opportunity to lead worship for a group at a camp called Super Summer, and wasn’t sure how it was going to work with being as hoarse as I was before the week began. As I got to the training weekend before the camp, my vocal integrity was fairly non-existent. I could muster up some decent racket when it came to singing but it was rough. I thought nothing of it until Tuesday night when I was unable to sing notes that were typically within my vocal range.

The next morning, as I was starting to lead music for our group, I was struggling to make any noise that didn’t resemble Scuttle from “The Little Mermaid”. Fortunately, our group was small and was okay with not having music for the rest of the week. They may have been okay with it, but I was feeling a full range of emotions. Emotions ranging from embarrassment to frustration, all the way to depression.

During that week of camp, I ended up sitting back and listening and having quite a bit of alone time. The quiet and alone time wasn’t all bad, but I missed being with students and fellow pastors. By the end of the week, thinking everything was okay, I decided to try and sing in the car on the way home…not a wise choice. Not being able to use my voice severely limited my ability to communicate, so the decision was made that visiting an ENT needed to happen.

The Diagnosis

The visit to the doctor revealed that I had a nodule on my left vocal cord. Cue the “Pitch Perfect” quotes and memes from all of my friends. I’ve never seen the movies, so I didn’t understand the joke references that wouldn’t stop. After receiving a sentencing to two weeks of vocal rest, I had to figure out how to function. I also had to lean on my volunteers to lead our student ministry. That was extremely difficult because, as it turns out, I like to be able to micromanage at some level.

We made it through one Sunday morning with me on the sidelines watching my volunteers rock and roll, but that was just the beginning. Camp was during the second week of prescribed silence. Camp, where it is a necessity to be able to yell, scream, sing, and talk at the top of your lungs. The crazy doctor told me that I could absolutely not speak during camp.

The Challenges

Well, the first week of silence was bearable. There was a lot of noise making from me to try and “dad” properly. If you haven’t tried that before, pass on it if you can. But camp was looming on the horizon. First, a sponsor meeting on Saturday night. I had to conduct said meeting with a combination of a dry erase board and a computer hooked up to a TV. That went fairly well, and I was able to relay all the information to my people. Next up, was the parent meeting. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work, especially because I couldn’t talk at all. After muscling my way through by typing on a computer hooked up to a projector, I was ready to go to camp.

I made it through Tuesday at camp without speaking at more than a whisper. By Wednesday morning, however, I’d had enough. I decided to start with lower volume speaking and ended up in full shouts by Thursday afternoon.

Throughout this whole time, I had several friends tell me they couldn’t wait to hear what God was teaching me.

The first week, I was so wrapped up in self-pity and frustration that I was missing what I needed so badly. I needed to stop trying to do it all and just listen and watch for God to move.

One of my fellow local ministers shared a passage in 1 Kings 19 with me, and I missed it when he shared it with me. After reading it a few times, I finally got what his point was. The passage was 1 Kings 19:9-13, which says:

 “There he went into a cave and spent the night.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

At camp, during the second week of my assigned silence, one of my good friends and mentors was teaching about silence with God. He, of course, made the required jokes about how I should be the one teaching the study. But, his passage to teach on was none other than the one my other friend shared with me the week before. The Lord officially had my attention.

Being still is hard, but is necessary

Once I decided to watch and listen to what God was going to do, I saw the Holy Spirit moving in my students. We had one of our students give her life to Jesus, which is amazing on its own. Her back story, however, is what makes everything so much sweeter. This particular student had been fighting the Lord for a while on whether or not she had a real relationship with Jesus. She wasn’t sure if she just had a case of coattail faith. Wednesday night, she relented and gave it all to Jesus. The peace in her persona is undeniable, and is a direct result of surrendering it all to Jesus.

She was one of three students from our group who surrendered it all to Jesus. As I was sitting back, not singing but watching, I saw the look of relief on these students’ faces as they gave Jesus control of their lives. They had heard the soft whisper that Elijah had heard. In the chaos of my own head, I had been trying to listen to the whisper. I’d missed it because I couldn’t get past my own perceived problems. Once I got over and past the self-pity, I began to realize that I don’t have to be able to use my voice to worship God. I don’t have to be able to physically sing to be able to cry out to Him. It’s okay to live vicariously through watching others praise Jesus.

What’s been my takeaway from this whole thing? I’ll be honest with you guys, I’m not convinced that God is done teaching me. I’m not convinced that I’ve really heard the gentle whisper. I’m anxiously awaiting to find out for myself what “life lesson” God is going to teach. I know it’ll happen, but until I know exactly what it is, I’ll keep trying to listen through the noise.

God is Good. He loves us. Sometimes we have to just shut up, grow a nodule on our vocal cord, and listen.

What ways has God used to get your attention and caused you to slow down, give up control, and listen?

Have We Lost Our Passion?

Photo Courtesy of mccurdyca.wordpress.com

Is Our Passion Limited to Public Appearances?

Over the last several years that I’ve been in student ministry, I’ve had many opportunities to sit back and examine my own life, as well as observe the lives of those I’ve ministered to and with. The same question continuously comes up, regardless of the context; “Are you spending time in personal worship outside of the corporate worship time?” That’s baptistese for “Are you worshipping God when you’re alone?” I can’t ever really answer that question with a solid “Yes”. I’m going to be transparent with you guys, because I think it’s important, and because I think that many who are in ministry or are devout to their faith go through the same thought process. I don’t spend enough alone time praising, thanking, worshipping my God. Yes, I said it…

Of course I spend time preparing music for worship sets. Yes, I spend hours studying and getting a sermon or lesson ready. But those times that I’m doing these things are typically fairly academic in nature, and aren’t a time of intimate worship. These times are usually in the office where crying out to God might be a tad awkward and a lot disruptive. So, my personal and intimate time with God gets pushed aside until later, and when it gets pushed aside til later, it often doesn’t get around to happening. At one point this past semester, I’d gone 49 days in between readings in my personal daily Bible plan…ouch. If I’m expecting my students to spend personal time in the Word, I need to be consistent with that and leading out in that area of my life.

I’ve had the opportunity this week to sit back and have minimal responsibility during a student camp. Yes, you read that right, MINIMAL RESPONSIBILITY AT STUDENT CAMP!!! It’s been amazing! On top of that, I’ve had some lingering hoarseness that apparently Google has determined is stage 27 laryngical cancer…or something like that (it’s probably just fatigue or a strained vocal cord, a trip to the ENT will shed some light on this soon). So, my camp week has been fairly quiet and observant. I’ve had opportunities to be intimate with my loving God. But, what have I done instead? In between sessions, I’ve gone and napped (which isn’t terrible on its own), and I’ve watched some movies on Netflix. I haven’t spent nearly enough time in intimate worship of my God. Tonight, I plan on shedding the distractions and making some intentional space to just let God speak. To immerse myself in His word. To thank Him, praise Him, and worship Him for who He is. I am anxious to see how He reveals Himself to me tonight, to feel the refreshment of spending time with Him.

I realized today, that I had let my passion fade a bit. I realized that I’d let being busy push Him out and aside. I realized that I haven’t intentionally scheduled time into my day with Him, not as an obligation, but instead, out of appreciation for His love.

Have you lost your passion? Have you scheduled yourself into oblivion and out of a regular one-on-one time with our creator? If you have, the best time to change that is now. I encourage you to do so, whether it means you wake up earlier than you “have” to in the morning, or forgo watching the TV in the evening after the kids go to bed. Find, and intentionally make that time happen. Discipline yourself to give the One who gave it ALL more than just part of you. As Josh Humbert told our students last night, “God doesn’t do math, He doesn’t do fractions with us. He doesn’t want or require part of our lives, He wants it all!”

Don’t make God do math, that’s just bad theology…lol! Give Him all of you, isn’t He worth more than these daily distractions? Didn’t giving His life warrant more attention than just Sunday morning, Wednesday night, and when we think about it?

#TheStruggleIsReal

fbc2“How do we get students to hunger for God’s Word?”

This was a question from one of our church elders during the brief part of a meeting I’d been a part of a few weeks ago. In youth ministry, or really any ministry, that seems to be the million dollar question. How can we get students to be hungry for God’s Word as opposed to what the world has to offer them? Many churches and ministries have tried to become more relevant by leaning toward the “excellence in production” model, utilizing flashy lights, smoke machines, and this best of the best technology and music production. Others have been steadfast in the traditional ministry model, everyone comes in, sits down, announcements, plays a game, sits and listens to someone give a 20-30 minute lecture, prayer, and leave to go home. Is there a right or a wrong way for this to be done? Is either of these methods better than the other? Is there an absolute way to minister in your context? I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know. I’ve only been a part of two student ministries in a leadership capacity in the last 7 years, so I will not claim to be an expert in this area, especially because I’m still fighting to find that balance that needs to be found.

My main intent when it comes to ministry, whether it be students, parents, music, is to lead people to seek God’s Word. To pursue Him over the world. Some days I feel like I’m doing pretty well at accomplishing that, others, well…I feel like it’s my first day on the job and I’m more lost than Christopher Columbus on his way to India…The culture our students are growing up in, even the church culture, tells students that they can be their own god. Maybe those words aren’t being spoken out loud, or even intentionally being instituted, but the idea is there in all facets of society. In the church (the American church), specifically, I see it week in and week out where parents are justifying their child forgoing Bible study for club sports, work, and a myriad of other reasons. What is this telling and teaching our kids about the importance of church fellowship? Moreover, why are we canceling out what the author of Hebrews wrote in chapter 10:23-25 regarding fellowship? He wrote:

“23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV)

When from a young age, we place importance on something that, while potentially beneficial to our child, over the importance of Biblical fellowship, we begin a trend that is unhealthy. If I am a Christian, and I take seriously the command Jesus gives in the great commission to “…go therefore, and make disciples in all the nations…,” why would I place so much importance on something that is so temporary? Whether it be sports, concerts, etc., all of these things will wither away. They don’t last. Now, don’t take this as me saying that you should never have fun or do something that you enjoy, that would be ludicrous of me. What I am saying though, is what the author of Hebrews is saying.

When we read this passage, the author is encouraging the audience, Hebrew Christians who were under heavy persecution, to hold onto the faith and knowledge that Jesus saves and died for them. We can somewhat relate to that situation, though I would argue we haven’t been afflicted as these would have been, but the temptation for them to turn away from the hope they profess is great, so it is for Christians in the culture we live in currently. He next urges the audience to push one another to love and good works, meaning that our actions and words should push others closer to Jesus as opposed to away from Him. So many times in church culture, we miss this message. Instead of pushing each other toward “love and good works,” we push each other into frustration and anger. We think that our way is right and that the other person couldn’t possibly have the insight we have, so we get aggravated with them. How is that possibly moving someone toward love and good works? I’ve been guilty of being the offending party, the one who pushed someone away from love and good works. I may have been the reason it was easy to miss church that day. This is not what we are called to do as believers. We need to focus on how to love others like Jesus did, and push them toward love and loving Jesus. This will result in the last part of that passage being easier to accomplish.

“…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” How powerful are those words? We should desire to meet together as much as possible, especially as believers, for encouragement and teaching, also known as, fellowship. In the New Testament, we don’t see individuals gathering at their own home away from other believers, instead, we see them all meeting and gathering together throughout the week. In each other’s homes. *GASP! Yep, in each other’s homes. I’ve observed in more than just one or two church contexts where everyone meets up on Sunday mornings and smile, shake hands, sing, nod their heads, and pray. Once the clock strikes 12:05, however, it’s nose back to the ground and wait til we see you again on Wednesday or Sunday. How often during the week do we try to interact with other believers? How often do we keep our Sunday lunch plans open so we can go continue fellowship after church? I know there are many times when we want to just go home after church and nap, and don’t want to have any interaction with anyone except my pillow and sheets. Would us changing our plans from being solitary during the week to spending meaningful time with other people be something that we would be willing to do to have a kingdom effect? The times that my family has had people over after church, or gone to eat with someone have been some of the sweetest fellowship time. We may have been sacrificing that precious nap and rest time, but we ended up with the opportunity to get to know someone and begin building relationship and community with them. When we skip out on the once weekly fellowship of Sunday morning, we miss out on the growth that the Holy Spirit provides through that fellowship, and we miss out on the opportunity to encourage others, and even be encouraged ourselves. Those are two incredibly important parts of being in the family of God. Our lives have to be directed at giving Him glory and honor before ourselves.

What I want to encourage with this post, is for us to really examine our lives. Are we going out of our way to avoid interaction with others, or are we going out of our way to have that interaction? Being an introvert makes being around large groups of people incredibly exhausting, and overly stimulating for me, and I struggle often with the desire to be around anyone sometimes. There are times that I will send my wife to bed and just stay up by myself for hours because I need that recharge time, so I definitely understand the need for quiet and solitude. But Jesus calls us to live opposite of that in our daily lives. He calls us to “…go…and make disciples…” meaning that we don’t get to sit at the house and hope that people come and ask us about Jesus. We take the gospel to them, daily. In order for us to recharge spiritually, however, we can’t just sit at the house in the solitude and quiet. That recharge time comes from going and being a part of fellowship and hearing the Word proclaimed through musical and teaching worship.

Find somewhere to get plugged in this weekend.

Find someone to build a meaningful friendship with this weekend.

Don’t disregard the importance of Sunday morning.

Most of all, pursue Jesus and find a hunger for His Word.

The Difficulty in Obedience

In the past month, our student ministry has studied the first three Psalms. We went a little out of order by studying Psalm 3 before the first two, but often I’ve found that God uses His Word and the randomness of my mind to go through some awesome studies with our students. In conjunction with our pastor teaching through the “Becoming a Contagious Christian” study, the first three psalms have been an awesome springboard into equipping our students for taking the gospel to their friends. I’m so grateful for God’s Word and His providence in so many different ways in our lives. All three psalms contain such a similar focus that encourages us to look to God for our all. The choice is presented clearly for us to make, the result of choosing unwisely is described, and the encouragement to seek refuge in our Almighty God is exemplified by David.

We are constantly surrounded by choices, all day er’day, as some of my students like to say (and I have been known to mutter). Psalm 1 presents us with two choices that we have to make. Psalm 2 shows us how nations and leaders tend to think when God is removed from the guiding hand. Psalm 3 shows a king running for his life from his own son’s desire for power. In all three psalms, the choice was available to go with what is easy (Psalm 1), accepted culturally (Psalm 2), and to completely shut down in fear (Psalm 3). Being obedient means making the really frustratingly tough choice sometimes, and in each of these first three psalms the choice seems pretty clear to make. The fact of the matter though, is that the choice can be incredibly hard. We’ll look at why each choice is hard to make, and where we can find encouragement in the midst of the decision making process.

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]Jesus doesn’t stress us following a checklist to stay out of hell, He stresses a relationship with a loving, heavenly Father.[/cryout-pullquote]When it comes to our day to day choices, nothing gets us more discouraged than when our choices may mean we might lose some friends. Peer pressure in the form of losing compadres has been, in my experience, the leading cause of students and even adults to fall back into a life of disobedience. Let me clarify again that obedience to God is not obeying to avoid punishment to the Christian. Jesus doesn’t stress us following a checklist to stay out of hell, He stresses a relationship with a loving, heavenly Father. In Psalm 1, we see the result of choosing the temporary, easy way of living. When we live this way and forgo following Jesus, we cannot claim allegiance to Him. James addresses this very topic in James 3:9-12. In the study of “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” the statement of our lives being a sermon to the world brought about a change in perspective for me. Was/Am I preaching a consistent and authentic sermon with my life? Are the words that I speak matching up to the actions that I take part in? This is where the difficulty comes in for the personal choice, is the sacrifice worth the reward? In my life, I’ve found that the reward is more than worth the sacrifice that may come as a result of that choice. This is because I have the hope and joy in Christ because of my relationship with Jesus. Without that relationship, the struggle can, and usually  will, be almost impossible to make. When I see my students and peers struggling with what choice to make, I try to encourage them to spend time in prayer and seek Godly counsel and wisdom before making a choice. Sometimes that advice is heeded, others it is not. My constant prayer is that our students, peers, and I will make a decision to honor God over self.

Psalm 2 addresses the nations and leaders dishonoring God and basically saying He is “cramping their style.” We see the result of this as well, and it is not pretty. We also see that our nation, along with many other nations are taking a cultural road away from God’s design. God laid out what His expectations for life were, and our world has deemed it to be a restrictive way to live and shunned the wisdom behind those standards. The result of this has been, from the beginning of humanity, death and destruction. Our desire to be our own god has led to nothing but misery. There may be temporary happiness and satisfaction tied into living for ourselves, but there is no true joy present. The feeling of satisfaction doesn’t happen until we’ve relinquished control of our lives and chosen obedience to Jesus. Until leaders of a nation turn back to Christ for guidance, there will be no return to morality in a government. Before leaders of a nation turn back to God for guidance, the people in that nation need to get on their knees and seek God on behalf of those leaders. Not that we will change their minds, but that the Holy Spirit will work on the hearts of those who are in authority over us. No matter how much we don’t like a political party or individual, we are subject to their leadership because our fellow citizens elected them, and that leadership needs to be bathed in prayer! So many of my fellow Christians spend so much time criticizing and bashing the leaders they “don’t approve of” that they seem to forget that these men and women are in need of a Savior just as much as they themselves are. There are certainly stinkers in every single political party and corner of national leadership, and that should motivate us to pray for them instead of attacking them! Take heart, friends, the Lord can do amazing works in and through anyone! Even if our country doesn’t turn back to God for guidance, we still retain that hope and certainty that our relationship with Jesus brings!

Psalm 3 addresses David fleeing from his own son! Some of us have been betrayed, and it is an absolutely heart and gut wrenching feeling. How many of us, though, can say that our lives were legitimately threatened by our own flesh and blood? Some can certainly say that, but the majority of us, I’m guessing, cannot. In the face of absolute terror from his own son, David didn’t turn to alcohol, women, gambling or any of these other distractions that humans tend to turn to when we are scared, he turned to God. He turned to the One who he knew could and would take care of him. He obeyed what he knew to be true in his own life, that his God would deliver him. Having this faith, akin to the faith that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had in Daniel 3, that no matter what the outcome of the situation was, his true hope was in the salvation he had through his relationship with God. When we pursue that relationship, we have the hope and knowledge that we can live in confidence of our eternity.

The difficulty in obedience comes when we worry about the outcome of life. But I’ll leave you with a passage that continually encourages me in the midst of the storm of this life. Jesus is giving the disciples a heads up as to what is to come in John 16, and has told them that He will soon be gone and that the Holy Spirit will be coming. His final words in this chapter are so powerful, and evoke such a joy in my heart.

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:29-33

 

Rebellion in the Face of a Loving God

I like to think I have it all together. Most of the time, I can get away with it looking like I do. When I try and control how my life goes, however, God has a way of reminding me that I’m not the boss of me. In studying for our student Bible study over Psalm 2, I came to the realization that I have a tendency to be like the kings of the earth and rulers described in the text. My attitude toward God becomes one that feels inconvenienced because of God’s call to obedience. The call to obedience, at least for me, is normally one to let go and quit trying to do everything. If you know anything about me, I’m a fixer. When things are going rough for someone, I usually throw some advice out there. The person that ends up telling me to be quiet most often, is my sweet wife. I don’t always understand that maybe she’s just trying to share her feelings with me and isn’t looking to gain any of my “profound” insight. I use the word profound in a very tongue-in-cheek way because I tend to think I know the best way to go about things. This leads me back to why I sometimes rebel against God’s call in my life. I rebel for the simple reason of wanting control of every aspect of my life, and I don’t have the rights to that. Before you start thinking about personal sovereignty or liberty, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. As a believer in the truth of the Bible, I believe that my life is no longer my own. It became a life that is to be directed for God’s purposes in all areas, not my own. Do I always follow this? No, but that’s part of the journey. Let’s see what warning we have in Psalm 2 about the rebellious mindset.

In Psalm 1, we saw that there are two pathways in life we can take. The result of one is completely opposite the result of the other. Psalm 2 goes through the result of a nation choosing the way of rebelling against God. The question asked at the start is one of disbelief. The psalmist asks “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” He already knows that rebellion against the Holy God is pointless, and that joining each other in counsel only causes more fruitless instigation. In verse 3, they (the rebellious leaders), refer to the laws of God’s love as “bonds” and “cords.” Those “bonds” and “cords” were put in place that people might have relationship with a Holy God who would not have any part of sin, not to restrict or hold back anyone from living their life to the fullest. Their response to His provision wasn’t a surprise, but it was still an offensive action and behavior to Him. God’s response in the following verses shows us His view on willful rebellion and disobedience.

“He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” I looked up what the word derision meant…it’s not a good thing to be held in derision by our Creator. Basically, God said that they were about to be shown what it meant to actually be restricted and held back on living life to the fullest. Because of their desire to rebel against Him, He would loose His righteous judgement on them. In our society and world today, so many people will look at this judgement that is handed down and question how loving God really is. The stark warning in this psalm is one that brings attention to the wrath of God. From an outside point-of-view, this makes believers look like they obey just so they don’t get punished or out of the fear of punishment. Let me clarify that a believer in Jesus believes and follows out of a love for a Savior who provided a way to have relationship when one wasn’t deserved. We are compelled to that obedience because of what has been done for us, and is continuing to be done in our lives daily.

Another part about this particular psalm is the fact that it is referring to a nation/nations rebelling against God. One of the common denominators I see in the strife that exists in not only America, but the world, is the fact that Christianity and the Bible and God are looked at as being restrictive. There is also the thought that we are “old-fashioned” in our thinking, and we’ve been compared to those who thought the earth was flat. The truth of this situation is simple. God is the same as He was at creation, He’s the same today, and He’ll be the same until He decides it’s time for the world as we know it to cease to exist. Therefore, His law and expectations will never waver or change regarding sin. Where is the hope in this? The hope comes from the fact that God gave us a way out of eternal death through His Son, Jesus. He desires for us to have a relationship with Him, not to turn our backs on Him. When we try to change God, as I believe our nation has tried to do, we see the results being compromised doctrine and theology. We have become the silent majority in so many ways that the Truth of God’s Word has been drowned out by the loudest sources of entertainment and news. I believe that a shift back to Jesus will come, and we are seeing some of that where I am in south Texas now, but we must keep a focus on God and His Word.

The times where I try to hold it all together by myself are the times when the Lord will prune and cause me to examine where my dependance truly lies. Where are you rebelling in your life and how can you become fully dependent on Christ alone? How do you think we can impact our generation and generations to come for the name of Jesus?

Which Path to Walk?

Every day we have choices. Each particular choice has it’s own end result. Last night in our Wednesday night Student Bible study, we went through Psalm 1, which talks about two ways of living. When it comes to our decisions regarding Jesus, there are two possible end results: 1. Life in eternity with Jesus and 2. Life in eternity without Him. There is no consideration for pragmatism. There is no consideration for apathy. There is no consideration for feigned ignorance. I take that back, there is consideration, but none of those things are “taken into account” when it comes to determining our final resting place once our earthly bodies die. That result, that consideration, the eternal one, is black and white. I’m afraid that many want to ride on the thought that “God knows my heart, so He’ll understand why I feel the way I do and He’ll let me in because I’m a nice person.” Terrifying, especially because we are all there at some point in our lives, and there’s not a much bigger lie out there.

The choice regarding eternity that we have to make, is to choose to walk in the way of the wicked, or to walk in the way of righteousness. That is why the results are black and white. The predetermination of the end result of each choice is based on the fact that a Holy God cannot look on sin. Do we have sin in our lives? Yes, yes we all do! Not a single one of us is holy, righteous, clean, perfect, stainless, you get the picture, on our own. The only hope we have of being blameless is because the God who created us and pursues us gave His only Son to take that sin. When we choose to look the other way to satisfy and pacify ourselves and seek what temporarily feels good, we run away from a loving God who wants us and pursues us, but doesn’t need us. Do we understand that mindset? Some of you guys who read my blog are parents whose children have gone astray, despite your best efforts, and it’s heartbreaking and mind-boggling to try and understand why they’ve chosen that. We, as parents, try to provide the very best for our kids and sometimes they act like they just don’t care. The heartache that comes with that is compounded when we treat God like that when He’s already provided the very best for us, but we spit in His face as a “thank you.”

Psalm 1:1 tells us that “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;…” The psalmist lines out very plainly what a person who is “blessed” does not do. The term “blessed” here is referring to someone who knows God, follows God, who has redemption and salvation in his or her life. When that redemption is present, there will be temptations to follow the advice of those who don’t know salvation. The one who has redemption will have to make the choice to follow the world, or to follow the One who gives the redemption. How do we know which choice to make? That all depends on where our time is spent and where we draw our advice from. Verse 2 tells us that the “blessed” delights in the law, or instruction, of the Lord, and that he meditates on it day and night. How much easier are our decisions when we spend large amounts of time meditating on God’s Word? They become exponentially easier, in my opinion, when we spend time seeking God instead of taking advice from those who desire to pacify us. I used the analogy of who to go to for relationship advice as an example of where to find wise counsel. I asked my students, who are predominantly middle schoolers, who they go to for relationship advice, their best friends or to a couple who has been married for a few decades? Guess who they chose. Their “best friends, of course!” I asked them how many years of consistent and constant relationship advice their friends had. Then I asked them how much experience the older couple who had been married for many years had. Next, I posed the question “Why do we go to our best friends for advice instead of those who have experience?” I saw a ton of shoulders shrug after that. The next question is where wheels seemed to start turning, which was “Will your friends give you an objective answer, even when it might hurt or be the answer you don’t want to hear?” Most said “no,” a few said “yes.” You see, our friends will tickle our ears, give us the easy answers about how to live our life because conflict is not popular. We sometimes want someone to justify our actions and decisions, and because of that, we go to who will give us the advice we want. Sometimes we need that hard answer or response about the decisions we are making. How hard is it to follow Jesus, but how much more beautiful are the results of those difficult choices? Praise God that He gives us His Word to study in order to glorify and honor Him!

“Relationship, with anyone, comes from constant and consistent contact and time spent with that person. the same goes for our relationship with Jesus.”

When we read verse 3, we see what happens when we stay in God’s Word, seeking His wisdom and guidance instead of seeking what will temporarily satisfy. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” As water is the physical life-source for humans, animals and plants, so the Word of God is for the Christian. Trees grow to their fullest potential when planted by a constant and consistent water source. Think about that for a minute. If we expect a pine tree to grow to 70 feet tall in the shortest amount of time while planted in the middle of a prairie, are we having reasonable expectations? Then why do we expect or hope to grow in our relationship with Jesus if we treat the Bible like a crash diet? Relationship, with anyone, comes from constant and consistent contact and time spent with that person. The same goes for our relationship with Jesus.

All of this may sound like I’m describing a “works-based salvation,” but I assure you that this is not the case. Our salvation comes from Christ alone, so that I cannot boast about myself or anything that I may have done. The fact is, because God loves us so much, He gave His Son selflessly for us because He desires relationship with us. Does that make God a weak God? No, it makes Him an amazing Father! What the psalmist is writing about is the direction we are to follow to honor and love our amazing Father, not about a checklist of things to do for grace to occur. He includes the warning of living by the advice or “wisdom” of the world as a reminder of what happens when we reject a Holy and just God. The question then tends to come up “Why would a loving God send me to hell?” The short answer is that He won’t send you to hell, but you get the option to choose your final resting place. Put faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s never-ending love, grace and mercy and celebrate eternity with others who made the same decision. Put faith in finding your own way, your own salvation, your own merit and celebrate death, pain and never-ending torment with others who made that decision as well. The decision is ultimately yours, God isn’t going to force you to love Him, that’s not love.

If you are living an unsatisfied life and trying to satisfy something with what the world gives you, you’ll continue to search. Even if you’re living a life that’s not “bad,” even by “church standards,” treating people great, donating to charity, being the nicest and most moral person that you know how to be, you’ll continue to search how to fulfill that empty feeling. The only solution to that lack of satisfaction, is Jesus. You’ll never find fulfillment in your spouse, friends, your children, your job, money, pornography, adultery, or anything else that isn’t in pursuit of Jesus. Fortunately, God gives us His Word as a beautiful resource to look to the examples of many before us who have found fulfillment and satisfaction in Jesus.

What are some of your thoughts about how we can encourage our friends, family, and even complete strangers to seek Christ? In a culture that has a tendency to run away from God, how can we put focus on living in the satisfaction of Jesus? I’d love to hear from you and discuss with you on your thoughts!

6 Things that help me sleep at night in ministry

 

 

So I’ve told you what keeps me up at night in ministry, I figure I’ll tell you what helps me sleep as well. So here are 6 things that put my mind at ease in ministry. Enjoy!

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(Picture credit to Alex Bramwell via Flickr)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6. I’m just flat tired at night
Honestly, ministry is exhausting. There are nights when I’ll be snoozing on the couch at 8:30pm and my poor wife has to shake me awake so we can put the kids to bed. The best thing about being exhausted in this way, is that the reason I’m exhausted is because I’ve been getting to hang out with some awesome people. I would much rather be exhausted due to ministry activities than be exhausted because of corporate life activities, like when I worked for WalMart.

5. I know that what I’m doing can have an eternal impact on someone’s life
When I sit back and think about the lives I’ve seen because of a pastor, youth pastor, Sunday school teacher, educator, parent, etc., I am comforted knowing that by caring for students we can share the love of Jesus. In sharing the love of Jesus, students can have the chance to come to the saving knowledge of having a relationship with Jesus. I know that with that I have to remember that it’s not anything that I’m doing by myself, but that the Holy Spirit can move when I’m being obedient.

4. I know where my strength comes from, and He sustains me
Each night before my wife and I go to sleep, no matter how tired we are (and this has produced some really funny stories), we will pray together. Praying together helps us keep our focus on our heavenly Father, and helps us to remember that He sustains us no matter how tired we feel we are. If we remain in Him, He will remain in us and we take joy in knowing that fact.

3. I don’t fret about my employment status
As silly as it sounds, I was almost always up late at night worrying about my job when I worked for WalMart. The attendance standards in combination with living 45 miles away were incredibly stressful, especially when winter came about. Being employed by our church, I know that if I have a family situation come up I don’t have to worry about being fired for missing some time in the office.

2. Seeing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is amazing
Seeing kids come to give their lives over to Jesus never gets old. Knowing that students are grasping the Word and committing their lives to Christ is something that brings comfort. My job will never be finished in this area of ministry, but when you see these victories it’s hard not to find comfort in seeing new believers come to faith.

1. I know my future is secure
When I gave my life to Jesus as an 8-year-old squirrely kid, my eternity became assured to be with God in heaven. I know that no matter what happens after my eyes open during the day, that if my time has come I have hope and joy in Christ.

What are some things that help you sleep at night? These are just a few of mine, I’d love to hear yours!

6 things that keep me up at night in ministry…

I’ve had the privilege of working with middle school and high school students since mid-2009. There are so many different things that I get to experience that make me wonder why God saw fit to choose me for this particular calling, but I try to never complain about His decision to do so. That being said, among all the rewards for being in vocational ministry, there are still some things that keep me up at night and I figure I might as well share some of them with you. My prayer is that this is an encouragement where needed, and that maybe you’re in ministry too and you lose sleep on occasion because of some of the same things I do but felt like you were alone in that.

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6. Am I teaching these students in a way that they grasp the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
I know that when I study for a lesson I try my best to put what I learned from studying into words that will illuminate what it means to grasp the Gospel of Jesus. The hardest part for me to remember isthat nothing I can say will change a life if the Holy Spirit isn’t the inspiration for the words. I also have to remember that sometimes words just don’t have the capacity to describe what the Gospel is, and that’s tough for me. I’m a fixer and I hate when I can’t fix something.

5. Do I have the faith to quit trying to fix things and let the Holy Spirit work?
Sometimes I have to sit back and realize that I’m not the best at something. Although this point has been driven home many times in many different ways, the realization of it being true is difficult to accept. This is an issue that stems from my personal life as well. So many times I’ve tried to figure out how to fix a situation before praying and asking guidance from God. So many times when we look at Paul in scripture, he is seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. Not only is he seeking guidance, but he is also encouraging and advising others to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:26 being one such instance)

4. Am I doing enough to encourage these students in their walk with Jesus?
In looking back at my youth, I see so many of my peers who have walked away from even thinking about attending church. I’ve seen several who felt called to ministry who gave up on that calling soon after surrendering to it. I don’t want the students I’m charged with teaching, mentoring and ministering to being the next wave of students who walk away to never look back. My desire is to see them be a difference for God’s kingdom in their generation. For that to happen though, I have to first be faithful to the calling I’ve been given. Secondly, I have to stop trying to coddle them and let them grow some legs and stand on them. I can’t make these students do what I think they ought to, I have to have faith they’ll follow the calling God has placed in their lives.

3. Am I setting the example of being a servant before being a leader?
This is the question that gets some of the most play in my head during the day and night. I see so many guys writing books on being the best leader, the most effective leader, the greatest leader. A good deal of these guys are writing about how to be the best CEO of their ministry. I was looking at a conference to go to that was geared specifically for youth pastors this fall, and every single speaker that was attending the conference was a CEO or something similar to that position in a wildly successful secular company. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate those who are business-minded and organized and super driven, they keep the wheels turning. The problem I see with this is that too many ministers are worrying about being a CEO and not the janitor of the ministry. If we aren’t willing to serve those around us, can we be effective in ministry? I don’t want students to ever ask me if they’re getting paid to do work on mission projects. I say that in jest, but I’ve been asked that before and it really got me to thinking. We eventually had to cancel those projects because students didn’t want to participate if they weren’t being paid. The realization that I came to was that I wasn’t focusing enough on the characteristics of Jesus, who came to serve and not be served.My goal is to find ways to promote this mindset and encourage serving our fellow man/woman/boy/girl in an effort to walk as Jesus. Unfortunately, I don’t think having a CEO mindset is one of the ways we can do that because we are called to a relationship with Jesus and therefore we are called to a relationship with other followers of Jesus.

2. Am I ministering to my family at home as much as I am ministering to my family at church?
I have the opportunity to be the youth pastor at the church where I am currently employed. Along with that, I get the privilege of leading the musical portion of our worship services on Sunday mornings. This is an area where God is stretching me to my limits. Prior to being called to our current church, I was a volunteer as the youth pastor and filled in on occasion for my father-in-law on Sunday mornings when he was out of town or sick. My level of responsibility went up a few notches when we were called here, and I’m incredibly blessed to have this opportunity. Along with that though, I’m having to adjust how I manage myself around the time that I have during the day. One of the most difficult has been to make sure that I still spend time at home with my lovely bride and our 3 crazy awesome kids. I have found myself at times focusing more on what was going on at the church and in my office than what I had going on at home. I have to make intentional efforts to spend more time focusing on ministering to my own kids and wife than I have, and that can be tough for me because I am not a multi-tasker.

1. Am I practicing what I preach?
This is the thought that haunts me every night. Like everyone else, I sin. If I said I didn’t, I  would be called a liar. Am I being consistent with what I’m teaching my students? Am I loving everyone as Christ teaches us to? Are my words edifying and encouraging to everyone I talk to? Are my words indicative of my relationship with Jesus? Is my life a reflection of the one who took my sins and gave me a chance to spend eternity with God the Father? Unfortunately, I can’t always answer those questions with “yes.” The beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins though, is that I have an advocate to speak for me when I repent of those sins. This doesn’t give me license to act like an idiot, but it does give me the chance for redemption upon repentance.

What are some things that keep you up at night?

A quick update…long time in coming

So…since my last post in June there have been some fairly substantial changes that most everyone already knew about. The most glaringly obvious one being that we’ve moved 7 hours south of Walnut Springs to the (mostly) quiet city of Port Aransas. We moved down this way following God’s calling to First Baptist Church Port Aransas as the Youth and Music Pastor. We began the interview process with the church back in May and the church called us on July 28th to be part of their staff. Our first Sunday here was August 18th and it’s been a whirlwind of blessings since then. We left an amazingly close-knit church family in Walnut Springs and came to another very close-knit church family. Our new church family has been so amazingly warm and welcoming and they have made our transition incredibly comfortable. There have been a few other changes since the last post, but that is the main one that I can think of that is “share-worthy.” I’ll have another post coming out sometime this morning/afternoon with some different things on my heart, so keep an eye out!

I’m tired, BUT…

Sometimes in student ministry things get straight cray cray. Sometimes in student ministry things get cray cray, while at the same time things in personal life get a little cray cray too. Often times, this leads to burnout. But sometimes, it leads to seeing God do some stuff that will blow your mind. This past month almost resulted in the former, but ended in the latter. I’ll elaborate below, but bear with me as I’ll probably chase a few squirrels and get off topic…

I’ve been promoting and reminding our students about summer camp since October. Yes, I said October…I got started early this year, don’t judge. I ended up having the privilege of meeting with the director of the camp along with the worship leader, to be a part of the planning and input process. Initially, we had a pretty awesome response to camp. Out of our 25 or so students, we had a little over half that seemed interested in making it to be a part of the camp. The fun part, i.e. fundraisers, were to begin almost immediately. As we began doing fundraisers to offset camp costs, it became apparent that some of the 15 students that had originally committed to go were not quite as committed as I’d hoped. Evidently Sunday morning pancake breakfasts weren’t very popular among those who didn’t want to pay out of pocket. However, that was our best avenue to raise that money, so we muscled through. In the course of about 5 months, about 6 students had amassed about a third of the needed money to send them to camp. Our student ministry has been blessed with some incredibly giving people, and we had the money to send them to camp with or without the fundraisers. That being said, I felt that our students needed to learn some of the responsibility that I had only halfway learned in my youth group days, so we did the fundraising events anyway. By the end of April, I had been chasing kids down trying to get some “for sure’s” so I could turn in a close guesstimate for camp numbers. If you’ve ever been a part of getting a youth group ready for camp, or any other trip longer than a weekend-long you know the amount of chasing that goes on. Some of this was brought forth by my own procrastination, and some was from a chorus of “IDK’s” from students. Needless to say, my excitement level for getting our students ready for camp was beginning to wane a bit.

In the midst of all of this, I felt that God was calling me to pursue a full-time position at a church, and in February went in view of a call to that church. Enter more emotional, mental, spiritual and physical exhaustion as we began seeking God’s will for us. God closed the door for us to be a part of the ministry of that church, and so we were back with our students again getting back to being ready for camp. Through all the situation with the door being closed, naturally more stress and exhaustion began setting in. But, God is sovereign, and His plan is way better than ours was/is. I began to slowly see some of “my” students start growing, and that was really cool! Some of the exhaustion began to decrease a little bit, but there was still that pesky commitment from students that I needed about camp. As we made our way into the month of May, I had several students drop off of our list due to varying reasons. One of the discouraging things that happens in ministry, is feeling like you’re failing because students cross their names off of event lists that you’ve put a ton of time and thought into. This was one of those situations for me. I had begun planning and getting kids excited about camp back in October and here in the home stretch, I had kids dropping like flies! I began texting parents and seeing what was up, to find out that some had other things pop up, while others just didn’t know why their kiddos had un-signed up. Enter in some more discouragement and add some frustration.

Selfishly, I wanted to take 20 students to camp this year. During this month of agony and frustration where students were disappearing from my camp list, God started to do work on my heart. I realized that I had begun to focus too much on looking like I had a successful ministry because I was taking a bunch of kids to camp from a small town. Lame. God would work out who needed to go, it was still up to me to do some leg work to get kids to go. He was going to be preparing the hearts of those would attend, including mine. As I began the internal battle of realizing that numbers didn’t matter, I started having more kids drop off the list…again, fear and doubt began to creep in. At one point, I thought I was going to have to sit out camp because there were no boys going, only girls. Fast forward to the last day that I could turn in numbers without getting special approval from the camp director.

The day started out like many others before it, students not willing to commit because their friends weren’t going. I just wanted to cry. I remembered camp being the highlight of my summer as a student, tons of fun and no parents! After church, amidst my doubts and faithlessness, we ended up with 3 boys signing up to go. Still being tired from the emotional roller coaster, I felt a small amount of relief in getting 3 guys signed up. Fast forward a week. I got a call from my gorgeous wife telling me that someone had rear-ended our van pretty hard and that she was okay. To make a long story short, the van ended up being totaled and had to buy a “new” van to replace it without being quite being ready to do so. Enter lots more stress as camp was just over a week away, and we had no vehicle yet. I could feel myself begin to slip into a stupor as things from the outside began to outweigh the focus I needed to get camp paperwork finished and notarized and stuff. Fast forward to the second day of camp a little while later…

It’s almost mid-week, fatigue and exhaustion are eating at our group. The guys are all having a seemingly enjoyable time, and the girls were, well, being girls at camp. If you have to ask what that means, then you are either a junior high girl at camp or you have never experienced taking girls into a close proximity cabin for a week. Drama wasn’t horrible, but attitudes weren’t incredibly happy. My attitude was beginning to wear out and I’m almost positive that it affected all of our kids. Some serious talks took place, a late-night prayer meeting took place between my lovely wife and I seeking God’s provision for patience and better attitudes all around. Thursday of camp (day 3) brought about mildly better attitudes, but greater exhaustion. Around 10:00pm we began our after worship church group meeting, and I could see looks on student’s faces that I wasn’t sure how to read. As I began to think and pray on the looks, I began to realize that there was some spiritual warfare going on in our students that night. After we finished our evening activities, I checked my phone and noticed I’d missed a call from a parent. After the student spoke to his parents, he asked me to sit down and talk with him for a minute.  He expressed his desire to go home the next day, he wasn’t quite sure about how to explain why he was feeling the way he was feeling other than that he just wanted to go on home. I told him to sleep on it and let me know in the morning how he felt. After morning worship and lunch, we sat down again and had another conversation. In this conversation, he told me he couldn’t figure out why he just felt bad. Not sick bad, just bad. At that moment, the Lord opened my eyes and gave me some discernment and reminded me of the times I had felt that way. I was able to explain to him that he was experiencing Satan fighting to distract him from what God was going to do, and that I had been there before. I told him that I wanted him there, but I wouldn’t force him to stay. We prayed and asked God to bind Satan and for some encouragement and perseverance. After another hour or two, this young man came back and wanted me to know that he wanted to stay! Praise God! I was stinkin pumped!

Heading into evening worship that night, I had a horrible sense of torment. As I was sitting during the beginning of music, I was overcome almost to the point of tears for the hearts of our students. I’m not usually an outwardly emotional person, as far as crying and such, so this was not the norm for me. At that point I knew God was going to do something crazy awesome that night. Earlier in the week, the first night of camp actually, a ton of students responded to the call to salvation. Each night after, the number dropped a bit. The speaker for the week, Brian Burgess, began the service the final two nights with an invitation to those who felt the call to follow Christ. On this final night, only one young man stood up in response to that call. As he stood there, his face scrunched up and tears began to flow. If you can, picture with me a room filled with 650-700 students, sponsors, staff, and ministers. Everyone sitting down, save one 15ish year old young man who stood without hesitation, crying because of the new life he had received from repenting and believing in Christ as Savior. If that image doesn’t give you goosebumps, please check your pulse. I knew this night was going to be something special. As the service continued on, God was speaking through Brian directly to the students, sponsors, staff and ministers, molding and breaking hearts. At the end, Brian requested that anyone who felt called to vocational ministry stand. Guess who stood up among those answering that call? You guessed it, the young man who hours earlier had requested a second time to go home. Praise God that he persevered and recognized that he needed to talk to someone about what was going on. This 12-year-old young man is someone you’ll be hearing about, or maybe won’t be hearing about because of his faithfulness to Jesus. There are just people you meet from time to time that you know are going to make an impact on the Kingdom, and he’s one of them. He likely will never want any recognition for it, but his faithfulness to God will be apparent. Along with this young man, another young lady felt the same call to vocational ministry. Our girls overcame the drama that had been problematic earlier in the week and had become united in their desire to begin leading a Bible study on campus together. They have also sought out some teaching from my wife, which is really fantastic! I am incredibly humbled to see that when I quit trying to manipulate the environment I’m in and turn over the “control” I think I have, God will show up and show off!

As I sit here typing this, I’m tired. But, I’m excited to see what’s in store that God is going to do next. It is often when we’re the most tired or frustrated and ready to quit that God will use us or move in someone to bring glory and honor to Him. My encouragement to you is to run the race as Paul describes in 2 Timothy 4:7, and get excited when you are tired from serving. You never know what’s going to happen when you anticipate seeing the Holy Spirit move.