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?

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.

sleepless

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!

Are We Losing?

I would like to think that I’m a winner because of the things I do.  I enjoy when I do well at participating in a sport, video game, board game, etc.  We are all born with an innate sense of winning at everything we try.  My wife and I are competitive people, just usually in different areas of life.  She possesses the motivation and ambition to be successful in business, and at the same time to be successful as a wife and mother.  There’s nothing wrong with desiring success, I am not saying that by any means.  However, when we associate winning with being right all the time, by making other people succumb to our “amazing” wealth of “knowledge” and forget that they are the same as we are, we begin to lose…gratuitously.   Let me explain what I mean.

As a believer in and follower of Christ, I prescribe to a certain set of beliefs outlined in scripture.  The most important of these beliefs is that I love the Lord my God with all of my heart, soul, and mind.  The second, which is similar, is to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:37-40).  Most of the time, we have no problem claiming allegiance to God, and maintaining the first of these two commandments.  The second is where the wheels begin to fall off for most of us.  We love people and generally our actions reflect that.  But what happens when people fail us?  What happens when they don’t quite live up to the standard that we expect them to?  What happens when that failure involves us directly, and even more so when it is detrimental to our comfort or satisfaction?  Do we immediately overlook their “shortcomings?”  Is forgiveness given as quickly and freely to them, by us, as we would give ourselves?  Ponder that thought for a moment…no really, how often do we not forgive ourselves for falling short of expectations?  When it comes to holding ourselves accountable, we are the kings and queens of justification.  Suddenly, our sins become minor offenses, and we can quickly say a prayer and “repent,” and move along to the next duty in our day.  But, for shame, if someone doesn’t quite live up to the standard we expect them to.  Don’t get me wrong, when I’m saying these things, my ears are burning and my stomach is in knots thinking about how often I’ve failed to live out this command of forgiving.  I have forgone distributing forgiveness to those who honestly didn’t know they had offended me.  Even if they did know they had offended me, how long have I clung to that frustration and bitterness toward that person?  At the same time that I’ve clung to that mess, I’ve expected people to overlook my stupidity, inconsideration, and just outright disrespect.  As my friend Jack Robertson would say, “Uh, hello!”

Until the past couple of years, there was bitterness and anger that I held onto, toward people that I went to junior high and high school with.  That’s been 12 stinking years, for crying out loud!  When I looked back at why I was so angry and bitter, I began to realize the offenses were really petty and, well, junior highish.  My lack of being able to forgive these individuals clouded my ability to realize that they were, in fact, human.  How was I any different?  The exact same things that I had carried with me for so long, were things that I was guilty of doing to people myself!  I have seen some of these former classmates on Facebook, and through other avenues, and God has drastically changed their hearts and moved them to follow Him!  Praise God that He has changed their hearts!  Was I able to recognize this?  Um, no.  Why not?  Because I hadn’t let go of my anger and bitterness yet.  I wasn’t able to comprehend and rejoice with them in their salvation because I was still losing.  I was losing when my heart was embittered toward them because they had been a teenager, acting as some teenagers do.

Psalm 103:8-10 says:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and full of faithful love.  He will not always accuse us or be angry with us forever.  He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses.” (HCSB)

Well dang, I feel like a jerk.  I am supposed to be setting the example of God’s standard for one of His followers, and I can’t even get over someone picking on me in junior high.  Pretty sure the persecution the disciples went through made my aggravation seem pretty minor.  Let’s take a look a little bit farther in this chapter, Psalm 103:11-14 says:

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.  For He knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.” (HCSB)

Basically, what I take from this passage, is that when I don’t forgive as my Father in heaven has forgiven me, I am losing.  Not only am I losing, but I am failing.  The absolute beauty in this though, is that He has taken our transgressions completely away when we give our lives to Him.  Now, we have the opportunity to do the same to those who have sinned against us.  Am I saying that we need to search every single person out who has offended us and inform them of the “great grace” we’ve performed for them?  No.  We are never taught to go make a point of telling someone we have forgiven them, it is completely an issue of our heart being obedient to our Father.  We are commanded to forgive them.  We are also called to forget.  You’ve heard  the phrase before, “I’ll forgive them, but I’ll never forget what they did to me.”  This is an attitude that the world has birthed that has none of the characteristics of Christ.  He took all of our sins, forgave them, and took them away forever.  When we give our lives to Him, that sin is g-o-n-e.

They say that elephants are very smart creatures that never forget.  I don’t want God to be an elephant when it comes to my sin.  Fortunately, because I have that eternal salvation through His son’s death on the cross, He’s not an elephant.  He has forgotten my sins and taken them away as far as the east is from the west.  Spend a minute thinking about that analogy for a second.  The east never catches up to the west, just as our sin will never be brought up again when we have repented from that sin.  Because of the example of God’s forgiveness, we can choose to win when we forgive others.

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus says,

“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (HCSB)

We don’t get to tell someone to apologize for their actions (unless it’s your child), but we get to choose to act as Christ and forgive them for it.  As Mike Donehey of Tenth Avenue North explains in the video below, we can choose whether or not we want to be winning or losing.  I have to make a daily and conscious decision to grant forgiveness to those who I feel have wronged me, even more so when they may not have realized they did so.  Don’t be an elephant.

No More Conforming, Be Authentic

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him (Christ) with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelivable.”  –Brennan Manning

Everytime I hear that quote, I shudder.  The thought that Christians, such as myself could be the greatest cause of atheism just breaks my heart.  That means that science, natural disasters, tragedy and other things we think cause people to turn from God are but a glimmer compared to the effect we have as Christians.  That’s not to say that people’s lives aren’t being changed and saved by the Holy Spirit as a result of us sharing with them and setting a Godly example, but there are many instances where we cause people to wander away from faith or just not consider faith at all.  When I sit back and think about how a statement like this could have an validity, I am brought to Romans 12:1-2, which says

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve of what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

We are called to live a life of excellence, and the pattern we are called to follow is the one set for us by Christ, not the one(s) that our culture and society tell us we should follow.  Sometimes we fall into the thought that we have to fit into a certain mold to be a “real” or “good” Christian.  The world has created that thought, and we end up believing it if we aren’t careful.  Some of these molds are:

  • We have to go to church every Sunday
  • We have to wear the right clothes
  • We have to say the right words
  • We have to smile the whole time
  • We have to act like nothing is wrong

When I delivered this sermon, I came to church and made sure to do something that I don’t normally do.  That was to be dressed in a suit with a tie and slacks, keep in mind, my normal Sunday morning attire is jeans and either a polo shirt, or a button-up shirt, so you can imagine the comments that ensued.  Many compliments about my dress, and of course, several questions about a funeral.  Here is a picture of my pre-sermon getup.

I will admit, it was quite nice getting the compliments from my fellow church members.  I actually fit into the mold that our churches have expected the preacherman to be wearing up in the pulpit, as opposed to how I wanted to dress, which was in my blue jeans and polo.  Now, there is nothing wrong with dressing up nicely, especially to bring the Word of God, so please don’t take me as meaning that you should never dress up nice, I think it’s a matter of preference personally.  But I dressed up this way to be the visual aid part of my sermon, more on that a bit later.

Back to before…we weren’t created to fit into some kind of mold in order to be a Christian, but the world sure does want us to fit a mold.  So, we feel like we have to fit into it, but what were we created for?

We were created for worship, more specifically, we were created to worship God.  We were also created for fellowship, to share the love of Christ with those around us all the time, not just occasionally on Sundays.  In the passage prior to Romans 12:1-2, we are given a look into what Paul was writing to the Roman church about.  I will give you a quick Philliphrase version of that passage.

  • God is all-knowing!
  • God is beyond our comprehension!
  • None of us know His thoughts!
  • He doesn’t owe us anything!
  • He created all, He gives all, and we owe Him all of our love, passion and commitment!

How does this fit into our lives?  Knowing what the passage says about God, we are urged to give Him everything.  Our lives are to be spent, presented, offered, and freely given completely to God for His use and glory.  By doing this, we are living a lifestyle of worship.  In this passage in Romans, the end goal is to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.  In order to do this, we have to do a few things.

First of all, we have to have that relationship with the Father.  Meaning, we have to acknowledge we are sinners and that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave as a sacrifice for those sins.  After that, and let’s work backwards from what our end goal is, and examine what Paul described we have to do.

We need to experience a renewal of mind.  What does renewal mean?  Well, according to Google, to renew means:

  1. Resume (an activity) after an interruption
  2. Reestablish (a relationship)

Why do we need a renewal of our minds?  Just like we need a vacation sometimes to refresh our bodies and restart, our minds need a renewal from the old thoughts and focus we have before we experience Christ.  We can’t earn our way to Heaven, but our thought process before we know Christ is that the nicer we are to people or the more money we give to charitable causes.  This mindset is contrary to what scripture teaches, more specifically what Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us.  In a time where our culture feels as though not believing in God and believing in science means we are living in an age of reason, a renewal of mind sometimes seems unfathomable because of the social repercussions.  When the Holy Spirit beckons us, and we respond, our minds become renewed by faith.  By trying to figure out God with worldly reason, we completely avoid the aspect of the faith we are saved by, and called to live by.  When we try to live without faith, we begin to conform to the world around us.  Instead of conforming, we are to be transformed.  Which brings us to our next topic, transformation.

According to Google, to transform means-

  1. Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

When Paul writes the word transformed, he is referring to how our lives are to be changed to be completely different than before.  In order to do this, we have to fight the innate and selfish nature we are born with, and instead rely on the renewal of mind that we have upon receiving salvation.  The transformation comes when we recognize who God is, and give up all of the control we desire to have over our lives.  When we make the thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance and character of our heart and soul, we have transformed from being selfish and ungrateful.  When that change comes, our new attributes are appreciative and redeemed.  Think about what Optimus Prime looked like before he would transform into a superhero robot.  Before we can call ourselves transformed, we have to look and live differently than we did before salvation comes.  This transformation is made possible only because God loves us, and He has given us the opportunity to be renewed and transformed.  In order for us to be transformed and renewed, we cannot conform any longer to what the world says is acceptable.

In order to know how not to conform, we should first understand what the word conform means.

  1. Comply with rules, standards, or laws.
  2. (of a person) Behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”

When we are living and striving not to conform, we strive to live against how the world lives.  This can be anything from what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, how we speak, treat others, and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes when we are striving the live a life that isn’t conformed, the world labels and categorizes Christians in ways that are sometimes fair, sometimes not.  Some of these categories are that we are all judgmental, we are all fake, or we are all hypocrites.  When we get put into one of these categories, we have a choice in the way we respond.  We can either be completely offended and fight back in a way that doesn’t represent Christ, or we can do as I’ve had to learn the hard way to do, and sit back and examine how I am perceived and why.  Some questions I have found useful are:

  • Do I exemplify Christ by the way I treat people?
  • Does my attitude reflect the love of Christ, or does it tear people down?
  • Do I act one way at church on Sunday and Wednesday, and when I’m not at church, do I act a different way?
  • Do I worry about the speck of sawdust more than I worry about my plank?

In the sermon on the mount, Christ taught the attitudes we ought to have to live a life that exudes that we are his followers.  Meekness, gentleness, compassion, mercifulness, peacemaking, and righteousness are all some of those characteristics.  Do we live these everyday?  Or do we just act like we have it all together and continue on with our lives, unchanged?  When we act like we have it all together, we have a tendency to put on a front, or a cover that looks great.  Underneath it, we can be so tumultuous, confused, and disgruntled we can lose our focus on Christ.  When this happens, we keep the front up and begin to conform to what is expected of us, and we forget what the transformation and renewal of mind felt like when we experienced Christ.  This can lead to the pressures of our society taking over, and we begin to marginalize things that would never have been an issue before, and our life becomes an unauthentic mess.  God knows what’s beneath that cover, He sees the mess that is covered by that shell of smiles.  We can’t hide our ragged insides from God, and it won’t be long before other people start noticing something is wrong with us, and then we hide.  Are we transparent, or are we hiding behind something fake?

When I got all the compliments yesterday morning about my suit, it drove home the point to me that even though I was dressed nice and looked very confident, I was still scared to death about preaching.  But, the best part about the suit was that it was just a facade.  My intention with wearing the suit was to cover up what was underneath.

Now, I know I’m cheesing in this picture, that was mostly because I had the intention of sending this picture to my mom to get a reaction from her.  The suit jacket covered up my cut up, sleeveless shirt and tattoo that became exposed when I took my jacket off.  How many times do we cover up our mess with something fake so people won’t think badly of us?  When we do this, we tend to act in ways that we wouldn’t if we were being authentic.  When we have turmoil in our lives, we have to look to Christ for that comfort and for that guidance through the murk and hopelessness that can come up when we are fighting spiritual warfare.  My encouragement to you and to myself, is to shed the desire to throw up that front and try to do everything on our own, and instead come to our family of believers for support and give everything to God.  I’ll leave you with this passage as an encouragement and reminder about what we’re supposed to be when we give it all to Christ.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”            2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Put All Your Eggs In!!

 

In September, I quit my job after almost 7 years of employment.  I had great benefits, pretty decent pay, and tons of opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with co-workers.  I also have 3 kids, a mortgage, at the time we had 2 car payments and the everyday costs associated with being a family man with a home and two vehicles.  So why did I quit working somewhere so stable and consistent?  God told me to.

It tends to sound either so cliché, or so crazy to people sometimes when I tell them that God told me to quit my job.  But it’s completely and honestly the truth!  My wife and I had been praying for between 6-9 months about what direction God was leading us in ministry, and the answer came through an unforeseeable avenue.  You see, my wife is an amazingly talented photographer, and has been building our business for the past 4 years.  She has done this, all while caring for myself and our 3 kiddos, and keeping our house from caving in on top of itself.  God has blessed her with a talent that many go to college to hone.  He also gave her an incredible mind for business and absorbing knowledge that just overwhelms me.  So after months of prayer, and seeking what we were supposed to do, God told me to quit my job and join my wife at home to run our business as a team.  Along with running the business, we felt very lead to begin home schooling our children.  Wowsers!

How do I know He told me to quit?  Here’s the really cool part of the entire deal.  When we seek His desires over our own, He will bless us beyond measure.  Where does this come from?

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

                                -Psalm 37:3-4 (HCSB)

In the past 7 years of marriage, my wife and I have been through many different trials.  Some have been financial, some have been emotional, some have dealt with past sins, some have dealt with sins that carried in from the past, and some have dealt with preferences as fickle as which way to hang the clothes in the closet.  The times that we have been caught not seeking to honor Christ with our marriage have resulted in some of the most chaotic seasons in our lives.  The times that we have sought to honor Him through all of our being, first individually and second, as a couple, He has blessed us beyond measure.  The decision for me to quit my job wasn’t an easy one to come to, but because I had been disobedient before and knew what the outcome was going to be, I decided to follow where He was leading us.  Our heart’s desires during the chaotic times, were for our selfish desires to be fulfilled.  When we were seeking Him, our heart’s desires were those that He gave us.  In order for us to know what His desire for us was, we had to follow what the next verses in that passage in Psalm say:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act,

 making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.”

                                                -Psalm 37:5-6  (HCSB)

You see, we can’t expect to fulfill God’s calling in our lives if we’re not seeking what He has for us to seek.  If we are chasing the “American Dream” of making a ton of money and living to glorify ourselves and give ourselves credit, we honestly cannot expect God to bless that!  I’ve been volunteering as the youth pastor at the church we attend for the past almost 3 years, and I love it!  However, I haven’t felt as though I’ve been serving in the capacity I’m called to because I was seeking to “make enough money” to sustain our household.  God made clear through the ever increasing antsyness of myself at my job, as well as the increasing busyness of our photography business, that I needed to leave my job.  As a result of taking that step, I have been able to focus more on that ministry at the church, and I have been able to focus on teaching and loving on our students more.  Along with that, there is time I have gained by being home with my kids and wife, and have had the absolute privilege of getting to know them so much more!  God’s blessings have been spiritual, emotional, physical, and yes, financial, and have been all but limitless!

Now, some of you may be asking “So basically I need to quit working at my job and God will make me rich?”  NO!!!  I’m not saying that at all!!  First of all, we aren’t rich, far from it.  We are, however, being blessed with His provision that all of our needs are being met and we are working toward becoming debt free.  God may be calling you to take the step of faith He called us to take, and He may be asking you to sacrifice something smaller in your life so that you will follow Him closer, and make your desires the ones that are His instead.

First of all, we must commit our ways to Him, never forsaking His grace and mercy on us, and understanding that He will never give us a scorpion instead of an egg (Luke 11:12).  Secondly, we have to rely fully on His providence and put all of our eggs in the basket of faith that He will provide!  If we put some eggs in the basket of faith, and put some others aside “in the off chance” that things don’t pan out as we hope, can we really say that we are following Him fully?  So to answer the question about what I’ve learned from being self-employed, I’ve learned that I can’t even begin to depend on my own ingenuity, provision, or most-especially, my own wisdom.  Everything must come from God.  I have to rely fully on Him, not putting some faith forward and saving some hope for just in case.  So basically, quit being selfish and faithless, and put all your eggs in God’s basket!

The official, unabridged first blog post

Ok, well here I go, starting my own blog that there will likely be very few people reading.  The great thing about this, is that I can post pretty much whatever I want to that is on my mind, and there will be few enough followers and/or readers that it won’t really matter what I put up here, lol.

I guess the first thing I want to talk about on here is the origin behind the name of my blog.  “Behind the Cross” comes from the place where we belong as followers of Christ.  I had an amazing Sunday School teacher as an upperclassman in high school by the name of Joce Dunagan.  One of the things that struck me that she always said during prayer was “Lord, please hide us behind the cross so that they will see you through us.”  From that time on, I decided that was going to be my motto as a believer, to show Christ through the way I lived.  Now, that’s definitely not to say that I’ve shown otherwise in my life, but those words have stuck in my mind since that time.  As we go through this life, our calling is to share the Gospel of Christ and to love and encourage those around us who haven’t experience His grace and mercy firsthand.  The passage of scripture that has stuck with me for a long time is Hebrews 10:23-25, a passage calling us to continue in fellowship with other believers as well as going out and fellowshipping with non-believers so that they may know the grace and mercy of Christ.  I’ll end by posting that passage here:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”                                Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV

The main purpose of this blog is really to share my heart on things that are near and dear to me.  The majority of them will be about my kids and about ministry and church related topics.  There will, of course, be some politically related conversations here and there (those of you that know me know that I can’t resist that kind of thing).