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.

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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?

God. Is. Always. There.

The following is the testimony of a childhood friend of mine, I pray that no matter what perspective you are reading it from, your heart will be touched.  God loves us, enough to send His son for us.  When we come to Him in recognition of that fact, He will always beckon us back to Him.  This is an anonymous story, mainly because some of the details are very personal and are better left nameless.

God has been so good to me in my life and has brought me out of so much and delivered me from more than I could ever tell you. I began my walk with God when I was 15.  I was headed down the wrong road, and the youth pastor of a local church stepped in and showed me Gods love. I got very involved and threw all my energy into my youth group, and all that I could do for God.

Throughout high school, I dated a guy off and on for three years but things began to get out of hand and I called the relationship off. My senior year a met a guy that loved God and liked me for me, not for what most teenage boys wanted.  We had only been dating for a few months when we had a horrible wreck.  God saved our lives but my faith was shaken. I finished my senior year at an alternative school, and was home bound for some time and that amounted to too much idle time. My parents had been having problems for some time and the stress began to get to me, and I broke up with my boyfriend.  I did this even though we both had known that God had called us to be together. I began to hang out with the wrong people, and stopped going to church.  One day my first boyfriend came back into town, so I decided to spend the weekend with him and his family. That was the decision that caused me years of pain. Just a crack in the door of sin, and the whole world began to drown me.  In a matter of two weeks, I started drinking and smoking, and began sleeping with my boyfriend. Things started out on the wrong foot.  Soon after he proposed, I found out he had cheated on me, and the young woman was pregnant. But I was so desperate for a way to hide my pain and lonesomeness, I “forgave” him and we were married just five short months of dating, I was only 19.

Our first baby came with in the first year of our marriage as did a move that took me 1,500 miles away from everything I had ever known. We had the typical arguments that all newlyweds experience, but soon they turned to him pushing then slapping me.  The first time it happened, I was so shocked but he told me it was my fault for pushing his buttons. The abuse got worse over the next year, as did his addiction to pornography and video games. I learned that he was having an affair over the internet and over the phone with the same girl he had cheated on me with before we were married. Despite all of this, we had our second child just a year after our first child was born. My life revolved around my children, and at times, I felt so helpless.  He would get angry and hurt me over stupid things, and demand I performed as his pornography girls did.  I was trapped. Over the next two years, there were good times. But unfortunately, the bad outweighed the good by far. It got to the point I didn’t care anymore about making him happy, only my girls. I truly hated that they lived in a house where their parents fought. But there was one light in my dark world…a friend…the guy I had dated when I had my wreck.

He had moved on and gotten married, but we had remained friends. No one but him knew of the abuse, and one day I had had all I could take.  So I wrote a note to my sister telling her what had been going on, and I had a bottle of pills.  I sat down and prayed for the first time in a long time asking, “God where are you?” At that moment my computer went off telling me I had a message. When I looked up it was a message from my friend telling me how much God loved me and how special I was to him. My heart cracked just a little that night, and as I knelt beside my children’ s bed and began to pray, my oldest who was about 3 years old at the time, asked me what I was doing.  When I told her I was praying to Jesus, she asked, “Who is Jesus?” All I could do was hold her, and ask God to forgive me. From that night on, I decided I was going to try to “find” God again. I began to pray for my husband, and ask God to change me or change him or give me a way out.  Those 6 months seemed to be the hardest, but one day my husband received orders to be gone for 6 months, and I thought that might gives us the time apart to heal. I was wrong.  The night before he left, he got angry with me and punched me. He then went to punch again, and I ducked as he put his arm through a door up to his shoulder.  Had he hit me, I can only imagine what would have happened.  That hit cut the last thread of love my heart had for him. I had been used, threatened, and made to do things even when I said no.

When he left, I left for my home town with my girls. My heart longed for someone to love me.  I felt ugly and stupid for what I had allowed my kids to go through, and I thought no one would ever want me because I thought I was used goods. I had two children and no clue what I was going to do. I had talked to my friend through all of this, and he had been through a very rough time as well.  His wife had left him while he was deployed to war, and we had been praying for each other. Though my heart still loved him, I felt ashamed because of the situation being as it was. I got a lawyer and told no one what was going on till the last minute, and I was legally separated from my husband in January. My friend had also moved back to our hometown and in April we had begun to spend time together.  He was divorced, and I was in the middle of mine. Everyone, including my family, was under the impression I was leaving my husband for another man.  I spoke with my soon to be ex-husband, and told him I could not live the life I lived anymore. I was tired of being scared, and wanted a better life for the kids.

When he got back from his deployment, he went to my parents and begged them to help him, and he ended up telling them an abbreviated version about what had happened, about the abuse, but only that he had hit me. My family turned on me and told me I was wrong and needed to work things out.  But I had been so hurt, and there was no going back.  My friendship turned into a relationship, and I was afraid to love again.  But he loved me, and loved my children and he gave us a place to call home. We knew that the way were where living was wrong, but we could not get married until my divorce was final, and my ex was making that as hard as possible. We had gone to a few churches trying to find our way back to God, as we had both walked away from God in our own way. We both desperately wanted God in our lives, and in our soon to be marriage. He had grown up in a church that was different from what I was brought up in.

So we visited another church in our town but some of the people made it very clear they didn’t want us there (not many churches welcomed a couple like us), so we visited another church. This one we liked, but one day the pastor asked to talk with us.  When we came to his office, he sat on the edge of his desk and looked at my boyfriend and said “How dare you raise your hands to God and call yourself a man of God, and walk in to the church with an adulterous woman?” He looked at me and told me I was going to condemn my children (then 2 and 3) to hell if I got a divorce. He then began to explain how divorce had damaged his life, and his children’s. This pastor never picked up his bible, nor asked for an explanation. The little faith I did have began to shake, and I didn’t know what to do.  After that “meeting” my boyfriend told me we could not see each other for two weeks, until we both had time to pray. Again, I was alone and scared. I went home and prayed, and ask God to show me what to do. The next day, the same pastor asked if he could meet with my ex-husband and me. We went to his house and he took my ex to talk to him, and I spoke with his wife. We came back together and I began to tell my side of the story, during which he stopped me and told me to stop lying!  I was shocked!  The pastor told me he knew my (ex) husband and he would never do that, and that I was just looking for a way out to be with the “other” man.  Again, he told me I was going to condemn my children to hell. My heart was shattered I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go back into the prison of my marriage, but I didn’t want to condemn my children.

I began to pray. I felt led to call the pastor of the church I had visited with my friend. I was afraid of what their view might be, but still I felt that is who God was leading me to talk with.  I went and told the pastor what had been happening, and I told him my story. He had already known how we were living, and that I was in the middle of a divorce. He looked at me and told me the other pastor was mistaken, but that he too did not agree with how we were living.  He let us know that it was not his place to condemn. He reminded me that although God did not like divorce, my husband’s infidelity and abuse had released me from being bound to him any longer. He told me God loved me, and that He hated the sin but LOVED me.  I was precious to God and that I would not condemn my children to hell, that nowhere in the bible did it say that.  My last hope, my last grasp at God had been answered through this pastor.

The road to divorce was hard, but in November of that year, I was finally divorced, and in December I married my best friend. No, we didn’t start things right, but since that day we have done our best to live for God and raise the children to know and serve the loving God that turned a horrible decision of my youth into a wonderful blessing. God has blessed us with more children and a church that loved us even when it was hard to.

All during those hard years I would ask God “Where did you go?” But I have realized since it was me that left God, and when I was ready, He was waiting with open arms to take me back, love me, and heal my heart that had been shattered. I went from a young woman who felt hopeless, used, ugly and unlovable to a woman of God who knows she is the child of The King, and is loved beyond words by a loving God and Godly husband.  God has done so much for me in my life, He has delivered me, brought me back from the dead (literally), and shows me every day through simple things -HE loves me!

If you take anything from this please let it be this, don’t judge someone walking through your church doors by what is on the outside, instead, take the time to get to know them and see how you can show Gods love to them. I can only imagine were I would be had my pastor not shown me God’s True love…. God bless, and remember:

 

“You may be the only bible someone reads”

 

It is amazing to me that our churches sometimes can push those who need to hear the love of Christ most away and out the doors.  Not all churches are like this, and those that show love and embrace people no matter who they are, are doing as the church in Acts did, loving and caring for everyone that came in the doors.  Be careful if you are part of the church, love everyone the same, and share the love of Christ endlessly.  Be encouraged that you can come running back to the Father if you’ve strayed away from Him.  You have to intentionally make that choice to come back, He won’t force you.  Praise God, for He alone is worthy!

 

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!

“Staying true to self” and all the dangers within this mindset

So the last time I updated this was two weeks ago, and as usual, a ton has happened in two weeks.  My baby sister, and twin cousins of triplet birth have started college in San Angelo, Texas, the local 6-man football team has started its season off well, and looks to go 3-0 this Friday night.  My amazing wife, who also happens to be an extremely talented and gifted photographer, has seen a pretty drastic upswing in business, and that accounts for the lack of blog updating as my fingers are too clumsy and wide to update via the iphone app I have.  Our 4-month old son, Levi just had his 4 month checkup today, and is 16lbs 4oz and 26″, pretty much growing a lot, and has broken two teeth through on his bottom gum.  So therefore, I am behind on updating this thing.  The last blog I wrote was on a subject that is fast approaching becoming one of the top foci of the ministry we are involved in at the church we attend.  The topic I will be blogging about today, is a direct descendant of the lack of discipleship in the family and is a product of our sin-filled culture.  So here we go!

“Just be true to yourself, and don’t care about what anyone else has to say or think!” “Imma do me, and dat’s dat!”  “As long as you stay who you are, it doesn’t matter.”  These are some of the phrases I hear a lot from the members of my generation as well as members of the generation after me, with regards to how to live their lives in adverse situations.  Every time I hear these statements and those similar to it, I cringe from the glaring lack of wisdom contained in such commonly adhered-to advice.  If we measure these up to the standards of scripture, we see where they were, and are destined to fail when put into practice.  An example begins in Romans 3:10 where Paul writes “As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one;” the next part that follows that is 3:23 of Romans “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Sin is the separation of us from God, He cannot look at sin, and definitely cannot have sin with Him in heaven.  When we have the salvation of Christ’s sacrifice and His blood to intercede for us, our sin becomes forgiven, therefore giving us access to the Father.  With that said, we are born sinful, no one is born without being capable of sin, nor is there anyone who will be able to live without sin in their lives.  So many times I hear people asking “Well, what does your heart tell you?”  Keep in mind Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  When we put our trust into our hearts, and into trying to be true to ourselves, what are we putting our faith in?  Something that is born to do what is opposite of God’s will.  When we are true to ourselves, we are true to our sin.  When we trust what our heart is saying, it’s like saying we’re enjoying the show on a TV screen with nothing but white static and fuzzy noise.  Chaos seems to be a general way of life for so many people because of this, and impulsive decisions made because of this guidance, end up leading to further confusion, and a lot of times end with an individual asking God “Why?”  The first thing to note here, is that if a person is a true believer, there will be no need for them to try and be true to themselves, or seek wisdom from his or her heart, a believer seeks wisdom through prayer.  The chaos that a person feels won’t generally be on the outside, a great deal of the time, this person has things together from the outward appearance.  Nice house, nice cars, good job, good family, pretty much the American Dream syndrome.  While having those things isn’t a bad thing, or even a sin, the condition of that person’s spiritual life may be a huge battlefield, trying to decide whose side to fight on, God’s or the world’s.  Lately, by the standards of our culture and the fruits of the “christians” in our culture, it seems as though Satan may have the upper hand in our country.  I see so many people claim Christ, but are living that lie that John talks about in 1 John ch. 1-2.  We seem to have such a love of what the world has to offer because it is either easier, or makes us feel better when we have tons of stuff.  This is contradictory to 1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  This scripture isn’t saying that we will live on this earth forever, but that our lives, when we live for our heavenly Father, we will live eternally with Him after our time here is done.  The lack of believers to live against the ways of the world has led to this lifestyle.  There is another common theme that I’m seeing more and more every day, and that is the thought that “love wins, and we’ll all go to heaven because God wouldn’t send people to a place like Hell.”  This scares me the most, as there are more and more churches starting to conform to the ways that our society thinks they should be.  Granted, our churches should never turn someone away from coming into the doors to hear about God and His love for us, but when we water the Gospel down to say that everyone will go to heaven, despite their religious beliefs, their sexual orientation, their desire to live in as much sin as possible, we are sending them to Hell with a house-warming gift.  Our society believes that teaching the Gospel of Christ, the standards of God’s Word, are hate crimes, and our churches just shrug their collective shoulders and say “well, I guess we just won’t teach that anymore.”  That is where we have gone wrong, because we have let our society dictate which part of the Gospel is shared, and which standards are upheld, based on the opinions of what the world thinks are acceptable.  Christ loves sinners, hung out with them throughout scripture, but not once did He say it was okay to continue to live in sin, especially to continue to knowingly pursue selfish fleshly desires.  When the world doesn’t like the standards outlined in scripture, and tries to pick and choose what they like to support their views, scripture gets skewed and misunderstood.  This is happening more than people ever want to admit, and is not profitable to the sharing of the Gospel of Christ.  One area that I personally have had to step away from in my life, is politics.  I used to listen to talk radio every day on the way to and from work, watch all the political tickers, catch political shows, and thought I had it all figured out.  When I stepped back and thought about it, the world does not have the interests of God in mind when they make decisions, even many of those who say they are running on their “faith.”  This fact, combined with the attitude that politics bring on, has led me to step back and away from that particular arena.  Maybe one day I’ll find a good balance in things, but as of now, not so much.

In summation, if we truly want to live as Christ did, we have to love, encourage, and share the Gospel of Christ.  When we pursue our heart’s desire, we become led astray as a sheep to the slaughter.  My encouragement to anyone who reads this, is to sit down and read 1 John, and understand the difference between darkness and light in the spiritual sense, and determine where God is leading you by spending time in prayer and seeking Godly counsel.