Have We Lost Our Passion?

Photo Courtesy of mccurdyca.wordpress.com

Is Our Passion Limited to Public Appearances?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Difficulty in Obedience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rebellion in the Face of a Loving God

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

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

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

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

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

Which Path to Walk?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 things that 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!

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!

Big Changes, New Direction, and a Huge Step of Faith

Over the past 6 1/2 years, I have been employed by Wal-Mart Distribution Center #6064.  It has been a very steady and consistent job, and has provided my wife and I with many benefits that we are very grateful for having.  About 5 years ago, my wife, Stephania, decided she wanted to start exploring the field of professional photography.  My first thought was, “Is this going to be like the tutu’s and the other little entrepreneurial ideas that haven’t fared so well?”  She had tried a couple of different avenues of self-employment that ended up not being so sustainable, but her persistence was unending.  One of the things I admire most about my wife, is her ambition and relentless pursuit to succeed.  I told her that I would support her in this new direction if it looked like it was going to be something that was going to be sustainable.  So, she did some research and found her first DSLR, and so began the adventure.

The first camera body we started out with was an Olympus E-410, which was actually a pretty decent little camera.  We started there, mainly because it was what we could purchase that had the most for the money.  It ended up being a very good, entry level DSLR, and Steph used it for the first year or two she was starting out.  The unfortunate thing about the Olympus, was that the peripherals were limited or more expensive than their Nikon and Canon counterparts.  So we made the decision to take a risk, and sell the Olympus and purchase a used Nikon D70 from our good friends at Jonathan Ivy Photography.  From that point on, Steph was able to start expanding her capabilities as a photographer, and honing her skills and own personal style.  At that point, I started realizing that this could really end up being a big deal.  She started booking weddings, and needed an assistant.  Obviously, I was the clear choice to be that person, mainly because I was cheap/free labor.  So, I decided I needed to learn some of the craft.  Shooting with the setting on the camera on “A” wasn’t an option, so I was quickly educated on how to shoot on the setting “M.”  I still lack some of the skills in this to even be considered an expert or a professional, but I did grasp enough to be a functional part of what had become Stephania Whitfield Photography.  

In the next year or two, the bookings went from being wedding based (bridal, engagement, etc.), to being family and newborn photography.  After another year, high school seniors started becoming another market that we were entering into as a business.  During this time of the growth of the business, I was still working for Wal-Mart, and Steph was having to schedule according to my work schedule.  This meant that her shooting days were limited to Saturday and Monday mornings and evenings, and occasional weeknights.  As her workload increased, I really felt like the Lord may have been preparing us for something bigger than we had even imagined.  As we grew more involved in the ministry of our church here in Walnut Springs, my job with Wal-Mart made things more and more difficult to plan and organize shoots as well as ministry activities.  The problem we were running into, was my schedule time of clocking in at 4:30am Tuesdays through Fridays, and not getting off at a consistent time. That schedule let to some serious exhaustion and organizational issues for our ministry involvement.

About 4 or 5 months ago, we really felt the Lord leading us to pray about what direction He wanted us to go with regards to my job and the business.  We have always felt that we were called to be ministry first as a couple and individually.  As we were seeking the Lord’s will, I really felt that He placed on my heart that I needed to leave my stable, consistent, and beneficial job and become employed by my wife…scary huh?  As the head of the household, I’ve been the breadwinner for the last several years, and my natural need as a husband is to feel as though I am providing for my family.  One of the big questions that my dear friend and former youth pastor asked us during our premarital counseling was if I would be okay with not being the breadwinner in our family.  I literally didn’t know how to answer his question, as I had never thought about that being a possibility.  I now know the answer  to that question, and it is a resounding YES!  It still goes against my natural instinct to be that provider, but I’m called to provide for my wife and family in more than just a financial way.  I am still learning and growing in that area as well, but who isn’t?  As the business has grown, it has grown to the point that we can almost count on a certain amount of income from it each month, and that much is sustainable for us as a family to function, and more importantly survive.  Now, most people ask me “Why don’t you just keep working at Wal-Mart and schedule more time off?” or “Why don’t you just keep on working and make a ton of money and buy some cooler stuff?” My answer to them is this, “I am called to full-time ministry, and I miss my wife and kids.”  In the town we serve in, even a volunteer ministry position is a full-time position.  The youth in this town are fighting an uphill battle everyday searching for fulfillment and satisfaction that the world is just not giving them.  They need Christ, and the youth pastor job at our church is a heavenly-reward-paid-full-time position.  I consider it to be more important than my hourly and benefit paying job, and the Lord had put on my heart that something drastic needed to happen.  This call, on top of us homeschooling the kids, was where the Lord opened my eyes to what needed to happen.

So, as of September 7th, 2012 I will be ending my employment with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and beginning my employment with Stephania Whitfield Photography.  I am extremely excited, for many reasons.  The main is that I will be getting to work from home, and that means tons of time with my amazing wife and crazy, beautiful kids.  I’ll be getting to be a part of our financial income more directly, as well as being home during the education of my kids.  The opportunities to minister more freely and fully will be an amazing change from the past 3 years I’ve worked with our youth at the church.  Attending sporting events and other functions, as well as hosting functions will become less hectically thrown together.  The ability to do more discipleship and community outreach is something that I’ve needed to be able to do.  Getting up at 2:45am during the week for work leaves one very tired and feeble at the end of the day, and I will not miss that. At all.  Please be in prayer for our family as these changes are becoming reality, and for our faith in Him to provide as He has already done for so many years.

Part Deux of the 3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church

So the next segment of this series is all about compassion, and where it fits into our lives and churches. Now, I know that compassion isn’t deadly, but the lack of it is, so that’s what I’ll be talking about. As I’m finishing up studying for this evening’s Bible study time with our youth, compassion is something that is irreplaceable in ministry as well as everyday life. Here’s my heart, try not to stab it, hehe.

Compassion is something that I struggle with in my life, both as a believer and as a husband and daddy. I sometimes have this thought that my kids (4,2,6m) should automatically know what’s right and wrong. I have this mindset that the youth I teach and counsel will listen to my “wisdom” from life experiences and avoid doing the things they are doing and walk away from destructive life decisions. Along with those perspectives, I also sometimes think that my amazing wife should just know what I am thinking and expecting without voicing anything. These expectations, when not met, very often create a mentality of no compassion inside my heart when things end up badly. Christ lived a life of compassion, He knew that people were sinners, knew that some would not come to know the saving knowledge of His existence and purpose, and that people would deny Him after they said they loved Him. How did He respond to these things? With grace, mercy, and incredible compassion. One of the key things in my life that I need to improve on is compassion, especially because Christ set the example and standard of compassion. People always pray for patience and things like that, but you can’t have patience without compassion. If you are compassionate with your kids, then the times they go crazy, your patience will be heightened and increased because you understand they are just kids. If I am compassionate with my youth at the church, then my ability to minister to them is increased because I remember that they are still learning, and that I didn’t really apply what I was taught at church until after I was out of high school. As for my wife, well, that’s always going to be a work in progress, especially because I’m usually the offender in that area, I often miss subtle and non-subtle hints, and I pay for them in the end.

As a minister, we are called to be compassionate to those in our congregation and to those in our community around us, irregardless of what they may have done, said, or thought about us. Paul writes about the requirements for ministers in his first letter to Timothy. Among the requirements for overseers(pastors), is the ability to be temperate, self-controlled, respectable. So many times we find ministers who don’t have those characteristics, I believe it is due to a lack of our ability to have compassion on others. Pride is another factor that I have seen that drives congregates away from churches. A pastor or youth minister who is constantly bragging about himself or his accomplishments stands a great chance as being labeled arrogant, and arrogance pushes people away from the church. Christ set the example of humility that we should follow, no matter our position in church, whether every Sunday morning attendees or lead pastor at a church of 900 members. If we are not able to think of ourselves as no better than those who come to be taught, we have no right to be doing the teaching. The very first requirement that Paul writes about in 1 Timothy 3, is that the overseer must be above reproach. Compassion is a necessary characteristic of ministers and followers of Christ, because it comes out of humility, which is a key characteristic of Christ. All that being said, I realize daily that I have a looong way to go to get where I need to be in terms of being an effective minister.

So, to commemorate some compassion I will be giving away a free copy of Shane and Shane’s newest album, called “The One You Need.” I will not lie when I tell you that this album has changed my mindset and perception of my role as a father, and when used in conjunction with the movie “Courageous,” the two will bring you to tears…not even joking.

So here are the rules to the game:

You will have the ability to gain 2 entries.

1) Comment on Part 1, 2, or 3 of the “3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church” series and tell me what you think. (Part 3 will be posted next week.)

2) Post this link by copying and pasting the following text to your Facebook or Twitter account and then leaving a comment telling me that you have shared it: Behindthecross is giving away Shane & Shane’s new album, “The One You Need”. Check it out here! http://wp.me/p1KLvl-H

The deadline for the contest will be next Thursday(Nov.16th) at 11:59pm. The winner will be chosen on Friday by random.org and the winner will be posted on Saturday, the 18th. Comments will be numbered in the order that they are posted, beginning with Part 1 of the series, with the comments on Part 3, being the highest numbers.

I look forward to seeing who wins!

Thanks and God Bless!

Phillip