Thursday, November 18, 2010

Prayer: Request or Response, Which Comes First?

Which comes first, the prayer request or God's response? I know that at first glance this question seems really silly. After all, we bring the request before God, and He gives us one of 3 responses;Yes, No, and/or Wait. However, a long time ago i came to the conclusion that it may not be that simple.

This idea / question / concept came up near the end of my senior year at Elim Bible Institute, and it has caused a paradigm shift in how i think of prayer and answered prayer ever since.

It started one day when i was in a slump. A low spot if you will. I had heard other students talking about how they had gone over to Brother So-and-so's house last night and had dinner with him and his family again, and what a good time they had had (for those non-Elimites the professors & staff at Elim are referred to as Brother/Sister instead of Professor or Mr./Mrs.). Others chimed in, "Yeah last month we had dinner with them, and a few months ago as well." "Sister _____ had us over for lunch last week and we had a blast! I never knew that she...." As time went by, more and more people talked about the many times they had been invited to spend time with a staff member and their families, and it started to really bug me. I had heard stories in the past about someone's wife who made an amazing cake and how at the senior auction there would be groups of people who would pool their money together to win the bid on the cake to split 6-12 ways. I had no idea what the fuss was all about. Cake can't be that good can it?
Anyways, in my slump i started into the whole "whoa is me". You know what i'm talking about. Everybody does it some time. "How come this person has gotten invited over to Bro. So-and-so's house time after time, and no one has ever invited me over to spend time with them and their family." Ya-da, ya-da, ya-da. I won't go on. It's not a pretty picture, and no one needs to hear more complaining.
Since i was already in a slump i was just feeding into it even more. So eventually, as was becoming a habit, i brought it to God. I made my complaints known to Him, and let Him know how i felt. Within a week Bro. Harry Vellekoop stopped me and invited me to have breakfast at his house on Saturday morning. Needless to say, I was pumped! "Wow God, that was fast!"
So that Saturday morning i, and about six other students, showed up at Brother Harry's house for breakfast. While we were there Bro. Harry apologized for not having us over sooner. He told us that he has always tried to make it a point to get to know each and every student on campus, but that with the numbers up in the 300+ range, it had become significantly more difficult. His response became that he invites every senior over to his house for breakfast sometime in their senior year. So this was his chance to get to know the seven of us better.
Needless to say, this deflated my high a little bit, but we had a really good time overall. Meanwhile, it struck a cord in me. This question began probing my mind. Did this situation occur because i prayed and asked God for it, or did God prod me on to pray and make the request because He was already fulfilling it? Did He answer the prayer that i asked, or did He simply choose the right time to draw out the hidden frustration in my heart because He was getting ready to respond to it. It's funny that it was that week that Bro. Harry chose to invite me to breakfast, when he could have done it any week prior to or after that. If i hadn't said the prayer that week, would Bro. Harry instead have asked me to come to breakfast on a different week?

Since then, there have been numerous other times in my life where it seems like God has orchestrated similar situations to answer prayer requests i have not yet made, and it continues to lead me to question: "When it comes to prayer; which comes first, the request or the response?"

Image from edenpictures used under cc license.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lack & Appreciation

I have been reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is a book about Lincoln's rise to position, and his ability to unite even enemies to become teammates for the greater good of the country.

I was struck by President Lincoln's history and boyhood. Particularly his passion for the written word. Education and good schools were rare and expensive. As such he, from his poor family, did not get a formal education. However, Abraham would walk for miles to borrow a book. He was always striving to learn. He always had a book with him, and whenever he had a spare moment, he was reading. "'When he came across a passage that Struck him,' his stepmother recalled, 'he would write it on boards if he had no paper,' and 'when the board would get too black he would shave it off with a drawing knife and go on again.' Then once he obtained paper, he would rewrite it and keep it in a scrapbook so that it could be memorized. Words thus became precious to him" (p. 52)

When i contrast that with today's world i see such a difference. We are inundated by words, facts, and ideas. We have volumes at our beck and call. We have only to type a query in, and we have all the information we could want... and a whole lot more that we don't. I see no one who cherishes the written word in such a way as Lincoln did. I see people who cherish their cell phone or their iPod. I see people who delight in facebook and "social connection". But, i do not see people so caught up in reading and learning that they will carry a book with them wherever they go and stop to read anytime they get a chance.

In a world inundated by words, facts, and ideas, the lack of appreciation appears to result from an inappreciation of lack.

Image from jonragnarsson used under cc license.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Lost Art of Repentance - Part II: What Does it Mean?

When was the last time you were really sorry about something? I mean really, really, wept over it sorry? Chances are, for most people the answer to that is that it's been a long time, if ever.

Going back to our history lesson... The 11 tribes knew that what had happen in Gibea was horribly wrong. So much so that they knew that they were responsible to bring justice in the situation, and to destroy the city that had become so corrupt. They were angry (righteous anger) and came to God to find out who was to lead the battle. In looking at this i honestly believe that this was a question of responsibility. Who is most responsible for allowing this to happen, and who is responsible for dealing the appropriate justice. Judah, the tribe of first inheritance (a.k.a. "the eldest"), was singled out. When they lost that battle, in which they knew that not only were they right, but that God had directed them, they invariably realized that there was something wrong. So they wept before the Lord, and again they sought Him. They were beginning the repentance process. They sought God's answer, not just what they were expecting. They didn't just say, "We're going to do this, so now who goes first?" They asked God, "Is this what we are supposed to be doing?" So God spoke to them again and confirmed that what they were doing was the correct thing. They were on the right path. Then, they lost again! Even with God telling them that this was the right thing to do, they still lost! At this point i believe that they begin to get it. After this, everyone went up to Bethel. Not just the leaders, not just the soldiers, everyone! They knew that there was something wrong, and something needed to be done. So everyone went. They wept before the Lord. They fasted. They offered sacrifices both burnt offerings (for atonement of sin) and peace or fellowship offerings. And, they inquired of the Lord. It was not just about who is responsible, and is this the right thing, but what do You want us to do and how? It was only after that that they were able to be successful.

I believe that this third day is where we begin to see true repentance of heart and not just action. This is our example, and it is supported many other places in the Bible. There are 4 facets to true repentance. First is mourning. Mourning and weeping for the sin we have committed. Simply saying we are sorry and turning around to go in the other direction does not mean much. At that point you and I can always turn back around again and return to our old ways. There is little meaning to it unless we are willing to not only be sorry for what we do, but truly understand how wrong we truly are and how much it hurts and destroys our relationship with each other and God.

Second is fasting. Fasting (another lost art) is all about us realigning ourselves with God. It's about us setting other things aside for a time so we can place our focus back where it needs to be. In essence it's us saying, "God, what i want doesn't matter. My desires take a back step to what You want. I need you more than i need the rest of this stuff." It is us humbling ourselves before God and saying, "Your will, not mine be done."

Thirdly and extremely importantly, is sacrificing. I could study and go into all the different things that the burnt offering, peach offering, and fellowship offering stand for, but let's keep this simple. An offering is all about sacrificing something. It's about giving something up. It is irredeemable. It is something offered... given to God that cannot be taken back. It is us letting go of our rights to something and giving it fully to God. It is no longer ours. It belongs to God, and we have no right to it. Usually it is the destruction of whatever it is we are sacrificing to Him. It must be something of value to us. King David said that he would not sacrifice to God something that cost him nothing.

Finally, now that we have recognized our sin, wept and mourned over what we have done and the effects of it, fasted and realigned ourselves with God and what He has for us, and given up through sacrifice something of value to us and that may be standing between us and God, we can finally seek God's will. Not just where the blame and responsibility lies, and who should go first. Not just whether this is the right thing to be doing. Rather it is a statement of "God, what do You want us to do? What is Your will and direction? What steps do You want us to take?" It becomes all about Him! Then and only then have we learned true repentance.

One of the difficult and amazing things about repentance is that in truth, we cannot do it ourselves. We are too stuck up. We are too stubborn. We are too prideful to be able to be repentant on our own. We may want to, but we can't! Only God can give us the heart, motivation, and drive to do it fully and properly. Thus, our repentance towards God can only come from God.

Lord, HELP ME! Help me to be repentant. Help me to truly have a repentant heart. Help me to be the man of God that You have called me to be. Please forgive me and help me! I don't want to live my life less than You have for me. Please forgive me and help me. In Jesus name we pray. Amen!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Lost Art of Repentance - Part I: The Story

Many times i've heard the saying that repentance means turning around and going in the opposite direction. That repentance is more than just something you say, it's something you do. To some extent i have agreed with that sentiment, to some extent it has always seemed a little too simplified. Kind of like explaining how to drive as; turning the key, starting it up, and driving. At the same time it seems like repentance is something neglected in today's church. It used to be an important part of a Christian's life, and now it's relegated to the "let's not make waves" so we don't lose people dustbin. It just doesn't fit the current "feel good" church mentality. Unfortunately, as a result we have been losing our purpose, perspective, and power as Christians. So, if repentance is not turning around and going in the opposite direction, and it is a concept that we need to be effective Christians, then what is it? Great question! I'm glad you asked.

The Bible is full of situations where real people either repented, or needed to. To name just a few, there was King David, Moses, the people of Israel (on numerous occasions), Pharisees, early church leaders, etc. However, it's a situation i came across at the end of the book of Judges that really caught my eye. Understand, this is a time when there was no king in Israel and everyone did right in his own eyes. A man goes to regain is unfaithful concubine from her father's house. The details are not important enough to cover here, but let's just say he has a hard time leaving his father-in-law's house. Finally he leaves late one day and on the way home he has to stay in Gibea (a town in the land of Benjamin). So he goes to the town square where an elderly man finally gives him lodging. During the night the townspeople surround this elderly man's house and demand that the strangers be sent out to them so they could molest and rape them. Finally to prevent them from breaking in and dragging everyone out, the concubine is sent out. The people of the town all rape and beat her until she crawls back to the doorstep and dies. It sounds like Sodom and Gomorrah doesn't it?

The husband takes her body back home, chops it into 12 pieces and sends 1 piece to each tribe with an explanation of what happened. The people are horrified! It is too much to bear. So the people prepare for war. Eleven tribes come together to face against this town to destroy it. Only Benjamin stood with Gibea. Together it was 400,000 swordsmen from the 11 tribes against 26,700 soldiers from Benjamin and Gibea. So, the 11 tribes went to Bethel and sought God's counsel on who should go up first. Through that counsel God told them Judah (the eldest and the one who held the most responsibility for the other tribes). So Judah led the other Israelites in battle against Benjamin and the Gibeons, and 22,000 Israelites were cut down that day! God brought judgment down on Israel that day. The 11 tribes reconvened and returned to Bethel where they inquired of the Lord once more. They spent the day mourning before the Lord, and at the end of the day they asked God "Shall we go up again to battle against the Benjamites, our brothers?" God answered, "Go up against them." So on the next day, they came up again, and 18,000 more were cut down! So all of the people returned to Bethel, mourned before the Lord, fasted until evening, sacrificed burnt offerings & fellowship offerings, and inquired of the Lord. God told them to go up once again, and He would deliver them into their hands. They went up the next day with a strategy similar to that of Israel against AI in the book of Joshua, and they defeated the people of Gibea and Benjamin. They chased them down and destroyed them to the point that the tribe of Benjamin was almost extinct. There's a whole lot more to this story. To find out the rest read Judges 19-21 in your Bible.

So what does all of this mean, and how does it relate to "The Lost Art of Repentance"? Unfortunately, i don't have time to get into that, so you will have to wait for part II.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

27 Tough Questions Pastors Ask

Dick Hardy is a pastor's pastor. He is a man that has a God given passion to reach out to other pastors to help them become more effective in the ministry. He is a Paul that speaks not only to Timothys, but also to other Pauls. You can clearly see this in his book 27 Tough Questions Pastors Ask.

27 Tough Questions is a primer on what you need to know but chances are haven't been told about doing ministry in today's society. It deals with many of the pitfalls pastors run into that prevents their church from growing. It is not designed as a book that tells you how to run a church, but rather it assumes that you already understand many of the day to day basics of church life, and attempts to fill in the gaps to make you a better pastor. In fact, Dick states that his book is about "Everything but Preaching". Overall, the book covers concepts on the major areas of; Leadership & Management, Staffing, Conflict Management, Discipleship, Budget & Finance, and Hospitality.

Dick does a really good job of giving you the concepts and some different things to think about within these key areas. For example, he tells pastors that it is their job to lead; not the congregation, not the board, not the staff. Someone must do it, and that someone is the (senior) pastor. He also talks about building cultures of prayer, change, and reaching out... especially to young families. These and other concepts are key to having a strong and flourishing church as opposed to one that stagnates and dies.

While there is a great deal of good in the book, i did still have a number of qualms. For instance, it is clear that this is Dick's first book. The flow to the book is not very smooth overall. One example of this is in chapter 2 where the term "buy-ins" shows up. It seem very important. Yet, it is not very clearly defined, and after one chapter it is never used again.

The 27 Questions also feels like it is weighted a little odd. This is clear just by looking at the table of contents. There are two chapters on discipleship, two chapters on conflict management, and five chapters on hospitality (six if you count ch. 12 on phone hospitality). Now maybe i'm wrong and the weight is correct for what pastors are needing, but it just felt more than a little skewed when i read it through.

The final criticism i have is the followup. The chapters are small, and in most instances they leave you feeling like you have just seen the tip of the iceberg with a ton more information still buried well beneath the surface. In some of the chapters there are a few action points to work off of, but many times the reader is left feeling like there needs to be more. I felt like there needed to be either more application information, or there needed to be a list of resources to give the reader more to work with in finding the answers to these very important questions.

Overall, do not let the criticisms deter you. 27 Tough Questions Pastors Ask is a really good book that belongs up on every pastor's shelf next to books like Axiom by Bill Hybles and Be a People Person by John C. Maxwell.

Feel free to find out more about this book and other work Dick Hardy is involved in at The Hardy Group.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Loss & Redemption

Mephibosheth was a man of honor now discarded and destroyed. He had little left in life. His grandfather, a former king (Saul), and his father had both died in battle when he was a child. He had both of his feet crushed when his nurse, while carrying him, fell and crushed them beneath her body.

He was hiding out in the country for fear of retribution towards him for how badly his grandfather had treated the man who became king in his place. He had gone from heir to a kingdom and the inheritor of vast tracts of land, to a destitute, lost, deformed young man with no hope of a real future.

Yet hope still prevailed! The present king, whom his grandfather had treated so badly, was a God fearing man who remembered not the cruelty of his grandfather, but the honor and love of his father (Jonathan). This new king (David) searched out Mephibosheth, the young man so discarded and destroyed, and gave him honor once again. Instead of killing him and destroying all that he had, as was traditionally done and to some extent expected, the king returned to Mephibosheth the lands his grandfather had once owned. He was also given the servants needed to care for that land as well as himself, and all that he personally had need of was provided for directly from the table of the king.

It is a beautiful story of hope, love, kindness, and redemption (II Samuel 9). If only it had ended there. Unfortunately, the story goes on. The new king ends up having some trouble of his own when his own son attempts to usurp him from the throne. David flees the city of David and is on the run from his own son, Absolom who is trying to make himself king in his fathers place. So how does Mephibosheth respond? He abandons David, the man who had shown him so much kindness and mercy. Why? Because what he has isn't good enough. He thinks that by abandoning David and joining with Absolom somehow he will regain the kingdom of his grandfather Saul (II Samuel 16). In the end though, the coup fails, David returns, and all that Mephibosheth has gained is instead given to his head servant, Ziba, who had proven himself faithful.

It is a sad story which too often parallels our own lives. We were lost, the children of sin. Yet the true king comes and redeems us of our own wrongdoings, and gives us a new life. It's a life that we had been meant to have. Some of us embrace that life; that new hope and love in faithfulness. Others of us return to the anger, hatred, and selfishness of the past. We see it as "our right" to try to take back what was "ours". As if it had not been lost in the first place because of just that kind of selfish attitude. We need to let go of the past and our own selfish ambitions and embrace the God that gave us our redemption. He is the God of mercy that will forgive. He is the only God that can bring us new life. The only God of faith, hope, and true love.

Image from pawpaw67 used under cc license.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

At this point, staying or going is not about choice. I was brought on under the expectation of church growth. Our church has not grown as expected and finances are a major issue. The powers at be have decided that due to the financial crisis and since they do not see the numbers growth that they expected in the youth group, the inevitable is now. Either way, our time here has ended.

However, how i go makes all the difference in the world. I have been given the option. They were going to just say that they let us go with financial and other issues being the reason. After seeking some wise counsel my lead pastor has given us (my wife and me) the choice. We could say that i resigned, or that i was let go. My head pastor is pushing for me to say that i resigned. He and others think that finding a new ("better fit") position is going to be much easier for us if we resign as opposed to are let go. I'm inclined to agree with that statement. We are most likely going to find that getting a new job in our field is going to be much easier if we go the easier road.

However, there is a whole lot more to it than just what will benefit us. We have been in this position for over a year. There have been issues with some of the youth throughout that time (not to be unexpected). But if we leave now by "choice", it sends a message to the youth that we think they aren't worth fighting for. It tells them that they are not important enough for us to not give up on them. Our youth group is small but appropriate to the size of the church. One of the key youth just lost his best friend (moved away). He has been having a very difficult time with the process, and his mood and mentality has definitely changed as a result. Another is a very depressed loner who already feels left out. My wife and i have been really trying to reach out to her and draw her in with some aspect of success. Another youth started out as a very shy loner who has since opened up and bloomed within the youth group. He absolutely loves us. There are others that we have had conflict with but that we have worked to try to make sure that they understand that we value them.

The last place we were, part of what we were doing was a Jr. High small group. That small group was a fun time and everyone enjoyed being there. Everyone liked/loved us, but it wasn't until we were there for over a year that they began to open up. They began to bring to us some of the stuff that was going on in their lives and families to pray for and help them process through. That post 12-16 month point was when everything changed. We went from a small group of teaching and advice giving to having the ability (and right) to speak into their lives and mentor them. When we left for our current position, it had a major effect on that group. That small group continued with another leader who is a friend of ours. She loves those youth as her own kids, however the dynamics of that group changed immensely after we left. Some of the students left and joined another small group, others left and never came back. We still attempt to connect sometimes with those youth, but that solid connection is now lost. One of our biggest regrets was that they were finally opening up, and we up and left them.

Now we have a group that is FULL of struggling students. Young people that are struggling with loss, rejection, trying to reach for acceptance, family issues, understanding who they are, and more. If we resign, we are sending the youth the message that "we gave up on you". "We're done with you". "We didn't think that you were worth fighting for". Even if we say something to them otherwise, our resigning still tells them, "It's been a difficult road for all of us, and we have better things to do than try to make this work". Quite frankly, that's the last thing this group needs.

Image from masukomi used under cc license.

Hope Springs Eternal

I handled a face to face confrontation very poorly. Instead of my giving logical and appropriate responses to what was said, much of it was unclear and emotion driven. Some of what was said to me took me so completely off guard that i couldn't even come close to expressing or explaining what was what because i just couldn't process the issues at all. Afterwards, there were a ton of issues that i knew i had totally destroyed, points (as in key issues not winning scores) that were lost, and important factors completely overlooked on both sides. (THAT is why i prefer the written word with time to process over face to face every time.) Overall, the most clear, honest, and properly formed response i was able to give was an apology, and a prayer under my breath that we both walked away with more learned than lost.

Image from ~Dawn~ used under cc license.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Balance of Judgment

As time goes by i find that i am more a man who likes balance.  So often i hear people talk / preach / teach about something and my gut reaction is, "but what about!".  

For instance this past Sunday at church the pastor and people were discussing how we are not to judge one another.  People brought up stories about how either they or people they knew stopped going to church because other people judged them unjustly, and that we should accept people as they are and let God judge and convict them.  When we judge them we drive them away.  I kept telling my wife that this line of thinking was really grating on me.  Finally, i found the passage in I Corinthians 5 that instructs the people of the church to judge a man that was knowingly living in sin and remove him from the church.  The princple is that the responsibility of the church is to be judge over themselves and that when we allow sin to pervade the church it will tend to spread through the church.  There was quite a bit more to the conversation than that, but you get the gist. 

It's funny because about 4-5 months ago i was in a group discussion among other pastors in which i defended the other side of the argument talking about how when someone comes into the church we can't automatically judge them, but we need to let the Holy Spirit convict them.  The point was that when we judge a new Christian and place a whole bunch of rules on them, we are doing the Holy Spirit's job for Him and we tend to drive people away rather than help them to grow.  

So the question is, why the change in views?  What changed that caused me to go to the opposite extreme?  The answer is... nothing.  My view did not change.  In both discussions there was an imbalance.  Both arguments, are valid and understanding both sides of the argument is imperative to making the right choices and reacting properly to sin that is in the church.  If one extreme is taken without regard for the other, the church tends to be unhealty and self-destructive.  Balance is a very difficult thing to learn. 

Ecclesiastes 7:18 It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.

Image from aliceinpoetsheartlandonsabbaticalleave used under cc license.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Security, Significance, and the Nature of Man

I'm a big fan of C.S.Lewis' writing, and this year i started reading The Business of Heaven. It's a one year devotional based on Lewis' writing. I started it late and don't always remember to read it every day, so i'm only just finished Jan 21-22 today (Jan 30), but i have been getting quite a bit out of it.

Early on (Jan 3&4 i believe) there is an emphasis on understanding that rest and peace should not be our goal in life. It should not be what we are pursuing with purpose. When we are surrounded by safety (rest and peace) we become complacent. Our intent becomes security for the sake of security. In reality it is only in struggle that we mature and grow. In my counseling studies and experience i have come to the point where i greatly agree that overall (as a stereotype) that men have an overwhelming need for significance, and women have an overwhelming need for security. (I have also been looking at this in a series i have been preaching on relationships with my youth What Girls Need to Understand About Guys and What Guys Need to Understand About Girls)

As i was reading this it struck me that what Lewis is talking about here is security. It is the very thing that women (stereotypically) are looking for as one of their very base needs. So it is an underlying need that when fully achieved is unhealthy, in part destructive, and should not be a constant. Being a person of (/seeking) balance i know that what is good for the gander is good for the goose. So i started thinking about how if security, being a need common to women, is unhealthy when achieved as an end, then so must significance. Men strive for significance (stereotypically). We seek to be known and to achieve something important. It is an universal need. Yet if security, in itself, is unhealthy than significance is as well. So i started processing. What does significance lead to when fully achieved that could be destructive and harmful? The answer is obvious, pride and laziness (/gluttony? [in a more generic term]).

If security achieved tends to result in complacency (and self-elevation) and significance achieved leads to pride and laziness/gluttony (I'm still not satisfied that laziness and/or gluttony (generic) are the best terms), then aren't the desires themselves unhealthy? Should we not be seeking to fulfill them? No, i don't think that these are unhealthy desires in themselves. Seeking them is not bad in and of itself. It is these desires that lead to so many other great things. In truth, the desire itself is very good. These desires have resulted in most of the greatest achievements in the history of mankind. So the results are not necessarily unhealthy or bad, but in truth i believe that the achievement (/fulfillment) of these desires themselves (in this world) to be very dangerous (not in a good way).

So in truth, seeking security and significance can be good, while achieving it can be very bad.

Image from Orin Optiglot used under cc license.

Friday, January 09, 2009

A Dream: The Problem of Pride

I had a kind of strange dream this morning. I dreamed that i had a group of Jr. Highers at a lock in at a mall. We came to the mall and the youth were having a blast running around, eating, playing games, etc. It was around 3 or 4 in the morning and i had thought that the doors were locked. While i was standing there some older youth (mainly Sr. Highers) that i didn't know came to the door and were trying to get in. They looked like they could easily create some major problems.

They were forcing their way into the mall. I tried to confront them and kick them out, but they were clearly not interested in taking "no" for an answer. I was heatedly yelling at them to go away and that they didn't belong there. They asked me who i was and what right i had to tell them they couldn't be there. So i stuck my chest out and arrogantly told them that i was the youth pastor, and that this was "MY" Jr. High youth group. During this the older kids gave one last attempt to get in, then took off.

In the mean time the youngest of their group snuck through. As soon as he got in the doors he ran over to the sound system and started messing with the buttons and dials, obviously trying to distract me enough for his friends to get in. I finally had to grab him by the ear and just about drag him out of the building. His friends had already gone, but i threw him out and yelled at him to get out and stay out.

That is right about when i woke up very shaken up. I was so ashamed of myself. There were these young people who were out in the middle of the night looking for something to do. I had the opportunity to reach out to them, instead i arrogantly drove them off. I was so afraid of them messing up my perfect little evening youth group activity... challenging my authority... making me look bad. Instead of reaching out to them, even the youngest one who actually would have belonged there, i drove them away.

Needless to say, it was humbling seeing how easy it is for my pride to get in the way of who i am and what i am passionate about.

Image from Ferran used under cc license.

Focused Time

This past week as part of the prayer week i have been taking some time away from recreational activities at home at the beginning of the day. This includes things like video games and getting online. Instead i have been spending more time in the word, praying, and spending more focused time with family.

I find that whenever i do things like this, it always helps me in my relationship with God and my family. I'm not as distracted by unnecessary crap and tend to be able to focus more on God, family, and resolving my own issues.

In spite of that, so often after these types of fasting times, i always seem to (eventually) go back to my old habits. Then when a time of fasting comes again i dread its coming. It takes a while to really get into it, and i am so resistant to it.

As i have been writing and processing this i have come to two separate conclusions:
1) I see it as a time of fasting. It is something that i see as a limited time thing. I look to the conclusion and don't expect it to be something that lasts. When the time is over and i have an urge to get back into my old habits, there is nothing stopping me. Whereas if my focus instead is, this is what i am going to do, and i will not be returning to my old way of doing things it becomes an issue of a changing a habit / lifestyle instead of a temporary thing. As a result the resolve is to continue.
2) My other thought was that this is a battle of the flesh. I John 2:15-17 says, "Do not love the world nor the things in the world If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever." The battle is a desire of the flesh (having "fun" instead of being responsible) that wars for dominance in my life. I go back to these things because they are fun and a distraction instead of being something that takes effort and doesn't lead to more immediate gratification.

So now the issue is, where do i go from here. The time of prayer & fasting is at a close, but should this change in actions end?

Image from Old Shoe Woman used under cc license.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Within Reach... Yet Unreachable

I went for my walk this morning and went past some construction that is being done on a nearby major intersection. As i walked by this morning it looked so desolate; dry, dusty, lifeless, vacant. The businesses that were there looked the same way. Numerous of them were closed, and one of them had sprayed on the window that it was for sale. There was no one there, and it seemed as though nothing worth seeing. Overall, it looked like a small wasteland.

In the construction zone on the other side of the street was a dusty, dirty, old truck. The truck was white with very little writing on it. On the back of the truck in big black letters that said "Water" on it. It struck me that that image very much defines our society, our youth, and our families. It's very desolate. Young people, families, lives, all empty, dry, desolate. All without life. Meanwhile, the very thing needed for life, is just sitting there all bottled up and out of reach of everything. There is such potential, the ground and the world around it is screaming out for it, yet it is unreached / unreachable unless it is released.

This is us. This is our families. This is our towns & cities. This is our country & world. All of these things reaching out, wanting and needing what is sitting there all bottled up within easy reach. Yet it is completely unattainable unless the water is released. So now what?

Now obviously, this is a construction zone, and everything that is going on, the desolation, the dirt, the water truck, all have a reason, and all have a purpose to play. The road will be completed. Hopefully the business and people will return. Life, of sorts, will return at the right time. In the end, that purpose will be played out.

However, the image will stand. The image of the dry & desolate land reaching out for something that is right there within reach, yet completely unreachable. Something that is needed, but that needs only to be released.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Does God Change His Mind?

While speaking with a young man i was working with a couple of weeks ago we started talking about whether or not God changes, or changes His mind. This is the e-mail response that i sent to him. Please note: Names and dates have been changed to protect the innocent. No animals were killed in the making of this letter... severely maimed, maybe, killed, no.


The question was posed, "Does God change His mind?" There are a number of texts that look at this issue. I believe that you had mentioned one in Numbers but could not find it. I assume that what you were looking for was 23:19

Numbers 23:19 - "God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent. Has He said, and shall He not do it? Or has He spoken, and shall He not make it good?"

It is important when looking at any verse to consider text in context:

Israel had just recently destroyed the armies of the Amorites & the Bashan while on their way to the promised land. These armies had stood against Israel and God instead of with him. As a result they were given into the hands of the Israelites.
So Balak, the son of Zippor, King of Moab decides that since it's clear that a strict military battle was not going to defeat the Israelites. Instead he goes to Balaam the prophet asking him to curse the Israelites so he can defeat them. At first Balaam is forbidden by God from going. Finally God does allow him to go, and Balaam tells Balak that he can only do what God tells him to do.
So Balak agrees and Balaam instructs Balak to set up seven alters with sacrifices and Balaam goes to talk to God. When he returns from speaking with God Balaam prophesies good concerning Israel and not evil. Balak is not happy with this turn of events and decides that maybe if he changes the position and the way that he faces the Israelites, maybe this will change the outcome. So he takes Balaam to a different place and tries again. So this verse is part of what God tells Balak through Balaam as a part of this second attempt. Balak attempts to do this 3 separate times, all to no avail. In essence, Balak is hoping that he can find a way to manipulate God. He is looking to find favor from the powerful God of Balaam. He thinks that in certain places God may be weaker or more powerful, or that some types of places are more or less honored by God... a god of the hills vs. a god of the valleys vs. a god of the plains etc. So God is basically telling Balak that he cannot manipulate or strong arm Him. He is not like other gods that are easily swayed and that he can gain favor from through sacrifice.

However, Balak is not fully defeated by this. He does succeed in partially defeating the Israelites as seen in chapter 25. He recognizes that attacking them physically as the Amorites & the Bashan attempted to do and were miraculously defeated was not going to work. Attempting to gain more favor from a stronger god or the Israelites God to overpower them spiritually was equally unsuccessful. So he decides that the next plan is to separate the Israelite people from their God. So he sends his people in to seduce the Israelites into sexual immorality and into worship of weaker gods that would make God jealous and angry. Due to this immorality God punished the Israelites with a massive plague, and in the midst of this plague Phinehas the priest, the grandson of Aaron, puts a spear through Zimri, one of the leaders of the congregation, due to his blatant immorality and sin. So this is what God says;
Num 25:10-11 - And Jehovah spoke to Moses saying, Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned My wrath away from the sons of Israel while he was zealous for My sake among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy.

So, since the question is, "Does God change His mind?", after seeing this verse within its context i am seeing four places where the issue of this question is dealt with. 1) Balaam was instructed not to go to the Balak at first, however later God allows him to. 2) Balak attempts to manipulate God into doing what he wants. 3) Balaam succeeds in changing God's position towards His people. 4) Phinehas turns away God's wrath and prevents further destruction of Israel. So, what do you think is the answer to this question? Does God change? Does He change His mind? If so, how, and under what conditions? If not than how do you reckon what is happening here?

I hope that this helps, or at least gets you thinking some more...

While working on the second draft of this letter i realized that there was at least one major problem with the theology covered. I decided to leave it in to see if this student was going to catch it or not, but since i know that that student does not even know about this blog, i thought i'd post the answer here. In point 3 it is not God's position that has changed. He is a Holy God and cannot stand sin & corruption. It is not God's position but Israel's position that has changed. Balak knew that He could not change God's position towards Israel, so instead he changed Israel's position towards God.

This is what the enemy has been doing here in the US for at least the last 70 years or so. In an attempt to destroy His people, the enemy has been working on changing our relationship towards God.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What do Young People Need?

Our youth and young adults need more than just to be treated as bigger children. They need to be challenged. They need to learn. They need to understand 1) who they are, 2) that they have a purpose & direction, and 3) what that direction and those purposes are. They need to have something to show for their results, something they can hold in their hands. They need something that they can put their name on, grasp ahold of, and make (of) themselves. They need to succeed, and they need to fail. Young men need a question to ask that will consume them, whose answer is so unattainable that they can spend their lives seeking that answer and never reach it. Young women need a love that they reach for that is so much bigger than them, that they reach for it and can never become it.

God has created our young men and young women to be so much more than they are, and to go so much further than where they are being led.

Image from dhammza used under cc license.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Youth: People With a Passion & a Purpose

What is my passion?  This question is so big that it's difficult to answer.  It's like asking the question, "How big is the ocean?".  

My vision is for our society and culture to do a 270 degree turn.  To turn the complete opposite way and then some.  Right now in our culture our youth are treated like children.  They act like children because they are expected to act that way, and they are not trained to do anything else.  Their primary education is done by the government, at the expense of their parents.  At best they are taught to excell in subjects, which is not the same thing as life.  The class generally learns at the rate of the weakest "average" student.  Their primary defining influence is usually 1 person, their teacher.  Many times they are taught the basics reading, writing, arithmatic, and other subjects but have no idea how to do anything with that information.  It is worse than useless information, it is barely useful.  

Meanwhile, for the most part, our youth are not taught how to take care of themselves.  How to succeed in life or find a career that is worth their time and effort.  They are not trained to be men and women.  To be husbands and wives.  They are taught subjects with no knowledge of how to apply that to life outside of the educational system.  As a result we have young adults and adults who leave high-school, undergraduate programs, and graduate programs with no idea as to how to be anything more than students.

Young people find that when they rebell and cause trouble they gain attention, and when they gain attention other people follow them.  Thus by rebelling they become leaders.  They are not taught or challenged to become leaders any other way... wow this is getting long, and i have only scratched the surface.

I guess that you could say that this a round about way of saying that my passion is for youth to become more than they are.  It is a passion and vision to see society, youth, the church, embrace youth and give them a vision for something more than themselves.  To give youth more than just subjects and useless information.  To challenge them to be and become people with a passion and a purpose.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Cynic's View of the Election Process

With the Iowa Caucuses in full force yesterday i was doing some research on the different candidates. I have become more and more interested in politics over the last 10-12 years and it's amazing how much actually goes on.

It has become clear to me that in the scheme of things, 1 vote means absolutely nothing. Even if in reality 1 vote really did decide the election, there would be so much contention and infighting about how accurate the results were and the need for a recount that it wouldn't matter. The people who did the recounts could skew the votes however they wanted to. If it was an automated system there would be contention over the software & hardware, security, who's in charge of the investigation, and whether the coffee shop down the street had mixed the "ingredients" right making it have too high of an alcohol concentration thereby skewing the results one way or another with a bunch of drunk voters. Heavens knows look at the fiasco that was the 2000 election. Ultimately in today's time it will never really come down to 1 vote, and 1 vote will not make a difference... (as you can see, i can be very cynical at times)

With that being said, it is still of the utmost importance that everyone look at the candidates up for election, understand what they really stand for and what it will mean for the country and themselves, and vote. If we don't the decision is ultimately made by those who are most manipulative, those who "look and sound the part", and those organizations and special interest groups who are willing to "fund" the candidate who is not necessarily the best candidate for this country, but rather who will provide them with what they want no matter the effects on you and me.

While 1 vote certainly doesn't matter, if you and i don't do the research look at where the candidates really stand as people and in comparison to one another, and vote for the best candidate, we are just handing the country over to the companies, organizations, and special interest groups who care more about their own agendas than what is best for you and i, our families, our communities, our country, and our planet... our home. Ultimately, while 1 vote doesn't really matter, if we don't vote, we've already lost.

Image from dailysnap used under cc license.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What is love?

Love = not giving up...
Love = putting someone else first...
Love = making a decision because it is what is best, not necessarily for myself...
Love = frustration...
Love = time...
Love = work...
Love = desire...
Love = action...
Love = being there...
Love = hope...
Love = doing what you can't stand in order to...
Love = letting go...
God = love...
Love = ???

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Effective Fervent Prayers...

It's funny how God works sometimes. Just the subtle ways that He brings things into perspective. I was getting myself up and going this morning and i have tried to make it a habit of spending time praying for our church leaders each day, especially as we are going through the transition of searching for a new lead pastor.

Prayer has been a real struggle for me lately. It seems like i have gotten into the mentality in which i spend little time really focused on prayer. It's hard to explain, but my prayer has not be up to par even for my own less than best expectations for myself at times. However, this morning a verse came into my head as i was getting ready but i couldn't piece it all together. "The effective fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much, to the tearing down of strongholds..." and i couldn't remember how the rest of it went. I knew that there was more along the lines of tearing down the strongholds, but i just couldn't get it. So i grasped onto that and held on.

When i came downstairs later where i could do a little research, i found something a little unexpected. I found the references to the verses i was looking for, only it wasn't what i was expecting to see. James 5:16 says,
Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
Then in 2Co 10:3-5 Paul says,
For though walking about in flesh, we do not war according to flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, pulling down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought into the obedience of Christ
As you can see, it's not the verse that i was quite expecting. And, since i am a man who does not like it when people take verses out of context in order to build their own point, it hit me kind of hard. They are both true separate as well as together. The effective fervent prayers of the righteous man avail much. They are spiritual warfare and they are mighty to God for the pulling down of strongholds, vain imaginations, every high thing that exalts itself... bringing into captivity every thought...

More than that, and what i won't get into at this time, is what each of these verses is talking about within their own context. They both have everything to do with everything else, and both require some more further study... but that's neither here, nor there for this point.

The point is that The effective fervent prayer of the righteous man does avail much... to the tearing down of strongholds, vain imaginations, every high thing that exalts itself... bringing into captivity every thought. If we are not praying effectively and fervently as i have struggled with not doing, well what then?

Image from shapeshift used under cc license.

Monday, November 19, 2007


I so don't even want to be doing what i'm doing. This is getting so old right now. It's hard to accept and deal with the job and the roles that you have for us to play sometimes. The fact that my numbers are not up to par doesn't help matters any either. I don't know. Lord there is so much going on i just don't know where to go with it all.

Lord, i want to thank you for the many, many ways that you are blessing us. The many ways that you are taking care of us. Thank you for the little one that's on the way. Thank you for the little ones that you have already blessed us with. They are so amazing! The different things that they say, and the many ways that they bless us. Lord, help us to be good parents. Help us to make sure that they grow in desire of You. That they grow with a passion for You and for others. Help us to model that attitude and mentality Lord. Help us to be good parents as well. They so need that so much. Help them to have a passion and compassion for others.

Lord, i lift up the leadership in the church. I pray that You would continue to be working in them. I especially lift up PKB and his family. Watch over them as they take some time off of the stress and work to spend time with the family. Bless and keep them as they are traveling. Lord, i also lift up the B family to you. As Mr B and the rest of the board are making final decisions as to who to bring for the congregation to decide on, i pray for unity and strength in them. I pray that the man you have for the job would be the man chosen and quickly. Lord, be at work in all of this. And Lord, You know where we stand in all of this. You know the vision you have given to us. Bring us to this place. Your will be done.

In Christ's name we pray.


Friday, November 02, 2007

Process of Change: The "Rite" Stuff

I was doing some research on rites of passage and how they work when i came across some info that really brought some things together. A rite of passage is a ceremony or test that brings a person from one stage of life to another. For our sake, and as is most commonly seen. The rite of passage refers to the time at which a child becomes an adult. They go from living a life of very limited responsibility and training to being considered and treated as an adult. That includes taking on the rights and responsibilities of adults. It is something that has been lost quite possibly to the detriment of youth and our society.

It's interesting looking at these rites of passage and how they work. There are actually three very important parts (or stages) to a rite of passage. Each part has and holds a purpose that helps to give meaning to and define the process:
1) The first stage is the abandonment stage. It is a matter of leaving the old behind. Childhood is removed like an old robe or as an old shell abandoned by a hermit crab who has grown too big to fit into it anymore. It is the point at which a child recognizes that they are no longer to be a child. They are abandoning their childhood in an attempt to become more. To become an adult.
2) Next is the separation stage. The separation stage is about training, testing, & trials. It is the part of the process in which the youth proves that they are ready for the decision that has been made. These could be through physical, mental, and/or psychological trials. These things could be merely an expression of a decision made, or they could be actual real trials that the young person is required to fulfill in order to be allowed to pass on to the next stage.
3) The last stage of this process is the reintroduction into the social structure of the group. The child is no more. There is some sort of ceremony or ritual and the child becomes an adult with adult status. The group accepts them back as their own and they are now treated as adults and expected to act that way.

When i was doing this research i was fascinated by this because of how much it parallels baptism, which in turn parallels Christ's crucifixion process. As i have stated before, repentance, water baptism, and baptism in the Holy Spirit all include these same features. They are death and burial of the old self, a cleansing or work being done, and rebirth in a new form or as a new person. It seems that this three part process comes into play time and time again.

So, what does that mean for us? What do we do now?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

History: The Loss of the Rite of Passage

History has become a very interesting subject to me. When i was in school i wasn't that interested in it as a subject as at the time it was more about a bunch of fact that we had to memorize than anything else. As time has gone by however, that has changed. I have begun to see history a bit more, and i have begun to recognize how it applies (or has not been applied) to today's culture.

Many things have changed in our societies over the generations, and especially in the last century & a quarter. In some instances it may be a good thing, but in many it's not so good. One of those things that i have noticed that has been lost by our society is the traditional ritual of coming of age or the rite of passage. This is a point in a person's life in which they make a transition from one stage of life to another. In this case from childhood to adulthood. It includes a ritual in which one who has been considered unable to make responsible decisions on their own and unable to be involved in the decision making process for others goes through a ritual (often through a physical, mental, or possibly academic trial) and when successful is considered an adult. They are treated like adults and expected to act as adults as well. Many times as a part of this process they are mentored by older men or women to prepare them for their expected roles as men & women, husbands & wives, workers & homemakers, etc in adulthood.

This tradition is one that appears to have become either entirely lost or simply ritualistic in nature with no real change in status or expectations for the individual coming of age. As a result it appears that with no defining line or set expectations children becoming adults may take less responsibility for their actions and have lower expectations for themselves. Added to that, the declining in the age of puberty & society's laxing of parental controls & sexual limitations creates a breeding ground for destructive lifestyles continuing through life.

Could reestablishing some of the more traditional rites of passage, with the proper mentoring & training, and placing greater and more defined expectations on those who complete it make a difference in some of these problems? Would it help to prepare our young people for adulthood? If so, what would it look like, and how could it be done? Just something to think about.

Image from ickna used under cc license.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Torn Asunder

There are so many things, so many frustrations in life right now (like there ever isn't?). It seems like there are problems and issues that i bring to God telling Him that they are too much to handle. I tell Him that i'm at an impasse and something needs to change. There are directions that i really want to go and doors that i really want to be open that aren't and that may not be anytime soon. In fact they may never be... but then again, they may also be at practically any moment.

Right now i am in a situation that is both at the top and at the bottom of the barrel. The part of my life that is at the top of the barrel is just that, a top experience in life. I couldn't say that it couldn't be better, but at this point it's the top i've been in a long time. At the same time that top experience is being pulled down by the bottom experience. The bottom is creating so much stress & tension that it's dragging the top down. At the same time the bottom is what is holding the top up. It is what is supporting the top. If the bottom weren't there the top would not be possible. Right now the top and bottom are balancing one another out. The top is preventing me from going insane due to the bottom, and the bottom is making the top possible. Together it feels like they are ripping me apart, and in so many ways i just want to throw in the towel.

So what happens if a third situation arises? It is neither of these two. It is not a top experience or a bottom experience. However, if it is accepted and taken both the bottom & the top experiences are lost. It has the potential to become a top experience, but quite obviously at a cost. Where do you go, and what do you do?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What God in the Spiritual Armor Means for Us

The other day i was thinking about how the presence of the trinity in the Spiritual Armor and the Spiritual Gifts parallel one another, and how there are so many connections that exist that we never see or understand.

As i was thinking about how the Holy Spirit is/= the Spirit of truth. He is the girdle of truth that protects the softest parts of our bodies. As a part of the spiritual armor he covers our stomach, intestinal area, and lower sexual organs. He covers the areas that are our appetites. Our two most natural and common appetites are nourishment and sexuality. Seen in obesity, drunkenness, and sexual problems. They are the weakest parts of our physical bodies, and also the most easily corrupted, hurt, and damaged parts of our lives.

The breastplate of righteousness is/= the righteousness of Christ. As armor, the breastplate covers our heart and lungs. It covers the areas of our body that control everything else. The lungs process the oxygen that we take in. They feed the blood (our life essence) that feeds the rest of the body. The heart pumps that blood throughout our body and is considered by many cultures to the the center of who we are. The righteousness of Christ covers this. It covers and protects who we are as a person. It covers how our daily lives come together and who we are in relationship with the father. It covers our actions and everyday lives. It is our lifeblood.

The helmet of salvation is/= our salvation. Salvation belongs to our God. It is the rebuilding of that relationship between us and God that was lost with the fall of man. As such, it is that salvation that covers our minds. It covers our thoughts and views. More than that, it covers what we believe, accept, and reject. When we are taught. When we learn & understand something, it all comes into and is filtered through our minds.

The enemy attempts to attack us at each of these different areas of our lives. He attacks our appetites. He attacks our actions and who we are as people. And, he attacks our thoughts and beliefs that give us a vision and a purpose. On the flip side it also means that when we struggle and continually have problems in any one of these areas of our lives, it means that that is the part of God, of the trinity that we do not have a grasp of or that we have let go of. We need to get a hold onto that again.

When we struggle with our appetites we need to seek out and better understand who and what the Spirit of truth is. We need to seek the Spirit of truth in our lives. When we struggle with our actions and who we are as people, we need to seek to reach and better understand our role with Christ. We need to seek Him and His vision for us. When we lose a grasp of what we believe, and when our faith, hope, and love are failing, that is when we are losing a grasp of who our Father is. That is when we need to seek Him the most. Thus understanding the spiritual armor becomes a role in who we are.

Image from North Grace Youth Camp used under cc license.

Monday, October 15, 2007

God in the Spiritual Armor

In one of my earlier posts i had mentioned the trinity (Father, Son, & Holy Spirit) of God showing up in unexpected places. I wasn't expecting to come back to it so soon, but something i was thinking about while helping to get the house cleaned up yesterday really brought it to the forefront of my mind. I processed it with my wife, but i wanted to post it here as well. However, it may not all fit in one post, so we will see...

Ephesians 6 talks about how our we do not wage war with other people, but that battles are with principalities & powers, spiritual wickedness in high places. As a result we need to have armor, not in the physical armor, but spiritual armor. Paul then goes on to write about that armor and goes on to list four actual pieces of armor a shield and a sword. Of those 4 pieces of armor, 3 are primarily for protecting the body itself. As a result that's where i want to focus.

Vs. 14 gird your loins with truth. In different version this is also called the Belt of Truth. This belt is not what we would consider a belt nowadays. It's not just a strip of leather that holds your pants. It is a piece of armor that could better be described as a girdle. It covers the lower private areas like a skirt would as well as the stomach area. It is meant to cover the softest and most vulnerable areas of your body. Next in vs. 14 it talks about the Breastplate of Righteousness. This Breastplate of Righteousness obviously covers a person's chest. It covers the heart & lungs which if pierced mean death. Next is the feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. I am skipping over this as it is not what i would consider as life threatening in nature as the others. The final piece of actual body armor is the Helmet of Salvation that is covering the head & brain.

Piecing together this connection really began a while back when i was looking at Isaiah 64 where it talks about our righteousness is as filthy rags. Filthy rags don't really make very good armor, and certainly don't protect against an attack. They could hardly protect against the wind. Righteousness however, is continually associated with Christ. (At least 5 times in Romans, as well as in I Corinthians, Galatians, I Peter, & twice in Philippians). This came to mind as i was studying the spiritual armor but i didn't piece the rest of it together until later. In my previous study i really struggled with the belt of truth aspect because as is the question in today's society; what is truth? It wasn't until much later as i was reading John that i kept coming across a statement that i found to be interesting. Christ kept calling the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and since i had really been struggling trying to understand what truth is/= and how to distinguish truth from anything less, it really stuck out to me. Finally the connection clicked and i saw those two aspects together in the armor. The righteousness of Christ & the Spirit of Truth. At that point it was just a matter of looking... and sure enough. Now that i was looking for it, it was as plain as day! The helmet of salvation. Salvation from our sins to bring us back through repentance to a right relationship with God.

There it is, plain as day if you know what to look for. The trinity in the spiritual armor. The Holy Spirit is/= our Girdle of Truth. The righteousness of Christ =/is the Breastplate of Righteousness. The Helmet of Salvation is/= our re-formed relationship to God.

So what? What does this mean, and what does it have to do with anything? That's a great question and i'm glad you asked. More on that next time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pastor = Shepherd

It seems as thought now a days we as a church & a people see a pastors role as being simply that of a preacher, administrator, and one who encourages you when you are down. We expect the pastor to preach a good sermon on Sunday morning and to take care of church "things". Many times the pastor appears to be judged by how strong his preaching is and how much that preaching "feeds" us. But, is this really what a pastor's role is?

One of the things that i have found interesting over the years is that the word pastor actually is literally translated as shepherd. In fact in Spanish the word actually is shepherd. Well, so what? What does that have to do with anything? Actually, it has alot to do with alot of things. In order to really understand what a pastor's role is, we first need to understand what a shepherd is. I shepherd's job is both very simple, and very complex. Simply, a shepherd's job is to care for the flock. However, as many know, this is much easier said than done. Let's take a look at just a few of the facets involved in the role of the pastor.

First off, it is the pastor's job to feed his flock. This is a mentality and a view that pervades the church body, but that is not strictly true. The shepherd does not actually feed the flock. It is his job to bring the flock from pasture to pasture so that the flock can eat. He does not sit there and hand feed one sheep after another. He can only bring them to the right pasture so that they can feed themselves. If the shepherd had to do all of the feeding the flock would die of malnutrition. On top of that, if sheep remain in one place for too long they decimate the grass and plants in that area. Thus they need to only remain in one place for a period of time before going on to greener pasture where they can feed off of new grass. How many of us are feeding ourselves, and how many of us are expecting our pastor to be the one to feed us? How often do we get stuck on the same thing and the same way of doing things because "that's where God was moving before" and not move on to the new thing God has for us?

A shepherd's job is to correct his flock. Sheep are very finicky creatures. Many times they will do what they are supposed to, but many times they will do whatever someone else (or what they think someone else) is doing. As such if one sheep goes astray, many times it will lead the others with it. If one sheep continues to go astray time and time again, the shepherd will often have to take drastic measures. This can mean purposefully breaking one or more of the sheep's legs. By breaking the sheep's legs that sheep gets to the position where they can't do anything on their own. They are reliant upon the shepherd for food, water, protection, and even basic movement. The shepherd has to carry the sheep from one place to another on his shoulders. The sheep doesn't move until the shepherd moves them. The shepherd is that sheep's only means of protection. It can't run away. That shepherd becomes that sheep's life. As the weeks pass and the legs heal that sheep that was continually running away and leading others astray comes to the point where it is never willing to leave the shepherd's side again. Your pastor is your shepherd, are you ready for him to be a shepherd?

Other things a shepherd does... A shepherd is responsible for every action his sheep take. If a sheep gets into someone's garden and eats their vegetables, who takes responsibility for it? ... the sheep? The shepherd protects his flock from attacks and will pull the sheep from the mouth of the devourer. Look at the 23rd Psalm and try to see what would happen to a sheep that did not have a shepherd. A couple of years ago i put together the Unbeliever's 23rd Psalm to look at exactly this issue.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mousie? Mousie? Where are you Mousie? Oh, There You Are.

It amazes me sometimes how often the trinity shows up in some very unexpected places. At least unexpected by me. A few years back i got into a discussion with someone who is involved in the oneness doctrine. The oneness doctrine teaches that there is no separation between the Father, Christ, & the Holy Spirit. No trinity, only 1... which is true. There is only 1 God. The Lord our God is One. Yet in 3 persons. In our discussion he gave me some literature talking about how in Matthew 28 the disciples are commanded to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and yet every time in Acts the disciples baptize they do so in the name of Christ. The resultant conclusion is that as such the disciples recognized that the Father, Son & Holy Spirit are merely all titles for 1 God Jesus, for Christ, not three separate persons.

The Oneness Doctrine is an interesting (and flawed) view, but ultimately many of the teachings based off of it are very destructive. So i started to do some research praying that God would help me to see"the" truth and that i would be able to learn what He had to show me, and get past even my own misconceptions. (Even i know that i'm not right 100% of the time.) In doing this research i began to notice something. As much as i could find numerous different ways of arguing against the concept that the disciples only baptized in the name of Christ and not the trinity, the evidence did seem to show otherwise. So i brought it to God and asked Him what was going on here. As the research went on i began to realize that while yes, whenever the disciples were baptizing new believers in water the disciples did appear to only be baptizing in the name of Jesus, that wasn't the only thing going on.

I wasn't just seeing one baptism. I was seeing the baptism in water with the name of Christ, but i was also seeing baptism in the Holy Spirit & in power. I went through the research and scriptures, and yup, every time there it was; water baptism & baptism in the Holy Spirit. Well now, things were starting to make a great deal more sense. However, that still didn't account for the full trinity. That was only 2 baptisms, Christ & the Holy Spirit. So i started digging a little deeper and began to think about the fact that i was seeing 2 different baptisms and what baptism actually is. The very core of baptism is the principle of a death, a burial, & a resurrection. It's all very simple. The old man comes into the water, is buried beneath the water, and comes out a new man. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is death, burial, & resurrection into new power. So baptism of the Holy Spirit is for power, and water baptism is a physical baptism that is an evidence (representation) of...

OF COURSE!!! Water baptism is a physical evidence and representation of a personal choice that has already been made! It is a physical representation of repentance!!! Repentance is the first baptism. It is a choice to let the old sinful man die. Be buried in repentance... in God, and come out as a new man! That in itself is the first and probably the most important baptism! There you have it. The trinity in action. That brings us back to Matthew 28 Christ told the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. Baptizing them... There are 2 commands here, 1) go and 2) make disciples of all nations. Understanding the scripture better it is saying that you make disciples (by) baptizing them into repentance, water baptism, & into the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded. That's how you make disciples. It all to fit together! The pieces worked!

Needless to say, i came out with a whole new understanding, and i came out able to better explain and deal with the questions that were brought to me in an attempt to draw me into this view. Ever since then i have begun to see the working of the trinity in places that i have never seen them before. In fact, did you know that you can find the trinity in the Spiritual Gifts? Just look at I Corinthians 12:4-6. How about the trinity in the spiritual armor in Ephesians 6? It's there. You just have to allow it to be found (here's a hint: compare Ephesians 6:14 to John 14:17, 15:26, & 16:13)

There is so much to be seen and found... so many ways that the truth's of the Bible are there connected to one another and woven together as only a master storyteller could weave. Yet all of these different books were written by different people from so many different times and walks of life. Some wise and seasoned like Solomon and Moses, others young and brash like Jeremiah & young David. All woven together as a spiritual masterpiece standing the test of time and trials by fire.

Image from Product of Newfoundland used under cc license.
Extra points to the person who can identify the movie that the quote in the title comes from!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

It Makes All the Difference in the World...

What is the difference between the geek who constantly gets picked on and the cool kid? I wasn't really thinking about this so much on my own, but i had a dream that really started to make this a little more clear.

First off, a little background. I was a geek growing up. I didn't have a ton of friends and the places that i excelled were in my classes. The more i am working with youth the more i see young people that remind me of me at a younger age. Obviously i want to help them to get over the things that are holding them back and be a support to them. It's been difficult because i want to encourage them, but i don't want them to rely on or cling to me. That would be counterproductive. So it has been something that has been sitting in the back of my mind for a little while. I have had the answer sitting on the tip of my mind for a little while, but i have had a little bit of a difficulty piecing it together.

This morning as i was sleeping i had a dream. As with any dream alot was happening but what really stuck out was a point at which i was walking through a store and saw a couple of little kids there. They were maybe 6 or 7 years older. As i was walking by i could hear laughter. The kids were laughing and so was the store clerk. This one skinnier boy was being shoved and hit by another girl who was a little bit bigger than him. She wasn't so sure that she wanted to do this, but the other kids were egging her on and she was getting positive attention as a result so she kept going. Meanwhile, the boy seemed to not quite know what to do. He seemed to hesitate like he wanted to retaliate, but something held him back. Whether he knew he wasn't supposed to hit girls, or he was just too afraid. He hesitated and didn't do anything. I was really annoyed with the store clerk for laughing and encouraging the girl, but i was even more annoyed with the boy for just standing there.

I wanted to take the boy by the shoulders look him in the eye and ask him if what she was doing was actually physically hurting him. Obviously the physical pain wasn't really an issue. So i wanted to tell him to push her right back. He didn't need to hurt her. He just needed to do something to show her that he couldn't just be pushed around. If he did that there wouldn't have been an issue any more. He might get into trouble for shoving a girl, but it would have solved the problem. Instead of doing that, i kept on walking.

I woke up a little further into the dream and thought about what had happened. I realized that the issue wasn't that he didn't want to fight. You shouldn't hit, and especially guys shouldn't hit girls. The issue is that he just stood there and did nothing! I began to realize that that makes all the difference in the world. I look at the geeky kids and teens that i know and i realized that one of the major things that sets them apart from everyone else is that instead of doing something they do nothing. Even if they did something and made a fool of themselves it would have been better than if they had done nothing. Living life hesitating instead of doing makes all the difference in the world. That's the difference between the geek and the cool kid.

Image from Samuel Rönnqvist used under cc license.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Do We Invest it, or Do We Spend it?

How much of what we do in our lives is nothing more than extraneous crap? How much time do we spend just doing things for the sake of doing them and because we don't really have to put any effort into them, but that don't really do anything with any lasting significance? What happens when our jobs are there only to pay the bills? Do we create ways to have significance in other areas of our lives, or do we come home, vedge out in front of the tv, eat dinner, and go to bed? Where is that extra time spent? Do we invest it, or do we spend it?

I know it's easy when the work/jobs of life have worn us out to just let go and turn our extra time into "me time". It's the end of the day, everything has piled up, and it doesn't seem like it really matters all that much. I've been there. I've done that. Everyone has done that. Most us us still do it (myself included). What i've found over the years is that when i do that... When i spend my time just as "me time" i tend to get grumpy and easily irritated. I spend that time doing things that i know are pointless and useless, and my attitude shows it. When i turn around and instead invest that time in other people and other situations, i tend to have a much clearer and hopeful attitude about life. That time invested no longer seems like time wasted, and life has much more of a purpose.

Of course that in turn creates other problems like the pointless mediocrity of a purposeless job becomes that much more difficult when it is no longer surrounded by more pointless mediocrity. I guess you just can't win for losing. I so can't wait to get back into a job that actually has a purpose.

Image from Bright Meadow used under cc license.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Desires of Our Hearts

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." When i was younger i read that verse and thought that it meant that if i seek the Lord, He will give me what i want. I still think in reality many times that is true. When we delight ourselves in God many times he gives us the things we desire. What i came to realize quite some time ago is that this idea/concept has nothing to do with this verse. I don't know if this was something that i heard from a pastor's teaching, or if it was something that God showed to me in my daily time. This realization that changed my whole outlook... my whole way of thinking is that this desire of our hearts is not the completion of a physical desire, but rather the passion of our lives. Think about it for a minute..........

This isn't a promise that i will get what i want. In fact contrary to that, we may never see this desire fulfilled in our lifetime. It isn't a promise of completion. It is a promise of desire. It is a promise that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us a desire or desires for our lives. We will have a passion and a purpose for our lives above and beyond ourselves. That passion may be to reach out to those in desperate need. It may be to help the homeless. It may be to bring hope to those whose lives are falling apart. It may be to help a person or ministry grow and succeed. It may be any of these things or more... more than you or i could ever imagine. That is the promise of Psalm 37:4. When we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will put in us a passion and a desire that is beyond anything we can do alone. He gives our heart a passion and desire that exceeds us. We go from a lifeless robot to a person with a passion.

Working off of that thought. How many of us have really had a passion and a desire for our lives? How many lose or have lost that passion over the years? How many of us right now are not doing anything in our lives to fulfill or complete that desire? It amazes me to see how often i have gotten so wrapped up in doing everything that i was supposed to do that i lost grip of the passion and desire that defines (or should be defining) me. Living the right life interferes with fulfilling that passion and desire. Oftentimes when i seek what is "best" i just end up with the rest. Why? Because so often what we think of as being "the best" is nothing more than a fading desire. It is a lost cause that has no lasting purpose. Because so often what we seek in our daily lives is contrary to God and the passion that He is giving/has given to us. We lose sight of this passion and end up only being part of the person God has created us to be.