New Year’s Resolutions

New years resolutions…what’s the point of them? I mean most of us break them within a week…at least I do. But why do we consistently do them? Seems that most people would like to improve their lives, even in the most menial of ways. You may have big goals or lots of small ones. Regardless, I think it shows that people want to change for the better. I think this is commendable, as we should always be looking for ways to improve. But what things are we trying to change and what things do we truly want to change?

For me, there are many things I WANT to change, but I don’t really TRY to change. There has been a huge weight on my shoulders these past couples of months, which I believe stems from a fast that I and my fellow Youth Staff completed in the months of October and November. I really wanted God to show me what needed to change in my life. During this period, there were several things that came to mind. But, as soon as the fast was completed, I didn’t take the steps to change those things.

There are aspects of our lives that only God can change, but with that, comes some responsibility on our part. God doesn’t do all the work. God gives the opportunity, and we must actively pursue the steps to change. God is not a puppet master, directing our steps without our consent. He doesn’t just step in when He wants. He waits. When we are ready and willing, he steps in and takes over. Problem is, many times we don’t allow this to happen. We wait for God to do it and don’t want to take the step.

In my life, God has waited for me to take the first step, then from there has guided and directed my path. Why is that? Seems that he wants us to STEP out in faith. When we do this, we show God we want to change, want Him to guide us.

For me, one of my resolutions is essentially allowing God to guide and direct my life more than he has recently. I have been trying to do it on my own, thinking that God was directing when He wasn’t. I was. It seems I’ve had a dark cloud over me the past month or so and I’m over it. Time for me to get my butt in gear and do the things I know I need to do. Prayer, fasting, and Bible reading are all on my list among other things. These are things I know will help me to allow God to actually guide my steps. Funny thing is, my favorite verse is Psalm 119:105, which says, “Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Kind of shows me what needs to be a bigger part of my life starting today.

What are things that you are TRYING to change?

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Social Media

So as I am on my phone and reading the latest Twitter and Facebook feeds, a thought jumped in my mind: does my time looking at social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter in my case, there are many others out there) outweigh the time I spend praying/bible reading? In my life, probably not. Now understand this is not a social media bashfest…this is a perspective-bringing thought.

If you are like me, you have a phone capable of a Facebook or Twitter app. These are definitely great and can be used beneficially. If you have a Blackberry, iPhone, or Android phone chances are there is a bible app. YouVersion offers a great program with several translations so even all you KJV peeps can still get your thee’s and thou’s in. (no offense meant by that statement, but I don’t really know many who actually still like that translation)

What is my purpose in telling you this? I have read from Romans up to Revelation (on chapter 4 right now) in just a month or so. When I awake in the morning, I try to read a chapter a day if possible. It made it easy for me to read, even at times provoked some thought of what I had read, which is the goal of Bible reading because that leads to it affecting your life and changing you. I am not super holy but I understand the need for bible reading.

For those who don’t have a phone capable, there are many sites that have the Bible as their primary focus. Biblegateway.com is one I use, but I’m sure there are other good ones. Maybe even use social media outlets to express/share what you’ve been reading. All it can do is help you and maybe someone else who might come across the verse you posted. This will help us be good stewards of our handheld devices and allow us to take in God’s Word and also use those social media outlets beneficial to us and the others who read our posts.

So over the next week let’s challenge ourselves to try and limit our browsing/lurking of Facebook/Twitter and absorb God’s Word and allow it to change our lives.

Armor

Ever read the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day as a kid? I remember this book from 1st grade I think. Anyways…that was yesterday…well for a bit. Anyways, I awoke to realize that my alarm hadn’t gone off when it was supposed to. It was 7:10. I needed to be at class at 7:30. I live 30 minutes away. That means basically an absence. So I decided that I would just wait until I needed to leave for my 9:30 class. So I left actually a little early, getting me there on time…until I realized once nearly there that I had left my backpack at home. It was one of those days.

Lucky for me, after realizing I had missed my opportunity to attend my 7:30 class, I laid in my bed. I have made it a deal that I read my Bible in the morning while still in bed from my phone. (thank God for Bible apps) So a month or so ago, I started out in Romans and worked my way through the New Testament. Friday was Ephesians chapter 6. This chapter first talks about children obeying their parents (a good idea for sure), but the major portion of this chapter deals with the Armor of God. It is a neat text for sure and it would prove crucial. Verse 12 of chapter 6 says this:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We don’t think about this much but I find it very true. Especially when I am in seek mode right now. I am definitely trying to figure out what God wants to do with me. I want to know that His Spirit is guiding me and I want to allow Him to do so. I know that when I do this, I tend to get attacked in the way this verse describes. It is a very real attack we as Christians take. I am not trying to blame the devil for all I do wrong, but at the same time, he would love nothing more than to see my fall.

So after coming all the way back home, I decided to skip the whole day of school. Good decision or not, I did it. On my way back to Springfield (to do non-school stuff), I remembered what I had read that morning. Then it occurred to me that I was not gonna let that scary old devil beat me. I have the God who created me, the God who created everything, even the devil himself. How can the devil beat someone who created him? That’s like my lego masterpieces leading a revolt against me and winning. It isn’t and can’t happen. So, out loud, as I’m driving I basically tell the devil he doesn’t scare me and that he can’t beat me as long as God is on my side.  I then crank a song that basically describes the battle between the devil and God.

The song is by Oh Sleeper, a Christian metal band and it’s called Son of the Morning. Song is about the devil telling God that he is basically gonna win. All the while, the chorus of the song says “If you could see like me you’d see, you haven’t won anything. If you could see like me you’d see it’s by my grace you’re breathing. This is God saying, “you only get to stay around because I’m allowing you to.” Why should we then fear the devil if we have God on our side? Should we be aware of the devil and his schemes? Yes. Should we be concerned with what he is doing? Yes. Should we be so scared that we don’t leave the house? No. We have God’s Word and his Spirit to guide and protect us. We know how it is going to end in Revelation 20-22, with Jesus victorious. In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with the whole passage about the Armor of God. Read it. Soak it in. God’s Word is life-changing.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Thankful

So I haven’t written in a long time…that is unacceptable. So, as I was driving home from work today, I was thinking about my life and where I stand right now. (This was actually while I was working too) Sometimes I wish things could be better. I wish I had the job that I desired. I wish I had more clothes. I wish I had a better computer. I wish I had a better car. I wish a lot of things…seeing as it is a time for us to remember what we do have a be thankful for it, I realized something…here’s what I do have: a wonderful fiancé, whom I’m excited to spend my life with!, a car, a job that is with an amazing church and with an awesome group of dudes who are a part of the same team (I do maintenance at the church…tough job but someone has to do it!), I have food to eat always, gas in my car, place to stay, and most importantly…JESUS! I live in a country where I am not persecuted for my faith (aside from occasional scoffers, but I’ll take that over threat of death anyday), and I can pursue Him whenever I want.

Something else I’ve realized this weekend…don’t take for granted what you are given. I want us all to sit down and think about what we do have and be content with it. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 says:

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

I want to remember that I must be content with food and clothing and try my best to stay away from the materialism I so hate. If I pursue God the way that many of us pursue “stuff”, then I know that God will continue to provide for me things that are needed to survive. Let us not pursue stuff, but pursue Jesus.

What are you thankful for??

Change

I have been thrown into a new perspective in my life. Last week in chapel was a remarkable one. I only go 3 days a week, but due to Labor Day, I only had 2 chapels last week. They were probably the most life changing chapels I’ve attended. I would like to give you a brief synopsis of what I experienced.

Wednesday of last week was a part of Spiritual Emphasis week on campus. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were dedicated to this. The speaker for those chapels was Pastor Scotty Gibbons from James River Assembly. He is definitely gifted and God has blessed him with speaking abilities and a very loving heart. Wednesday was over Ephesians 4:1-6. He focused more on verse 2 than any of these. Ephesians 4:1-2 says “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love.” He related this to the church as this is what we are to be. Paul was writing to the church of Ephesus to be these things. While after these verses, Paul continues to talk about unity of the believers. Verse 3-6 say “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is on body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

As I said earlier, Scotty focused on verse 2. He was trying to point out that we must be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. This passage talks about unity of the believers and Scotty stressed how much we need to do the things in verse 2. I need help with all of them, especially the “bearing with one another in love.” I’ll explain what I mean. Attending North Point for 5 years and counting has been a wonderful 5 years. I have grown and learned so much as far what it means to be Jesus in a community. I have been a youth leader nearly that whole time and it has grown me quite considerably. No wonder our pastor focuses so much on serving, as we put action to our words. But I have seen a lot of churches who focus so much on the “depth” of their message that they have forgotten what it means to be Jesus to a community who needs them. North Point is not that. Now I attend Central Bible College, an Assemblies of God college for ministry. Going into this school was a big shock. The culture here is nothing like North Point, as the chapels are quite conservative. North Point has a rockin’ band and isn’t quite as conservative. This is a clash of epic proportions in my mind. A lot of bitterness has come up in the few years due to this seeming contradiction. We’ve had youth leaders from that school who, in my mind, weren’t there to serve but just get their ministry credit. This led to the event in my heart and mind that happened Wednesday morning.

At the end of his message, Scotty talked about how we mustn’t fuss and fight about how we do church. We shouldn’t hate a church because their worship is boring, or they wear a suit to church and your church doesn’t. That isn’t the point. We must “bear with one another in love”. BAM! That was a knock on the head for sure. My biggest issues have been me not liking the style of certain churches and holding that against them. Terrible for sure and God definitely spoke to me in a major way. Since that chapel, my heart has been changed and I’ve felt a release that was much needed.

Enter Friday chapel.

As I sat in my normal seat, I watched as people came in, talking to friends and preparing for chapel to start. Right as chapel was going to start, 2 of the guys brought in a homeless guy from outside. I was super excited, as I was seeing love first hand. These guys invited him into chapel, and probably would have got him lunch had this next part not happened. Once worship was over, our campus Pastor came up to introduce the speaker.

“Our speaker is running late, so we would like to bring a couple of you up to give testimonies about how God has been working this week.”

2 students go up there, share some cool stuff, then they sat down. That’s when the homeless man spoke up.

“Pastor can I give a testimony?”

“Uh…” Pastor looks around nervously and hesitates…finally he says, “yeah come on up.”

The homeless man walks up there with his backpack. Once he reaches the stage, he reaches into his pack, pulling out what looks like a book.

“Can I see what you are pulling out of your bag,” says a nervous Pastor Baker.

“It’s not a pistol, it’s an iPad,” replies the man.

In my mind I was wondering what a homeless man was doing with an iPad. Then it dawned on me that this was no homeless man.

This “homeless man” was Malcolm Burleigh, director of Intercultural Ministries for the US Missions department of the Assemblies of God. He began by praising the guys who brought him in, thinking he was homeless. Then he began to tell us how several people had noticed him but didn’t say anything. I wasn’t one of them, as I didn’t see him on my way in to chapel. But the question in my mind was this: “Would I have passed by him without even saying anything and just basically ignored him?” Obviously this was not a question I could really answer, but I had a sneaking suspicion that I would have just continued on my way without even speaking to him, even avoiding him. Is this what Jesus would have wanted me to do? I think not…in fact he would have wanted to me to hold a conversation with him, invite him in to chapel, then took him out to lunch afterwards. Wow. How far from the heart of God am I?

Now I know that there is grace and that God knows my heart and how imperfect I am. He knows I’ll make mistakes and that He is still eaching me a lot about what it means to follow Him. This was my lesson in what it means to follow Him, so what will my response be? What would be your response in that situation? Would you strike up conversation and invite him in with you? Would you bring him lunch? How do we show God’s love to people?

Lifeboat

I’ve been reading Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What, and he talks a lot about how we search for meaning in our lives in the context of relationships. Before The Fall, Adam and Eve found their worth and identity in God alone. But since The Fall, we have found our identity elsewhere. We look for validation in ones that seem better than us and disassociate from those of “lower stature”. Upon reading this, it totally makes sense, as I am guilty of this all of the time. Miller describes this concept as the Lifeboat Theory. The Lifeboat Theory comes from this question: If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbageman, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose? That question assumes that everyone has a different worth. But Jesus came to prove that we are all worth the same thing, all worth His death on a cross for our salvation and redemption. Miller goes on quite extensively about this subject and he begins talking about Jesus and who He was. He talks about how in Jesus’ time, most people didn’t recognize Him as God, but as some crazy loon who thought He was God. I am going to give you a section of this chapter and then ask a question we should all really contemplate.

“Sometimes I think it is easier for you and me to believe Jesus is God now that He is heaven than it might have been back when He was walking around on earth. If you would have seen Jesus do miracles, and if you were one of those who were healed by Him or if you were one of the disciples, then it would have been easier, but for most people, especially the Jews, Jesus would have been a stumbling block.

At the same time, however, we are at a disadvantage because the Jesus that exists in our minds is hardly the real Jesus. The Jesus on CNN, the Jesus in our books and in our movies, the Jesus that is a collection of evangelical personalities, is often a Jesus of the suburbs, a Jesus who wants you to be a better yuppie, a Jesus who is extremely political and supports a specific party, a Jesus who has declared a kind of culture war in the name of our children, a Jesus who worked through the founding fathers to begin America, a Jesus who dresses very well, speaks perfect English, has three points that fulfill any number of promises and wants you and me to be, above all comfortable. Is this the real Jesus?

Is Jesus sitting in the lifeboat with us, stroking our backs and telling us we are the ones who are right and one day these other infidels are going to pay, that we are the ones who are going to survive and the others are going to thrown over because we are Calvinists, Armenians, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics; because we are Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, or liberals; because we attend a big church, a small church, an ethnically diverse church, a house church, or is Jesus acting in our hearts to reach out to the person who isn’t like us—the oppressed, the poor, the unchurched—and to humble ourselves, give of our money, build our communities in love, give our time, our creativity, get on our knees before our enemies in humility, treating them as Scripture says, as people who are more important than we are? The latter is the Jesus of Scripture; the former, which is infinitely more popular in evangelical culture, is a myth sharing a genre with unicorns.”

Question is: Who do you believe Jesus is, the former or the latter?

Joy

So, with Valentine’s Day weekend over, I’m not reflecting on my first Valentine’s date ever…I’m reflecting on a different subject. Saturday, February 13, 2010 was North Point’s 2nd Saturday event. This event was probably one of the more meaningful ones I’d been to. I had been to multiple Christmas events with kids getting toys and coats and haircuts and dental check-ups, which otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten. While those were amazing, this one was different. Champion Athletes is an organization that has disabled/mentally disabled kids and adults and puts them into athletic settings, kinda like the Special Olympics. While it was 20 degrees outside and snowing, we didn’t hold an event outside, as we all would have frozen to death. We were at a Boys and Girls Club branch in Springfield, and we used their campus for the event. We held a safety seminar, where 4 stations were used to talk about weather safety, drug awareness, fire safety, and animal safety. Some of us were fans and some of us were hosts for the kids. I wanted to be a host, so I joined that crew. I got paired up with a kid named Colson. He was kinda quiet at first, but as I talked to him a little bit, he loosened up a little. I followed him to each of the stations, and we were even used as an example for the drug awareness. (I was a pushy drug dealer, and the officer used Colson as a distraction to ignore me. Too bad I’ve never done drugs or know anything on how to push drugs! Ha) Anyways, we went to each station, learning helpful tips on how to be safe on the roads with wintery weather, how to get out of a burning house, and also how to be safe around animals we don’t know. Colson seemed to be getting bored, rightfully so as it was pretty boring. He was wondering when the fun was gonna happen.

So, after we made it through the stations, the fun was to begin. Our group was led to another gym, where they had some stations set up for each of the kids. Started with a tricycle, then a little bowling station, a little cart to scoot on, and finally balancing a wooden egg on a wooden spoon. All the while they were going through this, the fans I mentioned earlier were up in the stands, cheering the kids on with signs and noise makers and some loud cheering. I could tell the kids were excited and loved the attention. After our time was up, we moved on to another station with an inflatable home run derby. (So sweet…I want one myself!) Poor Colson was a left hander, and the guy running it tried to force him on the right side. But we got it straightened out and Colson seemed to enjoy it. Next up was basketball, and they just got to shoot around for a bit. Colson seemed to like the idea, but this was harder for him, as his strength was little. But he kept trying, and finally he made a shot. He was excited, but was done after that. All the while watching him and encouraging him, to see him make that shot was a joy I hadn’t felt before. I was so excited for him. After that was the finale…a non-stop time of kick ball and running around bases. It was great times indeed, and Colson was super stoked about this one. He was running around, dancing to the music, and just having a grand old time.

After this, the games wound down and it was time to leave. His parents thanked me, so thankful for me giving up my time to hang out with their child. But really, I should thank them as their son blessed me in a way I didn’t expect. He, while seemingly disadvantaged compared to us “normal” people, had so much joy. He loved life, cherished every second of it. It definitely challenged me to do the same, to cherish the people in my life, to appreciate the little things in life. While we always get bogged down with all the junk in our lives, we must remember we serve a good God who loves us and feels joy when we are loving life. I know, that the joy I felt when Colson made that basket after all that trying and failing and finally succeeding, is in a way like the joy God feels when we fail and fail and fail until finally…we get it, we finally find success, when we run and run and run from him and finally turn around and run back to him. Let us remember that God is giving us a wonderful life to live and that we should find joy in it. I hope this encourages you the way it did me. Colson is my new hero.