Tuesday, February 23, 2010

9 Wonderful Years!

Today my wife Belinda and I celebrate 9 wonderful years of marriage. I remember the day very clearly. The wedding was on a Friday night and I went to school that morning. It was a tough semester of Western Heritage and some kind of Literature (yeah the class must have not made much of an impact on me) and some other classes and I couldn't afford to miss a day. I remember getting home and spending the last few hours with our friends from New Zealand who would be leaving the next morning while were gone on our honeymoon. So many emotions running through me, but excited to start out this new life. The ceremony was incredible, having great friends and family be a part of the occasion. I don't think I would have been nervous at all if I wasn't surprising Belinda by singing to her (pretty insane for someone who can't sing, I know). It's crazy to think about all the ways our lives have changed over the past 9 years. We've both graduated college, entered careers, changed careers, been on some great trips, laughed many laughs and cried many tears. One thing is for sure, I wouldn't want to have gone through any of this with anyone else. I'm so thankful that God sent me someone as incredible as Belinda. She not only loves me and supports me, but she believes in me, especially when I don't believe in myself. I know she would never say it but she gets frustrated by the fact that I have such little confidence, but still encourages me anyway. I am so thankful to have such a wonderful partner! Happy Anniversary Belinda!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Crazy Love of God

We continued the Crazy Love series this week by looking at the love of God. If we are to develop a love for God that will lead us to change the world, then we first must look at His love for us. We all know the song Jesus Loves Me. Not to knock the song but I think the lyrics have lead us to give the generic answer "the Bible tells me so" to almost anything. If someone asks why we believe a certain way, we easily say because the Bible says so, whether or not we really know exactly what it says about the subject, much less know where in the Bible it is. We do need to take into account what the Bible says about God's love because, it's God word and is completely accurate. However we must also experience God's love to know how genuine and real it is. We sometimes though allow our circumstances in life to blind us from experiencing God's love.

We all at one time or another probably have felt unloved, or definitely undeserving of God's love. The great thing is that there is nothing we can do to earn His love, or to make Him love us any less. He loves us in spite of us which is incredible. We read in Psalm 139:17-18 that his thoughts outnumber the grains of sand. These verses have always blown me away. There is a lot of sand on this earth. According to Cha Cha, in just a handful of sand there would be about 100,000 grains of sand. This is more than the number of stars that can be seen by the naked eye. That's a lot of grains of sand! To think that God has more thoughts about you and me than the grains of sand on this earth is pretty incredible. It's pretty CRAZY! God not only loves us, but He likes us! I know that in my own life I give Him plenty of reasons to not love me or like me, but He does anyway.

So if God loves us in such an incredible way then what should our response be? To love Him back. So do you? Do you love God? Of course at first your answer is going to be "definitely". But here is a question that rocked me when I first read it. Do you love God, or just the stuff He provides? Wow! We should love God for what He provides for us and does for us, but do we love God just because He is God and first loved us? I encourage you to examine your heart and really think about your love for God. Do you love God, or do you just love His stuff?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Friend of God

We often sing the song in church or you hear it on the radio the song “Friend of God”. How incredible and awesome it is that we can call the creator of the universe and everything our friend! I know for myself however I take this for granted a lot of times. I was reading the intro to the book of Acts in my copy of Eugene Peterson’s The Message when some things really stood out to me. To sum it up it says that we are not to be mere spectators or fans of Jesus. I think about this in comparison to sports and all of the baseball players that I have been a fan of and enjoyed watching them play. I’m their fan, I am a spectator, but definitely not their friend. I haven’t even met them. I believe we need to go beyond being in awe of God (which we must be in awe of God) and actually develop that friendship. I think a great example of this is in Acts 4:12-14 when Peter and John addressed the leaders after being put in jail “They (the religious leaders) couldn’t take their eyes off them – Peter and John standing there so confident, so sure of themselves! Their fascination deepened when they realized these two were laymen with no training in Scripture or formal education. They recognized them as companions of Jesus…” The leaders understood that their ability to preach with boldness came because they were companions of Jesus! I believe this is something we should consider when we think about our fears of sharing the gospel with the lost. I know for myself personally that I want others to recognize me as a companion of Jesus. So I am challenging myself as well as you- Are we merely fans or spectators of Jesus, or his companion?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Leadership With Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey came to Athens this past Friday. It’s always neat when someone big comes to the small town. With my background in finance and continued enjoyment of the subject I was excited to go because I had never heard him speak live. The thing is that he didn’t speak on finances, which at first seems crazy. Since he was speaking in part for the Leadership McMinn program here in McMinn County, leadership was the topic he covered. Of course Dave is an incredible speaker and even entertainer at times and this time was no different. Knowing that Dave is a Christian financial advisor and uses Biblical principles it also comes as no surprise that he would do the same when talking about leadership. I was excited to hear him take it to a different level than I had ever heard him on his radio show or videos. He quoted scripture several times during his talk. He talked about the success that his company had when through a turn of events (definitely orchestrated by God) he ended up being promoted on 60 Minutes and Oprah Winfrey in the matter of two weeks, which brought an incredible amount of success. With this his team of about 300 went crazy, and some thought the success came overnight. He had to teach them that the success wasn’t overnight, but was from 15 years of hard work. He gave the following formula to gain unstoppable momentum that will lead to success whether it is in business or personally:

(F + I / T ) (G) = Unstoppable Momentum

Here is what each letter stood for

F- Focus: it’s important to maintain focus. You can’t make decisions based on fear and greed causes you to lose focus.

I- Intensity: You must have intensity and energy

T- Time: it takes time to become a success. He talked about professional athletes and musicians and how they may have natural talent they still log many hours practicing at what they do. It takes 10,000 hours of doing something to become an expert at it!

G- God: he actually said this was a “CAPITAL BIG G”. When you multiply by the infinity that God is, you are capable of much more.

So in a nutshell the formula is “Focused Intensity over Time multiplied by the infinite God leads to Unstoppable Momentum. Pretty awesome thought!

A more detailed post on this can be found on Ben Finch's Photography Blog.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Life is a Vapor

As we continued the Crazy Love series this week we looked at a topic that we generally don't like to think about- life and death. When Belinda and I got married, we took the vow "til death do us part" meaning that we were committing to remain married for our entire lives. Dwight Scrhute made the statement on The Office once (stay with me here) that it was his family's tradition that they are married while standing in their graves, making the funeral a grim occasion but the funerals very romantic. Now I know that is silly, and actually pretty morbid but that fact is we usually don't consider our end in life. We think very little about when we will pass on from this life because its not something we usually want to think about. However we need to live our lives for God each day because of what scripture tells us about our lives.

In James 4:13-15 we read that life is short- like a vapor. If you've ever used a humidifier you'll notice that the vapors of water disappear in a split second. This is the comparison to life that James uses. He also tells us that you don't know what your life will be like tomorrow. Does this mean we shouldn't plan ahead? Of course not. It does mean that we need to live every day for God instead of ourselves, and not be caught up in focusing on the future.

Another thing we need to consider is that we shouldn't spend our lives worrying. Worrying about the future, or whatever because in Philippians 4:4-7 we are commanded to always rejoice in the Lord. When we worry or stress it conveys the belief that we think our circumstances are more important than God's command to always rejoice. In other words we are saying that it's ok or that we have the right to disobey God because of our circumstances. However it doesn't say to rejoice in the Lord always, unless you're situations are really important to you. That would be ridiculous. We are to rejoice always and not allow the stresses and worries in life to bring us down. I used an example with the students like this- I had them tell me things that stress them out and each time they told me something I would blow more and more air into a balloon until it popped. When we allow stress and worry to build in our lives, eventually its going to break us.

Even though you don't like to think about the end of your life, consider for a moment if you knew this was your last day. Would you have any regrets? If so what would you change? Then make the change! Understand that life is fragile and short, and all the truly matters in life is that we live for God by giving Him our all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Too Tough to Swallow

One of my favorite sayings growing up was “the truth hurts”. I’m not really sure why but I remember listing it as such in my “about me” entry for my senior yearbook. I’m not sure that it was something I enjoyed saying, but must have said it a lot (I don’t really remember b/c I’ve seemed to block out a portion of my life during that time). The reality is, the truth does hurt sometimes. I know that I try to keep my mouth shut a lot because I know that I might not present my convictions in the best critical way. I was reminded of how truth from God hurts those who oppose or reject Him. I know this from experience when preaching a tough message that steps on toes and the result is the rejection of it and a negative response back where someone attempts to be hurtful to me. We see this too in what I think is a very sad portion of scripture in John 6. It’s a lengthy chapter at 71 verses but well worth the read. We see in this passage the miracle of Jesus feeding 5000 people with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish! We read that without much thought these days but what a miracle. After this time Jesus teaches that He is the bread of life, that He alone can fulfill your every need. Jesus told them that He is the way to a relationship with God. He tells the people what is probably the most critical information in life for them to know and what do they do? They reject it because they didn’t like it. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear. You can read in verse 66 that many quit following Him at this time. Why? Because the truth hurt. As long as your not living for Jesus then the truth that He is all you need is not going to settle well with you. This is why I’ve also quoted frequently over the past year that “the gospel is offensive to those who reject it”. Consider for a moment if you are offended by the thought of being completely sold out for Christ. If so then my prayer is that your heart would soften and turn toward God.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What If?

I know I have already had two entries lately that spoke about the song lyrics that say “Here I am, ready to give up my life for the One!” On a side note in case anybody care what the song is it’s Here I Am by Michael W. Smith (bet you saw that coming). One more thought I have on these lyrics is this: What if God not only called you to give up your life by serving Him (which He calls everyone to do), but what if He called you to actually give up your life as a martyr? Something that we would definitely want to be able to do if we ever faced such a time, but truthfully what would you do? What if you knew that God was calling you to be a martyr for Him? Would you still love and serve Him the same or would you abandon Him in hopes of a different way? I don’t want to come off as saying that I would be very excited and thrilled if I knew that this was coming my way, but I hope that I am close enough to God to be willing to do this if possible. Especially if it meant that someone else became a follower of Jesus as a result of my life. Just something to chew on today.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Approaching God

We began a new series this week called Crazy Love based on the book by Francis Chan. When we consider being in love sometimes we see people who do crazy things for the person they love. This month I will celebrate 9 years of marriage with Belinda and I love her so much that I would do some pretty crazy things for her. When we were married the two of us became one flesh. I vowed that I would love her for eternity and would do whatever it takes to sustain our relationship. That's also the same case when a person is saved and becomes a Christian. We become one with God. We also make the commitment to do whatever is necessary for God. As I posted a few days ago I was listening to my iPod recently and those song lyrics Here I am ready to give up my life for the One really shook me. It sometimes seems easy for us to sing lyrics like that but not really mean it. But when we become a Christian-a follower of Christ, we commit to do whatever it takes for Him. Now that might seem crazy to the world, and even to some church people, but it isn't crazy when we consider the love that God has for us and the fact that He sent Jesus to die for our sins.

Think for a moment about a time that you might have met someone famous, or if you were to meet someone famous. How would you react? How would you approach them? You might be speechless, in awe, dumbfounded, etc. Now think about how you approach God when you pray. How do the two compare? Which reaction of yours would be greater? Our view of God dictates how we approach Him in prayer. If you were to describe God to someone who did not know Him or wasn't exposed to church, how would you do that? Would you describe Him based on what you have been taught, or by what you have experienced with Him. Since our view of God dictates how we approach Him and pray, then we need to be reminded of scripture where both John and Isaiah see the throne of God.

In Revelation 4 John has a vision of heaven which is pretty remarkable. There were flashes of lightning, thunder, 24 thrones, jasper, etc. This is a pretty awesome picture we see. In Isaiah 6:1-7 we read that Isaiah actually sees God and lives! The robe of God is so big and wonderful that it fills the temple. Smoked filled the temple and when God spoke the foundations shook. Now if you literally saw God like this the very first time what would be your response? That response is how you should approach God in prayer every single time you pray. If you continue on in chapter 6 of Isaiah and read verse 8 we see what Isaiah responds after God asks who will go out for Him. Isaiah says Here I am. That's what it means to have a crazy love for God. To approach Him with reverence and respect, and be willing to do whatever He says we need to do.

Monday, February 1, 2010

An Honest Request

Well we had some pretty snow here in East Tennessee this weekend. Not a whole lot but pretty good for us and to be honest with you I did a lot of nothing for a few days. We did a lot of sitting around, talking, watching The Office on dvd, playing Nintendo, and doing some reading. Of course when you do a lot of sitting, you usually do a lot of thinking. I know that there are some days when it seems my mind is in a constant whirlwind of many things and this weekend was no different. As I think about what God has called me to do as a youth pastor, I definitely feel an extreme array of emotions: humility, brokenness, frustration, fear, confusion, etc. I won't go into each of these but for a moment lets look at brokenness. As I was doing a lot of thinking, I continued to be broken over the lives of these teenagers I work with. When we look at it, I'm called to help lead students to Jesus, to begin a relationship with Jesus, and to help those who have already began that relationship to fall more in love with Jesus. One thing that I believe most youth pastors deal with, and I'm pretty sure any pastor for that matter, is "apathy". For me one of the toughest things I have had to come to grips with in ministry is that students must decide themselves to love Jesus and to seek His face. I can't force it on them. So it's tough when you preach the Bible and they end up rejecting it. Its hard when you've prepared a message and you pour your heart out and they don't care because they are apathetic. But I, and we, can't let it knock us down. Instead I believe we need to take that frustration and disappointment, and allow it to break us even more. Now don't get me wrong, I see many teenagers who are seeking God, seeking His will in their lives, and are seeking to live a life that glorifies Him.

As I was listening to my iPod one day this weekend a song played and lyrics went like this: "Here I am, ready to give up my life for the One!" Now when I think about these lyrics, I think we all need to be careful to sing songs like this because much of the time we are not willing to give up our own desires, or even our own lives to serve God. This thought breaks my heart. Why wouldn't we? Why wouldn't I? Sometimes I want to serve God comfortably but I come to understand that that isn't even serving God when we make it to fit our own wants. This apathy that I see breaks my heart. Its these things that keep my wife and I awake at night as we seek God's guidance in student ministry. So what can we do about it? Well honestly there is nothing we alone can do to make a change. Instead God must change the heart of apathy and turn it to Him. I say all of this and am honest to ask for your prayers. Please pray for the hearts of students and adults to be turned to God. I have said this many times and will continue to stand by it but I believe that God is calling this generation to take a stand for God like never before. Some don't agree, some don't care, but there are some who see this because they know that with God anything is possible. So pray for your own brokenness and for the brokenness of others to turn their hearts to God and make Him the priority of their life.