Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blogging Is a Call From God

Recently I posted my 100th entry and about how few comments I have had but that for some reason I will continue to blog because I hope to encourage or reach someone through it. Recently I started using Google Analytics to let me know how many people visit this blog each day. I was surprised to find out that more than 2 people were actually reading it! That wasn’t the coolest thing about it though. I think that through this I began to sense this as a part of my calling. Yes, God called me into ministry. Yes, He did call me to be in youth ministry for at least this first tenure in vocational ministry. But at the same time I believe He is leading me to hopefully be an inspiration to others through this blog. That may seem odd and I even know people who would laugh in my face at that statement. The thing is though, God calls us to do things to reach others, and sometimes it may even be in an unorthodox way. In today’s ever-growing technological world why wouldn’t God use me to reach others through a blog? I don’t say that to make me look bigger or better but to make God look bigger because of His creativity. So I guess I post this for two reasons: 1) to say that God has placed blogging as part of my calling in life (even seems odd to say that), and 2) to ask you to look at your life, consider where you are and what all you may be involved in and see what way might God want to use you. If you are a Christian, then God has asked you serve Him not to just make you work, but because He wants to use you. That alone should excite us and make us want to serve Him however He would lead us.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Following at a Distance

This past week’s Sunday School lesson was about Betrayal and Peter’s denial of Jesus. As I was studying one thing stood out to me that I don’t believe I had ever realized. In Luke 22:54 is states that “Peter was following at a distance”. This suggests that Peter didn’t want to be seen with Jesus. Peter wanted to be close enough to Jesus to see what would happen to him, but far enough away so that he wouldn’t be caught up in the mess of suffering that Jesus would endure. We’ve all seen this type of scenario in movies when the character is following someone, wanting to know what is going on with them but hoping to not be caught in the act of caring. This made me think about our personal relationship with Jesus. Do we do this also? Do we follow Jesus at a distance hoping that we will be close enough to see what is going on and hopefully even receive the blessing or benefit? But at the same time stay distant enough so that we aren’t actually required to do something for him, or at least if we do hopefully nobody will see or notice. Let’s search our hearts today to see if this is the way we follow Jesus. I want to encourage you today to not let thoughts of inadequacy or whatever keep you from following Jesus up close. In the midst of the inadequacy, sin, shortcomings, betrayal, etc. Jesus is waiting to receive you with open arms. Will you run to him and stop following at a distance?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pontius Pilate

As Easter approaches I felt led to take a look at the resurrection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the events surrounds. We did a series last year called "Perspectives" where we looked at the events through the eyes of people involved and I felt led to do this again this year but with different people. Last year we looked at the two on the road to Emmaus, the crucifixion from a doctor's perspective, Peter's denial of Christ, and the two criminals.

This first week we looked at Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor of Judea at the time. The chief priests brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate to have him executed because the Jews did not have the authority to execute a person, only the authority to sentence them to death. They were unable to carry out the actual execution so this is why they came to Pilate hoping he would have Jesus executed, which he ended up doing. There are several things to look at throughout the four gospels so here is a short and quick summary:
-Pontius Pilate didn't want to have anything to do with Jesus because he knew he was innocent.
-Pilate's wife warned him to have nothing to do with Jesus because He was righteous and she had suffered greatly in a dream because of Him- Matthew 27:19
-When Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee he sent Him to be tried by Herod Antipas ruled the region of Galilee but was in Jerusalem at that time- Luke 23:5-12. I feel like maybe he was trying to pass Jesus off to Herod first of all because he didn't want to deal with it, and secondly because he and Herod had been political enemies so he wanted to pass the burden to him. Herod eventually sent Jesus back and Pilate and Herod became friends that day.
-It was customary to release a prisoner at that time and so Pilate offered the crowd to choose between the notorious criminal Barabbas and Jesus, thinking that the crowd would not want Barabbas released. Instead the crowd insisted that they release Barabbas and crucify Jesus.
-The crowd applied political pressure on Pilate saying he wasn't a friend of Caesar's if he released Jesus. Again Pilate encouraged tried to get out of it and made the statement to the Jews "Behold, your King!" to which they replied "We have no king but Caesar." Here is the crazy thing, the Jews hated Caesar. They hated the Roman government and was hoping for a political Messiah that would overthrow the Roman government at the time.

So after all of this occurs, we read in Mark 15:15 that Pilate gives in to the crowd, had Jesus beaten and crucified. It makes this statement about Pilate: "Wishing to satisfy the crowd." Now there is no question that Pilate would have had a revolt on his hands if he had let Jesus go. Then there is also the fact that it was also necessary for Jesus to die to take away the bondage of sin and our separation from God. However, we can learn some lessons from Pontius Pilate

1) Don't do something when you obviously know you shouldn't do it. Pilate was warned by his wife and he knew that Jesus was innocent. Yet he went ahead and followed through.
2) Don't give in to peer pressure. We are surrounded by pressure from our friends, co-workers, media, etc. Sometimes we are required to make unpopular decisions because it is the right thing to do. We have to be influenced by God to make our decisions instead of other people. I witness this a lot when people are trying to be like someone else instead of being the person that God intends them to be.
3) When you've done something you shouldn't have, don't pass the blame or say you didn't do it. Pontius Pilate made the symbol of washing his hands saying that he had nothing to do with it- Matthew 27:24. But he had just sent Jesus to be executed- he did do it!

Take a look at your life. Do you give in to others in hopes of keeping them happy? Are your motives from God or so that you can fit in with others? Ask yourself if the way you act and the things you do are based on your desire to fit in or if its what God is leading you to do.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Old Camel Knees

I was reading the book of James this morning and read something pretty cool in the introduction. For my ordination I received a new Bible and chose one in the Message translation since I didn't already have one. This semester I have been doing my Bible reading for school out of it and each book has its own introduction that explains the purpose of the book, who wrote it, etc. The introduction to James compared the church to a hospital and talked about how James was confronting some issues in the church. It went on to say that according to church history tradition that he was labeled the nickname "Old Camel Knees" because he spent so much time on his knees in prayer that they became calloused and looked like the knees of a camel. I imagine that he wasn't only praying simple prayers like "God is great, God is good" or "Lord, keep me safe today", I believe he was intently praying and interceding on the behalf of others. I've said before to the students how we must have calloused knees instead of calloused hearts, but here is someone who lives it. I know that I have been personally challenged lately by how much time I spend praying for others. I find that it is such a joy when I pray for others. I don't even need to know what is going on in their lives, but if God places them on my heart then I need to pray for them. So I ask you this, are your knees calloused? Mine haven't been but I desire to change that. How much do you pray for others? Or do your prayers mainly consist of praying prayers of supplication for yourself? If you are at a time where you are not spending much time talking with our God, then ask Him to give you that desire. It's usually never a matter of you not having time, but a matter of not making time.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A New Experience

This weekend I went to watch some of our students play Rugby. McMinn County High School started a Rugby team this year and a few of our students are playing so we went to support them and see how brutal this game would be. Well for starters it was very brutal, several players going down and time being called for them to recover. Also one player was carried off in a stretcher and sent off in an ambulance after he felt a pop in his neck. But anyway I left the game pretty much in awe because it was such an exciting game. It was a new experience for me and so I am now eager for more. I told the students that I wanted to come to any games played at home so let me know when that will be. This got me thinking about how this can be so similar with our walk with Jesus. When we are first saved we are so in awe of the new life we have that all we want is more Jesus. But then over time we get used to it, we become complacent, the newness wears off and it's just not that cool anymore. We may end up seeing our relationship with God as a chore or obligation and when that happens our work for God actually feels like work. This is why it is so important like I talked about yesterday that we must seek to have a fresh encounter with God each and every day. Each time we read, pray, sing, serve, or whatever we need to go about seeking a fresh encounter with God. I believe that if we do so then each time we walk away we can't help but be in awe with the new experience and desire more of God.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Godly Nervousness

Yesterday we were able to have band practice with the student band after having a few weeks of not being able to so it was nice to get everyone together again. I began with a few words and scripture before we started which ended up turning into a mini-sermon, if there is ever such a thing. But God had given me a word to share and encourage these students, and myself so it had to be said. I talked to them about how each week we need to approach it as a fresh encounter with God, even when we might be singing a song we've done before, maybe even many many times. I know for myself I have to keep myself in check because I'm at a point when I could easily lead a song in worship that I've done many times and at the end of it not even know how I got to the end of the song. Kind of like when you drive somewhere that you go often and when you get there you kind of wonder how you got there because your mind was wondering the whole time and you were just going through the motions. We have to be truly focused each time on the words we sing, and who we are singing to, and seeking for a brand new encounter with God. I said a new encounter, not necessarily a bigger than last time encounter (that deserves a whole blog itself). In Psalm 95:6-7 in the Message it says "So come, let us worship: bow before him, on your knees before God, who made us! Oh yes, he's our God, and we're the people he pastures, the flock he feeds." Each time we worship we may not necessarily be physically on our knees, but we must approach God in that manner.

At the same time I know that there can be a nerve factor when it comes to being in front of people. Believe me I know this because in the past I never would have wanted to be in front of people speaking and leading worship, but that's where God changes us to do His work. I told the students that we need to be comfortable in God because that's who we do this for. It's not to put on a show, show off talents, or any other motive that we can come up with. I know that I personally play with a different level of nervousness and confidence when I play in front of the church and when I am playing in front of the students. I shared that I want to become comfortable but at the same time I don't want to lose that Godly nervousness because there is a difference in that and regular nervousness. I got some looks like "What you talking about Willis" and so I explained myself. I believe that a Godly nervousness is the kind that stems from the fact that we understand what a huge task it is to be in a position to lead others in worship, and understanding that we are coming to bow before God on our knees. The God who made us. When we don't sense this then I believe we are doing things in our own strength, not depending on God. When this happens, we struggle, we burn out, we fail. Ask God to give you Godly nervousness, the kind that makes you depend on Him in whatever you're doing. Whether that is leading worship, teaching children, serving others in your job every day, or whatever you do.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Youth Evangelism Conference

The weekend of March 5-6 we attended the Youth Evangelism Conference in Nashville, TN. Friday night worship was led by Unhindered. Joe Castillo the Sand Artist did a performance depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Skit Guys did some hilarious skits, but their main scripture focus was the rich young ruler who was sad when Jesus told him he had to sell everything and give it up to follow Jesus. The point that stood out the most to me was the fact that Jesus is good, but He isn’t safe. He is willing to let us go. It’s not His desire for that to happen, but He loves us enough to allow us the choice.

The Saturday morning session was led again by Unhindered, Joe Castillo, The Skit Guys. Ed Newton spoke at this session. After lunch we went to a breakout session at a local church with some incredible worship and challenging message.

The theme of the weekend was “Real God, Real People” challenging students to be authentic Christians. I think the thing that I enjoyed the most was student testimonials that they showed on video on Saturday. Each student shared about how they shared their faith with another student, then that student eventually gave their life to Jesus Christ and shared their faith with another student, etc. It was incredible to see these students all on stage at the end of the session with the last student giving his life to Jesus Christ just 4 weeks before this conference.

This is a video with footage of both the 30 Hour Famine and the Youth Evangelism Conference.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When You're In Love

We were back on track this week with another Crazy Love message as we get toward the end of the series. I opened the message by reading the following quote/prayer by A.W. Tozer
O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, "Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away." Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.
This is the type of prayer we should pray when we are in love with Jesus and realize our need to be more in love with Him

When you're in love with someone, you'll go to great lengths to be with them. When Belinda and I were dating, she once ran 3 miles to get her dad's car so she could come to see me. Now that's love! Think about a couple that you know or have known that it's very obvious that they are in love with each other. Now along those same lines, think about someone you know who it is obvious that they are in love with Jesus. I mean someone who lets you know by the way they talk, the way they act, their attitude, and the way they treat people. I know several people that you just know that they are in love with Jesus and it is obvious that they spend a lot of time with Him. We looked previously at being lukewarm and serving God our leftovers. Those messages weren't meant to make anyone feel guilty because guilt is not the antidote, love is.

David writes in Psalm 63:1-5 in a way that usually is not a reflection of our lives. I desire this for myself but if I'm honest, it is not always how I feel. A few weeks ago I asked the students the question "Are you in love with God or just the stuff He provides?" But to take it a step further, I'm afraid we can justify an answer but end up with this: We really only love the thought/idea of God instead of being in love with God Himself. You may be thinking I just reworded a sentence, but I believe when people are in love with the thought of Jesus they don't have a relationship with Him. Instead this is called "Religion". You can love church activities, Christian music, even learning and gaining biblical knowledge and still not have a real relationship with Jesus. I know many people when they start dating will get to a point where they ask the question, "How do I know that I'm in love with him/her?" Well I think we also need to ask ourselves "How do I know if I'm in love with Jesus?" Well here are 4 things that I think can helps us determine the answer to that.

1) We don't view our relationship with with God as a chore
Nobody likes doing chores, but when we work for God out of obligation, it feels like work. When we keep track of what we're doing for Him, it takes the focus off of Him and puts it on ourselves. When we view it like we have to serve, pray, go to church, read our Bible, etc. then our relationship has become a chore. Acts 20:35 tells us that it is better to give than receive.
2) We quit trying to earn God's love
We can't earn His love no matter how hard we try. It's very obviously stated in Romans 5:8. He doesn't say that He died for us hoping we would try to earn that love. NO! It says that while we were still sinners. That's the kind of love that we can't earn.
3) We realize that when we sin it's because we've stopped loving God
You have to stop loving and pursuing Christ in order to sin. This should break our hearts to know that we allow this. We take the time to stop loving God in order to love ourselves and sin. You can't run a marathon and eat a box of twinkies at the same time. You're going to stop running in order to eat the twinkies. Likewise you have to stop loving God in order to sin.
4) Jesus is Enough
This is the big one. Your love for Jesus isn't based on Jesus plus (fill in the blank). It can be Christian music, church activities, whatever. The fact is that Jesus should be enough alone for you to love Him.

Jason Gray's song "More Like Falling in Love" has the line "Falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me". Are you allowing that love of Jesus to change you. Think back to the first of this where I asked you to think about someone who you know without any question that they are in love with Jesus. Now think to yourself- are you one anyone else's list. Would others say that you are one of the people that they know are in love with Jesus? If not consider how you can make that change.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

30 Hour Famine

The weekend of February 26-27 our students participated in the World Vision 30 Hour Famine. We raised funds leading up to the weekend and fasted for 30 hours without food to gain a small understanding of what hunger is. We began the weekend by going to the EP release concert for They Came Running. Later that night we had a time where we sit in a dark room with 50 candles lit and while a clock was ticking very loudly I blew out 1 candle every 7 seconds representing the fact that a child dies every 7 seconds from starvation. Saturday we started the day off with a quiet time. We then went grocery shopping to make 2 Buckets of Hope to send to Haiti. Then throughout the day we had other times of videos, a student shared a message, created a banner, etc. We ended the fast by taking communion and then feasting on some of the best chicken fingers and potato wedges we had ever eaten. The weekend was a draining and emotional process. I can only speak for myself but I know that personally I gained a greater appreciation of everything I have.

For our quiet time devotional we focused on how fasting is not only a spiritual discipline, but also an act of worship. This is a video we watched from Jason Gray talking about how our worship must have hand and feet and must be more than a song.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Getaway

This past week Belinda and I took the opportunity for an extended getaway. We usually treat ourselves to a few days away for our anniversary that was last month. With the busy weekends we were just now able to do so. We spent a couple days in Greenville, SC and then a couple more in Asheville, NC spending some time with some good friends. The best I could tell it had been about 3 weeks without a complete day off so it was way past due for a few. It was great to have these days with my wife, rest, eat some good food, etc. Here is a list of things I discovered, learned, or was just reminded of over the past few days. Some of these are serious, very serious, while others not so much.

  • I must spend more time in prayer
  • I must take more time off, and regularly take my Sabbatical day
  • It will take much more than 5 days away to get rid of the huge bags under my eyes (this has been one of my goals for 2010)
  • I must establish a regular date night with Belinda- its stupid that after 9 years of marriage that we haven’t done this
  • People will not understand or care that we must stick to having this date night
  • I probably consume too much coffee at times- I don’t drink it everyday but when I do I consume it in mass quantities
  • Drivers in South Carolina are as bad and inconsiderate as drivers in Florida
  • The Christian radio station in Greenville, SC plays more Casting Crowns than our local Christian radio station
  • GPS is one of the best tech devices ever created
  • So is the iPod, and pretty much anything made by Apple
  • Cell phones are pretty much the worse devices ever created
  • I’m still glad that we cancelled our Satellite last year because there is still nothing much on tv worth watching
  • There are many things in life I don’t understand and don’t agree with, but I must still depend on God for wisdom and guidance through it all

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Serving Leftovers to a Holy God

Wednesday Night Message- March 3, 2010

After looking at the profile of a lukewarm, we then took a look at what we are actually giving to God. Think about that yourself for a moment. What are you giving to God? After we took part in the 30 Hour Famine we took communion and then had a meal of some of the most delicious chicken fingers and potato wedges you’ve ever eaten! After fasting 30 hours even the bread we used for communion was incredible delicious. After a few days, the leftovers from that meal became not as good, maybe even nasty. I had some of the leftovers to show that Wednesday night. Even the loaf of bread that we used for communion was hard enough to break a window. The leftovers were nasty, and could even have made you sick. But don’t we do this when we serve God many times. We go throughout our days and sometimes are so busy that we don’t give our best to God. Essentially we serve Him our leftovers.

In Hosea 13:6 we read that the people got their fill, became comfortable and turned away from God. If we aren’t careful then we do the same thing, I know I can. The priests in Malachi 1:8 thought that even though weren’t giving the best animals for sacrifice, they were still giving a sacrifice to God and so they thought it was good enough. However to God this is evil. He would rather you not worship Him at all than you worship Him half-hearted, giving Him your leftovers. Sometimes we make excuses to cover it up saying things like “well, that’s just how we live today”. It’s still evil in God’s eyes.

Its like all the new foods that claim to be healthy like when potato chips have the label “Now with Zero Grams of Transfat”. If you read the ingredients, even with zero grams of tranfat they will still contain stuff like “Yellow # 6” or “With not more than 2% Silica Gel added as an anti-caking agent”. That last part is actually on the chips we have in our youth house. It doesn’t matter that its now healthier for you, if you still consume it, it’s not that great for you. Too many times we can be the same way as this. We claim to be healthy Christians with our labels but there are not many healthy spiritual aspects in our life. The truth is it’s not what we advertise that counts, it’s what we are really made of.

Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Now go back and read it again replacing the word “love” each time with your own name. By the end you might feel like a liar. If we are serving leftovers to God, then we are going to lack in the area of love for Him and for other people.

Following God can’t be done half-hearted by serving Him our leftovers. It’s not a label we can display when it’s useful. It must be central to everything we do and are. Remember, if you’re serving God your leftovers, it makes Him sick and He would rather you not worship Him at all than to serve Him apathetic worship.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Profile of a Lukewarm

As we continue through the Crazy Love series, we had previously looked at God’s crazy love for us and ended asking the tough question “Do you love God, or the stuff He provides?” To continue along that same line ask yourself “How much do you love God?”. Do you love Him a whole lot, some, or not at all. If we’re going to reach the community /world, it must always begin when the people of God get right with God. Too many times however we compare ourselves to the world and even blame it. But instead of comparing yourself to the world ask yourself this questions: “Do you see evidence that God is working in your life?” Has your relationship with God changed the way you live your life? It should! I’m afraid that today many people are satisfied with being just good enough.

If you’ve ever played sports growing up then you probably always had that one person on your team. You know the one person who didn’t want to be there but mom and dad was forcing them to play this sport that they were terrible at. In baseball it didn’t matter where this kid was put in the field, the ball got hit to him. It never failed. But this person’s lack of desire to play sometimes, if not always ended up hurting the team in some way. Our relationship with God can be the same way. If we are serving God half-hearted, it hurts God. In fact it disgusts Him so much that He wants to puke you up. We read this in Revelation 3:16 that this is the case when we are lukewarm or half-hearted. How terrible it would be to know that we disgusted God to the point of making Him want to puke.

In Matthew 13:44 the man discovers treasure, buries it, and sells everything he has in order to purchase the field with the extravagant treasure. He gave up everything he had for heaven. This is how we must be, willing to give it all up in order to have a relationship with Jesus and serve Him. I’m afraid that many times people want to be saved to gain their fire insurance but that is all. People want to be saved from the penalty of their sin but not saved from their sin. I don’t want to make anyone doubt their salvation- but I’m pretty sure that people who believe and live this way are not saved. Jesus didn’t teach to believe in Him and then later you can decide what you want to give up and what you don’t want to give up. NO! He taught we must be willing to give it all for the One who gave it all for us, by dying on the cross!

Here are a few examples of what a lukewarm person looks like. If you haven’t read the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan then I totally recommend you do. He gives a more thorough explanation in his book but here are a few. Don’t read this and think of other people. Instead examine your heart and see if you are reading about yourself.

  • Lukewarm people attend church fairly regularly. It is what is expected of them, what they believe “good Christians” do, so they go.
  • Lukewarm people don’t want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin.
  • Lukewarm people are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act assuming that it is only for “extreme” Christians, not average ones. Lukewarm people call “radical” what Jesus expected of all His followers.
  • Lukewarm people rarely share their faith with their friends. They do not want to be rejected nor make people uncomfortable by talking about issues like religion.
  • Lukewarm people gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the secular world. They feel satisfied that while they aren’t as hard-core for Jesus as so-and-so, they are nowhere are horrible as the guy down the street.
  • Lukewarm people do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. They want to do the bare minimum, to be “good enough” without it requiring too much of them.
  • Lukewarm people probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever.
  • Lukewarm people say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed a part of their lives. But only a part.

What does Jesus say of these people? In Luke 14:34-35 he says that they are not even valuable for manure. Wow. I know that this breaks my heart about myself that when I allow lukewarm tendencies to seep into my life that I’m not even valuable for manure. It’s very saddening. But the beautiful part is that I and we can make that change to stop serving half-hearted, but give Him our all.

100th Post

Well I’ve been behind on blogging but want to get back at it. This makes my 100th post on this blog. As I look over the blog entries there may be 100 posts, but only 10 comments. I’m not a genius about blogs but that’s pretty terrible I would think. I’m not saying this so that the 2 or 3 people who read this will start commenting b/c that’s not my reason in doing this. If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years is that you usually only receive negative feedback in life and rarely ever any positive. So as I think about it, why do I continue to blog. For some reason I feel like I’m supposed to. I can only hope that the words that God gives me will speak to someone. I want to seek God’s approval instead of man’s. So I will continue on and hope that God will speak through me in some way. Because all I really want in life is to be used by God. I may never know the extent of how He has used me while on earth but want to continue to serve Him however He needs me to.