Monday, December 17, 2012

My Response to Newtown, CT

I am writing what may or may not be the first of multiple posts in response to the massacre this past Friday in Connecticut.  I am praying about the things that I feel need to be said, yet as always say them with as much class possible, speaking the truth, and respecting anyone who reads it.  If I am honest here, I most often hold inside the things I really want to say because I know how I will be judged and possibly treated.  I feel many times that in my position I have to remain silent.  While it is for the best at times, just as many times if not more, I hurt because I am required to hold inside my true feelings.

I am deeply saddened by this tragedy.  I write every bit of this with a heavy heart.  I really cannot even express how sad I truly am about what has happened in Newtown, CT.  I have read stories and watched the news and each time feel an array of emotions.  It breaks my heart to see how these innocent children and adults’ lives ended so prematurely.  I cannot help but feel an incredible amount of remorse and empathy for the parents, classmates, teachers, children, friends, and co-workers who will never again see their precious child, classmate, teacher, parent, friend, and co-worker who they lost.

I believe that if we call ourselves Christ followers then it is only natural for us to empathize for those grieving.  Romans 12:15 tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”  I do not only think that it natural, but I believe that we are supposed to.  Why?  Well if we are Christ followers then it means that we attempt to emulate the character of Jesus in all that we do by following Him.  Jesus is the perfect example of empathy.  He always showed His care for everyone He encountered.  When He was told of the death of Lazarus “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

I believe that respect also goes hand in hand with empathy.  It is one thing to feel remorse for the victims, but at the same time we must show them respect while they grieve.  I think there are many ways we should do this.  First of all, we should not expect them to heal on our time.  One of my favorite quotes that I have heard Pete Wilson say multiple times is that “time does not heal all wounds, God does.”  We need to respect them by allowing them to grieve in their own appropriate amount of time.  I personally am nowhere near those affected by this tragedy, but believe I can accomplish this by not growing tired of hearing about the situation and continuing to pray for them.  Another way we can show respect for them, or anyone who has lost a loved one for that matter, is by not saying “they are in a better place.”  It may be true, or may not according to where they stood in their relationship with Jesus.  Whatever the case, nobody grieving wants to hear that because they now have a void in their lives and in their heart. 

My final thought of how we can respect those grieving is the one mostly likely to be disagreed with and one I will possibly be condemned for.  I do not think the answer here is gun carry permits.  I do not even think that the answer is more gun control (though I am in favor of).  I believe that only true answer is Jesus.  He is the only One who can offer true healing and peace.  This final point that I want to make is that the victims of this situation do not need to hear any opinions on how we need to be carry guns for self defense.  My first question in response to that is “How would people having a carry permit have helped in an elementary school?”  It simply would not have helped at all.  Someone grieving does not want to hear that.  I am not a survivor of this type of situation, but I am a survivor of suicide by a family member who used a gun.  I am someone who relives my own families tragedy each and every time I hear a gun shot or hear talk of guns.  I can tell from our own experience, having more guns is not at all what we wanted to hear in our own grieving.  I have my own beliefs on this that go much deeper, but it is not my main point that I feel the need to make.  The point is that we need to be respectful and empathize with these people who have been affected by this horrific incident. 

I do not want to have an agenda to offend anyone who disagrees with me, because that is the least of what I would want to do.  It honestly breaks my heart to know that I have offended someone.  I mainly want to help others to see another side of things.  I do have many more thoughts on the subject of guns, but today is not the appropriate time for me to share.  It may be another day, and it may not.  It has been good to express my thoughts a bit, because honestly it feels extremely lonely holding in my convictions, only sharing them with my wife, journal, and Lord.

Again, I am deeply saddened and troubled by these events.  I cannot begin to imagine how broken I would be if I had been directly affected.  I believe that it is our responsibility as Christians to lift them up not only in the coming days, but weeks, months, and years.  I know that in a few weeks, most will return back to regular lives and many will not even think about what happened in Newtown.  However for those affected it will still be real everyday.  Life will go on, but it will not go on the same way.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Magi's Worship

As I have been continuing to study the Christmas story this month, I have spent a few days looking into the Magi or more commonly known the "wise men."  I do not want to spend some time speculating about how many there were and when they arrived on the scene but want to look at the three things that stood out to me while studying this that we can all apply.

Matthew 2:10-11 - When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him.  Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

1)  They rejoiced greatly when they saw the star.  They were overcome with joy that they had found where the Messiah was.  It was not that they had found a treasure, but had found the One they had come so far to worship.  We should be this excited to worship Him always.  Not only on Sunday but also in our daily quiet times.

2)  They "fell" to the ground and worshipped Him.  I looked at several translations and they all say this.  I believe it is important to note that they did not simply kneel and bow, but they fell before Jesus.  It is with this reverence and respect we should always approach God in worship because He is worthy.

3)  They opened their "treasures" to give Him gifts.  This stood out to me because I believe it not only shows that the gifts were of great monetary value, but that they were also important and significant to the owners.  I believe that this shows us that they gave Him their best gifts.  We should always give our best gift to Him in worship, time, and monetary.

Forgive us Lord for when we do not become excited to worship You.  Forgive us for when we do not worship You with the respect and reverence that You deserve.  Forgive us for when we do not give you our best in our worship.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

They Came Running Christmas Concert 12/12/12

Last night for our Wednesday Night Worship we had one of our favorite bands They Came Running do a Christmas Concert and it was an incredible night.  They did a great job of playing some fun Christmas songs as well as talking about Jesus' birth and leading us in some worship.  If you do not own any of their music then I suggest getting it on iTunes.  Also you can get their latest single "Dry and Brittle" for free at  Here are some pictures and videos of the night.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Light In The Darkness

I have challenged the students to read the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke early and often this month as we are in the Christmas season.  I read Luke 1 this morning which is the preparation for the birth of Jesus and focuses mainly on Zacharias and Elizabeth and the birth of their son John the Baptist.  So many things stood out to me today but one thing particularly I wanted to share.  At the end of the chapter we see a pretty amazing thing happen.  After they give John his name, Zacharias is able to speak again and he praises God with some beautiful words.  Then in the end he addresses his little son John and prophesies about all that he will do in serving God and preparing the way for Jesus.  Verse 79 really jumped out to me here and he says that John will:  

"shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."  

As I read this over and over I am challenged that I too, and all Christ followers, are to be a light in this dark world.  We are to be the ones who point those living in darkness to the one true light.  I am also reminded of the Christmas worship song "Offering" by Paul Baloche that says "The sun cannot compare to the glory of Your love, there is no shadow in Your presence."  This is not only a beautiful bright light, but this Light, Jesus Christ, is the Light that gives us life.  He is the one that came to earth to die so that we could be reconciled to God.  Let's worship God for being the Light we are in desperate need of.  Let's also commit to shining His light and point those living in darkness to the life giving Light.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

WNW 12/5/12- Prayer Stations

This week at Wednesday Night Worship we spent the night worshiping mainly through prayer in prayer stations.  We began the night by singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" and "How Many Kings" (Downhere).  I then explained what we were doing and challenged the students to spend the night in conversation with only them and God.  Here are the stations and what they had on the prayer guide to focus on at each:

1)  Sack-Packs
Each week we put together these sack-packs to send home with families who possibly do not always have enough food to eat.  In the kitchen make a sack pack by taking a bag and placing 1 of every item in the bag.  Do not tie the bag yet (taking it to the 2nd station).  If you have enough food to eat on a daily basis then thank God for what you have.  When you are finished, quietly go on to the 9th and 10th grade room.

2)  Encouragement
We pack these meals each week and sometimes may not think much about the home that it is going to.  Take some time right now to write a word of encouragement or share your favorite Bible verse.  If you need some inspiration or help then look at the sample letter on the table.  Once you have written the letter, fold it and place it in the bag and tie the bag in a single knot.  Take a moment to pray over the bag and pray that God would use it to bless the family it is going home to.  Then place it in the box and quietly move on to another room.

3)  Christmas or Consumer
Take a look around (the walls were plastered with sale papers from Black Friday).  The bargains, sales, and purchasing the right gift can often overshadow the true reason of Christmas.  We know that we celebrate Christmas because Jesus came to earth to give His life for us.  Take some time and pray right now asking God if you are focusing too much on the consumer aspect of Christmas.  Pray that He would help you focus on the real meaning this year.  Also spend some time praying for those who are caught up in the consumer aspect of this time of the year that sadly overshadows Jesus too much.  When you are finished move on to another room.

4)  Don't Miss Jesus
Every year you probably read the Christmas story but we often read it on Christmas Day or around that time.  Take some time right now and read the Christmas story in Luke 2:1-20.  Read it this time as if you have never read it before and let God speak to you through it.  When you are finished spend some time in prayer thanking God that He sent Jesus to earth and ask Him to help you not miss Him this Christmas season.

Afterward I read Matthew 1:23 that says Jesus is "God with us."  I said that for hundreds of years humanity had been waiting on a way to be reconciled to God and when Jesus born God was with us on earth living for His death where He completes the reconciliation in John 19:30 when He said "It is finished."  I told the students that we are here for them to pray with them at anytime if they are in need of prayer or need to know more about beginning a relationship with Jesus.  I have been praying for the students lately as I am broken for those who do not know Him or who are going through motions.  I am broken that they would come to know Jesus, experience Him, and follow Him like we were created for.  It was a great night and I enjoyed getting the opportunity to pray with a couple students throughout the night.  Great night of worship through prayer!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hearts on Fire 2012 Video

Finally getting around to posting this video I made after we went to the Hearts on Fire Conference.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


This week is Thanksgiving and as I looked at my posts on the subject in previous years they are mostly the same.  I have much to be thankful for and I usually point out all of these things.  I am very much thankful for all the ways that God has blessed me with giving me an amazing godly wife who not only loves me but she likes me, supports me, encourages me, and never gives up on me.  She always sees the best in me even when it is far from my eyes.  I have an amazing family.  While things did not turn out the way I would have planned in my family, I was raised by godly parents who introduced me to Jesus Christ, and to that I am eternally grateful.  Beyond my parents I have an amazing sister and brother-in-law, and an amazing sister-in-law and brother-in-law on Belinda's side of the family.  I have 2 sweet nephews who I just melt when I see.  I have two wonderful nieces who I am very proud of.  Even though this has been a weird year as far as health goes (ER visit, continued little sickness, Belinda's surgery, etc.) we still have good health and are breathing.  I am thankful that my Papaw's recent health scare turned out to be ok and he is completely healed.  I have some amazing friends in my life that encourage me and support me, and always when I need it the most.  I am thankful for my home, even though it continues to have many issues (currently no water lol).  I am thankful that I can still rejoice in the midst of these frustrations!  I am thankful for my calling and the opportunity to serve and minister to students.  It is such a blessing to see them grow in their faith.  I see now more than ever that my ministry is not simply to the students that are before me, but to generations to come.  I pray that God uses me to have an impact that reaches many generations.  I pray that I would influence these students in a way that their grandchildren know Jesus.  But most importantly I am thankful for Jesus.  It seems that is what we are supposed to say but I can honestly say that I mean that more today than ever.  I am thankful for salvation.  I am thankful for my Savior who loves me in spite of me.  A Savior who cares for me when I do not care about the things that I should.  A Savior who never fails even though I fail every day.  I am thankful that God continues to speak truth into my life and continues to shape me into who He wants me to be.  I am thankful He never gives up on me.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Clearwater Year In Review 2012

This past Sunday we had our annual Thanksgiving service at McMinn County High School.  Every year we show a year in review video of everything that took place since the previous Thanksgiving.  It's always exciting to see all the way that God has worked in our lives and used us in furthering His kingdom.

Hearts on Fire 2012

A few weeks ago the students went to the Hearts on Fire Conference in Gatlinburg.  This was the third time we have come to this conference and it was another great year.  The first session's speaker was Derwin Gray.  He preached from Isaiah 6:1-7 and delivered a solid message sharing his personal story.  Saturday morning's session had Clayton King and he also delivered a solid challenge from Luke 24:13-33 and how we can miss Jesus if we are not careful.  The conference ended with a concert that included Josh Wilson (who was phenomenal) and Casting Crowns (which proves how much I love our students).  This was an amazing weekend and I believe God did an amazing work in many people.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More Than Thankful- Part 2

This week at Wednesday Night Worship was part 2 of our "More Than Thankful" series.  After playing the Charlie Brown theme song again during the countdown we played a worship set that included:  "Oh Happiness" (David Crowder Band), "My Glorious" (Delirious), "Jesus Thank You", and in the middle of it Bailey read Psalm 111.

I began the message talking about how sometimes we all have things we need to do but would rather get someone else to do it for us.  Some students said they try this when they have to do certain chores.  For me it is when a phone call needs to be made.  For some reason I hate talking on the phone.  I always try to get out of it or get someone else to take or make the call for me.  However when we need to do something, we need to take responsibility and do it ourselves.  

The clip I showed from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving movie was when they sat down to eat their meal.  First of all the food was prepared and served by Snoopy, which is enough to make you cringe.  Then the plate consisted of jelly beans, pretzel sticks, popcorn, and toast.  Definitely not your average thanksgiving meal and one that Peppermint Patty was not at all pleased with.  She is extremely ungrateful and makes a big scene about it.  After Marcy calls her out on it, she asks Marcy to go and apologize for her, which sadly Marcy does.  If I was in Charlie Brown's shoes, the apology would not have meant as much since it came from someone other than Peppermint Patty herself.  We then looked at two ways we should not let others take out place in something.

1)  Don't Let Others Take Your Place in Worship
Sadly we often come to church and go through the motions of worship.  Beyond church and singing we often lack in our are of worship through prayer and Bible study.  How could we pass up this opportunity to worship the creator of life who has given us reason to live.  Probably because we do not see God for who He really is or we take Him for granted.  However even if we do not worship Him, He will still be worshipped as we read in Luke 19:39-40.  The Pharisees are trying to get Jesus to quieten the crowd from worshipping Him but He proclaims that He will be worshipped and that even the rocks will worship Him if the people were silenced.  God will be worshipped, the question is whether or not we will take part in it.

2)  Don't Pass Up The Opportunity To Thank Others
We should not miss the opportunity to thank others who have impacted us and had a godly influence on our lives.  2 Timothy 1:3 Paul thanks God for the people he is address, much like he does in most of his letters.  Paul thanks God for putting them in his life, but then he goes on and says that he constantly prays for them.  Sometimes the greatest way we can thank someone is by praying for them.  It is humbling to know that people pray for you.  I asked the students to consider how often they lift up the people in their lives in prayer.  Often we can be ungrateful like in 2 Timothy 3:2 for the people in our lives.  If we begin to realize that everything and everyone is a gift from God (James 1:17) then it will change the way we view people.  If we treat people like they are a gift from God then our own lives may look differently.

At this moment I asked the students to spend a few minutes quietly in prayer and thinking about the people that God has placed in their lives.  When they were ready they were to get a piece of paper and write a note thanking them for how they have invested in their lives.  After a few minutes and everyone we done writing their letters, we spent another few moments in prayer praying for the people we wrote thank you letters to.  We prayed that God would bless, thanked God for putting them in our lives, and prayed that we ourselves would be used in others people's lives the way that we have been impacted.  It was a great night and even though this was a quick 2 week series it was a lot of fun and I believe that God showed us a lot.

Monday, November 12, 2012

More Than Thankful- Part 1

It's been a crazy few weeks for me personally which is why I am behind on posting some stuff.  My wife had gallbladder surgery, my papaw was in the hospital, and then I have been sick.  All of us are better now and so I will hopefully get caught up this week on a few posts I would like to share.  We began a 2-week series this past week called "More Than Thankful" taking clips from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving cartoon and taking the challenge of not only being thankful but also taking action as a result of our thankfulness.  During our countdown timer our youth band played the Charlie Brown theme song which was a lot of fun.  Heather caught it on video and posted it on Youtube and you can watch it below.  We then played a worship set that included:  "Happy Day" (Tim Hughes), "So Much", and "Good To Be Alive" (Jason Gray).

I began the message telling the students that since it is the month and season where we focus on being thankful that we would be doing that, but also be challenged to act on our gratitude.  We are all guilty of saying something but out actions not matching up.  If I say I want to be better at something but never work at it then I probably do not really want to be better at it.  If I say I love Jesus and sing praise to Him, but never show Him that I love Him then I probably do no.  Also if we are thankful for what God has blessed us with but never show Him our gratitude then we probably are not that thankful.  I shared about two people that I know, my nephew Noah and Paul's grandson Jackson (who actually calls me Uncle Nathan which is awesome).  These two children are always so grateful for anything and everything and have such gentle and loving spirits.  They are always happy and thankful which is a great example for us all.  

We watched a clip from the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving movie where Charlie Brown and his sister Sally are talking about Thanksgiving.  She makes the statement "Why should I give thanks on Thanksgiving?  What do I have to be thankful for?"  Maybe you have felt this way before.  Maybe you felt like there was more bad than good in your life at the moment and did not feel like you had a reason to give thanks.  So what do you do when you feel this way?  We first looked at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 where we looked at three things that Paul says we should do as  Christians:  rejoice always, pray with ceasing, and in everything give thanks.  We have the tendency to only be thankful and praise God when things are going good.  But here we are told to rejoice always.  I believe if we stay in constant communication with God then it comes only natural to rejoice always and give thanks in everything.

At this moment I asked the students to take some time and consider all the ways that God has blessed them and all they have to be thankful for.  I told them to spend some time quietly in prayer and when they were ready to grab a stack of sticky notes that we had scattered on the stage and write on five of them what they are thankful for and place on the wall.  Here are a few pictures of what the wall looked like.  They wrote down some really good stuff.  One particular note caught my eye that said "My awesome youth group."

Afterward I read 2 Corinthians 9:15 and talked about how His indescribable gift to us is Jesus Christ.  We thank God because of HIs love and blessings He has poured out on us.  Each student still had 1 sticky note left and I asked them to spend a few more moments in silence and prayer and that if God had stirred in their hearts a reason to thank/worship Him then to write down what they will do to show Him thanks and place it in their Bible. I closed by sharing that God is most glorified when we show Him thanks in the fact that we are most satisfied in Him.  He receives the most glory when our joy in life comes from the fact that we are satisfied in Him alone.  It was a great night and I am really looking forward to part 2 this Wednesday night.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Work Day - 9/15

Last month we had a work day where we went did some work in an old cemetery on the property of Ms. Pickens.  We actually went there and did some work during Younite 2011 after some damage from a tornado, and it had not been touched since then.  We had a good group of students who came out simply for the purpose of serving someone.  It was really amazing how much more work was done in this cemetery as it is now in process of being restored as it should be.  Ms. Pickens is such a sweet lady.  She is 91 years old but does not appear to be a day older than 65.  She was kind enough to take us through the plantation home that she lives in showing us a lot of really neat items that have a lot of history behind them.  It was really a fun day as we were also able to fellowship as we worked.  As always I was really proud of our students for their hard work and willingness to serve others.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tunnel Vision Part 5

This past week at Wednesday Night Worship we wrapped up the Tunnel Vision series that we kicked off the fall with.  We tried something new this week and had announcements on the countdown video before the service.  I made the announcements using an app on my phone where you can use a picture of someone and record your mouth speaking for them.  So for this one I used Chuck Norris' face.  This was actually suggested by Elaina on our creative team and it went over really well with lots of laughs.  We then went into a worship set that included "Tell the World" (Hillsong United), "Sovereign Over Us" (Aaron Keyes), "Mighty to Save" (Hillsong United), and then we ended the night by singing "I Will Follow" (Micah Watson).  This week was also the first week we had with our first set of LED lights installed!

I began the message by briefly reviewing what we have covered in the series so far and how we have been challenged to look beyond ourself.  We read John 13:14 that really sparked the whole series and thinking about serving others.  This week we wrapped it up by focusing on missions and how we have the important assignment of sharing our faith.

We then spent a few minutes discussing some events that have been so big that they altered world history.  I showed a few pictures of some that I thought of (some serious and others no so serious) like the invention of baseball, the beginning of Apple Computers, Christopher Columbus' discoveries, Neil Armstrong on the moon, 9/11 Tragedy, the birth of Jesus and His death and resurrection.  We then discussed another event that really altered world history and that was when the Holy Spirit came and empowered the apostles.  They had experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in miracles they performed, their teaching, etc.  But now the Holy Spirit was empowering them in a way they had never experienced and it was the purpose of sharing the gospel with others.  We focused on Acts 1:8 which is the most popular verse when it comes to missions.  In His final moments on earth before ascending to heaven, Jesus is telling the apostles about their mission ahead.  He is telling them that they will be empowered with the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses.  The word "witness" in the Greek means "one who dies for his faith" as it commonly occurred.  We then looked at each of the regions mentioned (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth) and had some people share about some of them.

-Jerusalem- this is where you actually live.  For us this is McMinn County.  I had a former student Ariel share about how God is using her to reach people here in our Jerusalem.  She shared about her experience ministering in Crossover, which is a ministry for people with special needs and their families.  She shared about how God has not only used her, but impacted her as well.  In the past week she had specifically been able to minister to a family who lost their mother due to cancer.  She also shared about the opportunities available at the college she attends and challenged the students to live their lives for Jesus where they currently are.
-Judea- for us this is the rest of Tennessee and surrounding states.  This is generally the places we hit on our MFuge trips.  I specifically have a heart for some of these cities myself.
-Samaria- this is even further out.  For us it is the rest of North America.  I shared about a former student Seth who is currently serving in Massachusetts and hopefully we will be able to hear from some of his experiences in the future.
-Ends of the earth- this is everywhere else.  I had Doyle share about how God has placed a desire in his heart for the people of China.  He shared with the students that it is because they need to know Jesus Christ.  He told them that God may not call them to China, but they are to be obedient to wherever God calls them.  I told the students that God is using Doyle here as well as in China and that we are called to serve in all areas, not simply choosing one like multiple choice.

As we wrapped things up, I challenged the students that when we stop living with tunnel vision, then we begin to see how large the world is and how many people need to know Jesus Christ.  I closed by sharing the story of a great revival that took place in England in the 1800's.  From this revival the people went out to tell others about Jesus and some specifically went to northern India.  One family accepted Jesus in northern India and the chief of the village dragged them to the city and told them they must renounce their faith in Jesus Christ, and that if they did not they would be killed.  The man said that "he had decided to follow Jesus, no turning back".  When further prodded he then said "though none go with me, still I will follow".  As he was about to die then man sang "the cross before me, the world behind me".  After dying the chief and others were so moved that they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus and that they were willing to die for Him that they too were saved and the famous song "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" was birthed.  I challenged the students to let God show them where they need to follow Jesus and how He can use them now.  We then sang that song.  Afterward I said that following Jesus is a celebration and we let Jamin rock out a bit as we sang "I Will Follow".  I dismissed but several stayed around to help work on the sack packs that we are sending to EK Baker to go home with students each week.

It was a great night all around.  This has definitely been a challenging series for me and hopefully for the students.  I pray that God will continue to challenge us to look beyond ourselves and serve others so that they can come to know Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sovereign Over Us

My wife and I recently had the opportunity to attend the Student Life Refuge Conference at Brook Hills.  This conference was for youth pastors and their wives and was a time to worship and be challenged and spend some time in the refuge that is God.  Aaron Keyes led worship during all of the sessions on the last day of the conference and he really did an amazing job.  I was impressed with his heart to lead people in worship and he did that well- he led us to the throne of God.  I am always a fan of songs and artists that are not your common radio played stuff.  I like deeper lyrics than that average Christian song that is played on the radio.  One of Aaron's songs has captivated me in a way that a song has not done in a while.  His song Sovereign Over Us is not only melodically a beautiful song, but takes lyrics from several verses: Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Isaiah 55:8-9, and Genesis 50:20.  I cannot wait for our youth band to learn this and introduce it to the students.  This is definitely a song that everyone should purchase here on iTunes!  Read these lyrics and let it be a time of worship today and be sure to check this song out.

There is strength within the sorrow,
There is beauty in our tears 
You meet us in our mourning,
With a love that casts out fear 
You are working in our waiting,
Sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding 
You're teaching us to trust 

Your plans are still to prosper, 
You have not forgotten us 
You're with us in the fire and the flood
Faithful forever,
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us 

You are wisdom unimagined, 
Who could understand your ways 
Reigning high above the heavens, 
Reaching down in endless grace 
Youʼre the Lifter of the lowly, 
Compassionate and kind

You surround and You uphold me, 
Your promises are my delight 

Your plans are still to prosper, 
You have not forgotten us 
You're with us in the fire and the flood
Faithful forever,
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us 

Even what the enemy means for evil

You turn it for our good, 
You turn it for our good and for your glory

Even in the valley You are faithful

Youʼre working for our good, 
Youʼre working for our good and for your glory

Monday, October 8, 2012

Unconditional Love

Yesterday I got to be the master teacher in Sunday School giving a short summary of the lesson and then after breaking into small groups getting to lead the 9th-10th grade class.  The lesson was about David and Absalom and everything that began with Absalom killing his brother Amnon after he had defiled their sister Tamar and raped her, then his overtaking the throne and eventually dying in battle..  Kind of a tough lesson to teach and honestly we could have spent a few weeks on the topic as it spanned over 5 chapters in 2 Samuel.  The verses we looked at were 2 Samuel 13:1-14, 21-29, 37-39; 15:1-14; 18:1-15, and 31-33.  There were so many points to think about here but one that stood out to me the most while studying and preparing to teach is David's reaction in 2 Samuel 18:33 after he receives the news that Absalom had died in battle.  David is not simply sad but is heartbroken and grief-stricken.  Why?  Why would he be so broken over his son who had killed another of his sons, wrongfully taken over the throne causing David to flee, etc.  It is because David's love for his son was unconditional.  It did not matter that he had done all of these terrible things to him, David still loved him and wanted the best for him.

I can't help but be reminded of God's own love for us when I read this.  Of course David's love for his son Absalom is nothing like the agape love that God has for us, but is symbolic of it.  God's love is unconditional.  There is nothing that can separate us from God's love if we have been saved (Romans 8:39).  Wow!  I can't get over that and hope I never do.  This does not give us a license to sin or live our own way, but should draw us closer to Him.  We should wake up every day with the desire to only live for Him and to bring Him glory.  We should serve Him not out of duty but out of love and respect we have back to the God who has given us actual life through Jesus Christ.  As I continue to grow in Christ I am trying to grasp a little better (even though as humans we will never fully grasp) the love that God has for me.  I am trying to not only believe in my head that His love for me is so real, but believe in my heart in a way that allows me to continue to be transformed by Him daily.  Today if you are struggling with God's love and how He could actually love Him then I want you to know that it is real and I want you to allow His love to grasp you in a way that you have never experienced before.  I pray that His love would transform your heart so that you can then in return tell others about His love so that they too can experience this great love.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Tunnel Vision Part 4

We picked back up on the Tunnel Vision series this week at Wednesday Night Worship.  We began the night with a worship set that included "The King is Coming" (Newsboys), "Enough" (Chris Tomlin), "Blessed Be Your Name" (Matt Redman), and "Good" (Chris Sligh).  Before the message I showed the video "Me Linebacker" with Derwin Gray which was good for laughs and an intro into the message.

I began by talking a bit like I did week 1 of this series about how we are all selfish people at the core of our sinful nature.  We need to turn our selfishness into selflessness, which is caring more about the needs of others than our own.  In addition to selflessness we talked about what it means to be a good steward (manager) of what we have been entrusted.  The main characteristic of a Christian is generosity.  A selfish Christian is an oxymoron.  When we give our life to Jesus Christ, we follow Him in total abandonment and begin to put others before ourself.  Why would we have this way of thinking?

A)  Everything is His
-Psalm 50:8-12Psalm 24:1-2
-God created everything.  It is all His and is on loan to us.
-At this moment I asked everyone to close their eyes and take a few moments to think about all that they have been blessed with:  family, friends, health, possessions, etc.

B)  If it is all His, then what is our responsibility?
-I laid out three points that I think we should do for God.  We should do things though not our of duty, but because of our love and devotion to God.  If He has blessed us and loves us beyond measure, then we should serve Him in these ways.

1)  Give Back To Him
-Proverbs 3:9
-We are to give Him our first fruits, or in other words our best.  We are not to give God our leftovers.  This applies not only to our finances, but also our time as time is such a precious commodity.  
-I didn't go into the aspect of tithing in this message (I actually had prepared some but didn't feel led to go into it).  Here is my brief view on tithing:  It began with Abraham (Genesis 14:20) so it is not simply something under Levitical/Mosaic law which Jesus came to fulfill and not abolish.  With this being said I believe that 10% is actually a good starting point since we live under grace and not under the law.  We should not be limited to a percentage, but give above and beyond, and give out of poverty not wealth. I could elaborate much more but now is not the time.

2)  Only Desire Enough
-This is a tough one because if we are all honest, we actually desire more than we need.  
-Proverbs 30:7-9
-I was honest here with the students and shared that I am not 100% there on this one.  I want to desire only enough (no poverty and no wealth), but I am as most people are- wanting more than I need.  I want God to give me the desire to only want enough.  I shared with Belinda afterward that at this moment of transparency I honestly felt like everyone was giving me evil looks for feeling this way and being honest about it.  I think though if we are all honest we fit this as well.
-Shaun Groves shared this with us back in July (which I still plan to post about soon).  He challenged us to take our share and pass on the rest.  To take only what we need and pass the extra on to those in need.  He even has a song called "Enough" which you should check out that is taken from Proverbs 30:7-9.

3)  Manage Well/Use Everything For His Glory
-We have been given by God what He entrusts us to manage well and use for His glory. This means everything: our money, talents, spiritual gifts, possessions, etc.
-1 Corinthians 10:31Colossians 3:17
-Everything we do we are to do with the effort and attitude to please God.  We are to use all or possessions for the glory of God.

C)  Everyone Has Something To Offer
-Often people will think that they have nothing to offer to serve God by serving others.  If we are a Christian, saved by Jesus Christ, then we have the Holy Spirit living in us equipping us to serve Him.  This means we are capable of much more than we can imagine or think.
-1 Peter 4:10
-We have Spiritual Gifts (not talents) that we have been given to serve God and are to be a good steward of.

I closed the message by asking the students to spend a few moments in prayer considering whether they have been living selfish or selflessly.  I challenged them to ask God to show them how they can be selfless and be a good steward and to make a commitment to give back to the One who has given us everything.

What is really neat about this night is that we have been in the process of starting the Sack Pack Program at EK Baker Elementary School.  I shared this with the students back in August.  This was the first Wednesday night we were able to prepare these for students in need.  It went hand in hand not only with this Tunnel Vision series but the message for the night, something that only God could orchestrate so well.  Another neat thing is that we are preparing these sacks for 26 students each week.  We prepared one earlier in the day to see how it would look so we needed to prepare 25 more.  We handed out the bags and we had 25 students exactly last night.  Each student was able to be a part of serving others this way.  It was really a great way to end the night as we prayed over the sacks and prayed that the families receiving them would be impacted.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Concert 9/28/12- The Hundred More Years Tour

This Friday we took the students to The Hundred More Years concert featuring Francesca Battistelli, Sidewalk Prophets, Andy Cherry, and City Harbor.  It was definitely one of the best shows we have taken students to and they really had a great time.  Francesca is an amazing singer and she did not disappoint.  Sidewalk Prophets did an amazing job as well.  I am always eager to discover new artists and so Andy Cherry and City Harbor were both great to hear.  I have really been enjoying listening to City Harbor's EP.  They have a great sound!  Here are a few pictures from the night, even though they did not all turn out the best.  It was a great night of worship and fellowship and we had a blast hanging out with our great students!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

WNW 9/27/12- Awaken Prayer Service

Since yesterday was National See You At The Pole day we spent our time at Wednesday Night Worship in prayer.  I began by sharing that with the students and how it was to be a night spent in prayer and worship, not talking or focusing on anything else.  We began by spending a few moments in prayer asking God to speak to us, empty us, remove distractions, and make us ready to have an experience with Him.  I then read Ephesians 3:14-21 which was the theme Scripture for SYATP.  I then directed them to the screen to read some verses and focus on God (Psalm 18:1-3, Psalm 9:1, Revelation 15:4, Psalm 27:4).  We then went into our first song "Beautiful" (Phil Wickham).

The next four prayers focused on the four parts of the this prayer that Paul prayed for the Ephesians in 3:14-21.  Each of these are not four separate things he is praying for, instead they are intertwined.

1)  Prayer for Strength (verse 16)
-I asked students to consider if they feel weak.  We spent this time praying for inner spiritual strength that only comes from God and to make sure we are only seeking Him for our strength.

Song- "Awesome God" (Vicky Beeching)

2)  Prayer for Depth (verse 17)
-When we gain strength in God, it then leads to a deeper relationship and experience with Him.  We must have a deep foundation in God in order to grow and so our faith will not waiver.  I asked the students to consider if they are seeking Jesus on a deeper level and if not then why.  I challenged them to pray for a greater desire to experience Him deeper.

Song- "From The Inside Our" (Hillsong United)

3)  Prayer for Apprehension/Comprehension (verse 18)
-Depth in God enables us to begin to apprehend and grasp (somewhat) God's great love.  I asked the students to ask God to show them His great love, because His love is the greatest love of all.

Song- "Son of God" (Starfield)

4)  Prayer for Fullness (verse 19)
-When we begin to apprehend/comprehend the vast love of God, the result is that we are filled with the fullness of Him.  Being filled with the Holy Spirit is often misunderstood.  What it means is to be at the point of total surrender to Him, willing to do whatever He leads us.  I challenged the students to pray to be filled, to be willing to go out and serve Him however He leads them.

I then read Ephesians 3:14-21 again and challenged them to go home and read it themselves, spend time praying these things again, and continue to draw nearer to Him.  We then sang "Forever Reign" (Kristian Stanfill).  I ended by saying to the students that it may have been a different experience for them, but that is good.  I told them that God desires to have a deep relationship with each one of us, and it is up to us to take advantage of that opportunity.

We closed the night by hearing reports from students that were involved in See You At The Pole at different schools.  We heard reports from Athens Middle School, EK Baker Elementary School, Mt. View Elementary School, McMinn Central High School, and Niota Elementary School.  It was good to hear how the students were not only involved, but also excited at the turnout and involvement of other students gathering together to pray.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tunnel Vision Part 3

This week was part 3 of our "Tunnel Vision" series.  We began the night by playing "Tunnel Vision- The Game".  We showed pictures of our series graphic with the center missing, but part of another picture from outside the tunnel showing.  Students had to guess what they were looking at before we revealed the whole picture.  We then went into a worship set that included "Dancing Generation" (Matt Redman), "Starry Night" (Chris August), and "Running To You" (Newsboys).

I began the message asking the students to share some of the qualities they share with their best friends.  What we heard was that friends usually have similar likes which makes their friendship grow.  I shared that Belinda is my best friend and we like a lot of the same stuff.  However there are some things we do not like the same, but it is not a big deal.  But what do you do when you have a real disagreement or difference with a person?  It affects how we view them and in reality we begin to view that person as inferior to us.  We think that if they were just like us then they would be better.  We start to think that they need to fit our mold of what a person should be like.  The truth is our mold is irrelevant.  God's mold or design for us is really all that matters.  He designed us with the desire that we will seek Him first and have a relationship with Him.  It is by His standards we are to live, not our own.  So we looked at the thought of not having a tunnel vision view of other people.

We read in Romans 15:1-7 where Paul is talking about self-denial on behalf of others.  Those of us who have been saved and now strong in Him and are to lift up and help those who are weak.  It's not that we boast in saying that we are stronger than them, but we have been given the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and it is our responsibility to lift up those around us.  

We looked at how we should not let our view of people lead us into sin by:
1) Ignoring Them- Romans 15:1
We are not to simply tolerate the weaknesses of those around us but we are to help them by carrying their burdens and showing them love.
2)  Gossip/Tear Them Down- Romans 15:2
We are to edify one another and build each other up.  I have never been physically beaten up, but I have been beaten down by words time and time again.  Our words have so much weight to them.  We can encourage and discourage people simple with the words we use.
3)  Keep You From Unity In Worship
We come to church with the purpose of unifying and lifting up the name of Jesus Christ. If we are attempting to worship and there is someone who we have offended, we need to make things right.  We do not need to be a hinderance to others and especially not to the work of the Holy Spirit.
4)  Think That God Doesn't Love Them or Can't Save Them- Romans 15:7
If we have been forgiven by Jesus, then we should certainly forgive others.  Sometimes we see people who have committed terrible sins such as acts of murder and terrorism and we think they are too far gone for God to redeem but that is certainly untrue.  Jesus died for all and we should pray for them.
5)  Keep You From Sharing The Gospel With Them
Do not withhold the truth that can save them simply because you have a problem with them.

So in closing I challenged the students to consider how they view people.  Do they view people from within the tunnel, not seeing them as the person God created and loves?  I challenged them to make amends with those who they may have differences with.  I ended with the thought to not let your sin keep you from sharing Jesus with others.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tunnel Vision Part 2

Last night at Wednesday Night Worship was our second part of the Tunnel Vision series.  We began the night with a worship set of "One Way" (Hillsong United), "Song of Hope" (Robbie Seay Band), Christopher read Isaiah 6:1-6 before we sang "You Are Holy-Isaiah 6" (Radiant Worship), and then after the message we sang "Arms That Hold The Universe" (Fee).

I began the message asking students to share some of the largest things they have seen- buildings and landmarks.  We had things shared such as the Sears Tower, Grand Tetons, St. Louis Arch, etc.  I then asked the students to stop for a minute and think about how big God is.  This is another one of those questions that makes your head spin.  We sometimes try to think of the biggest building or landmark we have seen and think that He is a little bigger.  The truth is, God is much larger than anything we can imagine or visualize.  Our limited finite human mind cannot comprehend the greatness of God.  But instead of thinking about how big God is in regard to size, we focused on how we are not to have a limited view of God in regards to what He does or how He does things.  We are not to have a tunnel vision view of God and try to make Him fit a mold of what we think He should be.

We read Isaiah 55:8-9 and I gave a little bit of the background of the book of Isaiah.  Of course the book is written by and about Isaiah the prophet who was given a tough message to give to the people.  These verses are a reminder of how God's thoughts and ways are way beyond ours.  The way He chooses to do things is always perfect.  It is not he way we would choose to do things because our ways and thoughts are not perfect.  Sometimes we wonder why bad things happen in the world.  One reason is because of sin in the world.  Another reason might be to get our attention.  Then sometimes we just cannot understand on earth, but we have to trust that God has a great plan through it all.  This should not frustrate us but draw us closer to Him and grow our faith in Him.

I shared some dangers of having a tunnel vision view of God.  The first one is that we believe that our problems are bigger than He is and that He cannot intervene.  This is so far from the truth because He is so much bigger than any problem we face in life.  Also when we have a tunnel vision view of God we lose sight of why we are here on earth.  We forget that we were created for His glory and to serve Him.  In turn we end up going through life living for ourselves.

But when we begin to see how big God is our perspective of things change.  Even though we can never full grasp His greatness, our understanding that His ways are greater than ours changes our mindset.  We begin to have faith that God can intervene in our situations and we take comfort and rest in the peace that He provides us.  We begin to see how big God's love is not only for us, but for everyone on earth.  We see the cross that Jesus died on for us and it becomes our motivation for everything we do.  Then the main thing is that we begin to believe that God will use us. We stop believing the lie that He cannot use us, but instead we desire to be used for His glory.  In this moment God starts using us in ways that we cannot even imagine or comprehend.  He uses us where we are currently planted and He provides dreams for where He wants to use us in the future.  I know that in my own life when I come to the point that I believe that God can use me, that is when I am finally in the position to be used by Him.  It is in this moment that He provides opportunities and opens doors for me to share His love and have a godly influence on others.  My prayer is that you will not have a view of God that limits how He can use you for His glory.

Monday, September 10, 2012

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today Belinda and I are wearing yellow in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day.  Yellow is the color that represents suicide prevention.  This is also National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States.  The heartbreaking truth is that every 14.2 minutes someone dies in the United States by suicide.  As a family who has been affected by this tragedy we understand the pain involved.  Belinda's father took his own life over two years ago and while God has done a great work in us and brought healing, we still have a long way to go.  Today we are praying for anyone who has been affected, that God will work in their hearts and provide healing that only He can.  We are also praying for those who may be considering this, praying that they will turn to God for the comfort and strength they need.  I pray that they will see how only God offers all the answers that we can not find on our own.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Tunnel Vision Part 1

This week we kicked off the new church year at WNW and it was such a great night!  It was the first Wednesday with the new students and so we showed a funny video that showed them a little bit more about what we do in youth.  We began with a worship set that included:  "Like A Lion" (Crowder/Newsboys), "Salvation is Here" (Hillsong United), "Always" (Kristian Stanfill), and "How He Loves" (McMillan/Crowder).

We started a new series called "Tunnel Vision".  We even built a small tunnel that you have to walk through as you enter the youth house.  As a child I always enjoyed getting to ride through a tunnel when we were driving somewhere because it reminded me of driving into the Bat Cave like Batman.  As I am now the one driving it's not as cool as it was when I was a child.  However when in a tunnel you can only see what is directly in front of you.  You can not see what is to your left/right/above because the tunnel blocks it.  Some people actually suffer from tunnel vision and lose their peripheral vision making their vision see like they are actually in a tunnel.  As humans we can be the same way as we are often focused on ourselves more than anyone else.  We are all selfish in our sinful human nature.  When we only think of ourselves it is like we have tunnel vision as we only focus on what is directly in front of us and what is important to us.

Jesus often taught on how we are to think of others and serve them.  One of the greatest teachings of this is in John 13:14-15 where He washed the disciples feet.  This took place right before His arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus was spending some final moments with the disciples and he taught them this lesson of serving others.  It was custom during this time when someone visited to your home that a servant would wash their feet.  As the people wore sandals their feet would have been pretty dirty.  So washing someone's feet was definitely a way to humble yourself and serve someone else.  The disciples should have been washing Jesus' feet but instead He was serving them and washing theirs.  He said that we are to do the same.  Not necessarily physically washing the feet of others, but to consider the needs of those around us, humble ourselves and serve them.

So what prompted Jesus to teach them this lesson?  More than likely it was because the disciples had been arguing over who was the greatest in Luke 22:24-27.  We do this ourselves as we sometimes try to outdo others and 1-up them with our stories.  Jesus teaches them that though the world views the one being served as the greatest, that actually the servant is the greatest.

So why is serving others such a big deal?  Why did Jesus teach this often?  When we look at how long eternity is and how short our lives are in comparison, it starts to make sense.  I used the Francis Chan rope example to tie this together.  Sometimes we are so focused on the short part of time that we spend on earth that we miss the big picture of eternity.  We do not need to be so focused on all the trivial matters of the short time on earth that we miss the opportunity to serve others and share with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Eternity is long for everyone, which is why it is so important for us to share with them the love of Jesus so that they may also spend eternity with Him in heaven.  

So as I closed I challenged the students to think and look beyond themselves.  I challenged them not to live life in the tunnel, but consider the needs of others.  Everyone received a "mini tunnel" (a small piece of pvc) that says "Look Beyond Yourself- John 13:14".  I told them to put this somewhere they will see it before they leave their home each day as a reminder to think about the needs of everyone they encounter throughout the day.  

We ended by giving aways some door prizes and it was fun to see their reactions.  It was really a great night.  It was sad as we missed the presence of those who graduated and moved on, but exciting to see new faces.  I believe that God has a lot in store for these students and I am excited to be a part of it!