Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Smell of Icy Hot in the Morning

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

I recently acquired a membership to the YMCA....(insert singing of the popular disco song here complete with hand and body motions). After moving from Derby, it was no longer feasible to use the rec center there to work out so I decided to join the "Y". As most people usually do, i felt good about joining a health club and was excited to transform this body of mine into a demolition, fear-striking, awesome machine. Anyone snickering at this point is free to stop reading my article and go read the children's section.

I put a plan in place and began to put together my workout routines. I wrote out the machines and weights i wanted to use, how many sets and repetitions i was planning on doing. I even added a little yoga and cardio just to mix things up. I had this great plan put together. And so with that, I headed to the gym. Of course, most normal people will walk in and be intimidated by the massive "muscle heads" that you will see in the gym. It's easy to be scared out of the gym because you feel like you may never look that way or lift as much weight as they do. But I have been working out long enough to know that everyone is different and I may not be some huge bodybuilder, but I still have a responsibility to take care of myself physically.

I jump on the weights and start my workout. I lift the weights, push the weights, pull the weights, and everything inbetween. An hour later, I finish my workout with a little cardio and some running. Follow that up with a little stretching and then it's home for a protein shake and a shower. I actually left the "Y" feeling great. I felt like a teenager again. I was as light as a feather. I thought I could run 5 miles if I had to. That is..... until i woke up the next morning.

As I limped out of bed searching desperately for the Icy Hot, I felt as thought I had been hit by a Mack truck. This was not the youthfulness I was feeling the night before. I felt as though I was a 99 year old man. What happened. Lifting the milk out of the fridge for my cereal was painful. I could barely grab a kleenex. And I realized in this moment, I am a lot weaker than I thought.

I think the same is true for my faith and the rest of my life. Sometimes I think I am God's gift to the world and sometimes I think I have my life all figured out. Truth is, the only one that has it all figured out is God. Truth is, i am weak. I fall short. I don't have it all figured out. I can't even make it through a day without sinning in some way or another. I like to think I am strong but deep down, I know I am weak. I just can't do it.

For some reason, I have always thought weakness was a bad thing. It's one of the reasons I was motivated to go to the gym in the first place. It's one of the reasons I have strive to have all the answers in my ministry. It's one of the reasons I fail to compromise with my wife because I think I am right. It's one of the reasons I am not real with people because I need to come across as strong. But weakness is a good thing.

Weakness just proves our need for Christ. I can't do it all. I need someone that can. And so when I am weak, Christ proves his strength through me. I may not be the best youth pastor in the world and no one will ever really know my name. I may be just a guy doing ministry in a church, but Christ is going to use me and what I do to carry out big things. He is going to make his name great and famous and I get to be a part of his plan. When I act like I am strong, Christ can use me because I try to do it myself. I don't feel like I need him. But when I admit my weaknesses, Christ picks me up and does so much more than I could ever imagine.

Weakness is not a bad thing. It's a good thing. And I for one am going to make sure that much like Paul, I will boast of my weaknesses and call out to Christ because he is sufficient. I may not be able to lift a ton of weight but that's okay because I know God who carries the world in his hand. I may not be the smartest man alive but I know God who gave man the ability to think and create. I may not live the best life but I know Jesus Christ who came and lived the perfect life. I may not be able to stop my sin all the time but I know Jesus Christ who died for my sin and took this weak body and made it strong.

Don't ever be afraid to admit you are weak. In fact, embrace it and boast of it. Because where we are weak, Christ is strong. Now, if you don't mind, I am going to buy a truck load of Icy Hot. See you in the gym.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Empty Boxes with Empty Promises

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth." (Matthew 19:20-22 NIV)

My wife and I just recently purchased a new home in the booming Metropolis of Wichita, Kansas. We were fortunate enough to find a house that we both agreed upon which is a miracle. So after a short praise and worship service, we went through the wonderful routine of purchasing the home. We got our realtor, we got our home loan, we made our offer, we haggled....(i just like saying haggle), and then we signed the papers and signed the papers and signed even more papers. I know they like to be thorough but i don't ever remember signing my name that much. Although I guess there was the one time I got in trouble with a teacher in 3rd grade but that doesn't count. I was a victim.

After signing the final papers, the house was ours. Nine months of living in our in-laws basement and we were finally in our own home. I can not express the joy and relief of being in our own home. There is just something about having a space to call yours. There is just something to having your possessions and your couch and your bed and your television that just makes you feel normal.
But before the house could feel like it was ours, we had to move our stuff in. For the last nine months, my wife and I have been storing our stuff in Topeka in a garage at my parents house. So a couple days after acquiring the house, some friends and I made the drive to Topeka to get all the stuff. For a couple hours, we loaded boxes and boxes of possessions that my wife and I had attained over the years. And then we transported the boxes to our new home where they in turn filled up our new garage. As I carried box after box off the truck, i began wondering what was in the boxes. I discovered that 30% of the boxes were Christmas decorations. Another 30% were boxes filled with books and teacher stuff for my wife's job, and then the other 40% was stuff "for the house". As I looked through the boxes, I began to think, "I have purchased a lot of junk."

I started to sort through the things that I have purchased over the years and I sorted through the endless boxes, I thought about how at one time the items I had purchased came with an expectation. I thought to myself that this particular item was going to bring happiness or joy. I thought that product would make me feel better about myself. It would raise my status in society or it would give me peace. I thought about how the all of these things were supposed to make my life easier or better or flashier. But as I sorted through these boxes, I realized that they were all empty promises. None of this stuff changed my life for the better. None of these things made my life complete. Most of this stuff caused me to want to buy more stuff. It is an endless cycle of always trying to keep up with the Jones.

I came across this passage of scripture where a wholesome, pure man comes to Jesus and asks how to get into eternity. Jesus responds by telling the man to follow the commandments in the Bible. Apparently, the guy is really good because he says that he has followed all these commandments and he is ready for another challenge. Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. At this point, the guy is done. He walks away sad because he had great wealth.

As I think about this story, I am reminded of how difficult it is to walk away from my stuff. Though the boxes sit in the garage and most of it will never be used, it would be so difficult to give this stuff away or sell it. To me, it represents status and security. This "stuff" represents safety and a name. The truth is, most people really don't care how much stuff you have. So the only person I am really trying to impress is myself. Earlier in the book of Matthew, Jesus tells the people to store up treasures in heaven and not on the earth because the stuff on earth will be destroyed.... but the stuff in heaven will last for eternity. As I look in my garage, I am challenged by how much I have set aside in this life versus how much I have set aside in eternity.

And so I look at the boxes of junk that sit in my garage and wonder what I could have done with the money that I spent on all this stuff. Could I have saved a child in a third-world country that can't afford to eat? Could I have given to a ministry in the church that is making a difference in the community? Could I have suprised a single-mom with an anonymous card filled with a giftcard for food? Could I have helped someone in need? Sometimes I am so selfish.

What useless junk have you bought in the last month, week or even day? How much different would our homes, churches and communities be if we stopped buying stuff we don't need and gave to those who were truly in need? I think for the next couple months, I am going to attempt to purchase nothing for myself other than the basics and try to give more money away. I know it's going to be a struggle but if I am honest, I have everything I need. I really do. I don't need another movie. I don't need another shirt. I don't need another vase to sit on my shelf or a piece of furniture. I need food, shelter, and relationships. I need my family and friends. I need God and His Word.

I am still unpacking the boxes and I am still finding empty promises. But I am determined to aquire less and give more. The next time I move (which hopefully won't be in a really long time because my back is killing me) I hope to move less stuff than I did this time.

Note to self: need to make a trip to Wal-Mart to return some stuff I bought that I don't need.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Burning for the Right Reasons

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:8-10)

I was driving to work this week enjoying the 30 minute drive that i have from home to work. It's a pleasant drive that allows me the opportunity to reflect on the coming day and just prep myself for what is to come. I usually will listen to the radio and just absorb the time. One morning as I was driving, I heard a story of a church in Florida that was staging a "Burn the Quran" Day. I was intrigued as to why a church would do something like this and so once i got into work, I jumped on the internet and did a little research. I was amazed at what I found but not about the church....

As i read the article, I discovered that the church was just trying to make some extreme point that obviously most people will miss. I don't think Muslims are going to turn to Jesus because of the book burning nor do I think people are going to come to a true relationship with Christ because of it. And while this "church" may think they are taking a stand for God, I think they have missed it. But it wasn't this story that upset me. It was the comments I found attached with the article.

Following the article, it was comment after comment from people talking about how pointless faith and religion are and how some of us are just buying into some "spaghetti flying monster in the sky." My heart broke as I read quote after quote from these people that I have never met that said that Christians were just hypocrites and that there is nothing after this life so enjoy it while you can. How can someone live their life with no hope like that? It was sad...

But it was also a call for me to do a better job with my faith. It was a call for me to do a better job of how I live and the example that I set. It was a call for me to love more people and be Christ to more people. I don't know about you but sometimes I really just don't care about anyone else. I had the honor of sharing a lunch today with a new friend, Jake Smith. We spent time over sub sandwiches talking about how selfish we are and how we long for everyone to cater to us in life. But Christ called for sacrifice. As Jake shared his story of Africa and the journey that God took him on for two months, I found myself recognizing my faults and were I have fallen short in putting others first. Jake reminded me once again that we are so much better off than so many in the world and yet we take it for granted. But God didn't call us to stockpile our faith....he called us to use it.

So what family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, and random strangers do you need to be sharing love with. Who needs to know the real message of hope and that there is more to us than this life here on earth and that God has something so much more in store for us? Maybe it's time I stop thinking about what i want and start think about what others need. I need to stop burning books and start burning with passion for those that need truth.

I hate it when i convict myself.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Monkey Bars of Doom

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." - Jeremiah 29:11-13

After a long week at the office and dealing with some pretty tough issues, the weekend was quickly upon me and my family had plans to get away. So when you live in the great state of Kansas, where do you go to escape and find rest.... Topeka and Kansas City. I know, it probably doesn't make the top ten vacation spots in the world. I know it's not a Bahama cruise or a European tour. But in Kansas, it's the best we have besides the largest ball of twine in the United States (sadly, i have been there).

So on a Friday, my wife and I made our way to Topeka to drop off our child with the grandparents for the day. Afterwards, we made our way to Kansas City to spend some time with some new friends in Lee's Summit just outside of Kansas City, Missouri. Mike and Wendy Evans had just recently moved their to plant a church with a mission to reach the lost and uninterested. Mike really understands what it means to minister to people and not just minister for the sake of filling time but really get to know a person's heart. He is a real living example of Jesus. For over three hours, we spent time just talking about life and ministry and i began to move from worn-out to filled-up. It was great just to hear wisdom from a guy that has been in the trenches for awhile.

Later that evening, my wife and I spent time with Mike and his family in their back yard just hanging out and relaxing. With his four kids and wife, we just sat and talked some more, threw a football around, jumped on the trampoline and just enjoyed the beautiful summer evening. And then i caught a glimpse of God and faith.....

Mike's youngest, Mindy (who is five years old) was playing on their swingset. Barely able to reach the monkey bars, she managed to grab the first one and climb across the five or six rungs to get to the other side. But when she got across, she quickly realized that she could not touch the bar for her feet. She was stuck. Hanging for dear life above an abyss that filled her mind with fear and worry, she began to scream. "Daddy!!" filled the air with her high-pitched sound. Now a normal parent with genuine concern would race over instantly to save their child. But not Mike. I watched as He slowly walked and made his way over to help her reach the step and get herself down. He didn't run or sprint. He didn't get concerned or yell. He simply strolled over taking his sweet time to help her down. With this being his fourth kid, i think he had figured out that they don't break very easily. If it's your firstborn hanging, you move like lightening. But again, it blew my mind because i was seeing God in this moment.

I think sometimes I have this expectation that when things come up in my life....when bad things happen or I really, really need God, I expect Him to come running to my rescue. I have this "fast food" mentality of God where I expect answers and solutions quickly and I get frustrated when God doesn't show up right away. But I love how God sees all and knows all. And those times where I think my world is crashing down around me because something bad happens, God strolls over in His time and reminds me once again that He is there and He wants what is best for me. He reminds me that He loves me and he helps me off the monkey bars and gets me firmly back on the ground.

I think sometimes we simply forget that He is there and we are so caught up in looking down and seeing the abyss below that we forget to look up and see God standing right in front of us. And in the middle of our turmoil, we fail to really seek God. We seek out the "fast food" God instead of the real living and honest God. We want results...not relationship.

Watching this interaction between this father and daughter reminded me once again of my relationship with my Father. I know He loves me and doesn't want me to fall. I know that when i am hanging over life's abyss and trying to survive, all i need to do is "seek" God and know that He's right there. He always is and always will be. I know that I can't be satisfied in a God that gives me what i want all the time but instead provides for my needs. I know that if I have faith in God and trust Him, no darkness can defeat me or overtake me.

So may you climb the tallest ladders and swing over the deepest canyons knowing that God is right there watching you all along.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Finding Nemo on Cruise Ship Buffets

"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith." Philippians 3:7-9

I recently spent a wonderful week on a cruise to the Bahama's. Oh my friend, it was wonderful. I don't know if you have ever been on a cruise but it's pretty much what i think heaven is like. They have tons of pool chairs to lay around on, a nice swimming pool, various activities including shows and musical acts, and food.... oh so much food. You can pretty much find something to eat 24 hours a day. If you don't gain 15 pounds on a cruise, you did it wrong. Again, i think its as close to heaven as you can get.

On this particular cruise, we left out of port in Miami and proceeded to go south towards Freeport and Nassau. Between islands, you are cruising and it is simply miles and miles of ocean as far as you can see. It's just absolutely beautiful. There are moments in the evening as the sun is getting ready to set where the sky and the ocean blend so well together that you can tell where one begins and the other ends. And of course the sunset on the ocean is even more amazing. On a cloudless evening, the sun looks as though it is literally taking a dip into the seas. As the bright yellow sun gets closer to the water, it begins to change colors into a deep red almost as thought the water is causing it. Incredible sight.

But on these cruises, they make stops on various islands so that the people can get off the ship and explore. And they even have these things called "excursions". An excursion is some kind of adventure that you get to go on. Maybe it's swimming with the dolphins. Maybe it's biking through the island with a tour guide. Maybe it's a kayak ride across the bay. Maybe it's snorkeling. No matter what the excursion is, it promises adventure and excitement. It promises something better than what your normal life has to offer.

I had to think about this a little bit. Why in the world would people drop hundreds of dollars for something that promises adventure but is probably safer than you sitting in your recliner at home. I mean these things aren't really adventure. They are simply like cookie cutter events that are pretty much already determined. You just attend and these people basically put you through a show. But so many of us feel our lives are so boring that we need that kind of adventure in our lives and so we are willing to pay anything to get some kind of excitement in our lives. We want more than sitting behind a desk and watching life pass by.

Maybe the excitement that we are looking for isn't in some excursion on a cruise ship but is instead found in a passionate relationship with Christ. Maybe God intended for us to find excitment and adventure in him. Maybe we aren't really alive until we find Christ and live like him. I find it interesting that in my own life, i have found more joy, excitement and adventure in mission's trips, spending time with fellow believers, and preaching truth to students than i have in anything else. And of course, some of the best moments in life have never cost me a dime. A beautiful sunset, a student that gets what life is really about, the day my son was born (although I would argue that one will probably cost me a lot... but it's totally worth it).

God gives us natural moments in life that filled with excitement and adventure. I think it's just that we pass by it and take it for granted. And true adventure.... life changing adventure comes when we pursuit the heart of God. If we lack something in life, it can only be filled with love from the one that made life. So i pray that today, if your life is boring or mundane.... if you feel like you need some sort of adventure in your life or an adreneline rush, spend some time with God, listen to what he has to say, and I guarantee you that you will never be bored.

Recently, my wife's aunt and her family decided that they were ready for an adventure. So spurred on by her husband, they decided they were going to adopt three girls from Haiti. On a recent mission's trip, he had met these three girls and seen that God was calling him to something more. He and his family (which is made up of three girls they already have....bless him for taking on three more) are adopting these three Haitian girls because they see God has something big in store. That my friends, is adventure. That is excitement. That is pursuing the heart of God.

Note to self....cancel bungee jumping appointement. Instead, pencil in time in God's word.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Counting Yellow Buses

"At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." (Luke 10: 21)

Every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I am blessed to have my 3 year old son, Ayden, travel with me to work as he attends the daycare located in the same building. And so early in the morning, we load up the vehicle with his fifty snacks, toys, and other miscellaneous items and we make the fifteen mile trek straight north. We have a direct highway that takes us pretty much from the house to the church. The only problem is that there are twenty-six stoplights that we must travel. On a good day, i will catch about 5 or 6 stoplights. When this happens, there is much rejoicing in the car and a Old Testament sacrifice is made. But on a bad day, I will catch twenty-plus stoplights and it takes everything i have not to yell and scream at the inanimate object changing colors above me.

But recently, my son has started to play the game "I Spy" when we drive. His favorite thing to "spy" is a yellow school bus. With the most enthusiasm he can muster, he yells out, "It's a bus!" I in turn will mimic is cry and add "Another bus!" He then follows that up with, "This is crazy." I love it. I have found myself constantly looking for buses because I am caught up in the excitement that my son has for them. I personally could care less about buses but my son goes insane for them. And so it's contagious. I gotta find a bus... because this is crazy!

I believe it's amazing how infectious my son's excitement is for the simple things in life. He finds joy in simply spotting a school bus driving by. He finds joy in seeing something that you and I take no thought in. Again, I could care less but there is something to his joy that i long for. There is something to the simpleness of life that i know my life is not. I am cluttered with the thoughts of what has to be done and what needs to get done. I am stuffed with the ideas of how to change the world and how to improve things in the ministry i am involved. I am overloaded with tasks that beckon my attention. I believe that if i stop to count the buses the world will fall apart. Almost like some kind of nuclear explosion will happen and we will all end up zombies like in the movie "Zombieland". And all the while, my son is counting yellow buses.

I used to think that the older you get the wiser you become. I am not so sure. I am starting to believe the older you get, the dumber you become. Jesus alludes to this a little bit in Luke when he says that he has "hidden" things about faith and God from the intelligent and "revealed" them to children. I wonder sometimes, as an adult i think i know so much and i am so important to the world and I am so valuable that i think way more of myself than i should. Luckily, my son reminds me how dumb i can be sometimes. And so in the moments where i get frustrated or the moments where everything seems to be piling up around me and I am ready to yell and scream, i take a valuable lesson from my son and i count yellow buses.

My hope today is that i don't get caught up in all the mess. My hope today is that I don't try and do everything. My hope today is that I don't think more of myself than i should. While I am gifted by God, I am not God's gift. Instead I hope i can take time to breathe. I hope i can take time to smile and laugh. I hope i can take time to count the yellow buses as they drive by.

Another one! This is crazy!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Morning Star Ranch

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have been made perfect, but i press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)

I had the honor of traveling with some fellow staff members to a place called "The Morning Star Ranch" to see what God was doing in this ministry. For those that don't know what this is, it's a ranch out in the middle of nowhere north of Wichita, Kansas by about an hour. It's a beautiful spot in the Flint Hills surrounded by nothing but God's beautiful canvas that He has painted. Trees and wheat fields mixed in with rolling hills and a valley that was carved by God's very finger.

While they do retreats and camps and provide work opportunities, their main task is to take young men from the inner-city that have escaped from lives of drugs and alcohol, gang violence, and rough living situations to come and develop a deeper relationship with God. They help educate these men about God and his truth and love for them. They also provide opportunities to work and learn new skills that can help them in life. For two years these men are being poured into, loved, invested in, and trained in leading others. And then....catch this.... these men go back to their communities and become pastors and valuable members of the church. They go back to the rough neighborhoods and the violence and the poverty. They go back. Insane!!

I don't know about you but sometimes i need a place like this. A place where i can go and really meet God face to face for a showdown of sorts. A showdown between my will and His. A place where i can really seek Him and not get pulled down by the distractions of this life. A place where i can go and just be in His presence and not feel like I have to be but want to be. Some of the time, church becomes a business instead of a ministry. It becomes a place of work instead of life investment. It becomes more about the numbers than the lives.

And so i need a place where i can go and just get away from life to repent and seek God and be with Him. I know He never leaves and is always there but I need help to see Him and to be with Him. I need help to remove the shades that have darkened my eyes. I need to get away. And so i need to escape. I need a ranch. I need the holiness and solitude of God to invade me and revive my tired spirit.

But this is the part I have to remind myself..... I have to go back. I have to go back to the "normal" life. Sometimes i would rather sit and hide from the world. I have so many fears of the world that i get overwhelmed and would rather retreat than face the challenges that come. But i can't do that. I have to get back in the race. I have to keep running. I am not done. Just like the young men that come to this ranch, i have to go back and do the work I have been called to do. And it's not about fulfilling a deadline or trying to reach a goal. It's about changing lives and calling others to the wonderful adventure of following a God that loves us and has more in store for us than we could ever imagine. And so i have to go back.

I have not finished the race.