To be filled with wonder...

Today is the final day of 2008. As I reflect on the past year, it was certainly filled great highs and great lows. I experienced times of great happiness with many blessings and other times of great sadness with difficult trials.

I would say it was in the lows where I grew the most in my faith and trust in God. It was in the challenging trials where I found myself drawing closer to God to rely on His strength. He was always there for me; He was faithful as promised.

When the going was good, God was still just as close, but it was easy to drift my own direction relying on my own strength. I still have much to learn, but God did teach me a great deal about love, trust, patience, and forgiveness. I could go on and on about how much I have learned, but we all know I still have a lifetime of learning still ahead of me.

It is good to look back on 2008, but I look forward to 2009.

As we begin 2009, my prayer for myself and for all of you is that we would have a greater sense of wonder at the majesty of our Savior and King, our Lord Jesus Christ. My desire in the coming days is to learn more about who God is, what He is like, what are His characteristics, and how He reveals himself.

I desire to be filled with wonder. I desire this for all of us.

Wonder used as a verb can mean “to think curiously or be curious about” and “to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; to marvel.”

What would it be like to wake up each day in the months ahead truly curious about God or to wake up filled with awe at who He is? What does it mean to admire God and marvel at who He is? How would our lives look if we were filled with wonder? Would our lives be different?

May we all be filled with wonder...

Queridas Gemelas



A couple years ago I headed to a district of Mexico City called Coyoacan for a week-long mission trip with six other young adults. The director of the missionary program, Jonathan, was in the early stages of planting a church which would later be called La Fuente (“the fountain” or “source”). It was a short trip, but very powerful. We made a lot of friends and got them plugged in to the ministry that Jonathan was leading.

As our trip ended, Jonathan invited two of the girls from our team to be interns in the heart of Mexico City for 10 months! Needless to say, after many long weeks of prayer and careful consideration, they both accepted the offer. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call these girls “Heather” and “Abi,” even though those are, in fact, their actual names. :)

Prior to our initial trip, I had been very close friends with Heather for many years and knew her very well. I hadn’t met Abi before our trip, but it didn’t take long for her and I to get to know one another on a semi-personal level.

What I, as well as the girls themselves, found pretty interesting was that they were fairly opposite one another when it came to their personalities. I had always known Heather to be very easy-going, laid-back, and low-stress in all walks of life. She was the one that would show up five minutes late to every class we had in college, and could never fail to find a reason to smile even in the bleakest of circumstances.

Abi, on the other hand, would tell you that she was a classic example of a Type-A planner and organizer. She stuck to a schedule, was punctual about it, and liked to know what was going on, what was around her, and how everything was going to pan out.

It goes without saying that I anticipated quite a bit of personal conflict between Heather and Abi with them being so different from one another and being chosen to embark on such a lengthy voyage together. During their internships, Heather and Abi would be heavily and frequently involved in ministry outreach programs such as Alpha, English courses, and small groups. On top of that, they would be roommates for the duration of their time as missionaries. Not a day would go by when they wouldn’t have to spend a significant amount of time together.

But, I was completely taken aback by something I’ve been seeing over and over since they got back to the US from their 10-month internships in late November.

It was subtle at first. Over a conversation with Abi, I would hear her agree with something I’d say with an extended “Uh huuuuuh!” which was something I had always known Heather to do. Likewise, I had noticed Heather using several verbal mannerisms that I always remembered Abi using, such as sarcastically referring to risqu√© humor as “classy.”

But that was just the tip of the iceberg that sunk my Titanic of an incorrect assumption. Over many conversations with the girls, more and more significant examples of their seemingly inverted personalities emerged. Heather recounted stories to me of being frustrated because she had no plan, no knowledge of what was to come, which was totally unlike the Heather I had known for years. And Abi, on the other hand, spent a long conversation explaining to me about how she had come to let so many details that she used to sweat vigorously pass by her without so much as a glance anymore.

It was as if, because they were around each other so frequently for so long, they had started to become each other.

At first I just found this whole thing a point of humor, but it occurred to me the other day that what happened with Heather and Abi is a beautiful representation of what happens as we let Christ into our lives.

When Christ finds most of us, or rather, when we’re at the end of our rope and finally turn to him for help, he is completely foreign to us. We’re so unlike Christ in every way. But as we spend time with him every day, as we read his words and see the great example of how to live set before us in the scriptures, and pray to him from the bottom of our broken hearts, we start to become more like him and less like the self we became when we were trying to live life on our own.

Whether it’s when you wake up, during your lunch break, or before you go to bed at night, make time for Christ every day. Take time to hear FROM him, as well as talking TO him. Christ calls us to a relationship, and like any relationship, it requires full disclosure, emotional intimacy, and frequency. And, with your willing heart, Christ will make you more like him.

O Holy Night


I had a most incredible time at Hope last night.

Last Christmas eve I went to service alone, my kids being scattered to their respected husband's or boyfriends' family homes. I went there feeling sorry for myself. Church during the holidays when families are all together can be a difficult place to be as a single. God answered the prayer I prayed as I drove in that night, that I would find someone to sit with. I did. I ran into someone in my Alpha group who invited me to sit with him and his girlfriend (who is now his wife, whose wedding, in fact, I stood up at this past Thanksgiving) and who later after the service asked me if I'd be interested in renting his loft. That started a whole new and exciting and amazing chapter in my life- living downtown and living alone. I must say this about my life sans-divorce. I find myself in places and situations and with people I never dreamed or imagined possible. It has been a grand adventure with Jesus.

So last night, not wanting to repeat last year's Christmas eve being alone struggle, I went to church for a completely different reason. I went to church to serve. I have found that it is much easier to stop myself before I go down the road of self-pity then it is to get out of it once I have begun to indulge that sin. I am finding that sometimes I have to be strategic and wise and make plans to not put myself in the path of temptation by finding an alternative- by doing something different to seek a new solution to an old challenge.

I remembered how much I used to be blessed when people showed up out of the blue and offered to serve in children's ministry when I was on staff at Hope. To have an unexpected extra set of hands was like manna from heaven. The same thing at Immersion. To have someone walk up and ask if they are needed to serve communion when they aren't scheduled is a gift (by the way, the answer to that is almost always “yes”). If there is one thing you can count on- you can count on the fact that Hope and Immersion always need volunteers. Always.

So I made plans with a few single friends and we went to church to serve. We greeted, passed out bulletins, lit candles, collected offering, gathered up candles from the bridge and the gym, passed out lights, refilled the boxes of lights and pretty much did whatever was needed.

We had a fabulous time. FABULOUS! Being immersed in Christmas music, being surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of people who were there to celebrate the birth of our Lord, being able to greet and shake hands and hug and say “Merry Christmas” and meet new people and reconnect with others was a blast. No joke. It was really and truly and amazingly enjoyable. Melissa Chrystal and I just beamed with the joy of it. We left tired but fulfilled.

I know I have said this before at and about Immersion but going to church to serve is a completely different experience from going to church to receive. Not that going to receive is bad- that's what church is there for. But when you go to serve you become a part of this grand and large thing that God is doing and you become connected with this staff/volunteer team and share the camaraderie and fellowship of a shared mission that you don't experience or even see when you come to receive. You know that the small part you are contributing is necessary and you don't feel alone.

The last thing that Jesus did in the upper room after sharing communion and before His arrest in the garden was to wash His disciples' feet. “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you … If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” (John 13:15,17) What made me truly happy last evening, was looking single women in the eye and welcoming them as they arrived, letting them know in my own small way that they were loved and wanted and not alone. That was a gift for me straight from heaven; a gift that made my heart truly happy and transformed Christmas eve into a holy night.



Put Your Heart Where Your Mouth Is

If you’ve been around a church community for any length of time, you have probably learned to just expect certain things around the Christmas season. Dozens of shiny decorations adorning anything and everything, a special Christmas production put on by the church staff and ministry volunteers, and that one guy who thinks that wearing a Santa hat to church is both witty and stylish, whom no one has the heart to confront.

Most of these things we just take with a grain of salt and shrug off. That’s just Christmas, right? Sure is! But along the lines of those things we often witness and dismiss as Christmas behaviors, there is one thing that has never really sat right with me.

Each year, you’ll more than likely have to sit through several different sermons about remembering what Christmas is really about. Inevitably we will hear pastors talk to us about the story of the birth of Jesus, how humble his beginning [and entire life] was, and how we spend way too much money on Christmas presents. They encourage us to truly remember Jesus on Christmas day and to be his light to our families and those in need.

Now, I don’t mean to berate or insult the pastors who preach these sermons. In fact, there isn’t a doubt in my mind that they have only the best intentions and truly wish to enhance the spiritual richness of those who hear their sermons. But, I can’t help but notice that my Christmases never really change.

Even after hearing all those sermons, I still go home to my parents’ places. I still buy gifts that I’ve put basically no thought into. I still receive way more than I give. I still eat enough food to feed a homeless family. I still do nothing but think about myself...

But this year, I decided to do something different. I decided to look past the layers of tradition, swarms of rabid shoppers, and millions of sugarey treats. I decided to even look past the Christmas story itself to try to get a bigger picture, and ask the question, “What was God up to?

No less than changing the world, of course!

God sent Jesus into our world to give us a chance to redeem ourselves of our sins and experience his infinite love. He reached out in a way that changed the dynamic of every relationship that every person on Earth had with him. What God did that day forever changed how we as people would approach him.

It seems to me that if we really want to strip away the seemingly insignificant parts of Christmas and honestly make great examples of our faith to honor our father this season, we’d be wise to start with his example.

What are some ways you can change your life drastically? What are some ways you can permanently enhance the lives of those around you?

  • Is there a family member you have been fueding with for years? Maybe this Christmas would be a good time to extend a peace offering.
  • Has God been tugging at your heart to start a ministry to help those in need, but you’ve just not gotten up the faith or motivation to do it? Now is the time.
  • Have you been rationalizing a selfish behavior that has been preventing a brother or sister from getting too close to you? Perhaps a good gift would be your undivided attention.

Needless to say, the examples could go on forever. But the more I’ve searched for God’s heart this Christmas, the more it has seemed to me that truly life-changing New Year’s resolutions are infinitely closer to the steps we should be taking than anything we actually do to celebrate the birth of our savior.

What We Can Learn from Mary & Joseph

Every year as we hear the Christmas story, we are reminded of the faith of Mary and Joseph. Mary, the unwed, pregnant woman engaged to be married to Joseph, a poor man who knew this baby was not his. Put yourself in that scenario...how would you have responded if you were either Mary or Joseph? They are nothing short of an amazing demonstration of obedience to God.

Think about the events leading up to Jesus’ birth. Luke 2:4-5 says: And because Joseph was a descendent of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazereth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fianc√©, who was now obviously pregnant.

The notes in my bible say this in reference to the passage above:
Sometimes we think to ourselves, “I’m being obedient, so why aren’t things going better?” We face discomfort or inconvenience and immediately think either that we have misread God’s will or that God has made a mistake. But watch this quiet couple as they head toward Bethlehem. God did not soften Joseph’s bumpy road, but strengthened him. God did not provide a luxurious inn for Joseph and Mary, but brought his Son in to the world in humble surroundings. When we do God’s will, we are not guaranteed comfort and convenience. But we are promised that everything, even discomfort and inconvenience, has meaning in God’s plan.

If I were Mary, I'm not sure I would've been faithful given the circumstances. Luckily, God didn't choose me to give birth to the Messiah. But even today we can relate to their story. Reflect back on the past year of your life. Think about the times you felt doubtful or inconvenienced. The times you stepped out of your comfort zone and did what you knew God was asking, and the times you didn‘t.

If you are like me, your year may have felt like a roller coaster - a lot of amazing experiences but also a lot of doubt and uncertainty about where God is taking you. I find that it was the times I stepped out and took a risk - whether it was becoming more involved in a ministry, meeting new people, putting myself in places I never thought I'd be - the experiences that were no longer about me being comfortable but were faithful to God - those were the most rewarding.

Immersion CHRISTMAS HOPE BOX Update

Hello Everybody Well, for those of you brave enough to trek out to Immersion tonight - THANK YOU. Hopefully you got your fill of Christmas cookies and paper boxes!  


If you weren't able to join us tonight and you bought items for the Christmas Hope box, you can still drop them off! We'll be accepting items on Monday, December 22nd at Lutheran Church of Hope. Just bring them by the church and drop them off at the office and we will put them in boxes and take them to the right place! If you're wondering what you can still bring, or just feel like bringing more stuff, here's a list:  

Christmas Hope Box gift list: 
· New bath towel and wash cloth 
· Large can of beef stew · Bible 
· Body Wash 
· Large can of chicken chunky noodle soup 
· Box of Saltine Crackers 
· Tooth paste 
· 4 pack of toilet paper 
· Two cans of green beans 
· Can opener 
· Laundry detergent (please place in plastic sack to prevent spills) 
· Two large cans tuna or chicken  

Hope you're all well. Stay safe and warm! See you on Monday if you have gift items to bring. Don't forget, no Immersion on Christmas Day - Merry Christmas!  

Peace.  

Justin

Immersion is ON.

Immersion is ON tonight! 

We'll be rescheduling Kingdom Praise for a later date. 

Gift-packing in the Bridge is on as planned! Come as you're able. Stay safe!

Justin

No Pocket in a Shroud

In Maine they can spot a visitor from a hundred paces and love, with their sarcastic wit, straight face and dry sense of humor, to spoof on them. Especially lost ones. Stop and ask for directions and its likely you'll hear (in a slow drawl) “You caaan't get they-ya from he-ya.” Press the case and you'll be told, “Ayuh … down the rud a piece.” Which could be anywhere from around the bend to miles away. Even in their speech they are austere.

I love Maine. Everything about it. The people, the accent, the land, the dense forests, the rocky coast, the weather-beaten houses, the lobster pots and rough-hewn boats. If you ever have a chance to visit, go- it is unlike any other state and truly in some ways you feel you're in another country.

Maine is not a wealthy state but it is a state of very hearty people who are hard-working, tough-loving and frugal-living and who don't take or make excuses, whine or feel sorry for themselves or pander to others. They are strongly opinionated, fiercely independent, love arguing for arguments sake, aren't impressed by much and are good to their core. They do what ought to be done and are not driven by the need to amass things. True Yankees. In fact, people in Maine pride themselves on their frugality. Nothing goes to waste. Nothing. They can teach the rest of us a thing or two about surviving tough economic times.

There is a saying there that sums up the man and speaks to the fabric of his being: Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do or Do without. Don't believe me? Check this out. Little slivers of bath soap are saved and used in a metal net-like contraption to wash dishes. I kid you not. You swish it around in the sink until the water gets soapy. Windows are cleaned with vinegar water and newspaper (yes it works- try it). Clothes are patched and patched again and there is no shame in it. Even today. Of course I am not talking about city transplants but the real Maine-iacs, the stoics, born and bred there for generations. The ones who can point out 5 generations preceding them in the small town cemetery they keep up with pride.

Cod fish is dried by hanging it outside on two lines designed to continually spin to keep the flies off. It hangs and spins for days until the consistency of leather (and yes, flies land on it and it is served anyway.)  When you eat lobster in Maine, every bit is devoured including the meat (if you can call it that) in the antennae. Yes it is unapologetically and publicly sucked out. Nothing goes to waste. Nothing.

Ever look at an L.L. Bean catalog? It never changes. Every year it sells the same wicked good socks and wicked good slippers and wicked good slickers. But develop a hole in those socks no matter how long you wear them or how old they are and they'll be replaced for free. I don't think its ever occurred to them to change the style. It works, they like it, why mess with it? Plus, how can you get a free pair 10 years later if they change the style?

About our materialism and our inability to use it up, wear it out, make do, do with less or do without, they'd probably say we're “soft as custard” and we “don't know more than a goose knows God”. I don't think they'd say it in judgment as much as a statement of fact, cut and dry, no offense intended. After all, “there's no pocket in a shroud,” they'd say. And what can we said to that but, “Ayuh,”? There is no pocket in a shroud so we can take it with us when we die.

Wow, the Christmas season seems to get busier and busier every year.

I took a few minutes to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas last night. Even back in 1965 when the show made its debut, a reminder was needed that the meaning of Christmas is not metal trees, light contests, or pageants. When all hope of a wonderful Christmas seems to be lost, Linus steps up to the stage and quotes the Christmas story from Luke 2:8-14. After quoting the verses, Linus kindly reminds Charlie that Christ is the true reason for Christmas.

How much more do we need to be reminded of that this year?

This weekend I read this story from Luke 10.

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” 41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The story reminded me not to worry and be anxious over details but to focus on Christ and His love...especially in this holiday season.

Ask yourself…am I busy with all the details of the season or am I focused on Christ? Am I full of love, joy, and peace or am I full of worry, stress, and anxiety.

Don’t be like Martha. Don’t be distracted from the real meaning of Christmas. It is so easy for us to get distracted.

My prayer this season for each one of us (myself included!!) is that we would not be distracted with all the details of the season. I pray our hearts would be full of love, joy, and peace rather than worry, stress, and anxiety.

I will likely be on vacation next Wednesday so have a wonderful Christmas everyone!!!

Dead Hard-Drives Make Great Spiritual Opportunities

Do you ever have those days when you get the distinct impression God is messing with you, and your spiritual ears perk up to see his hand at work? One of those days when things are far from normal from the get-go, and you can't help but think there's going to be some bigger reason for it? For instance, when you leave your house to find a flat tire on your car, or when you wake up to find out your water was turned off when you need a shower, or when you come in to work to find the hard drive in your brand new laptop fried like a curious toddler with a metal fork?

The first two were examples; the third actually happened to me yesterday...

Technical details aside, my brand new work laptop had a dud hard-drive in it, and I was without a computer all day yesterday. We made several jokes about IBM standing for Inevitably Broken Machine, but that's neither here nor there. The important thing to know is that all the "work" I do is done via email, Microsoft Word, or a web-authoring program called RoboHelp. Without a computer, I'm unable to do anything productive.

I swear I just heard a construction crew member somewhere cursing my name...

So, after the tech told me that it would take until at least noon on the following day to get my computer back, I decided to pick up a book called The Energy Bus. Our boss had gotten us all copies of it and asked us to read it in our free time, stating that it was something we could all stand to hear. I figured there couldn't possibly be a better time than this to read it seeing as twiddling my thumbs and texting can only occupy so much of my time at my now primitive workstation.

Curiously enough, the book is about a guy named George who lets poor circumstances like flat tires and big workloads ruin his life. He's always angry because he feels as though he has no control over his life, and he ends up meeting a bus driver named Joy who helps him see his life in a new light [what a cleverly-veiled innuendo for a name, right?] She shows him how these seemingly bad circumstances can be God's way of nudging us to a place where we meet someone we need in our lives, or learn a lesson that we desperately need to learn.

So of course, as I'm reading this, I'm becoming increasingly aware of the fact that God is, in fact, planning to mess with me seeing as he's hacked me off at the knees to do any sort of work and has left me with no other choice but to pass the time by reading a book about the very thing he's doing with me. Bring it on, I said, bring it on!

I continue reading more about this Mr. Rogers-esque bus driver named Joy and how she explains to Georgey-boy that once he is able to see his self-perceived "problems" as part of a bigger story, it's much more likely to be excited, enthusiastic, and energized about what's happening with life. On and on she goes about how people are magnetically attracted to people who are excited, enthusiastic, and energized about what they do, even if they're not leaders. Which I hadn't really realized before, but I found it to be quite true when I really got to thinking about it. Some of the people I admire and look up to the most are those who have a clear vision about their lives and are absolutely passionate about what they do. The positive energy that they emit from being so in-the-zone about what they do hooks any and all observers, even if they're not the slightest bit interested in the subject matter.

For example, while I have virtually no interest in sports, I still find myself baffled when I see the dedication and intensity on the faces of Olympic athletes who have dedicated their entire lives to their passions. This same principle can no doubt hold true for a political candidate. The voters may not be interested in every topic he addresses, but the excitement, enthusiasm, and energy that he conveys as he speaks to the masses will sway the hearts of the voters. There's something about those attributes that inspire us to believe in a person's potential as a leader. The old saying about being able to sell ice to an Eskimo is probably a direct result of people who’ve harnessed their potential like this.

This got me thinking about my own passions. About when I have felt the most excited about an opportunity, enthusiastic to do my best, and energized to commit my time to something. As I thought about it, I was surprised when my honest answer wasn't leading worship – It was teaching English.

Over the summer I visited a very good group of friends in Mexico City, and had the opportunity to sit in on an English course down there. I got to help people native to Mexico understand what words meant in English, how to say them properly, and good ways to remember them. It came so naturally to me that it felt like breathing. I loved every minute of it and would do it for free for the rest of my life.

As I flipped the last page of that shiny yellow book over and clapped it shut, everything came into focus like God was carefully dialing in the lens on my camera.

Several weeks ago, my boss had asked me about an ESL (English as a Second Language) opportunity at her church that met on Monday nights. She knew I was well-versed in Spanish and that I would be a great asset to their program. I unfortunately declined because Monday nights were the nights when we had Immersion worship team rehearsals.

But wait, there’s more!

Over the past few weeks, the Immersion worship team and I have been discussing ways we can streamline our band selection and rehearsal processes a bit. After a lot of brainstorming and praying, we decided that for the 2009 year, we were going to forego having practices on Monday nights at all.

Now, to bring it all together...

So in a matter of hours, God completely destroys the hard-drive in my laptop; forces me to read a book about excitement, enthusiasm, and energy in your life; unveils the passion in my own life that invokes those qualities in me; and tops it all off by showing me that he had planned for me to have Monday evenings free to explore this opportunity in teaching at my boss's church for weeks now.

What a show-off!

But in all seriousness, I love the ways that God orchestrates all of the seemingly mundane details in your life to set you up in perfect position to walk through the next door he has opened for you. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears sharp – he could be after you next! :)

Paddle

I knew the economy was bad.
I knew it was all over the news.
I knew it was affecting a lot of people.

But I didn’t personally KNOW anyone who had been let go…

...until last week.

And what a time to lose your job, I mean I can’t imagine the heartache going on in some family's lives at this time.

So I am aware more than I was.

Aware that people need help, and I need to be thankful for all that I have.

People (I myself included) are getting the sense that they are no longer in control.

They can’t control the economy.
They can’t control their job.
They can’t control their future.

It’s a scary thing to realize – especially if you thought you were in control (which we all know ultimately no one is in control except for God).

But I am also a believer that this doesn’t mean you should just sit back and let life happen, have the pieces fall as they may, so to speak.

There needs to be a balance and perspective.

You can’t control the current but you can paddle the boat.

So I pray that we as a country and also as a body of Christ learn from the past, learn from the present and paddle our boat accordingly. I pray for the lives that have been negatively affected and that the church pulls through in a big way and people see God working.

I pray that God would give me eyes to see what is important in life.

I pray for the release of fear.

I pray for hope.

Cartoon Angels Pwn

Have you ever prayed a prayer for God to challenge you in an area of your life you felt you were failing in? Afterwards, when God delivers on your prayer, and you’ve been shaken way out of your comfort zone, have you ever wished you hadn’t prayed so well for it? Metaphorically, I often ask God to “slap me around a little”, but I usually end up feeling like I got my jaw busted in response.

I joke, of course, but I love when this happens. Many times I pray for God to help me see where my misunderstandings and irrational beliefs are so that, by his grace, I can change my heart and believe what is right, and what is true. It’s a beautiful thing when your life changes accordingly. What I love most is that God’s laws aren’t irrelevant, arbitrary whims through which he exercises his power. In fact, quite the opposite is true – there are a million great reasons for every law God lays down so clearly for us through scripture, and he’ll gladly show you the reasons if you ask!

God did just that recently for me.

A particular challenge for me is my relationship with my boss. As people, she and I have no qualms with one another. She’s a Christian as well, and one of the most caring individuals I’ve ever met. But when it comes to work styles, we see things VERY differently.

Just by nature, our personalities conflict a lot. My boss is a very detailed, over-involved person who likes to get her nose in any and every task possible. Many of her direct reports refer to her as a “micro-manager” in that she doesn’t just tell you to do things; she tells you how she wants it done as well.

I, on the other hand, am the complete opposite. I couldn’t care less how people get things done as long as the big picture is filled in. For instance, I see 5+5, 2x5, 20/2, and 15-5 all as perfectly rational ways to get to 10. But if my boss asks me to get to 10, she’ll tell me which mathematical strategy to use.

For someone who is more of an overview thinker, this can be frustrating. I feel like my creativity and freedom are very stifled, almost as if I’m being treated like a child rather than an adult with a full-time job. So, my natural inclination is to ask “Why this way?” This, of course, puts unnecessary pressure on my boss. She doesn’t have to explain herself to me, and she doesn’t owe me any explanation. It’s my job to listen to her, but when I don’t understand her reasoning, a simple command isn’t good enough. So, my natural “adult” reaction is to color outside the lines and show her that even if I do things MY way, we’ll still get the same result...

Yes, clearly this is a wise behavior.

In case you’re bad at detecting sarcasm, I’m using it right now. A lot.

God’s been challenging me a lot in this rebellious attitude I have with micro-managers. So, without even so much as a half-hearted prayer for help, God opened my eyes to what was really going on with my attitude. This may seem somewhat comical, but I often have mental conversations with myself, as if I have a little cherub on one shoulder, and a demon on the other. For some reason, the cherub has the voice of Towelie from South Park. I have no idea why.

I think the conversation went something like this…

Cherub: You should have changed your voicemail like your boss asked you to.
Demon: Why? It’s not like it matters. People still know I’m not answering my phone.
Cherub: Maybe, but why did you refuse your boss’s orders? What are you trying to prove?
Demon: Uh, that things don’t have to be done EXACTLY as she asks as long as they get done. I didn’t see any problem come from it!
Cherub: The problem is that you’re not the one in charge. Your boss gave you a task to do, and you should do it without any undue questions or fussing.
Demon: But her way doesn’t make any sense! It’s so much simpler my way!
Cherub: That may be, but does that give you the right to question every order she gives you? Should she have to explain herself every time she talks to you in order to get you to simply obey her?
Demon: Well, no… I guess not…
Cherub: Exactly! When you demand an explanation from her every time she gives you an order, you’re trying to make HER answer to YOU! SHE’S the boss here – not you! Get over yourself!
Demon: [walks away with tail between legs, grumbling about sissy little wings]

There, you got a glimpse inside my head. If you never want to come back, I understand.

Anyway, that’s just one of many awesome things about God. In praying through a tough situation with my boss, God showed me a very good answer to “Why are we called to obey all authority?” Cartoony special effects aside, I think if you honestly let God ask you some really tough questions, and don’t let your little demon get the last word, you’ll be amazed at what has been right under your nose for years.

Nature...no excuses


My post today will be short, simple and hopefully sweet.

I love nature. I love hiking in the mountains or watching a sunset. I love the smell of the fresh air after a spring rain. I could go on and on...

Last week we had our first snowfall of the winter. It was one of those where it was still fairly warm outside (in the low 30s as compared to single digits with a wind chill) and the snowflakes where the big puffy kind. The whiteness blanketed the trees, the ground, the streets, the cars and the houses. A snowfall like this has its peacefulness and quietness about it. Everything is covered in white and the stillness is breathtaking. These snowfalls always remind me of Psalm 51:7.

“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

Nature is always pointing to its Creator. A snowfall is such a beautiful picture of what God wants to do within our hearts & souls. God wants to cover up the dirty, the rusty, the muddy, the dark, and the ugly with a blanket of white. He wants to make all things new in our lives...if we are willing to let Him.

I have just started studying the book of Romans (much more to come on this I’m sure) and I the following verse captivated me.

Romans 1:20, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

My study Bible offered these comments for the verse, “Nature shows a God of might, intelligence, and intricate detail; a God of order and beauty; a God who controls powerful forces.”

So the next time you step outside...even if it is just to scrape snow and ice of your car...take time to look around at the beautiful creation all around you and thank God for His amazing qualities we see in and through nature.

Gifts

Can you remember some of your favorite Christmas gifts you’ve received? I’ve been thinking about some of mine when I was growing up. When I was really young, it was my Cabbage Patch Kids. One year I got a real cash register. As I got older I would receive more useful or practical gifts…a bike, a new tennis racket, clothes. For the most part, whatever was on my Christmas list, I likely received it.

Then there are the things, both big and small, that I’ve asked God for. Often times it was hard for me to see where God was in all of it. But now that I‘m so far removed from certain situations, I can see how the times I didn’t get what I wanted was because of what it would've done to me. Most of the time, the things I would ask God for were only a temporary fix to a deep-seated problem. And He wanted to get to the root of the problem.

So instead He gave me His incredible mercy…a gift so big I cannot even begin to wrap my mind around it or accurately describe what it’s done for my life. Forgiveness. Self-control. Just to name a few. Unlike so many things we get that may quickly loose their luster, a relationship with Jesus means these things will never go away.

God says that He withholds no good thing from us. And so we can be sure that whatever he does or does not give us is for our own good. I still can't believe how much simpler and peaceful my life got when I understood this to be true.

Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. James 1:17

Reminiscing

Reminiscing – how cool is it when you can reminisce with someone….

You know those really good friends?

Those great friends you may have from childhood or high school or even college that know stories. Good stories, bad stories…indifferent.

Those are the friends I am talking about.

I LOVE seeing old friends that know a chapter of my life, that can reminisce and laugh about silly things that have happened, adventures once taken, or events that took place.

Memories are a bond that link you together for life… if you let them.

I run into these friends when I go back to my hometown, a friend has a wedding or maybe a "chance" encounter in a new town (Philip that means you).

And of course there is the infamous Facebook… I have heard more people say that the reason they love Facebook so much is because they get to see what old friends are up to and keep in touch after YEARS of no communication.

I love it too!!!

The whole thing that got me started on this idea was that I made it back home recently and got to see some close friends from years past.

And yes, we’ve changed.
And yes, we live different lives.
And yes, many events have occurred between then and now.

But we were able to reminisce… and laugh… and remember.

I LOVED IT!!!

And it got me to thinking…. God know everything about me. He knows everything about my past, all the stories, the adventures and the events. So we started reminiscing….

“Hey God remember when you provided in a BIG way for me….. remember when I thought I was lost and never going to have it figured out and then you showed me…. remember when you spoke to me through that beautiful starry night and showed me how much you loved me and cared for me….. remember??”

Of course you do! You’re GOD!! ☺ HAHA

It’s me who needs to take the time to remember how He’s always been there, how He loves more than I can comprehend, and how I know who I am because of Him.☺

Here To Stay

I am going to out myself (as if you haven’t already surmised this from past blogs). I am not a young adult. I am a poser- an old adult hanging around people 25 years younger than me, thoroughly enjoying it and sometimes wondering why. A plausible explanation is that I am immature and suffer from Peter Pan syndrome! Justin tells me I am more postmodern than some in their 20s (not sure if that’s a compliment or not). Regardless I have been around the block a few times and if that doesn’t give you wisdom it at least gives you experience. Experience I have.

Which is helpful. Experience, I mean, especially in times of stress or uncertainty … like now. It seems as if we are in a global economic crisis. Today’s bad news is followed by tomorrow’s worse news. Banks, businesses, individuals, automobile manufacturers want bailed out. 401Ks are down a third or more. Jobs are scarce, dollars few. Last week the non-profit I worked for sent around a letter saying that there will be no Christmas bonuses for employees this year, followed by a letter this week pleading for employees to donate money to the agency. Election elation seems to have been tempered by the reality of the state of the economy. There is serious tension everywhere.

Let me offer this word of advice that my father shared with me and that I hope will bring some measure of comfort. This too shall pass. Simple but profound and true: this too shall pass. In my numerous decades I have experienced busts and booms, repeatedly. I have seen prime interest rates as high as 21.5% and as low as 4%. I have seen homes sell so fast that there were lines in driveways of prospective buyers and I have sold a home, during tough economic times, at a $20,000 loss, thanking God I didn’t have to pay the bank to get out. My current home has been on the market for over 2 years. I lived through Jimmy Carter and double digit inflation in the 70’s, the Texas oil crisis in the 80s, the technology crash in New England in the early 90’s, the dot com rise and fall this century and most recently watched as the bottom fell out of the sub-prime mortgage industry. In between those were times of unprecedented prosperity.

I have watched good economic times come and go and I can say with a fair measure of certainty- they will continue to come and go. I am not trying to downplay the seriousness of the financial crisis by being a Pollyanna. Nor am I trying to be a Debby Downer suggesting we should eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we may die. I’m just saying- wait and see if it doesn’t pass. And then come back again. Which is why it is so important to not attach your worth or self-esteem to your bank account or stock portfolio or material possessions or even your job. All those things you can lose in a day. Ask those who lived through the tornadoes and floods in Iowa this year. Ask anyone who has been around as long as me. You don’t traverse this world without experiencing loss and gain and loss and gain. And the older you get the more you realize- things don’t matter. People do.

It is important to be fiscally responsible, to live within your means and not take on debt if at all possible. It is equally important to guard your heart and not let the current state of the economy, whether it be good or bad, determine your happiness. Jesus says we are in this world but not of it and for that we should be of good cheer. We do not have to be slaves to today’s economic woes, worldly frets, doomsday predictions and dire news. We can live simply and joy in Him, thankful for His provisions today and trusting in His care for us tomorrow. Seriously that is not only doable it is the only way to live.

And that, my friends, is my 2 cents worth that you can take to the bank (do I hear a collective groan?)- a bit of experience and perspective (that is hopefully not completely devoid of wisdom) from this young/old adult who loves, loves, loves Jesus and loves, loves, loves Immersion. Be of good cheer. Jesus is here. To stay.

Previously on Heroes...

I’ll come right out and say it: I’m a dork, and I’m not ashamed of it.

I love fantasy, and always have, all kinds of it. Video games, books, movies, you name it. As a kid, my dad and I bonded over hours of Galaga and dozens of other video games. My first R-rated movie was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. My pre-teen obsession was Goosebumps and Fear Street novels. And even now, I’ll confess to enjoying the occasional visit to the World of Warcraft.

I love the allegory of fantasy. It stimulates your mind in ways that most day-to-day interactions don’t. It draws us into a world that doesn’t exist, in order to teach us about the world that does. Even in the case of Firefly, where rogue independents fly from planet to planet fighting an intergalactic battle against a corrupt, oppressive government, the viewer finds himself easily identifying with the characters on the show through their interactions with other characters, the way they react to challenges, and their moral stances in times of crises.

Which brings me to my latest obsession: Heroes.

Heroes is set primarily in present-day. The basic premise of the show is that some individuals with unique genetic mutations express extraordinary, superhuman traits - what they call “abilities”. These abilities can be anything from rapid cellular regeneration to psychokinesis (moving objects with the mind). However, there’s one character in particular whose ability has really intrigued me, and even challenged me as a Christian.

Matt Parkman, a run-of-the-mill police officer, is telepathic.

In the beginning episodes of the show, Parkman’s ability manifests as him hearing the thoughts of people around him, similarly to the scene in Bruce Almighty where the prayers of everyone around him started popping into his head uncontrollably.

For example, during a murder investigation, Parkman hears the terrified thoughts of a little girl who the police had assumed was missing after her parents were brutally murdered. Because he heard her thoughts, he was able to find her hiding in the house and rescue her.

Parkman also uses his ability to hear his upset wife’s thoughts about him [something I’m sure a lot of men wish they could do once in a while]. Even though she is being stubborn and not communicating with him, he knows what is bothering her and takes steps to resolve the problem.

But this seemingly awesome ability has some downsides as well. Just as clearly as he hears the thoughts that he can use for good, he also hears the ruthless insults. The frustrated thoughts that people would never actually say, he hears with complete clarity. To make matters worse, he sometimes has trouble focusing when he is around a lot of people.

In an episode from the first season, there was a really powerful scene that spoke volumes to me about our nature as people…

After a romantic dinner with his wife, Parkman heads to a local convenience store to pick up some coffee-flavored ice cream. He grabs the half pint and heads to the counter to pay. As he is waiting in line, the thoughts of everyone are jumping in and out of his head. “I can’t remember what kind she wanted … Ugh, I’d have to work out if I ate this … These are so expensive!

But in the midst of those random thoughts, he caught the malicious thoughts of a man intending to rob the store. Parkman glances around the store and sees a young man glaring angrily at the cashier, hands in the pockets of his denim jacket. “Just shoot him and run … the security cameras won’t see you … just do it!

Being the upholder of public safety that he is, Parkman decides to intervene. He cautiously approaches the man in the denim jacket and has a hushed conversation about how he knows what the man is planning to do, and that he himself is a cop. Parkman convinces the man to leave his gun on the shelf behind him and go home to his girlfriend who is pregnant.

The man who intended to rob the store leaves the store, and Parkman breathes a sigh of relief. He then grabbed the gun that the man left on the shelf and proceeded to get rid of it. Just then, the thoughts of every other customer in the store hit him like a ton of bricks. “Oh my God, he’s got a gun! … Is he going to shoot me? … What is he doing!?

Parkman puts his life on the line to save the cashier (and perhaps others in the store), and he ends up scaring everyone in the store into thinking that he is the criminal looking to rob the store.

Now, I’ll leave you to dwell on how that scene is a pretty good representation of how Jesus was treated by the Romans, the Pharisees, and even his own disciples. But, what really struck me about that whole scene is that after convincing the man not to rob the store, Parkman was ready to feel like a Hero. But, because of his ability, he got the real story. In a way, he got a glimpse of God’s perspective.

God sees straight through to our hearts. Despite what we say or do, God understands perfectly what we’re actually thinking.

  • When that annoying person at church comes to talk to you and you greet them with a “Hey, how’s it going?” God hears the, “Great, this guy again.”
  • As you drop change into a homeless person’s hands, God hears the self-inflating “You’re a good Christian!”
  • And even before you open your Bible to read, God hears the “Gosh, I’d really rather be doing something else right now.”

Those are only examples, but I think you see what I mean. Just because we don’t act on evil thoughts we have doesn’t mean we’re somehow justified. Those things that come into our minds came directly from our hearts. And if those thoughts are reflections of our hearts, then I think we have a pretty good reason to be thankful for grace.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with a challenge. Think of a person who really tries your patience, someone who annoys you to no end, or even someone you have chosen to ignore entirely for whatever reason. The next time you see them, act as if they can hear what you’re thinking. See how it changes your behavior. See how it makes you feel.

I think you’ll end up thankful that we have a Hero to worship.

Love

What is love?

Why does it feel so wonderful to be loved? Why does it feel even better to love someone?

Why is it that when one gives up on love, everything else seems to fade away as well – joy, hope, forgiveness, compassion. Are they all connected in some way?

Erwin McManus offers these thoughts in his book Soul Cravings:

"We cannot live unaffected by love. We are most alive when we find it, most devastated when we lose it, most empty when we give up on it, most inhumane when we betray it, and most passionate when we pursue it."

Again, what is love?

Let me say this...Hollywood does not have the answer.

1 John 4:16: God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

God is love? What does that mean? I have heard that phrase thousands of times, but what does it mean? This past summer I had an epiphany about this which forever changed my perspective on love. It was not really anything super amazing, but I just remembered one basic principle from algebra. The word “is” in story problems often meant something equaled something else. The word “is” could be substituted by the equals sign. Like I said...nothing fancy.

So...

God = Love

Cool, right? Then I remembered things on either side of the equals sign could be rotated or flip flopped as long as they stayed unchanged on both sides. Huh?

Love = God

This is when it hit me. Love is God. Just soak in those words for a few minutes. Love is God. I’m going to say it again because it sends a tingle throughout my being with the very thought of it...love is God.

Why does it feel so wonderful to love or be loved? Love is the very presence of God. Love IS God. Isn’t that a mind boggling thought when you really stop to think about it? The very existence of love in every human circumstance, however great or small, is the presence of God.

My prayer for you today...may you experience the presence of God in your life...may you encounter love. God is love. Love is God.

Preparation

Earlier this year I had decided that I was going to run the Chicago marathon. Not exactly a small feat for someone who'd never run more than 4 miles at a time. It ended up being eighteen weeks of training that completely changed my life. There's something to be said for the solitude that running provides, and I know that God has allowed it to be one of the many ways I get to experience His peace.

But the training wasn't all great. Of course in the heat of the summer, there were days when running was the last thing I wanted to do. There were days when I couldn't even go a mile without feeling like my legs were going to collapse under me. Days like this caused a lot of self-doubt and I would question if I could actually do this or not. As the weeks went by, I was getting more anxious and impatient and I just wanted the race to be here NOW, even though I knew I was not ready.

But how critical is the training to the race? Most people would not just say, "I'm going to run a marathon today!" and have it be a success. The weeks of training were the difficult part…the time management, maintaining my motivation, listening to what my body is telling me, allowing myself to rest. Although difficult many days, the training and preparation were essential…I would not have finished otherwise.

For a long time, I had the complete opposite attitude toward my spiritual life and my relationship with God. I used to wander through life with no real focus. I had always believed in God, and just thought that no matter what, He would always come through for me. And often times He did. But there was no real devotion on my part…I wasn’t willing to do the training, so to speak, that God was asking of me to get me where He wanted me. My heart wasn’t in it and the result was not good.

But now, I’m learning to treat my spiritual life as if I’m training for a marathon. Learning that it’s not enough to just be waiting for something big to happen in my life, but to be focused and preparing myself so that I‘m ready when God decides it‘s time. To be purposeful and intentional every day of my life. To follow the path He’s laying out for me and trust it’s taking me some where great, even when it feels like it’s taking forever. To run and not be weary…

Self Betrayal

I’ve been reading a book called Leadership and Self Deception lately, and it’s really challenged me on the way that I see basically EVERYONE in my life. I’m only halfway through it at the moment, but the basic premise of the book is that through a series of interactions with other people, we develop beliefs about them, and consequently, about ourselves in relationship to that person. Furthermore, once we [perhaps, unknowingly] develop those beliefs, we bring those to the table every time we interact with that person, and we posture ourselves accordingly.

For instance, I may see my boss as a very legalistic, hard-edged person, which makes me react as more subservient than I would to my brother, who presents me with a totally different relationship dynamic. He obviously has no authoritative role over me, and is a very lax person, so I react much more casually and personally to him than I do to my boss.

This isn’t news to most people, nor is it a revolutionary way of thinking. But, what really caught me off guard is this cycle that the book illustrated that literally had me astounded and convicted to the point that my jaw was hanging open.

This is going to be a long ride, so stay with me…

The author began talking about self betrayal. He defined it as “an act contrary to what I feel I should do for another person.” For example, when we pass by a homeless person asking for change and we ignore the pull of the Holy Spirit to help them out, in this author’s vocabulary, we have betrayed ourselves.

To illustrate the author’s point in its fullness, let’s run with an example all-too familiar to each and every one of us: tipping wait staff.

Note: If you want to get anything out of reading this, approach it with an open mind. Don’t introduce your own details to the story to excuse a behavior or weasel your way out of applying this to yourself. Just run with me for a few minutes here, and I think we’ll both see something very powerful at work.

Imagine it’s Thursday night after Immersion, and you’re out with a group of friends at our dearly-beloved Buffalo Wild Wings for some socializing and spicy chicken. While you’re there, you are forced to wait longer than you’d like several times for your drink refills, your food took over 20 minutes to arrive at the table, and you were infrequently visited by your server after it was delivered. It was a busy night due to the large Immersion crowd, and your service was suffering. In addition to all this, when your server was at the table, she seemed very rushed and was struggling to keep up with all of the refills and miscellaneous requests from people at the table.

Finally, the bill comes, and you pick up the pen to fill in how much of a tip to leave. You’re faced with the decision to either leave a tip based on the service you actually received, or based on the situational factors that made your server’s job incredibly difficult. Being a person who receives grace weekly through the body and blood of Jesus, you know what the right choice is: Show your server some grace and give her a generous tip despite the inferior service.

But, let’s say for argument’s sake, you make the wrong choice. You choose the action contrary to what you feel you should do, and betray yourself. You leave a lousy tip. And in the blink of an eye, BOOM! The guilt hits you, and you’re faced with the weight of the lousy tip you left.

…But, the service was still really lousy, right? And, I’m just as important as every other customer there, right? Plus, if that server was waiting a ton of people like that, she probably still made out all right for the evening. I’m really not a tightwad. If that server really wanted to earn a good tip from me, she could have. She wasn’t working to her full capacity. I made the right choice.

You walk out of B’Dubs with no guilt, no shame, and your head held high.

Does this sound familiar? Making a poor choice, and then justifying it by distorting the situation? Think about these questions:

  • What did you feel about yourself right after you made the choice about the tip?
  • What about now?
  • What did you feel towards the server while you were there?
  • What about now?
If you’re not following me, I’ll help you out. Right as you left the tip, guilt struck you and you felt cheap. You felt bad for ripping your server off. You knew that the poor service was out of her control, and that she was doing her best to keep you and your friends happy.

And now, after distorting the situation to justify your behavior, you see yourself as generous, and the server as a slacker who needs to learn to work harder. Is this even close to reality?

No, it’s not. But it’s what you walked out of BWW believing in order to cope with the self-betrayal, the sin, the poor choice you made.

The author goes on to assert that this kind of self-justifying behavior can become characteristic of us. That, in explaining away our self betrayal, our view of reality becomes distorted, and that we carry those distorted views around with us. I’ll continue the example…

Let’s say you’re back at BWW a couple weeks later and you get the same server as last time. Before she even has a chance to greet you, because of the last interaction with her, you already believe she’s not a very hard worker, and that your experience at BWW is probably going to be a negative one. Your expectations of her performance soar sky-high, and you continue to see yourself as a justified, generous person.

But here’s the clincher, do you suppose the server remembers you? The group of people that she busted her butt to serve and got slapped with slave-wage tips to thank for it – you bet she does! Before she even has a chance to greet you, she already believes you’re a tightwad and that you’re probably going to be demanding more of her than anyone else she’s waiting on. She believes she is a good server, and that she deserves better tips than what you offer.

How do you suppose your interaction with the server will feel for you both? I would guess that the greetings would feel pretty forced seeing as you both actually have pretty negative feelings towards one another (which are based in distortions of reality, remember). I would also venture to say that she would be less inclined to work hard and serve you well because of how you treated her last time, which would further enforce your mis-belief that she’s a poor server.

How well do you suppose you’ll tip her this time? Do you think she’ll be surprised? Probably not…

So, what’s the point? Well, if you look at the example closely, you’ll see that in making the poor choice about the tip, justifying your self betrayal by blaming the server, and interacting with her based on those distorted beliefs, you invited the behavior that upset you in the first place!

By choosing to believe that your server was a lazy person who deserves low tips, you provoked her to believe that you’re an unappreciative tightwad. Thus, she feels that she has no reason to try to earn a good tip from you, and puts very little effort into serving you. Your distorted reality is reinforced, as is hers.

Gosh Luke, that’s a pretty elaborate example with a lot of assumptions.

Yea, it is. But, I can say with 100% certainty that this kind of mutually destructive behavior occurs with EVERYONE to some degree, and most of them are completely unaware of it. It’s certainly not limited to something as tangible as a serving tip either:
  • I have a friend who finds a particular individual overbearing and annoying, so he goes to great lengths to avoid that person. Consequently, that person tries even harder to get attention from my friend, which annoys her further. Do you suppose my friend should just give that person the time of day, and maybe that would solve her problem?
  • I know another friend who is extremely opinionated and combative about musical opinions. As such, many of us who know him see him as narrow-minded, and opinionated, and consequently, we feel we have to go to great lengths to justify our opinions to him. And, go figure - that makes him want to argue more. Do you suppose that if he were to lighten up, our views of each other might change?

The examples could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I’ll leave you with a paraphrase of this whole cycle that the author outlined in his book. It’s been a powerful reminder for me to approach every person and every situation as objectively as possible, and to make the choices I know are the ones Christ would make, even if I don’t feel like it at the moment.

Self Betrayal
An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another

  • When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal.
  • When I see a self-justifying world, my view of reality becomes distorted.
  • So – when I betray myself, I become distorted.
  • Over time, certain distortions become characteristic of me, and I become them.
  • By being distorted, I provoke others to be distorted.
  • While distorted, we invite mutual mistreatment and obtain mutual justification. We collude in giving each other reason to remain distorted.

All Things Work Together...

Sometimes I'm amazed at how quickly I forget all that God has done for me. I get busy with my life, my every day routine, and I do not stop to thank Him for all the ways He has blessed me.

I was thinking today about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and I started to get sad because I remembered I have to work my 2nd job at the hospital on both Friday and Saturday. This means I'll be making a short trip home to visit my family on Thursday. This really bummed me out because I've been working so much lately, it seems I rarely have a day off and I felt I really needed a couple days to relax and do nothing.

Poor. Me.

Then God told me to shut up, stop complaining, and open my eyes to what He is doing.

In a time where people are losing their jobs left and right, I have been offered overtime at my full time job--an opportunity that was not given to any one else but me. In a time where people are being laid off or cannot find a job, I've been given a 2nd one. It's not just any "2nd job", it's actually the position I held for over 5 years before leaving a couple years ago to move to Omaha (which is where I quickly found out that wherever you go, there you are).

I should back up a little bit to say that I had been praying for many months for an opportunity to make more money so that I could get myself out of debt quicker. Praying A LOT. For a long time I was just waiting and it seemed like nothing was getting better.

And then one Sunday evening as I was leaving church, I ran into an old co-worker and she told me that our friend's (another old co-worker) mother's brain cancer had returned and that she would be needing an extended leave of absence from work while she cared for her. I should also tell you that this woman's cancer was diagnosed 3 1/2 years ago and she was given only 6 months to live at that time. See where I'm going with this?

My 2nd job is working at the hospital for her a few days a month so she can spend some special time caring for her mom.

While my heart breaks for my friend as her mother's health is declining every day, and I can't pretend to know how difficult this time is for both of them, His timing never ceases to amaze me. The sacrifice I’m making by working a couple of extra days is the least I can do for my friend. To that end, He has given her priceless time with her mom that otherwise might not have been possible. And He's given me another reason to be grateful and humbled.

Experieince on Gnome Hill

Today, I have decided to share my very weird dream I had last night.

You know when you have those dreams that when you wake up, you can remember a lot of it? And if it’s a scary dream you can’t move until you tell yourself that it was just a dream and that it didn’t really happen?

No….. ?

Just me…..? (ya, I can be kinda a wimp sometimes ☺)

Anyway, here is the dream. The title is – Experience on Gnome Hill.

I was standing next to this giant gnome (it didn’t talk or move on it’s own – it was kind of like a tree) and next to me was Jesus (he was real and was talking). So, we were talking and I was facilitating this encounter Jesus was about to have with the Antichrist. And then Jesus went away and the Antichrist came and stood next to me and let out a roar so loud that it shook the giant gnome until it fell on it’s side and started rolling down this hill crushing all the little gnomes below.

Then……

I woke up.

And I had this sense of strong fear come over me. I don’t know why I was so afraid but it was very real to me…. so I started praying to Jesus and I had this revelation.

I can talk to Jesus anytime I want….. He’s real…..and He cares….

Now, I have prayed many times before and believed that Jesus was real, but this was a different kind of revelation. I think it was because I was just standing next to Jesus in my dream and now I was praying to Him.

The same Jesus that was born in a manger.
The same Jesus that grew up and became a great teacher.
The same Jesus who died…. and rose from the dead – allowing me to spend eternity with Him.

That Jesus.

God.

Not some nice thought up idea of what Jesus is.
Not some imaginary person you can pretend to talk to.
Not some hierarchy that doesn’t have time to listen to your fears about a stupid gnome dream.

A loving Jesus. A caring Jesus. An understanding Jesus.

I felt better, and I’m pretty sure that’s not how the apocalypse is going to happen, but you never know….. maybe that was a prophecy about giant gnome being built up right before the second coming….. something to look for I guess. J/K!!!

Chaos and Contradiction

When I uploaded last week’s blog I knew it would be hard. Let me clarify. I knew that blogging THIS WEEK would be hard. Not that it wasn’t difficult to admit to sitting alone on a Saturday night watching movies while throwing myself a pity party- not pretty stuff. Nor was it particularly easy to admit that Jesus called me on the carpet for stuff. Big stuff. I knew the real challenge, however, would be writing this week. Because I knew that I would probably fail and I knew I would not want to admit it to you.

But I had promised myself that if I was going to do this blog I was not going to waste my time or your time with posturing, pretending or glossing over the truth. Post-moderns hate masks and moderns hardly know how to exist without them. Boomers are so darned driven and so success oriented that what I want to tell you is how great I did at obeying God. Jesus spoke, the Holy Spirit anointed and I immediately responded by giving up what I was supposed to give up and stopping what I needed to stop. I could then follow it with a 3 point teaching on how to walk in obedience, throw in some Greek roots to boot.

Yeah … not the case. Something shifted in my heart, but I still failed.

Hanging out at Immersion is changing me in ways I never expected. And one of those ways is I am learning to be what I have always claimed to value but never truly walked in – being transparent. Transparency is frightening. It is risky. It is uncomfortable. And honestly, transparency in a modern boomer Christian world invites all kinds of mini-sermons and well-meaning but ultimately finger-pointing advice on how not to fail from those to whom you confessed. Boomers have taken Christianity, boiled it down to principles and precepts, and turned it into another project at which we must succeed. New car. Check. Promotion. Check. Obeyed God. Check.

Interestingly enough, the very charge that moderns levy at post-moderns- not believing in absolute truth and the seeming ease of living with sin and without conviction- I am shockingly finding is the very thing that is freeing me to be transparent. In the mix of that I find amazing and breathtaking acceptance.

When I talk about my struggles or (gasp) failures I don’t get raised eyebrows, shocked looks, five ways to fix it or a “come on you can do better” talk. Sometimes I don’t even get a reaction which tempers my self-absorption; like ‘this is not only not a big deal it isn’t a deal at all’. I’m sure it can be argued at length that this is bad. But for me, for right now, it is freedom. Hear me clearly. I am not talking about the liberty to sin but the freedom to be honest about it.

I am learning to sit in my own sinfulness and to be comfortable with it and resist the temptation to hide it, fix it, fudge it or pretend it isn’t there. Like the extra pounds I’ve gained this past year, nothing I put on is going to disguise it and there is no quick fix to get rid of it. I am learning to be at ease with who I am as I am, and it is good.

My logical, linear thinking is starting to make room for the chaos and contradiction of sin and grace. The mask that used to protect is now heavy and suffocating; the image of perfection too exhausting. And if Christianity is all about success, I quit. Because the truth is I am now, always will be and always have been only one thing- a miserable sinner saved by God’s amazing grace. Fatally flawed, passionately loved. How freeing it is to live in the dichotomy of that truth.

Brokenness

I used to always laugh at the idea of going to the gym to lift weights. The idea of being around a bunch of sweaty people exercising and flexing their muscles in front of mirrors just seems so wrong to me.

Oh well...I enjoy going after work each day. It relaxes me. My mind is usually worn out from the day at the office, but my body needs to expel cooped up energy. So I try not to think too hard while I lift and let my body begin to work.

However, while I was pumping the iron recently, my mind was racing with fascination of how God designed the human body. It is amazing to think that the act of lifting weights does not build the muscle but rather it tears it apart and breaks it down. It is the time of rest after the workout where the muscle is strengthened by the body repairing itself from the damage done during the workout. My workout is really only breaking my body apart...tearing and stretching the muscles. It is while I sleep that my body becomes stronger as the muscle tissues use protein from my diet to mend and repair the broken tissue. The process makes my body stronger...or so I hope.

Isn’t it amazing how God designed our bodies to gain strength through being broken and torn? I think this is true in more than just physical terms.

Have you ever been broken? Maybe you have been at the end of the line, on your knees, humble before God, desperately needing Him to get through a trial in life? OR..maybe you have been broken from the consequences of sin when your actions finally caught up to you? Let me tell you I have been broken many times...both from trials and consequences of sin. I cannot describe in words what a state of brokenness feels like...it is a very humbling experience.

King David knew what it felt like to be broken. Just after Nathan confronted him about his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, King David cried out these words to God in Psalm 51:

“Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me — now let me rejoice.”

Looking back at my life over the past few years I can certainly say I was strengthened the most when I was broken. Not physically, but in my spiritual life...deep down within my soul as I turned toward God.

I have been broken many times and will be again I’m sure, but today I rejoice! I am full of joy knowing God has designed us to grow stronger as we turn toward Him when we are broken. God has given me back my joy...and...I am stronger spiritually as well.

Just[ified] Prayer

For those of you who know me personally, the fact that I’m choosing to wax intellectual about a topic like grammar in prayer will come as no surprise. But, for those of you who don’t know me well, at least give me a paragraph or two to explain myself and at least attempt to save face before you write me off as an obsessive-compulsive grammar nazi.

I have a degree in Technical Communication, which is an emphasis within English. It focuses intensely on audience analysis and determining what method and style of communication will be most effective for said audience based on your findings. It’s rhetoric in a sense, but with the added perks of being anal about grammar and technology, and it’s all rolled into one four-year program. Needless to say, once you’re trained in this type of thinking, it’s tough to turn it off…

I’m the person who laughs at signs that say “ATM Machine”, or chuckles at the redundancy of phrases like “enter into” that pop up all too often in the church these days [sorry Justin, I can’t let this go on any longer]. I’ve also been known to cringe at things like “8:00AM in the morning” or needlessly-elaborate phrases like “in the process of” when simply saying what you’re doing will suffice.

Anyway, I think you get the point. I tend to pay more attention to how people say things than I do to what they’re actually saying. And yes, I realize that’s going to be a major problem with a woman someday, but that’s a battle I’m prepared to fight! But for now, I’m hoping that my quirky brain will have noticed something that you, the beloved Immersion blog reader, will find thought-provoking at the very least.

So, with no further delay, here’s my question:

Have you ever noticed how often we say “just” when we pray?

Think about it. Almost everyone who you hear pray aloud will drop this seemingly harmless word into a prayer to God. “God we just ask that you [verb].” It’s very commonplace language anymore; and even I have to confess to hearing it slip into my prayers now and again.

So, what’s the problem? Well, think about the context in which the word is being used in a prayer. A dictionary suggests “only” or “merely” as synonyms for this use of “just” as an adverb. Linguistically, adding this kind of modifier to a request attempts to shrink the request and make it seem less daunting to the recipient, which therefore makes us feel more justified in asking for it.

Again, I urge you before you read on: Think about it. What are some other times in our lives when we use this kind of language? Who else do you “shrink” your language to in order to seem like less of a liability?

  • Maybe a friend when you ask to just borrow a couple bucks?
  • Or to a landlord when you just need a couple more days to get the rent?
  • Perhaps to a friend or lover you’ve burned who you think just needs to give you another chance?

Call me crazy, but the trend I’m seeing here is that it puts us in a position of beggar, doesn’t it? By framing our requests as such, it seems that we’re acknowledging that the person we’re addressing has power over us and that, in some cases, we feel unworthy to even be asking them for a favor.

Now, be careful not to jump to conclusions. Even I want to ask, “Well, yea, but we’re talking about GOD here! Why WOULDN’T we want to pray as if we’re not worthy? Why SHOULDN’T we feel as if we’re beggars in light of God’s sovereignty?” Well, simply put, we’re not commanded to pray that way.

After Jesus told his disciples how to pray, he gave them a very powerful story about a man in need of bread that I think we could all stand to learn from:

Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
“Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Luke 11:5-10

Did you catch that? Because of the man’s BOLDNESS, he will receive as much as he needs! The footnote of the NIV says this word could also be translated as persistence.

How do you suppose the man inside with the bread would have responded if the man at the door had asked “Come on, just spare a couple loaves?” I can only assume that he would’ve grown slightly more irritated and probably shooed the “beggar” away from his house and gone back to bed. However, because of the man’s boldness and persistence, he got what he needed!

It’s no accident that this story immediately follows Jesus’ teaching of what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is telling us that yes, we do approach God as strangers in need, but that we must pray boldly and persistently! We have no reason to approach God as if we have no business speaking to him. God wants us to speak to him, and tells us exactly the posture to have when we do it! Jesus endured what he did to give us the privilege to speak to God with confidence, as justified people before a glorious God. What a shame to not use it!

So, my friends, as strongly as I can urge you, pray knowing that you’re worthy! Pray knowing that you have every reason to bring even the smallest request to God! Pray boldly for the desires of your heart, and pray persistently without shame because your sins have been forgiven! Don’t just pray, pray BOLDLY!