Friday, July 4, 2014

What's in it for me?

"A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." Proverbs 11:25

You've probably heard, "Its better to give that to receive." Honestly, that sounds all fine and good, but it's pretty nice to receive sometimes. But when we do give, it's hard to argue that it just feels good. It's hard to put into words what you get back.

Giving is scriptural. There are so many different references, from 2 Corinthians 9:7: "Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver," to scriptural references of giving the first fruits to the Lord, to the parable of the widow's mite.

For me, it seems that giving is a foundation of the Christian faith. The giving of His Son was the greatest gift of all. He continually gives His grace. When we give, I think we reflect these gifts here on Earth.

Often times it's hard to express what we get out of giving. We use words like fulfilling, worthwhile and joyful. We describe it as just feeling good about what we did or gave. I walk away wanting to give more, but have often struggled with exactly why that is.

I saw a video on Facebook today that helped answer the question. Take a look:

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Is Risen!

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!"
Luke 24:5-6 (NIV)

Easter is finally here! This has been one f the most awaited Easter mornings I can remember. For me, this Lenten journey has been the most spirit-filled of my life, and I have been filled with excitement and anticipation for weeks.
During this Lenten season, I did choose to give something up to help me remember what has been given up for me. I chose to give up the radio in my car. I specifically chose this because I wanted to give up something that I enjoyed, not something I know I shouldn't be doing or should be doing anyway, like coffee or desserts. I think my choice was a guided one because it worked. What I chose did exactly what it should. It made me think of the sacrifice that was given for me and for you, but it did more. It gave me time to get used to being quiet. It gave me a chance to think and to listen. It gave me a chance to slow down and actually talk and listen to those in the car with me. It also reminded me how fatigued I am and how much I rely on the radio or activity to keep my attention up! It also cut my rehearsal time for our cantata short, since I usually listen to the music on the way to and from work. I often found myself filling in the gaps, but I found me filling the void with songs of praise instead of secular music.
I also made the choice to do a daily devotional. If you aren't familiar with it, there is an app called YouVersion. One of the many functions of this app is that you can get a reading plan. I completed the ReThink Life: 40 Day Devotional. Day 33 is geared toward giving. Part of it says:
The lesson He wanted them to learn and He wants us to learn is when it comes to giving is: it is not equal amount, but equal sacrifice that matters. God is more pleased with our hearts than He is with the amount.
What spoke to me was that it is about equal sacrifice. What a time to remember this, during the Lenten season.
As I was preparing for the Sunday School lesson this week, I was trying to figure out how I was going to tie together the closing of our study "The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus" by Adam Hamilton with some additional content. I happened to get an email from FaithGateway by Fred Bittner. He references a survey done by The Barna Research Group which cites that only one out of every 50 adults (2%) said that they would describe Easter as the most important holiday of their faith. In my thoughts, I cannot imagine it not being the most important holiday. The resurrection is about hope, life everlasting, joy, praise, freedom, and so many more words. As I first wrote this, I had a typo and put "home" instead of "hope". But you know, it is about home too. Our everlasting home that Jesus has gone to prepare for us.
Our Easter cantata ended with "He Is Not Here". I really enjoyed the song, but I love the concise lyrics that sums up what is important. The video below isn't our church, but I wanted you to hear the song.
Why seek the living among the dead? He is not here.Jesus has risen, your sins He saved! For He lives again our glorious king! Where oh death is now thy sting? He has conquered everything. He is not here; He is not here! So come to the place where my Jesus lay; The Father has spoken, the stone rolled away. He is not here; He is not here. He arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever with his saints to reign. Love's redeeming work is done. Yes, He Is Here! Yes, He is Here! Right here among us his kingdom's come. Jesus is here! He is in our hearts forevermore; The risen Christ we all adore. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

sun setting on a single cross with reflection on water
As water reflects the face, so one's life reflects the heart.  - Proverbs 27:17
I subscribed to 'ReThink Life: 40 Day Devotional through the YouVersion app. It is a 40 day devotional designed to get you to "rethink" seven of the most important areas of life. It has been a great devotional that I have made a point to start my day with, before anything else. The devotional is only a couple of paragraphs, a short prayer and a verse or two of scripture. Pretty short but pretty powerful. 

It's a lot like Children's Church. If you aren't familiar, in our church's traditional worship service we have a time where the young kids come forward, and an adult does a quick lesson with them that is usually tied into the message the Pastor will deliver in the service. One of my favorite things about this part of service is the prayer. It is a prayer that is fit for the children, but is so simple and true. It usually ends"...I love you God, Amen." I love that ending.

Today's devotional was about what you reflect in your actions and decisions. "People can't see our hearts, but they can see our hearts by the choices we make...Above all else, guard and protect your heart so that the outward reflection that others see through your choices in life is not you, but Jesus."

We have two dogs. Big dogs. A Great Dane and a Lab/Rottweiler mix. With big dogs, there is a lot of dooty duty. Trying to make the best of a stinky situation (sorry, couldn't resist), I put in my headphones and pressed play on my Christian playlist. I went into the situation with the thought to do everything with a joyful heart, and knew I might need some reminders from the playlist. It was a very nice day and I found myself singing along with the music. A few days later, my neighbor came over and we were talking about the underground dog fence. He asked me what I was singing while cleaning up poop. I don't know exactly what song, but was was on my playlist. He shared with me that he used me in his sermon about doing everything you do to the glory of God. Even if it's cleaning up dog crap. 

I was pretty excited to know that a simple decision to keep a positive attitude with the help of a song, effected those around me. I like that feeling. I am grateful that I made the decision I did. 

This was my devotional's prayer today:
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for your faithfulness to me event when I am unfaithful. Give me the wisdom to make wise decisions that will honor you and allow my light to shine brighter for others to see. Thank you for your love and forgiveness that is always available to me even when I don't make the right choices in life. May my heart reflect Jesus in everything I do. In Jesus' name, Amen.
There is a song by Steven Curtis Chapman that is right on this topic: Do Everything.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What to they see in you?


Last post, I talked about what we see when we look at others. This time, I am still talking about what people see, only this time it's what people see in us.

Tonight, I had the privilege of starting the Lenten season with my church's Ash Wednesday service. At this service, the Imposition of Ashes is performed. Our associate pastor looked into the choir loft, seeing everyone with the Sign on their foreheads, and said how special it was to see all the Signs and how she would love a picture. 

Part of me thought, that it would be nice to be able to see a sign for a fellow believer. Later, I realized that we are marked and we should be able to see that in others. Like the old hymn, "They will know we are Christians by our love." Would they?

Imagine someone breaking into your home while you were gone. They look through your home, rummaging about, not looking for what you think they are looking for. They are looking for signs you are a Christian. Do they find any? Is there evidence that your home follows the teachings of Christ? What about if they searched your Facebook page, your phone, or your computer? 

We all fall down. We all fall short. Luckily, we serve a God who is big enough for all of us. A God that does something we struggle with. A God that forgives and shares His love again and again through His grace.

Do we reflect that in our lives? I John 13:18 states,
Dear Children, Let us not love with words or speech, but with action and in truth.
How are you living with action and truth? There are opportunities all around us. The key is that we have to be open to seeing them. Sometimes our life is so busy, we don't take the time to look around us for opportunities to share the love of Christ...and that is a shame. Our partner with Project Honduras put it an interesting way. He described our lives as being so fast that we out-run God. That we are moving so fast that God is behind us. We need to slow down and let God work in front of us and actually follow Him.

During one of the nightly devotionals, we sang 'Population Me' by Matthew West. It's a song that talks about seeing a greater purpose and stepping out of what is your own little world. It was a great fit in Honduras, but the message is just as important here and now as it was then.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What You Think About What You Don’t See

I am on a plane returning from a week on a mission trip. We worked with Project Honduras on the island of Roatan. For me, the week was a roller coaster of emotions. At times, I felt myself struggling to release my control and yield to the plan that God had for each of us there. At times, I was frustrated that we didn't do more while we were there. At times, I questioned my faith. At times, I had pure joy. At times, I found myself moved to tears.

I started well before we actually left on the trip with my own ideas and expectations. Almost none of them were met. Except one. That one expectation was that we showed the love of Christ and had we did work as sowers. Only God can cause the growth that comes next in those we touched.

At the closing, our leader with Project Honduras, Joe, said something we should all consider. I’ll paraphrase what he said, but essentially I felt a little “called out” on my perceptions. He said that as Americans we judge others based off what we think is best for them. Both as a nation and as individuals. I one of the small villages affected each of us differently, but very deeply. The town was one of poverty. By our measuring stick they were poor…literally dirt poor. Joe challenged our thinking. WE labelled them poor. Not them. When we think of it that way, it was no surprise that there was so much joy and excitement in the community when we were there. There was a part of me that thought what it would be like to live in that city. Not how bad it would be, but how joyous it could be. Joyful for what you have. Faith. Community. Thankfulness. Joy. Many things that are often missing from our daily lives.

One of my favorite sayings is “Ignorance is bliss.” I still believe it is true. BUT, and that is a BIG BUT, with ignorance comes passiveness. Ignorance leads us to inaction. Accepting YOUR status quo leads you to do nothing. But we have a higher calling that extends beyond our own little world. We are called to be sowers; to share the love of Christ. To suffer with Him. There is so much work to do.
I was guilty of looking at the people I worked with as “poor.” My label on them. What I found was a group of people who were very rich. I almost have a sense of dread returning to my mansion, in my luxury vehicle, to my lush accommodations, to my wasteful life. Not mansions or luxury by American standards, but definitely from where I have been.

Just got a push from the Holy Spirit as I was trying to figure out how to close. “Made to Love” by TobyMac has a few lines that were so true for me this week:

What became of the flame that made me feel more
And when did I forget that...

I was made to love you
I was made to find you
I was made just for you
Made to adore you
I was made to love
And be loved by you
You were here before me
You were waiting on me
And you said you'd keep me
Never would you leave me I was made to love
and be loved by you.

Anything I would give up for you
Everything, I'd give it all away 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

What is Your Mission?

I saw a post on Facebook that really made me think. It was a post by Barrett Johnson called 'How to Raise a Pagan Kid in a Christian Home'. The title did it's job; I was intrigued. It certainly made me think. Are you raising your child to be a Christian, or are you raising a good, moral pagan? He challenges you to think about your objective as a parent and what you are really teaching them.

We have had several discussions close to this in Serenity Now, my Sunday School class. We often find ourselves missing the boat as parents. Working hard to raise 'good' kids. Kids that are socially acceptable. Well-rounded kids. All of these are important, but are we addressing the spiritual need? The need to know and understand that Jesus is their savior? We talk about football, basketball, dirt bikes, and Call of Duty frequently. How often do you talk about salvation? How often do you talk about not trying to do it all yourself and relying on God? If you are like me, not nearly enough. Sure there are occasions where we seize the moment, but there are not very many purposeful conversations about this. I mean, we have conversations about puberty, sex, and potential diseases, but not the same type of conversation about your soul spending an eternity in Hell. That topic is pretty important too [unfortunately you can't read how sarcastic that was in my own head]. "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" Matthew 16:26.

Based off scripture, the United Methodist Church stated its purpose:
“The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs” (From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church—2012, p. 91).
Part of that discipleship is ordering our lives in ways that embody Christ’s ministry in our families, workplaces, communities, and the world [read more here].

So here's the question: What is Your Mission? Maybe it is more real conversations at home. Maybe it is reaching out to your local community. Maybe it is a mission trip to Honduras. There are opportunities for mission everyday. The United Methodist Church's website also talks about the multitude of opportunities.

"With Every Act of Love," a song by Jason Gray, put it this way:
"God put a million, million doors in the world for His love to walk through; One of those doors is You!"

Friday, January 31, 2014

What's holding you back?

It wasn’t long after I joined my current church that I was asked to participate in an Easter drama called ‘His Story’ as one of the disciples. Honestly, I wasn’t hugely stoked about the idea, and accepted by what I thought was the guilt of turning down the church. It was shortly after the production, that our Music Director asked me to join the choir. She says that she saw how I was enjoying the production so she asked me to join the choir.

I gave some thought to it. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for me. One night a week and Sunday mornings. I used to do choir in high school, did some musicals, and even sang in the community chorus. Then I went to college. All of that stopped. Some other things stopped too, and one of the big ones was my involvement in church.

During college, I took an EMT course. Turns out that course changed my life. I worked my way through being an EMT, to EMT-IV, to Paramedic. Eventually I even changed majors from Electrical Engineering into Nursing with the intention of being a Flight Nurse. During that process, I worked in the field as a paramedic. It wasn’t long before I worked a 10-50 that sent a ripple through me, all the way to the core of my soul and beliefs. A 10-50 is the ten code for a motor vehicle accident. This one was bad. A head-on into an 18-wheeler. We had to access through the rear window of the vehicle to get to the driver. I had to throw a car seat out of the way to get to the driver. That’s when we noticed the infant under the dash. I handed the lifeless body out the window to another medic. That is the moment I questioned my faith more than ever. How could God allow this to happen? It didn’t make sense, and I couldn’t wrap my brain around it no matter how many times I tried. And so I drifted.

That event held me back. But it didn’t just hold me back. It held back my family. Eventually, my wife and I felt a need to get back into church. Not for us as much as it was for our children. We realized there were some things missing and thought that an introduction to Christ would be a good start. So we found our church.

It wasn’t long after being in the choir that our Music Director approached me again. This time asking me to be in a men’s quartet. Clearly, she knew what she was getting. I had felt that my voice wasn’t as good as it was. I believe it was how I was, or more accurately wasn’t, using my gift. I believe that God made my voice stronger and my ear keener when I was singing in church. When I quit attending, I felt my gift slip. But I was nervous. I was worried about how I would sound, how I would impact the other guys, and a host of other things. This week we did an eight song set for the Wednesday night program. We recorded the rehearsals. I listed to the recordings to prepare for the program and thought, “I just don’t sound confident.” Worry of failure and doubt of ability were holding me back.

I had someone in Sunday School approach me about entering the teaching rotation. I thought, “You must be kidding. I am the least qualified person in this class to actually teach.” I was confused on how she even thought that was a good idea. I declined. Then I continued to think about it from time to time, never really considering it. I didn’t know the Bible well enough; I wasn’t even sure I even knew my beliefs enough. Besides there were some really good teachers in my class. As time went on, a couple of them had another calling in the church, leaving a need. I was asked again. At this point, how many times can you ignore the calling? I agreed, but it didn’t change my worry about giving the wrong information or not knowing the answers. Fear was holding me back.

This week, a colleague at work made a joking comment that I must be taking Ativan (a sedative). It struck me that there might be some truth to that. You see, as I have been rehearsing for our Wednesday night quartet program, I have been listening almost to our tapes and demo tapes of the songs exclusively. I felt the need to get a better knowledge of the Bible, so I joined the Disciple study group. We just got to the New Testament, but there has been so much I have learned already. I have taught Sunday School lessons that I needed for myself. I have sang songs on Sunday mornings with the right message. I started a blog.
But here is the really cool part of this story. I have seen how my witness and ministry has impacted others. I shared a message before Christmas that included a ‘One Word Resolution’. I have already heard from several people what their word was. Several took weeks to find their word. One took a major event to find theirs. I’ve gotten messages from family members that were really impacted. This week I saw the looks on some individual’s faces that were truly touched and blessed by the message in the quartet’s songs. I had the opportunity to give encouraging words that I probably would not have said a few months ago.
I wouldn’t have shared these things because I was being held back. Held back by fear of failure or not saying the right things. Fear of being called a hypocrite. Not feeling strong enough. If I’m going to be truly honest, maybe even some embarrassment about being so vocal about my faith.

Jesus calls us to give him our burdens and take up His yolk; His burdens are light. As I have moved in this relationship, I have found that, for now, the things of this world don’t seem so big anymore. Who cares if the seeds I sow don’t produce fruit. It’s not about those. It’s about the words that do produce fruit. That impact someone other than me. That give peace. That cause thought. That make ME question my actions, my deeds, my giving, my words.

What’s holding you back? What is it that is keeping you from sharing, from giving, from leading, from worshiping, from saying the prayer at church? I’ve come to realize that for all of these worldly worries, there is an easier way. There is one who overcame the grave conquering death. He can certainly help you overcome whatever is holding you back too. You only have to let him.