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A Gate Called Beautiful

The pain is searing. It feels as an icepick between my shoulder blades. No position brings relief, no stretch, no twist, nothing. Not even the prescriptions dull the invisible knife that tears constantly just 8 inches below my neck. But it doesn’t matter. Pain is an inevitable part of life. What matters is position and understanding. So…I find myself sitting outside the gate called Beautiful. Just like the man in Acts 3. I come every day for the same thing. Just to beg for what I think I want.

What I need however is not quite what I may be wanting. Far below the physical pain is damage that no surgeon or specialist can repair. It is a spiritual need. The Apostles offered the lame man at the gate more than he wanted, but exactly what he needed. The gave him what Jesus promised. It was a meeting of the unheard desperate cry of the soul and the penultimate grace of the cross. The man walked away in praise and adoration for the gift of God.

He came to understand that the gate is a place that we cannot stay. It is no place to live. When we understand that God wants to meet our needs, our wants become changed. We become free; freed to serve a God who in turn serves us, even though we don’t deserve it.

Let us not stand at the gate called Beautiful. Let us enter the temple, the city, the world and become that which meets the needs in someone else’s world. Bring others in from the gate into a place where abundance flows like a fountain unceasing. In my mind, whatever exists behind a gate called Beautiful must be far greater than what is kept outside. Its time to go in and live more abundantly.

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Trusting God with your Present (Trusting God Series Part 2)

Trusting God with your Present (Trusting God Series Part 2)

“41 Sitting across from the temple treasury, He watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury. Many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little. 43 Summoning His disciples, He said to them, “I assure you: This poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. 44 For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed — all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44

Human beings have an issue with trust. Some of us trust everything we hear and see. For example that poor girl in the insurance commercial who says if its on the internet it must be true. Then there are those of us who simply do not trust anyone whatsoever. We like to pick and choose how we will trust people. My personal favorite is the statement made by Ronald Reagan’d administration, “trust, but verify”. Fact is we find it difficult to trust people.
When it come to trusting God, the story is almost completely different. We are willing to trust God with our prayers and concerns, and yet at the same time we continue to worry and fret over every thing that we have just laid at the feet of Jesus. We seem to be able to trust that Jesus can save us, but we do not have the ability to trust Him with the minor things or day to day lives that we experience.
In Mark 12, we are introduced to a poor widow who gives all the money that she has in an offering to God. The rich priests and scribes and other people give only a small portion, yet this woman gives all she has, though it is already such a small amount to begin with. Our first reaction to this story is to think that this verse is about money. Actually it is about much more than that. But let us look at money. In America money is everything. It is how we provide ourselves with food, shelter and many varied forms of comforts and unneeded gadgets. Without money life is extremely difficult to get through, trust me on this one. Thus our culture would expect us to place a huge priority on money. The world would have us strive for more and more of it. God, however, would have us do otherwise. He would have us trust Him with our money.
You see, when we trust God with our money in today’s culture, we are in essence trusting Him with our lives. The poor widow has given us a wonderful example of what it means to trust God in the present. Jesus tells us that she gave all she had. Since He is Jesus, we can take that at face value. This woman gave her last two cents to God. She trusted that God would provide what she needed. She knew that God would give her exactly what she needed in order to live.
Ephesians 4:24 tells us to put on a new nature, the new nature that God has made in us. That means the we must begin to trust God in our daily lives. God’s word is where we find our ability to trust Him. It is full of His promises to us. It is how God is relevant to us in our lives right now. When we live by our new nature following His word, we find that by trusting in God, all of our needs are fulfilled.
Not only is God relevant to us right now, God is sufficient. You don’t sit down and eat a sufficient meal and leave wanting. Likewise, when we trust God with our daily lives, we find that His provision, what He gives us, is more than enough for us. And beyond that, God is reliable. The promises that He makes, He follows through with them. There us testimony after testimony on how God has come through for His people. There are stories throughout the Bible, and stories throughout the church worldwide. God will do what He says, and He says He can handle what you need.
Should we start small, or go all in trusting God. The choice is really yours to make. The widow in the story went all in. But perhaps you need to build up to it. Maybe life has left you feeling burned. Start small, but more than anything start. Just because your parents or your friends, or other leadership in your life has proved untrustworthy, that is no reason to cheat yourself on the trustworthiness of God. he has never failed, and He never will. So how do you trust God? How do you start?
Pray, take your problems to God in prayer, then leave them with him. Don’t think about them again, just trust that He will present a solution or handle it without you ever doing anything. Start by leaving your problems, worries and concerns at the feet of Jesus, and never try to take them back. Peace comes when we truly allow God to work. And more than that, spend time reading God’s word. It is one thing for me to tell you about what God says, but it is much more real when you read and experience it for yourself.

If you are struggling to find a starting point. There are many apps for iOS and Android that are daily devotionals and Bibles. Also check into our Live Event on You Version’s Bible app. If you don’t have a smartphone or tablet, thats perfectly fine. Pick up a Bible (NIV, HSBC, NLV, or NRSV) and begin by reading the book of John. Of course you can always contact me and I will be happy to help point you in the right direction.

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To Whatever End

chesspicThere is a fantastic line in the movie, “The Two Towers,”. I’ll give you just a moment to finish rolling your eyes at me. One of the characters tells the king that his men will follow him “to whatever end”. It’s a wonderful sentiment of loyalty. It is also a highlighted point of concern if you are one of those men. What if the king rides of into the sea and drowns? Why should I follow him then? While the line is good, it is also very dangerous to follow such sentiments when speaking about men that we follow. But before you click out of this post, relax, this is not a political rant. I want to point out some particular points of order and concern on the chess board of the world at this moment in time.

I read the news way too much. It’s easy, I get stuck in a room with students who are not allowed to talk all day, so I end up reading a various cacophony of news sites. The headlines are never encouraging and range from, death in a nice place to nude pictures of your favorite star have surfaced, or more destruction in places where there shouldn’t be. It can be quite depressing. Don’t get me wrong the broadcasts on local news are no less filled with absolute sensationalized horse manure. Regardless of the piles of press that have to be waded through in order to find real news, there is a striking picture of the world that we live in presented.

Imagine if you will human history as a massive game of chess. We began quite a long time ago and have been moving towards some sort of endgame move. Societies have risen, fallen, been reborn, been annihilated, saved, savaged, and moved. All of this in the name of progress towards a better place. So where are we at now? Are we any closer to winning this game? Does anyone really even care? As religious person I view the game as one that we are playing against our own demise. The metaphor for me is one that we play against evil and against the darkness that humanity is so well versed in bringing to the world. Don’t agree that there is evil in the world? I am looking at the computer screen right now and the seven headlines listed are all about something bad that has happened or is happening. It would appear that the darker pieces of the board are winning.

Think about it. Iran has now told the world that they are going after Israel and have upped their nuke program, Syria(a known harbor and storage facility for chemical weapons) has said the same. There was a bombing of the US embassy in Turkey, Egypt is about to collapse, and rest of Europe appears to be at a stand still. Here at home there are children being shot in schools, taken hostage off the bus, waitresses being fired because “pastors” act like jerks, and the government resembles two groups of middles school girls who don’t like each other and hurl insults across the isle accordingly(seriously watch “Mean Girls” and then look at the reports from Washington, you might wet yourself laughing, or crying). Oh and by the way, the sun just belched out a huge plume of plasma, just a nice little icing on the cake for you there. The news is not good.

Now that may be because hall headlines do not sell news very well. It kind of reminds me of the lyrics Jon Foreman uses in his song, “Selling The News”. Look that one up and enjoy. Happiness, joy, goodness, kindness, our media fed culture has been deprived of these things. We have been spoon fed a massive amount of malnutricious junk food. Those things that would nurture us have been lost in the easy story. Thus our chess board has become bereft of lighter colored pieces. The dark is winning, not because it is better or smarter, but because we have allowed it.

We have allowed our minds to easily stray into that wild and frightening place looking for some sort of new and exciting adventure,meet we have found that the illusions of the dark feed us not well. There must come a time soon when we say no more. There must come a time when we refuse to allow the media to draw us to whatever end they would pull us toward. The Bible says remove all malice and negativity from your heart. Think on the good things such as kindness to others, love for your fellow man/woman. Now you may not be a Believer, but that still does not sound so bad.

If we would all seek those good things for one another, then perhaps we would find a better end, a brighter colored chess board. As a society we will only reap that which we have sown. The bounty and wonder of the older times of humanity is gone, it has been reaped. What then are we sowing for ourselves? Is it pain and discord? There must come a time when we say no more.

For Christians that time must be soon. We must cease to allow any leader other than Christ to direct our thoughts and actions, that goes for Pastors too (actually it goes kind of against them if they are asking you to follow them and not God’s word). It is time the world saw the light, it is time that we did such grand things for the kingdom that no longer could man mock us. It is time we were truly the hands and feet of Christ, following and doing to whatever end.

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Judge Wisely

I tend to read a good bit of the news, and various editorial articles when given the chance. Some of the information is really helpful and quite good. Sometimes however the sites that I read the news on become a stark reminder of just how far we have fallen as a society. It is a blinding example of the hypocrisy we see each day. Not only do we see it, but it seems many times we are expected to accept it as the norm.
This week, as I read a scathing editorial on how we as a society spend far too much time judging people via social media I was reminded of such hypocrisy. The article itself was actually well done and the author made some excellent points about how we needed to be far more uplifting as a society. Yet when I got to the bottom of the page there were pictures of a random red carpet event in Hollywood. The headline below it was a stereotypical one, “(insert random celebrity) fails to wow on red carpet”.
This got me thinking critically about what we accept in our society. Generally I am the first one to condemn actors and actresses on their opinions, simply because they become mouthpieces for more powerful people’s agendas, and many times they are simply ignorant on the topics on which they comment. Still, they are people and as such they should be given some ounce of grace, after all, we are all in this together. When you’ve just finished reading an article on how we should encourage and not be mean to people it is very difficult to look at that kind of headline and want to scream at the author. Especially when they wrote both of the articles.
So what is the real problem? It’s judgement! For some strange reason human being have come into this deluded ideal that we have the right and ability to judge other people. We feel that we have the right to pick someone completely apart based on our own opinion of their worth. Basically, we place ourselves on a higher level than someone else and cast down our lordship upon them. Now Brian, that’s just a bit dramatic to say isn’t it? No, it’s what we do, and we accept it as entertainment. There are entire networks devoted to the judgment of societies elite and not so elite. And we buy into the cultural ideal that one person’s opinion and style should be the accepted standard. I’m sorry but that feels incredibly closed-minded and quite frankly idiotic.
Believe it or not, Jesus actually spoke on this very topic. Matthew 7 gives us a fantastic discourse on judgement. It’s quite a simple answer, don’t judge other people or you will be judged by the same measuring stick you use. These are God’s words not mine. Jesus goes on to say that the problems you face are more than big enough for you to handle before becoming involved in someone else’s. You know the verse, first remove the large piece of wood from your own skull before trying to remove a splinter from someone else’s eye.
So where does that leave me? Well, honestly it leaves me just as guilty as everyone else. I have been known to judge, I have been known to try to lord over people with my strong opinions. I’m human, and I need grace as well. I am not perfect. What I need to be is conscious of the way I look and think about other people. It is important to remember that judges are elected people who weigh facts and truth before passing their rulings on to people. Should I not do likewise before I form an opinion? Isn’t that what my professors were trying to teach me in college, educate yourself before informing someone else? Point is you are allowed to have an opinion, you are allowed to have thoughts. When those thoughts cause you to condemn someone as being ugly, or stupid, or any other derogatory word you want to use that is when there is a problem. There is not one single, solitary, perfect person on this planet. We are all sinners in need of grace. So Christians, understand your job. Your job is to be like Christ. moreover you are called to in fact be Jesus to people. Everyone can easily quote John 3:16. How easily we forget John 3:17. Your hob is not to judge, it is to encourage, lead, and be the light. Let us be about our job as light and salt and stop being dark and salty. God will judge us in the end, so don’t carry around that burden. Who can you encourage today? Who can you lift up? Whose life can you be flavor for? Whose hope can you preserve? Whose darkness can you illuminate?

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The Face You Wear

Mirrors haunt my existence. My sister loves to tell me how vain I can be when I catch my own reflection. In fact regardless of the conversation, if she catches me looking at myself by accident she will point it out. I guess it’s a nervous tick, but whatever it is it is unintentional. But mirrors remind us of what we look like. They show us how we appear to others. They help us notice the wrinkles in our clothes that we need to iron out, or the messed up part in our hair. Mirrors show us the blemish, the bump, the bisecting lines of ages creeping into the corners of our eyes. Stark reality is reflected by a the soulless, careless, and sometimes hateful piece of glass laid over silver paint. And yet, mirrors do not reveal all that is there at a passing glance.

Sure many a person has been able to look into a mirror and self loathe. That is but a casual glance in reality. You are more than a reflection of the world. You are more than the jeans you are trying to fit into, or the new style you’re trying to find the confidence to “rock”. You are more than the face that looks back at you in the looking glass, so much more.

In all humanity, no matter how great or small there is a light. It is a light reflecting something greater and deeper than we can really understand. It doesn’t matter if you share the faith that I have. The light is still there, and it is seen in the face that you wear. Not the folds and smoothness of the skin that you see, but in that somewhat vague term of countenance. There are almost 1200 faces that I see everyday for eight hours. If I look really hard during class changes and think, I can visualize in each person that light. Adolescent children are really quite an amazing phenomenon.

Whether by fate or some strange coincidence it seems that life in the family turns completely upside down at about the time children hit middle school. It is reflected in the light in their eyes. Some are so bright and brilliant that it warms your heart to be around them. The joy of what is to come and the excitement of something new each day just emanates from them. That kind of light reminds you of what you had at one time. Yet, others wear a different face. It’s like a shroud over the light inside. As if a some smoke or haze is seeking ever to extinguish the life of this young person. The world around them feels cold, distant, an echo of what it should be.

There is another face I see. It is the face of the person who seeks to remove the shroud, to bring to the front the light and chase out the shadow. It’s not always the teachers. Many times it’s the parents that come and volunteer, the counselors, the parents, and other staff who cannot simply live and be unaffected by those around them. These faces bring out the best in others. They radiate. Still one more face do I see. It is not one pleasant to look at. It is a face that is seeking, hunting, desiring ever to put out any light that may point out its ugliness.

What kind of face are you wearing? You don’t have to work with young people to affect someone else’s life in a way that greatly increases them. You will, however, have to make some effort to change what you look like. It’s not makeup, or clothing, or hair style; it’s the constant realization that the countenance you carry can indeed show the world what you are about. If you are a person that wants to see the good in others that will show. If you simply want to tear down the world and make it your own wasteland that you feel you live in, so be it. Other people will see that in you.

I spoke with a student this week about a rather major incident in his life that could and probably will have far reaching consequences from this week on. This was not your typical trouble maker, or bully. This was a child with a mischievous streak that could be humorous and still very close to the line of being well behaved. Yet this mistake was so far beyond his own understanding. Doubt was gnawing on this kid so hard. You could see it in his entire body. Like someone had walked into the room of his soul and flipped on the light switch. I didn’t have much that I knew to say other than to pass on a piece of wisdom passed on to me when I was a little bit older than this young person…

You are more than this situation, this does not define who you are or who you will become, unless you allow it to. Your choice is to rise above, or fall below. So I pass that on to you as well. You are so much more than the reflection of the world in your mirror, and you are so much more than the sum of your past mistakes. Don’t where the face of such things.

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The Divided Punch Bowl

In waking memory I do not recall a time when the country has been so divided on an election.  Sure 2008 was a critical year for the division and positioning of the two parties of politics.  Yet four years ago no one really knew what was at stake in the country.  The issues were so clouded by questions of candidate origin, who was the strongest woman in politics, and was Palin really that crazy.  The real problems of the country had yet to boil over and simmer to their concentrated potency.  Four years later after tumultuous job loss, an economy in its death throes desperately trying to fight its way back to life, and a world cultural climate fraught with change and uncertainty, we are left with a sticky mess of concern that clings to everything we hear and see in the media.  Thus our country has become divided by which party will lead us back to where we were.

That is where we see the problem that belies our country.  We are voting on party, not on the platform or on candidate.  We have lost sight of what the real issues are in America because we are being force fed the diet of the two parties that hold sway in politics.  Oh make no mistake both sides have issues that they highlight.  They have holdouts of the past that they clutch in their hands as if life itself would cease were these issues not on the forefront of concern.  And yet the solutions they offer lack fundamental elements, mostly in that they are not solutions, rather bandaids to fit the current social media blitz of emotion.  The amount of ignorance on actual candidate’s stance is staggering.  It is not the fault of the populace, it is the fault, and purposeful fault at that, of the party that endorses the candidate.  For some reason we have bought into the idea that one man can represent every one of their party’s ideas and policies.  If you have ever read either party’s platform you quickly realize that someone who could represent every one of these things is probably not someone who you want to be around very much. 

This is where the problem in our country increases exponentially, because it should never be a matter of electing a party for president.  Why would I say such a thing?  Because there is no way one party can represent you personally and individually.  It is such a social improbability that it begs the question of possibility.  It also should cause one to pause and ponder, are you supporting a candidate (presidential or any kind) because of what their supporting party is telling you, or because what you really believe?  The line between cultic fanaticism and party politics is closer than you may want to admit.  But what is at stake this election year?

If you have watched the party conventions on television you have seen the themes, carefully laid out and coached in speeches written by party approved speech writers.  Each side has taken the time to make sure that each speaker is in line with what the party has deemed appropriate (with the exception of Clint Eastwood, I have no idea what that was).  The lines have been drawn, you can choose the Republican way, or the Democrat way.  It is a choice that reaches far beyond a convention and boils down to a much more serious concoction of class warfare.  It is the middle class versus the upper class, conservative and liberal no longer serves as comfortable rhetoric.  Sure there are other issues in there, other seasonings if you will.  But no matter how we try to sweeten it the taste is just awful.  Why?  Why do we have to take such sides and draw lines in such a way?  Why must we take on the attitude of if you are not for us you are against us?  With so much at stake in this election, that being the direction our country goes on many fronts, our political leanings cannot be forced into a tiny box of party platforms.  The social, economical, financial, diplomatic, and medical issues facing this country cannot be solved by one party alone.  The taste is bad because there are no easy answers.  The medicine this country needs, the only tonic that will heal, is hard to swallow, and I do not think we actually possess the formula for such a drug.

Despite what may be preached on Sunday mornings at some churches this is not a choice between what is Christian right and damnation wrong.  It just is not that simple.  The reason for that is that neither party fully represents a biblical way of life.  Now I am sure that this may outrage you, but if you really and truly study what Jesus’ teachings were you will see what I am talking about.  However that doesn’t mean that this election should be about the lesser of two evils either.  Rather it has to boil down to what you as an individual believes.  Do you believe that your candidate can properly do the job required to the absolute best of their ability?  Do you believe that they can properly execute the office with the greater good in mind regardless of party lines?  In the end that is what we are faced with, the choice that best suites every single one of us to some degree.  You cannot decide for someone else, and you cannot force your opinion through social media.

My fear for this country through this election is that the rift between us will only grow deeper and more dangerous.  It has happened before, we called it the Civil War (in the south of course it was the War of Northern Aggression).  The worse the rhetoric gets, the worse the rift will become because our journalism cannot be trusted as a source of fact.  So I am left asking, is the American citizen strong enough to stand alone and make an educated decision based on their individual ideals and values, or are we simply drinking deeply the punch put out by our chosen party?

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Roll With It

{This is a preview of one of the chapters of a book I will be releasing in August.  It was written a while ago, but I have done some editing to update it.  Hope you enjoy.}

There is something to be said for efficiency.  Unfortunately you cannot say it about me.  I am not efficient.  I work fast and get the job done, but not efficiently.  When it came time to move our stuff to our temporary home though, I knew exactly who to call.  I called my friends that had helped others move.  Most importantly I called Eddie.  Eddie is that guy that knows a lot about everything.  I mean really knows it, he’s not someone who thinks he knows it, he really knows what he is talking about.  So I called him to help us move.  He showed up at 8:00 in the morning ready to go.  And he helped us move everything in our house out by noon.  There were a few odds and ends left but the house was pretty much empty.  So was my energy level.  I was beat down and tired.  Phase one was complete we were in our temporary home and happy to be mold free.  I told you I was not efficient. I also don’t always think everything through before I do it.

When it came time to move from our temporary home to our new home I made the mistake of not calling Eddie.  I figured he had done enough and that I could handle the rest.  So Michelle and I moved our furniture, with some help from our youth group, into the new house.  We had everything in but our washer and dryer.  So Monday afternoon I decided I, yes I alone, would go and load the washer and dryer into my truck and take it to the new house myself.  If the word mistake has not flashed through your brain yet give it time.  I knew I couldn’t lift the washing machine or the dryer up so I devised a series of ramps that went into the bed of my truck.  (Why do I hear you laughing?).  I then proceeded to put the washing machine in first.  I put the machine on the dolly and began to pull it up the ramps.  I was almost there when something peculiar happened.  Gravity!  I lost the momentum I had and when I tried to put my foot on the flat of the tailgate I missed.

Now I would love to tell you that my first thought was to land on my feet.  But that would be a lie.  My first thought was to stop the washing machine from falling.  Which when you are airborne does not work very well.  In fact it works very poorly and not at all.  The dolly came out of my hands and I proceeded to make a not so graceful fall on my back, first on the corner of my truck and then face first to the concrete driveway.  Meanwhile the washing machine gracefully slid to a halt at the bottom of the ramp.

I was a fairly young man so I was not hurt badly, but my pride was pounding in agony.  The sad thing was that in my own vanity I looked around to see if anyone else saw me fall.  I made it to my feet, stood the washing machine back upright, then walked to our new house to get someone to help me.  Not one of my better moments.  I should have called Eddie.

How many times have you done something similar?  Not by falling off a truck that’s beside the point.  I mean, how many times have you known whom to call and not done it?  How many times has it backfired on you?  How many times have you ended up face down on the ground wondering if anyone saw you and if you can stand back up?

It has probably happened more times than you really care to admit.  The fact is human nature makes us feel independent.  It makes us feel like we can make it on our own.  But we can’t.  This world is too big for what we have to do with it.  We have to have help.  We have to know whom to call on.  I can remember when I was a new Christian I would pray about everything and ask God for advice no matter what the situation was.  But as I grew in knowledge I stopped asking questions.  I stopped longing to hear God’s advice.  That’s where I went wrong.  I started to think that I knew it all.  I don’t know it all.  In fact I know very little.  If you read the opening of this chapter you knew that much about me.

Jeremiah records God’s voice saying this, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jer. 33:3 NIV).  God has the answers for which you seek.  You have to call on Him for the answer.  Life is too short not to make the right call in your life.  Stop trying to lift the washing machine by yourself and call Eddie.  Stop trying to manage your way through life without help and call on God.  Don’t just roll with it… win it.  You are not all powerful, God is.  You are not all knowing, God is.  Call on Him and He will give you what you need.

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