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My daily bread…

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. – Matthew 6:9-13

I’m getting a colonoscopy.  Yup, that’s right, time to explore more of my body in my year of body exploration (or at least that is what it seems to have become).  Why I am doing this you ask, well here is the short end of the long story: after some lab results from the doctor I am having a colonoscopy/endoscopy to determine if I have chrones disease or any other inflammatory bowel diseases  (Yes, I appreciate your prayers with all this – thank you!).

By now you may be wondering, “what the heck does this have to do with ‘my daily bread’?” as I have titled this blog post.  Well, I had to give some background to get to where I’m going with all of this.  I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of fasting.  Ever since I became a Christian I have heard many talk about fasting for Spiritual reasons and I have always thought to myself “I don’t think I would ever be able to do that”, and so I never have.  As many who have gone through having a colonoscopy would know, the difficult part of getting one is the preparation leading up to the actual day, because it requires fasting from anything but clear liquids among other not-so-enjoyable things… but yes, it requires fasting!  This thing I have been fearful of for so long, and now at the age of 34, I am being forced into a time of abstaining from food for health reasons.  But I feel that God has used this time for other reasons, as He often does.

While spending some extended time with God this morning in prayer, I was asking God for physical strength through my day… I asked that He would be my bread for the day.  This day that I had feared, I asked Him to replace my desire for food for a greater desire for Him.  And as I prayed this to God, my mind went to the Lord’s prayer, that you can see above.  But I got hung up on the part that says “Give us this day our daily bread”.  I have always thought to myself that this line seems a bit out of place among the other things that Jesus says during this example on how to pray.  And I have also always heard it explained to be an example of asking for our physical needs in prayer… but what occurred to me today was that maybe Jesus was not saying daily bread as to ask God for food, what if more importantly He was showing us to ask for Him daily?  Almost immediately other verses started coming to mind such as: John 6:22-59 where in verse 33 Jesus says “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” or in verse 35 Jesus states “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  Also in John 4 that we went through in our Bible study last night where the disciples are insisting that Jesus eat something after talking to the Samaritan woman, then Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”  And yet again the verse that many know came to mind that says “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  What I forgot when that verse came to my mind, along with the section just before it about not being anxious about anything and how God provides for the birds of the air because of his common grace (which also made me think of where Jesus talks about God “make(ing) his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust”), is that this verse is just after Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray.

As all these thoughts and verses were flooding my mind, I thanked and praised my God who is so generous and loving.  I right there and then asked Him to send me the bread of life daily, by filling me with His spirit daily, that I would walk in the power of the Holy Spirit as Jesus so perfectly did as an example for us.

What are your thoughts?  Do you think asking for our daily bread is to ask for the physical sustenance that God seems to promise soon after to already be there for everyone without even asking?  Or is it the spiritual bread that the Bible so often refers to as The Bread of life: Jesus Christ?

Multiply – only by the fruit of the Spirit

It is time!  What an amazing God we serve, and we cannot thank Him enough for His constant provision to meet our needs.  The past several years have been an interesting journey, to say the least, but the exciting thing is that it was only a beginning of this new adventure we are now on.  As I look back on many lessons God has been continually teaching me, and as I look ahead to the work the Lord has prepared for us here in Florida and around the world, one word has stood out to me: Multiply.  There are a few reasons this has stood out to me, but I will try to focus on what God has specifically been laying on my heart as we arrive and begin our work here in Florida.

Sam and Eli loved helping their grandparents in the
garden this summer, especially tomatoes!

The idea of multiplying has had a very visual role for us this summer as we spent time at Oma and Opa’s house and also at Grandma Karen and Grandpa John’s house in Greeley.  In both grandparents backyard there is a portion dedicated to a vegetable and fruit garden.  Sam and Eli have just loved having these gardens in their backyards because they love to go out, see what new fruit or veggies have arrived, and pick them… and then eat them right there!  Now how does this relate to multiply you may ask, great question!  I am sure most of you can see the correlation of a garden to the idea of multiplication… starting with just a seed, a plant can grow until it bears the fruit (or veggies) it was intended to, and from those fruit (or veggies) can be planted more plants that bear more fruit… and this process can go on and on as God wills it.  Something that happened every time though, was that each plant would only give off the fruit that the plant was intended to give: a tomato plant (which was the boys favorite this summer) does not give off apples, nor does an apple tree give off tomato’s, but each grows and drops the exact thing they were intended to.  And when they would bear the fruit they were designed to give, they would multiply to no end.  It really makes me stop and think, “WOW, what an amazingly creative God we serve!”

This idea of trees bearing fruit is used often throughout the Bible, but some specific things have stood out to me as we look to multiply among the interns here at Disney.  For one, I find it very interesting in Paul’s letter to the Galatians when speaking of the Holy Spirit Paul writes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  There are many things I find interesting here: one, that Paul uses the word “fruit” of the Spirit, as in a singular fruit… not fruits (which would seem to make more sense since he goes on to list 9 separate traits), but all of these traits he states are the Fruit of the Spirit.  I have never seen a tree that bears more than one kind of fruit, so this tells me that each of these traits must go together as A fruit of the Spirit, you cannot have one without the other.  Secondly, I find it interesting that Paul uses the word fruit, an item that God designed in nature to be a major example of multiplication, when describing traits of the Holy Spirit.  This is describing to us the fruit that the Spirit will bear, the Spirit that dwells in us if we are followers of Christ as Romans 8:9-11 talks about.  So, if we are following Jesus, and the Spirit is living in us, then it would make sense that we should be bearing the fruit of the One that is in us, the fruit of the Spirit.  A better explanation of this can come from Matthew 7:15-20 where Jesus says: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

So what does this mean for us in the ministry God has brought us to?  We believe we are here to multiply, to make disciples of all Nations through the power of the Holy Spirit.  But in order to do this, it would be fruitless unless we ground ourselves in the One that will make it possible.  So my prayer as we have begun this ministry, a ministry God planned and has orchestrated for us to play a role in, is that we would never be relying on ourselves and in turn become a bad tree, but instead that we would constantly, every day, every moment, be doing exactly what Jesus asked us to do if we want to follow Him: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” (Matthew 16:24)  Because only then will we be a branch that is a part of the true Vine as Jesus says in John 15:1-8: “‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he cleans so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  This isn’t only my prayer for me, but for each and every one of you who choose to follow Jesus Christ.

Importance of The Gospel

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! – Galatians 1:6-9

This 2006 Time Magazine cover focused on
the current prosperity gospel movement.

How important is The Gospel?  I have read through many of the New Testament books over and over recently, but I love how new things continue to shine bright in front of me.  In fact, when looking at the above scripture at a Saint Patrick Presbyterian Church service here in Greeley recently, pastor Michael pointed out something that I didn’t pay enough attention to before.  You see, the above scripture is how Paul (the author of Galatians) starts out when addressing the Galatian churches.  Some might not see the importance until you compare this letter to the other letters of Paul’s we have in the Bible.  Take a look at the letter to the church in Corinth, 1 Corinthians, here Paul starts out (after the usual greeting where Paul introduces himself) saying:

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge– because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” – 1 Corinthians 1:4-9

It is fairly well know, especially if you have read the rest of 1 Corinthians as well as 2 Corinthians, how many issues with sin and other issues within the church in Corinth there are, I’ve heard many compare it to a Las Vegas or New York of today – it was the “sin city” of the time.  So you might think it ironic that Paul starts out the letter to such a church with such praise and thanksgiving.  This is in contrast to how Paul starts out the letter to the churches in Galatia, where Paul does NOT begin with praises or accolades to the church.  In fact, you can look at almost every letter Paul wrote that is in the New Testament, and almost all of them start out with a similar beginning as seen in 1 Corinthians.  So why is that not the case in the letter to Galatia?  It is because we are seeing here just how important the Gospel of Jesus Christ is.  In fact, we see that preaching any gospel other than The Gospel of Jesus Christ was of such importance that Paul could not wait to address this severe issue in the Galatian church, it had an even higher importance than the sinful living of the Corinthian church.

In today’s church, it feels as if we all to often do the opposite.  We put more weight on addressing sin, or self-help, or whose theology is correct on relatively minor things, and we don’t put enough weight where it needs to belong – on The Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In fact, we right now are coming to a point where a false gospel is starting to spread within the church – and we need to take Paul’s lead by addressing it first thing because it is of first importance!

Do you think the Gospel is that important?  What do you think of the false gospels, specifically the prosperity gospel that is being so heavily preached in many American churches today?  Eternal condemnation is a pretty serious consequence for those preaching a gospel other than that preached in the Bible.

It’s a small world… after all.

As we have been on this adventure, following God into full time ministry that He has called us to, I am seeing more and more all the time that it is a small world, after all (pun intended).  Starting back with our original connection to Kevin, the Cru staff person that we happened to live in the same town as and have some mutual friends in common with, who was the person lead by God to start this ministry we are called to… There are around 25,000 full time staff serving worldwide with this Cru in about 191 countries, and the one staff person God was using to do this ministry “just happened” to be right where we were so that we could be introduced to him when we were.  Then all the amazing stories of how God has connected us with ministry partners from so many different places, many people whom we didn’t know – nor did they know us – before getting connected through this time.  Even how God has connected us with places to live here in Colorado, two of those places are with people we never knew before being introduced to live with them.  But what is amazing in all of these connections, is how God moves through His body… the body of Christ… the body of believers.  That is what has made it feel like such a small world, which when you think of this world in comparison to the creator of the universe, or even our planet alone to the size of what’s around it (check out this neat flash video a guy put together that may help you understand the amazing size – big and small – of creation: http://htwins.net/scale2/), it truly is a “small world”.  But even on this small world, and with little ol’ me and my beautiful wife and kids, God cares specifically about me and the minute details of my life – it is AMAZING!

Our “Blue Marble” from space. – image courtesy NASA website.

Another neat story recently that is just developing involves an adventure my Dad is on in Europe.  About a month ago, he decided to go on a pilgrimage of sorts, if any of you have seen the movie The Way starring Martin Sheen (Tom – also my Dad’s name) who embarks on the historical pilgrimage “The Way of St. James” (a.k.a. El Camino de Santiago), well, that is where my Dad is now.  This trek is about a 500 mile journey starting in France and continuing all the way across northern Spain to finish at the Santiago de Compostela.  When we told the couple whom we are currently living with about this “walk” my Dad was going to do, they remembered when one of their son’s (also staff with Cru) was on a mission in Spain with Cru and helped work at a house that Cru runs along the path for the pilgrims.  Well, this got me curious to look into this place, and I hoped to see if I could find anyone connected with the house to be in touch with and get more information for my Dad to possibly stay there.  In this search, I have found and been introduced to a few people that have in the past been involved with the Cru house (called La Fuente del Peregrino – The Pilgrim’s Fountain – by Cru’s European arm, Agape), and even found one person that will be staffing the house around the time my Dad should be there.  Not that any of this isn’t small world enough, but it just so happens that the guy I found – or rather I believe God lead me to – participated in the Walt Disney World College Program in 2004-2005!  This just made me laugh… actually, it made me fall to my knees and praise God for how amazing He is and how He continually amazes me with the story He is weaving together for us.

As I write this post, we are sitting at almost 80% (around 77% to be exact, but who’s counting right? :-)) of our monthly need goal that we need to reach in order to report down to Florida… and I never could imagine the journey God had in store for us in just preparing to get down there!  The people God has brought in to our lives, and the people that He has planned for us yet to meet before we reach that 100% mark that will allow us to report to our ministry in Florida, have been nothing short of a blessing to us.  And this whole process just continually reminds me that God is Almighty, He is in control of the details of life for His good purposes and for the good of those who love Him, even when we don’t understand His ways at the time.  And all of this makes me extremely grateful for how He loves me.

The Good News… without words?

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 
And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:13-17

“…how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”  This struck me when I read it through, again, and again… it convicted me personally about something I’ve been sometimes on the fence regarding how to go about “spreading the gospel”.  There is a fairly common idea I have heard and fallen into that is often represented by this quote: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.”  The view often associated with this quote is typically that of just sharing Christ through our actions and not words.  Reading this section in Romans again points out to me the incredible importance of not just living out our faith but the way to share our faith with others is through the use of telling them with words about the good news of Jesus Christ.  

Don’t get me wrong, our actions are very important as we are reminded often in the book of James for example in James 1:22 or again when James talks about faith and works in James 2:14-26, but this is often how we are to live out our faith – not necessarily how we are to share the Gospel.  It is obviously important to live by the faith we profess to believe, to continually lay down our lives, take up our cross, and follow Jesus – these are all active things we do on an ongoing basis.  But just living a “good” life out in front of others, in hopes of leading them to Christ (this on occasion happens, but it is usually less about how “good” we are and more about our faith, joy, or contentment coming through to create curiosity from those around us) I don’t believe is how we should expect to share our faith.  If we are only showing others how to live a “good” life, what is it we are actually showing them?  Part of me thinks that if we just show how to be a Christian merely by “good” deeds, then all we are teaching is how to achieve works righteousness.  The other problem with this, as I was reminded recently, is that because we are all made in the image of God – even those who do not believe can still be used by him to do good, even amazing, things that can even look better than a lot of Christians.  This again goes to show that living the Gospel with our actions or doing good works is a part of living out our faith, but it is not equal to sharing the Gospel with words.  Look at Jesus’ example – every time we see a miracle, or a way he lives out his faith, he uses words to follow it up or accompany it in order to point people back to the Father.

Michelle and I feel so blessed to be called to share the good news of
Jesus Christ to all the nations

 Again, coming back to this scripture in Romans, it is specifically stating that the only way others will hear the good news of Jesus Christ is through those who preach it.  I feel so blessed to be one called to preach this good news to future leaders of the world.  Michelle and I know that God is calling us to reach the world through the students at Walt Disney World, and I know it is important for me to continue to work out my faith as I am being sanctified to be more like Christ, but none of this discounts me using the words He gives me through reading His word and through submitting myself to the work of the Holy Spirit in me.  Many of us, me included, often say “I’m not a good speaker”, or “I’m not very outgoing” when we think of telling others about the Gospel, but let us not forget that even Moses had similar hang-ups with God.  But God used him anyway, and God will use me anyway… I know he will use you anyway too as you obey and follow His call on your life.

A community vision

As we have been going through the past year working on building our support team, we are well aware that our enemy wants to keep placing lies in our minds that we should give up.  Thankfully, most of this time God has allowed me to persevere and to use my gift of Faith to constantly remind myself of His promises and the call we believe He has placed on our lives.  But this past January, I allowed myself to start making agreements with some of the lies – especially as the month of January came to a close and the time we had been praying for God to send us to Florida quickly came and passed us by.  Not to mention all of the additional stress of leaving our home in Arizona, moving often and living in transition, hitting support “bumps” here in Colorado, plus a whole family with the flu at the same time. 

But right in the midst of all this going on, God was doing something I didn’t even notice.  This is not extremely unusual as there are many times I am oblivious to the work of the Mighty One in my life, especially when I am right in the middle of it.

God was gracious to bring what He was teaching me more to my attention as I started to discuss my thoughts with Michelle in the car one day.  I feel so loved when I see God teaching me a certain theme in so many venues: personal study, church sermons, small groups, even radio shows and memories of past life lessons and journeys.  After this very stressful time, I finally realized what God was doing through the month of January in my life: He was refining the vision and call He has given me in regards to the ministry He is preparing us for. 

What was happening was, I started to see some of the passions that God built into me when I was young in a new light.  This passion I am talking about started with an affinity for Walt Disney, the Theme Parks he created, and ultimately his idea of an Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow – you may recognize it better as EPCOT.  My interest in these things as a kid, turned me to the degrees of Architecture and Engineering that I pursued in college.  As I studied these fields and learned more about Walt’s concepts, my desire to create better communities grew.  I know that this was a big part of my attraction to all of these areas of interest, the idea of community and creating a better community.  The idea of changing the world through building communities.

Conceptual Rendering of Walt’s EPCOT

As I pursued the dream to create communities from a physical stand-point, it felt like it was a dream that could never be achieved, but I didn’t understand why.  I used to think that if I just built the right city, with well-thought-out buildings, well-planned transportation, an attractive look, a desirable amount of vegetation, and other aspects, that it would automatically create that feel of community that I longed for.  I thought if it had all the right pieces, it would attract people to be engaged in it, and lead those people to create healthy community together.  Again, as I grew and learned more in my fields of study and employment, I began to recognize the futility of this dream – the reality that for some reason in this world that wouldn’t actually work, I couldn’t just create spaces and places and expect it to have that kind of effect on people.

As God allowed me to lay down those dreams and pursuits and give them up to Him over the first few years I was out of college, I also began to grow in a different way – in my knowledge of God and in my desire for Him and His kingdom.  Because of how God worked in my life and on my heart, I became open to the call He placed on my life to go in to full-time ministry, and ultimately to this specific mission field that He prepared for us to return to Walt Disney World. 

So you are probably wondering at this point what God was starting to make more clear to me over the past month, well it was how all that history and that passion for community in my life ties now into the call to this specific ministry He has given me.  You see, all through childhood and into college, I was pursuing this idea of community from a perspective of building it, of creating a scenario that would prompt people to just automatically have community.  This in itself is not a bad idea, but it is not complete and doesn’t work without a major ingredient: Christ.  Over the past decade since I graduated college, God has over and over again been reminding me of this idea of community, and then He constantly brings me back to His desire for community.  He allowed me to grow in this desire, I believe, so that as I grew in Him, He could refine that desire for community.  I thought the College Program internship that Michelle and I went to do at Disney was to get my foot in the door at Disney so that I could become an Imagineer and ultimately work on the projects that Walt started, with the hopes of creating community.  Instead, God allowed me to see how empty it all is without Him.  The 5 months we spent at Disney, without a community around us, allowed me to see how great the need is for Christ-centered community.  Without Christ at the center, the pursuit of community is empty, because it ultimately doesn’t work.

I am so thankful for the past several years that God has been working in my life and on my heart, and am so thankful for how He has been more specific in this area for me this past month – to remind me that there is a need in Florida that Michelle and I experienced.  He reminded me that the experiences that I had in the design industry were not a waste, but a process that He brought me through in order to be ready for the greater vision He has now given me.  He does desire for me to create communities, but the communities I now am getting ready to go be a part of starting through God’s lead, are truly sustainable in every sense of the word.  The communities I now get to build are real communities where lives, countries, and the world will be changed.  But all this not because of me, but because of the amazing, transformational and restoring power of Christ and the good news of what He did for all those who believe.

Pizza Night, a weekly gathering that is a part of Cru at WDW

Do not forget the Lord: a timely reminder

“God, thank you also for this internship here with Disney.  Please continue to show us [Michelle and I] what we need to get out of this…  Open my eyes to exactly what I need to see and learn down here. … Please use me how you see fit, and help me realize it and be joyful in whatever it is…”                               – Journal entry, March 13, 2003

Working hard as a custodial host in
the Magic Kingdom.

This is an excerpt from the only journal entry I wrote while Michelle and I were taking part in the Walt Disney World College Program.  Yesterday I spent some time reading back through old journal entries, and it was interesting and amazing to see how God was working in me throughout different times over the last 11 years.  This particular journal entry really struck me in light of where we currently are.  I never would have thought that my time working at Disney was preparing me for an even better dream that God had in store for us at a later time…to be ready to give our lives to serve Him in a unique way He prepared just for us…to go back to Florida to not just work at “creating the magic”, but to go back and work for God to bring His Gospel to the world.

I am so thankful that He answered those prayers I wrote out over 8 years ago, even if it wasn’t the answer I had expected.  And I am thankful that I am in the midst of the Lord revealing the answer to those prayers to me right now.

I have to admit, as we have been building our team of financial partners in our ministry, it has been a roller coaster ride.  There have been many amazing ups that are exhilarating when we hit the peak, but there have also been many downs when it can be difficult and even lonely, especially when we lose sight of our calling or who is in control.  These past couple of weeks, as we finished our Christmas Conference and have started to settle here in Greeley, have been one of these down times for me.  But God has reminded me in more than one way this week of the call He has placed on our lives.  When God gently and lovingly reminded me of what He has been doing all along by bringing me back to that 8-year-old journal entry, I remembered the fact that He is in control, He loves me, and I don’t need to worry.  He has called me to trust Him, to follow Him, and that He will provide for our needs in His time.

Also at Christ Community Church of Greeley this past Sunday, the outreach pastor gave a timely message titled “Unleashed by Hardship” based around the book of Acts (just another example of how God keeps bringing us to the book of Acts, see this post for more).  To start out his sermon, he read from the book titled The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson, which is a book that God used to speak to me in the time leading up to us joining the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ.  Then the pastor talked about how God used the suffering and persecution of the early church in Acts 8:1 to scatter the believers to the places that Jesus originally said they would be His witnesses to in Acts 1:8.  That it was the hard times that pushed them to go where God wanted them to go with the gospel.  Which again reminded me of the time I spent unemployed that God used to open my heart to the call we are now pursuing.  It also reminded me of what we are currently going through, which can be difficult at times, but difficult is not bad – and we now God is using this time to refine us for His glory.

So, I am reminded, just as the Israelites were in Deuteronomy 6:12, to not forget the Lord who has brought us out of slavery and continues to lead us daily on the journey of following Him.  8 years ago, I wasn’t sure why I was picking up trash in the middle of Walt Disney World, and I thought I was “earning my ears” in order to one day follow my own childhood dream of working for Disney.  But instead God has given me a better calling and dream for my life – to follow Him wherever He will lead me.  Sometimes, I just need these reminders to continue doing so.

Michelle and I graduating and officially “earning our ears”.

Casual Christianity: I’m just a man

King David in Prayer by
Pieter de Grebber
– 1635-1640

I have been brought back to Acts several times over the last few years as God has been bringing me, and our family, through this journey to go in to full time ministry in the mission field, and I don’t think that is by accident.  I have read through these stories of the early church and about the missionaries that were used by God to grow His church many times in the past.  What started out as something much more distant from me, has become more revealed thanks to the life experiences God has been bringing us through, and because of how He has been allowing me to understand more about Him and His character.  You see, when I used to read these New Testament letters (and honestly, it still happens today), I would hear these stories of these men whom I imagine being some sort of “super-Christians”.  I never really saw most of the people of the Bible as being anything near normal people, like you and I.  I often assume that they were much like fable characters, or slightly more real than that.  They were almost like the “Michael Jordans” of faith, if you will (to appreciate this analogy, it helps to understand that when I was younger I all but deified Michael Jordan and he became more than human to me, so this might help you understand the perspective I am talking about).  Basically, I always thought something like this: “Wow, those Apostles and people of the Bible are something I can always look up to but never, ever, think of being anything like that – it’s just not possible for us “normal” people.”

Then, God started opening my eyes to reality. I began to recognize, thanks to some studies He has brought me through, that the people in the Bible were chosen for the very opposite reason that I was crediting them.  They came from almost every walk of life you can think of. God intentionally chose people that were normal every-day fisherman, hated tax-collectors, wealthy kings who started out as poor shepherds, and the list goes on and on.  Basically, each of these people from the Bible were just men and women like you and me.  I know that sounds almost blasphemous in some people’s minds, but look at what James, Jesus’ half-brother, says himself, “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.– James 5:17.  James is telling us that Elijah, one of the greatest Prophets of the Old Testament, was “a man just like us”.  Wow!  But you may think that surely we can’t assume that Jesus would agree with a statement like that, right?  That’s not what I read.  In the Gospel of John Jesus states, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” – John 14:12-13.

So why don’t more of us look like characters such as these from the Bible that we read about?  Well, I have begun to realize that it is not because they were a special breed of man or that they found a magic potion, but instead they show us all throughout the Bible that they were truly interested in and submitted to God’s will for their lives.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that non of them failed in this area, just look at King David, we can see many times where he turned back to his own selfish desires.  But we also see that he is fairly quick to repent.  This repentant heart is a big part of most of these “heroes” of the Bible.  It is that kind of attitude that allows them to be used as humble servants of the Most High.  There is a constant attitude of dying to self, of letting go of the fleshly, selfish desires that each and every one of us have.  When they lay down their own lives (and I don’t mean just physically dying, but letting go of everything a person selfishly could want or desire), and pick up their cross and follow Jesus (which means to actually do what he says and not just intellectually memorize what he said or just agree with what he said but to actually take action), this is when we typically see amazing things happening in and through the lives of these Bible characters.

So, when I have been tempted to say, “I’m just a man, I can’t be used by God or do the same things that these superhuman characters did in the Bible,” God has been reminding me that they are not any more superhuman than I am when I die to myself (give up my selfish desires), and submit my life to His will (do what He asks me to).  When more of us begin to live this way, which I believe is the way God has called us to live, then I believe we will see some amazing things happening like Jesus promised.  That we “will do even greater things than these [things that Jesus did]… And [Jesus] will do whatever you ask in [Jesus’] name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.”

Three years of amazing lessons

Just a baby, and he already stole our hearts.

Three years ago this October 22, my life changed forever.  I didn’t realize, even though I thought I could imagine, how much having a child would impact my life until it happened.  I don’t think anyone really can grasp the reality of something like that, until it is experienced first hand.  I knew there would be added responsibility, although I didn’t realize the depth of it.  I knew I would love this little person that was made with a mix of my DNA with my beautiful bride’s DNA, plus whatever else God threw in, but I didn’t realize how much he would teach me about love.  God is so creative in all the things He has set in place in this world of ours, the way He created marriage – where a man and a woman would leave their families and become one.  How that marriage relationship is designed to reflect His relationship with His bride, the church.  And then, through the marriage relationship He designed for us to be able to take part in giving life to another – to experience just a sliver of what He did when He created all.  And then the relationship that ensues with the little person that is a result of that life giving process.  It amazes me how much this relationship has taught me, and continues to teach me, especially as a dad.  So many times in different situations I get a minute glimpse at how my Father in heaven loves me, relates with me, and wants the very best for me.  I only wish I could be as loving to this boy God has blessed me with as my Father in heaven has been with me, but it helps me, at least as much as my finite mind can, to understand more about His amazing love for me, His child.

Hard to catch a shot as he speeds by. But
he still has that hold on our hearts.

Three years ago, we couldn’t wait to meet Samuel, and I cannot believe how the little baby that we welcomed into this world early on that Fall day in 2008 has taught me so much in such a short time.  I am amazed every day for how blessed I feel to have this sweet little boy as my son.  Thank you God for Samuel Thomas…  I love you my boy!

Get your feet wet… a big step of faith.

“And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.” – Joshua 3:13

Crossing the Jordan River
1780s
Unterberger, Christoph

This story, and others that talk about stepping out in faith (literally in this case), have been popping up to Michelle and I since we started praying about joining Campus Crusade for Christ staff, especially when we decided to have Michelle step away from her job with the American Cancer Society (which was our main source of income at the time) and into the waters of the Jordan… or at least to trust God that He would continue to provide as we follow His lead into the ministry in Florida that He has called us to.  Looking back at this story in Joshua, we see the Israelites witnessing God performing wonders right before their eyes, in order to take them where He called them to go.  We continue to see God use this story, as well as the stories of other missionary friends, to lead us forward in faith to follow His call on our lives.

Right now, we feel God asking us to take another big step of faith.  What we feel God is asking us specifically at this time is to plan on being ready to be in Florida in January.  This seems so impossible, and this is one of those things in life where we have struggled with discerning whether or not this is our own selfish desires, or if it is truly God working in and on our hearts.  Back in April when we attended a follow-up training in Arkansas, some of the encouragement we received from the coaches was to pray and ask God to reveal a specific time that He would send us to Florida, and then to pray fervently for that to happen.  So, Michelle and I both began to pray, and both of us came together one night to discuss what we felt God was speaking to our hearts as a time that God wanted us to arrive in Florida…and both of us felt that January is when we are supposed to be there.  At that time, we were somewhere around 25% of our monthly support goal, so January felt like a huge hill to climb, needing God’s guidance every step of the way.

Lately, especially over the last week or two, we have been feeling encouragement and confirmation on asking God to send us at a specific time – and again January has been coming up as when we are supposed to be there.  As of this post, we are at 52% of our monthly support goal, so if it were to happen for us to arrive in Florida in January, God would have to move a mountain over these next few months and bring in almost as much support as has come in during the past year.  We know it is possible, but sometimes it is hard to act in faith in light of the unseen.  But as we learn in Joshua, as well as in the steps of faith that God has already led us through, it usually works that God will provide when you take the step of faith and it is usually not before that action is taken.  The waters of the Jordan didn’t budge an inch until the priests took a step of faith (literally) into the water, and only then did the waters get “cut off and stand up in a heap.”

This morning, I again returned to this story in Joshua, just to remind myself yet again about how God moved.  As I read, I was reminded of the details of this story – like the fact that when the Levite Priests carrying the ark of the covenant came to the Jordan River, it was during the season that the river is flooded (see Joshua 3:15 and 1 Chronicles 12:15) – so they are not only crossing a river, but a river running at a higher level.  But what does God ask them to do as they are on their way to the promised land?  He asks them to take a step of faith into the water, and it is then that the waters move.  As I looked at this story, I was curious to look at some cross-reference verses in the New Testament, and I ran into my sermon notes from our church service on Sunday, which I normally don’t leave in my Bible.  When I came to them I noticed a verse reference that I had underlined which made me curious to look it up, it was this verse: Matthew 7:21 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  And then this afternoon I was reminded of a verse I was made familiar with not long ago thanks to a newsletter update from some of our missionary friends in Italy, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.” – 1 John 14-15

So, what does this mean for us?  Well, it means that we are prayerfully planning on packing up our stuff here in Arizona soon in order to prepare to move out sometime between now and the end of December (when we need to be in Colorado for the annual Denver Christmas Conference hosted by Cru staff).  From there, we are praying that we will have the courage to be ready to leave for Florida in January and trust that God will complete our team of ministry partners to make it possible for us to report to where He is calling us.

This of course means we need your prayers as well.  Please join us in prayer that we would be sensitive to and follow God’s will for the path and timing we are to take on this journey, and we humbly ask that you pray with us that God would provide for our needs by January in order to make it possible for us to report to Florida where we hope to reach the world with the love of Christ.

Please let us know your thoughts and any words that God may be giving you to share with us on this topic.  Thank you again for your partnership in prayer or financial support with us in bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the world, in order to make disciples of all nations.