Tag Archives: Lessons We’re Learning

Joy in the Storm

“And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he (Jesus) was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.” – Mark 4:37-38a

This has been something I have experienced spiritually and emotionally recently, that I’m in a boat and windstorms of life have arisen, waves have been breaking into my boat so that it has Christ Asleep In His Boat by Jules Joseph Meynierbeen filling and it feels like I’m in danger of drowning.  When I call out to God, it seems at times like He is sleeping in the storm much like Jesus was in this story, and I feel like the disciples did in the boat with Jesus.  I start to freak out and ask Him, “Do you not care that we are perishing?  Um, hello, Jesus, do you see me over here?  I’m about to drown, don’t you see this?  Are you gonna do anything?” Ever experience something like this?  I have before, and I have recently.  It isn’t easy or fun when you are in the midst of it and freaking out.

What is it that I’m forgetting, just like the disciples did in this story, in the midst of the storm?  I think I could say a lot of things here, but lets look back a few verses to what was going on in this story. Just before this storm rose up and the disciples started to freak out, Jesus had finished telling some parables and told the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.”  Did you get that?  Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, let’s get in this boat and go sink out in the middle, for this is how we die today.”  No, he says, let us go across to the other side.  As in, everyone on the boat. Seems like Jesus had a plan and it included getting to the other side of this body of water without drowning.  And these were experienced fishermen – they have been in boats, most likely have even gone across this body of water before, and it is a high chance they have been in storms on the water before as well but they still freak out in this storm (must have been big).  In spite of their expertise, or maybe because of their expertise, they freak out about this storm and turn to Jesus when they don’t know what else to do.  Just like me at times, they have easily forgotten what Jesus has said and they were confused that their circumstances weren’t what they expected of their journey.

What is Jesus’ response after they wake him?  First He calms the storm with His words – which is incredibly loving of Him.  Then verse 40 says: “He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?'”  Jesus had told them they were going to go across to the other side, but how quickly they lost sight of what Jesus said and were overcome by their fear in the storm.  I do this.  I have experienced this recently, and there are many aspects to this current storm for me. But I am reminded that I am not experiencing joy in this time because I am so easily distracted by the storm around me.  Someone recently said to me that joy is: looking to Jesus first, then to others, and then lastly to yourself (Jesus, others, yourself = Joy).  It is kinda silly doing acronyms, I know, but really it made some sense when you look at the great commandments – to love God (seek His Kingdom) and to love others.  Instead of looking to Jesus first, I’ve often in the storm been looking to myself, my own needs, and my own desires. Like the disciples on the boat I start freaking out and saying “God, don’t you see me? Don’t you care that I am perishing?”  I easily forget promises He has made. I forget who He is.  Please pray for me to turn from myself – repent – and look to Jesus.  The disciples had to learn this lesson, so at least I’m in good company.

When I discussed this with someone the other day, what came to my mind is the Casting Crowns song – “Praise You In This Storm”, so I have included it from Youtube below.  I think it is fitting and pray that although my heart is torn, that I will praise Him in this storm.  I am reminded also that just because we can and want to experience joy in these storms does not mean that we act like our hearts aren’t broken and just put on a happy face. We can bring our brokenness to Jesus and that is how we experience this Joy.  By coming to Him, no matter what. Lord, help me in this even now!

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.

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”.

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
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.

Casual Christianity: What’s your identity?

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

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 many times in the past, stories of the early church and about the missionaries that were used by God to grow His church.  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. Not only that, but God has also opened my eyes more to who I am in Him.

I love it when I experience a time when I feel like God is specifically speaking to me, it makes me feel so loved.  Although I don’t necessarily hear an audible voice or see any burning bushes or animals using a voice to communicate these messages to me, I do think that there are times I for sure hear from God clearly – especially when I put what I hear through the filter of scripture to test if it lines up.  Well, recently at our church we have been studying through Acts and although we weren’t addressing this specific topic, in this specific way, it was interesting how God used it to speak a comforting word to me.  You see, in the sermon a couple weeks ago, our pastor got to a point in the sermon he was preaching that was stating one way “how the Holy Spirit Converts – or Transforms”, and one of the fill-in-the-blanks was “The Gospel is the greatest unifying identity factor on the earth.”  That specific idea has been something that God has reminded me of several times recently through some relationships I have that our only real bond is the fact that we both are followers of Christ.  It really is amazing how I can meet someone from any walk of life, anywhere in the world, and if we have nothing but Christ in common – we can immediately bond.  I thank God for that reality, the reality that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galations 3:28.  As I read through the section from Acts above, I can see that these early believers gave up their other worldly identities and took hold of their identity in Christ.

Now, this wasn’t completely the message God spoke to me when I sat there listening to the Sunday message… no, I felt like in that moment in time God used what was said, for whatever reason, to take me deeper in to myself.  I felt like He had taken me in that very moment behind the curtain, and allowed me to not just be in His presence, but to sit in His lap – as His son… and took His loving arms and wrapped them around me to say what I heard next…

Copyright All rights reserved by Daniel Y. Go

You see, my whole life I have struggled with something that can bring me down on many occasions, and that thing is that I have never felt that I was really great or excellent at anything specific.  This was always difficult because I saw so many others that were much better than me in basketball, or in art, or in school.  There was always someone else out there that knew more about electronics and gadgets than me, or had a greater tie to Disney than me, or was more successful in the work force than I have been… or… the list can go on.  I have always felt that I was good at a lot of things in life, which I have been good at things, but never excellent… But as I sat there in that seat two Sunday’s ago, and was transported, as time seemed to stand still, into my loving Father’s arms, I heard Him tell me something that made me feel so very loved that I couldn’t believe it.  Even as I type this and think of it, tears well up in my eyes of the joy I feel from my loving Father… What I heard that day was this: “Nate, your identity has been preserved for Me.  I have preserved you and protected you from finding your identity in all of these things in this world that are good, so that you can better realize that your true identity comes from Me.”  WOW!  What an amazing mercy He has shown me, and it made me feel so very grateful for something that I thought was always a burden for me… but no, now I see the greater reason for what He did in my life.

Thank you God, thank you Father, thank you Abba, thank you Daddy!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

Casual Christianity: Are you a casual Christian?

Chan asked one of the leaders of the persecuted church in Asia: “Aren’t there some (Christians) that are casual (here)?”  
The leader answered: “That doesn’t make sense here, why would you casually call yourself a Christian, when you know that the moment you call yourself a Christian your whole village will turn from you, your whole family, and you lose everything, so why would you ever do that casually?

Francis Chan challenged us individually and
organizationally to not just be casual in our faith.

I love it when I see God really trying to teach me something, or at least make me aware of something.  I am sure you have had this happen to you as well, you know, those times when God continually brings a certain message or theme to your attention in different ways over a period of time.  Well, the past several months has been one of those themed periods for me.  And what do I feel God asking me this time?  This: “Nate, are you a casual Christian?”

I actually started to write this blog post – although it looked much different than it does now – back in late May or early June, when our time in Colorado had just started.  Interestingly enough, I have not been able to complete the original blog post I started because God kept feeding me more and more around this subject.  The above dialogue at the top of this post is something that Francis Chan shared with us at our U.S. Staff Conference with Campus Crusade for Christ that we attended this summer in Fort Collins, Colorado.  It seemed obvious to me that the Holy Spirit had placed this message on Francis Chan’s heart, to challenge us (Cru) as an organization… but it felt even more like God had prepared the message just for me!  The story I quoted above that Chan shared with us was in reference to some time he spent traveling through Asia several months ago, where he and his family sold everything they had and just left to go and spend time with the persecuted churches in places like India and China.  After spending some time there, he shared with us, he was amazed with how it seemed like everyone that he met there was so intense about their faith in Jesus.  This observation is what lead him to ask one of the leaders in those countries the question above and receive the above answer. 
With thoughts of the persecuted church in Asia, I thought of some of the students that we will be reaching down in Florida when we report and join our team on the Walt Disney World College Program missional team, because some of the students are from these and other countries around the world where Christians are persecuted.  One such student, whom we call Lili and tell a little more about in our newest prayer letter, is from one of these East Asian countries that does not allow Christians to freely worship and live out a Christian life.  When she was discussing her recent decision to become a Christian with one of our Cru team members, Lindsey, there was a point where she became serious and said, “This isn’t going to be easy when I return home, but I can’t wait to share with my parents.”  Lindsey asked her if she was afraid of what her non-Christian parents might think when they hear the news of Lili’s new-found faith.  Lili responded, “It doesn’t matter.  I’m a Christ-follower now.”  She knows the challenges she faces when she returns home – for Christians in these countries the challenges are much more obvious than here in America.  And in the face of these challenges, they have everything (in a worldly sense) to lose by truly deciding to be a Christ-follower. Do we here in America live out our faith in the same way?

Last week at lunch with a friend, our conversation turned to this topic where he shared, “I’m tired of being a comfortable Christian, I’m just too comfortable.”  Man, that seems like how too many of us are as believers in America, but I don’t think it is because we are in a “free” country and can openly be a Christian.  Rather, I think it more tends to be because we are not truly following Christ, as He commanded us to.  We all just take this “Christian” thing too casually here, because we can.

Next blog, I’m going to expand on what God has been sharing with me, and specifically I plan to look at some examples we see in the book of Acts.  I would love to challenge anyone reading this blog to dig through the book of Acts, really look at and dissect what that early church lived like… Then, think of our church here in America today, as most people know the church… Are we living out the faith we claim to have?  Or are we just casual Christians?

The “Crazy Cycle”, make the first move

If you want to resolve a conflict, you need to make the first move. It requires courage and humility … you can’t wait for your spouse to meet you halfway. (Emphasis added)
The “Crazy Cycle” – FamilyLife.com

Isn’t it a Crazy Cycle indeed?  If you don’t know what the Crazy Cycle is, it is only because you haven’t heard it called by that name yet… especially if you are married or have lived in a house with parents who are married or even dating long term!  It starts with either the husband not showing his wife the love he has for her – especially if he doesn’t show it in a way that she would recognize it (ever heard of the 5 Love Languages?) and feel loved – or the wife not respecting her husband.  After this trigger, the Crazy Cycle starts with the opposite spouse reacting in the equally negative way… which continues on for as long as the couple keeps on reacting in this negative way not showing love or respect to one another.

I have to admit, even though we – my wife and I – have been through the Love & Respect book/series more than one time along with other similar studies that address the same issue, I still continue to find us giving in to this Crazy Cycle.  Just like the Apostle Paul says in Romans 7:15 – “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  I hate when I don’t show my wife the love she really does deserve, even if I don’t think she deserves it for whatever reason at some moment in time.  I find it interesting how this part of scripture in Paul’s letter, comes immediately after addressing an “illustration from marriage”, curious for me at least!

I know when I find Michelle and I in the Crazy Cycle, that the “easiest” and “quickest” way to end that cycle is, as the quote from the Family Life website above shows, for me to make the first move.  Amazing how the up-and-coming wisdom of our culture so feeds this Crazy Cycle, and how easy it is to buy into that “wisdom” and get caught up in such a destructive and silly rhythm.  The world gives the example that a woman doesn’t need to respect a man if he doesn’t respect her first… Then it goes on to show men that women are there to meet a carnal need and we can be the emotionally checked-out guy who thinks love is only what happens in the bedroom.

This idea of making the first move isn’t just something made up, or being a “macho man” or something, but it is coming directly from the Bible.  When we look at Ephesians 5, the chapter that the Love and Respect series uses to discuss the idea of a husband loving his wife, and the wife respecting her husband, I find it important to note what exactly Paul is writing to the husbands here.  Paul writes, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25), what I know about Christ’s love for the church is this: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  So what does this mean for me as a husband?  It means I need to follow Christ’s example, I need to first love my bride, I need to make the first move.

My beautiful bride and I enjoying a hockey game “date night”
during our DCC conference back in January.

Focus on Him: Learning how to face temptation.

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

– Mark 1:12-13

Temptation of Christ by Ary Scheffer, 1854

I was recently reading through Mark on my slow (slow because of me, not the study) – but steady – journey through the New Testament Survey course that Michelle and I are taking, when I came across these verses that struck me.  What struck me is the idea that the Holy Spirit led Jesus out to the desert, knowing that He would be tempted by Satan over those forty days.  This seems like an odd thing, for the Spirit to lead anyone into a situation where it is known that the person will be tempted by Satan – since we know that Satan’s temping is intended to lead us to turn away from God.  Maybe the intention here was purely to teach us a lesson on how to face temptation when it comes our way.  What better Teacher than Jesus to show us by example how we are to respond to the temptations we will face.

Since before I became a Christian I had struggled with a certain area of sin in my life that I had been trying to figure out how to get past, I felt like the sin had a constant hold on me even though I knew I had freedom in Christ.  In those years of trying to “morally restrain my will”, I never found any amount of effort or list of “to don’ts” that would ever have any real affect on getting me past that large obstacle of sin.

Enter the process that God has graciously led me through over the past couple-plus years, the truth of replacing my focus.  What do I mean?  Well, you see, the main focus I had all those years before the coins really dropped (ask if you don’t get what this means), was on not doing things that would lead me into the sin or sinful activity I struggled with… unfortunately, putting the focus on the things I shouldn’t do, meant I spent a lot of time thinking about those things that I shouldn’t do.  I was focusing on the negative while all along my focus should have beeen on something good rather than bad.  That focus should really be on God – the ultimate good – and only when my gaze started to turn more to Him (only by His grace) have I actually been able to experience the freedom I have had all along (big praise God here is ok, :-)).

So, by now, you might be wondering how this ties into this passage from Mark 1:12-13, hang in there I am getting to it…  I am sure I am not the only one that thinks temptation is not a good thing, after all it is something that is used by our biggest adversary to try and turn our attention away from where it should be – God.  So if this is the case, why did the Spirit lead Jesus out to the desert in order to be tempted?  Well what is funny is that I initially went in to writing this blog post with a whole different idea, but as I followed the Spirits lead, something else has taken form…  It turns out that my focus was initially on the idea that temptation is bad, rather than what amazing thing God was doing with the temptation and forty days in the desert that Jesus was to face.

The rest of the story, as Paul Harvey would put it, is told in the correlating passages from the gospels of Matthew (in 4:1-11) and Luke (in 4:1-13) which share more of the detail of some of the temptations that Jesus actually faced, and how He combated the temptations Satan threw at Him.  This context shows us, in my opinion, the reason that the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted – to teach us how to face temptation ourselves.

What Jesus does to resist these temptations is not focus on what He should avoid so as to not sin in the way Satan is tempting Jesus, but instead Jesus focuses on God and the Word of God – literally the scriptures.  Of course anything Jesus said could be considered the word of God, but He chose to specifically quote scriptures that men at the time would have access to.  Look a little deeper at the scripture that Jesus quotes and you will see that the verses are from Deuteronomy.  This is important because of the correlation between the context of what Jesus is quoting compared to the situation Jesus is in.  Jesus is in the midst of spending forty days in the desert, sounds similar to the forty years in the wilderness that Israel experienced, which happened to be a desert wilderness in possibly the exact same place in which Jesus was during His forty days.  On top of the location, Satan tempts Jesus in areas that the Israelites had fallen and turned against God.  Jesus is showing us how, through the leading of the Holy Spirit (which He gave us all as a gift, see John 7:38-39 and Acts 2:38-39), we are capable of resisting temptation and focusing on and following God.  Unlike Israel who instead focused on the bad, they focused on the hard trials rather than focusing on God.  Jesus shows by example that through the power of the Holy Spirit as well as through the sword (His word)  which He has given us, we can remain focused on God even in the midst of the most trying of temptations. 

Again, the focus of Jesus’ response to the temptations that He faces here is on God.  More specifically, Jesus focuses on the Truth that responds directly to the temptations being sent His way.  Following Jesus’ example  I am of course not saying to ignore the fact that we have an adversary that is attacking us, but when we recognize the temptations or know we are going into a situation that we might face temptations, we should look to God and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  We should focus on God, His character, His goodness.

I am so thankful for what God has brought me through and continues to teach me every day.  It has been amazing to experience the freedom that I knew I had in Him, but was just not living in that freedom.  Of course I still have sin and areas to grow, but getting freedom in this area that has been a heavy ball and chain for most of my life is so, well, freeing!  I hope and pray that these words communicate the truth that I have experienced through the amazing work of the Holy Spirit in my life, and allow the coins to drop for you in order to make a turning point in your life just as God has begun for me.

The LORD turned to him and said, Go in the strength you have…
– Judges 6:14