I’m Still Standing….

What a fascinating journey these last six months have been! This post will feel really random, really eclectic. Well, that’s okay because that describes me, too. So much has been going on over this last six months, really 19 months. I’m going to touch on the highlights here. In subsequent posts I’ll expound upon some of these points. The bottom line through all this is that God continues to be faithful, in terms of provision, encouragement, and call. In all things, God is good!

CHURCH PLANTING & GEAR SWITCHING

So, over a year and a half ago, my wife Kara and I answered God’s call to move to Champaign, Illinois to take over the leadership of a church plant called Confluence Church. With a clear conscience, I can say that we’ve been faithful to all that God has called us to do in this role – we laid our church’s foundation on the work of Jesus, on God’s Word, on prayer, on relationships, and on mission. Most of the participants in all that we did were not the typical churchgoer. We had a fascinating mix of religious and ethnic backgrounds in our family. Not just on a surface level, we dove deep in our friendships. Real life happened – struggles, victories, and uncertainty – in our midst, and we walked with the people we were called to shepherd. We had a growing men’s group, a women’s Bible study, and any time we had a party of any kind, we’d pack the place. The one thing that wasn’t happening, though, was a growing weekly worship service. Over time it became evident that God was working in us, through us, and in spite of us, but just not in the context of a weekly worship service. Long story short, we ended up closing our doors at the end of January. Just like in losing someone close, shutting down a church plant does involve grief. It was the end of a dream. In a bizarre twist of events did I even land in this pastoral role at Confluence in the first place. It was clear that God wanted us here for a reason. But the question that kept coming to mind was, “Now what?” I resigned myself to working a secular career and ministering through that avenue.

After another Confluence family and my family found a place to call our new church home, a most surprising thing happened. The pastor of our new church called me, asking me, asking me if I would be open to the possibility of working in some capacity at Grace Community Church. So, a month and a half later, I am on their volunteer staff as an associate pastor. Did I foresee this when we first moved to Champaign? Not at all! God had that figured out before we stepped foot here. I’m blown away…

MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU
Another major life change that we’ve undertaken is the addition of another baby boy to our family in November. We’re still adjusting to life as a family of four, but the challenges are so, so worth it! Being a dad to both Zander and Alastair is incredibly rewarding and adventurous. Seeing our two-year old absorb everything he hears us say and watches us do is mind-blowing. His vocabulary is exploding on a near-daily basis. We have a growing set of inside jokes between us that brightens the day at any moment. Alastair, our 3-month old, does everything with gusto – he cries and screams with gusto, and he smiles and laughs with the same level of intensity. I am learning so much about daddyhood, life, and myself through this season. Humbling and overwhelming, to be sure.
BECOMING LESS OF ME
Lastly, about two months ago I had an eye-opening experience about my health. One Sunday after church I noticed that I was lethargic, sickly and feeling like complete crap. My wife, being a type-1 diabetic, suggested that I check my blood sugar. Come to find out, my level was well beyond a normal person’s range. Then I began thinking about my weight. At my lightest as an adult (In my late 20s), I weighed 169. I felt great! I had just lost 30 pounds and I could have lost 10 more. But this time around I topped the scale at 259 – that’s 100 pounds that I needed to lose!  I knew that a “diet” wouldn’t work for me. I knew that I needed to make some wholesale changes to my lifestyle. So, since that day nearly 2 months ago I’ve cut out most carbs and all soda. Instead of 3 totally-out-of-control meals, I eat 5 or 6 small, calorie-controlled meals a day. I aim to drink 128 oz of water per day to flush the system and to stay hydrated. On top of that, I’m committed to increasing my movement throughout the day. So far I’ve lost 10 pounds. 90 to go. The scale isn’t the main thing I want to satisfy. My goal is to become healthy. I’m committed to being “All in” for my wife and kids. How can I if I am morbidly obese? Stroke runs rampant through my family. I don’t think it wise to play Russian roulette with my health.
So, lots of changes. God is good and He is in control. I’m trusting Him for all these things. Holding on tight for the wild ride ahead!
Ridiculously Joyful-
Brandon
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Be Still and Know…

19studiorecording_0I’m good at bucking trends and beating odds.

Medically speaking, I beat the odds again this week. It’s extremely rare for an adult to contract the childhood disease known as “Hand-foot-mouth.” Since I don’t like to be typical, I decided I’d come down with the relatively harmless but very uncomfortable and inconvenient illness. Today has been day three of dealing with blisters on my hands, tongue, and throat. While I’m feeling a tad better, I’m still quite contagious and am taking every precaution to not get my family sick.

So, I’ve relegated my existence primarily to the back deck, dining room table, and bed. It doesn’t help that I am a people person by nature. On top of that, this was my first week away from my job at the bank. I switched gears so I could focus my energies on part-time work, school, and ministry. I had some AWESOME plans set up for this week and next. But my contagiousness and exhaustion have not allowed me to do much of anything, except for resting. I think that’s what the Doctor is ordering…

SILENCIO, POR FAVOR

In a day of apps and podcasts and music and videos and all kinds of communication, it is hard to “be still and know” that the Lord is God. It’s been extremely hard to go from 60-hours a week of work to absolutely nothing. I’ve desired to spend time with the Lord these last few days, but I have programmed myself to need noise and entertainment all my waking hours. It is hard to tune out the noise and commune with Christ.

Last night I had a bit of a breakthrough, though. One practice of mine is to occasionally read out loud a passage of Scripture and record it. That way, I can play it back over and over, and it becomes a whole lot easier to dwell on and reflect. If I’m reading out loud, there’s not a whole lot else that I can be paying attention to. So, last night I began recording, chapter by chapter, the book of Acts. Mega encouraging, mega sobering. Since recording, I’ve listened to it at least twice, and have had the words of Luke the doctor/historian ringing through my brain. Very, very grateful…

MY CHALLENGE TO YOU

So, here’s my challenge to you, whether you are sick or not. Pick a book of the Bible. I’d suggest, for now, something from the New Testament. Something a bit shorter (Philippians is a great place to start!) Whether it’s through a recording app you have on your phone or computer, or if it’s an old-fashioned tape recorder, read out loud and record that book, one chapter at a time. Save it. Play it back often. Just like in reading the Word, each time you go through a passage, you’ll begin to see new things as you interact and dwell on God’s revelation to man.

**Pick a book of the Bible

**Record it, one chapter at a time

**Play it back at least daily for a month

**Grab a notebook/journal/online notepad and take notes of anything that grabs your attention. What is God saying? What does He mean? How will you respond?

**Pick a new book for the next month and repeat….

**Let me know how this goes for you!

 

The Unintentional Missionary – 3 Things Jonah Wasn’t Expecting

Normal Conversations, Unexpected OutcomesImage

My oldest sister was telling me at dinner tonight about a couple of unintentional encounters years ago where the conversations turned toward Jesus Christ:

*A high school partying buddy of hers – as they were driving around town in my sister’s Jeep, they unexpectedly began talking about Jesus.

*Her superior in the Air Force – My sister was stationed in Greenland, and upon arrival, quickly hit it off with her boss. Although she didn’t set out to share Christ with this guy, their conversations frequently revolved around Jesus Christ.

Years later, she found out that these conversations bore fruit. Her buddy from high school remembered her words in that Jeep ride, and now he takes his children to church each week to worship the Lord Jesus. Although her time in Greenland was cut short, those conversations had a deep impact on that man’s life. 

For me, I was in campus ministry for several years. One year, there was a young man who was a regular attender of our meetings, and I had the opportunity to talk with this guy a few times. He even moved into the same apartment complex where I lived. I don’t recall any majorly significant conversations. But about five years after I left that part of the country, I heard from a mutual friend. She told me that this guy was talking about me to her, telling her, “Brandon had a major role in leading me to Jesus Christ.” I had no idea. I didn’t set out to share Christ with this guy. But the Lord used me, nonetheless. I am blown away.

Another Part of Jonah’s Story

Anyone who is familiar with the Bible has surely heard of the story of Jonah, how God called the prophet to give a message to the city of Nineveh, and how Jonah ran the opposite direction, hopped on a ship, was thrown overboard, swallowed by a big fish, spit out, then how he made his way to the original destination and preached to Nineveh, and how they repented and turned to God. But in rereading Jonah, I was reminded of the work God was doing even before Jonah set foot in Nineveh. 

While he was on the ship, a monstrous storm arose. The mariners on the ship (not sure how many there were) were all calling out to their various gods, and they went to look for Jonah, who was asleep in the bottom of the ship. They awoke him, and then cast lots to see who should be thrown overboard to somehow appease someone’s god. The lot fell to Jonah, and he willingly allowed the mariners to throw him overboard. 

Immediately, the sea ceased from its raging. While Jonah instantly appeared, I’m sure, on some giant fish’s radar, God, the creator of Heaven and Earth, and the Master of the Sea, instantly appeared on the spiritual radar screens of this ship full of mariners. Jonah 1:16 explains the impact the experience had on these men:

“Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.”

So, the three things that these mariners did because of Jonah are:

1.) Feared the LORD

2.) Offered a sacrifice to the LORD

3.) Made vows

In essence, they 1.) saw God for who He was, 2.) worshipped Him, and 3.) Committed to follow Him. 

When Jonah woke up that morning, preparing to set sail to Tarshish, did he plan to lead a ship full of salty, rough sailors to the Lord? Did he plan on impacting for eternity the lives of these superstitious, suspicious, and angry men? 

Highly doubtful.

But throughout Scripture we get a clear picture of the sheer majesty of our Creator Savior God. We see that He is fully worthy to be worshipped and followed. Luke 19:40 even tells us that if mankind is quiet in praising God, “even the rocks will cry out!” God doesn’t NEED us to accomplish His purposes here on earth. But He does chose to USE us nonetheless, all to bring glory to His name. Was Jonah the right guy for the job? Did Jonah bring a jaw-dropping prophetic resume to God?  No. BUT Jonah’s rebellion and sour attitude didn’t take God by surprise. God knew exactly how this whole episode would unfold. And He stayed the course. And, because of Jonah’s rebellion, the glory of God was made manifest in the lives of this ship full of heathen mariners. Praise be to God!

I wish my life and my ministry were pristine – free of sin, rebellion, hypocrisy, and my nasty attitudes. However, I’m a work in progress. There are so many days where I think it would be best that I just stay in bed and avoid humanity. But God is faithful. He is continually transforming me from the inside out. I’m not the same guy I was in my teens or 20s. Heck, I’m not the same guy I was last year. God is actively transforming my life, and I’m so thankful!  

My prayer, then, is that regardless of what I do, say, or look like, that somehow God would pick up the pieces in my wake, that He would still be glorified, that He would accomplish those three things He did in the lives of the mariners – that people in my life would 1.) Fear the Lord, 2.) Worship Him, and 3.) Commit to follow Him. 

Dearest Lord Jesus, may it be so in EACH OF OUR LIVES!

 

The Man I Want to Become (aka the Story of the King Who Smiles)

Happy New Year! Today has been more of a subdued start than what I’m used to for a new year, as my wife and I are both battling sickness (she has pneumonia, I have some sort of bug). But, in the midst of this quiet day, actually during our evening meal with my sister who is living with us, I received some profound and unsolicited encouragement.

You see, having become a dad nearly a year ago has caused me to be hypersensitive to how I model manhood to my son. In looking back through the years, I see clear progress that is from the Lord’s work in my life. Yet, I frequently ask myself, “Am I turning into the man the Lord wants me to be?”

Relationships with people often serve as a mirror, a reflection that shows the good, bad, and ugly in yourself. People you live life with on a day in, day out basis especially see what your character is like. Well, tonight at dinner (homemade chili and baked potatoes, if you must know), both my wife and my sister gave me compliments that were a blessing from God. They offered up observations of me that took me by surprise.

My wife has a deep connection with her family, especially looking back on her grandparents. Her dad’s dad had fought in WWII, was a hard worker, a great family provider, a loving husband, and a wonderful grandfather. Tonight we were all talking about the need for love and respect in marriage relationships, and she told me that I reminded her of her grandpa in terms of being gentle, kind, yet firm in my leadership.

I had never met Mr. Brown, but I’ve gotten to know him through the stories his granddaughter has passed on to me. I know she loved him very much, and he played an immensely important role in her life. For my wife to tell me that I reminded her of someone so valuable, who was such a solid leader in his home, I was taken aback. Very humbling.

Then, my oldest sister who lives with us continued the conversation about leadership. She  said that since she has lived under our roof for the last few months, she has observed how I lead at home. She said, “I definitely see you as the head of the household. But what I envision is this: I see a king, with his robe and crown, who takes his place at the head of the table within his castle. But he isn’t one who rules with an iron fist. He leads with firmness and kindness. He is the king who smiles.” To be seen as a king represents leadership that commands respect. To smile, though, represents compassion, love, contentment, and joy that puts people at ease.

Wow! What a picture of the man I want to be! I look back on my 20s, how I did not lead, how I did not act very regally, how I did not know how to be “gentle, kind, yet firm.” I was afraid to lead. I just didn’t know how.

I must pay homage to the King of KIngs at this moment, for patiently making me into the man He wants me to be. I know I have such a long ways to go, but I see how far I’ve come. And I’m grateful that there’s evidence in my home that I’m moving forward in this journey of godly manhood. Thanks, Lord!

An Open Letter to My Beloved Confluence Church

Dear Confluence Church,

I hope you are all doing well this evening. Been thinking a lot about you these last couple of days, and I thought I’d drop a line. Mostly a thank-you letter, with a few extras sprinkled in.

First, I have to say that these two months that my wife, son, and I have been a part of your fellowship have been a significant blessing to us. Although we miss our home church three hours north of here, we feel like we’ve discovered new family here. Operating as a house church has its unique challenges; however, it also has it’s unique privileges. While I’m still adjusting to life without pews, I am gladly soaking in the sense of earnest community.

My wife told me the other day that a great tag line for Confluence Church would be, “More Than Just Church.” She is absolutely right! When I walk through the door (or host our meetings at our house), I don’t feel like I need to put on any kind of front. Whether I’m in a great mood or crummy one, whether I’m tired, depressed, or ridiculously joyful, I feel warmly embraced by people who are also not wearing masks. Whether I preach well or lay a goose egg, whether I’m coherent or not, you all are so incredibly accepting and loving.

One thing that earnest community does is celebrate together the victories and cry together in the defeats. In these short two months, we’ve had opportunities to come alongside hurting people, mentor challenging pre-teen boys, encourage fathers, support overwhelmed college students, bless busy families, and get to know new friends who are just kind of floating by.

Confluence Friends, you’ve been a real encouragement to me spiritually. How refreshing it’s been to take a month off of planned or programmed times together! Instead, our times of deliberate prayer and worship have been amazing! We’ve been able to get to know each other quickly, and we’ve been able to seek God’s will for our small fellowship. And yes, I do mean fellowship in the biblical sense. Not just “get together and goof around,” like most people define “fellowship.” I mean “partnership” together. We’ve been a fledgling church on a mission. A mission to:

**Seek God’s face

**Worship Him

**Understand God’s Word together

**Build unity and community together

**Devote ourselves to good teaching, partnership, eating together, and praying together.

Regardless of what we look like in five years in terms of size, location, or format, I pray that we don’t lose this part of our identity. If we do, then we need to put on the brakes and move on to church b, c, or d. Stay committed to what God has shown you to be thus far. You are a beautiful, organic thing, Confluence Church.

Here are a couple of things I’d like to encourage you with.

**Don’t be afraid to do this stop-the-presses-and-pray-for-a-month thing OFTEN. Our regularly scheduled programming can just wait. 😉

**Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. God may ask us to reach out to a particular group of people we don’t know well, or He may want us to move beyond our ecclesiastical, church preferences. More hymns, more worship choruses, more electric guitar, more banjo, more cowbell, more drama, more dance, more food, more time. God could ask us to have more or less of anything.  Let’s let Him lead…

**Don’t be afraid to be bold. As we become a light in our neighborhoods and in our town, we will be called to say things that aren’t very popular. We can’t shrink back. And we can’t be shy when it comes to sharing the truths of the Bible with each other.

**Don’t be afraid of the extremes. One day God may show us that Confluence was just for a short season and ask us to all to move on to other fellowships. OR He may have bigger plans for our church, and call us to expand our family by hundreds or maybe thousands. Trust God for direction and the courage to move that way.

**Don’t be afraid to fail. We could make some well-intentioned decisions and do some things that just fall flat. That’s okay. God’s still on His throne and He’ll never go on vacation or lose our file. He’s got us covered.

Thank you for letting God use you all to impact my life. God’s goodness is evident, and His Spirit is alive and working in each of you. Don’t quit!

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Colossians 2:6-7

Thanks for taking a moment to hear me out. Until we see each other again soon-

All the Way Home,

Brandon

p.s. Thanks for all the coffee.

The Discipleship Paradigm

Been thinking about the total package of following Jesus. including helping others walk with Him. What all does discipleship entail? What paradigm must I switch to in order to go from a weekend-only Christian to an everyday, on-fire follower of Jesus?

Here are a few short musings of mine on the various layers of living a passionate, sold-out life for Jesus:

The COST of Discipleship- following Jesus and helping others to do the same requires sacrifice of time, energy, and resources. And it’s much more serious that just that. Whether in life or in death, discipleship also costs you your life.

The JOY of Discipleship- following Jesus and helping others to do the same taps into a wellspring of soul-level blessing, allowing you and those you influence to experience ridiculous amounts of joy that can only come from God. As we grow in closeness with Jesus, we see our lives change from the inside out. As we help others grow, we have front-row seats to the work of God in the lives of those we are investing in!

The ACHE of Discipleship- The more time I have walked with Jesus, one thing consistently comes into clearer focus- my permanent need for a Savior. We must live in the tension of, on one hand, seeing God work in our hearts and change us, but on the other hand, seeing our sinful selves resist those very changes. From here until the grave, we wear an earthsuit that is soiled with sin. We are bent toward selfishness. As the Holy Spirit works in us, we will definitely see our character change. But until we are perfected on the day of His coming, we must live with the ache of following Jesus and helping others do the same IMPERFECTLY. We long for home, and we ache.

The TOOLS of Discipleship- In order to follow Jesus and to help others do the same, we must have love. Love for God, love for people, a love for God’s Word, and a love for prayer. These ingredients will open your eyes to God’s priorities.

The POWER for Discipleship- Galatians 2:20 shows us that the Christian is no longer on his own to try to live, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus lives THROUGH us! There is only One who can successfully live the Christian life, and that’s Christ Himself. Our feeble attempts are powerless and can lead to frustration for us and heartbreak for God. Pray and ask the Lord to live through you as you follow Him and help others do the same.

The PASSION of Discipleship- As we grow closer and closer with Christ, we can’t help but be involved in His work here on earth. Whether you are a pastor or a painter, a church planter or a chiropractor, we all are on a mission from God. The idea that we should leave ministry up to the professional clergy is ludicrous and lazy. We each are especially equipped with GIFTS and OPPORTUNITIES in order for us to reach the world for Jesus. Let the Holy Spirit take you where He wants you to be. Don’t be afraid. Passionately follow the footsteps of Christ!

God’s Emergency Room

PREFACE

I love Michael Card’s music – his integrity, his lyrics, his musicality. And I appreciate how his work is always grounded in hope. Nothing sugar coated, just an honest darkness-broken-by-Light truth that he conveys in every single song. I’m thinking just now of his “Joy in the Journey.”

i’ve been listening to that song since I was a teenager. It was a blessing then, but I hadn’t yet experienced the depth of what that song captures. I had to traverse the journey a ways first before I could truly appreciate the joy that can only come from Christ while we’re in the middle of hardship.

I’m thankful that we don’t just have a some-day sort of hope for the day that Christ returns and we go home to live with Him forever. The joy and assurance that come from knowing we’re secure in our relationship with our Heavenly Father here and now is meant to be a “foretaste of glory divine,” a constant reminder that we have been ransomed by the King of the Universe from the clutches of sin and hell.

Life is hard, and I’m not about to paint a rainbows-and-roses picture of life on earth. For me, compared to starving children in Ethiopia, to little girls home and abroad who are swept away by the sea of sex trafficking, to men who have been wrongfully imprisoned for most of their adult lives, to women who have been raped or abused by their husbands, compared to MOST PEOPLE around the world, I have lived a sheltered, safe, comfortable life. Our struggles in life are unique to us; the level of pain and heartache is relative. While my life’s hurts don’t compare to those of, say, Sarajevo’s cellist, whose beloved city was pummeled to pieces in the mid-90s, I have never experienced a civil war within my own country’s borders.

On the flip-side of the coin, no one else has experienced my particular brand of depression or grief. Countless people are immersed in severe clinical depression and grief over the loss of a loved one, but no one has lived through the exact same circumstances that I have.

While I write, I’m not trying to say “Oh, woe is me. See I what I went through.” While the cellist’s specific circumstances and mine are different, we can dig through the rubble of both our tragedies to find common ground, underlying pieces of evidence that God is good and that He is in control.

My life, in the grand scheme of things, is not that special. We’re not little “snowflakes,” entitled to special attention from everyone and anyone. But I write because my God is special, my God is holy, and my God seeks to draw men unto Himself. In every trial and tribulation I’ve been through, I’ve seen the hand of God at work. You see, this piece of writing isn’t about ME, it’s about the God of the Universe who desires that “none should perish, but that all should have eternal life.” While no one has sinned precisely just like me, the reasons for sin and the consequences of our selfish choices are quite similar.

 I’m a messed up guy in constant need of a Savior.

These anecdotes are not mine, but I’m merely a steward of them. They were especially coordinated, woven, and ordered by an all-powerful God who is, at the same time, loving, gracious, and good. I pray that as I share these episodes of my life, that I treat them with honesty, clarity, transparency, and humility. My hope is that you can see that through my life God’s love and work have been quite evident, and that in whatever it is you experience – now or down the road – this same God will be diligently at work. I want you to know that He loves you.

Thanks in advance for reading…

SELF-SUFFICIENT

Winnie the Pooh galoshes. Hated ‘em. They were bright, colorful, hard to get on, and they prevented a boy from being, well, a boy. Mom insisted that my brother and I wear our galoshes any time we went out in the rain and mud. This day was no different.

In a small section of our expansive back yard, we had an area with a swing set that we called “the play yard.” Perfect place to play in the dirt, to defy the limits of the swings, to enjoy our Tonka Trucks (to clear away any misunderstanding – it was I who buried all those dump trucks and dozers deep in the soil, just for fun. My brother was not even an accomplice in the case.) It was a place to just get lost in!

Well, we were goofing around in the play yard, yes, in our galoshes. The rain was intermittent, and the soil was soggy. I don’t remember, but for some reason, my brother went in the house. I was addicted to the play yard, and I want to goof around some more. Typical elementary school behavior.

After sliding and swinging and climbing some more, I found myself near the ladder of the slide. I paused for a moment before looking down. I couldn’t move my feet, galoshes and all. As the rain began to pour, I began to sink into the soft mud. I was completely stuck. Those shoe-enveloping rain boots wouldn’t budge.

Instead of calling for help, I fought and I fought with with the elements. Yet, for what seemed like an hour, I could not win. Did I yell for Mom or Dad to help me out? No. I felt like I had what it took to get me out of my jam. Definitely a matter of pride and especially self-sufficiency.

Finally, someone randomly came out of the house looking for me. I don’t recall who it was, but they found me in my sad, soggy state and helped free me and my Winnie the Pooh Galoshes from the muck and mire.

PRIDEFUL

When I was eight years old, I broke my femur on the first day of summer vacation, right after I was done with the 2nd grade. What an ordeal! Missed the Olympic Torch which was carried through my hometown, missed the yearly visiting carnival, missed hanging out with my friends and family. I was in traction for over a month, then a hideous body cast for over a month, and then in physical therapy for a few weeks before school started up again. However, one thing that I was thrilled about was the beginning of my nine-year soccer career at the end of that summer. I had gained a lot of weight, but I wanted to get some exercise and to be on a team, like my older brother.

At some point early in my soccer years, I recall asking one of my older sisters a very revealing question after a game. I know now that I was not a great player, but at that time I thought I was somethin’ else. After a game in which I thought I did particularly well, I asked my sister, “So, do you think I’m the best player out there?”

My ever-diplomatic and sensitive sister replied, “Well, I thought you did a very good job today.”  Even after pressing her to clarify her stance, she didn’t seem to have arrived at the same conclusion I had. I thought I was better than all the kids on my team, and I wanted to be acknowledged for it. I wanted to be valuable.

COMMON THREAD

Yes, I might appear to be hard on my younger self. I imagine most kids that age want to be affirmed and that they want to know they can do things on their own. I wasn’t at all unique in those ways. What I do want to draw out, though, is that I see these two issues – self-sufficiency and pride- as the common thread that was been a part of my whole life. They are a permanent part of my inner wiring, part of my earthsuit that I will wear until I go Home.

And, as I carefully dig through the story of mankind throughout the Bible, we have always leaned toward our default positions of pride and self-sufficiency. Look through the prophets of the Old Testament. Ezekiel passes on several rebuking message from God to the Israelites regarding these two ever-present issues. Not only do men and women of old demonstrate these glaring flaws, trace the trajectory of all of our lives and I bet you will find these two issues intertwined all throughout.

I know that all through my life I have thought higher of myself than I ought, and I have aimed to pull myself up by my own boot straps (or galoshes, take your pick).

While I can tell countless stories of how I have been prideful or self-sufficient all throughout my life, this isn’t the focus of this work. Paul the Apostle tells the church in Rome, “…but where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” The deepest part of my story isn’t my sin, but the deepest part of me is the grace that saved me from that sin.

While we talk about sin and call it what it is, our gaze mustn’t stop there. We must see that forgiveness of sins is available because of the death of Someone who didn’t have any sin in His life at all. He died on my behalf in order to give me that deep grace.

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Hard to Live for Christ

It’s hard to live for Jesus. It’s only going to get harder.

The Perfect Storm
I’m not prophetic, but I’m speaking based on what I’m observing all around me. Our American society is becoming increasingly less friendly toward Christ and His followers. Legislation at various levels attempts to push Christ to the margins of society. Not only are lawmakers putting the squeeze on Christ, so is our culture at large. Individuals and corporations who embrace open-mindedness and tolerance are only so as long as Jesus Christ stays home. Every other system of belief is welcome, just not Jesus. Why do you think Tim Tebow has been such a polarizing sports figure in the last year? The sports nation wants to embrace this kid who throws awkwardly but wins, yet is uncomfortable in celebrating him because he is so outspoken about his faith in Christ.

Another segment of our society that is increasingly becoming more hostile toward Christianity is our education system. At every turn, schools and decision-makers who determine curriculum are drawing boundary lines that punish students for standing up for what they believe.

What a perfect storm – combine our society, our schools, and an enemy who wishes to prevent people from knowing Jesus Christ and living a life that glorifies Him, and you have a Christ-unfriendly environment.

Passing the Test in School
Just last weekend I took a busload of junior high kids to a conference about the origins and trustworthiness of the Bible. We had a chance to talk about the things that prevented them from walking closely with Jesus. Wow! I so value their candidness and transparency, as they shared quite a variety of roadblocks that stood in their way.

They mentioned how difficult it is to resist compromising their values because of the mockery of their peers. The guilt that goes along with compromise also was a roadblock. Other kids mentioned the high levels of stress at home that made following Jesus hard.

One of the high school seniors in our youth group transferred from a Christian school to a public school after eleven years. He shared with me the struggles he’s faced after transferring his sophomore year:

Two years ago I transferred to Oswego High School. It is different in so many ways. Walking through the halls, it is a totally different feel. I walked into the building for the first time knowing that because of my faith I was a minority and that all of the people who got to know me would watch to see if I was different. I have gotten to know a few other Christians but it is much harder to know who shares your faith at the public schools. Although the teachers still care about the success of their students, even if they do care about their salvation, they are not permitted to say anything about it. At the public school I have noticed much more poor behavior than I did at the Christian school. Because of the lack of rules prohibiting some things, there is far more swearing and immodest clothing which makes it hard to avoid temptation at times.

And it’s only going to get harder. To be honest, I’m glad. For one, it means that what Jesus predicted is coming true. In Mark 10:30, He explains how He will take care of His people in this age with “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands.” But Jesus also includes in that list of what will be coming our way the certainty of “persecutions.” This age, while we will have all of our needs provided for, we will still walk around with a target on our backs. As we grow in maturity in Christ, and as our circles of Christian influence expand, so does the bulls’ eye. Satan will do all he can to disarm us, to dissuade us, to discourage us, to depress us, to debilitate us, to distract us, to deal us the death blow.

Not the End of the Story
If that were the end of the story, I’d have reason to give up right now. However, praise the Lord, the rest of Mark 10:30 reminds us of what’s on the other side: “…and in the age to come, eternal life.”
While this age will have the mix of God’s blessings and the enemy’s attacks, the age to come will be nothing but the blessings that come from being in the presence of God Almighty! Our state of perfect communion with the Father will be restored. The promise of Revelation 21: 3 – 4 will be fulfilled, and it’s gonna be AMAZING!!!!

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Another reason why I welcome the coming persecution is that it will help the American church to fully commit to following Christ (or not). The individuals who make up the church will gravitate toward being “hot” or “cold,” and the lukewarmth that the Lord detests will dissipate. It will be uncomfortable. It will be painful. It will be heartbreaking. It will be hard.

But God is faithful!

Your Story
Share with me – what are the things in your life that make it difficult to live your life for Jesus Christ? How have you been able to overcome them?