ON DECISION MAKING.

The older I get, and the better I start to know God, the more I believe He doesn’t really care about a lot of things.

Before you call me a heretic, calm down. I’m not saying God doesn’t care. I’m saying we care too much about the inconsequential. We find ourselves worrying about decisions throughout every step of life, praying, and hoping, that at no point we step off track of the decisions God wants us to make, believing He only has one direction for us to go at every opportunity we come across to decide.

We do this all in good ambition, but our good ambition, in reality, does nothing except shrink the greatness of our God.

At 26 years old, I’m old enough to know that I’m not brilliant. I know I have much more to learn about myself, God, and the world. I know many of the things I believe right now will probably change by the time I’m 30, and I know there are still a lot of things I want to do in this life. Many of these things, I’ll find success in, and in just as many, I’ll fail. Yet as it has been throughout my life, I believe each decision I’ve made in my life up to this point – each success and failure alike – has led me to where I am today, and I believe God has used each decision to bring me to the perfect place of capability for Him.

But I also know I could’ve made different decisions. I know I could’ve worked harder at certain things. I know I could’ve been a better person. I could’ve ended up in a different town, with a different career, and spent a much longer time running from the grace God offers than I did. I know I could’ve kept living my life in fear of what I could achieve, and in comfort of not achieving my true desires. And I know, no matter what other path I may have chosen, I would still be in the midst of God’s use.

Yet I didn’t always feel this way. I used to worry about every decision I made, hoping it was the one God wanted me to make, worried that if I made one wrong decision, I’d end up in a place I couldn’t be used. Worried that with one decision, my relationship with Christ might be destroyed, and I’d be left scrounging for whatever insignificant task He had left to trust me with; worried there was never more than one door open at a time, and I had to make sure I chose the right one or face a life of mediocrity and meaninglessness. I was a kid, praying the prayer of worry, asking God to tell me His purpose for my life, and believing that purpose was extremely specific.

Now I realize this prayer, while full of good intentions and a great attitude, is completely short changing not only our own potential, but God’s potential as well.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying quit praying for God’s purpose to be done in your life. I’m just saying God’s purpose isn’t based around which college or major you choose. I’m just saying God is much more flexible than you might think, so when you pray about a decision, don’t expect him to close every door but one.  Don’t expect Him to make decisions for you. Instead, be ready to make decisions with the confidence that as long as you are pursuing Him, He can use any decision you do make.  Our God is creative enough to do many things in our lives with many different decisions we might make, and through His creativity, I believe He lets much of our life happen in process. He lets many of our decisions happen based on whether or not we want to make them. I honestly don’t think He’s sitting up in heaven, looking down on our lives as if it’s a reality TV show, saying to himself, “No! Not that college! He was supposed to go to a Christian college and major in youth ministry! The rest of his life is ruined!”

Yet this is exactly how we pray. Sounds completely ridiculous, but it’s exactly how I went through that part of my life, and it’s exactly how people around me are going through theirs. We’re so intent on living our lives as if it’s a sitcom – as if every moment has already been written, and every applause has already been suggested to the audience around us, when life is more like improv comedy. There’s no practice. It’s unwritten. We’re simply given a topic, we decide how we want to approach it, and the rest is free form. One line won’t end the show, it will just define the approach taken in response. I think it’s time for us to take comfort in the fact that the response just happens to be coming from the One who created us, and time for us to trust the fact that He will deliver the best response possible.

Maybe I just happen to see God as unendingly creative and imaginative. Maybe I’m just not a big fan of pre-destination thinking because it seems to me like it limits God’s inordinate amount of creativity exhibited in our lives moment by moment to a map, written before our existence. I can see God drawing up a map for our lives, but I see him taking His time. I see him drawing it up one step at a time, knowing He can use each step – whether Godly or sinful – in giving us a story to bring Him ultimate glory and us ultimate joy. You might say I just don’t completely understand pre-destination, and you’d be right, but I honestly don’t believe it’s that important of an issue, because I know I could’ve made thousands of different decisions in my life, and God would still have me in His hand, leading me towards a life bringing Him glory.

There’s a story in the bible of a man who was eaten by a whale. You’ve probably heard of it. The man’s name is Jonah, and God told him to go to a city full of the most sinful people of the age (which would probably be the most sinful people of our age as well), but Jonah didn’t go because He was afraid of that city and it’s people. So instead, he, completely literally, ran the other direction. He got on a boat sailing into the sea, away from the inland “city of sin.” But God’s will was done. He sent a storm, the crew on the boat kicked him off and threw him into the sea, the storm died down, Jonah was eaten by a whale and taken closer to Ninevah, and eventually he went, told them God was going to destroy them if they didn’t repent and turn towards Him, and they all repented, while Jonah pouted outside the city walls because he wanted God to destroy them.

I know you’re probably reading this, thinking, “doesn’t this story mean we have to make the right decision immediately or we’ll get eaten by a whale?” No. It doesn’t. It means we should consult God in our decision making, and sometimes He’ll give us clear direction. When that happens, trust Him and go. But when it doesn’t, trust Him and go just the same, with the confidence that any door left open is a door leading towards His purpose for you.

Here is The Simple Guide to Christian decision making:

Pray, Read, Ask, Trust, and Go.

Pray about your decision, and lean on the bible to give you guidance. Ask Him (and wise people around you) which decision to make, trust God’s creativity, power, and in some cases redemption in that decision, and step forward.

The biggest step in making a decision in life is to quit making it the only one.

Jerimiah 1:5

-a pitiful masterpiece

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SNAKES, CLIFFS, AND BEARS: THE UNCERTAIN TERROR OF FOLLOWING CHRIST

The fear of Christianity is a peculiar thing.

Lately I’ve been in an incredible state of recognition – recognizing the odd nature of God’s requests in my life. I’ve recognized that, quite obviously, He has continuously, without fail, called me to do the things that have always terrified me. My original goal was to tithe regularly. Now I’m asking people to support me so I can help college students realize the potential in Christ which I took so long to realize myself.

If you haven’t experienced it, asking people for financial support is a terrifying endeavor.

Yet God has changed me through the years.

The things I once feared are now the things I couldn’t imagine being torn away from. The things I once vowed never to do in my life (i.e. preach) are now the things I see in my future. The things I always wanted to do, and had planned as my stability in life (i.e. architecture) has become an afterthought, and frightening in its own right.

So maybe God will call me to do that eventually. Once it becomes a more terrifying thought.

I guess the point is, God has completely changed my motivations. Architecture, in my life, represents the path on the safe side of the river – the path towards self-glory. It represents the path towards worldly success and recognition. It represents the path I chose for myself when I was seven years old.

Yet God has brought me to the other side of the river. And it is terrifyingly wonderful.

Ministry, and serving the world for the sake of the Gospel and Christ’s love which must be felt by everyone on this rotating sphere we inhabit, is the path of complete self-denial – the path full of snakes, and 100 foot drops, limited visibility, and bears. What’s more terrifying than bears, right? Yet it is the path towards the greater reward. It is the path of unexpectedness. It is the path that keeps me wondering what will come next. It is the path with an always moving and adapting storyline. It isn’t the path of least resistance, but it is the path of most interest.

It is the path that seeks to expose my potential. And that can only be found by fighting off a bear in the fog every once in a while.

Looking back, it’s kind of funny that I just used a bear analogy. In high school, whenever me and my friends would go camping, I was known as a sort of bear whisperer. I’d make up stories of times where a bear would come up to me, and instead of attacking me, I’d just talk to it like it was a human. I’d just talk to it as if we’d been friends for years, asking him about how his family was and that sort of thing.manbear1

Of course this was just for laughs. I’ve never come across an actual bear, despite living in Wyoming, and I’ve certainly never had a friendly chat with one. Yet in my current stage of life, and the stages yet to come, I must respond to the bears along the path in the same manner as I joked in high school. I must treat them as old friends, pushing me to embrace that which terrifies me. Because if there’s one thing God has taught me other than that He is full of grace and love, it is that the sooner we embrace the terrifying task He has put before us, the sooner we will see the good that comes from it. The sooner we talk to the bear as an old friend, the sooner we won’t be able to imagine our lives without that bear.

What is the bear standing in your path that you must face? Have you embraced the fear and confronted it as an old friend? Or have you decided to avoid it and cut back across to your old path from before Christ changed your course?

If you’ve cut back across, there’s good news: His path is always just across the river. All you need is a bridge – and God has provided us with a carpenter.

WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE (WELL, YOU MIGHT BE) – CHRISTIAN COP-OUTS AND DRIVING AHEAD TOWARDS GOD’S CALL

God has it under control. Don’t worry, because His will is unstoppable.

How many times have you heard this? I know, as a Christian afraid of a lot of things that largely have to do with what God is calling me towards, I have said this a lot – and with the best of intentions, but the worst of reasons.

The Christian subculture is a funny thing to me. We talk about how much we trust God all the time, and when He tells us to actually trust Him with something big, we find ourselves saying, “I’m good” and acting content. We’re a culture who really loves saying certain Put-Off-Something-ExtraordinaryFINALthings – certain “Christian-isms,”without having the slightest idea what any of them mean., and most of these are said as excuses with good intentions,as if we believe if we say something that sounds Christian enough, God will overlook our failure to do what He has called us to. We’ve never even taken the time to notice God above us shaking His head, wondering when we’re going to finally get it – when we’re going to realize we’re just tricking ourselves.

My favorite Christian cop-out, and most used in my own life, is the Christian saying that goes something like, “Either way, God is in control.” Our intentions, through saying this, is to tell our Christian friends all about God’s power and uncontrollable plans for our world, while our reasons for saying it  are often completely different.

Our reasons are saying something like, “Boy I’m glad God’s will is done regardless, because I’m way too (insert cowardly adjective here) to try and do that, and I’m not sure God is big enough to come through on that!”

And by living out of our cowardice and faithlessness rather than our intentions, our lives are stalling at far less than the potential God sees in us. We’re ending our road trip to the Rocky Mountains by cornfield camping in Kansas, deciding the field next to us is good enough because we’re too afraid we’re not in good enough shape to walk up hills – let alone mountains that start a mile above sea level.

So why are we so seemingly content with our inaction and worldly potential when God has given us a preview of what we’re capable of with Him? The truth is, we’re not. We’re just tricking ourselves because our main motivator is fear. We’ve tricked ourselves into believing we aren’t necessary or capable of doing what we’ve felt called to do because we’re too afraid we don’t have the right hiking shoes, and surely God would only ask someone with sufficient hiking shoes. We’re too afraid because we can see how long we’ll be hiking uphill as soon as we begin the climb, so we decide we’d rather just keep hiking along in Kansas. But the problem with Kansas is there’s never a view from the top. Sure, you’re living safely and without sore legs (or pride) or empty lungs (or fallbacks), but you’re also living life without ever knowing what it feels like to reach the top and look out over hundreds of miles of Kansas, taking a million pictures of where God has taken you (If you’re from Kansas, by the way, I’m not mocking your state. I’m just recognizing the comfortable walking conditions which exist there).

You’re probably saying about now, “Oh chase your dreams. Never heard that before. The only problem is, they never tell me how.” Well, no need to worry. Because I’m going to tell you.

Step 1: Recognize something you feel called to do, and pray about it. A lot. But don’t use prayer as an excuse for inaction. If God’s asked you to do it, you don’t need to pray for Him to nag you about it for the next two months.

Step 2: Read the background of Amos, and then read the book of Amos itself. If God can use Him, He can use you. Realize you’re completely qualified, and start confidently. (You can really read the story of almost anyone who was known to do great things in the bible. I just like Amos because it’s one we don’t often think of.)

Step 3: Tell people about it, ask people to pray about it, and see if anyone wants to join you (assuming it’s something big and seemingly insurmountable without God’s help. If it’s something small, just do it. You’re probably only reading this to keep putting it off).

Step 4: Tell more people about it. (Basically never stop telling people about it.) Figure out a game-plan. It might start with “tell people about it,” but it should move along to something like, “write a  mission statement,” or, “apply for a non-profit ID number” or “buy plane tickets,” or “write a support letter.” Just make some basic steps like that. After you have a blueprint, tell more people about it with your new clarity and vision for God’s plan.

Step 5: Do the first thing on your blueprint. And after you do that, do the second thing. And then keep doing. Eventually, you’ll be able to recognize that you’re moving uphill.

Step 6: If you put your all into it, and it doesn’t work, don’t get mad at God. Instead, thank Him. Pray about it. Write down things you may have learned along the way, realize it wasn’t that scary, and get ready for whatever’s next. God will probably use something you learned in the future.

The truth is, we’re all afraid of the majority of things God will tell us to do, but it’s usually easier than you’d think to start doing them (which is something I’ve realized in my head, but still struggle to apply). I was talking with my bible study the other day, and mentioned how my life is completely different than I expected. They asked me how, and my response was, “Well, I’m basically doing all of things I was afraid of trying four years ago. And now I never want to do the things I thought I’d be doing, because this plan is so much better than the one I had for myself.” God is continually challenging me, and I’m continually hesitating, making excuses, and making slow progress towards where He’s leading me. But I am making progress, and the quicker I can build up steam, the quicker things will move forward.

Remember that if you are moving forward, God is patient. He won’t abandon you just because of your pace. Just don’t stop in Kansas – be sure to drive straight through with the vision of the view ahead.

I’m not sure we’ve realized . . .

Simply love.

This is the Gospel defined.

The older I get – the more interaction I have with God – the more I recognize the faults of humanity-defined Christianity, and the more I am taught Christianity is a simple definition. The more I recognize the attempts the church makes to earn it because of the denial to just simply receive. We even do it with good intentions, saying things like, “faith is shown by deeds,” yet changing the definition of Paul’s words to mean “If you don’t do good deeds, you must not have faith.” We believe in God’s grace, we sing about it in songs, and we even thank God for it when we do something stupid. But our minds are programmed differently.

Time for a reprogramming.

It’s not in our nature to just simply accept. We’re not taught to be given something without giving something in return. Human relationships are often defined by give and take. We’re given to, we give back. We feel loved, we show love. Christianity isn’t like this – at least not consciously.

Christ asks for nothing in return. Nothing we can possibly do can be done to earn what He did. And He knows that. He knows that the more we try to do good deeds, the more we look at ourselves and rate ourselves based on those good deeds. He knows the more we try to not to bad deeds, the more we think about bad deeds, and the more likely we are to do them.

The truth is, there is no checklist in gaining acceptance or overcoming temptation. Because checklists say the wrong thing at the top: “Here’s how you do it.” Nothing in Christianity can be accomplished with the right motives if we write out a list of how “you” can do it. Because the word “you” is not the word “him.”

This is where love comes in.

The more focused on God I become in life, the less I consciously try to have an impact for Him, and the more impact I have, because the more I fall in love with Him. Look at all the greatest evangelists you know. How many of them have testimonies full of failure sin and destruction, only to reach a point where they realize God forgives? I find myself jealous of “born again” Christians sometimes, because they’ve been through the worst of the worst, and fall deeply in love with God when they truly realize that He forgives and the past has been erased by His blood. They never have a moment where they can take Christ’s actions for granted. They never have a moment where they’re doing it for approval.

They never have a moment where they worry about being a “good Christian,” because they realize there’s no such thing. There’s only a good God. And there’s only one response to His goodness – unbridled, passionate love. They’ve recognized that they’re story has a joyful ending, and they don’t understand how they can’t share that ending with people whose story might be in conflict.

If you’ve experienced the source of Joy, why haven’t you told anyone yet?

I’m not sure many Christians have truly experienced The Source. I’m not sure many Christians have moved past the stage of “good Christianity” in order to recognize the good God behind the to do lists. I’m not sure many Christians have changed the heading on their checklists from “how you can do it” to “because He did it.” I’m not sure many Christians are doing it because they love Him, and want to get to know the One they love. I’m not sure many Christians have realized the dysfunction found in a relationship centered around giving to the Lover rather than loving the Giver.

When our purpose is to love the Giver, it makes it a lot easier to truly love everyone He gives to. Because along with giving life, He also gives His heart in exchange for ours – and His heart is one of love. And when He overtakes our old hearts with His, we become givers as well.

All because He gave, and we simply accepted.

UNCLENCH YOUR FIST

“Our hearts ache, yet we always have joy. We are poor, yet we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, yet we have everything.”            – 2 Corinthians 6:10

Oh, how counter-cultural this verse is to the Christianity I see today. The Christians I see today don’t display these traits, and that includes myself. I look around the room I’m in and see things I don’t need. I see excess, waste, and resources that could be better used, and this is evidence that I am not so detached from my belongings to the point of them being worthless to me. I am not at a level where I can proclaim that I have “nothing, yet everything.”

I am at a place where I could only proclaim that I have some things, and have some better things. I have possessions, and I have God. I have the things I cling to, and I have the things He’s given me thus far. I know that what He gives are the better things – much better in fact – yet the things I cling to are not the things I hold together with God, but the things I only hold myself. I am not yet at the point of possessing His entire character and letting go of my own insecurities, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be there before I leave this earth.

I still have me – some flawed parts of me – and until I lose those parts which He wants to take, I cannot have everything He wants to give me. Until I vanquish those parts of me, I only have most everything in Him – and the rest, which He wants to give, is only potential.

Yet in order to reach that potential, I must act! I must give! I must ask Him to point out those things I am clinging to and unclench my fist from the, letting Him take them. When He takes all is when 2 Corinthians 6:10 can be made true in my life and yours. It may be uncomfortable, terrifying, and uncertain, but it will also be full of comfort, peace, and certainty because we have let the One who knows better take control! We have let Him take everything, leaving us everything in return.

Give it all, and be given it all. This is the outcome of total surrender. Unclench your fist and let whatever you’re grasping fall to the ground.