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.

LESSONS FROM A BROKEN MIRROR

“There has never yet been a saint who has not lived a maimed life initially. Yet it is better to enter into life maimed but lovely in God’s sight than to appear lovely to man’s eyes but lame to God’s.”   -Oswald Chambers

When we look in the mirror, what do we see? Do we see a ‘good person,’ or a man or woman living a ‘good life?’ We’d probably say so, but we shouldn’t see these things! Rather, we should see a life of repair. A life broken. We should see the ugliness inside ourselves, and the beauty of Christ through His never-ending work in us. We should be in a pursuit to see less of us and more of Him, and as we begin to see Christ, and accept His gift and love given to us, we can begin to see His plan for us and His purpose for us. And that purpose is ultimately to restore us to beauty – a beauty we cannot achieve on our own – because as we are restored by Christ, it becomes more and more obvious to the world who is doing the restoring, and our lives begin to accomplish the ultimate purpose: to bring Him glory!

The greatest amount of beauty in us can only be found by reflecting Him throughout our lives and towards others, and our life purpose should be pursuing that beauty in total disregard of the world’s opinion or persuasion.We are to live life thankfully broken, knowing the only One who can use our brokenness! A shattered mirror is only as useful as what the person looking into it sees. Do you see a purpose behind your brokenness, and a pursuit towards repair? Or are you too busy praying for God to repair the mirror, unable to notice what God can use it for?

“. . . what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour?”

But for this purpose I came to this hour.

“Father, glorify Your name.”     -John 12:27-28

Through our sorrow, and the moments we need repair, let us not ask God to fix us. Rather, ask Him to use us to glorify His name!

THE ‘MAGIC’ PRAYER (and why it often doesn’t work)

“You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”   – John 14:13-14

This a verse that, when we look, we immediately think of the things we’ve asked for and haven’t received, and almost feel cheated by this verse and what it says.

But that is only because we aren’t really hearing what it says!

“Ask and you’ll receive.” This is what we hear when we read this verse. What it actually says, however, is “ask for anything that brings glory to God, and you will receive.”

This verse is a promise to us, but it is a promise given by a God who is much more wise than us! We can ask for anything, and we might believe it is for God’s glory, but only He truly knows. Only He truly knows the end result, and the true motives of our hearts in everything we ask.

Remember this next time you ask and don’t receive, and praise God for knowing your true needs and desires! Praise Him for His wisdom, and your foolishness in the midst of Him! Don’t hold a grudge against God for not giing what you’ve asked; for holding a grudge against God is simply pride and selfishness. It is you telling God you know better than Him, and that is never the case!

“We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer.

People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives.

Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”  -Proverbs 16:1-3

It isn’t until we are one with God that we can truly ask for anything in His name, and when we are at that point, the things we ask will be of Him, and undoubtedly bring glory to Him because of His presence in every essence of our lives. “Ask in my name” isn’t a magic trick to get what we want, but simply an example of what can be done when we live completely in the Holy Spirit rather than under our own ambition. Ask in the Holy Spirit, in unity with God, and you will receive. And if you ask out of the Holy Spirit’s prompting, that which you receive will undoubtedly bring God glory!

STRIP ME OF MYSELF

Lord, strip me of myself

and clothe me in you.

For I recognize the extent of my wisdom,

and how foolish it is to You.

For the only way to gain in my wisdom

is to completely surrender it

And to identify only in the wisdom of you.

In my own plan, I wander,

Yet in Yours, I can walk straight.

For you are my compass; my bearing,

And only You can light my way.

As I stumble out of the darkness,

You enable me to stand upright

And chase after the sun.

So if anyone looks towards me,

They are overwhelmed by your brightness.

IN TRIALS, SPEAK UP!

You’ve probably been there. A while into your relationship with Christ, something comes along and you get sidetracked. And you keep getting sidetracked. The busyness never ends, and by the time it does, God has begun to feel distant.

This was me about two weeks ago.

It’s really out of laziness, but a sporadic work schedule didn’t help. Spending quality time with God is a hard thing to do in the morning when you have to be out of the door by 6:35, and every other day of the week you’ve been waking up at 8:30 or 9. It makes it hard to set up a routine. My internal clock gets thrown off, and I find myself lacking the energy or motivation to get up the first time my alarm rings, which results in losing the time I was supposed to spend with God.

I’d work two, three days in a row, always sleeping as long as I could before pulling myself up just in time to eat and head to work. Then on my days off I’d sleep, wake up and check a few things online, and having those ‘few things’ turn into two hours of wasted time. And then I’d get busy, and forget to spend a quiet time with God.

I hit a patch where I’d spend a day, maybe two a week where I’d actually read my bible, and I could feel myself drifting away. My motivation was gone. My fire was slowly going cold, and I was beginning to resent God for it.

I was in the place where I knew I should talk to God, but simultaneously I knew the things I wanted to say were completely based on selfishness and laziness, so I waited as long as I could before bringing it up.

I knew I needed to talk it out with God, but out of my pride, I couldn’t bring myself to admit my selfishness. After all, when you plan on becoming a pastor of some sort, you should be able to recognize and fix your problems on your own, right?

I think I was missing the point. I like to think of these moments as God face-palms, because I’m sure that’s what He was doing when He looked down on me.

It’s amazing the things we can validate telling ourselves when we’re being fueled by our selfish human instincts. When did I start to believe that I was good enough to fix my faults on my own? Whenever that started was the day I started questioning God’s plan, but it took far longer than that to really ask God about it.

It took about a week and a half. It started small – as the smallest trace of doubt – and as I spent more time away from God, the doubt grew and grew until one Friday night, I couldn’t sleep. I was too busy wrestling.

I finally brought my doubt up to God. I asked some simple questions, and I desperately needed some answers. I asked how my life is so much better than it would be without God, because without God I could be pursuing my degree, making 50 grand a year, and indulging myself in the pleasures all 24 year olds with some extra money can imagine. I could be living completely for myself.

Following God’s plan, I was spending my days working temp construction – which is basically doing the work that no one else wants to do, making just enough money to pay the bills. The rest of my time was spent either being lazy, or being involved in ministry. In reality, I didn’t feel qualified at this particular moment at all. I was basically waiting for God to reveal a little more of His plan to me day by day.

It pretty much all came down to me asking God the question every five year old asks when they get brussel sprouts for dinner. “Do I have to?”

Don’t worry, God answered.

The next day, I was randomly surfing the web, when I went to my blog and decided to look back on the past. I decided to read the first two posts I ever put up, and they were all about God’s purpose, and the work He’d been doing in my life, and how insufficient I felt I was in the areas He was working. Yet despite my perceived weaknesses, I was confident in His work.

And then I realized where I’d really be without God.

I’d be living a life at 50%. I’d be avoiding my purpose, and my potential. I’d be settling for a life of meaningless pleasures because of a fear of not knowing what God would ask of me. I’d be a coward.

My life is so much better than that right now, and I can thank only God. Because if it wasn’t for Him, I might have a job where I’d be making 50 grand a year, thinking only about myself, and not thinking about the students and people I have the privilege of knowing and meeting and serving each and every day. I’d be doing things that wouldn’t scare me at all. Thinking about that scares me.

I’d be making 50 grand a year. But what good is 50 grand when it’s only at 50% potential?

It’s amazing how all we have to do is ask Him, yet so often we feel like we aren’t qualified to ask, or we think we can fix it on our own. In our doubting, we must simply turn to Him and start talking. David wrote psalm after psalm while in moments of extreme doubt, but he was never afraid to ask God about it, and God always answered. Remember that David also wrote psalm after psalm praising God and His glory? I think part of that is because God answered David in those times of doubt, and nothing is as comforting as that moment when God answers.

Know that God is always there, and you can never ask Him a bad question. He simply enjoys hearing your voice and walking you through your questioning, until you recognize His answer. He is the Wonderful Counselor – let Him counsel.