December 24, 2008

A Heart for the Poor

Merry Christmas!

I really do love this time of year. Being with family, relaxing with no school work, catching up with friends in Colorado, and turning our focus back on Jesus Christ collectively make this season great. In my human frailty I am prone to point my attention on other things besides Christ throughout my daily life. And when it comes to Christmas time, there is a thick tension between my two trains of thought, one focused on the worldly view of this holiday, and one focused on the true origin and meaning of this holiday.

I've been thinking a lot in the past several months about what it means to have God's heart in respect to the world. How much more important is this during the Christmas season! What does it mean to have God's heart during a season dedicated to the birth and gift of His Son?

Before we look into one of the answers to that question, let's backtrack a little. A little over 6 months ago I started praying that God would break my heart for what breaks His heart. Some of you may have heard the line in the song Hosanna asking just that. I had a difficult time singing that line while not really wanting God to do that. It is a dangerous prayer because it opens up your eyes to the unjust things of this world and starts to tug at your heart and compassion more than you've ever felt before. Despite my fears and reservations I decided that I wanted to have God's heart in respect to the world because part of discipleship is learning to deny myself and take up my cross (Luke 9:23). I want to be focused on righting the wrongs that we have brought upon the world because of the Fall and our sin.

Well, God heard my prayer, and He has done just what I asked for. I never would have thought I'd come to the mindset I'm now in, and it's both difficult and exciting at the same time. Slowly but surely my heart has been breaking for different issues around the world that just aren't how God intended. Probably the biggest issue on my heart is poverty.
Poverty. So many thoughts and emotions come up when I hear that word. Thoughts of hopelessness, burdens, darkness, and sorrow. Questions of "Why?" flood my thinking. Why are some people poor? Why are some people rich? Why are there people who barely have enough to eat while others have fridges and cabinets stocked with enough food to last them several months? Why are there people sleeping on the streets while others have extra rooms in their houses? Why are there people in the world who have no shoes when America (by itself) buys enough pairs of shoes in 1 year to "shoe" almost half of the world's population? Why are there children around the world dying from curable-common-sicknesses like the cold while others at a distance can buy the medicines for these sicknesses for almost nothing? Why, why, why??

The truth is, I can't really give a good answer for these questions. It's easy to justify our actions out of guilt or conviction, but that just won't suffice. Some hold to the answer that people are poor because of their own bad decisions, and they have brought poverty on themselves. In some cases, this is true. There are several verses in Proverbs that support this notion, such as Proverbs 12:27: "The lazy do not roast any game, but the diligent feed on the riches of the hunt." Laziness can lead someone into poverty. That is a given. However, that is not always the case. Oppression can also lead someone into poverty. In fact, oppression of the poor is one of the main reasons God led Israel into exile. The prophets Amos and Jeremiah warned the people of this injustice, but they did not listen. Jeremiah 7:5-7 states: "If you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow... then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever." But Jeremiah 34:8-17 says that the Israelites went back on their word and continued to oppress the poor (their slaves). God yearned for freedom for the poor amongst His people, but the Israelites refused to listen to God. They were more concerned for their wealth and affluence than for the poor (who, ironically, were their own race and blood).

Does that sound just to you?
It is the responsibility and privilege of those who profess faith in Christ to care for the poor and the oppressed! In joyful obedience we should desire to bless those with a lack of resources (financial, yes, but also emotional, physical, spiritual, etc.). Isaiah 58:6-10 says,
(**If you read nothing else in this blog, read these verses. These verses have transformed my thinking and I have not been able to forget them since the day I read them**)
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."

That is powerful stuff! "Then your light will break forth like the dawn..." In other words, as a result of our care for the oppressed, the poor, and the hungry, our Christian witness and the glory of God will burst upon the landscape of our lives as never before. The whole passage speaks of an irrepressible light that will overwhelm our lives when we spend ourselves in behalf of the poor. There is such hope! As desperate as the situation may seem, all God wants is our faithfulness. Notice that there is no legalistic mention of "success" in the passage. God does not say our light will shine only if we solve the world of all poverty. He says that our light will shine when we simply respond to His call to care for the poor. Sometimes I think we can get overwhelmed with thoughts of hopelessness when thinking about this issue. But the important thing, as always, is that God calls us to be faithful, not necessarily successful. How are we being faithful right now to this calling?

This was obviously not just an Old Testament word for God's people. James 2:14-17 says this: "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." This is one of the most practical exhortations we can read in the New Testament. Additionally, 1 John 3:17-18 says, "If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

Last week at the Mill, the college ministry here in Colorado Springs that I attend while I'm home, the people really accepted this call. Aaron Stern, the Mill pastor, spoke about giving sacrificially, not out of obligation but out of love and joy. Aaron had asked us the week before to bring pairs of shoes to this week's service. At the end of his sermon, he told us about a ministry called Soles for Souls, which provides shoes for those in poverty around the world who cannot afford even one pair. The Mill is partnering with Soles for Souls, and Aaron asked us to bring our shoes to the front. Aaron did say, however, that many of us probably forgot or didn't know that the Mill was collecting shoes for this ministry. He then reached down, took off his own shoes, and threw them in the pile, asking, "What about the ones you are wearing?" He challenged us to give up the shoes we were wearing, again not out of obligation but out of love and joy. I watched in amazement as at least half of the 1,200 college students there gave up their own shoes in order to bless someone who didn't have any. Now that is love in action and in truth and not just in word or tongue. (I think there were between 800-900 pairs of shoes collected that night.)

Christmas is the season for giving, right? Let's look outside of ourselves and the materialism that easily comes with this holiday and start blessing those in poverty both around the world and right in our backyard. Take intentional steps to give to the poor and oppressed. If you need a gentle nudge in the right direction, check out Compassion International and their work with children in poverty around the world. You can sponsor a child monthly and build a relationship with them through letters, pictures, and other things. It's a great ministry that I highly recommend.

For some great reading on this topic, I also highly recommend Ronald Sider's book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. Another great book that will challenge your thinking is Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution. Happy birthday, Jesus!

December 17, 2008

My Semester in Retrospect

It's been a while.

It's amazing how much I don't feel like blogging after writing papers for class all day. Go figure, right?

Well, in any sense, I have very much missed blogging. I hope to take advantage of Christmas break to blog a little more. And since I have been in blog-hibernation for the last couple months, rather than trying to explain a hundred thoughts that have been on my mind, I am going to list the many things that I learned or thought about over the course of this past semester. Some will be serious, some not-so-serious... but they all have had some impact on my life.

What I learned (or learned again) or thought more about this semester:
  • Taking classes I'm interested in, even though I don't need the credits, is one of the best decisions I could have made. It gave me a much larger work-load, but those classes have had a huge impact on me. (Urban Ministry and the Kingdom of God; Communicative Perspectives on Preaching; and yes, Intro to Int'l Ministry)
  • I have an amazing core-group of friends, both at Taylor and not at Taylor. I learned a lot this semester about appreciating and pouring into those friends who I know have always been there for me and who won't turn their backs on me when I'm not doing well. I thank God daily for those friends He has blessed me with, and I'm especially glad that I have my 2010 Christian Ed graduating class to go through classes with! (Yaaaaahhhhh....)
  • God is always faithful, even when I am not.
  • I love doing youth ministry, and God has constantly confirmed that calling in my life. The students, staff, volunteers, and others at Oneighty youth ministry in Muncie are a constant blessing in my life and I'm honored that I get to spend so much time with all of them.
  • I really like Taco Bell and I'm a sucker for a Mountain Dew. That's nothing new, but I thought I'd repeat it on here. Haha.
  • Prayer is an absolute necessity. There are so many things going on around us, and spiritual warfare is constantly waging against us and the ones we love. We are missing a huge opportunity to experience the Holy Spirit's work in our lives when we choose not to pray, even when we don't know what exactly to pray for.
  • Life Span Development (PSY 250) is a hard class. I just got the first C+ of my life. But it's over. Thank God.
  • God cares about the poor and oppressed beyond what we in the American church are recognizing. There are a tremendous amount of verses in the Bible about money, the dangers of wealth, God's care for the poor and oppressed, and His call on believers to do something about it. This has been so huge on my heart this semester. I will probably blog soon about this important idea of having God's heart in respect to the poor.
  • I had a great opportunity to preach at the Junior class Chapel this semester, and I am very grateful that they asked me to do it. I really enjoyed the chance to preach.
  • Planning ahead and scheduling my life is one of my greatest strengths and also one of my greatest weaknesses. This is a new lesson I'm learning, and I'm still figuring out what to do with it.
  • It's great when one of my best friends gets engaged. Congrats Matt and Amanda!
  • Churches need to embrace a missional mindset and acknowledge themselves as God's embassy (to borrow a term from writer Leslie Newbigin) in the neighborhood/community God has placed them. Everyone is a missionary in the culture and society they are in right now. More on this in a future blog...
  • Night classes suck. They really mess up your schedule. I hate night classes. Haha.
  • Patience. Like I mentioned above, I like to plan ahead and schedule my life, so I don't do well with ambiguity. God really taught me about patience this semester.
  • I love my family. I've always loved them, but I realized it more and more the past several months.

I'm sure there are several more things I've learned, but that's all for now. Enjoy the Christmas season. Cheers!

August 29, 2008

The Candyland Gospel

There are few things that really "irk" me when I hear them. To be "irked" is the kind of feeling where you seem to fidget in your seat and become consumed with the sentence or sentences that make up an idea you can't agree with. It also begins to discredit the speaker in your own mind and puts an asterisk on everything else he or she might say.

The thing that's been irking me lately is what I like to call the Candyland presentation of the Gospel. What is the Candyland presentation of the Gospel? It is the presentation of the Christian faith as the easiest, most happy-go-lucky, and narcissistic journey you could choose. There are no true risks in Candyland. I mean, seriously, it's Candyland. The worst thing that could happen is that you fall into a mudpit of chocolate. There is no daring, on-the-edge-of-your-seat moment.

The fact of the matter is that the Bible very clearly articulates the Christian faith is not the easiest path to take. Yes, it is the absolutely best path you can take that will lead you to your God-given purpose and eternal life. But no, it is not about making you as comfortable as possible until you die. It's not about hitting cruise-control and gliding safely into eternal life. My dog back home will often find a blanket on a bed and pull the cloth and spin around several times before finding or creating the most comfortable spot possible. This, unfortunately, is how many Christians are approaching their faith. They're pulling and pushing the blanket of support around them, spinning in circles, trying to find the most comfortable spot they can be in until this life ends.

I don't know how we got here. I have a theory that it has a lot to do with the Americanization of Christianity. We're taught to hedonistically find our comfort and safety and look out for ourselves. Only in rare moments of compassion do we hand out $5 to the homeless man on the corner or clean up a street (and yes, I am very guilty of this as well). The Gospel should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. If there comes a point in our faith journey that we would describe as comfortable, something is wrong. We don't truly understand that discipleship unto Christ is a call to revolution.

In John 21:18, Jesus says to Peter, "Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." In verse 19 it says, "Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"" In other words, Peter would be martyred for his faith. Tradition says that Peter was actually crucified upside-down. Something about that doesn't make me too comfortable.

The greatest part of that exchange between Jesus and Peter is how quickly Jesus tells Peter to follow Him after describing the death Peter would experience for following Him. It's almost as if Jesus was testing Peter's devotion. Just before this conversation, Jesus had asked Peter three times if he loved Him. And now he's telling Peter he will surely be martyred for his faith if Peter really does love Him and follow Him. Let's just say - Jesus doesn't mess around. He doesn't coat a Candyland picture of faith for Peter. He lets him know straight off that discipleship will cost him. And it won't be comfortable, either.

I could show example after example from the Bible of the Gospel's call to live beyond our comfort level. But I don't think it is that necessary. Instead of tuning into Joel Osteen's health-and-wealth message, we should be reading the Bible for what it actually says. While thinking about this heavy topic, I was pleased to run across a paragraph in a book I'm reading by Leonard Sweet called the Gospel According to Starbucks:
"Maybe we should warn spiritual seekers in advance that Jesus is not for the faint of heart, instead of "cooling down" the gospel so we can all sip religion comfortably on cushioned, suburban pews. The gospel was not meant to be comfortable or safe. Jesus does not invite lukewarm faith, the brand practiced by the Church of Laodicea. Instead, God promises to spit the lukewarm out of God's mouth" (33).

Yes, exactly! In evangelism we can often fall into the trap of persuasion that waters down the gospel in order to "close the deal" or obtain the conversion. This is not what God calls us to in the Great Commission. We are to make disciples, and not converts. And Jesus makes it very clear what the cost of discipleship is in Luke 9 and Luke 14. Please familiarize yourself with these passages if you don't know what it says. It'll revitalize your view of comfortable Christianity.

Last week I was at a Hillsong United worship concert in Indianapolis. One of the best parts of the night was in between songs when Joel Houston spoke to the crowd. He proclaimed that our worship cannot be contained within these walls, the walls of the church. If we come to a concert like that one and leave our worship there, we are living out a selfish faith. Our worship needs to expand beyond the walls of the church into the community. He exclaimed that we have so many resources and opportunities to bless and love other people, and we need to take hold of them. (They then did a plug for Compassion International, and hundreds of people signed up to sponsor a child in poverty somewhere in the world for $32 per month. I love that they didn't just talk in theory, but accompanied it with a challenge to act. 1 John 3:18 - "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.")

We have to take risks as disciples! We need to get out of our safety zone and embrace the call of the gospel. Sometimes this will mean doing things that don't make much sense rationally. Risk is sometimes defined by unrationality. That's what makes Christianity exciting! How exciting can it truly be when we're comfortable? Let's stop tailoring Jesus to our own interests and accept the cost of discipleship. The reward will far outweigh everything else we think we want. And God will smile on us as we reach out to the homeless, the oppressed, the lost, the downtrodden, and the outcasts. We'll run in answer to the call into Samaria where no one else will go. There is a huge need for disciples who will give up their own comfort to spread the Good News. Will we answer?

Leave Candyland to the board game creators. It is much more suited as a toy for a child than as an interpretation of the Christian faith.

August 11, 2008

Dealing with Death

On August 1, 2008, my grandma, Trudy Hausknecht, passed away after 83 full years of life and a brutal fight with cancer.

This is one of many factors that has contributed to my hiatus from blogging for the past couple weeks. Hopefully you understand why. I'm planning on being very vulnerable through this post, and I pray it is not too much to bear.

This was the closest family member I have ever lost to death. And, yes, I was very close with her. I don't exactly know what I can say on here in light of this event, but I have felt a need to express the experience and process it through writing.

I never realized how much her death would affect me until I arrived in Arizona. I was on a backpacking trip near Aspen when she passed, and when I got back and heard the news, I still had 4 full days left of my internship. I guess I could say I took the news in stride as I headed back to work to engage in the last pieces of internship work I would do for the rest of the summer. There was so much to do that I think I never even came to grips with what had actually happened.

Thankfully the church let me off a day early so I could fly out to Phoenix, Arizona with my mom to meet my dad and sister who had already driven there earlier in the week. I literally went straight from the end of my internship (which was a lot to process by itself) on Wednesday night at 10:00 PM to flying out for my grandma's funeral Thursday morning at 7:30 AM. It might have been one of the most difficult transitions I've ever had to make, as it seemed like everything in my life was changing within the span of 24 hours.

We met up with my dad, sister, and grandpa in Mesa (where my grandparents live) and spent a couple hours just chatting and talking about life. Then came the first true test: the 3-hour viewing at the funeral home. I was not prepared to see my grandma in an open casket, eyes-closed and lifeless in the middle of some random room at the funeral home. Until the moment we walked in, everything I knew about life and death was as simple as something you could read in a book.

The very moment I took my first step into that room and saw my grandma there I teared up and lost control. This rarely ever happens for me, and normally I'm somewhat prepared for it. As a man I often feel the pressure to keep it all together and bear through the pain even when it hurts the most. Well, that night there was nothing I could do. Everything about death that seemed so surreal prior to our arrival there became reality in a matter of seconds. Life doesn't slow down for us; it just keeps going and waits for us to catch up.

I could barely get within 5 feet of her body. I was full-out crying by then and had to find a seat, secluded from the others. I was not prepared for such an influx of emotion. Talk about a reality check... this was more like a reality tackle. With nothing else to do but grieve and reflect on my grandma's life (and life in general), I opened my Bible to find some words of comfort. (I had brought my Bible not knowing how much I would need it but in the hope that I would find some sort of encouragement from it). I turned to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (thanks, Keri), which reads:

"There is a time for everything,
and a season for activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace."

It's amazing when the Word of God becomes active and real in your life and the words become reality. I sat there amazed at that very fact that we can go from weeping to laughing, mourning to dancing, embracing to refraining, all in the matter of hours or even minutes. Wednesday night I was laughing and reflecting on a great summer with the students. Thursday night I was crying over the loss of a loved one. Talk about a myriad of emotions...

I guess that's really what makes humanity personal. God gave us emotions, feelings, and free will out of the respect He has for us. He gave us seasons and times for joy and for sorrow. But I wrestled the entire time in Arizona with the fact that I was crying and grieving when I knew full well that my grandma was dancing in heaven with Jesus. I felt that I should be overcome with joy, and yet I still cried. I've come to grips with the fact that I simply cannot truly fathom the idea of eternal life and glorification to the degree that I wish I could. Heaven is still a lofty concept for me, even after 15 or so years of being a Christian. It is a subject of hope and purpose for me, but when I try to think of it tangibly, it becomes more difficult than almost any other topic. It is just so much easier to say that we should celebrate her new life with Christ than to actually physically do it. I never realized this until I personally experienced such a close death.

Thankfully, the Word of God does say that there is a time to mourn and a time to grieve. God knew we would wrestle with these emotions, and thank God for it. He knew the personal closeness that we experience with loved ones would tear us to pieces when it was ended by physical death. God deals with this everyday as His lost children who have never given their lives to Him die and are eternally separated from Him for eternity. But by the grace of God we have hope for eternity with His glory and for reunion with our loved ones.

At the actual funeral on Friday, each of us in the family got a chance to share memories and any last thoughts. I was much more composed and comforted after a night's rest from the Thursday viewing. As I stood behind her casket I shared my memories of her and her love of the Phoenix Suns (she should have been with the team management headquarters... no joke). Before I finished I felt it was right to share from Romans 6:1-10. The Scriptures had come alive to me in new light that I couldn't have understood before my grandma's death. Verses 8-10 say: "Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God." That phrase, death no longer has mastery over him, brought tears to my eyes because of the hope it brings. My grandma was not mastered by cancer and by death; no, she was victorious in life and went back home with the Father. She beat us all to it. She finished the race marked out for her and is dancing in heaven. Christ overcame death so we would not succumb to it. It's just as the line in the song Marvelous Light: "Sin has lost its power, Death has lost its sting." Amen and amen.

In the words of my grandma at the end of every phone conversation (bless her soul):
"Is that all?"

Yes, grandma, that is all. I'll see you soon.


July 25, 2008

A Little Boy with a Huge Impact

Let me introduce you to my friend Pierre Ndona Svoboda.

(This is his funny face. He charges $1 to every person who just so happens to glance at him while he is making this face. What an entrepreneur...)

While in St. Louis our group would do one-on-one tutoring/mentoring every morning for 3-4 hours. I was fortunate enough to be paired with Pierre, a 12-year-old from Congo, Africa. I went in thinking I would change a kid's life forever. Turns out he was the one who would do all the changing in me. Humbling, yes. Impacting, yes.

What started off as a somewhat awkward meeting at the beginning of the week turned into one of the most difficult good-byes I've had to say. As I got to know Pierre more and more during our times together, I learned that he used to be a shepherd in Congo. That's not something you hear everyday. Our conversations went from sports to girls to school to money (his funny face is almost unavoidable... he'll catch you looking at it no matter what). He's a genuine 12-year-old kid loving and living life just like every other kid there. But it was his unique story that I will never forget.

Please take a little time to read his story here:

This short article tells his story better than I ever could. To sum it up, though, in case you were too lazy to click on it, Pierre has scoliosis. While in Africa it had come to the point where he could barely move because his back was so out-of-place. He probably would have died in a few years, had New City Fellowship (see my last blog) not come in and brought him to St. Louis in an act of love. One family took him in (the Svobodas, a white American family) and doctors from all over agreed to operate on Pierre free of charge. After several procedures, Pierre's condition was much better. He could walk and was much taller. The Svobodas became so attached to him that they adopted him as their 5th child in the family.

(Again, the article does the story much more justice, so go back and read it... now... thank you!)

Pierre's condition still affects him slightly. While we were hanging out I noticed the slight limp in his step and the brace on his much smaller leg. He liked to jump on my back when we were playing basketball so he could dunk on the 7 foot hoop. He had to jump one-legged when all the kids were playing jump-rope. But not once did it affect him. And not once did he complain.

I realize now that God made this divine meeting happen. I needed to see the love of the family that took him in. I needed to see their willingness to embrace another child of another race and another nationality. I needed to see the response of the church and the genuine communal love that the members express towards each other and those outside the church. I needed to see the real Jesus at work amidst busy lives right in my own backyard.

It's easy to wear the WWJD bracelets and sing upbeat songs every Sunday to a God that we call Father... But to live it out daily, pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones, dying to self, and taking up our cross to follow Him? Now that's another story.

It's another story that is embodied in the Svobodas and New City Fellowship. I was challenged in St. Louis with how I live my everyday life. How comfortable am I, really? Do I go out of my way to bring the love of Christ to someone who might need it that day? Some days, yes. But what would it mean to truly invest in the life of an orphan who would otherwise not know the love of a family? Again, I am reminded of James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

I am convinced that James deliberately said "God our Father" to remind us of our role in the divine relationship between man and God. We were (and some still are) orphans in need of a family and in need of a dad. We tried to live our lives without it, stubbornly grasping at the thin air of false hope. But there was still a gaping space in our lives. And the only true Father of all never gave up on us. He reached for us, pulling us up when we fell, brushing the dirt of our shoulders, and blessing us as we run off again. Some run off in rebellion still after seeing the love of the Father. It is the hamartia of humanity, the pride that destroys.

But in our brokenness, He is still waiting there with open arms. He calls after His sons and daughters, much like the parable of the prodigal son. We were orphans for so long, but he has redeemed us and brought us back into his family, the body of Christ. And He does this for every single person on earth, calling out to the orphans of the world, you and me, to enter into His family. Our heavenly Dad has paid the ultimate price, giving up His own Son, so that we orphans could enter into His family.

And that is exactly where my conviction lies. That is why my eyes have been open. That is why I want to adopt an orphan child. If I truly confess to believe in Him and desire to live as Christ did, I need to die to self and bring the love of Christ to a child without a family, just as I was before I knew Christ as my own Savior.

And as I mentioned in my last blog, I want to adopt a child from Africa. Some have asked, "why Africa and why not here?" There are a couple reasons for that. First of all, Pierre truly touched my heart, and although God is not leading me physically to the African country as a missionary, He has certainly put a burden on my heart for the children of the country. Secondly, in my personal journey for racial reconciliation, I not only want to cross racial lines, but cultural and national lines as well. I want to embrace someone into my family who is nothing like us except for the fact that we are all children of God. I want to truly learn what it means to be nothing like me at all. Thirdly, a child is a child, American or African. Either way I decide, one child would be left alone. Perhaps one day I will adopt more than once, but only God really knows. I don't know exactly what it will look like, as this decision is several years down the road. But it is burning brightly within my heart, and I sincerely hope that others' eyes are opened to the thought of adoption just as mine have recently been opened as well.

I truly thank God for my St. Louis experience. It's amazing how He works and opens our eyes to the needs of His people through different people. Thank God for churches like New City Fellowship and families like the Svobodas.

Galatians 3:26-29 - "So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."

July 21, 2008

Lessons from St. Louis: Living the Gospel through racial reconciliation

Hello again blog.

I've finally had a full week to process my missions trip to St. Louis. Add that to the fact that I just got back from the Desperation Conference, and you could say I've been challenged tremendously in the last couple weeks with the gospel.

We worked at a church called New City Fellowship in the inner city. And let me tell you: this church was incredible. There was nothing aesthetically spectacular about the building, facilities, or even the pastor. But there was a special element within the church that took me only a couple days to realize what it was. What was it?

The experience and heart of every single person truly living out the gospel on a daily basis.

Let me explain with one example. The man in charge of the program that brings in short term missions teams to help the church/school has had a very compelling journey. Andrew Stern is a white, late 30's seminary-grad (Covenant Seminary) with a white wife and 3 of their own biological children. On paper he sounds like a very likely candidate for a picket-fence house in the suburbs. In reality, that couldn't be farther from the truth.

Andrew and his wife have adopted 3 other children... three other African-American children, that is. In case you're keeping track, they have 6 children (3 white, 3 black). And no, they don't live in a big house in the suburbs. They live in the heart of the inner city. In fact, they have chosen to be right in the middle of the worst and dangerous part of the city. They might be the only Christian family on their block, and they are for sure the only caucasians.

What I don't want to communicate is any idea of racial superiority or "here's the white man to save the day" at all. Please do not get me wrong. My point here is that they have decided to take the gospel into an often-ignored region in the city. The important term here is relocation. They could easily live in comfort and safety in the suburbs if they wanted to. But they have taken the road less traveled into the inner city. Andrew's heart burns for racial reconciliation as well, and they have deliberately adopted 3 African-American children to begin steps towards this goal.

Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week. Each race goes to its own church. It's comfortable that way, so it's easy to see why that's the case. Sometimes there's a language barrier as well. But New City Fellowship is one of the most diverse congregations I have ever seen. They even sang worship songs in many different languages (some dialects from Africa too!). The genuine love emanating from the people in that church as they pour themselves into each others' lives is awe-inspiring. They truly are color-blind in that church. Is this the case in general for the American church? It's an interesting question to address. My critical side wants to say no. It's really a result of personal preference and comfort. What do I want? Where would I "fit in" and be comfortable? And let me make an important note here: I am very much so guilty of this as well. That's why I'm talking about this. I felt so convicted about this idea. What steps am I sincerely taking towards racial reconciliation? There is so much quiet racism in this country... whether you want to accept it or not, we all have tendencies to fear or distrust or even hate other races. I couldn't tell you why this seems to be the case, except for many historical reasons. It just saddens my heart to see it, even in my own life. I am so happy God put me on the St. Louis trip to teach me more ways I can fully understand what the gospel means. There are no stipulations or conditions on Jesus' command to love your neighbor. And you can't deny the fact that Jesus was indeed color-blind as well. And if we accept this, and understand our mission to be Christ-like, then we must endeavor to emulate Jesus in this area of our lives as well.

  • 1 John 1:6 - "Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did."

  • Acts 10:34-35 - "Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right."

  • Revelation 5:9-10 - "And they sang a new song, saying: "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God members of every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth"."

Notice the Revelation verse says, "You have made them to be a kingdom." It doesn't say "many kingdoms" or "separate kingdoms." We are one body of Christ, one kingdom of God, one people under one God. New City isn't perfect, but they have definitely grasped this part of the gospel. Practically-speaking, what steps can we take towards racial reconciliation for the cause of Christ? I think this is a personal question that only you and I can answer for ourselves, but since this is my blog and not yours (haha), I'm going to tell you one of my solutions and convictions that I've felt very strongly about after this trip:

At some point I want to adopt a child from Africa.

I feel strongly that this is one of the most practical steps I can take to live out the gospel in a tangible way. James 1:27 says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." There are so many orphans throughout the world who will grow up with no family, no positive male influence, and probably no love. My heart burns for these children. I can't think of a better way to share Jesus' love than to adopt and bring one of these kids into my own family. I also believe that bringing a child who is not my race into my future family will bring about racial reconciliation in my own life and the loved ones around me. Yes, it is a huge investment and risk. Yes, there will be questions from people who just don't understand. Will this deter me and what God has put on my heart? No. To truly love takes risk. You expose your heart and there is always chance it will be cut or hurt. But can you imagine living life without really experiencing love? I cannot. If I can bring the hope and love of Christ and a family into a kid's life, there is not a good enough reason not to.

Not many people know this dream of mine, but I am glad to share it on here. I want to expand on what has brought me to this point with a story from St. Louis, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. For now, here's a preliminary picture from my trip that will give a little insight into the path that led me to this point.

Until tomorrow...

July 13, 2008

Defender of the Faith

Welp, I'm back. I'm still exhausted, but the missions trip to St. Louis was amazing. I need to process a lot of what I learned and experienced on the trip before I try to write on it. Hopefully later this week I'll be able to talk about the trip on here. I can say one thing, though: my perception of ministry and living out the gospel will never be the same. More to come...

On another note, while on the trip I got to do a lot of reading. Ever since I started college I've loved reading. Now it's become something I need to schedule time for every week or I just don't feel right. My book of choice for the trip was the Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. This is a fantastic apologetics book. As I've mentioned before, I have become very interested in the realm of apologetics, the rational defense of the faith. This book addresses 8 common objections to Christianity such as "If evil and suffering exist, a loving God cannot", "Evolution explains life, so God isn't needed", and "A loving God would never torment people in hell." For each of these objections (each has its own chapter), Strobel interviews an expert or professor on the issue and dialogues with him or her while playing somewhat of a devil's advocate role. Strobel is a former atheist turned Christian, so he remembers and can articulate much of his own doubts from when he was an atheist. It's a very intellectual and philosophical book, and I've learned so much. I think we as Christians underestimate the need to be able to speak scientifically and philosophically about our faith. While living in a postmodern and relative-truth era, it is becoming more and more necessary to explain rationally why we believe what we believe. If we can think of a doubt or question in our own minds that we have no idea how to answer, we need to take this as a challenge and discover the answers for ourselves. Just think... if someone who is not a believer comes to us with these same questions, how can we truly witness to them in the name of the gospel if we can't answer the questions for ourselves? At the National Student Leadership Conference at Taylor this past spring, J.P. Moreland specifically addressed the imperativeness of this situation. To truly love God with all our mind, we must engage ourselves intellectually to affirm our faith. We do not have to abandon our intellect to have faith. In fact, our minds are a crucial teammate to our faith. Reading this book has reaffirmed my faith in ways beyond explanation. I have full confidence that I can address some doubts about Christianity and engage someone in a conversation about these issues. In fact, I have already had the opportunity to talk to some non-believers about their doubts and things that I've read and studied.

This is just another way that God is molding me and preparing me for ministry. I'm so thankful for the passions He gives us. We just never know what curveballs life is going to throw our way, but at least God gives us some practice pitches to swing away at.

1 Peter 3:15 - "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect"

Also, I got to jam out on the drums today, and it felt amazing. I hadn't played in a while, and it was sweet to play again. Music is such a mode of relaxation for me. I'm listening to some John Mayer right now and loving life.

Living in faith,

July 4, 2008

Missions Trip! and Wild at Heart

Tomorrow morning at approximately 5:30 AM, I will be leaving in a 15-passenger van with the youth group for a missions trip to St. Louis. Briggs and I have been planning and prepping for this trip for a while now. I'm really excited and nervous all at the same time. This will be the first time I'll be on a missions trip where I'm a leader... second-in-charge basically to Briggs. I've been praying a lot for wisdom and discernment for myself and the other leaders while we're out there. I'm pumped to see how God is going to move in the students and how they will be challenged on a daily basis. Short-term missions leads to accelerated spiritual growth, and I have complete faith that this will be the case in St. Louis.

While we are there we're going to be doing service projects during the morning/afternoon, and towards the night we're leading a Bible club (VBS-like) for kids. I don't know much about the dynamics of the location, but I believe it's inner-city. I'm personally leading the teaching team with 2-3 other students. We're teaching a new Bible story each day (Noah's ark, David and Goliath, Shadrach/Meshach/Abednego, and Zaccheus). This is the hardest it's ever been to prepare a lesson... when you're teaching little kids, there are so many other dynamics you have to think about. We'll see how it goes and what I learn about children's ministry as well.

Please be praying for our team as we go out for the next week. Pray that we would be challenged to grow in different areas and that we'd all grow closer to God. Pray that would be a pure example of Christ to the people we minister to. Pray that we would find rest in Him when we are tired and don't feel like going anymore. Pray that we leaders will have discernment and wisdom in making decisions for the team. Pray for safety!

Thanks for taking a little bit of time to pray for us! It says in James that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. If we believe the Bible to be true, then we can have faith in the prayers of our fellow believers.

On a final un-related note, have you ever been presented with a decision that in every sense seemed completely straight-forward and right, but then there were "asterisks" or questions that seemed to prevent you from making the "right" decision? When or how do these "asterisks" lose weight in the decision? Or is that even possible? I feel that to truly live you have to take risks. This absolutely applies to our faith as well, but that's not the topic in question right now. If we always make the safe decision, will we ever be fully satisfied? In the book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge talks about the 3 desires of the man's heart: a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. Somedays I feel like I'm the brink of all three, while other days I feel like I'm not seeking those desires of a man's heart at all. And then somedays, I don't feel like I'm in charge of those categories at all.... that my schedule (or life in general) dictates a different kind of life. Maybe this is the adventure I have to live; that is, it's trying to figure out how to seek the true desires that come with being a man while working, interning, going to school, living life. Who really knows...

Unfortunately I won't be able to blog again until I'm back from St. Louis. Thanks again for the prayers and I can't wait to blog about how it went!
Until next time...

July 1, 2008

Student-run church at Taylor? Let's talk...

I love how God always keeps us guessing.

I love the fact that we will do something without the slightest idea of why we feel empassioned to do that thing... all the while God is smiling down on us, molding and shaping the clay (us) with a divine purpose in mind.

I'm constantly reminded of how much God's preparing me for life with individual situations, training, and reading. One of such reminders happened very recently to me this past weekend. Unfortunately, I can't go into the details on here, but please ask me individually if you're interested. I'm bursting with excitement over what happened and is happening.

On another somewhat-related note, one of my favorite things to do is to go to some fast food restaurant (Panera's, Chipotle, Taco Bell, etc.), get some food and a drink, and sit and read a book for hours. There's something about the restaurant atmosphere that calms me and stimulates my thinking. I've been trying to do that more and more lately. Just last night I went to Panera's (free wifi too!), grabbed a good ham & swiss sandwich with a Mountain Dew to drink (ooh yes), and sat down for a good two hours, reading 2 books: the 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity by Alex McFarland and the Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. I am fascinated by apologetics and love the philosophical side of it as well. I highly recommend both books to any believer. They really hammer down some important information that you might need to know down the road. They've strengthened my faith on numerous levels as well. I really wish that Taylor offered a course completed dedicated to apologetics. I took Evangelism in Youth Ministry this past semester, and we covered some apologetics topics lightly, but not really to the degree I was hoping. (By the way, in case you just don't know, apologetics is the rational defense of the faith. It is using intellect and reason to establish a basis for faith). More to come on this topic in a later blog...

To shift gears a little, I'd like to tackle a subject that my good friend Jordan Bolte and I have been talking about for a while now. For some background information on what I'm talking about, go to HIS BLOG HERE. Jordan and I have been talking in conversation about this a lot, and I'm excited to share some thoughts as well.

What is this idea? Well, simply put, we want to start a student-run church at Taylor.

Why? I'm glad you asked. When I came to Taylor, my faith was rocked. Everything I knew about the church, worship, and the body of Christ was partly-tossed out the window. I have grown up in the church... my dad was a pastor for several years and I was involved at the other churches I attended. My family currently attends New Life Church in Colorado Springs. (I don't go with them anymore since I started the job at Vanguard Church, but that's still important to know about where I came from).

For me personally, New Life Church jump-started the battery of my faith. After so many years in the church (the general church, not New Life), I had become very comfortable and complacent in my faith. Then I got to New Life and was shocked at what I saw in worship. People were raising their hands, jumping and dancing, kneeling right where they were, etc. At first, this sight really turned me off to the worship. It was just a little "too much" for me. Fortunately for me, God didn't care what my flesh felt. After a couple months I found myself raising my hands in worship. Then a little bit after that I became so joyful in worship that I started jumping and dancing with my brothers and sisters in Christ. And wow, what a freeing experience it was. All of a sudden I wasn't consumed about what other people thought of me or how "silly" I might look to that one person in the back. Worship became an intimate encounter between me and God. It was no longer what I wanted; it was what God wanted. Am I saying that God commands everyone to raise their hands and dance during worship? No, not necessarily. Or at least, not all the time. I do think their is something humbling and freeing about completely abandoning your own pride and giving all of yourself physically to the God of all creation. It really does come down to one's own pride. In worship, are we sincerely thinking about God and giving all of ourselves to Him? Or are we worried about what people will think about us if we start to become a little... charismatic? For me, I finally realized that I had been apprehensive about being too overtly, physically passionate during worship. By letting worship become an emotional experience for me instead of solely intellectual, I could truly worship God for the first time in my life. John Piper says in Desiring God, "Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers... On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship." If you want some great reading on this subject, go to the chapter on "Worship" in the Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

And that's exactly where I was challenged at Taylor. I actually tipped the scale maybe a little too far on the emotional side of worship before I came to college. Taylor renewed in my mind the importance of worshiping in spirit and in truth. John 4:23-24 tells us very clearly that God desires people who worship in spirit and in truth. We mostly equate "spirit" with "emotion", and "truth" with "intellect or the mind". I realized that I needed to love God with my mind just as much as with my heart and soul. This was a difficult process, but one that needed to happen in my life. I began to examine myself during worship, trying to discover where my mind was focused. I could easily raise my hands in worship to make it look sincere, but I had to meditate upon Him in order for it to be true, biblical worship. I've made a lot of progress in the last several years.

I think the majority of Taylor (and I believe Jordan would agree with me) does great at the worshiping in truth aspect of biblical worship. But how does the Taylor student body as a whole respond to God with our emotions or spirit? Some days you can see it, like on worship nights. Other days, not so much (think chapel...). Jordan and I strongly believe that we should be encouraging each other to become worshipers who embody God's call. Some may need to be reminded about the importance of the mind in worship (like I needed when I came to Taylor). Others may need to be reminded that it's okay to let go of their composure and worship with emotions as well. Either way, we cannot continue to be mute on this subject as a student body. We must do something about it and fight the complacency.

Our answer: a student-run church on the very campus of Taylor University. A church where everybody is valued in their own gifts. There is no one "head" of the church besides Christ Himself. The students would run worship; the students would preach; the students would lead communion; the students would pray for each other; the students would be in true fellowship, meeting each other where they are. This is Acts 2:42-47, the passage that describes what the church was intended to look like:

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Everyday 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."

This is exactly where our vision originates! Could the Taylor community of students mirror the early church? Absolutely! There would be no church politics, leadership-arrogance, or putting one person or pastor on a pedastool. We'd be a community of believers, pushing each other towards Christ as we deal with the same struggles and temptations as college students.

Would this student-run church have to run on Sunday morning? My thought is no. Personally, I am plugged in at a local church and help with the youth ministry there on Sunday mornings. I would love to see a Saturday night student-run church service at like 6:00. But in the end, we have to pray about it, and see how God wants this to go. Both Jordan and I have been praying about this and feel very strongly pushed this direction. I'm reminded of Paul in Acts when the authority allows Paul to keep on doing what he's doing and says something to the effect of: "If it's of God, it will succeed. If it is not from God, it will fail." That's exactly where we are. Please be praying about God's will for this, and if He wants you to be a part of it.

I will definitely be blogging more about this in the future. This is a really, really long post. If you read all of it, thank you! Haha!

Living in faith,

June 28, 2008

My Looming Future (& the American church)

Hello again BLOG, I'm back for some more personal thoughts.
Tonight I went to the Mill, the college ministry at New Life Church here in Colorado Springs. I love the Mill. I love the fact that 1,200+ college students and 20-somethings give up their Friday nights to go to church and worship God together. I don't know who would ever think a college ministry would be this effective on a Friday night, but God is definitely moving through the Mill. The worship is amazing, the sermon is always challenging, and the presence of God is real.
Tonight Evan Martin talked about the Africa missions trip that the Mill just got back from. He shared some light stories, some heavy stories, and how missions applies to all of our lives. He explained and urged everyone to participate in some form of missions during their lives not only because of the huge effect on the people ministered to, but also the "accelerated spiritual growth" that you yourself will experience. I could go deeper into his message, but that's not what I wanted to write about. Evan simply stimulated a thought process that I've been experiencing for quite a while now.
That is, where am I headed in my life? I've always wondered why I don't feel called into full-time missionary work. I have so many friends that feel this calling strongly in their lives. They are going to give up every comfortable luxury we take for granted here in America to go live in huts, heat, and humidity (okay, maybe not all of them, but you get the point). I admire my good friend Stephen Groves (or Narco, for you Taylor-ites) for his passion and selflessness in his desire to be a missionary. To me, he embodies the call on believers to die to self and pick up our cross daily (Luke 9:23-26). I hope that I can learn more from him about what I can do in my everyday life to emulate his attitude.
But the fact of the matter is that I am drawn to the church. To be more specific, I am drawn to the American church. Let me clarify here: I'm not drawn because of the idea of living in America (although that definitely isn't a point of complaint either). I'm drawn because the American church has one of the largest mission fields it could possibly want. There are millions of lost souls here on our own turf, seeking for answers and redemption in places they won't find it. Many have also had terrible church experiences because of hypocrisy, power abuse, and arrogant traditionalism. I know Christian Ministries majors at Taylor who desire above everything else to work in full-time ministry, but they refuse to work in the church because of problems they have witnessed or experienced. I strongly believe God has called me to the American church to help be part of the solution. We could talk for days or even years about the problems, but what can we actually do to help? I think it all comes down to truly and genuinely loving God and loving others. What does this look like? Well, that's a topic for another day and another blog.

I kind of got off on a tangent there, but I want to explain to anyone reading how much I think about my future. Two years from today I will have a college degree and my life ahead of me. Evan's talk at the Mill really got me thinking about it again. What will I be doing right after graduating? It seems so far away, yet so close at the same time. Here are some of my options/dreams:
-Become a youth pastor
-Go to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup (a month after I graduate) with a group of guys/girls and lead a short term missions team for one of the greatest opportunities for the Gospel the world experiences every 4 years
-Go to seminary for my Masters of Divinity
-Go on a soccer DTS (Discipleship Training School) with YWAM to Argentina for 6 months, using soccer as a ministry tool and serving YWAM in whatever capacity needed

When I look at that list, I am filled with excitement. I have no idea which way God is going to lead me... or even what more options are going to be added to that list... but I am fully confident He is going to lead me in the way that will most glorify Him and His will for my life at that point. For some reason I feel like dreaming tonight and writing about it on my blog. Let me give you insight into my life and how I think by explaining each of those dreams in more detail.
"Become a youth pastor" - This has been a strong calling on my life as long as I can remember. At three or four points in my life before college I knew God wanted me to be a pastor. Even my third grade teacher prophesied this calling over my life! I love the idea of pouring into high school and junior high school students as my full-time job. I honestly can't see myself doing anything else.
"World Cup 2010 - South Africa short term missions" - This is the most recent dream of mine. A couple years ago I had the opportunity to go to the World Cup in Germany on a short term missions team, but decided to go to L.A. on a missions trip instead. Now, I get these glowing feelings about going to South Africa for the next World Cup to spread the Gospel. I mean, think about it... how often do millions of people from all over the world come to one place with no agenda but to watch soccer? What a chance for conversation!! Add that to the fact that I love soccer and would get the chance to play some pick-up games with people to initiate conversation as well. I want to get a group of people together and head to Africa with the sole purpose of spreading the Word at the World Cup. If this sounds like something you'd want to be a part of in 2010, please come talk to me!
"Go to seminary" - I'm just going to say it: I love learning. Call me a nerd. But I do. I want to be trained theologically at a higher level so I can be better prepared for ministry. I've also played around with the thought of being a senior pastor someday. I strongly believe seminary is part of my future someday.
"Soccer DTS to Argentina" - I've always wanted to be able to use soccer as a ministry tool in order to give back to God what He has blessed me with. This would be a great chance to use soccer in evangelism and also to utilize the years of Spanish classes I've taken as well. This would be a 6-month commitment, and I think it would deeply affect the rest of my life and ministry.

So that's where I'm at! I don't know why I felt like explaining my dreams and aspirations to you all in my blog, but there it is. Now you can hold me to it! Haha! Sorry if it felt scatter-brained, but that's honestly how I feel at times too. At some point soon I'd like to explore more about the American church and the idea of genuine love. Soon to come...

June 26, 2008

Welcome to blogging?

After years of confining my thoughts to my own mind, I have finally decided to start my own blog. I'll be honest, I don't really know where to start. I guess I'll give a little background information on where I'm at right now to better explain why I think about the things I do.

Right now I am the High School Ministry Intern at Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs. This is fulfilling some of my education requirements at Taylor, but it's also just great experience for what I want to do the rest of my life. I'm learning on a daily basis what it really means to be in full-time vocational ministry. I say "vocational" ministry because everyone is going into full-time ministry in whatever profession they're called to. Vocational ministry simply means that ministry is my profession or career that God has led me to. I believe we do a disservice to God's intentions for the body of Christ by differentiating between "ministers" and engineers, businessmen, musicians, teachers, etc. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 makes no distinction as to who should "Go, and make disciples..." If we allow ourselves to think, "Oh, I'm just a (fill in the blank), I'll leave the ministry to the church...", then we've been ensnared by an un-biblical mentality. The first disciples of Christ were fishermen, physicians, and tax collectors... These are the people who wrote much of our New Testament and have forever influenced the Christian faith. Jesus said, "Come, follow me," and they did just that. Essentially Jesus is saying this to all of us. It doesn't matter where we are, who we are, or where we're going. Our first focus should be to follow in the steps of Christ and the rest will follow. Paul, one of the most prominent evangelists, church planters, preachers, and disciples in the history of Christianity made tents! As a tent-maker Paul ministered (and still does minister) to trillions of people if you consider his impact through his writing in the New Testament. The body of Christ is unique and diverse for a purpose, but we are all baptized by the blood of Christ. An important passage to consider is 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Paul uses the analogy of the human body to describe the body of Christ. Can the ear say to the nose, "I don't need you"? Can the hand say to the foot, "I don't need you"? Absolutely not! So it should be within the Christian family... The church cannot exist and pastors would not be able to effectively minister without the congregation, the body of Christ, the pinkies, and the big toes of the family.

The question to ask, then, is what is my role in the body of Christ? What is your role? In the Bible study my friends and I started here in the Springs, we talked two weeks ago about the unique giftedness we are all endowed with by our Creator. We've all been given gifts to use to bless other people. Our spiritual gifts are not purposed for ourselves. While they can help us grow at times, that is not their first purpose. If you're reading this and haven't taken a spiritual gifts test, I strongly encourage you to do so right now. It will reveal to you incredible information about yourself that you may not have thought of before. It will encourage you in your strengths as well. Are you the mouth in the body of Christ? The eyes? The hands? The stomach? (I think most guys would like to be the stomach in the body... haha).

It doesn't stop at figuring out your gifts, either. If I could encourage the students at Taylor to do one thing while at school, it would be to get involved in some form of ministry. Ministry looks different for every personality and giftedness, but there is always something that you can be making a difference in. A selfish faith is not a biblical faith. Sacrifice some time to bless others. To bring others closer to Christ is truly fulfilling Jesus' commission.

So those are my thoughts. I might enjoy this blogging thing.