December 28, 2009

Book Review: "Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity" by Mark Batterson

Recently I received a book for free in exchange for a book review on my blog. The book is called Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity by Mark Batterson. And I have to say, I’m really glad I had the chance to read this particular book. I’ve had friends who told me to read some of Mark Batterson’s books, but this was the first one I had the pleasure to read. After reading Primal, I fully plan on reading his other books. But let me explain why I loved this book so much.

Primal is all about returning to the very beginning, the essence, of what Christianity is supposed to be about: the Great Commandment in Mark 12:30. To love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, is the truly the foundation of our faith. It sounds like a very simple idea, because it is! But Batterson insists that the problem within our churches is that we’re not great at the Great Commandment. Because of this, he writes about the four elements of the Great Commandment. He writes on page 7:

The heart of Christianity is primal compassion.
The soul of Christianity is primal wonder.
The mind of Christianity is primal curiosity.
And the strength of Christianity is primal energy.
Batterson notes, “But one thing is sure: loving God in one way isn’t enough. It’s not enough to love God with just your heart or soul or mind or strength.”

Along with the idea of returning to the primal form of Christianity, Batterson urges the reader to return to the first time and place where God spoke to you or did something powerful in your life.

So before going forward, let me encourage you to go backward. Go back to that place where God opened your eyes and broke your heart with compassion for others. Go back to that place where the glory of God flooded your heart with wonder. Go back to that place where thoughts about God filled your mind with holy curiosity. Go back to that place where a God-given dream caused a rush of adrenaline that filled you with supernatural energy.

Basically, the book is not an exegetical commentary on the Great Commandment found in the Gospels; rather, it is a “reimagination” of the four primal elements. Each element (heart, soul, mind, and strength) has two chapters dedicated to it, and Batterson creatively presents a new perspective on each.

That’s the book in summary, but let me add some of my personal thoughts and comments. I particularly enjoyed this book because I’ve taught/preached on the Great Commandment and the importance of understanding each element as distinct from one another. I’ve tried to stress what Batterson very creatively articulates in this great book. I know for a fact I’ll probably adopt some of his ideas into my next lesson or sermon on the Great Commandment.

I especially enjoyed the sections on loving God with our heart (compassion) and loving God with our strength (energy). In the section on the heart, one of the things that Batterson challenges the reader about is how we as Christians use our money. He constantly asks, how much is enough? When it comes to income, do we know how much we really need to live and how much we can give away? I felt convicted and excited at the same time about how I can use my money to love God. On page 44 Batterson writes:

What if, instead of sound quality or lyrical creativity, our litmus test for worship was a heart that breaks for the things that break the heart of God? What if we saw compassion as a form of worship? Worship without words. Worship beyond words.
In his section on loving God with all our strength, I couldn’t help but imagine what God was teaching me through his words. He kept talking about the “God-ideas” that the Father instills in us to pursue. At some point we have to stop thinking and second-guessing where God is leading us and finally go for it. That’s what it means to love God with our strength. On page 138 he says:

Are there any God ideas you’ve given up on? Any God-ordained passions that
you have stopped fighting for? Any God-sized dreams gathering the dust of
Through powerful illustrations and stories from his own experience, Batterson communicates timeless truths about the Great Commandment. Using Scripture as his guide, he takes us down a familiar path while pointing out the creative and re-imagined elements we may have missed along the way. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a little encouragement or new perspectives on how they live their Christian faith. But one thing I can guarantee: you won’t ever look at the Great Commandment with the same eyes. You will be rejuvenated and excited about your faith and about what God wants to do with your life.

December 6, 2009

Distinctly Christian

What makes you distinctly Christian? What makes our churches distinctly Christian?

I have been wrestling with these questions a lot recently. When I read in the Gospels and Acts about the first Christians, I can't help but notice a disconnect between the then-and-now. When I use the phrase "distinctly Christian," I mean, what separates you (or your church) from, let's say, a Muslim (or a Mosque)? a Jew (or a synagogue)?

Let's face it. There are a million belief systems throughout the world, from Christianity and Islam to moralistic therapeutic deism and pluralism. Almost all of them teach some kind of moral message... love other people, treat the earth kindly, be patient, etc. Christianity is not an exception. Jesus taught his disciples morality. A quick glance at the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) will show many instances. I don't think anyone would disagree here.

But here's where the problem begins to surface. In our attempts to teach Christians about the faith, we often teach much of the morality presented in the Bible while leaving the Christ out of it. Think about it... have you ever heard a sermon preached that didn't reference the cross and Jesus' sacrifice? I bet almost everybody has. If you're 100% sure that every sermon you've heard has referred directly to Christ and the cross at least once in the presentation, I am amazed.

Recently I observed a Friday service at a mosque near Indianapolis with my World Religions class. The "sermon" was in English instead of Arabic so I got to hear what was being presented. The presenter talked a lot about patience and not giving into wrath. He talked about how important it is not to take our anger out in different situations. The emphasis was on self-control. Overall, it was a very nice - as I think that is the only appropriate word for it - presentation.

On the drive back I reflected upon our experience with my professor. We asked the question, could that sermon have been presented in a Christian church too? The obvious answer was yes. It did not teach anything contradictory to the Bible. (I don't even think he mentioned Muhammad.) But this got me thinking... and lead me to writing this blog!

There is something to be learned from this experience. The reason we gather in our churches as Christians is because Jesus Christ died on the cross. Neglecting to mention this in our worship songs, sermons, Bible teaching, etc., is neglecting the only reason we are here.

We cannot be content to teach Christianity to people in our churches without explicitly referencing Jesus and the cross. Don't misunderstand me. We must still teach the morality of the Bible, but we must also explain why we pursue this kind of morality. The "why" is what makes us distinctly Christian. It's what separates us from the religion of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. We cannot take the CHRIST out of CHRISTIANITY.

Moral messages won't cut it in the church. The early church in Acts was enamored with the love and power of Christ. Everything came back to Jesus. If we are to create lifelong disciples of Christ we must intentionally re-introduce the disciples to the person they are following at every chance we get.

With Christmas approaching I have heard the phrase, "He's the reason for the season!" (A big thanks to Bri and the Youth Conference cabinet for that one!) While a bit cheesy and trite, it is so appropriate. Jesus is the reason for the season. But he's also the reason for every other season, especially within our churches! The second we neglect Jesus and the cross, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is the second we lose our identity. If our worship songs and our sermons could be sung or preached in a mosque, synagogue, Buddhist temple, etc., we need to re-think our approach and embrace our Savior Jesus Christ once more!

CHRISTians, embrace your identity!

November 25, 2009

Do you want to get well?

"One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?""
John 5:5-6

It's not news to anybody that Jesus is the master at asking questions. As I read through the Gospels I can't help but marvel at his adept ability to ask probing questions that would cut right to the soul of the hearer. He moves past the easy surface level Q&A sessions and into the self-revealing discovery learning that forces the person to delve into the depths of their heart and motivations.

The question that Jesus asks in this story in John 5 has been doing just that in my life. It echoes in my ears. On the outside it's easy to reply in the case of the invalid, "Of course he wants to get well! He's been disabled for most of his life. Why wouldn't he want to get well?"But Jesus being, ya know, divine, he knows the secrets of the heart. His state of invalidity had become so entrenched in who he was that inwardly he couldn't imagine his life without this condition. His condition became his identity.

As we cry out to God for help to change us, are we really desiring exactly that? Or are we just praying for change because we know that's what a good Christian should do? Or maybe we think we can fool God into thinking that we are really ready to give up whatever is holding us back from a more intimate relationship with Him.

Whatever the real motive, we should let the question from Jesus carve its way into our hearts. And, of course, I only say this because I need to do the same. If I want God to heal me, purge me of my sin, release the power of the Spirit in my life, I need to make sure that's what I really desire in my innermost being.

We cannot fool God. As Tozer says, He waits to be wanted.

November 14, 2009

The Veil is Torn

The presence of God is awesome.

And when I say awesome, I mean it draws us into awe of our Creator. I think that word - awesome - has lost some of its meaning because we use it for the latest American Idol winner, our favorite NBA player, and the last Taco Bell meal I consumed. But truly, there is nothing more awesome than Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, who died on the cross for us.

It sounds so basic. But lately I have been so convicted about how I do not practice the presence of God on a daily basis. I reserve those "unique" times for big worship events or prayer nights... but why? Is there something keeping me from pursuing God and entering his presence?

I'm on a big A.W. Tozer kick right now. I'm reading both the Pursuit of God and the Knowledge of the Holy. If you can pick up either of these books and read a couple chapters, I guarantee you won't be able to stop. This blog is a culmination of what I've been reading, coupled with the biggest lesson God has been teaching me lately; that is, God desires me to bask in his presence and just be with him. I've been too busy doing for God lately that I forget to stop and say hi.

Rather than attempt to put into my own words what Tozer has already eloquently communicated, I'm just going to list a couple quotes from both books that have impacted me recently:

"With our loss of the sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence. We have lost our spirit of worship and our ability to withdraw inwardly to meet God in adoring silence. Modern Christianity is simply not producing the kind of Christian who can appreciate or experience the life in the Spirit. The words, "Be still, and know that I am God," mean next to nothing to the self-confident, bustling worshiper in this middle period of the twentieth century." -p.viii - Knowledge of the Holy (I would argue that this issue has extended beyond the middle period of the twentieth century when Tozer wrote it into today's church as well.)

"And push in sensitive living experience into the holy presence, is a privilege open to every child of God. With the veil removed by the rending of Jesus' flesh, with nothing on God's side to prevent us from entering, why do we tarry without? Why do we consent to abide all our days just outside the Holy of Holies and never enter at all to look upon God?" -p.39 Pursuit of God.

The veil that Tozer references is the veil used in the tabernacle, where God's presence rested before Jesus came and changed that. There was a veil between the first outer courts and the second, more intimate room where there was incense and prayer. Then there was another veil to separate the second room and the Holy of Holies, the resting place of God's presence that was only entered once a year by the high priest. When Jesus came and died for all mankind, God's presence became tangible and available for everyone. He tore the veil to make a way for mankind to experience the tangible presence of God in daily life. This is perhaps the most exciting thing I have ever heard.

"God wills that we should push on into his presence and live our whole life there. This is to be known to us in conscious experience. It is more than a doctrine to be held; it is a life to be enjoyed every moment of every day." p.34 Pursuit of God.

I heard this analogy from my friend Kristen Eckhout. If God is truly our Father, wouldn't he act in a way familiar to all fathers? A father who loves his children will not force them to work for him all day and want them to be constantly doing for him. No, he would want to be with them and spend time with them and have the chance to love on them. I get so busy doing ministry and other things for God that I forget to stop, slow down, and sit in His presence. And I'm missing the best part too!

Father, may I never replace being with doing. Help me to seek your presence and live in that presence daily, reflecting on your love and majesty.

Hebrews 10:19-22
"Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."

**As a final note, I just wanted to give a shout out to Phil Wickham for putting on a great worship concert tonight in Indianapolis. It really reminded me how powerful the presence of God is, and how the death of the True Love created a new freedom for us that we've never experienced! Listen to his song "True Love" sometime... Better yet, listen to the song while you read Tozer's Pursuit of God! Haha... **

October 15, 2009

Not a Boring Bible

Well hello to anyone who manages to stumble upon my blog after I haven't updated it in about 3 months. I really would like to blog more, but there's something about college classes that manages to distract me... maybe it's the work load and all the papers I have to write... but who knows.

In an effort to blog more, I plan on writing shorter, concise blogs that express ideas I've been thinking about. And in that way, if I actually come up with a somewhat intelligent and creative idea then I can actually take credit for it.... but that's not likely. In fact, that won't happen, but if you will humor me and actually read some blogs of mine then maybe you'll start to understand why I am the way I am.

There has been something on my mind recently that was really triggered by a big city-wide youth event that I attended with the youth group I work with. At this event the worship music was good, the testimonies from students were authentic, and overall I sensed that the hearts of the people who put on this event were pure and Christ-centered. However, the main speaker at the end was the "hype-up" type... you know, the kind that comes up and gets everyone screaming "Jesus" in some sort of competitive, yelling frenzy without anyone really knowing why we're doing it. I don't mind this for a little bit, but we went on screaming for about 10 minutes without him preaching from the Word at all.

In fact, the rest of his 5-10 minute sermon afterwards was completely motivational and "attractive," and did not include a single verse from the Bible. This really disappointed me, because the kids that night did not hear the actual words of God except for maybe through the songs that were straight from scripture. Even if he used only 1 scriptural reference, I think that would have been alright, because the kids could remember that one verse. But no, the Bible wasn't even mentioned.

This got me thinking... Why do we (especially in youth ministry) fall into this trap of trying to make everything attractive by human standards, appealing to hype and excitement and emotions? Why do we think that the Jesus Christ and the Bible are not attractive and appealing on their own? Sure, there is room for having fun and sweet lights and technology and all that jazz... But if it is replacing the Bible, then we are far from what I believe is true Christianity. We rob the gospel of its inherent power.

Isaiah 55:11 says, " is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." God did not give us a boring Bible. He did not curse us with something that we would have to add to and change in order to grab the attention of those who listen. God's word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and will accomplish God's purposes if we don't get in the way! I wonder how often we get in the way of God's plans by adding our own plans and agenda.

Similarly, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power." If we are relying on the Spirit in our teaching and presentation of the Gospel, we have no need to fear that the students won't hear. We feel the need to fancy-up our preaching and events like a car or house to attract people. But the fact of the matter is that God will attract people to Him based on His beauty and glory, and not our own. No more relying on entertainment... let's open up the Word of God and let it speak for itself. I know that students today are yearning for more depth in the Bible, and still we doubt how much they can handle.

Entertainment and hype cannot replace the Word of God. They have their place, but if we are to make real disciples of Christ, the Word of God is not an option; it's an imperative.

July 27, 2009

Nothing New Under the Sun

For any of you who follow my blog consistently, you might remember a post I made about Saint James a couple weeks ago. In my interaction with this man, God illumined a great truth about the role of apologetics in evangelism. To sum up, here is what I said:

"Apologetics, the rational defense of the faith, is designed to plant seeds. You will never argue someone into the Kingdom of God. That's not what God's love created us to do. His love will win someone to the Kingdom of God. Intellectual assent, while it is an important aspect of faith, is not a pre-requisite for belief. Apologetics will merely break down faulty logic and weak arguments in order to create space for the Holy Spirit to convict the heart. The mind will either serve as a bridge or as a roadblock to the heart."

Simple truth, yes? Well, thankfully, there are much smarter men and women on this earth than me... men and women with more experience than me. I love to read, and this summer I have been soaking up just about as many books as I can. I was forced to laugh the other day while reading Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere. Deere recounts a situation he encountered while witnessing to an intelligent woman on a flight to Dallas:

"An hour and a half of apologetic arguments did not even come close to equaling the force of the simple statement, "You are a sinner and you need a savior." There was a power behind that simple declaration that was absent from all my carefully reasoned arguments. The power came because God had suggested those simple words to my spirit... That experience of power began to teach me, a philosophy major, the relative powerlessness of intellectual arguments. While they may occasionally remove genuine obstacles to faith, they are ultimately fruitless unless the Holy Spirit convicts the heart of sin" (309).

Huh. Sounds familiar...

But it doesn't stop there. I read that a couple days ago. Today I bought a new book by Norman Geisler and David Geisler entitled Conversational Evangelism. As I began to read through the book (written by two of the top apologists in America, mind you), I stumbled across this paragraph:

"This distinction has major implications for how we do evangelism. Apologetics cannot argue someone into the kingdom. Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit must work in a person's life if he or she is to accept Christ. Jesus said in John 6:65, "No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." Therefore, faith and reason must work hand in hand to effectively reach others for Christ. Apologetics can help someone "believe that" Jesus is the Messiah, but it can never force one to "believe in" Him" (163).

I love how they distinguish between the phrases, "believing that" and "believing in." A simple change of words essentially holds eternity in its hands. It is easy to believe that something happened, given strong evidence and clear logic. But to believe in something, to base your life on a cause, requires faith. That faith can only come through the Holy Spirit.

I'm reminded of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 - "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power." Rationality is beneficial to an extent, yet it is fleeting without the Spirit. As John 4:23 tells us, God desires worshipers who worship in Spirit and in truth. There must be a balance between the two.

Please do not misunderstand me. I love apologetics still. I am going to continue to read and study the arguments on both sides of faith. I believe studying apologetics not only strengthens my own faith, but it also puts my fears toward evangelism at ease.

What I am attempting to communicate is that the Holy Spirit is at work today in miraculous ways, and the biggest miracle in life is when someone passes from the old life into the new. The Holy Spirit is not absent from the mind and apologetics; on the contrary, He relishes the opportunity to transform a life while utilizing a tool for breaking down intellectual barriers. He works on both the heart and the mind. Don't forget, God is the one who gave us a mind and intellect in the first place.

If God gave us a mind, should we choose not to use it? And if God gave us his Holy Spirit, should we choose to neglect Him?
I thank God for people like Jack Deere, David Geisler, and Norman Geisler, who fluidly articulate my thoughts for me in such brilliant manners that inspire me to wrestle with the topic even further.
Until next time...

July 11, 2009

The Power of Testimony

Last night I got the opportunity to preach at our weekly coffee house outreach we hold at the Dream Center. There are several homeless men and women that attend, as well as the men and women in our discipleship program that have come off the streets in order to turn their lives around. I spoke about this very topic, the power of testimony, and it's been on my mind so much that I thought I would blog a little bit of my thoughts.

Never underestimate the power of someone's testimony, someone's story of God's power in his or her life. Being in Los Angeles working with such a wide variety of people has given me the chance to hear just about every possible testimony. From drugs to alcohol to prostitution to murder, I've heard it all. And let me tell you... I've never been as confident in the power of God to change lives as I do right now.

Take my friend Arlan, for example. Arlan works with me here at Hope for Homeless Youth. He and I lead outreaches together, and let me tell you, when he starts praying with the short-term groups to begin the outreaches, you better be prepared to feel the Spirit moving. I don't know if I've ever met someone more sure and confident of God's power on the streets than Arlan. He is on fire for Christ and I learn more from his example everyday. But he wasn't always a Spirit-filled, passionate disciple of Christ.

Arlan grew up being harassed by classmates for having more effeminate qualities, which of course included accusations of being gay, whether he even understood what that meant or not. Long story short, he ended up cross-dressing in an attempt to become more of who everyone else claimed he was. He left home with a full-time job doing drag queen shows around the country. He told me that he could barely remember anything from those trips because he was always tripping on some drug and drinking more than a human being should. When he couldn't do the drag queen shows anymore he would end up prostituting himself on the streets where he would end up homeless after losing all of his money either to drugs or a crazy party lifestyle. He was beaten, raped, and left for dead on multiple occasions. He remembers these days as being absent of meaning and hope, always knowing he would end up going home alone and in need of something more.

The one thing going for him in life was that he had a mom who prayed for him everyday. And let me tell you, when there is a mom praying for her child, God works in incredible ways. The prayers of a loving mom are unmatched. Eventually Arlan came home to his parents' house, dressed as a woman. He expected them to drag him to church, but they didn't. In his own words, he said he went to church with them just to spite them for not forcing him to go. After going to the church, he felt a love that he has never felt before. The people at the church loved him for who he was, and they looked right past the cross-dressing. They treated him as he truly was, a child of the living God.

He started to attend the church more and more and actually got involved in painting murals there (he is a very gifted artist). He said the others who worked with him talked to him and loved him just as any other person in the church, and he could never figure out why. But he liked it. And eventually the love of Christ gripped his heart, and he gave his life to Him. He put away the former lifestyle he had adopted full of drugs, alcohol, homelessness, prostitution, and partying, opting for the better life God had always planned for him, a life full of joy, purpose, and true love from the only One who could give it to him unconditionally.

Not long after that he started attending another church in Phoenix and felt a calling to go into vocational ministry. After months of training at a pastors' school, Arlan began serving the Lord at his home church as a youth pastor. From there God called him to work with Hope for Homeless Youth, reaching out to the homeless here in Los Angeles, extending the same hope he received from Christ to everyone he meets. He knows exactly how to speak into the lives of people who are in similar situations as he was years before.

Full of humility, Arlan possesses a personable quality that attracts everyone around him. He is never ashamed of the gospel that literally saved his life. He gives God glory everyday as he walks the streets, sharing Christ's love with every soul that needs a glimmer of hope in a world that only offers a cheap substitute. He understands the realm of spiritual warfare, and he storms the gates of Heaven in every prayer. I know without a doubt that the Father is pleased with this man of God.

Try to tell me that God doesn't work miracles today, and I will laugh. Arlan is a walking testimony of God's faithfulness towards all of His children and of His matchless power to change lives. I have learned that no person is permanently lost, no situation is too big, no scheme of hell is too wicked for the Holy Spirit to come in and change everything for God's glory. It reminds me of the line from the song "In Christ Alone":

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Til' He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand.

Every situation that Satan intends for disaster and pain God will turn around and use to bring love and glory to to Him. In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man who doesn't even know who Jesus is. When questioned by the Pharisees about the event, he proclaims, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I do know - I was blind and now I see!"

You don't have to be a Bible scholar to tell everyone about Christ's love. You don't have to be perfect to commit your life to Him. All you need to do is give your pain, your hurt, to God and let him transform your life. Then you'll have a testimony that no one can take away.

You can always argue point-counterpoint, logic and reason, until you're blue in the face with frustration, but you can never argue with a changed life.

Revelation 12:11 says, "They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony..." After hearing Arlan's testimony, as well as the testimonies of countless others, I know for a fact that God wasn't lying when he gave us this verse. Do you believe he can do the same with your testimony?

As a final note, I really want to encourage everyone to share your testimony with others. People need to hear about God's awesome power to change lives.

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

July 7, 2009


God continues to use people to teach me timeless truths as I walk the streets in Los Angeles. Last week's lesson came from a homeless Hispanic man ironically named Jesus (pronounced, "Hay-soos", in case you were you confused about the quirky blog title). From here on out, I will refer to him as "Jay" so as to avoid any potential misunderstandings between the man I met and the Jesus who died for mankind on the cross.

I met Jay at our weekly outreach to Santa Monica. Each week we go out there with the church teams and canvass the entire area, inviting all the homeless to come to the pier for free food and testimonies about God's love. Once we get to the pier, we have two individuals from the church teams share a quick 5-minute testimony about how God has changed their lives, and someone from our staff shares a quick word (or sermon), offering everybody the chance for prayer. After that we break out the food and enjoy some good eatin' and fellowshipin' under a sunsettin' California sky.

It was at this point when Jay made eye contact with me as he ate his food on a nearby bench. Jay was wearing a gardener's hat and spoke with a little bit of an accent. He was also holding a brown paper bag and smelled a bit like the alcohol he had been drinking (though, he wasn't drunk). He said something to me that I couldn't quite understand, so I moved closer to him and asked him to repeat.

"Do you really believe we will see each other again someday in heaven?" he asked.

"Of course! Whoever professes that Jesus is Lord, believes that he died on the cross and rose again from the dead, and commits their lives to Him will go to heaven and have eternal life," I replied. I showed him Romans 10:9 to assure him of this truth. I've found that there is true power in reading the Word and allowing others to read it for themselves.

"But what if you do something really bad? Do you think he forgives you then?" His tone was so sincere, so innocently inquisitive, that I couldn't help but wonder where this conversation was headed.

"I know he forgives you. If we repent and ask him for forgiveness, we receive it instantly. It's as if that sin never happened in God's eyes. It says so here in 1 John 1:9..." Again I showed him this verse to give him assurance that God is indeed "faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" if we confess our sins.

To this, he looked up and with a rush of emotion declared, "But I feel so bad! God cannot forgive me when I feel this bad!" He continued on to explain that he had done something horrible (without explaining the details), despite the fact that he had been a good boy when he was young. He kept repeating the line, "My mom always told me to do right, but I didn't listen. Why didn't I listen?"

It broke my heart to listen to his story. Emotions are so deceiving. Just as the mind can serve as either a bridge or as a roadblock to the heart, as was the case with "Saint" James in my last blog, emotions can either enhance one's faith or destroy it. Misleading emotions take the here-and-now circumstances and use them to trap the unexpectant traveller in lies that attempt to annihilate timeless truths. They deceptively shroud absolute truth with clouds of subjective thought and relativity. The timeless truth in Jay's story was that God had forgiven him, but because Jay did not feel forgiven, he could not believe that he was forgiven.

This is precisely why God has blessed us with His Word, the Bible. In his great wisdom God knew we would somehow forget the promises he gave the early believers and recorded them in a great book that is the eternal record of truth. He knew Satan would use our emotions against us and try to get us lost in our "feelings." Romans 10:9, 1 John 1:9, and John 3:16 are all promises God gave us to remind us in times of doubt that we would not be forgiven for whatever reasons.

I encouraged Jay with these promises. I told him a thousand times that since he had asked for forgiveness for his sin he was forgiven. I even showed him the example of David in 2 Samuel 11, when he sins with Bathsheba. I gave him Psalms 51, which was written by David as he desperately sought God's forgiveness for his sexual sin. I told him a thousand times that God loved him more than he could ever fathom. I showed him verse after verse that promised God's love for him.

"But I still feel so bad!" he replied.

At this point Jay's emotions had him in such a vicegrip that his mindful was unfruitful in understanding God's promises. It's one thing to feel forgiven; it's another thing to know you're forgiven. It sometimes does not make sense to our limited human minds that a perfect, infinite Creator would erase the errors of our past without another mention of the mistake. The parable of the prodigal son, which might better be titled the "parable of the incredible father," illustrates the unmatched compassion our Father has for us. I pray that one day Jay will run into the open arms of the Father who did not send his Son to condemn, but to save (John 3:17).

In the meantime, we have to carefully take a toll of our emotions and examine how they are leading us into truth or guiding us into confusion. John Piper writes 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."

Emotions are a vital aspect of faith, but we cannot naively trust in them to define our theology or we will never truly grasp how deep, how wide, how great is the love of God!

As tears flowed down Jay's face, I could not help but cry out to God with a spirit of gratitude for his love, and for the realization of that love as articulated in the Word of God. I urged him to replace his feelings of worthlessness with Jesus Christ himself and see how God changes his life. I exhorted him that it is never too late and that God never gives up on us. I prayed for him fervently right there on the bench he was sitting that the Holy Spirit would move in his life so powerfully that his misguided emotions would be replaced with the timeless truth of God's love, grace, and forgiveness.

Please join me in prayer for Jay as you finish this blog, for the "prayers of a righteous person are powerful and effective" (James 5:16).

Living in faith...

June 30, 2009

"Saint" James

For my blog today I thought I would tell you about a homeless man I met on our Venice Beach outreach named "Saint" James. He always makes sure to add the "saint" part when talking to me.

It's actually a miracle I even know his name. The first time I ever saw him he was sitting in the area where we were holding a mini-service for anyone interested. Basically, two of the short-term participants get up and tell part of their testimony and we offer to pray for anybody who wants it. Afterwards we hand out about 80 sack lunches. While we were handing out the lunches I saw him sitting by himself, dressed nicely in a t-shirt that said "Addicted" with a giant marijuana leaf under it. I thought it might be interesting to talk to this man. He has been wearing this shirt everytime I see him.

I extended my hand to him and said, "Hi I'm David," which led him to wave his hand at me, indicating he wanted me to leave. "We don't need to be introduced," he replied.
"Oh no, why not?" I asked.
In a very angry and confrontational tone, he said, "Because you Christians are so arrogant coming out here claiming that Jesus died on the cross and that he's the only way you can have eternal life. You can't say that anymore than any Jew or Muslim could say that."

Based off of his tone and attitude towards Christianity, I instantly knew this would be an interesting conversation. Before I even got to Venice Beach, I had prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide me to conversations and within those conversations as well. As soon as the conversation began, I felt the Holy Spirit saying to me, "You're not going to win him with your arguments or reason. If anything you will win him with your love and respect." It seems as if he hadn't met any loving Christians from the things he was saying.

He continued on with his tirade on Christians, insisting that we cannot claim to be heading in the direction of heaven because we haven't done anything to help the AIDS crisis in Africa. (He also claimed that George Bush Sr. is the antichrist and that he was the one who created and sent the AIDS virus to the African continent. He was full of many conspiracy theories, to say the least.) I told him that I agreed that Christians could be doing much, much more to make an impact on the earth in the name of Jesus, and that the AIDS crisis is one of those areas where Christians have the opportunity to spread the love of Christ. I also told him about my good friend Matt Taylor (and several others) who is a committed Christians that is studying for the express purpose of helping AIDS victims. This seemed to surprise him.

I hear this argument from unbelievers all the time:
There are desperate situations in the world,
Some Christians don't seem to care about these situations,
Therefore Christianity is not a valid belief system.

While it breaks my heart that people get the impression that Christians don't care about the world, sometimes it is a reality. I must say, it is not the majority by any means. But there are some people who profess to be Christians and have no desire to care for the world. However, it is faulty logic to believe that because Jesus' followers have sometimes fallen short and been hypocritical that Jesus is not truly the Son of God and the only way to salvation. His Word still stands, whether mere humans follow it or not.

I continued to explain to him that I understood his problems with Christians, but I also took the chance to explain to him why all 85 of us out there that day were there because we cared for our homeless brothers and sisters and we wanted to make a difference in the world. I urged him not to lose faith in Jesus Christ because some of his followers have lost their way. It is the same reason my parents explained to people as to why we chose to remain at New Life Church in Colorado after our pastor, Ted Haggard, fell into sexual immorality.

The conversation continued, and he told me how he based his life on the book of Revelation and how he himself was fulfilling one of the prophecies. He also told me how he doesn't believe the rest of the Bible. Obviously, that didn't sit right logically in my head, so I asked him, lovingly and respectfully, "How can you base your life on the book of Revelation and the writings of the apostle John and still say you don't believe Jesus died on the cross when that same apostle John said in his gospel that He did in fact die on the cross?" To this question he had no answer except for a theory that John was forced to lie in his gospel. We talked about this a little further, and I saw his confidence in that theory begin to wave. But he still did not change his mind at this point.

It was here that God taught me a very valuable lesson. Apologetics, the rational defense of the faith, is designed to plant seeds. You will never argue someone into the Kingdom of God. That's not what God's love created us to do. His love will win someone to the Kingdom of God. Intellectual assent, while it is an important aspect of faith, is not a pre-requisite for belief. Apologetics will merely break down faulty logic and weak arguments in order to create space for the Holy Spirit to convict the heart. The mind will either serve as a bridge or as a roadblock to the heart. For James, it was a roadblock.

At the end of the conversation, and after some friendly discussion during which I encouraged him and thanked him for his passion to see the end of the AIDS crisis, I extended my hand once more and said, "Now what's your name?" He took my hand and smiled, "James... Saint James."

I continue to pray for James and for the Holy Spirit to work in his life. I hope that I helped to remove some roadblocks to faith in Jesus for him, but I know that the rest is up to God. 1 Peter 3:15 says, "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." That last part is true wisdom... it's exactly what I needed to remember that day because, as I felt God telling me, I will not win someone over with my reason or logic, but with my love and respect.

I saw "Saint" James again today, and we had a nice conversation about his week and his dreams of being a writer. Please join with me in prayer for James as you finish reading this.

Living in faith...

June 26, 2009

A Little Overwhelmed

Reports have been released that approximately 90,000 people are homeless and sleeping on the streets on any given day in Los Angeles.

Skid Row, a section of about 10 blocks by 10 blocks near downtown LA, consitutes the most concentrated location of homelessness in America.

Those are just stats. But living here has been an eye-opener in itself. It is nearly impossible to go anywhere... whether I'm going to a movie, to the beach, or somewhere to eat (probably Taco Bell!) without seeing multiple people living on the street. Because there is so much need and poverty here, the ones caught in homelessness are forced to be more bold with their panhandling. Multiple times in the last week I have been sitting in a restaurant and a homeless man has walked straight to our table asking for change. Instead of giving out money, potentially contributing to alcohol or drug problems, I (or someone with me) bought them a meal and talked with them. It's amazing the stories I have heard while being on the streets here.

Those times I was at the different restaurants were not "ministry" times. I wasn't on an outreach. We weren't with short-term teams from churches. We were using our time off to enjoy fellowship and good food (Chipotle!). And yet still I met multiple homeless men and felt the need to care for and serve them.

To be completely honest, I feel a little overwhelmed. Jesus said that the poor will always be with us, but I've never experienced something like this. It is difficult to have a "day off" from the outreaches and Dream Center ministry and be faced with the same issues and the same things that break my heart during the rest of the week. Sometimes all I can do is stop and pray, because I feel powerless to do anything else. (And of course God is powerful in our weakness).

I really don't have a positive twist to this blog or some great nugget of wisdom to share. I guess I'm just learning what it is to be broken for others. Sometimes it feels like we're barely putting a dent in the problem of homelessness, and my heart continues to break. I think God is teaching me to rely on Him and take every problem I see and give it to Him. I can't hold on to these burdens myself... I'm nowhere near strong enough. God cares for these people even more than I do. I need to be reminding myself of that. His love is deeper and thicker than my love ever could be. HE is the one who sustains, provides, heals, and saves them, not me. It is my duty to be faithful and serve in whatever way I can. God will do the rest.

Please pray that I don't get discouraged or burnt out, but that my love for God is freshly anewed everyday. Pray that I am reminded of His incredible love for these people so that I am not overwhelmed with burdens that I can't carry.

Isaiah 1:17
"Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."

June 19, 2009

The Plentiful Harvest in the City

Being in Los Angeles has already taught me so much in just 3 weeks of ministry. I was encouraged (one might even say "threatened") by my good friend Jordan Bolte ( earlier today to share and blog some of my thoughts that I was talking to him about. I'm learning so much and God is speaking to me about my future that I will try to slowly talk about on here.

Los Angeles is a big city. I know this may be news to nobody, but it is huge. It takes a navigating genius to get around here. There are also millions of people that live here. With that amount of people there comes a huge opportunity for the Gospel. I am reading a book called Cities: Missions' New Frontier. The authors attest to this very idea; that is, some big cities have more people than the rest of the state it rests in and there is a huge need for the light of Jesus Christ. Naturally we'd expect that there'd be a good ratio of ministries/churches to the number of people, but this is not the case at all. There is a huge need for good Bible-centered, Jesus-centered churches in the city.

In Luke 10:2, Jesus says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." This one sentence could not better describe the situation here. There is a giant harvest field, but we simply do not have enough people to reach them all. Los Angeles defines so much of our culture through Hollywood. Can you imagine the potential to influence the nation for Jesus Christ in a city like this? We just need committed disciples of Christ who have a desire to reach the cities for God.

I had this same feeling when I was in Chicago during the school year working for Emmaus Ministries. There was so much need on the street, but there was hardly a Christlike influence. I'll never forget one of the questions the Emmaus staff asked us as we debriefed our experience: "While you were out on the streets, where was the church?" I have not been able to shake that question since I saw what I saw that night... hurting, broken people... some starving because they can't afford a single meal or because all of their money goes to their alcohol and drug addictions. It's the same here every single day I go out. We see new people every single outreach we do who have never heard the gospel or heard the news that Jesus loves them just as they are. It breaks my heart.

Yesterday I met a 17-year-old homeless girl who had nothing to her name and is sleeping on the streets at night. Oh, and did I mention that she's pregnant, 5 months along? She is about to have a baby and she doesn't even have a bed for herself. She looked exhausted, beaten down from the stress of the streets. My heart especially broke for her as I saw her walk across the street with the little energy she still has. How can this be happening?? Where is the church?

That's exactly why I love working here at the Dream Center. This is a church that's not waiting for people to come to us; we're going out to them and finding them. With the huge missions field of Los Angeles, we'll continue to minister to the homeless, the broken, those in need. But the workers are still few.

Jesus called us the "light of the world." We are inherently different from the darkness in the world. When a lightbulb is turned on in a room, the darkness is completely changed to light. Everything is affected. Usually one lightbulb can light an entire room. A second might help uncover some of the darkness. But at some point you stop putting light bulbs in the room because the light has reached every crevice and corner. Instead you'll put those lightbulbs in other dark rooms that need them.

I think in Christianity today we are surrounding ourselves too much with other lightbulbs - Christians, if you will. Please don't misunderstand me. We need each other. We are designed for fellowship and to be together with other Christians. I am not condoning lone-ranger-ministry. However, there is a point where we need to branch out and find where there is darkness, and plant our lighted-selves in that area to bring the light of Christ to that area. If we surround ourselves entirely with other light, how will we make a difference?

I love being in Los Angeles because of the potential for the greatness of God to be revealed. There is a lot of darkness here that needs the light of Jesus. There are other places like this all over the world. We need to be stepping out and going head on into the darkness with the full strength we have in Christ. I am excited about what God is teaching me in this area. I am excited to work in a city where the harvest is plentiful.

After Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few," he continued on to say, "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." What an encouragement; it is HIS harvest field! And we get the chance to be a part of it! But this is also my prayer. Please continue to pray for more workers and churches in this harvest field.

Living in faith...

June 15, 2009

Do You Love Me?

There is one lesson I've learned after being involved in ministry for the last several years. It's a lesson that transfers across every kind of ministry, whether you're involved with youth, kids, the homeless, or whoever. It's one that I try to remind myself every single day, especially while I'm here in L.A.

It is simply this: We cannot minister to people without falling in love with Jesus Christ first.

Sounds simple, right? But then why do we find ourselves going through the motions of daily ministry? Have you ever found yourself "doing" ministry because it's what is expected of you or out of obligation? I only ask these questions because I have had to grapple with them myself.

The other day I was driving somewhere in the city and my mind wandered to some scripture that I've actually preached on before. But for some reason the Holy Spirit illumined a part of it that I hadn't focused on before.

It's in John 21, one of my favorite passages in the Bible. At this point, Jesus has been resurrected and shown himself to the disciples. In this setting, Peter and some of the other disciples are out fishing. The sheer irony of the setting is enough to raise some eyebrows. Think about it... Peter and the other disciples have just spent 3 years with Jesus, seen the miracles he performed, heard his incredible teachings, watched him die on the cross, and met him after he raised from the dead. And what do they do? They go fishing. They go back to what was ordinary or safe in their lives. I realize that Jesus told them to wait for the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, before they went out, but at the same time it just seems like an interesting activity of choice by these disciples, especially Peter, upon whom Jesus said he would build his church. But that's another blog, another sermon, for another day. That isn't the part of the passage that stuck out to me.

It's when Jesus starts talking to Peter that I realize the importance of Jesus' implications. We pick up in verse 15:

"When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"
"Yes Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep.""

The key thing to notice here is the order of Jesus' words. He first asks Peter if he loves Jesus. Only after Peter says that he loves him does Jesus commission him to "feed my lambs," "take care of my sheep," and "feed my sheep." Jesus does not tell him to begin his ministry until he knows for sure that he loves him with everything. The action words of feeding and taking care are synonymous with doing ministry.

In other words we are not to even presume that we can take care of God's flock, or the church, before we fall completely in love with Jesus Christ. How can we do ministry in the name of the one we do not love with heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Every morning now I wake up and pray that I will fall freshly in love with Jesus Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit before I start any ministry. The second part of being filled with the Holy Spirit comes from Jesus telling the disciples the same thing; that is, they should not go out and minister until the Advocate, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit falls upon them. I've come to the realization that without these two things I can never be effective in ministry.

Again, I say these things because I am learning this in my own life. When the Holy Spirit opens my mind to something fresh in Scripture, I can't help but talk about it! Hopefully I will keep the aforementioned prayer alive in my walk and ministry everyday. I also hope that this encouraged you and that you fall in love with Jesus more every single day!

And, as promised, some verses that keep me going in ministry to the poor and broken:
1 John 3:17-18
"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."

June 10, 2009

Week 1 Reflections

The schedule of an inner city missionary has turned out to be very busy. My hands are full everyday, but it is in such a good way. The only problem is that I don't have as much time to blog as I was hoping. My goal is to blog at least twice a week, though, so I can keep my family and friends informed about what I'm experiencing and learning. I don't have a lot of time right now, but here are a couple thoughts.

First of all, I've never felt as spiritually strong as I do right now. The people here are on fire. I don't say that lightly either. I thought I had seen what it looked like to be consumed with a passion for the gospel, but I've only now been able to see the real thing. I've been convicted about where I fall short in my personal faith, and I'm so glad too. I wanted to grow this summer, and working with the people here is pushing me incredibly. Praise God. One of the other interns/staff members here will break into prayer at any given moment if he sees something that needs it or feels the Holy Spirit convicting him to pray. It took me off-guard at first, but I've grown to love the constant conversation he has with God during the day.

Secondly, my heart is breaking for the men and women on the street that I am meeting. Take Joe for example. Joe has been living on the streets by Santa Monica for about 3 weeks now after moving from Florida. Joe developed a form of cancer last year and had to go through a lot of treatment. The treatment and chemotherapy have dried up his bank account, and he has no family to turn to. There was a mess-up when his papers went in for social security money he could receive because of his situation and now he won't receive any money for weeks, maybe even months. He refuses to go downtown where drug and alcohol usage is rampant on Skid Row, so he's staying close to the beach where it's safer. He still has faith left over from his childhood when he went to church with his mom. He knows God is taking care of Him, but it's hard not knowing whether he'll live much longer with the cancer on the streets. After talking with him I could see how tightly he was gripping onto the hope that comes only through Jesus Christ, but I fear for how long he can pull on the hem of Jesus' garment before his strength gives way. I had such a good conversation with him, and I even got the chance to pray for healing in his body. With that said, it is so hard to walk away from someone like that without wanting to do everything possible to get him off the street and help him find a home. Even more than that, I want him to be in the fellowship of other believers who will encourage him and point him to Christ when it gets difficult. I haven't figured this all out completely, but I know this is just one way I have to trust in the power of Christ for his life. I am still praying for him, as well as all the other homeless men and women I've been meeting on the street.

On that note, prayer has been one of the greatest parts of this internship. We pray all the time, and I'm not talking about the kind where we go around the circle and pray for 5 minutes. I'm talking about the kind of prayer that storms the gates of Heaven looking for the presence of God! It's very Spirit-filled prayer. I'm learning so much about prayer still, and being around this ministry is teaching me even more. A big thing I wanted to do this summer is pray about the direction God wants me to go after I graduate college in May. There are so many options but I think He is slowly showing me more specific things.

Finally, I wanted to add something for any of my Christian Ed classmates that might be reading this and make fun of my loud voice. Last night we had a service for the homeless by the Santa Monica pier outside. We share a couple testimonies, someone preaches, and then we break out the food and eat and fellowship. Well, last night I was asked to preach. Normally we have a PA system with a mini-microphone to blast the sound, but it wasn't working when we got there.... which of course meant that I had to preach in an outdoor park to a group of about 100 total people with only my loud voice. I was definitely shouting the gospel out there, haha. I was laughing and wondering the whole time how my CE 2010 classmates would react to that scene. Turns out God gave me a loud voice intentionally so I'd be able to preach with no microphone outdoors.... haha. Some people mentioned to me afterward that they had trouble hearing the two people who shared their testimonies before me, but that they didn't struggle at all to hear my sermon. I know my classmates will get a good laugh out of that.

But anyway, I'd like to leave my blogs with verses that are pushing me to do this kind of ministry and what motivates me to continue.

James 2:14-17
"14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

June 3, 2009

First Impressions and a little C.S. Lewis

I don’t think it’s truly sunk in that I’m in Los Angeles right now. But I have been here for a full 24 hours, incident-free! I am really enjoying meeting so many new people (and trying to remember a thousand names). There is a genuine sincerity about the people here that you can feel. I love to hear about their love and passion for God. They are truly consumed with a fire for Him in every conversation. I think much of this is due to the fact that many of the people who volunteer here have been saved off the streets themselves and know what it’s like to be in desperation and without hope. Now that they have that hope that comes only through Jesus Christ, they won’t ever let it go and they want to talk about it all the time! It’s been a huge encouragement to me.

On another un-related note, I’m reading through several books right now, one of which is the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I wanted to re-read them now that I can catch the analogy and metaphor behind the story. There is an interesting correlation I noticed in Peter and Susan’s conversation with the professor at the mansion they’re staying at. They are asking the professor’s advice about how to deal with Lucy, their sister who keeps talking about a “magical” wardrobe she found that leads to another world of fauns and evil witches. Her brother Edmund keeps calling her a liar and makes fun of her even though he saw exactly what she saw.

The professor, Peter, and Susan determine that Lucy is not known for lying. The professor’s response: “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume she is telling the truth” (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 45).

When I read this, I thought, “Hmmm… this sounds so familiar…” In C.S. Lewis’ well-known book Mere Christianity, he proposes this same logic for determining the validity of Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah. This is commonly known as the lord, liar, or lunatic logic:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity, 52).

June 1, 2009

And So It Begins

It’s finally here. I am officially in Los Angeles, California, for my summer internship with Hope for Homeless Youth at the Dream Center. I had a road-trip experience that could have come straight out of a movie, but that'll have to come a different time.

I am really excited for this opportunity. It’s kind of surreal right now, but within a matter of hours I’ll be doing ministry on the streets in L.A. It was fun to connect with some people in Colorado in the past couple days with whom I went to L.A. in high school on a short-term missions trip to work with the Dream Center. I had a great team with that team, and now I’m off to do it by myself. Sure, it’s a little intimidating, but I want to be stretched this summer.

When I started to think about why I am going to Los Angeles (besides the academic requirements for Taylor), I simply want to love God and love people. It’s so easy to over-complicate things, but I am intentionally simplifying things this summer. I want to learn simplicity, and so all I want to do this summer is love God completely and love people genuinely.

I’d like to ask you to pray for the ministry this summer. Many people have expressed concern for my safety in Los Angeles. Prayers for safety are very appreciated, but to be completely honest, I have faith that God will protect me. I’d rather you pray that people’s hearts would be opened and that they would come to know the incredible love and salvation that only comes through Jesus Christ.

I have been re-reading the book of Acts this month and I have been inspired by his courage. At one point Paul is dragged out of Lystra, stoned and left for dead (Acts 14). And what does he do? He gets up and walks right back into the city. The first time I remember thinking, are you serious?! It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that one can go out and have this kind of drive and passion for ministry that puts one’s own life in danger for the sake of Jesus Christ. I want to have the kind of passion that Paul had! “For God did not give us a spirit of fear and timidity, but a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).

I really just want to serve this summer. I want God to break me of my pride and break my heart for these people. I have a lot of growing to do, so I’m looking forward to being a little uncomfortable to push me.

So, with this attitude and many prayers, I go to L.A. In the words of Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.”

May 26, 2009


Summer 2009 is finally here. I just finished my junior year of college, and I'm now trying to mentally prep myself for the fact that I'm now a senior in college. It's a little bizarre to me to think that a year from now I will be graduating and looking at the rest of my life from a very different perspective. As a result of this realization, I have been experiencing several moments of nostalgia.

For instance, a couple days ago I went to my old high school's graduation. Watching this year's seniors graduate was entertaining. The little antics they pulled and listening to the speeches that were fumbled through was a good reminder of the innocence and humanity behind this formal event. It also reminded me of how much I treasured my own graduation at the time and how big of an event I thought it was. Now, graduating is a big deal, but it was a bit comical for me to remember how much thought I put into it, and how much thought is put into it every year. It was a big moment for us, and looking at the big picture, graduating high school is a big and necessary step that leads to much bigger and better things.

Last night I also got the chance to play in the alumni vs. current-students soccer game with my old high school. It was such a fun game, and yes the alumni won (I had to include that...haha... although I also have to add that I was really impressed with the current team and I can't wait to see how they do in the fall). It was also fun to see all the old teammates and remember the fun times we had and the memories we made. "Kick it to the cotton-pickin' corners!"

Needless to say, I've been reflecting a lot about how I got to the place I am today. In a couple days I'll be driving out to California to spend my summer in Los Angeles ministering to the poor and homeless. When I think about how I got to make this decision, how I'm at this place in my faith where I want to spend my summer like that, or how gracious God truly is to allow me to participate in the work He's already doing, I tend to think back on the climatic events in my life and faith that have led me here.

What's the point? It's good to remember. In fact, reflecting on the past is so important to move rightly into the future. It's why we have history classes in our schools; that is, we remember our successes and failures so we can build and do things right from then on. From a biblical worldview, we also see how God intervened in those times and brought us through trials.

As I thought about this, I remembered a chapter in the book of Nehemiah. At this point, Nehemiah and the post-exilic Israeli community have rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem, accomplishing a tremendous feat for the Israelite nation. There are many great things that come from this, but one highlighted factor is God's hand in the completion of the wall and his faithfulness to Israel despite how they fell away from him and worshiped other gods.

Chapter 9 shows the Israelites worshiping God and praising him with a prayer of confession offered by the Levites. This is such a great example of prayer for us today! The Levites begin re-telling the history of Israel, starting with Abram and moving all the way to the present day. They praise God for the way he shows his compassion on Israel. They reflect on how gracious he has been towards them. They exhibit a little bit of nostalgia by remembering the great things that God has done. (Seriously, go read this chapter. It's incredible, and a great model for confessional prayer.)

Now get this... After praising God for speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, they say this, starting in verse 16:

"But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them... But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love" (Nehemiah 9:16-17a; my emphasis added).

What a revealing and potent statement... the Israelites failed to remember what God had done for them. Inevitably they ended up worshiping false gods and falling away from their true Creator. If you ever read the books of Judges and Kings you will see how often this happens. It blows my mind to think that they could ever forget what God did for them!! It's not everyday that you're brought out of slavery in Egypt and given the Promised Land!

But as I thought about Israel and their mistakes, I started to feel very convicted that I do the same exact thing. I fail to remember the miracles God has performed in my own life. I fail to remember the incredible moments and experiences of God's love that I've had in my life. I walk right back into sin, forgetting how God has already forgiven me for this before.

I realized at this moment that I need to create a habit of reflection. I need to intentionally remind myself of the work God has done in my life. It is so easy to forget if we don't! It is so easy to look at Israel's mistakes and wonder how they got so dumb without looking at our own lives for the same mistakes.

What I am calling for is a renewed spiritual discipline of reflection. Take time everyday to remember what God has done. If you've been prophetically spoken over, write down those words and look at them often. If you've experienced God's presence in an amazing way, bring yourself back into that glorious moment and feel Him once again. Don't let yourself forget!

April 21, 2009


Apparently it's not easy to blog while taking on a full load of college classes. Go figure.

I enjoy writing, and I love blogging. But for some reason I simply do not find the time to get on here and continue posting my thoughts, incomplete as they might be. This is but one reason why I am excited for this semester to end and for summer to come. The onslaught of free time will inevitably lead to more blogging and word-vomiting, leading you few readers to evaluate whether it's better for me to be consumed with classes or with free time. The jury's still out on this one...

One significant thing I have done this semester is a spring break missions trip to Dearborn, Michigan, where thousands of Arab Muslims have immigrated. It was a one-week intensive experience where our team learned about Islam and we had the opportunity to work hands-on with Muslims in the community. This trip taught me a lot and helped me come to a deeper appreciation of the cross and its unique part in the Christian faith. Excerpts from my conversations with the Muslims to come in future posts.

Another big topic I've been studying and thinking about this semester is the Holy Spirit and his daily role in the life of a believer. How does the Holy Spirit work and speak today? How does God still work miracles today? I recently finished a book entitled Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere for my Historic Christian Belief class. Deere is a former cessationist (one who believes the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased to exist after the death of the last apostle) who changed his view completely after a thorough study of Scripture and several key experiences. It encouraged me and challenged me in several ways, and I am planning on reading Deere's second book called Surprised by the Voice of God this summer.

I am also preparing for my summer in inner city Los Angeles working as an intern with the Dream Center and its Hope for Homeless Youth ministry. I will be helping with outreaches to the homeless in the city and across the wider region of L.A. I am excited and somewhat nervous, and I know that God is going to work a lot in my heart. Much of my blogging this summer will most likely come as a result of this ministry.

Anyway, this is my report from hibernation. I look forward to blogging more often as summer draws nearer. I leave you with a verse - really think about its implications. What is this verse suggesting and implying? More to come later...

John 14:12 - "Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."

February 16, 2009

Northern Ireland Re-Cap

"Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithful-
ness." -Psalm 115:1

Before I begin telling you a little about my experience on a missions trip in Northern Ireland, I'd like to apologize for not doing this sooner. It's difficult to fully process trips like these until weeks afterward. I never felt right about writing something out until now. Also, for those of you who were praying for us and/or supported us financially, I cannot thank you enough. You had as big of a part in this trip as any of us on the team did. This would not have been possible without you, and I mean that with everything in me. I thank God for family and friends like you.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, we were in Northern Ireland all of January working with a ministry called Project Evangelism. The people at the ministry were incredible servants of Christ. They brought so much joy and passion to their work, and it was very contagious. We stayed in a beautiful house called the Murlough House, out of which the ministry works and the short-term missions teams stay. It was about a 2-minute walk from the beach, so in those times we had for our personal devotions many would go down to the beach and experience God's beauty in nature.

A typical day for the team would look like this... In the morning we would each have specific jobs to do around the house to keep it clean and looking nice. We'd then have a teaching time with John Moxen, who preached the Word with a fire that I haven't seen in many people. After that we'd have time for personal devo's, lunch, and a team meeting. By the afternoon we were breaking into 3 teams (work project team, community team that handed out gifts like Operation Christmas Child, and a kids' club/VBS team). After our ministry times we would head back to the Murlough House for "tea" (dinner) and have about an hour before we all headed to the "drop-in center" to hang out with teens from Dundrum and present the Gospel in different ways every night. This was basically the same schedule from Monday-Friday every week.

I want to tell you a couple significant stories that happened to me. The first was at the kids' club. I had the responsibility of teaching everyday. The kids' club experience humbled me everyday and made me realize more and more why Jesus used a child to show the disciples how they must have faith to inherit the kingdom. I taught stories about creation, the Fall, Jesus’ ministry, and the crucifixion and resurrection. They received and listened to these stories as if they had never heard them before. (I’m constantly amazed at how much religion exists in this country, but not many of the people have experienced faith. It’s almost more academic or unemotional than anything else). I will never forget what happened that day. I was teaching the kids about Jesus’ life and ministry by using 2 stories, one about him healing a paralyzed man by the pool and the other about the religious leaders wanting to stone the adulterer. I really emphasized his love for us and how he wants a relationship with us, not a religion.

As I was finishing, Connor raised his hand and asked, “Why did Jesus have to come and die for all of us if it was just Adam and Eve who started the sinning?” Amazed, I took a step back, looked at the other leaders, and explained to him how we all sin now and we all need forgiveness after Adam and Eve started the trend of sinning. That led another kid to ask a great, deep question. And then another. And then another. Before I knew it the kids had been asking deep, incredible questions for a good 15 minutes after the teaching!!! We talked about how God created the Bible, how Jesus wants an intimate father/son or father/daughter relationship with us, how we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and much more.
At the end, Connor raised his hand again and asked, “How do we get the Bible?” Confused, I asked him if he was wondering how they created the Bible. He said, “No, how can I get one? How much does it cost?” Instantly all of the other kids raised their hands and said that they wanted a Bible too! I almost started tearing up as I looked at the other leaders in disbelief. This country is rampant with religion but the kids had no idea what the Bible really was, how to read it, or how to get one. I wasn't sure what to tell him about the practical steps of getting a Bible there, but I told him I would make sure they got Bibles. Later that night we got Bibles from Richie at Project Evangelism and personally wrote in the cover for each kid that wanted a Bible. We underlined and wrote out special verses and gave them encouragement about how to read the Bible. The day we brought the Bibles to them looked like Christmas morning. I have never seen such excitement to hold the Bible before. They all began reading them and asked others to read it to them if they couldn't read it themselves. Later that day I overheard two 8-year-old little girls trying to figure out how they could have a sleepover together that night so the girl who was able to read could read the Bible to the other one! I couldn't believe what I was hearing. God was moving among these little kids. It definitely wasn't something we did... the Holy Spirit was ready to come upon these hungry children who wanted the Gospel. "Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness..."

Later the next week one of the kids named Rhyss asked a great question about how we can actually get eternal life. We were very adamant about not asking for any group conversions (having the kids raise their hands with eyes closed if they wanted to accept Christ), so we told them that they could always talk to us after the teaching about what it means to have a personal relationship with Christ and how they can have that too. In no way do we define our trip based on numbers, so please do not confuse my motives in telling you that 5 kids individually came to leaders and received Christ into their lives during our weeks with them. It's just to show you the power of God in every situation. Rhyss was one of those that gave his life to Christ, as well as Connor. "Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness."

The last story I want to tell you happened with the teens at the drop in center. I had a great conversation with a great guy named Chris after I shared my testimony. We told the kids that we wanted them to write out any questions they had about Christianity so we could have a Q&A question the next night. Doug was walking around passing out slips of paper as I was standing next to Chris. When asked if he had questions, he said that he honestly didn’t have any questions. I told him that maybe he should be the one to answer everyone else’s questions then. He looked at me with a smile and said, “Go ahead, ask me any question.” So that’s exactly what I did. I asked him – how do you know if there’s a God? He thought about it for a second and said, “There wouldn’t be anything here or around us if there wasn’t a God.” I was pretty amazed at his answer and we talked about the idea of creation and how everything has a Creator. Then I asked him – how do you know that Jesus was the Son of God? He said he’d have to think about that for a second, but then he gave another great answer. We talked about the resurrection and how that is really the crucial point. If the resurrection never happened, Jesus couldn’t have been who he said he was. We talked about that for a while. Then I asked – why is there so much pain and suffering in the world if there is a God who can stop it? He gave yet another great answer that people make bad choices because of free will and inflict pain on others. I was so amazed at his perfect answers. He knew apologetics better than any other high school kid I’ve talked to. So then I looked at him and told him that he knew the stuff really well and he understood about faith better than most I’ve met. We talked about the reality of heaven and hell for a while, and I could tell how much he believed in all of it. I told him plainly, “Look, it’s obvious you know this faith stuff really well. You get it. You get it better than most kids your age. So have you made the personal decision to follow Christ and commit your life to Him?” He said that he had not made that decision, and I asked why not. He said he didn’t know, and that he just couldn’t do it yet. I was torn to pieces on the inside as I watched how close he was to making a personal faith decision. I asked him that if in the worst-case scenario he walked home that night and got hit by a car and died, how he would spend eternity. He didn’t know how to answer and I could tell he was really thinking. I found out later from Steve that his brother had been hit by a car earlier in the year and had been in-and-out of school, so this was apparently something that hit close to Chris’ heart.

I am confident that God is still working on his heart and I really want to keep him in my prayers. He's right there, at the line, ready to step across, but something is holding him back. At times I wish I could just give him a gentle nudge towards making the decision, but God reminded me a lot that I needed to be patient and allow God to do what He does best. I'm not the one bringing him salvation; it's Christ alone that can do that. I'm just an agent that God sent to continue a conversation with Chris that will keep going whether I see him ever again or not. I trust God fully in his situation, and I will keep praying for Chris to make that final decision. "Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness."

There are so many more stories I could tell. But these were the ones that really stuck out to me. If you want to know more please don't hesitate to e-mail me or ask me about it. Thank you all again for your support and care. And to my team, if you're reading this, I love you guys.

January 10, 2009

Northern Ireland

Hello to everyone!

As most of you probably know, I am in Northern Ireland right now. I am with a program called Lighthouse from Taylor that sends out multiple teams across the globe on short-term missions projects. We left on January 7 and will be back on January 28th.
Our team is working with a ministry called Project Evangelism headed by John Moxen. We are staying at the Murlough House in Dundrum, right outside of Belfast. We will be working with kids ranging from kindergarten to end of high school. Our programs consist of school assemblies, after-school VBS, and coffee bar outreach for teens during the nights. We also help the ministry at Murlough House, out of which Project Evangelism operates.
Our first couple days have been going great. Many of us (myself very much included) are still adjusting to the jet lag and trying to get on good sleeping patterns. We've had a lot of time to practice our dramas and prepare for our VBS program that starts on Monday. Tomorrow morning we'll be attending a local Presbyterian church in Belfast, and in the night we'll be working with a youth-group-type program.
Please continue to lift our team up in prayer as we go about our missions work. Also please pray for the missionaries we are working with and the kids that we will talk to and give the Gospel to. Pray that their hard hearts will be softened and receptive to the message. Pray that we would all be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in everything we do as we are here.
Thanks to everyone who has supported us both financially and through your prayers! Until next time...

January 4, 2009

Boiling Point

Welcome to 2009! Another chance to make (and break) new years' resolutions with hopes of going through with them next year! Bring on 2010!

Sorry, I'm being cynical already. I guess I'm just speaking from personal experience, and I tend to be very critical of myself.

In all honesty, though, I am very optimistic at this point. I'm really excited for what this year is going to bring... the end of my junior year of college, 2 missions trips to Northern Ireland and Dearborn, Michigan, a summer of inner city ministry in Los Angeles, my sister's wedding ceremony (which I get to perform... she's crazy, right?), the building of friendships, the continuing of youth ministry at Oneighty, and much, much more. God is opening up doors all over the place. He is always blessing me in so many areas of my life. He is like the dad that can't (or won't) stop buying his kids toys at the Toys 'R Us because his love for them is overwhelming.

And, yet... how much time do I truly and genuinely give back to Him? More specifically, how much time do I dedicate to prayer and solitude every week to bask in the presence of the Most High?

While preparing for my missions trip to Northern Ireland with a group from Taylor this month, I have been spending a considerable amount of time in prayer. I've been spending more time in prayer and solitude in the past couple weeks than I ever do when I'm not about to go on a missions trip. And I've never felt so encouraged and empowered by the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. I feel like I'm on a constant spiritual high.

Now, I am not saying this at all to point all the attention on my spiritual life to show how good I am. Because in reality I am nowhere near the point where I should be. In fact, I am saying this because I've now realized how much prayer is absent in my life on a daily basis. While I have an amazing opportunity daily to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit and feel a transcendent power that only comes from God, I still do not take it. It's a free gift that I hardly take advantage of. I mean, sure, I pray a little here and there everyday, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the fall-on-your-face-in-awe-of-God type of praying that leaves you breathless. I'm talking about the boiling point of prayer.

I'm working my way through a book called Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. While reading today, I came across this "boiling point" terminology and it hit me like a ton of bricks. All of a sudden I could vocalize and put-into-words what I've been feeling and what I long for when I'm not in that place. Sanders uses boiling point to describe Romans 12:11, which says: "Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord." The spiritual fervor that Paul talks about here is the boiling point of our faith. But just as any material or liquid is difficult to keep at boiling point, so it is with our faith.

Sanders says: "Most leaders know times of great spiritual excitement, of the burning heart, of special nearness to God and more than ordinary fruitfulness in service - but the problem is staying there! Verse 11 holds out the alluring possibility of living "aglow with the Spirit." We need not go off boil if the Spirit is the central furnace of our lives" (111). How true of a statement! I bet we can all point to times in our lives when we felt a spiritual fervor never before experienced. And yet, what happened to that feeling? How has it disappeared? We have let our spiritual temperature, so to speak, drop below the boiling point. Of course we do not do this intentionally, but our inaction has inevitably become our action that produces a spiritual cold.

Because we do not intentionally take steps to invite the Holy Spirit into our lives through passionate prayer, we allow our spiritual fervor to dissipate into a luke-warm, and sometimes frigid, farce of a communion with God.

We need to be seeking the Father in diligent prayer and humble petition for the Holy Spirit to overwhelm our lives. Luke 11:13 says, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" When we do this I sincerely believe we will experience the boiling point, the spiritual fervor, that Paul talked about in the Romans verse. And what a great experience that is!

I marvel at how much extra time I have everyday of my life, despite how much I might complain that I need more time. My desire for this year, my "new years resolution", is that I intentionally use a larger chunk of my day to find solitude and pray. This is not a legalistic, fundamentalistic obligation I feel. It is for the reward of the inexpressible joy and purpose I feel when I am at the boiling point of my faith. Think about how often Jesus left everything he was doing to find solitude and pray... It is truly incredible how easily we miss his teaching-by-modeling here. Jesus, who was and is God, probably did not need to do this. I mean, he's God, right? But he desired to be with His Father in holy conversation. And I don't think these were by any means cookie-cutter prayers either... These were prayers of sweat, blood, and tears that comforted, consoled, and empowered Jesus for his earthly ministry. These were prayers at the boiling point.

I truly hope that I can be in a constant state of daily passionate prayer. I have found that I need to set apart an extended amount of time (at least 1 hour), find a place of solitude, plug in some worship music, and just meet with God. Lately I have made sure to bring paper and pen with me as well because it is in these times that God reveals great truth about my life to me. I cherish these moments of boiling point spiritual fervor more than anything.

If you have felt the spiritual boiling point in your life, I pray that you will do everything in order to experience the Holy Spirit's furnace again, and that it becomes a constant in your life. If you feel that you have not experienced the boiling point in your spiritual journey, I urge you to pray and ask that God would overwhelm you with the Holy Spirit, keeping Luke 11:13 at the forefront of your mind. The experience of the Holy Spirit in your life is one that goes unmatched.

God is great. Here's to New Year's resolutions!

(I figured that I would continue to include the books at the end of my blogs that I reference to encourage reading the primary material yourself.)