our.voice

He is God, and God has always been.
He is God, and His voice created life.
He is God, and He made us like Him.

With our voice, we can destroy… or we can create.
With our voice, we can trod… or we can encourage.
With our voice, we can envy… or we can rejoice.

He is God, and as we disappoint, He still loves.
He is God, and He wants to walk this journey with us.
He is God, and to walk with Him, we just say, “Yes.”

With our voice, we can ignore Him, or we can talk with Him.
With our voice, we can shun Him, or we can embrace Him.
With our voice, we can hide Him, or we can shout about Him.

(Genesis 1:27)

chronic.sufferer

This was written  as a guest post for [un]common, originally published at http://jonathanpearson.net/2010/09/the-chronic-sufferer/

We all prayed for Gary – a lot. Whenever a call for prayer requests was voiced, Gary was the first to respond with an issue that needed our prayers. Conversations with Gary quickly turned towards his problems, and he always had a problem. Gary was an addict, addicted to attention. People began to resent Gary. They would roll their eyes when he spoke. They tried to ignore him when he tried to enter into conversations. They began to avoid him.

As one called to shepherd, it breaks my heart to see a “Gary” because I know that there is nothing we can really do for him, because he suffers by choice. I’m not saying that he self-inflicts, but he doesn’t really want to be delivered. How do I know this? Because he has been shown the way out of many situations but chooses not to take the “out.” He chooses to suffer because that is what gets him what he really wants – attention, and lots of it. When given a chance he latches onto people like a sand-spur to shoe laces. And it hurts when trying to pluck him out.

What do we do with Gary? We are called to love Gary, but not to enable his dependency addiction. We are called to fellowship with him, but not to allow him to hinder community.

12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart… 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:12,16)

Somewhere along the way, Gary lost sight of the power of God’s grace. He has forgotten that deliverance and peace come from the “throne of Grace” – not us. We need to help Gary see that instead of craving our prayers, he should crave the presence of God himself, directly and boldly approaching the Prince of Peace. Maybe then he (and we) can finally find peace.

While no one is irredeemable, the unfortunate reality is that someone cannot be rescued if they don’t want to be. It is ultimately up to Gary to choose a victorious life instead of suffering. That does not mean that we cast Gary off, but it may mean that our only actionable recourse is to pray for him – to sincerely pray for him – to pray that he finds the “throne of Grace.”

chronic.sufferer

Yay! My very first guest-posting opportunity 😀

Jonathan Pearson, of [un]common asked me to guest post on his blog, based on a comment I made.

I’m pretty stoked about being given this opportunity by someone I respect a lot.

Yay! Here’s a snippett, go read the rest using this link.

We all prayed for Gary – a lot. Whenever a call for prayer requests was voiced, Gary was the first to respond with an issue that needed our prayers. Conversations with Gary quickly turned towards his problems, and he always had a problem. Gary was an addict, addicted to attention. People began to resent Gary. They would roll their eyes when he spoke. They tried to ignore him when he tried to enter into conversations. They began to avoid him.

As one called to shepherd, it breaks my heart to see a “Gary” because… [ read more ]

😀

i.broke.it

I bought a laptop table that is meant to be pulled up to you while you sit in a chair. I’ve been tinkering with it ever since I got it, because I’ve never been satisfied with it. It does not work the way I want it to work. So, I decided ti try to fix it.

I rounded up some tools and began to take it apart so that I could rebuild it the way I wanted it. Unfortunately, I broke it.

So now, instead of being marginally useful, it’s now absolutely useless and I am furious with myself.

11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
(Numbers 20:11-12)

This wasn’t the first time Moses got water from a rock. In Exodus 17:6, during their wilderness wandering, God instructed Moses to strike a rock to get water. But this time, as they are campaigning to take the promised land, God tells Moses to speak to the rock instead.

I’m not sure why God wanted Moses to speak to the rock this time. Maybe God wanted the people to see that God’s power alone was responsible. Moses thought he knew better and paid a price. Interestingly, God still made water flow from the rock – He still met the people’s needs.

Just like I tried to “fix” that table, I’ve tried to second-guess God’s handiwork. I’ve tried to “fix” circumstances and timetables to help make situations “better.” Time and time again, I’ve done this. Sometimes things worked out “OK” but other times I really messed things up. The thing is, God knows what He’s doing. He doesn’t need my “fixes.” What He wants is for me to trust Him, do what He says, and allow His Glory to flow. It will always turn out better – I will be happier with the result, and He will shine.

Hmm… maybe that’s the problem: maybe I want to be the one who shines. Much to learn, I have… much to learn…

private.joy

Should I ask them?
~~~No, ask Me…

But how will they know my heart’s desire?
~~~I will tell them…

What if they don’t listen?
~~~That is a possibility…

But I really want this!
~~~Then wait on My workings…

What will I do while I wait?
~~~Continue to ask Me…

But my hands ache to manipulate!
~~~My hands are already creating…

But my heart screams to be heard!
~~~My heart whispers to be trusted…

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  (Matthew 6:6)

I chose to take a risk on the challenge of this verse, and submitted a private petition to God. All that was in me wanted to make the desire known, and help spur the petition along. God patiently ministered to my heart to trust Him. It was hard, but I did, and He came though.

Trust me, you can trust Him.

ships.in.bottles

Model by: Philip T. Mattson

One childhood passion that I’ve not exercised in a very long time is model building. As a child I used to save my loose change to buy a plastic model car or plane. When I became a foster child, I discovered that my foster dad built models too. The entire time I lived there, he worked on a really intricate project: a three foot long sailing ship, with real wood, real fabric sails, and even real rigging made from tiny ropes.

It was then when I became fascinated with ships in bottles. They were very similar to the giant ship he was building, but on a much smaller scale. And, they were built with tweezers, one piece at a time, through the small opening of the bottle. It required incredible skill, that I hoped I might one day posses.

There was a booth at the local flee market where an old man built these things, and I could stand there for hours just watching him, escaping into that little world, inside the bottle – imagining I was the captain of that vessel, overseeing its provisioning for some epic journey. The problem with living in a bottle is that the “epic journey” is only as far as the inside walls of the bottle.

You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the LORD -even beyond the borders of Israel!’
(Malachi 1:5)

I’ve always been intrigued by the placement of that line of scripture in that particular place in the prophecy. It’s at the beginning, the introduction so-to-speak. Malachi, the messenger, is about to tear into the Israelites over their dispassionate and rote ritual practices. Here in the beginning he mentions Edom and how God’s judgment reaches even them.

Sometimes we live our faith as if in a bottle – content to seclude ourselves in a comfortable prison. The truth is that God is at work far beyond our borders, far beyond the bottle’s walls. He is doing crazy amazing things, drawing people back to Him, wooing the masses. He does these crazy amazing things through normal, everyday human beings, like me and like you.

I for one am not content looking only to my circumstances – my faith. I am moved to bursting with a desire to be a part of God’s fame, beyond the borders of me.

What about you?

in.plain.sight

photo credit: Robby Appleton

Have you ever seen a miracle or have second-hand knowledge of a miracle involving someone you know?

I’ve prayed with and for people who claimed a dire medical prognosis only to be given a completely clean bill of health – sometimes before any medical procedure was performed. I’ve had the privilege of being a prayer partner in similar situations involving jobs, relationships, and even finances.

I’ve also seen some spectacular things, first-hand that I am sure are miracles, but I’m reluctant to proclaim them, because, frankly, I’m afraid of what people will think. But, I have also experienced other less-spectacular moments that I don’t mind sharing. I’ve literally had a knock on the door, or received an email, or received a phone call, or found an envelope in the mailbox, moments after praying for God’s intervention, which seemed like blatantly obvious “show off” moments for God.

These things add so much to my faith – faith in a God who is alive and still creative, still involved in His creation. I think these things contribute to my relatively optimistic outlook on things. I rarely worry, and I rarely get stressed emotionally.

One side-effect of being a witness to God’s power and intercession is that I am often perplexed by the hopelessness I see around me. I sometimes cry towards Heaven, and ask God why He just doesn’t make himself visible to those without hope. If only they could see what I’ve seen.

But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.
(Acts 4:14)

This had to be nerve-racking and quite frustrating for those who sought to discredit what Jesus had accomplished and was still accomplishing in people’s lives. With the visible fruit of Jesus’ healing power standing right in front of them, what could they say? What could they possibly do to hide this or explain it away? They could try (again) to defame the people involved, but they knew that would not last.

Sometimes my heart cries out for such a visible miracle to be witnessed by a mass of people. I want to see that power displayed before people of our modern age. But then, reality sets in: with illusionists like David Blaine able to make the impossible appear before people’s eyes, and with the incredible advances in visual effects technology, nothing God does will quell the doubt in those who don’t want to believe. After all, those detractors in Acts were not convinced. But still, I’m sure there were some, who were ready to believe, who were pushed along towards being convinced.

Perhaps miracles are really for the believer first – so their faith, already rooted and established in Christ’s love, would bloom and flourish. Through the resulting invigoration, we can pursue His work to the ends of the earth. Strangely, once I decided to follow Him, when looking back, I began to see the miracles He had already accomplished in my life.

Just thinking.

gracious.words

I’d had a tough day at work: someone decided to use me as a verbal punching bag. I was feeling under-appreciated, violated, and insulted. The short drive home seemed hours long as those stinging words swirled around in my mind.

I did not say a word as I entered the house, but my face said enough. My bride asked me how my day was. Grunting in response, I began my after-work routine: emptied my pockets, changed into more comfortable clothing. I then plopped down onto the couch with a heavy sigh.

Angel got up from her stack of papers waiting to be graded. She walked over to me, sat down next to me. Cradling my head against her shoulder, she told me how much she appreciated all my hard work and sacrifice.

As her words filled my head, they were like a sweet aroma, overpowering a foul stench. I instantly felt renewed and revitalized. She then walked back to the kitchen table where her schoolwork was waiting.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. (Proverbs 16:24)

I’ve had other moments like that, rescued by the gracious words of friends and loved ones. It truly is amazing how much restoration can be sown by a few simple, gracious words.

As I reminisce a bit, I am forced to wonder if anyone has similar memories of me, where I was the one offering gracious words. Do I offer grace and restoration as I interact with others? I hope so. If not, I pray that I begin to.

I’ll start with all of you who visit this blog: you are generous and kind to me, encouraging and uplifting. Thank you for being awesome just by sharing yourself with me.

mark.my.words

custom word cloud by wordle.net

When Angel and I began the work of preparing to plant Thrive Church, we decided to make ourselves available to anyone who wanted to sit with us, one-on-one, to talk about Thrive, their experiences and expectations, and to answer any questions that might come up. Sometimes we talked over coffee at a local coffee shop, and sometimes we talked over the phone. It was a rewarding exercise as we began to “meet” the community.

There were some crazy unexpected moments too, but not in the enjoyable sense. We were shocked at some of the things we were hearing. People hurt by church people. We met jilted wives shunned from fellowship, even though the husband was the one who cheated. We met teenage girls, seeking acceptance, who were instead thrown out of church because of their clothing. We met young men and women, who Jesus had rescued from terrible pasts, only to be cast off by their faith community when that forgiven past came to light.

These stories were simultaneously sad and sickening. At times, I became angry. But, at no time was I more angry than when the person who sowed judgment and persecution into a person’s life was a pastor or other church leader.

The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth should not betray justice. (Proverbs 16:10)

All leaders, whether they deserve it or not, have what is called “positional authority” – authority that is granted only because of one’s position. As people experience a leader’s leadership, that leader may earn additional types of authority. But, even those who haven’t earned additional authority, enjoy that “positional authority” automatically. They may lose it when people find out more about them, but before that point, they have it. And even that small amount of authority can be thoroughly destructive and abused.

Fellow pastors and leaders , when we say something, it is given weight. The things we say matter more than we may want to admit. Our words come as a two-edged sword. Not only can our words show the light of Jesus, but they can also be instruments of the enemy. Not only can our words spur people towards holiness, but they can also carry people to harm (e.g. Jim Jones, David Koresh, Heaven’s Gate, etc.).

Our words have the power to heal or to destroy. Which power does my mouth wield? Which power does your mouth wield?

whose.kingdom

Sunday night my bride and I hosted a small group book study for the book Economy of Love, published by The House Studio. It was our first meeting and the discussion was lively, but a bit off-topic at times. The study is a challenge to look at our resources in terms of the Kingdom goals. How can our resources be used to further the Kingdom of God?

The initial wave of thoughts when I hear the words “further the Kingdom” are of building funds and faith promise giving. But, in the accompanying DVD video clips, we were presented with images of people living on the streets. Shayne Claiborne, presents a compelling argument:

And the incredible thing I think a lot of us have felt is, as we throw those questions up at God and we say, “God, why don’t you do something about the masses of our population that are living in poverty?” we felt God say, “I did do something. I made you.”

My friend, Jason, wrote a guest post on this site, called debt.to.love, where he asks,

What if I saw loving and serving those around me truly as my debt? What if this controlled what I could and could not do? Maybe I wouldn’t think I can say whatever I want when I want. Maybe I wouldn’t pass by the person in need, pretending I didn’t see them.

While I am not sure Jason was writing on the same issues that Shane Claiborne raises, the question is provocative, nonetheless.

Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice. (Proverbs 16:8)

It would be amazing to surprise my bride with that amazing stainless steel refrigerator with the bottom freezer. It would be nice to complete the home theater that I’ve been piecing together for the past 10 years. It would be amazing to take my children on that European vacation that we’ve dreamed of. It would be nice to finally build that dream house.

What would be even more amazing is if one person living in the streets could sleep one night without a growling stomach because of a few dollars from my wallet, or a few minutes of my time.

I’m not saying it is bad to enjoy the blessings that God bestows on us. But I am starting to get a glimpse of a whole new perspective on these blessings, and it is extremely uncomfortable. I am forced to ask myself: “What am I doing with these blessings? Building my kingdom, or His Kingdom?”