Monday, May 30, 2011

Stirring the Waters: God's Guidance

I just wanted to post today to simply say that God is good.

Over the weekend, I participated in an awesome event called Encounter. Encounter is an all night worship service, led by youth for youth, and by believers for believers. I'd been praying for God to do something in my life, to let my use the spiritual gifts that He gave me. That night, at Encounter, I was presented with an awesome opportunity. The details are anything but worked out, but basically, God's opened the door for me to start using my gifts. And the coolest thing happened the next morning at church: another opportunity of the same sort presented itself! So three days ago, I was stressed and worried that I wasn't doing what God wanted. But now there are two opportunities for me!

When I was scared and my future uncertain, I resorted to praying to God and asking for His guidance. Philippians 4:6-7 became my prayer: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." This verse so perfectly describes my past week. I was so nervous, so anxious, so stressed. But in the midst of that, I told God what I wanted and surrendered my petitions and requests to Him. And suddenly, something happened: two words really stuck out to me: peace and guard. I needed God's peace. And finding His peace became my priority. Why? Because it's better to have His peace than to have all the answers or to know what will happen. Trusting God and relying on Him are so much more fulfilling and securing than if I tried to know all the answers.

Now I'm still a little worried and unsure because those two opportunities still have to be okay-ed by some adults. But I believe in a big God, and if He can bring eight teenagers together to believe in the same thing and to want the same plan to happen, His plan won't stop there. This has to God. This is God, and if He wants something to happen, if He wants to use me and my friends, nothing will stand in His way. So I take comfort and solace in His timing, in His planning, in His wisdom, in His love.

Keep me in your prayers. I feel God's spirit at work, stirring the waters for something big, and I can't wait to see what it is. The King is at work. My King loves me. The King of Kings is using me to further His kingdom and to glorify His name.

God is good.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Christians My Own Age

I've been wrestling with what I should do about my non-Christian friends. I've been friends with some of them for years, talked to them about God, read the Bible with them, but they just don't seem interested of affected. It's been wearing on me and I don't know what to do anymore. Do I continue to try to reach them, or do I let them make their own deicions and live how they want to?

I'm at a point in my life where I want to be around Christians my own age. In my church, there's only one other guy my age, and no girls. At school, I'm only friends with one other guy in my grade, and I don't have my girl friends my age either. A lot of my friends are a little younger than me. That's nice and all, but I need Christians my own age.

In my morning devotional, I read part of 1 John. One verse lept off the page: 1 John 2:4 says, "The man who says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in Him." I'm thinking maybe that's why I want more close Christian friends: because I'm don't like hanging out with liars! I'm not saying most of my friends say they're Christians but aren't; rather, I'm saying I don't have enough mature Christian friends my own age.

Everyone can agree that we get most excited about something when all of our friends are excited about it. I need more friends that are excited about God! Why? Check out the following verse, 1 John 2:5: "But if anyone obeys His word, God's love is truly made complete in Him..." I want friends in whom God's love is made complete! I want more friends who are excited, passionate, in love with Christ. I thank God for the friends that I already have, but there's a saying: Familiarity breeds contempt. I can't keep hanging out with the same people, over and over again, without some sort of change. I love meeting new people and making new friends, and even more so when I'm befriending strong and mature Christians!

New friends are so much fun. There's nothing like getting to know someone. I pray that God will continue to bless me with Godly friends and to add more soldiers to His Army to fight alongside me. Amen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Is My Dream?

Once we become God's children, He blesses us with holy ambitions spiritual gifts. He gives us a dream or a passion and then gives us what we need to fulfill it. Do you see this in your life?

I've begun to recognize my gifts. I'm a good writer, I love to speak in front of crowds, I've got a hunger for God's word, I have a huge thirst for worship, and I love being around other Christians. My problem is that I don't really know what God's dream for my life is. A person with my gifts could just as easily become a preacher as he could become an inspirational speaker or a be a teacher at a college or work at a Christian radio station... or something else. To be honest, I don't know what God wants me to do yet. I've felt a call to be a pastor. But I'm not sure on that yet. I've got a really strong passion and would love to work with Christian radio. Whatever career God calls me to, writing has to be a part of it; it's too much a part of my identity for me to let it go. And I love to speak. I feel so comfortable, so at home, up on stage. I see all my gifts, but I don't know my dream.

Maybe you're struggling with the same thing. Maybe you have all kinds of gifts and passions, but you don't have a dream to pour it into. Right now, I'm pouring it all into my relationship with God. I write, I listen to music, I speak, only to glorify His name. I do none of it to bring attention to myself. Maybe that's why I'm so excited to see what God has in store for me. I want to be unleashed to serve God in every way possible. Nothing feels better than when you know you're doing exactly what God wants you to do! There's peace, excitement, joy, and satisfaction; all wrapped into one! I don't say this pridefully or selfishly, but I'm so excited to see what God will do through me. I feel God preparing me for something huge, and I can't wait to see what it is. I'll accept whatever God calls me to, whether it's missionary work in tiny villages in Mexico, or starting a spirit movement in Nashville, or whatever it is!

However, the teen years as years to build, prepare, and be ready for the rest of my life. No matter what God wants me to do, I need to prepare for it right now. I believe that I am. Can you say the same?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

I love a good irony, especially when the irony is about me. In my last post, Storms In Life, I wrote about friends of mine who were about to go through hard times. The irony is that I wrote that post a few days before a huge storm hit me: my youth pastor is leaving. He's been called by God to plant a new church. He won't be far, since it's in the same city, but he's going to leave. I fully support him and what God's calling him to do, but I mourn that he's not going to be my youth pastor anymore. This is really hard for me, not because I'm mad or bitter, but because I'm so close to him. It's hard to think that I won't see him every Wendesday and Sunday. It's saddens me that though he'll still be around town and I'll see him occasionally and still talk to him some, he won't be such a big leader in my life anymore.

I've never had a church leader leave. This will be something I've never had to battle before, so I'm nervous and inexperienced. I keep asking, What now? What next? Who's the new guy gonna be? One thing that I never considered about my future is that my youth pastor wouldn't be at my church. I feel a little lost and don't know in which direction to go now.

But I believe God works for the good of all who love Him (Romans 8:28), so I believe it's to our benefit, then, that he leaves. I don't know how and it sounds rude, but Scripture says it, so I believe it. And I'm already dreaming of what I can do in the youth group in the transition period between youth pastors. Like every youth group, there are some at my church who aren't Christians. What if their peers and fellow students started to talk about how great God is, about how much fun and fulfilling it is to be His, about how living a Rebelutionary and radical life is the best life to live? Maybe they'll take it differently. We all know that it's easier to get excited about something when your friends love it. I'm dreaming of a youth-led youth group, if only temporarily.

I'm really encouraged because a lot of adults and friends are telling me I should step up and be a leader in the youth group, now that the youth pastor is leaving. At first, that scared me, because I thought youth groups were never led by the youth. But what would help everyone better if we led and helped each other? Wouldn't that create the best relationships? Wouldn't it open the doors for accountability, friendship, and love?
A few months ago, my youth pastor tried to implement "ministry teams". The ministry teams were basically youth assigned to do certain roles, like run the youth cafe, or lead worship, or keep the room clean, or update the announcement board. It was a way for my youth pastor to really only worry about speaking, teaching, and planning events. The ministry teams weren't as successful as planned, But I think they might be the groundwork for something revolutionary. What if we used the idea of ministry teams to lead the youth ministry during the search for the new youth pastor? Wouldn't the ministry teams be the best way for us to serve, to grow, to help each other, to work as a team? At Chick-fil-A, we have a saying: "Teamwork makes the dream work."

While we are going through a storm, I feel opportunity and potential energizing the air. I'm gettting really excited about the idea of using the ministry teams. Philippians 4:6-7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

Keep us, Madison First Baptist, in your prayers. We're going through a hard time, but pray for us to figure out how to not only survive but thrive without a youth pastor.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Storms In Life

You know the feeling when the breeze picks up slightly and the air chills and the dark clouds get darker still? Usually, this happens just before a storm. I love storms. I enjoy the adrenaline that comes with watching lightning explode across the night sky or feeling thunder shake the earth. For the most part, storms aren't bad; they are actually good. After a good storm, the grass gets thicker and greener, the streams are full, and the earth feels pure. But sometimes, storms can be very, very bad.

The day of the NCAA Men's National Championship game, a really bad storm ravaged the southeast. Houses, buildings, streets, and schools were completely demolished. By now, you've probably seen a few pictures showing the terrible damage done. My city, which has around fifty thousand occupants, lost power for about fifteen hours. As my family drove around trying to find an open restaurant (in order to keep the fridge door closed and food preserved), we came a part of town that is usually very busy with shoppers going to Walmart, Home Depot, Fugi's, Cheddar's, O'Charley's, Stake 'N Shake, Chop House, Cracker Barrel, Demos', Lifechurch, Lowe's, and dozens of other small business. You know what we saw? Nothing. It was complete blackness. We had just come from a strip mall that was powered and lit up, but after cresting a hill, we saw nothing. It was surreal, and though I was excited to be a part of something that felt like Modern Warfare 2, I admit, I was a little frightened. This storm had meant business.

And sometimes, we experience storms like this one in our lives. I've gone through a few big storms, and though I hated them when they happened, I was always better because of them. They hurt; they made me bleed; I even have emotional scars from them. But I'm a wiser, smarter, stronger, better young man because of them.

Unforunately, I think I can feel a big storm brewing again. Not for me, but for some loved ones. I cannot share details to protect my friends' trust in me. But a friend's adult daughter has apparently become an apostate. A friend's relative just found out she has cancer, and it's going to be tough to kill. A young couple's unborn baby, their second child, has major heart issues, and life itself would be a miracle at this point. Three families that I love dearly are going through or are on the brink of nasty storms. And as much as I don't want them to experience pain, I know it will play out for God's glory. I just hate feeling helpless as I watch my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, go through hard times. My parents had two miscarriages before me, so I know from them the pain of losing a loved one.

Ephesians 3:6-7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Though I've never lost someone I loved dearly, I fear my friends are about to go through that very storm. Please keep my friends in your prayers this summer. Pray for each of the three families, and pray for strength, love, understanding, and peace. Pray and petition God on behalf of my friends. Pray that His peace will guard their hearts and minds from questioning His authority or wanting something or someone more than God or from a temptation to leave Him. Simply pray.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Love Others as He Loves Us

In my previous post, My Bubble Wrap Barrier, I talked about my trouble with maintaining friendships with girls. It seems they start quick, last a while, and then sputter out. I’d like to know how to have a deep meaningful friendship with a girl. My problem is that if I text a girl often, I become self-conscience about it. But I choose texting her instead of talking to her in person because if I talk to her too much in person, I become self-conscience about that too. As my friend commented after reading my last post, “I need to have a happy medium, but I haven’t found it yet.”

My focus for this post was originally going to be about texting too much. But I soon realized that isn’t the issue here. The issue is how to talk to friends of the other gender without becoming self-conscience about it. The problem, then, is really about friendship. 
All throughout the New Testament, there are two common themes: loving God and loving others. I've focused on loving God a lot in the past year and a half. But I haven't really given my brothers and sisters in Christ a whole lot of love. I've adopted the attitude of Pharisees: "Lord, bless me, for I am not like those sinners." Instead of trying to spread God's love and instead of being unashamed, I ignore my Godless peers. I don't want to sit with them or talk to them. I spend so much time with other Christians that I'm not sowing seeds among those who really need it. Jesus came for the sick and lame, not the healthy, but it seems that the healthy people are all I care about. When was the last time I  helped a helpless friend? When was the last time I told a lost friend about how much Jesus meant to me? When was the last time I spent time with the lowlifes, the rebels, the sinners, just because I loved them? 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because He first loved us." A few verses previous, John wrote, "Dear friends, let us love another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love... This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another... if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us."

Jesus said simply, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." It's amazing how eleven simple words can so greatly change everything. We have to love each other just like God loves us. Wow. Is it just me or is Christ's definition of friendship quite different than how we live out our friendships? I certainly don't love my friends in the way God wants me too. But I'm trying to.

My problem is I want to pick and choose who to love. I don't want to love those really weird people; who does? I also find it hard to love homeless people, not because I have a grudge against them or think lowly of them, but because I have no idea how to relate to them. And I have the same problem with ghetto people, particularly some black kids who sometimes come to church. Their lives are nothing like mine and they speak (literally) almost a different language. I also have trouble loving those who have betrayed me. Or those who hate me. But then again, who doesn't struggle with that? Jesus didn't say, "Love who you want to" or "Only love those who can love you back." He said, "Love others..." By not explaining further, He was including ALL people. We can't pick and choose. God wants us to love everyone as He loves us.

There's a young college girl at church. She and I hit it off and were good friends for a few months, but for some reason, our friendship got cold. Since we were two of twelve students at church, we didn't stop talking, but the friendly love was gone, assuming it was ever there. My spite and bitterness caused me to think little of her and to wrongfully judge her. In my mind, she was a silly, immature girl who didn't have a clue about anything. But a week ago, God laid it on my heart to be her friend again. It was totally unexpected, but suddenly, I wanted to be her friend, talk to her, encourage her in her new faith. It was as if I was seeing a whole new her. She's maturing, learning, growing; sort of like I was this time a year ago. I see so much of myself in her. I remember my "growth period" like it was yesterday, when I grew into my new identity as a child of God. It was such a time of intimacy, freshness, and wonder! It was like seeing a whole new world. And now she's growing in her faith and changing so much! As I listened to her talk about her new desires, her new hopes in life, her new standards, I was impressed. She has changed completely since first visiting my church last August. I want to get to know her all over again.

But I was also mad at myself. For months, my new sister in Christ was growing and flowering into a lovely young lady. But I was blind and arrogant, and I judged her for months. That is not the love God wants us to have for each other. The love God wants us to share is patient. It's kind. It isn't envious, or boastful, or prideful. It isn't rude or self-seeking, nor is it easily-angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It doesn't delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Our love should always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere. It should never fail.

All we have to do is love. We should love by thinking of others first. Love by holding our tongues, when necessary. Love by being patient. Love by not holding grudges. Love by being polite, not rude. Love by using encouraging and uplifting words, not sarcasm. Love by letting others have their way. Love has to be our core. We have to value love more highly than anything else. "But these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."

Jesus challenged us to not only love others more than ourselves, but to love others as He loves us. Will you rise to His challenge?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My Bubble Wrap Barrier

Is it worse to not be loved, or to not love? I don't know. There have been many times in my life where I didn't feel loved, but rarely have I ever felt like I didn't love someone. God has blessed me with an awesome, Godly family, and I've always had many good friends. Even after moving to new cities, I've always held on to someone, somewhere, somehow, whether to my old friends or my family. But today in church, as I sat tired through service, I realize something that scared me very deeply: I am scared of love.

I was sitting alone with a girl my age, a girl to whom the words "beautiful" and gorgeous" don't quite do justice. It happened very innocently: I sat by myself near the front by the worship band and, being in the worship band, she sat by me once worship ended. I've known her for a few years, and though aware of her untapped beauty and absolutely lovely singing voice, she's always been simply a friend. I thought nothing of her sitting by me. At least, until I caught my grandma staring at me. I don't actually even know if she was looking at me, but she was looking in my direction, and I tried to figure out why. My mind raced to connect the dots, and I somehow thought she was looking at me because I was sitting by a pretty girl (alone) and that we looked like a couple. Stupid, I know. Talk about dramatic. But when I realized how scared I was that somebody who didn't know me might think I was in a relationship, that's when I figured out something was wrong. Just the thought of me in a relationship gave me the willies. I asked more questions, like, Why am I scared? Why do I want to move and not sit by her anymore? What's so wrong with me that I sit by a beautiful girl and feel self-conscious and guilty about it? Why do I feel guilty when I simply sit by or close to a girl, even out of accident or circumstance?  

As my mind tried harder to answer these questions, I stepped out to the kitchen for some water. I was still shaken, but needed to stay in the service to avoid any questions, so I went back in. I set the issue aside and focused on the sermon and on worship. But when I got home, I locked myself in my room and began asking those questions again.

The answers shook me up.

Maybe I've built a bubble wrap security wall to protect myself from pain and loss. Maybe that bubble wrap has created a barrier between me and other people. Maybe I'm so scared to relive the two nightmarish dating relationships of my past that I hide behind a facade that preaches a resolution to not date out of purity and wisdom when really I'm just afraid and protecting myself. Maybe I'm not quite so noble or honorable. Maybe I refrain from dating because I've been hurt, burned, tortured, and pained so deep that I'm scared to love. Maybe I've associated the same horror of my past relationships with all relationships, even my future and current relationships, and other peoples' relationships.

I've been hurt; I've experienced loss; I was burned. And I realized today that maybe I'm not over that yet, even though it's been over fifteen months and two years since those two relationships ended, respectively. I've been bitter towards those two girls for a long time; way too long. And I know that in order to love again (and not romantic love, but love for my friends, love for my family, love for my enemies, and love for those I don't like), I'm going to have to forgive and move on. It hurts to write these words; it doesn't seem fair that I should forgive them, after all they put me through. But I'm not faultless, and life's too short for me to waste time in the past. I'm not writing this as a release, because releasing my bitterness will be the end of this journey. No, I'm writing this as an acknowledgement, a start. I don't know what it means to forgive, really forgive. And I know I'm petty for letting bitterness and anger control me for so long. I'm also sicked at how blind I was at it. But bitterness has held me back, and I don't want it to any more. It's time I put an end to this. I just wish I knew how.

Maybe my answer will come from the Rebelution. After all, this most certainly will be a hard thing. I'm going to need help popping my bubble wrap barrier.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Grace Has A Name

I serve a big God. I serve a God who's so big, He breathes stars. I serve a God so big, He holds the entire universe in His hand. I serve a God so big, He sees everything, everywhere. In fact, my God is so big, He exists outside of time. And this God died for me. This God actually died. For me. Out of love. Because He wants to spend eternity with me. He doesn't see my mistakes, my failures, my insecurities, my sins. He only sees His child. But here's the thing: Sometimes I don't see God's love for me.

Sometimes I see Him more as a mean cop than a gracious God.

Do you know what I mean? If I'm not careful, my mind transforms God into this mean, merciless cop who is constantly writing speeding tickets for going two miles over, all the while grinning wickedly and laughing. The sin in me warps my mind into believing that God is a compassionless law enforcement officer who cares more about making me pay for my sins that saving me.

But praise God because that is NOT who He is!

The reason I think like that is because I don't understand grace. I don't understand love. It's too much for me to imagine a God who can forgive me of my sins. I've always been led to believe that God expects us to be perfect, and when we sin, we should sweep that sin under a rug, cover it up, and move on, because it isn't right for a Christian to sin. I feel like Christians should be above lying, lust, envy, gossip, insecurity, pride, etc. I've always believed Christians should somehow be perfect.

Since last weekend, I've been finding out differently. In my post Identity, (in which I was more writing about grace than identity), I began to realize what grace truly was. I still don't understand it, but grace has been transforming my mind. I'm seeing for the first time that He doesn't expect perfection out of me. He expects obedience. He expects us to love Him first and others above ourselves. He expects us to live our lives purposefully for Him. But He doesn't ask for us to never ever sin again.

That seems so contrary to how I've believed for sixteen years. But it's so true. That's why He came. It's why He died. He didn't die for us to be perfect. No, He died to give sinners a way back to God. It's all about grace. It's for love, yes; forgiveness, yes; redemption, yes. But grace is those three things wrapped into one awesome package. Grace is God's way of saying, "I love you so much that your sins don't matter to me. My love, my forgiveness, my obsession for you are so much bigger than your sin!" Grace is how God was able to bridge the gap between us and Him. Praise God, for grace has a name: that name is Jesus Christ.

I love grace so much because through grace, God is able to acknowledge my sin. I no longer can say, "But you don't know what I've done" because He does know, and He's even already forgiven me. God wants my life to be lived for Him in the fullest, without hesitation and without regret. And I want the same thing. I can think of no better way to use my one life than to be loved and love a God as gracious as mine.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Replacing the Trash, Part 4: Friends

It's often said that a man can be judged by who he surrounds himself with. Who you surround yourself with can often determine what type of person you become. Proverbs 13:20 says, "He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." If you pick wise friends, Godly friends, mature friends, intelligent friends, then you will grow in wisdom, Godliness, maturity, and intelligence. In the same way, if you pick foolish friends, immature friends, Godless friends, perverse friends, then you will grow in foolishness, immaturity, Godlessness, and perversity. Proverbs 22:24-25 says, "Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared." See that? Don't associate with a hot-tempered man or one who is easily angered, because if you do, you'll become like them. Who you choose as friends greatly impacts who you will become.

The Bible tells us to pick and choose our friends wisely. Proverbs 12:26 says, "A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray." To me, that says it isn't wise to become best friends with someone overnight. Unfortunately, I know from experience that friendships that start too fast end too fast. But the relationships that take time to mature usually end up to be good friendships.

As Christians, our standards for our friends should be higher than the world's standards. In Psalm 101:4-6, King David wrote, "The perverse of heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with what is evil. Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate. My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me." David started off by saying that he would have nothing to do with perverse men, or with gossipers, the prideful, or the arrogant. Those are the people he wouldn't surround himself with. But the faithful and blameless? Those are who he would surround himself with. David had high standards; he knew to surround himself with those who would help him grow, who would build him up.