Convicted…

Last week was a very difficult week.  I could not shake a funk that I was in.  I just felt like it was baby peaks and extreme valleys.  I battled all week to just be ok with how everything was going.  I am not 100% certain if I was overwhelmed with everyday life, feeling beaten down, or tired.  I really did not know.

It was almost impossible for me to even step back and celebrate small victories.  It was hard for me to be content with the simple truth that I was blessed beyond measure.  It just seemed like everything was stuck in neutral or reverse.  And sadly…it was everyone else’s fault.

Or maybe that is where my mind wanted to go.  Maybe that is what I wanted to believe.  I wanted to tell myself that no one really cares about how their actions affect you or hurt you.  But that CONVICTED me…

What am I doing, or not doing that might be hurting someone else?  How are my actions affecting those people that mean the most to me.  Maybe, just maybe, I feel that everyone has a problem with me because I simply am acting like I have no care about them.  Am I not respecting what they want or need?

I ended up waking up extremely early for me on a Friday and just sitting in stillness.  I read, I prayed and I was convicted.  It was hard to look into your own heart and say, that these things need to change within you.  It is hard to say, these things hurt, but what can you really do about it?  It is hard when you truly have to accept people for who they are and not for who you want them to be in your life.

I was convinced and convicted that I cannot change anyone and more importantly, I should not want to.  They are who they are and that can hurt at times.  People have been raised in different situations and different behaviors have been accepted as good and other behaviors as bad.  I am not here to redefine good and bad based on what I want or what I expect.  That is foolish of me.

I was convicted that the only person that I can control is me.  I must look and see what I can control and what I am doing that might be hurting someone else’s walk with Christ.  If I am to call my self a Christian, then I am a part of this thing we call the Church or Body.  It is hard to be honest with ourselves in this day and age.

Culture as a whole has shifted to the “it’s someone else’s fault” model or the “if you don’t like what I do, that’s your problem” not mine.  It is always a way to shift and divert attention from ourselves.  We end up finding more and more ways to remain in the dark about how to truly grow in Christ.  He will convict you of the things that you need to let go of and change.  You will know He is speaking to you.

The question is, how will you respond?  How will you answer His call?  What are you willing to change for the betterment of His Kingdom?

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Two Movies…Two Vastly Different Messages…Unconditional Love and Knowledge

Tonight, I actually watched two movies.  I took a break from my usual routine with my wife and girls out of town to go out.  I watched two movies that made one think about their purpose here on earth.  What are we supposed to do with our time.  For the record, I watched “Lucy” and “God’s Not Dead”.  While, I am obviously a believer in the Lord above and Christ, this is not my attempt to say one movie was better than the other.  It is not my attempt to even say that both movies were not interesting.  There were good points to both.

I would even say that “God’s Not Dead” does not touch on what the first stirred in my from a belief standpoint.  The truth of the matter is that after watching the first, I felt that I was pulled into the world of trying to figure out what it would look like for us to live up to our full potential.  This is not to say what would life would look like if we used 100% of our brain, but about recognizing what our highest calling is.  As I watched the first movie, I saw what one person would do in order to serve themselves and serve the world at large.  It was based on knowledge and understanding how things work.  There were some great things touched on about our interconnectedness with each other and the world around us.  But ultimately terrible things were done in the name of protecting this gift of knowledge and ultimately power.

For me though, I struggled with this as I am a firm believer that to reach our true potential we must learn to live and love unconditionally.  This is just my opinion and I am always willing to be proven wrong.  But in my life, the greatest piece of growth that I have had comes through giving of myself.  I have had people tell me that I need to take care of myself and not everyone else, but the truth of the matter is that by serving, I recharge.  I do struggle, I do find it hard to give some days.  I get angry, I want to quit, I want to run from the people that I think might take advantage of me.  But I also recognize that the people that push my buttons, probably need someone to not have conditions on helping them.

I would say that if we truly want to advance to our highest self, then we must always be willing to give.  We must be willing to let go of all the things that we hold so tightly and give those away.  That is the way that we pass on the power of who we are to others.  This world is crazy right now; wars all over and economic scares.  But we get over all of that through finding ways to love and sometimes that means loving someone who seems unlovable.  For me that is what it means to be Christ-like.  For me personally, to withhold love is to judge.  To withhold love is to fail to acknowledge that we are fallen and that I am undeserving of love.

What a lot of things boil down to for me, is ultimately what do I value?  What has the higher price in my opinion?  You see, to me…love has the higher value.  And I say that simply because knowledge is rather easily attainable and cannot truly be lost.  Other people can acquire the same knowledge and we can always be pushed to gain more knowledge.  Love on the other hand, and more importantly unconditional love, is something that cannot be attained through our desire to have it.  We cannot be loved by someone because we want it…they must give it.  Someone has to give a piece of themselves to you and they trust you with that.  We do it as parents, spouses, brothers and sisters  (although that can feel forced at times).  We do it in our friendships and we do it as the sons and daughters of our parents as we mature.  We choose to love them and give of ourselves for them and instead of dealing out pain for the acquisition of knowledge, when we love we take on most of the pain for the sake of those we love.

We are willing to accept someone else’s burden and take ownership of it when we love them.  Love seems to be the ultimate calling for us as it is to accept that we will hurt and be okay with it.  It is to accept the truth that when we love someone without conditions, then we are living out this thing we call faith.  Genuine unconditional love, is the message of the cross.  It is an amazing message that we often miss in our daily lives.  And other times, we say that we know that is the message of the cross with our mouths, but we do not believe it.

I have learned in my life that it is not about proving how much one knows.  I have learned that there are people smarter than me with more knowledge than me.  I used to get into arguments to prove my faith was strong.  I would debate and study and acquired vast amounts of knowledge about my faith and other faiths.  I had this arsenal of knowledge and no matter how many arguments or debates I entered, I was doing little good or furthering the kingdom in any way.

But what happens when one chooses love?

Tonight I Didn’t Go To Bible Study…

Tonight, I did not go to Bible Study.  I pulled myself out of the loop.  I had a really rough and long day.  In the past, I might have run to this group and put on the happy face, shared my stories, my revelations, and all things me!  I could have read the chapters and been just fine.  I probably would have even been encouraged and touched by many of the brothers and sisters that are in the group because there hearts are there.

But tonight I didn’t go to Bible study…and I am still standing.  Lightning didn’t strike me down and more importantly than anything…I felt like I finally got some real time to experience Christ.

I had a terrible day and needed the Lord to do something.  I had felt abandoned and abused and on the drive home…I was reminded of the gift that is a marriage and parenthood.  The Lord tapped my shoulder and said…no matter how bad your day, I have given you these people to come home to.  They love you in spite of your flaws.  They have learned to love you and see you the same way I do…as “perfect”.  Just as you have chosen me…they have chosen you.  They trust you to be a leader in the house and set an example for them.  You not only represent them, but you represent Me.  You had better decide to love like I love.

I started to perk up and not feel quite so down.  So I rejoiced a little…and sat in silence hoping to hear more.  One might call this prayer – only I didn’t say much.

Again, I “heard” some truth…I realized it isn’t about church services and Bible studies.  It is not about religious activity but about sharing Christ.  It is not about always talking about Him.  It is not about the Scriptures I have memorized or can use to demonstrate my superiority.  It is about “sharing” or revealing or living out of Christ.  It is about Christ and when you love people, you are sharing Him.  When you choose not to judge, you are sharing Him.  When you choose to listen, you are sharing Him.  When you choose to put yourself on the cross for 15 minutes and be what one person needs you are sharing Him.

The biggest thing that kind of struck me, is they might not even know you are sharing Him with them.  He has changed me, and that is what I am sharing.  I am sharing the new me…and He is the builder of that new me.  People need to know that they are loved…unconditionally.  And that includes me.  And that is something I can do…if I am willing to let Him live through me.

And ultimately, I ended up at the Subverisve blog…It was refreshing to be reminded that I am valuable to the Body as a whole.  That while the world may dump on me, possibly even reject me, there is a place for me in the Kingdom…and bigger than that, I am a vital piece of this thing known as the Church.   I have been at the center of many a discussion or debate about the “right” way to do church.  Is it with a pastor or is it in the living room?  And tonight, I cannot say that one way is the right way, but I can say that if it points you to Christ and I mean makes Him come alive in You, then that is where you need to be.  If your church experience leaves you with knowledge and no fire or passion for the son of God, then you might want to re-evaluate where you are at.  If you cannot share the Christ that is in you, in your church world…then maybe you have to move on.  If your church life sends you out into the world feeling empty and forsaken, then it is not Christ.  The power of the Spirit from Christ will send us each out into the world ready to share Him with all.  It will allow us to love with grace and compassion.

I am reminded of a lyric from one of my favorite artists…Andrew Peterson.  In a song about marriage he has a line that goes:

“The only way to find your life, is to lay your own life down.  And I believe that’s an easy price for the life that WE have found”

I know the song is about the marriage between a man and a wife, but it is also about the marriage between Christ and the church.

The only way we find our life, that is our life in Christ, is to lay our earthly life down.  And I believe that’s an easy price to pay for the life that WE, a united body of Christ with one another and with Christ, have found.

 

I Was… I Am

This past weekend, I went to Waco and went the the Brandon Heath concert with my wife and some friends of ours.  It was a good time.  We paid for an upgraded ticket, so that we could “meet” with Brandon before the concert and listen to an acoustic set of songs.  That was right up my alley as I generally prefer the stripped down concert.  During that time, he asked for some volunteers who would be willing to give their testimony during the show.  My wife nudged me and said that my friend wanted me to volunteer.  I raised my hand to be one of the ten.  Brandon’s goal was to have 5 guys and 5 girls stand up and do this.  After the first round through the audience, there were 5 female volunteers and 1 male volunteer (me).  I shot a glance of encouragement to my friend and he volunteered as well.

We were given a poster board and a marker and it was explained that on one side of the poster we were to put who we were before Christ and who we are now, after becoming a Christian.  For me, I knew where I was.  I had no fear in putting my past on the paper, but I was terrified about the “I Am” section.  Was that a good thing?  Shouldn’t it be the other way around where I fought with the struggle to state who I was.  Shouldn’t I be constantly trying to put the past in a box that is never to be opened again and hide it from everyone.  Don’t we all tend to live under the fear that if people knew who we were in our past, that they might reject who we are now?  The past shapes us, but we are supposed to be molded to the image of Christ and that sinful person that I was, needs to remain in the past tense.

My “I Was” moment was rather simple…”I was minutes away from pulling the trigger”.  If you have read my short series on my life, then you know what I am referring to.

But what was the truth about who I am now.  I pondered on it for a while and the only word that constantly came up was “Alive” so I wrote that down in big letters.  But it felt like there was still more to be said about who I am now.  I pondered longer, searching my heart for words and ultimately I was reminded, that I am a new creation as well.  So my “I Am” read…”Alive and a New Creation”.  That was it.  I had put the pen to the poster and started to shake as the nerves started to get to me.  I did not know why I was nervous, but I was.  I had no reason to be nervous, the concert had not started yet and there was still an opening act and all of Brandon’s songs.  I assumed that this was part of his closing, and I had time to get the courage to stand up there and put myself out there.

That was not the case.  Brandon called on us on the second song into his set.  I was freaking out.  I watched as the two ladies in the front row went.  That meant that I was next up.  I grabbed my sign, said a little prayer that I would hold it the right way with the right words showing.  I held up my “I Was” side and then flipped it to the “I Am” side.  The crowd cheered.  It was an amazing feeling and hard to hold back tears.  I stood off to the side so that the remaining people could hold their signs up and share their lives.  I listened as the crowd cheered for each one of us as we “told” our testimony.

Then the moment was over.  He said thanks, we all got another round of applause and we took our seats for the rest of the show (which was great by the way).  I sat in my chair for a portion of the show, focusing on what it would have meant to remain in the I was part of my life.  To think about all that I would have lost by pulling that trigger.  I am a husband and a father now.  Years ago, I was tempted to take my own life, and now I have created one with my wife.  I am striving daily to be a better husband and a better father.  To show the love that the Lord has shown me to them.

I tell that story to remind everyone that when we truly turn our lives over to the Lord and accept that we are a new creation, the who we were is gone.  It is for this reason, that I think that coming up with who I was, was easy.  There is nothing from my past that can come back to hurt me.  There is nothing there to be ashamed of or hide from.  All the things that I could have ever listed under the “I Was” are now things that the Lord has moved me out of.  If we truly believe in Christ and trust Christ and His Word, then we know that nothing that defines who we were defines who we are now.

If we truly believe that we are new, then telling about our past is not scary, but it is liberating.  We do not see it as something to be ashamed of, but rather the very thing that God placed in our lives so that we can relate to others.  So that we have a story to share that is bigger than we are.  If we are still afraid of the “I Was” in our lives, then we really are not trusting the truth about who “I Am” now.  When we are afraid to move past who we were, then who we are cannot truly be seen by others.

I am thankful for the moment that I raised my hand and agreed to stand up in front of the audience and share my eleven word testimony.  Not because of the reaction I got from the crowd, but because it reminded me that I am not who I was.

Just a few thoughts…

Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a lot of talking going on in my various fellowship circles.  Whether it is called a Bible Study, Home Fellowship, Organic Church, Traditional Church, whatever term you want to use, it doesn’t matter to me.  It has led me to wonder if the Church is really being THE Church.  We find in the Scriptures a very simple, concise definition of how non-believers and believers will be able to recognize followers of Christ.  It is the commonly known and quoted verse of John 13:34 – 35.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another

For some reason, the past couple of days my mind has been pulling that verse to the forefront.  I would find myself dwelling on it while I was driving.  I would find myself wondering if that is what the church I see around me truly embodies.  When I say these things, I want to make sure that I am honest about pointing the fingers of condemnation at myself.  I am guilty of what I am about to write just as much as I feel the church culture is.  I feel as if this thing we call the church has become centered on judging and removed the concept or truth of love from the equation.  We have discussions about who’s right and who’s wrong, with the hope and goal of changing another’s mind.

We want to claim that we are correcting “out of love”, but we aren’t.  We are correcting out of pride and a desire to have someone see things our way.  The way of Christ is one of shouldering the cross and loving through action.  Are we loving our brothers and sisters by carrying their cross as Christ carried ours or by telling them how they can better carry theirs?  It saddens me to admit that I do not always act out of love for my fellow believer.  It saddens me because it means that I am not living out of Christ in those moments.

Somehow from pondering on this verse, I ended up at the question, if Christ acted like we (believers) do today would He have been on the cross in Calvary or would every Pharisee, prideful, sinful person have been put to death by each other?  We are in a period of time where if we truly want to see the world get better, we must find a way to love one another.  Jesus hated sin, but loved the sinner (cliche but true).  When I look around today, I feel like we will argue about the sin, just so that we can continue to condemn and justify passing judgement on the sinner.

Why don’t we attack lying with the same reckless abandon that we attack homosexuality?  Why don’t we attack coveting with the same zeal that we go after those who commit abortion (murder)?  To me the answer is that if we are truly honest, we ALL lie, we ALL covet, but we don’t all struggle with the other things.  We, in our human nature, get to put the sins on a scale of badness to justify our behavior.  We want to justify our actions, just as Adam did in the garden (Genesis 3:12 – blame the women – Adam knew he wasn’t supposed to eat the fruit).  But we fail to recognize that sin is not about deeds done or not done.  Sin is about not being in fellowship with Christ.  Sin is about ignoring or no longer hearing the Spirit when it guides.

If we could all see sin in this light, there is no distinction between big sins and little sins…there is simply sin.  There is simply “in fellowship” with Christ or not.  In fellowship cannot be defined by a set of rules one is following.  In fellowship is not about the things that you are or are not doing.  In fellowship with Christ can only be defined by living out of the love that Christ has for His Church.  That is it.  I can be living a perfectly moral life on the outside and feel empty and not be in fellowship with Christ at all (ex. Rich Young Ruler – Mark 10:17 – 22).  And you could have lived a life of sin, but in a moment recognize the Lord is in your midst and turn (See Mary and her washing of Jesus’ feet – Luke 7:37 – 44). How they lived their lives did not define them in the Lord’s eyes, but their love for Him did.  One of them loved the things of this world and the other desired to sit as Jesus’ feet and have a place in His kingdom.

It is not the do’s and don’ts of our faith that make the kingdom of God real in the here and now, but rather our love for each other and those that the world has rejected that make the kingdom of God real to both the believer and the unbeliever.  If people cannot find love in The Church than we are failing to be The Church.  We do not have to like, accept, agree with every thought that a brother has or every decision that our neighbor has, but we must strive to love them with the grace that Christ has given to us.  We must trust Christ to build His Kingdom here and let Him.  He must be the architect of each building and we must be content to be mere living stones, building blocks being placed exactly where he desires us to be.  Only then will we truly reflect His vision for His Kingdom, His dwelling place.

The Struggle I Face

I often seem to face a struggle and it leaves me in a quandary.  I struggle when I look at things and do not know what we are truly called to do.  We are called to help hold our brothers and sisters accountable, but where do we draw the line?

I tend to focus more of my energy on being positive, encouraging and uplifting.  That is my attempt at least, but I know that I fail often.  That to me is easier and I am not ready to jump into that arena of questioning where the Lord is leading someone else.

I tend to follow the simple thought that, if someone was going to truly try to keep me accountable or to keep my sin in check, then they would be at my door or on the phone every night.  The truth is that we all sin, and we sin every day.  It is not that we sin “BIG” but rather that we simply sin.  There is no “BIG” sin and no “little” sin; there is just sin.  Every day we all sin.  Every day we turn our hearts away from the Lord.  We let something take that focus.  It can be work, money, family, friends, holidays, anything.  There can be anything that gets in the way of our focus.  That is sinning.  That is idolatry at its basic form.

It is a hard truth for me, but it is because of this truth that I tend to look less for others sin because I cannot escape mine.  In this day and age, it seems that everything always comes down to a matter of finger pointing and accusations and not about recognizing that the Lord meets us where we are at.  That is true for every one.  There is no one way to meet with the Lord and there is no method that works better for meeting with Him that is better than another because we are all made different.

We all react to the world in different ways.  We all have to face our struggles in a different manner.  We were all created to depend on the Lord for the method to get through the obstacles and struggles of the day.  So why do we feel that we know more about solving problems and want to give advice as opposed to walking alongside them.  Our lives are to be examples to others.  We are not called to be clanging gongs or cymbals.  We are not meant to be mere noise to our neighbors, we are meant to be encouragers.

That is my take.  That is my heart.  People do not have to agree with me, but that is what I feel and see to be true.  I see too much finger pointing and too much posturing about who is right and who is wrong to be comfortable with the current state of affairs in the Church.    There is too much conflict and too much going on where one person seems to think that they have the answers for someone else’s problems without getting all the information.  We want to solve problems based on what we see and what we hear as opposed to stepping into the battle with those that are struggling.

Many people want to point to Matthew 18:15 as the method for church discipline, and that is all well and good as long as you are following it completely.  The key to it is that it is to be settled when a brother “trespass against thee”.  The context for this is between two members of the body and not to be used simply as a method for one brother to point the finger at another and bring to light their sin.  The words of Christ here are about dealing with conflict between two brothers.  It is not about one brother sinning against God specifically.  This is for the Lord to correct through discipline.

It is hard for me because I want to correct the wrongs that I see, but it is not my place to play God.  It is not my place to try and discipline my brother when their transgression or sin is not against me.  In those situations, I must choose to walk alongside them but not pass judgment on them.  I must help them to reconcile it with the Lord, but there is nothing more that I can do.  There is nothing that I can do in regards to bringing that sin in front of the Church or even discussing it with another brother.  If the wrong is not against me, then I have no “power” other than to try and help the person see the error of their ways.

What it all comes down to is that we need to get to the point where we love more, accuse less.  When we are focused on the Lord we will know when He has truly called us to say something and when we just need to encourage them and listen to them.  Most of the time when we let someone work their way through their own struggles, they get where they need to be a lot faster than when we try to “do the Lord’s work”.  We are doing the Lord’s work when we practice forgiveness, share our lives, seek first the Kingdom, and let the Lord handle judgement and discipline.