stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

He sought me

Music is powerful.  It can stir up a number of emotions, whether we are just reacting to the words we’re hearing or remembering another time a particular song may bring us back to.  There are some songs that make most people happy that stir up frustration and anger in me, because they are tied to a bad time in my life.  When I hear the songs that were on Christian radio when Sarah was in the hospital after our accident, I begin to feel very sad without thinking about it.  Music can also bring us great joy, as it has for me lately.

We’ll be having our mission trip recap service on August 24, so you’ll probably hear more about this and other things, but the worship was so engaging again this year.  I felt like we were escorted into God’s presence, and we stayed there through the end of each service.  We learned a new song this year called “In Tenderness,” which is by the same people who wrote “Made Alive.”  This one is a little slower than “Made Alive,” but the words stirred up so much joy and humility.  I was so grateful for God choosing to seek me, but I was humbled when I considered how dirty I must have looked when He came for me.  God is our adoptive Father, as we read in Ephesians 1 and Galatians 4.  We aren’t born into His family.  We are born into sin, with the Devil sitting in the position of father (John 8:44).  But then God seeks us out, and if we will allow Him, adopts us into His family.  That’s a cool thing about adoption and something I have talked about with several adopted kids who feel weird about being adopted: your parents chose to seek you out and at great cost to themselves make you their children.  God has done the same, at great cost to Himself, making us His children.  He sought us, when – just as orphaned babies needing adoption- we were incapable of seeking Him.

Please check out this song.  Focus on the words.  Close your eyes if you need to in order to focus, because the words are so powerful and true.  You’ll be hearing it again on August 24, so this will help give you a jump start on learning the words, so you don’t feel awkward trying to learn a new song in church.

Pray for us next week

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We leave Monday for Louisville. Many of you have been so generous financially leading up to the trip, so first I want to say thank you. Thank you for caring about our teenagers. Not every church does, and I’m so proud and grateful to be a part of a church like ours that does care.

We will leave at 7:00 AM Monday morning, and we’ll return very late Friday, possibly into Saturday morning. Please be praying for us even now. Pray for safety, that we would positively impact the community we are serving, that we would boldly share the Gospel when given the opportunity, and that we would be moved and changed by God while we’re away. After the trip, please continue to pray for us, that we would be steadfast in the decisions we made for God while we were gone.

Thank you so much for your compassion, generosity, and your prayers. Feel free to send us a note of encouragement, whether to an individual or to the whole group to rebelyouth@mykcc.org.

keep on track

I am easily distracted.  The busier I am or the more pressing a task is becoming, the more likely I am to be distracted by something else.  I can find hundreds of things to do instead of writing this blog post when it comes down to needing to do it.  But if I had a paper or other homework due on Monday, and the blog post isn’t due to Joyce until Thursday, I’d be likely to work on the blog post.  It’s happened before several times.  My office is turned upside down right now, because I decided to spend time yesterday trying to figure out why one phone line doesn’t work in my office while the other one does.  Of course, I’m incredibly busy right now.  The mission trip is less than three weeks away, I won’t be in the office next week, because Sarah’s having a baby, and I’m trying to get stuff done in advance for children’s and youth as a result.  But I spent at least an hour trying to figure out something that really doesn’t matter.  Why?  Probably because it was less stressful and not as difficult as staying on track.

Distractions occur in all areas of life, including in our spiritual life.  Partially because it is easier to focus on things of little cost to us – the sins of other people, little projects we can do for God, good things we have done – than it is to focus on Jesus and what changes He wants us to make.  That’s a hard thing to do.  The Bible says it’s hard to do, because when we come close to and focus on Jesus, it’ll shine His light into our lives, and we’ll become aware of what needs to change.  But it’s still something we have to do.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about laying aside our weights and sins in an effort to run well.  The next verse (Hebrews 12:2) tells us how we do that: “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  We look at Him, see what He was able to give up in pursuing us, so that we are more able to give things up to pursue Him.  We have to keep on track with this.  When we look away and begin to focus on peripheral things, it’s easy to stumble and fall away from the task.  But if we keep on track, we will be able to stay on the path towards holy living and spare ourselves from falling away into sin and foolishness.

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weights and sins

Sometimes living the Christian life is pared down to what we can do and what we cannot do.  We look for Divine dos and don’ts and try to stick to them, so either so we don’t get into trouble with God or so we can make Him happy.  It is definitely okay to see out what the Bible says not to do and avoid it, but overall, this isn’t a healthy Christian lifestyle.  When we approach life this way, we consume things that may not be good for us just because the Bible doesn’t specifically say not to.  That’s like eating anything you see, so long as it isn’t labeled poison.  Sometimes things aren’t labeled bad for us but still are, both spiritually and physically.

What the Bible actually tells us to do is to not consume or carry anything that will slow us down, whether it is a sin or not.  Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”  So we must first understand what race it is God has called us to do, and then we must get rid of anything that keeps us from running that race well.  Sin is an obvious problem and is mentioned, but so are weights.  Weights can be anything.  Dating the wrong person can be a weight. Even if that person is another Christian, if they would keep you from your God-given race, they’ll weigh you down.  The wrong school, career, or house can be a weight.  They may tie us down somewhere God hasn’t intended us to run.  If we are to run with excellence, we must shed the weights.  Some runners may train with weights on their ankles and wrists, but when it comes to race day, you won’t see competitive runners wearing them.  They get rid of all excess weight, so they can run as fast and as far as they can.

Here’s the thing about weights: they aren’t sins in and of themselves, so they can be harder to spot.  But God commands us to lay aside our weights, so we can run, so when we fail to do so, they do become sins for us.  The really hard part is that, like our sins, sometimes we just love our weights and want to hold onto them.  We find safety, comfort, and fulfillment from them sometimes.  But we have been promised those things in God if we follow Him.  So lay them aside.

What’s weighing you down or holding you back from being who God wants you to be today?

I have read Proverbs a lot.  It’s probably my most-read book of the Bible.  It’s either that or Genesis, which I usually read in January every year before scaling back to more modest Bible reading goals.  What I like about Proverbs is that it feels pretty disjointed.  If I were reading a story that was that scattered, I would be frustrated, but I like the constant flow of small pieces wisdom.  It gives me an opportunity to feel like I’m reading a new passage every time I read it.

I encourage you to keep reading your Bible (because the Bible says you should, of course).  Even though you’ve heard and read it all before, keep reading.  There’s always something new.  The Holy Spirit is in you as a believer, and He will always reveal something to you for you from the Bible.  Sometimes He reveals one big thing.  Other times, He reveals several things.

Even though I’ve read Proverbs countless times in my life, I still have a lot of things to think and journal about.  This is what my quiet time has looked like recently.  I make lists of things God is saying and a corresponding list of what it should mean to me.

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So what are you reading?

One  thing I have noticed in my own life is how difficult it is to quit doing something you have done for years.  I quit drinking pop some time in March, but it didn’t go away easily.  I originally gave it up for 2 weeks as part of a challenge to raise money for ActiveWater, but I realized I had a problem with it, so I decided to quit for good.  I did have very little pop recently, because I was out of water and needed to drink something, and I didn’t like it.  It was my first reaction as I took a drink.  I thought it was gross and strange, which is really strange to me.  But then on Tuesday at small group, Dr. Pepper was put right in front of me, and I really wanted it.  I knew I didn’t like pop the last time I took a drink, but I was used to liking it, and I wanted it.  So I took a drink, and I immediately thought that it was gross again.  And you know what?  I’ll probably be tempted to drink it again and end up taking a drink, and I’ll probably end up thinking it’s gross again.  This may be a lifetime cycle for me.

It reminds me of sinning, especially when it’s a sin you’ve grown accustom to.  You can quit sinning the same sin several times.  You can even get to a point of disgust with it.  You can fool yourself into continuing indefinitely with one simple thought: “Okay, I swear this is the last time.”  You can also keep lapsing back into it by only remembering the very short-term pleasure it brought and forgetting your disgust and saying, “I’ll just do it a little bit, just this one time, and then I’ll go back to quitting.”  How many times have you told yourself right before sinning that this will be the last time?  In comparison, how many times has it turned out to truly be the last time?  We allow ourselves to sin, and when the next opportunity comes up, we often tell ourselves the same lies again, and we tend to fall for it again and again.  This is the last time.

It’s kind of a crazy if you think about it.  Why do you think about making this the last time?  Probably because the Holy Spirit is convicting you, shouting to you, “NO!  Don’t do that again!”  So you tell yourself (and Him) that it’s okay, this will be the last time.  What you’re really saying is, “Please be quiet.  I want to sin.”  You blow off the Holy Spirit’s convicting you, and you proceed.  I know how this goes.  I’ve been through this.  But then I felt the conviction turned up a notch when I said, “This will be the last time,” once.  Because I felt like God’s response was, “No, let last time be the last time.”

That’s now what I tell myself when I am tempted to sin.  It’s not a fool proof method, because I am strongly a fool, and I fail, but it works a lot more often than giving myself one last sinful hurrah after one last sinful hurrah. So what sin or sins did you already do one last time?  Keep them in the past.  Let the last time be the last time.

leave behind the chains

What’s your favorite TV theme?  I’ve always liked the intro to the Office.  Jakob also really likes that one.  When he was a baby, we could play it when he was crying, and he would immediately stop.  It was magical.  I ended up putting it on my phone for emergencies and long car trips.

We’ve had a theme song in this current series on spiritual warfare.  By now, you’ve probably noticed that you’ve sung the words, “break every chain,” numerous times.  Jesus breaks the chains of bondage in our lives and sets us free.  It’s something we should never tire of singing and celebrating.  If we are walking in freedom – not to do whatever we want, but freedom from sin – then we should excitedly be singing of the One who has set us free.  Sometimes we don’t feel like celebrating, though, because we don’t feel very free. I think the primary reason we don’t feel free is that we tend to carry around the chains from which we’ve been set free.  They’re broken.  They have no power over us. We just like them too much to leave them behind.  We tell ourselves that we can’t help ourselves.  It’s just who we are.  We’re only human after all.  But the reality is that, in Christ, we always have the freedom to choose not to sin.  We have the power to leave behind the chains.  Hebrews 12 tells us to set them aside, so we can run well the race set before us.  Jesus also says in John 8 that although you were once slaves to sin, but you are no more, because when the Son sets you free, you really are free from it.  And finally, we’re told in 1 Corinthians 10 that God will always make it possible for us to walk away from temptation.

The chains are not holding us.  It may just be that we’re holding the chains. Leave behind the chains.  Walk in freedom.  “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.”

I will leave you with these lyrics from the OC Supertones, from their song “Go Your Way.”  They have spoken to me in times when I was stuck in false freedom, choosing sinful bondage over freedom in Christ. “What I thought of as my freedom was a prison without walls. I held on tightly to the shackles that I hate, but this wasn’t freedom at all… I thought that I’d gone too far.  Then I heard You call my name.  Return to me child.   I am eager to forgive, but leave behind the chains.”

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