Alone with Jesus

Today I read one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time, and it’s another verse I’ve skimmed over without paying the attention it really deserves.  Today I will pray for everyone who is seeking answers in their lives, either in times of great joy or overwhelming sadness.  Jesus is waiting for you, but he wants you to come away with him and spend time alone with him. Lately I feel a closeness to him that I haven’t felt before in my life, and it’s literally like he’s taking my hand and leading me away from the crowd (the noise of my life) so we can be alone.  And it’s in those times alone with him that I learn the most about who I am…in his eyes!

“Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone.” Mark 7:33

I don’t want to spend any time today wasting any time focusing on anything other than encouraging you to take his hand, walk with him, away from the crowd (the world) and dive deeply into his loving arms.  I can promise you that you will not come back the same.

Rebel Jesus

I’m just going to say it, I love Jesus and how he loves me back even more.  I can read something over and over again and get something new from it each time I read it.  Jesus I thank you for the way you can teach me and all of us new lessons in old stories, thank you for that.

I was reading a devotional and came across Isaiah 53:12 (NLT).

I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

I have been called a rebel throughout my entire life, and I have carried the title with with a sense of pride as I fought against all authority.  Looking back I wasted so much time fighting against the wrong things, instead of standing strong for the right things. That lead me to Google “Rebel Jesus” and I came across a great song I’ve heard before by Bebo Norman (didn’t know Jackson Browne sang it first).  I also came across a great series by Mike Slaughter called The Rebel Jesus.  I sat there and soaked it all in, I encourage you to spend 30 minutes listening to the wisdom of this man.  One thing he said near the beginning caught my attention and it’s why I’ve already been in contact with him via email and will be reading his book as soon as it arrives.  He speaks the language I hear coming from my heart, he’s one of my people!

“You are not saved by what you believe, you are saved by what you obey”

I hope to learn a lot from this guy, seems like a good one to have on my side, another teacher put in my path by Jesus who loves me dearly and wants me to learn as much as I can about him!

Happy St. Patrick Day…what or who are we celebrating?

I heard the story of St. Patrick today and thought it was a great thing to share.  I would guess most people (myself included) think of green clothing, green beer, corn beef and cabbage, and shamrocks and do not take time to learn about why this is even a day we celebrate.  So often throughout history we have taken something that originated with the love of Jesus and have turned it into pagan worship.  Santa Claus was modeled after St. Nicholas (we’ll get to him in December).  I never really knew the story behind St. Patrick.  Jesus help us all focus on you, focus on truth, and not be swayed by the pagan worship that is in this world.

The following was taken from History.com about the person known to us at St. Patrick:

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. But for all of his prevalence in culture, namely the holiday held on the day of his death that bears his name, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick, including the famous account of his banishing all the snakes from Ireland, are false, the products of hundreds of years of exaggerated storytelling.

ST. PATRICK: TAKEN PRISONER BY IRISH RAIDERS
It is known that St. Patrick was born in Britain to wealthy parents near the end of the fourth century. He is believed to have died on March 17, around 460 A.D. Although his father was a Christian deacon, it has been suggested that he probably took on the role because of tax incentives and there is no evidence that Patrick came from a particularly religious family. At the age of 16, Patrick was taken prisoner by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate. They transported him to Ireland where he spent six years in captivity. (There is some dispute over where this captivity took place. Although many believe he was taken to live in Mount Slemish in County Antrim, it is more likely that he was held in County Mayo near Killala.) During this time, he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. (It is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.)

Did You Know?
St. Patrick was born in Britain and lived there until he was a teenager. Patrick isn’t really a Saint with a capital S, having never been officially canonized by Rome.

ST. PATRICK: GUIDED BY VISIONS
After more than six years as a prisoner, Patrick escaped. According to his writing, a voice—which he believed to be God’s—spoke to him in a dream, telling him it was time to leave Ireland.

To do so, Patrick walked nearly 200 miles from County Mayo, where it is believed he was held, to the Irish coast. After escaping to Britain, Patrick reported that he experienced a second revelation—an angel in a dream tells him to return to Ireland as a missionary. Soon after, Patrick began religious training, a course of study that lasted more than 15 years. After his ordination as a priest, he was sent to Ireland with a dual mission: to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. (Interestingly, this mission contradicts the widely held notion that Patrick introduced Christianity to Ireland.)

ST. PATRICK: BONFIRES AND CROSSES
Familiar with the Irish language and culture, Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his lessons of Christianity instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. Although there were a small number of Christians on the island when Patrick arrived, most Irish practiced a nature-based pagan religion. The Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth. When this is considered, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries—spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.

Legends about Patrick abound; but truth is best served by our seeing two solid qualities in him: He was humble and he was courageous. The determination to accept suffering and success with equal indifference guided the life of God’s instrument for winning most of Ireland for Christ.

Temper Temper

Yesterday I woke up angry, not really sure why and couldn’t honestly tell you one thing I was angry about, but it was in my heart and I wanted to be angry at someone.  Jesus help me, and anyone else who struggles with this sin, to free themselves of anger, which stems from pride, which is all about self.  Please help me die to self and release that anger, to be willing to give it to you, and to live my life with gentleness and respect, to all.

I spent much of the morning looking for a fight, I often do this when I am angry.  Looking back on it now it seems silly, just don’t be angry anymore!  But when in the moment, I find myself consumed by it and will often do my best to justify my hostility towards others, even going as far as to find some Biblical reference that will confirm my “right” to be angry.  I decided that I had enough so I went to find a breakfast burrito, I love them!  After all maybe I was just “hangry” and not really angry?  First place I tried was closed, and the man who owns it had JUST told me last week he was open every day at 9am.  Well at 9:30 on this day he was closed and a sign in the door showed the hours opening at 11am.  That didn’t help with my frustration, but didn’t really add to my anger.  I got in my car and drove to stop #2, also closed.  The places in town that you can find a good (not fast food) breakfast burrito are dwindling.  I did see a taco truck that looked like he was opening up for the day, so I drove back over to visit him and see if my wish for a breakfast burrito would be fulfilled.  I met Rigo, the man who owns the truck, and he was so sweet.  He said he had everything to make a breakfast burrito, but actually apologized for not having eggs.  Here is a man who was not even looking to do business as he was just setting up for the day, yet he was apologizing to me for not being able to serve me.  I replied to his kindness and asked if I brought him some eggs, would he be willing to make me one.  “Of course I would!” he said with a brilliant smile.   I don’t live far from the taco truck so I drove home and grabbed a half dozen eggs to bring back to feed my hunger…but that is when my true hunger was identified and was overwhelmed with the “meal” I desperately needed to consume.  Here is where I may lose some of you, but I truly believe God spoke to me through my radio yesterday.  I could not find anything good on the radio, at least nothing I wanted to waste my time listening to, so I decided to scan the channels for something new, or at least something different.  As I pulled back up to Rigo’s taco truck I landed on a station with a pastor speaking so I decided to give it a listen, oddly enough I didn’t know this station existed before.  Now here comes the best part, the pastor was speaking on temper, or more specifically anger.  I sat in my car soaking it in for a minute or two before getting out and talking to Rigo about getting my “fix” for a breakfast burrito.  He asked me what I wanted in it and I just said to him, “Rigo, you do what you do, I trust you!” I wanted to get back to the radio, I had even unrolled the window so I could continue to listen as I ordered.  I sat in the passenger seat while Rigo was making his masterpiece (it was SO good by the way) and then I heard these words come from the pastor straight to my heart.

“No form of vice, not worldliness, not greed of gold, not drunkenness itself, does more to un- Christianise society than evil temper.” ~ Henry Drummond  (From The Greatest Thing in the World, link to full PDF is at the end of this post).

That was very convicting for me to hear, especially considering I had no real reason to be angry but was looking for reasons to lash out in anger.  It had me thinking for sure, how much damage has my temper done to others in their walk with Jesus?  I am not naive enough to believe that I have not hurt someone enough with my temper, hurt someone enough to walk away from Jesus.  You see the real danger in this is that when people see you following Jesus, but then also see you act out in anger, that damages the message of the Gospel in his/her eyes.  The others things listed do as well, but when we are called to love even our enemies, and we lash out at someone, I agree that might be the biggest hangup some may have with Christians…with me!

The truly sad part about all of this is I let it happen today, and so soon after feeling loved enough by Jesus to allow me to hear (and read) this wonderful lesson on temper and anger.  Only today I was having a good day, even a great day.  I have tomorrow off, and I was getting a lot of things on my “to do” list crossed off, it felt refreshing.  Then out of no where I feel the anger rise up, the temptation that was so strong only 24 hours earlier now snuck up on me without notice, and I let it take over. A simple question from a co-worker blew up into a tone of shame and judgement from me.  I could see that I hurt the woman who asked me the question, and later on she would send me an email confirming this and also told me that she has always been afraid of me.  THAT HURT!  Hear I am trying to live my life based on love, and I have taken steps to make sure that happens at work.  I have had the chance to speak to large groups and do my best to incorporate love into those messages.  I do volunteer work and help others in our community, and when co-workers have asked me about it I simply reply the reason is love.  But now those words are burning through my heart, they sting, she is afraid of me.  How much damage have I done to her?  Does she know I love Jesus, and if so she has to see me as a hypocrite!  I let that pain sink in for a bit, but not long enough as I sent a quick reply and a pretty lame “apology” that was filled with defensive tones and pride.  As I let the pain fester longer, I once again heard the loving voice of my Abba Father saying “Try again”.  So this time I sent her a better apology, a sincere one, and I did my best to add value to her and explain what I did (including my first reply) was not who I am or who I was called to be.  Sometimes hurt is a good thing, because the pain we feel is simply our pride being removed from our hearts.  I can only hope and pray now that she will forgive me, and she can start to see me as someone who can offer her a love that is not of this world, and remove the barrier of fear she feels towards me.  Satan is a sneaky little devil, he knew enough that I was struggling with anger, he knew that God had sent me that message about temper, and I saw the storm in my heart calm afterwards. So this time he came at me unannounced, by surprise, and he won the first battle, but I trust that God will win the war.

The Greatest Thing in the World

Always learning, still dancing

Over the course of my life, especially over the past 2 years, I consider myself a student and seek to learn as much as I can about Jesus.  I have come across so many wonderful teachers, those still with us and those dancing with Jesus.  Today I pray that we never stop seeking truth, that we never stop thirsting for more of what Jesus, the ultimate teacher, has to share with us. Jesus thank you for what you have shown me and others throughout human history, thank you for what is rooted deep within us.

I have been blessed to learn from people like Brennan Manning, Rich Mullins (as well as his brother Dave), C.S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, David Platt, Tony Compolo, Bob Goff, N.T. Wright…there are so many others I could list. Today I wanted to share some of what I have learned from Richard Rohr, he has been a very influential teacher in my walk along this path towards knowing Jesus more deeply.  I don’t think it’s possible to read what Rohr pens to page without some intense thought and prayer. This was something I read today from his post on March 9th.  I read a few parts over and over again, I love how this affected me!

“God is in us, because we are in Christ. As members of the mystical body, Christians actually partake in the divine nature of the Trinity. We do not merely watch the dance, we dance the dance. We join hands with Christ and the Spirit flows through us and between us and our feet move always in the loving embrace of the Father. In that we are members of the mystical body of Christ, we see the joyful love of the Father through the eyes of the Son. And with every breath, we breathe the Holy Spirit.” ~ Carl McColman

What a wonderful image to consider, life with Jesus isn’t meant to be watched, it’s meant to be part of you. In other words we need to dance the dance!  This last part was the one that I sat and read over and over again, very impactful for me and how I am trying to live out my life here on Earth.

“There’s no evidence Jesus ever expected his little movement to take over the world—that is, the “system”—but instead that there’d be just enough people living into this kind of mutuality to be the leaven in the dough keeping this entire creation from total delusion and self-destruction. Please don’t jump to the conclusion, though, that God doesn’t love (and indeed like) all those who are “in and of” the system. They just suffer and severely limit themselves by divided loyalties.” ~ Richard Rohr

I often get very frustrated by this system, this world, and I see how the corruption can soil the minds of those who claim to follow Jesus.  Roth isn’t saying “little movement” as it’s insignificant, but rather how vast his message has become after starting with just a few devote followers to carry on the message.  The movement that began in a small upper room with just a handful of people is still growing today over 2000 years later.  Jesus is clear he loves, and likes, all of us. However not all are called to be the leavening agent to help this world rise above the path of self destruction it is currently on.  I hope and pray I am part of this movement, and the truth in my heart that leads me to pure joy tells me I am.

If you want to read the full post you can here, and I highly recommend subscribing to his daily devotions!

Body of Christ – Richard Rohr

Missing those we’ve lost

Jesus I know this is a hard topic for many to discuss, and it’s hard for me to write about because I struggle with this.  I have seen some close friends lose loved ones and I see the pain that comes from that.  All I ask is that you show us how you love us, especially through times of immense pain.

I went to see the Shack again with a friend who hasn’t seen it, I personally love the story and would see it again.  This time however I was focusing more on the father and his pain for losing his little girl (not a huge spoiler alert, I think that’s on the back of the book jacket and it’s just part of the story).  The friend I was with lost his brother many years ago in a plane crash in the snowy mountains of Oregon.  I still remember seeing his face for days, weeks and even months after it.  He was not the same person I knew, he had been changed, but he still kept hope alive in his heart, even as he was honest and shared his pain.  He is a happy go lucky guy, always sees the good in others and looks for something positive in all things.  His brother was a devout man of God, gave up much of his free time to love others, so I am sure a lot of the questions he had for God were why was he taken from his family and friends, those who loved him dearly.

Always a sweet smile on his face

Last year I had the pleasure of falling in love with this sweet baby, his name is Kade.  I learned about him through Facebook, and there was just something about him I need to know more about, so I followed his battle with cancer and I have gotten to know his family to some degree.  His mother and grandma have been very kind to me, even taking time out of their pain to pray for me in mine.  I learned a lot through the eyes of this child as well as those who knew him and held him close every day of his short life.  Kade lost his battle to cancer last year, and I was torn apart when I heard the news.  I prayed for him daily, I hung one of his smiling pictures on my door to remind me to pray for him, and I had a deep faith that the cancer would be freed from his cells and he would grow up to be a healthy little boy.  I even talked to his family about attending his graduation one day, I had more than the faith of a mustard seed, I truly believed God would heal him…but that wasn’t the plan.  I still miss him today, which is weird for some to hear and hard for them to understand.  I never got to meet him, I never held him, and my friendship with his mother and grandmother is simply through Facebook and online.  But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t changed by him, not in the slightest!  I could post picture after picture of him and honestly he always showed joy on his face, and I believe that’s because it was from deep inside his heart.  He made people happy just being near him, or seeing him on Facebook.  When I think of what cancer does to adults I know who have had to deal with it, and the effects of the chemo and other treatments, I know there is pain involved.  But I ask you this, does that look like a child suffering in pain, or one just happy to be alive in this moment?  I learned to appreciate life a little more by following Kade’s story, even as I heard the painful news of his life here on Earth ending.  But those of use who believe in Jesus, also truly believe he is with him now.  The pain is gone, and the joy he has is now multiplied by forever…with Jesus.

Not back to the underlying message of today, and missing those we have lost.  When my friend and I left the theater I was consumed with thoughts of his brother, and how this movie may have stirred up painful memories of loss.  It was honestly hard to talk to him afterwards, I was pretty choked up and emotional.  But as I drove home I was praying once again to Jesus, why do we lose the innocent among us.  What came to me, and it’s a something I will be thinking about a lot for days to come, is maybe we are looking at it backwards.  Maybe the question isn’t what we have had taken from us, but more about what has been given to those we lost?  This world is not our home, this world can be a dark and evil place, and I don’t pretend to know all that God can see nor do I understand why things happen the way they do.  But as a believer in eternal life in Heaven, and a follower of Jesus, I asked the question.  Maybe we should focus on what was given to my friend’s brother, and what was also given to sweet baby Kade…eternal life in Heaven dancing daily with Jesus.  That is an amazing thing to consider, and while we still feel the pain of that loss, perhaps a small bit of comfort can be found in that idea.  I do not know, I have never really lost anyone really close to me other than one of my favorite aunts.  Death has not been a part of my story, but one day it will, and I hope I can draw closer to God in those times and focus on what he has given to the one I have lost, rather than what he has taken from me.

Prodigal Son…a challenge from the inside

Tonight was my Ragamuffin group with the inmates at TRCI, and we were talking about grace and the love of Jesus.  One of the men challenged us all to read the Prodigal Son 3 times, something he discussed on a recent visit from his father.  He asked us all to read the story again, and to read it three times.  Once as the father, once as the son, and once as the brother.  I encourage you to take this challenge with me, and let yourself view this wonderful story from different eyes as you do so.  Which person do you typically identify with the most?  I think many times I have thought I am the son, but after thinking more about this I fear I am more like the brother.  Jesus I ask that you show us what’s in our hearts today as we read this story from Luke 15, let us see each of the characters in the story through your eyes, and also help us examine which of these we identify with most.

Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15: 11-32)
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

 

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

 

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

 

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

 

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

 

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

 

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

 

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’”

I would actually encourage you to read all 3 stories in Luke 15, they are all beautiful examples of how Jesus loves each and every one of us!

CONSUMED

Today I pray for us all, so often in life we let the things of this world consume us and run our lives.  Jesus I ask that your love be the sole focus of our lives, and let that love consume every aspect of who we are today.

Have you ever thought about what consumes you?  We all have a choice to make, consumed by the world or consumed by Jesus, so think about it and choose wisely.  I think an easy way to look at this is by asking a simple question.  If someone were to come along and offer you a billion dollars, would your life be better?  If yes, why?  The answer to the “why” is likely what is consuming you.

Let’s start by looking at the country we live in, good ol’ USofA.  Currently many who live in the United States are consumed by fear and/or pride, you can see it in almost every headline you read daily, and it’s been this way for quite some time!

PORNOGRAPHY – We are country consumed by lust!  An estimated 89% of the world’s porn is made right here in America.  Sadly  1 in 5 men admit to watching it at work.  Revenue from porn is more than the revenue from the television networks ABC, CBS and NBC…combined!  Over 40 million Americans view porn regularly.  And the saddest one of all, the most popular day to view it is Sunday…making it sin day.

DEBT – We are also consumed by debt, the average American carries over $15,000 in credit card debt.  That isn’t referring to cars or houses, simply what is on the average credit card today.  Next weekend millions of people will flock to Las Vegas for March Madness, and over 9 Billion dollars will be wagered on what was once considered a kids game.  Take Black Friday as another example, people aren’t even buying what they need, they are fighting for things they that are “on sale” and usually putting those items on a credit card as well.  We are allowing ourselves to be fooled into spending more to save a few bucks.

ABORTION – There have been more than 8 million abortions worldwide this year…and it’s barely even March!  Every year there are 40-50 million babies who will never get the chance to take their first breath.  22% of all pregnancies in the US end in abortion, and this excludes miscarriages.  The most common reason for abortion is self, I didn’t want a baby or I changed my mind.

DRUGS – Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the US, with over 52,000 lives taken in 2015, and over 20,000 of those related to prescription pain killers.  I think most often people think of drug addicts as some derelict on the street corner, but more and more addicts are showing up at PTA meetings or occupy the next cubicle over from you.  The modern day drug pushers are doctors, not street thugs.  Synthetic opiate deaths rose 73% last year.  Image what the world would look like if we even saw a 10% increase of those who follow Jesus every year. When we moved here I was told by the former chief of police that Umatilla county was the meth capital of the US, per capita.  I never verified that claim, but over the past 15 years what I have seen with my own eyes leaves little doubt that was a valid claim.  I have several friends who are continuously drawn back to that evil drug, it’s truly heartbreaking to see the grip is has on people.  This definitely consumes a person, and leaves NO room for anything or anyone else.  In fact I believe meth is a modern day demon, it fits the description that’s for sure.  I met a man just before Christmas who got out of county jail and was hoping to start over.  He told me before jail he had an apartment, 3 cars, a great job, and was living a pretty decent life.  His girlfriend introduced him to meth and within 5 months he was flat broke, lost everything he had, and was living in the mud down by the Umatilla river.

LOST HOPE – Millions of dollars are spent on psychics and mediums every year, and this is a rapidly growing market.  The same crowd I mentioned earlier will carry their lucky coin, or rabbit’s foot, around with them praying to it that their favorite team will win, that their bracket will stay in tact.  We spend so much money and effort wasted on meaningless things.  All those ads you see on the Internet of on TV for psychics are people just like you and me, they hold no special skill to tell the future, but they will gladly take your credit card number to feed you a line of BS.

Now let’s take a look at some of the more popular Bible heroes.  Moses was consumed by fear and doubt (read Exodus 4:1-10).  He didn’t think he was qualified, even begged God not to have him speak so God sent his brother Aaron with him.  He struggled time and time again with letting himself be consumed by God, but he was still a part of a bigger plan and God used him to lead millions out of slavery in Egypt.

David was consumed by lust (read 2 Samuel 11 about Bathsheba).  God’s love was the cause of David’s obedience however, not the response to his disobedience.  God had special plans for David (read Isaiah 11:1-5) and David was a man after God’s own heart (read Acts 13:22 and 1 Samuel 13:14).

Jonah was consumed by his own pride.  God asked him to go to Nineveh but he decided to go to Tarshish instead. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh, in fact he didn’t believe they were worthy of being saved.  Even after being swallowed by the great fish, and after he went and delivered the message God gave him to Nineveh, he was angry God wasn’t going to strike them down and basically pouted and felt sorry for himself.  He was mad because God showed grace to his lost children.

SO NOW THE GOOD NEWS, JESUS CAN REPLACE IT ALL!!!

Have you ever thought about the life of a seed?

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” ~ Cynthia Occelli

I love that analogy, for us to achieve our greatest worth, we must become completely undone, unconsumed by the world, and consumed by the love of Jesus.  Jesus was whipped, beaten, spit on, pierced by a crown of thorns, and stabbed.  He was consumed by sin so that he could die with it.  He was then buried in the ground, and a beautiful new creation rose out of that brokenne
ss to give new life to the world.  Jesus said time and again, in order to follow me, or be consumed by my love, you must first die to yourself.  We must become undone, so that new life can begin to grow in us through Jesus.

A woman came to me a couple weeks ago, one I barely know but she knows I love Jesus and said she had nobody else to turn to in life.  She was told me she believed God’s love was for other people, but not for her.  After sitting there listening to her for a few minutes, it was remarkable to watch that broken shell of a woman become undone so that Jesus could enter life.  Before I said one word she was figuring it all out on her own.  She said she is consumed by things, nice cars, Coach purses, fancy clothes, etc.  She was consumed by her job, one in which she was just fired from, but what she really wanted most was to be closer to her family, and to be closer to God.  I was thinking about her this weekend as I prepared this sermon for Desert Rose.  We live by McNary Dam, and it holds back the mighty Columbia River.  If that dam were to vanish instantly, you better believe the people living in the town of Umatilla would be consumed by the flood washing over them, as well as all the fishing boats below.  To me that is a great way to see how this woman, and so many others, don’t understand God’s love.  Just because you don’t feel it or won’t accept it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.  In fact God’s love is so much mightier than that wall of water, He is simply waiting patiently to let that love overwhelm you and consume your every thought.

We live in a dark world, but remember that darkness cannot consume light.  You can take a group of 50 people and walk deep inside the earth to a large 50 foot cavern.  There isn’t a single source of light in the room, and one could sit there for hours and his eyes will never adjust to the darkness.  However if you took one small match and lit it, the entire group of 50 would instantly be able to see again.  Light ends darkness, not the other way around!

Jesus lived his life in such a way, such a perfect way, as an example for all of us.  He was consumed by sin, all sin, so that he could die with it and rise from that death to renew us in Him.  That is dying to self, by simply accepting that gift.

Here are some Bible verses to help back this up:

Matthew 28:18-20 (NLT) – “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

John 4:13-14 NLT – “Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

Jeremiah 7:5-7 NLT – But I will be merciful only if you stop your evil thoughts and deeds and start treating each other with justice; only if you stop exploiting foreigners, orphans, and widows; only if you stop your murdering; and only if you stop harming yourselves by worshiping idols. Then I will let you stay in this land that I gave to your ancestors to keep forever.”

Ephesians 4:18-24 NLT – Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”

John 15:15 NLT – “I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.

John 18:36 NLT – “Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

I have been reading “The Broken Way” by Ann Voskamp and wanted to share a few quotes that I think are pertinent to this discussion.

“The only way to rise to the beauty of love is to rise and serve.”  (Jesus laid down His life for us so that we may be consumed by Him)

“Relationships are the realest reality—and the realest risk . . . and the worthiest risk.” (Jesus made it a point to be our friend, to show us how to love one another)

“I am what I love and I will love you like Jesus, because of Jesus, through the strength of Jesus. I will love when I’m not loved back. I will love when I’m hurt and disappointed and betrayed and inconvenienced and rejected.  I simply will love, no expectations, no conditions, no demands. Love is not always agreement with someone, but it is always sacrifice for someone.”

I will end with this wonderful story I heard years ago, thanks to the wonderful power of Google I was able to find it again to share it with you.

THE ROCK CLIMBER

A rock climber had a goal to climb the highest mountain in the world. The man spent years preparing and training himself to accomplish his dream. The only problem was he wanted all the glory for himself; therefore he wanted to climb the mountain alone.

The day came when he felt he was ready to start on his adventure and so he began his way up the mountain. During one of the nights, however, as he approached the top, the clouds covered the moon and the stars. Nevertheless the man chose to continue the climb even though he had zero visibility.

Only a few feet from his destination, however, he slipped and fell. Gravity sucked him through the air down the mountainside at a tremendous and frightening speed. All the man could see was black spots before his eyes.

As he was falling his life flashed before him. He was thinking about how he was rapidly getting closer and closer to death when suddenly he felt the rope tied around his waist pull him hard. Unexpectedly he was jerked to a stop and suspended in mid-air with only the rope to hold him.

As he collected himself from the waves of adrenalin, terror and physical trauma, in the stillness and silence of the night he cried out to God for help.

Surprisingly a deep voice from heaven spoke to him and said,

“What do you want me to do?”

The man replied, “Save me.”

The voice said, “Do you really think I can save you?”

Again the man answered, “Of course I believe you can.”

“Then cut the rope tied around your waist,” he said.

The man thought about it long and hard, but decided instead to hold onto the rope with all of his strength.

Unfortunately the next day rescue workers found the climber, frozen and dead, still clinging tightly to the rope. The clincher, however, was that he was only a few feet from the ground. He did not turn loose of the rope nor did he know he was only a short distance from his deliverance.

Many times the things in this life we cling to so tightly may very well be the things that will, in the end, destroy us. Perhaps, for example, it is a bad habit or relationship.

Jesus said, “Those who seek to save their lives will lose it, but those who lose their lives for My sake will find it.”

This is a difficult lesson to learn – to have a loose reign on the things of this world – to cut the rope, so to speak – and to hold tightly instead to the promises of God. For after all, our salvation and hope is found in Him and Him alone.

 

Cheeseburgers in Paradise

Today was a wonderful day spent with many in my community who came together to spread some love to those who need it badly due to the current state of fear spreading across this nation.  I will open with a prayer for all those families who are scared right now, who do not know what may come tomorrow, and regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum these are all children of God who are deeply loved just like anyone else.  Jesus please make yourself known to all of those who are living in fear right now and show them The Way to everlasting peace and joy.

A local pastor and myself were talking last week about an apartment complex near my house who honestly live in third world conditions.  I was telling Pastor Jason that we should go over there sometime and host a free BBQ to feed the needy and fill their hearts with love from this community, something they need more than food for sure.  The danger in telling Jason these things is he is a “shoot first, ask questions later” type of guy, so as you might expect his reply to me was “let’s not just talk about it, let’s do it, when?  Next weekend?”  So it was settled, we’d have a free BBQ for these neighbors in our community and we chose today for the day.  That was all the planning we did, but it was all the planning we needed apparently.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to witness in a long time is the overwhelming sense of fear I felt as I walked from door to door hoping to hand out little flyers letting the residents know about the lunch that was coming later today.  It was not any fear I felt for myself, but I could sense the fear of those living behind locked doors, the fearful eyes peeping through the a break in the window blinds.  The worst one for me was an upstairs apartment, before I knocked on the door I could hear the sound of young children playing and laughing, running around expressing pure joy inside their home…until I knocked.  Then all I heard the mad scramble of heavier footsteps, the adults whispering “shhhhh” to all the children, silencing their mouths and extinguishing their little hearts that had burned with happiness only moments earlier.  The sound of fear is crushing, at least it was for me at that moment.

I had posted a brief comment on Facebook about needing some additional side items and so many wonderful people dropped of cheese, cookies, drinks, plates, etc.  We had already been given enough burgers, buns and water for 100 people, which I was confident was enough, actually I should say I had faith it was enough, because I honestly had no idea how many even lived there or let alone how many would come.  We all met down at Desert Rose Ministries on Main Street and I was very surprised at the number of volunteers we had, but then again I wasn’t because when I leave the “planning” up to God he always gives me enough.  We packed up the supplies and loaded the grill into a trailer and headed over to see what we might do out of love, in the name of Jesus, for those who need it most.

At first it was a little slow going, a few kids I have known for about a year know came out and we talked to them, and fed them the first few cheeseburgers that came off the grill.  Slowly but surely more and more children came out to investigate what was going on.  I’m betting the smell of grilling burgers was a big reason many wanted to know what was taking place in their parking lot.  Shortly after that a neighbor from across the street came with a truck load of toys for the children, so we laid out a tarp to keep the children and toys off the wet grass.  After a short while a few of the women came out to test the waters, these are the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts of the children who we were already feeding.  As the day went on more and more of the residents started to let down their guard, and peek past the giant wall of fear they had been living behind, to come out and enjoy the party.  I found out later one of the first women to come out had told some others who lived there that it was one of the little girl’s birthday, so they were more inclined to come out and enjoy the feast.  Before too long we actually did have a party going, kids were running around in the grass, a few of the volunteers were playing basketball with a crew of kids as well just across the street.  New friendships were being formed, eyes and hearts were being opened on both sides of that wall. Some of those who live privileged lives were heartbroken and shocked to learn what poverty looks like only a few blocks from where many called home.  One woman and I were talking and she made a comment about mission trips, and basically said we’ve got plenty of need RIGHT here under our nose!  She honestly had no idea, and that was the point of this day.  Many of us live in sheltered and secure little lives where we don’t know about the extreme conditions some are living in, and honestly some of us don’t want to know.

Today was a beautiful day, even as the rain started pouring down, it was not going to drown out the love shining brightly all around this small community.  Jason made a comment later about the rain actually being a blessing, as some of the men who live there were sent home from work early as a result and they too received a warm meal and a little love from a neighbor.  There was just so much joy in a small window of time, a window that opened a little wider and just enough for love to sneak inside.  As we were packing up and getting ready to leave a man named Alfonzo showed up and at first I thought he may be another husband coming home from work, another daddy looking for his little ones running among the crowd.  But he was another neighbor from a few blocks over, and he had been trying to find something to do with a bunch of bicycles he had.  He told me he walks through the neighborhood all the time but had never seen anyone outside, but today he saw what he thought was a party and a bunch of people, so he decided to pack up the bikes and helmets and drop by.  As a result many little ones were blessed with beautiful bikes, and they were SOOOOO excited!  As I drove away I could see them them riding circles around one another, smiling bright for all to see.  My belly was full, my heart was complete.

 I turned up the music on my stereo connected to my iPod and ironically enough “Cheeseburger in Paradise” came up on my playlist.  I had to laugh, and then I thought about it and what a great name for this day.  We served a little over 80 burgers, and we opened up the hearts of so many people to a new community of friends that did not exist only a few hours earlier.  It was easy to look at all the faces surrounding me and see joy and comfort in their laughter.  The fear that consumed people that morning was replaced with friendship and trust.  That my friends is paradise, any way you look at it!

“Accidental” Answers

Have you ever sat and wondered “Does God listen to my prayers?”  or maybe “Does God really love me?”  Last week a broken woman I barely know walked into my office at work and laid her heart in front of me and I could see all the pain that she was wrapped up in as she told me “God’s love is for other people, I envy them, but it’s not for me”.  If you have ever felt like that, or if you are feeling that right now, I pray that you will stop believing that lie and accept the love that is waiting for you.  I can promise you one thing, God’s love is for you, as much as it was for Moses, David, and even Jesus himself.  It’s not something I can explain, but it’s sometime I promise will be shown to you if you give Him the chance.

I’ve been going through quite a journey lately, but it’s my journey and the things I have seen and felt in the past month are unlike anything I have ever experienced before in my life.  I just finished a 21 day fast, not to lose weight, simply to lose the world and find my Jesus, the one who loves me more than anything I have ever experienced before.  What has been amazing is the clarity of faith I now see, the answers to prayers, a the connection to something so real I can grab it with both hands and never want to let go.  What God has shown me that I can explain to you is that I am called to ministry, to share the love I have been given with anyone and everyone I can find.  As I write this I am so excited to get to share what God has given me with others this Sunday down at Desert Rose.  I am not excited for because of anything I can do on my own, simply for the message that I believe God has shared with me to share with others.

What I do find very interesting is how God can use the unlikeliest of people, in the most uncommon of circumstances, to show us exactly how He loves.  Earlier this week I was talking to my wife about the movie The Shack, and the book as well. What I do not understand is how some people find this to be a new age worldly view of Jesus and will simply not even read it or see the movie because someone else, many times a pastor, has spoken out against it.  I think the big hangup is that God appears in this fictional story to a man in his dreams as a black woman.  Because we all know God is a white man with a flowing white beard, and lightening bolts in his hands, or is that Zeus?  I am not hear to argue about The Shack, it’s a great story, see it/read it or not, that’s your choice.  But I do find it funny that people can fully accept God speaking through a burning bush (Exodus 3) or a talking donkey (Numbers 22:21-39) but cannot accept the fact that he could choose just about anything or anyone to send his message of unfailing love to one of us.

Part of my fast involved focusing on what I am doing and where I need to be, which of course would involve my job.  I love my job, I don’t love the work, in fact I am pretty burned out as an IT guy.  But I know I am part of a bigger picture, and the work being done at my agency is showing love to so many of the “least of these” I am happy to do my part.  What I need in my life is people though, and I am at a point where working on machines just isn’t doing it.  It was about 1 week into my fast that I sat my boss down and told him we need to talk about a cessation plan for me, as I will not be able to do this for much longer.  God is calling me into something else, but I don’t know what.  The first window I saw open was a new opportunity to work from home, to do similar work I am doing now, but have full control over my time and schedule.  A job I can do from my home in Hermiston or in a remote village in Guatemala.  I fell in love with that idea, and I reached out to many faithful friends and asked them simply to pray that I would see God’s plan revealed before me, clear as day.  I didn’t ask for prayer that I get the job, I prayed for God’s will to be shown to me.  That’s hard for me, because I wanted this job, and the more I thought about it the more I convinced myself this was the job I needed.  It wasn’t, and God showed me that in so many ways.  It’s important to understand I am not looking for a new job, I am simply open to accepting what is shown to me.  Honestly if God wants me to stay where I am, I would be more than happy to do that until I am called to something else.  With that said, if something lands in my lap then I will follow that until I get the answers I seek.  Today was one of those days, one of those “accidental” moments where I must pause and ponder “why this, why now?”

Today in the most unsuspecting way from the most unsuspecting person, I believe a message was sent to me from God.  Just a random fleeting moment to anyone else, I sat there and actually had to laugh a little.  A woman I work with, one I call a good friend, sent me a message on Facebook Messenger (while we talk and text often enough, she had sent me a total of 4-5 messages on FB).  Oddly enough it was a job opening at a local prison, one I just so happen to volunteer in and have for the past year.  Let’s rewind a few weeks to another conversation I was having with an employee at the other local prison (yes we are blessed to have two medium security prisons within 30 minutes of each other) I volunteer in.  I was explaining to her I felt drawn to prison, and I wasn’t sure if that was work or just volunteering, but it makes me feel alive when I turn the corner and see the sign out front.  I had asked her if it was possible to work for the prison, and still be allowed to volunteer in it as well.  She informed me that as long as the two roles did not overlap, that wasn’t an issue.  I had already told her that my heart was telling me I was done with IT, but I told her that one reason I could stay in IT is if it got me into the prison.  Now let’s get back to present time, today.  The job this random moment in my life exposed to me was an IT job, working in that very prison that launched my prison ministry, that opened the door to Ragamuffin Ministries, that makes my heart feel complete.  So now I am back at that crossroads, where is this going?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I feel that it’s important to look at all the possible directions I could go, and trust I will know which way to go when I need to make that choice.  For now I will humbly submit to His will, and I will apply for that job and see what happens with it.  I do know this, it feels right, it feels like a natural fit to everything I have been thinking and praying about lately.  Maybe it’s just further confirmation that I am where I need to be, or perhaps it’s time to pack it up and head out on a new journey.  What I do know is I believe this was not an accident, just simply an answer.

“You are to pay special attention to those who by accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.”  ~ SAINT AUGUSTINE