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Monday, August 19, 2013

Strange Behaviors

I was starting to list for myself this morning some of the strange behaviors that I willingly engage in for the love of running. I thought I'd share some of that list with you as a way to enter into a larger discussion.

-Right now as I type this, I have an ice pack strapped around my left ankle. At my desk. At work. My left Achilles has been bothering me, and this is one of the few times I sit still long enough to ice!
-Last night I slept with two socks on that same foot. Just the left foot. I've heard that keeping the foot warm is a key to recovery. It looks weird. It seems to help my ankle.
-This year I have purchased three brand new pairs of shoes. I've never worn any of them in public. They are just for running. The shoes I wear around are all over a year old.
-Last night I felt achy, sore and tired. So I got up early this morning, ran 8 miles, and I feel better than ever.
-I don't eat French fries. I have found that any kind of deep-friend food has an adverse affect on my morning runs, so I avoid them during peak training.
-I check the weather every night just to see what the temp will be in the morning.
-I blow my nose into my shirt when I run. I've tried the farmer blow and it just doesn't work for me. You probably didn't want to know that. I could go even more graphic, but let's not go there.

So why am I thinking about all these strange behaviors today? It occurs to me that in the name of our passion, we will do some pretty outrageous things. We willingly engage in behaviors that may seem odd or even ludicrous to others who don't share our passion. Imagine the frenzied fans at a Seahawks game with bright green spiked hair. Picture the crowds gathering at national scrapbooking and Star Wars conventions. Think of the lines of people camping out to be the first to own the next iPhone. More likely than not, one or more of these groups seem strange to you. You don't understand their passion, so their behavior is hard to comprehend. But you know at the same time that you have a similar passion in your life that may be misunderstood by others, be it Duck Dynasty, Starbucks, or vintage cars.

This weekend at church, we talked about the life of the prophet Jeremiah. This guy lived boldly for God- what God told him to say, he said. What God told him to do, he did. And this made him look strange; very strange. It also offended and bothered a lot of people who didn't understand his passion. But here's the connection for me: Why is it that I am so willing to look strange when it comes to my hobby of running, but often so unwilling to look strange when it comes to my faith in Jesus? To be honest, when it comes to faith and Jesus in my life, I usually try to fit in. I want to look normal, average and regular. I don't want to offend or turn anyone away because of "strange behaviors."

Somehow this feels out of sync to me. How could I bring the same attitude I have towards how others view my running that I do to how others view my faith? Could I be more bold to live out loud and let the crowd- be they skeptics or supporters- react however they want? Here are some paths I'd like to walk in, and thus be accused of strange behaviors:

-I'd like to love more outrageously. When someone is hurting or in need, I want to be more proactive to go to extreme measures to show love. I don't do that very often.
-I want to treat everyone like they have unsurpassable worth. I want to treat people who are nothing like me with the same kind of honor and respect I would give to the president if he walked into the room. That's hard to do.
-I want to respond with grace and love when others grow harsh or mean. I want to bless bad drivers, not yell at them.
-I want to talk more often about Jesus, how much he means to me, and how I really believe he's the hope of the world. I want to stop worrying about who's listening or how they might respond.

You know, if I engaged in these behaviors, I would look strange to most people, especially to those who didn't understand my passion. But I do this all the time with running- why not with Jesus?

What's on your list? How do you want to live so that others might see you as strange?

On your journey, may you joyfully be strange for Jesus!

Nick

Monday, July 29, 2013

On Hearing God

How does God speak to us? It seems like we often hear that a key to faith is hearing God’s voice and then doing what He says. This is all well and good when “the voice” of God we hear is through Scripture. In fact, we could spend a lifetime simply trying to do what He says in His Word. But this same Word also holds out another promise to us- that God is a God who continues to speak. He has something to say about our personal situations and the individual experiences we all have from day to day.

So, in the rush of life, how exactly does God speak to us? Someone asked me this very question a few weeks ago. I thought for a bit about how I personally attempt to listen to God. Like many others, I try to take some time each day to be quiet before God, and then in a prayerful place to listen to what God might have to say. As I pondered this approach, however, it occurred to me that very rarely if ever have I heard God in that moment!

Now that seems kind of strange, doesn’t it? I believe in a God who is speaking and who wants to speak to me, yet when I actually go to listen, I must honestly admit that I rarely hear anything. Perhaps you are encouraged by this! Maybe you have grown weary of this kind of listening because it feels like wasted time where very odd and random things pop into your mind. Be at ease- you are not alone!

But back to the question at hand- how do we hear God speak? I am not trying to create precedence here or say this is the right way, but I want to share my experience because you may find similarities. What I have found is that when I am setting aside time to hear from God, though I rarely hear from Him in that moment, I very often hear from Him in that season. In other words, when I am being consistent in this posture of listening, I will find that at other times in my day, a voice or a thought will suddenly pop up and somehow in my soul I just know it is God’s voice. An answer to a question. A new perspective. A lyric from a song I haven’t thought of in ages. A verse in Scripture I haven’t read in months. But there it is. To me, I feel like God has to catch me off guard in these moments.

The more I think about it, the more this makes sense to me. When I sit and pray, “God, I want to hear your voice,” whether I realize it or not, I have many presuppositions in that moment. I have ideas of what God should or shouldn’t say. I have ideas of what He will say and how He will say it. I put up all these filters that make actually hearing His voice in that moment difficult if not impossible. But in doing this, I believe that I am somehow aligning my heart with His. I am opening up a portion of my soul and making it more ready to receive. And at just the right moment, God speaks. When I am not even aware of Him, He is aware of me and my need to hear His voice. And so He speaks.

So though I rarely hear God “in the moment”, I will continue to be one who listens. And when He catches me off guard and speaks just what I needed to hear, I will be grateful that He spoke in His way, and His time. We have a speaking God. May we be a listening people!
 
How about you? Can you relate to this? How do you hear God?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Less than Magical

One of the difficult decisions of our recent trip to Florida and the Magic Kingdom was what to do with our 18-month old son. He's at that challenging age where he's completely mobile and inquisitive, but not smart enough or old enough to really know better. After much consideration, we decided to leave him with my folks. In Montana. This meant a 5 and 1/2 hour drive before and after the trip for a drop off and pick up.

On Sunday, I was driving back from Montana with our son, and along the way I found myself growing increasingly angry. For starters, some kind of construction activity on Snoqualmie Pass had added an hour to my trip. At one point, traffic had sat completely motionless for 15 minutes. The worst part for me was that all along this stretch, I never did see a single sign of active construction. It was a traffic jam created completely by, well, traffic.

Next off, Luke decided that he didn't want to sleep. Even though it was 10 PM and he was very tired, he kept shaking himself awake. Was he afraid that if he drifted off to sleep I would leave him somewhere again? I don't know. So he's fussy, and then it starts to rain. Not Washington-gentle-mist kind of rain. More like South Pacific-drops-as-large-as-acorns sheet rain. And all of this begins happening as I round the I-5 bend near the Tacoma Dome, which all you north-westerners know is a notoriously busy and backed up section of road.

So there I was- tired of driving, suffering from a 3-hour jet-lag that told me it was 1Am, trying to comfort a crying baby by myself in a pouring rainstorm with traffic all around me moving at 30 miles an hour. And how did I handle this? I got angry, and I found myself wanting to blame others; even irrationally. I wanted to blame my parents for not driving the whole way. I wanted to blame my wife for not going instead of me. I wanted to blame the rain, the other drivers, and even my 18-month old for not being smart enough to see that Daddy was about to blow so he should just pipe down.

Amidst all of this frustration came a quiet moment of clarity. I would like to say that God spoke to me, but I'm just not sure- it could have been my own spirit. But a still voice whispered, "Remember, you chose this. This was the plan that you chose." This thought powerfully calmed the raging storm of my soul. When I regained the perspective that the current circumstances, though out of my control, were circumstances that I had willingly put myself into, I had renewed peace and strength to face them.

I'm writing this today because of how often I think this happens for all of us. Life gets tough, we get angry, and the blaming begins. In some ways, it's human nature to look for ways to blame others for the problems we face. But I wonder if we step back enough and say to ourselves, "I chose this." Certainly, we didn't choose the unexpected problems or trouble, but in most of our challenges I think we can take ownership of choices we made to put ourselves in this position.

So, your spouse may be angry and hurtful at times, but remember you chose to love for better or for worse. Now may just be a time of worse. A boss may have unrealistic expectations or be at times difficult to work with, but when you accepted the job you accepted those risks as well. Your child might be mean and disrespectful, but when you chose to become a parent, you willingly invited another free-willed being into your home.

I think you see what I'm saying here. If we can willingly say to ourselves, "I chose this", we hold onto a perspective that gives us the ability to face the challenge with new strength. And rather than blaming, we are enabled to go to God and see His help. When we blame, we tend not to pray because the fault lies with someone else. Or we pray for them- that God will change them, change the weather, change our circumstances: we ask him to change everything except ourselves.When we look at our own choices, we can ask a gracious Father to give us the courage to face what needs to be faced with the kind of character He loves to give His children.

So when the magic of a marriage, a job, a task, or a trip to Disney World fades, look for an opportunity to embrace your role in choosing. Rather than blaming, and giving in to anger, find ways to surrender to God and invite His help into your situation. Say to yourself, "I chose this" and to God, "Now help me to see it through." And He will help you.

The rain will always fall, but you choose the kind of trip you will take through the storm.

Peace-

Nick

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tragedy in Boston

The events of this week from Boston have struck a chord in my heart. It is eery to see these images from a place I have been- to watch runners fall to the ground at the finish line- to watch medical personnel aiding the injured- hearing the screaming crowd- all of these things happened in 2004 when I ran the marathon. But it makes me sick to see all these same events connected to a bombing. I feel a kind of sickness that doesn't hit the stomach, but a little higher in the heart.

Maybe that's why today I keep thinking of the saying from Proverbs that "A hope deferred makes the heart sick." (Proverbs 13:12) There were so many painful hopes deferred yesterday. A local gal from our area turned the final corner onto Boylston Street- a scene I remember well- only to be forced to stop. For any marathoner, this turn towards the glory of the finish line is etched forever in your memory, especially at Boston. For her, the life-long dream would end there with the banners and ticking clock within site. Hope deferred. For others, they had gone to cheer on a friends or family member as they put on their final kick at the end of the race, only to end up running for their lives away from that place, never to see the loved one finish. Hope deferred. For still others, a loved one or friend who had come to cheer them on in the race of their life will never come home again. Hope deferred. Heart sick.

This complete Proverb says, "A hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." Many of us are watching these events unfold and are left with a deep longing in our chests. We long for a world where these events do not happen. We long for safety, peace and security. We long for a human experience marked by kindness and compassion, not anger and hate. But how will this longing be fulfilled?

In my understanding, I only know of one place where we find a tree of life- God's eternal heaven. And something about events like yesterday makes us long for that place. A place where hope is not deferred, but is fully experienced in the presence of God. Events like yesterday always remind me that we live in a hope-deferred kind of time, but that Jesus came to produce a longing-fulfilled kind of world. In Christ, we find the fulfillment of our longings as we experience the "right now among you" kingdom that Jesus inaugurated through is death and resurrection. Yet we still experience hope-deferred moments day after day.

So if, like me, you find yourself a bit heart sick these days, may it remind you we live in a broken world. A world that is not our home. But a new kingdom is breaking in, a kingdom of peace where longings are fulfilled. We live in place that is not yet all that God intended, and so He sent His Son. He sent Jesus to be our longing fulfilled and to lead us into life. May we cling tightly to him in the days to come.

Peace as you run this journey-

Nick

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Is It Jesus Vs. Soccer?

I don't normally re-post other people's material on my blog, but every once in awhile I find it worthwhile. This author says in a very upfront manner some of the things I have felt about parents trying to raise their kids in faith amidst a sports culture. I am challenged and encouraged by these words as I look at what choices we will make with our four young kids. I hope you find them meaningful as well-

Parents, Sports and Church

Thursday, April 11, 2013
I am about to enter into the most volatile subject imaginable.  No, not abortion or same-sex marriage, not even immigration reform or gun control.
Those are tame.
I want to talk about parents, sports and the church.
How many of you already felt your defenses go up, blood pressure rise, and claws and fangs extend?
I’m kind of dumb, so I’m going to keep writing.
But I am smart enough to say a few things before I go any further:
*I believe that on the eighth day, God created ESPN.
*I played organized sports from grade school all the way through to college.
*All four of my children were involved in sports during their formative years, from basketball to football, swim team to gymnastics.  I even coached many years of basketball when my boys were on teams with the YMCA and AAU.
*I believe sports are a good and healthy investment for parents to make, even when it involves sacrifice to have your children involved.
*Finally, I don’t reduce following Christ to attending church.
Whew!  There now – have I covered all my bases?
So here’s the inevitable “but” you sense is coming…
According to a new study published in the Review of Religious Research, an examination of declining attendance at 16 congregations revealed that many pastors place the most blame on children’s sports activities, since both practices and competitions are increasingly “scheduled on Sunday mornings at the very time when many churches traditionally have provided religious education.”
I’ve seen the same thing.
I see parents letting almost every other extracurricular activity in their child’s life take precedent over investments designed to make a spiritual impression.  Meaning soccer, or baseball, or swim team gets first dibs on the calendar.
For example, our church has a periodic event called “Family Night.”  It’s designed for the entire family to attend together, and highlights a specific character trait through a program involving music, dance, skits, video and more.  Parents are then equipped to go further with that trait with their children in the home, as well as through our MecKidz program during the weekend services.
It’s one of the more popular events in the life of our church, and combined with our weekend MecKidz program for children birth-fifth grade, it reaches thousands of parents and their children and strategically serves parent’s efforts to build Christ-like character – not to mention a relationship with Christ Himself – into their child’s life.
Yet I’ve actually overheard parents say things like, “Yes, we’re going to do Family Night – we wouldn’t miss it for the world - but only until soccer starts.”  Or, “We’re doing MecKidz on weekends, but not once swim team starts.”
That’s a concern.  And it isn’t about our church, much less it’s attendance.  I’m talking parent to parent, dad to dad, pastor to people.
Think about what you’re saying.  In fact, say it out loud, in front of a mirror.  Listen to it.
“I will do spiritual things for my child’s sake until sports conflict, then sports win.” 
Do you mean it?  Really?  Is that how you want to prioritize things?
When our kids were younger, my wife Susan and I saw this one coming.  We wanted our kids in those events every bit as much as anyone else.  But with some of the sports, there kept being conflict after conflict.
So we decided to take a stand.
For every team, every league, we’d put the same thing down when we registered.  We would ensure that there was at least one weekend service our children could attend.  Back then, it was Sunday mornings (we’ve since added more days and service times).  Further, we let the coaches know, in advance, those select Friday evenings when “Family Night” would be offered and we wouldn’t be able to participate.
There was even a season in our church’s life when our boundaries included not only every Sunday morning, but every Wednesday night.  For us that was important, too.
But in all those years of parenting, involving four children, we never once had a kid penalized.  We never once had anyone kick us off a team.  We never once felt that we deprived our kids of anything substantive.
And even if we had, who cares.
That’s not important.
Their hearts were.
Their character was.
What they were gaining spiritually was paramount .
That’swhat mattered.
And they turned out fine – valedictorians and athletes, prestige college acceptances and good marriages – all the things that parents are so insecure about.  But more important, all four know Christ intimately (and are even in vocational Christian ministry).
I’ve seen too many parents make sports their priority as if that’s what it means to raise their children in a healthy and holistic way, only to see that child travel far from God during their high school or college years, or leave the faith altogether as a young adult.
They had field hockey, basketball, or swim team, but they didn’t seem to end up with much of Jesus.
Hear my heart:  it’s not about choosing between Jesus and sports.  At least, it doesn’t have to be.  But if it comes down to that choice, how exactly does soccer rank over your child’s eternity?  How is it we’ll spend half a day travelling to a volleyball tournament, but fail to protect an hour a week where they will learn about God?
Let’s just say I watch my sports scores carefully.
But I don’t see that one adding up to a win.
James Emery White

Sources
“The Main Reason for Declining Church Attendance: Children's Sports?,” Melissa Steffan, Christianity Today, April 8, 2013, read online.
“The Final Four, travel teams and empty pews: Research on sports and religion,” David Briggs, The Association of Religion Data Archives, April 3, 2013, read online.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Do You Smile When You Run?

Awhile back, I mentioned to someone that I was a runner. Sometimes, confessing this can feel like admitting to some kind of secret obsession or fetish, as non-runners tend to have a hard time understanding why anyone would like to run and choose to do so voluntarily. But I told this near-stranger that I loved to run. This fellow asked an interesting question back, "Do you smile when you run?" In his words, he said that every runner he had ever seen looked sad, angry, tired or a combination of all three.

A few days later, I was out on a normal run and for whatever reason, I was not feeling it that day. My legs were sluggish and my brain wanted to call it quits early. But I thought of this guy's question about smiling when I run, and I realized that, in that moment, I was living out his stereotype of the angry-tired-sad runner look.

So I made a decision. I decided that the next car that drove by I would greet as if it was my brother. My real brother lives in Wisconsin and it is highly unlikely that he would drive 2,000 miles to greet me on a run, so picturing my reaction to seeing him struck me as funny and a bit exorbitant. Due to this, the next car that drove by received a spontaneously wild wave of excitement from me that had to have left the driver wondering what on earth was wrong with that crazy runner.

I did the same thing to the next car. And the next. And the next. After 3 or 4 cars, I actually found that I was enjoying it. I was laughing at myself and laughing at the reactions and thoughts that must be going through the heads of the unsuspecting drivers. Do you know what else happened? I started to feel good about the run. What only moments before had been drudgery suddenly felt like a party on the move. All of this happened because I chose a different persepctive- I intentionally put my mind and my thoughts on something that brought life and energy.

There's a story kind of like this that occurs in the Bible. David, the man who would one day be king over all Israel, is in a bad place. His life is being threatened by King Saul. Assissins have come to his house and only narrowly missed him. Spears thrown from the hand of the king have pinned him to the wall. Plots are underway to end David's life. Because of this, he finds himself on the lam, running from the king and who knows how many others. He has no one with him, nothing for protection but an over-sized sword of Goliath, and he's forced to run into enemy territory. While there, he must pretend that he is crazy so as not to be killed but yet another hostile king.

During this whole story, David pens the words to Psalm 34;
     I will praise the Lord at all times.
       I will constantly speak his praises.
     I will boast only in the Lord;
       Let all who are helpless take heart.
     Come, let us exalt the Lord's greatness;
        Let us exalt His name together! (Vs. 1-3)
The irony of this Psalm is that none of the things David sings about have actually come to pass in his current situation. At the time of writing,, he is in a foreign land, being chased by Saul, and with no hope of a future kingdom on his mind. But these are the words he puts to a scroll. Why? Because he chose a perspective. Rather than the sad-weary-tired soldier look, he put his eyes on the Lord. He chose to focus not on his circumstances, but on the glory of God and the promise of His faithfulness.  And so I believe that these words were not empty wishes which created a false hope, but that these words were powerful reminders of greater truths about God.

So today, may I ask- where is your perspective? Are you looking at current circumstances in such a way that life and energy seem to be draining away step by step? Or are you consciously choosing to focus on the greater things of God and His purposes for you? Making that choice to look up could make all the difference in the world.

At the very least, it could make the run a little lighter. And puzzle a few drivers as well!

     Taste and see that the Lord is good.
        Oh the joys of those who take refuge in Him!  (Psalm 34:8)

May you journey in His joy-
Nick

Monday, March 25, 2013

Objects of Our Sanctification

Objects of our sanctification. What on earth does that mean?

Awhile back, my mentor suggested that God had allowed something into my life as an object of my sanctification- something that God was using to make me more like Jesus. In that case, it had been a relationship that was teaching me humility, patience and trust. Good things to learn, but usually only learned through trials and tough circumstances.

Lately, my wife and I have really been wrestling with some attitudes and behaviors of our 8-year old. She can be a great joy, and great pain, within any given 10-second window. One thing we have noticed is how well she does when we can focus just on her. She thrives under attention and one-on-one time of any kind. But placed in a situation- any situation- where she has to share or accommodate the needs and interests of others (such as a 5-year old sister or a 4-year old brother) and she has the tendency to flip out.

So the other day, I was thinking about this objects of sanctification idea and how it related to my 8-year old. We happened to be hanging out in my office together and I said to her, "Alyssa, I think you are an only child to whom God chose to give siblings in order to teach you how to share." She looked at me with excitement and replied, "Yeah, I told you I should be an only child!" Well, at least she had part of the message figured out.

But we went on to have a nice little daddy-daughter conversation about what I meant. That sometimes God uses things to help us learn how to be more like Him, even things we don't necessarily like. (No, I did not use the term "objects of sanctification" with my daughter) While I am not sure if she totally grasped this concept, it still has me thinking today. What are the things God continues to use in my life to shape me? Where could it be said of my life, "I was made to do this, but God also gave me that to help me learn"?

Some of my thoughts:
I was made to perform and be up front, but God gave me weaknesses to learn to trust Him. 
I was made to lead, but God allows doubt and fear so that I learn to listen for His voice.
I was made to accomplish, but God gives me relationships so I learn to slow down and put people ahead of tasks.

What are your thoughts? What objects of sanctification has God placed in your life?

May you see His shaping hand at work on your jouney-

Nick

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Spring Training



Spring tends to be a season of preparation. If you practice Lent, you make intentional decisions to lay certain things down to make more room for God. You determine to pick up certain things in order to have a greater focus on Christ and His sacrifice. In doing this, you and I are communicating to our heart and our brain that the Presence of Christ in us matters and is worthy of our attention.

If I am honest, I am a long ways away from living in this constant awareness of His Presence. There is an ideal I have of what this unbroken communion with Jesus would be like, and most days I am nowhere close! I can either beat myself up about this lack of faith and focus, or I can determine to prepare myself to live in this way. I begin to practice. I train.

You may find yourself in a season of preparation as well. Preparing to get married, preparing to have kids, preparing for college, preparing for a new job- all of these require a certain way of life. As a church, we are also in a season of preparation in many ways- preparing for Easter, preparing to hire staff, preparing to plant a church. In seasons like this, what parameters should guide our behaviors? I would offer these four principles:

1. Do the hard work now so you can enjoy less work later.
I think of this every spring with my garden when I am busy tearing out unwanted growth, trimming back bushes, and tiling up cold, hard soil. The more work I am willing to engage in now, the better the summer will be. If I make the effort to ready the soil of my garden, I can spend far less time pulling weeds in the summer. I have to remind myself of this, or else the work just feels like drudgery.

Life works this way. There are seasons in which we must invest heavily in something so that it has the freedom to grow and flourish. You may be putting an extra focus on your walk with Christ in these weeks- this will lead to a stronger friendship with Him. You may be pouring countless hours into young children- this will lead (hopefully!) to better adjusted adults who can contribute in the world. You may be struggling mightily to change a behavior or addiction- this will lead to a better, freer way of life. Be willing to engage in the hard work now because life will flourish when you do.

2. Endure unpleasant things because better days are coming.
When I head out to run on a cold, miserable February or March day, I rarely appreciate the weather. I don’t like running in the rain, and I really don’t like running in the wind. If, however, I let these elements stop me, I have just eliminated 6 months from the running calendar! Enduring some unpleasant runs in the early spring gives me the ability to enjoy running on beautiful summer evenings and in crisp autumn races.

Your season of preparation may be causing you to face or experience many unpleasant things. These adverse conditions may leave you wanting to quit. Don’t do it! Making these sacrifices now will pay off. The author of Hebrews said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11) You are training yourself to be able to receive a good harvest!

3. Remember that unseen, little things usually become visible big things.
Every spring, the Major League Baseball season begins almost unnoticed by most of us in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Mariners open practice usually around the third week of February down in Arizona. Day upon day, they will take to the field in the early morning hours and scoop ground balls, shag pop-flies, and take swings in the batting cage. Few fans attend these workouts. Why? Because they are BORING. But come April, 50,000 people will fill SafeCo field for opening day. On that day, a thousand little things done by the players will be on display in a big way.

So is the case for all of us. We may be engaging in practices that seem small in the scope of life, and go unnoticed by almost everyone else. We get up early to pray. We read the Bible with our children. We skip that extra snack or desert. We practice kindness when we could have been rude. Choice after choice, we are creating a life that will one day be on display for all to see. Don’t let the hidden nature of these acts convince you they are unimportant. They mean everything in the end!

4. This is a season; and season’s change.
A final principle to keep before you is that season’s change. You can’t plant seeds all year-round. (Ok, I’m sure there are some that you can, but you know what I mean.) You have a window of time to plant your garden or your flowers and then the growing season ends.

Whatever changes you are making right now will not be your focus forever. They shouldn’t be. The kids will grow, the relationship will change, the habit will become a routine- life has a way of changing. So focus on this as a season. Bring intensity and discipline to this season because you know it won’t last forever. Stagnation- or not changing- is what creates despair and causes us to quit. Viewing your current commitment as a season may give you the grace and strength you need to see it through. And God will be with you.

So, may all our seasons of preparation become the fertile ground leading to new, and greater, life in Christ.Journey on!

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:1, 10

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Go Kill Something

At East Hills, we have been challenging one another to read through the entire Bible chronologically in one year. This all sounds great until you realize that it takes more than a month to get through the law portion of Scripture. As an encouragement to folks, and for perspective, I offered this post for some perspective on all the gory, sacrificial details of Genesis-Deuteronomy.

"As we continue to wind our way through the first five books of the Bible, one of the things we can't help but stop and ask is, "why are there so many laws in these books?" And, "why are they in the Bible?" For most of us, I think we feel like there is little that we can gain today from studying them, and we never hear them preached on, if not for more than a passing reference here and there. This blog is an attempt at helping all of us to understand the place these laws have in our faith today.

If you think about it, these first five books were the only Bible the Israelites had for quite some time. In fact, for several thousand years, when Jews would ask the question, "How do we live in a way that is pleasing to God?" these books- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy- were their answer. Their ONLY answer.

So imagine if you had been alive many, many years ago before the Bible came to be the Bible. You had no written record of what pleased God and what didn't. One day, God came along to you and said, "Person, if you sin, you should bring me a sacrifice!" With no other reference point, you are going to have many, many questions. Such as, "what is sinful and what isn't? What kind of sacrifice? Do all sins require the same sacrifice? When do I bring the sacrifice? Where do I bring it? Do I sacrifice it myself, or does someone else do that? What does it mean to sacrifice something to begin with? Burn it? Kill it? Eat it?" All of these questions and many like them would be logical, and expected responses to God's command.

In light of this, the length and specificity of all these books starts to make a lot more sense! I have been told that even in the 1st century at the time of Jesus, Jewish school boys were still required to memorize the entirety of these books in school. Crazy as that may sound, it actually makes a lot of sense when we remember that these rules were their primary link to pleasing God.

If reading all of these laws and commands does one thing for us, it ought to make us eternally grateful for the work of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice has ended the system of sacrifice (Hebrews 10) and made righteous forever all who trust in His name. So as you read about bulls and goats one more time, pause and thank Jesus for coming on your behalf.

So while Jesus made our approach to God much simpler, he actually made the requirements infinitely more challenging! When you think about it, Jesus summarized thousands of laws with two: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Very simple, but very, very hard to do. It would actually be much easier for us to follow the sacrificial system than to live out the laws of love in every single thing we do.

This is the amazing conundrum of Jesus. He raised the bar of God's righteous standard even higher than the Old Testament law, but he lowered the bar of acceptance. In the past, the people had to obey all the commands in order to be acceptable. Jesus, however, made everyone acceptable through His blood. Why? Because God knew that when people understood they were loved and accepted by God already, they would be empowered to go and live out his law of love.

We can never hope to love God and others perfectly. But thanks to the amazing love and grace of Jesus Christ, we have the freedom to try, knowing that our acceptance before God isn't contingent on how well we obey His law. How cool is that?

So go for it. Go and love God and love others with all that you have. And when you realize you've come up short, which you always will, fall back into the amazing grace of Jesus Christ. And then go out and love some more."

May your journey through Scripture give you a deeper love for Jesus than ever before!

 Nick

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Top Ten Things That Really Bug Me About East Hills

You know, sometimes being involved in a church community can be really annoying. Here are the top 10 things that really bug me about our church:
10. At our weekend services, there is never enough time to say hi to all the people I want to talk to, and those I do talk to are so happy and energetic that they keep me talking too long.
9. People remember things about me, like my birthday and my love of strong coffee (and then make jokes about it.)
8. People keep inviting their friends to come and check out our church, causing problems with parking, kid's spaces, and seating.
7. Even when I preach a message that I feel was poor, they insist on telling me that God used it and spoke really amazing stuff through me.
6. Every time I confess a fault, sin or a weakness, they thank me. They actually tell me I'm a better leader for being real.
5. When I challenge people directly and feel like maybe I've been a little too personal or confronting, they thank me for that, too. They say weird things like, "I really needed to hear that."
4. When we make appeals to give generously to other ministries outside the church, they give way too much to those groups.
3. They are so open to change and new ideas. It's hard to feel like I have enough of them! Or they say annoying things like, "I've just been waiting and praying for us to do something like this!"
2. They are so agreeable. I have to work really hard just to get a single nay vote for anything we ever do.
1. They want to know how I'm doing...really. They aren't satisfied to just hear "I'm good" and move on. They actually want to talk about my family, my time, and my soul.

If you are part of the EHA community, I hope you appreciate this tongue-in-cheek recognition as much as I appreciate you. If you are reading this and not part of our community, my hope and prayer is that you find people on the faith journey that will treat you like this- that will be Christ to you.

May your journey be filled with such annoying people-

Nick

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Conundrum of Lent

Once again this year, we have decided as a church community to observe the season of Lent. Without fail, this announcement will elicit a few raised eye-brows from the crowd, and a few more questions about why we do this. Why observe Lent when we aren't a formal, traditional church? Why do Lent if we're not Catholic? Why do Lent and put ourselves under a kind of "bondage" when we are free in Christ?

For many of us, however, we have found the experience of Lent to have an odd appeal to us, and in this post I want to try and explain why.
In Hebrews 11:25, 26 we read,
Moses chose to share the oppression of God's people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.

While living in Egypt as a young man, Moses had the opportunity to choose a life of comfort, riches and ease. He could have lived out his days in the Pharaoh's palace and enjoyed the benefits of that life. Moses, however, chose differently. He realized that he was not at home in Egypt- that his real people and his real purpose lay somewhere else. So he intentionally did some very difficult things. He identified with the slaves. He followed the leading of God's Spirit. He stared down the Pharaoh and he took a million people through the Red Sea. Why? Because in his heart he believed in a better land, a better place, where God was leading him and the people. Sacrifices and hardship would be worth the journey. Giving up the treasures of Egypt would be a small sacrifice in comparison to living fully alive as the people of God.

In many ways, I see us facing the same choice. In a metaphorical way, we live in the palace of Egypt- our modern life offers us a continual feast of self-satisfying pursuits and possessions. We have the choice to live out our days here, or we can choose as Moses did to sacrifice for a better land.

I don't know about you, but the "treasures of Egypt" have a way of gripping my mind, and eventually my heart. Things that I once knew nothing about have become essentials in my day-to-day living- coffee, email, Kindle, Words with Friends, ESPN- the list could go on and on. As I hold these treasures in my hand, I realize that none of them are bad or sinful in and of themselves. They are tools and objects. But at the same time, I also realize that my hands, and my life, can be pretty full. Lent is an opportunity to willingly lay some of these things down for a time so that I might come before God with empty hands. Lent is a time to say, "God, show me how to follow you into a better land. This Egypt is not my home- I want to belong to your people."

So, may I encourage you to enter willingly into a time of self-denial on some level? We might be tempted to see this as a yoke of slavery- doing without something we love- but we need to see that it is a bold attempt to throw off true slavery. You see, the treasures of Egypt will always keep us bound to Egypt, and this kind of slavery keeps us from belonging fully to God. Sure, on a spiritual level we are fully His already, but on a practical level we know this is not our full experience. We are captive to our possessions and our pursuits. What would it look like to throw off these captors and to journey with God into the wilderness of transformation? That is the purpose of Lent.

What will you choose?
If you know what you are laying down for Lent, post it below!

May you know that God longs to lead you on a journey into His great reward-
Nick