Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I Stink, but God Doesn't


Have you ever talked to someone who said that they were afraid to enter through the doors of a church because they thought the walls would cave in?  They’re so worried that God will strike them down with lightning for their precarious ways.  

As a Christ-follower, we know that the true picture of God is the father from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, not a vengeful Thor.

So far during my time in Afghanistan, I’ve encountered this type of thinking quite a bit.  It’s easy for me to scoff at the notion, but in all honesty it’s a thought that I should be more burdened about. 

WHY?

  1. It’s not a biblical picture of God.
  2. I often have the same thoughts of God, but just in different ways.
Yes, you read number 2 right!  I have those same thoughts of God, but in different ways.  Let me explain….Ever since I’ve been in full-time ministry, I’ve felt unworthy.  Yes, I’m a believer, but I still sin…..everyday!  I don’t like the fact that I struggle with sin, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still fall short.  There are so many moments in ministry when I’m about to lead, teach, or preach and I start feeling guilty about the stupid sinful things that I’ve done recently.  Those thoughts lead me to doubt.  I begin doubting that God is going to show up.  I start thinking that what I am about to do is going to be more of a disaster than a Kingdom-builder.

BUT YOU KNOW WHAT’S INTERESTING?

In so many of those instances, God still shows up.  God blesses my efforts.  God is still glorified.  God still does His business.

Just this past week, I was struggling with selfishness.  I was feeling a lot of guilt and shame about how selfish my thoughts and some of my actions were.   But in the midst of that, I led a bible study on Wednesday night in which my attendance doubled from the previous week and the conversations were richer and theologically deeper.  I led a service on Sunday in which the attendance tripled from the previous week and I talked to several unbelievers who God is clearly calling to salvation.  I mentored a young man who is struggling in his faith.  I helped a hurting Soldier who had something tragic happen in his life.  I counseled, met with, and prayed for numerous Soldiers who were all dealing with issues in their lives.

Am I saying all this to brag?  YES. I AM.
I’m saying all this to brag on God.  

You see, despite me, God still works.  In spite of my selfish, doubting, and sometimes wayward thinking ways, God is still glorified.  And in all this I’m reminded that my thoughts on God are sometimes just as ridiculous as the “unchurched heathen” that thinks the church will burn down with their mere presence in the vicinity.  

While God is not happy with sin, God still loves me and loves using my efforts to build His Kingdom.  Praise the Lord for reminders like that from 1 John 2:1-2, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins.”

God is not waiting to trip me up during a sermon because I got angry 30 minutes prior and had negative thoughts towards someone.  God is not standing ready to punch me in the face while leading a bible study because I was completely selfish the day before.  Just because I stink at being perfect doesn’t mean that God can’t work.  God is still awesome! 

Don’t get me wrong, the more holy we become I believe the stronger and more enduring our ministry will be.  God wants to use holy people who radiate His glory for His purposes!  However, in the midst of the struggle, we have a God who loves us, waits with open arms, blesses our efforts, and wants to see us get better.  I’m so thankful for that.

Maybe as a minister I shouldn’t admit that or be this weirdly transparent.  But I think I’d be fooling myself to think that most other guys and gals in ministry don’t struggle in the same way.  

Hopefully this can be an encouragement to be aware that our doubts from sin are an attempt by the enemy to stifle God’s work.  God’s work will not be stifled.  Be confident in God, even if you do suck.  But don’t be content with remaining in your sin.  If anything, let God’s grace be a catalyst to grow holier and more passionate for Him.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cool Little God Story in Afghanistan


Every morning I pray asking God for opportunities to do ministry.  Every day He provides.  However, I don’t always see it.  Most days, I’m looking for the big things.  Not that there’s anything wrong with aiming high, because God is a big God, capable of anything. Sometimes though, I get to fantasizing about having 30 people at my door wanting to be saved and a revival beginning in my office, me tackling a rogue gunman and saving someone’s life, or me saying the most profound words in a staff meeting making all of our leadership beg for more as I quote them scripture. 

Notice how all of those things have a selfish slant to them.  Yes, I want God to show Himself as great, because He is, but I also want myself to appear just as great.  God’s not really in that business. God has His own plans and agenda, and truthfully He’s always working and providing ministry opportunities.  I just have to realize that they may not look the way I expect them to look.

That leads me to share a little God story I experienced today.  Honestly, it’s God doing big things, but doing them in such ways that can be easily overlooked if we’re focused on self.

I have a young man in my unit who is brand new to the Army.  He just graduated basic training in May.  He reported for duty at FT Hood a week after graduating and was told that he’d be deploying to Afghanistan in June. He’s so fresh that he has not even earned a piece of rank to wear on his uniform yet.  In the Army, these guys are sometimes referred to as “fuzzies”. However, with God’s help, I try not to focus too much on rank.  I try to just see each guy or gal as a precious soul of God’s in desperate need of a Savior. 

It is evident that God is doing a work in this young man’s life.  The first moment I met him he told me that he feels convicted that he needs to make God a bigger priority in his life.  He’s a believer, grew up in church, and tries to read scripture faithfully.  However, he knows that he has not committed himself lately the way he used to.  He’ll be getting married after deployment and he wants to begin his marriage off in step with God’s plan.

From day one of the deployment, it is clear that God has been orchestrating His influence to surround this young man.  No doubt, he’s scared, plunged immediately into the unknown and the strain of deployment life.  However, it’s obviously God’s plan that this young man be here.  As soon as he stepped on the plane to fly to Afghanistan, this young man met another Chaplain, a Chaplain that I know well.  I have no doubt that this Chaplain gave him good, Godly, wise counsel.  In fact, the young man told me that this Chaplain gave him some devotional material.  Already, we’re seeing God at work.

Secondly, after I met this young man, I felt strongly that I needed to be following up with him and being a constant encouragement in his life.  In fact, this morning, as I prayed about opportunities, this young man came to mind.  My first thought was, “God, what if I can’t find him today?  Am I just supposed to wait until he finds me or walk around until I see him?”.  Funny how we pray for opportunities and when God begins to reveal part of His plan to us, it blows our minds and we immediately doubt.  Maybe this is one of the reasons why God doesn’t give us the complete blueprint or answer key.

Nonetheless, I put the thoughts of ministering to this young man in my mind and decided to be ready for the opportunity. 

I didn’t have anyone to eat lunch with today.  Most days I’ll find someone to tag along with or someone will ask me to go eat with them.  Today was different.  It seemed like everyone was busy.  But this Chaplain was hungry.  I ain’t missin’ lunchtime!

As soon as I walked into the DFAC, who should be in line directly in front of me, but this young man God had brought to my mind during prayer time this morning.  I immediately struck up a conversation with him and we exchanged pleasantries as we moved through the line.  I had the thought, “it’d be cool if I could just sit and have lunch with this dude one on one and talk more in depth with him about his relationship with God”.  However, I figured that’d never happen.  Like most young Soldiers, he probably has his band of buddies and I wouldn’t get much out of him with the other guys around.

Suprisingly, as I went to find a seat, I noticed that this young man picked out a table and was sitting all alone. Immediately, I walked over and asked if I could join him.  What followed was a 45 minute discussion about this young man’s life, relationship with God, and what he saw in his future.  It was ever so clear that God wants to get ahold of this young man’s life and that ministry could very well await in his future.

Well, the story doesn’t end there.  As we talked, the young man expressed a desire for Christian fellowship within the unit.  He was glad to know me and knew that I’d be a good resource for him.  However, he showed desire for more Christian fellowship from among his fellow Soldiers.  As he talked, there was one particular Soldier that came to mind.  This Soldier would be a perfect battle buddy for this young man.  This Soldier that came to mind is probably the most Godly Soldier I’ve met in my unit.  He would not only be an encouragement for this young man, but he would be another good spiritual mentor. 

Now I just had to figure out how to get these 2 guys to meet.  I hadn’t seen this Godly Soldier since Chapel on Sunday. In fact, I had been walking around earlier in the week trying to find this Soldier because I wanted to ask him about helping out with some scripture reading in Chapel.  I had no luck in tracking him down.  My only hope (or so I thought) was for these guys to meet at Chapel service on Sunday.  Little did my puny mind conceive that God was already steps ahead of me.

As soon as this Soldier came to mind, here he came around the corner in the DFAC, with his lunch tray ,and he sat down right behind our table.  God is doing business!

I got up, tapped the Soldier on the arm, and immediately introduced him to the young man.  The young man was so encouraged by this meeting.  I could see his eyes light up.  There’s no doubt that he knows God is doing a work in his life.

As I left that divine appointment, I thought that the most beautiful thing about this little story is that it’s not over. I walked away excited about what God is going to do next.  My eyes were opened to God’s moving today, and I’m eternally grateful.  I’ve already learned that deployment days are long, especially when you feel like you didn’t see God at work.  Again, that’s my own doubt creeping through.  Even on the dull days, God is working.  My job is to be patient, ready, and willing to be whatever instrument He desires for me to be.  Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, July 4, 2014

What is the Big Deal About Freedom?


I often wonder how many people truly understand how big a deal it is to have freedom.  If you've never lived without freedom, it is entirely possible to take it for granted.  Taking it for granted is spending your freedom selfishly.  

We tend to get sucked into heartwarming stories of people being enslaved and earning their freedom, but why? If we learn that the rest of the story includes that person earning their freedom and spending it gratifying all their desires would it still seem heartwarming?

Maybe you'd say yes.  But consider an alternative.  What if an enslaved person earned their freedom, and spent their time of freedom serving and helping meet the needs of other people?

On July 4th, we celebrate our nation's independence and sing praises about our freedom.  I want to say that I now have a deeper respect for those who have served our country overseas, fighting for our freedom, especially now that I am spending my 4th of July doing just that.

Honestly, I think my respect and revere for our nation's freedom fighters has always existed in me. Nothing much has changed in terms of how I view those men and women.  What has become more refined is my focus on what truly makes up freedom.

Scripture says that God "calls us to freedom". (Galatians 5:13) Through Christ we can be set free from sin. However, that passage goes on to encourage to not use freedom as "an opportunity for the flesh".  Instead we are to spend our freedom lovingly serving others.

Makes sense! Why would you want Christ to set you free from sin, only to go right back into sin? Why would a freed slave go back to into slavery voluntarily?

I think to truly understand what a big deal it is to have freedom, you must be actively spending your freedom the right way.  When I live selfishly and feed my own desires, I find little joy and contentment. I'm always wanting and searching for more.  When I spend my freedom the way God intended, I find that joy.  I find that contentment. I find that peace.  

That's the kind of freedom I want to celebrate today. How about you?

Friday, June 27, 2014

God Will Shock You


The longer I continue to follow God the more He shocks me.  I don't believe God is trying to intentionally freak me out or scare me.  Although, I do believe God does enjoy blowing my mind, doing the unexpected, and revealing miracles to my very eyes.

The reason I am shocked by God is more about my own expectations. Because truthfully, if I were always 100% not taking for granted the nature and character of God I should expect that He can and will do anything He pleases despite what I naturally expect.

9 summers ago at this time, I was in England, learning from some of the most Godly and scholarly men while I studied at Oxford and toured the country.

6 summers ago at this time, I was in China with a group of believers, getting opportunities to be the light in a dark place.

5 summers ago at this time, I was in New York City, talking to people on the street about Jesus and working with HIV clinics trying to get people tested and give them hope in dire circumstances.

4 summers ago at this time, I was gearing up to go to Puerto Rico and teach children who lived in a dangerous ghetto about Christ.

3 summers ago at this time, I was at a summer camp with teenagers where I saw awakening beginning to arise among kids stronger than I had ever witnessed it in my life. Sadly, I also saw that awakening crushed by the power of the evil one.

This summer, today, I am standing in an old Russian military facility in war torn Afghanistan looking for opportunities to help hurting and scared people, and advance the Kingdom.

I share all that because if God would have told me at any of these points and time what I would be doing the following summers at this time, I would have not believed Him.  It would have completely blown my logic and expectations out of the water.

But truthfully, as long as we're in the ministry, we will see God do whatever He wills with us to advance His Kingdom.

God's will is not always going to come in a neat and organized package.

His will does not always promise our comfort and security.  It will not always make sense to us.  However, it makes total sense to Him.

I have many friends and colleagues whom I attended seminary with or whom I have partnered with in ministry.  A good number of these God-pursuing individuals are either not doing what they expected to be doing in ministry or are involved in ministries now that look radically different than the ministries they worked in 5 years ago.  I believe that's how God works.  He is constantly growing His disciples, equipping His people for new challenges, and expanding their territory of outreach.

It's exciting, but it can also be scary.  That's why leaning on God is so obviously important. But other important things include communicating God's truth and praying with families for understanding, ridding ourselves of the pursuit of our own glory, and working on changing our perspective to be all about Kingdom advancement.

There are 2 ways we can look at every situation:

How it will affect us
and/or
How it will affect God's Kingdom

Paul, who endured some of the seemingly crappiest circumstances as a believer, was most concerned about gospel advancement rather than his own comfort.

Philippians 1:12 he writes, "But I want you to know brethren, that the things which have happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel"

5 years ago, I thought I'd be a youth pastor for life. I loved it with a passion.  Looking back, I believe God wanted me to love the ministry that way.  The circumstances surrounding my moving into Army Chaplaincy ministry were strange, difficult, and life shattering.  I honestly felt sorry for myself for a long time. But now, I am content. I realize it was a part of God's plan for the furtherance of the gospel.

My current circumstances, aren't the greatest.  I'm sad to be away from my family.  I live in cruddy conditions.  I have to live with an alert fear and respect that I'm in the midst of war. However, I have no doubt that God is not trying to shock me, He has placed me here for the furtherance of The gospel.

My prayer is that I don't waste opportunities and that I don't get too caught up in my circumstances or comforts that I miss doing work, investing in lives, and showing people Jesus.

My challenge for anyone reading this is to examine the ways God has shaped your life and to not live your life with regret or envy, but look at the circumstances that God has brought about and be alert to the work He has for you there.  Also know, that those circumstances can drastically change tomorrow! Be ready and willing for change.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Hardest Day of My Life


No words or experience can prepare you for saying goodbye to your wife and kids to leave for a deployment into a war zone.  It is hands down, the hardest thing I've ever done.

God is all I can lean on.  In my position, I have to be one of the strongest minds, ready to help shoulder the loads of problems that my Soldiers will have down range.  The only way I can be of sound mind is to ask God to completely provide it.  

Truthfully, I'm not in sound mind.  I just left the people I love most and will not see them until next year.  But what gives me encouragement is that God can take an emotional wreck like me and do pretty awesome things.  I just have to be willing to admit it and totally seek His presence.

I do look forward to what is coming, as I already look forward to the day I return into the arms of my wife and kids.  In all of it, God will be present. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Don't Count the Days. Make Every Day Count!

 
I heard a senior Chaplain recently say, "Don't count the days.  Make every day count.".  He shared this wisdom with some of us younger Captains as we are getting ready to deploy.  I was encouraged and challenged by this wisdom.  I'm a notorious day counter.  I countdown the days to all sorts of things (birthdays, holidays, vacations, movie releases, etc..)
 
I strive to constantly remind myself to not worry and think too much about tomorrow, but rather focus on the challenges of each day.  As I've referred to before, Jesus Himself says at the end of Matthew 6 that "each day has enough trouble of its own".  Its easy to overlook real and important opportunities to bring Jesus to people when we're so focused on what's happening tomorrow, next week, or next year.
 
As I await deployment, I seem to be finding myself with a "lame duck" feeling with my family.  I know I'm about to go and I want to make each day count that I have left with my family.  However, I struggle thinking too much about what I am leaving behind.  Truthfully, I know God will care for my family and I know He has specific plans for me in going.  I believe the best way to live my final days at home before I go is to make each moment that God gives me with my family count.  It doesn't have to be extravagant, just quality.
 
While deployed, I think ministry will look the same way.  Each day must be focused on completely.  The ministry won't be extravagant.  It will just be quality.  God will handle the miracles and life change.  I just have to be willing and able.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dads Have All the Fun!


How do you combine fun, love of making goofy videos, love of your children, and love of your wife all into one?  The answer is our latest family rap video, "Dads Have All the Fun". 

God has blessed our family with the joy of laughter, especially laughing at ourselves!  My kids have grown up loving the silly hip hop videos I've done as a hobby and a zany compliment in the ministries I've been involved with.  It made sense that we'd eventually make a video that our whole family could shine in.

We always jokingly say that I get to do the fun things with the kids, while my wife has to be the safe and responsible one.  However, after truly thinking and talking about it....we realized that we both have our moments with the kids.  Truthfully, being a kid is a lot of fun!  I'm thankful for their reminder to have fun and put energy into life!  Check out the new video and pass it along!!




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