Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jealousy, Pride, and Coheirs

Captain's Log; Stardate 42115
         Tensions continue to rise as the impending summer looms overhead like a tower of blackened cumulonimbus rumbling in the distance. The threat of storm brings fear and anxiety with the relief of the fresh water that quenches the bone dry ground.

April is almost over, and that means so is school. What students view as the off season, those of us in ministry see as prime time. It's when we have the most opportunity to make a deep impact in the lives of students. August through May, we're constantly competing with school, homework, band practice, football practice, finals, studying, and whatever else comes with the fall.

But when June rolls around....


Many of the responsibilities of school fade away like a waning layer of snow revealing the beautiful lawn of freedom beneath.

We have the chance to engage with our youth in a more relaxed environment, an environment that is more natural, unscheduled, intentional. The opportunity to make this the Best Summer Ever is there; all it takes is a little planning and a shepherd's heart.

When we have a deep understanding of the impact and ramifications of the Gospel, the natural response is a desperate love for those in need of the transformative work of Christ.

The end of March also  brought the end of our study of the life of Joseph.

Genesis Joseph, not New Testament Joseph.
We were looking at the incredible life of the first savior of Israel over a span of six weeks, and I had never fallen so in love with a bible character as much as Joseph.

Talk about a man of faith!

In the beginning, I wasn't sure how I felt about him...
The scene is set with Jacob playing family crushing favoritism, picking Joseph as his most beloved son. Ironically enough, it was favoritism and jealousy that tore his own family apart and ripped open a rift between his brother and him.

Out of Jacob's four wives, Rachel is his favorite, so naturally, Rachel's first born son is his favorite. The only problem is he already had ten sons. Joseph was number eleven of twelve, and the other ten brothers hated Joseph for being their father's favorite.

Jacob treats Joseph differently than his brothers, giving him gifts, privileges, easier work, authority over his older brothers. The bible goes to tell us that they HATED him. That gives a good foundation explaining their hearts towards him.

But what about Joseph?

Is Joseph an arrogant, gloating punk, lazy, prideful, and manipulative?

Or is he naiive, young, loving and obedient to his father?

The bible doesn't describe his heart or his motivations. It does go on to describe a boy growing in to a man sustained only by his trust in the promises of God, triumphing over hate, slavery, anger, lust, and saving millions of people.

I came to a conclusion:

Our opinion of Joseph's obedience reveals more about our own heart than his. We are given no other information than that he was loving and obedient to his father and that he made a mistake sharing his divinely inspired dream.

In the beginning of the story, I found myself sneering at this kid, almost feeling condemned by him. I could see myself standing beside Judah, shaking my head and rolling my eyes every time he opened his mouth. What an arrogant weasel.

Then it hit me. I'm threatened and feel condemned by him. I don't know Joseph's heart, but I can see that his father likes him so much better than he likes me, and that makes me feel insecure about how loved I am.

And it's not just with Joseph. The more time I spend in the church world, I find myself feeling threatened and disliking people because I see them as people more deserving of the love of the Father. They give more money, read their bible more, worship better, have better answers at bible study, are involved in more ministries, have more friends, bigger youth groups, know more original language, can use bigger theological terms, have bigger degrees, and they smell better.

We look at them, and we feel inferior to them, and when we feel inferior, like a scared chihuahua, we bare our teeth and get defensive. The exposure of our own weaknesses causes us to lash out in defense of ourselves. We hurl out words like "religious" or "judgmental" when we couldn't possibly know their heart. All we know is that they seem to be better than us. They deserve the love of God more, and we can't stand watching them be better in their betterness.

Them.

They.

Like we're not in the same family. We envy them because we feel they have more of God's approval or God loves them more, but we are not a nomadic family of Hebrews in the desert with a flawed human father who picks favorites. Our Heavenly Father loves impartially and eternally. God loves more than you can imagine, despite our sins and jealousy that cause us to tear at each other.

But this prideful comparison goes both ways. We can look up to people and compare ourselves to them and scowl, or we can look down on people we see as below us and scowl. In both cases, we are taking the opinion of someone else or our own and elevating it to a place where God's opinion is almost irrelevant.

We say things like, "I know what God says, but...." or "God is the most high, but..." or maybe "My faith is number one in my life, but..."

I'm guilty of it, and I've been doing it for months now, and it wasn't until God revealed it to me through the account of Joseph that I saw this in myself. I've been looking at a Christian brother with such disdain and defensiveness that it has put a rift between us. I saw his incredible biblical knowledge and convictions as a commentary of my own personal failures and it boiled me. Every comment made me grit my teeth and any criticism was confronted with bitterness and defensiveness.

If I were to claim "that's not like me!" then that would only reveal how ignorant I am to my still flawed heart. God is still continuing to sanctify me everyday. It's a good reminder to remember that God will never finish sanctifying you until this beautifully designed meat sack stops working.

Since discovering this about myself, I've had to pray that God would adjust my heart's goggles. I've been looking at him not as competitor for God's approval and affections, but as a coheir with Christ. This powerhouse of a Christian is not a rival or archnemesis, but my brother in Christ, my fellow soldier, and my team member. I'm honored to have a man like him on my team.

So if you guys missed our study of Joseph, bummer. The whole six week series was centered around God's promises and how living according to the promises of God creates hope, peace, and victory.

Anyways! I'm getting married in..... 66 days, 1 hour, and 48 minutes at the moment I'm typing this. I have a countdown app, don't worry, I'm not just a creeper. I'm not that numerically talented anyways. There's a short list of to-do stuff like pick a first dance song, finalize flowers, get married, stuff like that, but other than that, we're right on top of it! In a few weeks, Haylee is moving up here to Las Vegas for good. She'll officially be a Las Vegan, and I'm not ashamed to tell the cyber world that she's a little nervous. Aaaaand so am I. Not nervous like hunting raptors in the jungles of Isla Nublar, but nervous like I'm sitting in the pilot seat of a space shuttle.

Did you watch Interstellar with Matthew McConaghey and Anne Hathaway? Ugh. Phenomenal. Beautiful flick.

So in a few weeks, Haylee will be moving here, I'll be moving in to an apartment that will become our first home, the psycho summer Uth schedule begins, and we have to finish planning for camp. I am so excited and so terrified! Stay tuned for crazy rants and observations that I discover about myself when the pressure is really laid on me. A wise man once said;

"If you want to know what kind of fruit a tree really produces, bump it, and see what falls off." In times of trials and tumultuous circumstances, our true character is revealed.

It's Wednesday, so you know what that means. Time to get my Uth on.




NateTB

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Heroes, Judges, and Dweebs

Well  February is practically over, and I'm still reeling from Christmas. Is it just me, or are the years passing by faster every year?
All my married friends keeping telling me, "Your wedding will be here in no time, and you'll wonder where all the time went."
At the current rate of acceleration, I should be getting married in about... two carry the four, divided by three, plus seven... two and half weeks. Crap. Haylee's going to be mad.

Anywho, in the youth ministry world, we're just wrapping up a series that I put together out of the book of Judges called Heroes Like Me: The Heroes Looking Back at Us in the Mirror.

I tend to have a flair for the dramatic. I blame George Lucas. On a side note, while we're talking about dramatic names and Star Wars, did you ever wonder how the Death Star was named and how that ever got approved? This is an imperial government entity, not a high school metal band.

Long long ago, in a conference room far far way...

"So the galactic peace initiative is in full swing with our transorbital assault battle station almost ready for christening. Phil, do you guys have a name that the constituents will really stand behind?"

"Um ya, we've been taking some surveys in some sample audiences, and our top choices are the Galactic Liberator, the Freedom Nova and.... the Death Star..."

"What was that last one?"

                       "The Freedom Nova?"

"No, the last one."

                        "... the Death Star..."

"The Death Star? Really? Was Lord Vader one of your sample audiences?

                        "... and Boba Fett."

"Danggit, Phil... We should have hired the Gungan."

These are the things I think about when I'm trying to sleep at night.

Anyways, Heroes Like Me  has been an awesome adventure for all of us in Ridge Uth. I don't know about you guys, but I'd never spent a lot of time in Judges unless we're trying to remember the name of the chick who spiked that dude's head with a tent peg.

Jael. Her name was Jael. I learned something.

For the past two months,I've had my nose in the book of Judges nonstop, dissecting these tragic tales of failure and victory, love and loss, war and peace, obedience and apostasy. As far as biblical screen plays go, the book of Judges is riddled with them.

Really Darren Aronofsky? Noah? C'mon. I liked the book wayyyyy better.

The book of Judges captures some of the darkest times in Jewish history. Judges takes place after the Israelites claim the Promised Land from the Canaanites and are struggling with their identity in God's Lordship. With the surrounding cultures having kings and false Gods, the pressure to conform and adopt their practices are too enticing and easy to pass up.

Over and over again, Israel falls in to sin, rejecting the God who led them out of Egypt in to the Promised Land and submitting to cruel rulings of tangible false gods and pagan practice.

As always, sin grows until it encompasses all aspects of life and enslaves them. They are slaves to their sin and to the godless cultures around them; the Midianites, Sidonians, Ammonites, Ammorites, Maonites, Philistines, all enslave and oppress the Israelites.

Israel, seeing its sin and disobedience, repents and calls out to God for salvation.

Our God is a God of salvation. As always, God is faithful and delivers His people.

  1. Sin
  2. Slavery
  3. Supplication
  4. Salvation
  5. Repeat

But the vehicle of God's salvation was always different and sort of..... broken. Was God wrong in His method of salvation. Not at all, but were the people God chose to deliver Israel broken? Yup.

Let's take a look at some of the Judges God used as the vessels of His will:

  • Deborah: the only Judge whose life is not recorded to end in vile failure. Unequipped to lead as a military leader, mother, wife, and voice of God to Barak, the chosen savior of Israel whose cowardice and lack of faith cost him his reputation.
  • Gideon: the weakest member of the weakest family of the weakest tribe of one of the weakest nations in whole Middle East. Unbelieving, skeptical, jaded, fearful, and doubtful. The perfect candidate.
  • Jephthah: son of a gentile prostitute, raised in a broken home, dejected from his family, bandit leader turned commander of Gilead, rash, immature, prideful, emotional, violent. 
  • Samson: Oh Samson... Nazirite from birth, given superhuman strength through the Holy Spirit, cocky, insecure, fickle, selfish, prone to fits of rage, did not begin his salvation of Israel until the day of his death.
What the heck? These guys are a pack of dweebs. Sinful, broken, distracted, selfish, hypocritical... Oh.
They're just like me. Just like us. God picked the broken, unqualified person to do His will. Why? because God came to save sinners, not the righteous.

The tragedy of the Judges does nothing but exponentially magnify the relentless and gracious pursuit of our God. If he can look on the nation of Israel and repeatedly say "I love you, I choose you, and I forgive you" then why the heck can't I? God pursues us relentlessly. He never stops because His love is greater than our illusion of independence. It's not until you realize that you are utterly helpless and screwed that you realize your need for a savior.

I think I'm getting off topic.

An observation I made while reading through Judges was the way in which God used His Judges. It wasn't until they were humbled and full reliant on God that God used them. Try to keep up with me:

Deborah was a thumpin' good prophet. She was humble and relied on the leading of God before she lead the army to crush Sisera and his cavalry.

Gideon's army was too big, and Gideon felt he could rely on the army to save them. God wanted Israel to rely on Him and realize their true savior: not Gideon, the great I AM. He shrank Gideon's army until Gideon was weak and made small and forced to rely on God's lead.

Jephthah was brought low by his own family, dejected and rejected, living a humble dangerous life. Even his own rash decision had a part in humbling him before God.

Samson's life was a laundry list of pride and disobedience and rage. He left a heap of women and bodies in his wake,  but it wasn't until he was brought low, blinded, his strength gone, enslaved, that he began the salvation of Israel from their oppression. God gave him the strength Samson needed to destroy the Philistine leaders. Samson gave his own life to deliver Israel.

As we begin to study the biblical heroes, we see this trend of humility and reliance on God, Moses, John the baptist, Paul, Peter, the prophet Elijah, God brings uses the humble and small to do His will.

1 Corinthians gives a glimpse in to God's M.O.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." 
1 Corinthians 1:27-31

In a culture that promotes the edification of self and independence, I have to ask, are we putting ourselves in a position to be used by God? 
Does our insatiable hunger for praise and glorification harden our hearts from our reliance on our heavenly father? We live in a world so resourceful and rich, we can live comfortable, safe lives focused on our own successes easily.

But there's something so eerily uncomfortable about being too comfortable. When we focus purely on our own successes, life looks easy, and often we lean that way because the mission of the Kingdom of God looks so impossible. 

We see our limited abilities and say "I can't", and God replies, "I know."   

The burden of human limitation magnifies the beauty of the sovereignty of the living almighty God.

There was a man named Jesus Christ, who is God in human form. He is one with the creator of the universe. He once said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

So these are a few of my thoughts that I've gathered from our studies in Judges. 

Judges shows me that God is relentless in His love for me. He won't ever stop chasing after me and saving me everyday, removing sin from my heart and becoming more like Christ.

Judges shows me that God uses the broken and flawed to do His will. He empowers us and transforms us, guiding us patiently to the promised better future, the future God always intended for us.

The book of Judges shows me the perfect metaphor of the human condition, and our desperate constant need for a savior. Everyday I need Jesus to rescue me out of the mess I've made myself.

This coming Wednesday will be the grand finale of Heroes Like Me when we look at one more Judge who came and saved Israel from the oppression of godlessness. It's so cool to look at the life and teachings of Jesus and see how Jesus fulfilled the whole Law, he was the better Moses, the better High priest, the better Judge, the better prophet.

I don't have quite a loyal following as Oprah, but I would love to put the book of Judges on my "Nathan's Choice" book list.

 Nate TB

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Observations, Ambassadors, and Today's Generation

I know nothing about parenting. I don't presume to know anything about parenting.

I know that children need food and to not give them matches and that holding a baby by its head is frowned upon in public establishments.

Everything I know about parenting I know from a one-sided perspective. I was parented to. I have been a recipient of parenting. Thumpin' good parenting if you ask me, but I guess I don't have another set of parents to compare.

I've never changed a diaper, drool and and snot still deeply disturb me on an emotional level. I've never had to spank an eight year old or ground a teenage girl.

 I've never spent all night rocking a colicky infant who just won't stop crying and won't sleep after hours and hours of asking the baby and God, why? What is wrong? Is it me? 

I've never felt the dread and panic of a child's first broken bone.

I've never felt the nagging guilt of other parents' criticism of my parenting.

I have no clue what it feels like to be a parent, and I never want it to be thought that I am speaking as someone who knows.

I speculate and observe.
Much like the wheels on the bus, that's how I roll.

From my years working around kids and students, I've observed a whole bunch.

I know that when a nine year old starts panicking about a lost sock, he's associating mom's love and approval with her statement, "don't lose any of your things."

I know that twelve fifth grade boys will follow you off of a cliff if they know that you love and accept them for their flaws and goofiness.

I know that a sixteen year old boy may not remember any of the Navigators Topical Memory System verses or any of the catechisms, but he will remember when you showed up to court to support him when he got caught with drugs at school.

I know that if what a student says at youth group is different than what they said on twitter, then twitter heard right.

I know that a a seventeen year old student smoking cigarettes in your backyard is not a sign of rebellion; it's a sign of feeling out of control in a conflicted home.

I know that the tiniest taste of the true love and joy of Christ will stay in your brain, haunting you and calling you back to Him until you surrender yourself fully in to His waiting arms.

I've learned a lot in my years serving this younger generation. Sure, compared to my other millennial compatriots running multi-billion dollar corporations and changing the face of Africa, I seem small and mediocre, but I am convinced that I have witnessed God transform more lives than Mark Zuckerberg.
By the way, for my non-millennial readers, Mark Zuckerberg is the creator of Facebook who just recently turned 30 this last year.

Do I wish that my life was easier? Do I wish that I was full fledged youth pastor at a massive church with a 200+ sized youth group?

Nope. Not even a little bit.


God is so active and powerful here in Las Vegas! Many people criticize Las Vegas for its sinful entertainment and broken culture. 

I guess the way I see it, that sounds like every city. Anywhere. Las Vegas just invested more money in to it and is less concerned about keeping it covered up.

In my reading, I see Jesus going to where the sinners were and choosing to show the love of God there. He was even seen eating.... with sinners. Gross.

A fun question I get pretty often is, "What is wrong with this younger generation?"

That's a dang good question. What is wrong with them?
and by extension, what is wrong with me? I'm part of that awkward generation that was born in the early 1990s, so I'm trapped in the middle between the kids from the 2000s and the parents born in the 1980s and before.

What is wrong with this generation? What is it about these kids that make them the way they are? People say that this generation is one of the worst; moral relativity, technological consumption, vanity, laziness, greed, violence, entitlement, and complacency.

Does that about sum it up?

Do you want to know what's wrong with kids these days? The same thing that was wrong with every single generation before them.

Sin.

I think we're just given more and more resources to be able to be comfortable in our sin.

We live in a culture that tells you that you need to rely on yourself. Independence and superiority is the paramount of human existence, and if you're not on top, you're on the bottom.

We spend trillions of dollars trying to elevate ourselves and glorify our accomplishments and make ourselves out to be "special". Since when did losing teams get ribbons and trophies?

We, as a culture, have compromised excellence for acceptance. Hard work is viewed as "old school" or primitive. Our reliance on our technology to do our thinking and heavy lifting has made us lazy and has cost us our intimacy with each other.

Yet here I am.

                          Blogging.

I am a hypocrite. A few weeks ago, I was talking to PJ about my inability to sit still and be alone in the quiet without distractions or music or tv.

Technology and my lack of discipline has robbed me of my attention span and ability to carry on a good conversation.

And with the increase of technology, there is a decrease of personal accountability and responsibility. Instead of baby sitters, we have xbox, instead of encyclopedias, we have iPhones. There are students in our high schools who don't know how to read because they have never been forced to.

It blows my mind to see how the social dynamic has changed just in my lifetime. I grew up in Tucson, my best friend and I outside in the streets, beating each other with sticks and throwing frisbees and balls. That was everyday. Not planned events or long weekends of good weather. We sat on the brick wall and made fun of each other and explored the overgrown ditch next to our house.

Technology is our biggest blessing and biggest curse. But technology is not the antagonist.

In Star Wars, the Death Star was not the bad guy: it was the Emperor.

The antagonist is us. We are the problem. The heart is an idol factory. We find things that give us what we believe God cannot provide for us.

That is idolatry.

That is not new.

The very first original sin was caused by Eve's desire to be God. The snake (Satan) convinces her that God is holding out on her and lying to her about the fruit. He tells her that not only is God holding out on you by not letting you have the fruit, He doesn't want you to have it because it will make you like God, knowing good from evil.
And with that, Eve was seduced.

The human soul was created to crave God. The bible teaches us that God wants us to live full, abundant lives. We learn that real, full, perfect satisfaction in life and eternity comes from an intimate relationship with Christ. Humans were designed to be in community with our creator.

But if we aren't in community with God, the craving remains, and instead of God satisfying our desires, we search for things to fill our emptiness; money, relationships, things, entertainment, drugs...

But nothing on Earth can fill that God-shaped hole.

Our reliance on anything besides Christ leaves us empty. If you want life long satisfaction, you can't rely on something that has an expiration date.

There is a solution to the brokenness in our world. I've seen it. Witnessed it. Christians.

A lot of people bash on Christians or the term "Christian" because they don't see what the heart of Christianity in its Christians. In the first century church, Antioch nicknamed the followers of the Way "Χριστιανός" meaning followers of Christ.

Mohandas K. Gandhi once said "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.

This is not a guilt trip. This is not meant to be a judgement. This is our opportunity for the world to see who Christ is. That's why we are still here right now. That is the reason that we were not immediately jettisoned to heaven the moment of our conversion.

"Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

Did you catch that? We are ambassadors for Christ. God is making His appeal through us. We are the image of the invisible God. We are the Church, given the unlimited and awesome power of the Holy Spirit, designed to represent Jesus Christ while He is not here.

We can't lean back and look at the television and say, "It's no use trying to change the world. We'll just have to wait til Jesus gets back." God is on this planet right now in the form of the Holy Spirit choosing you to make a difference in this world. The mission of God is to reconcile the relationship that we had with Him in the Garden of Eden. We are His poster children, His pamphlets, His representatives.

Jesus did not come to Earth and establish Himself as emperor over Israel. He came and lived a holy life in His community with His neighbors. He blessed the people around Him with the love and grace and mercy of God. He made a difference in His local community that spread like a purifying fire and changed the course of world history forever. Any secular historian will agree with you on that.

We as the older generation have the ability to set the example and influence the younger generation.

We as the younger generation have the ability to disrupt the downhill trend of cultural norm and live an intentional life that is Christ shaped.

Do not underestimate the abilities of God. God used one man to form a nation committed to the Lord, He used a couple fish and pieces of bread to feed over 5000 people, he used one man to minister to communist Russia.

Christ is the cure to the world's sickness. We are the nurses in the waiting room: "The doctor will see you now."







Nate TB

Monday, October 20, 2014

Introspection, the Gospel, and Joy

The other day, I was laying on top of a large rock in the Nevada desert at nine o clock at night, far enough away from the neon I could actually see stars with nine other men.

Welcome to my life.

We weren't all laying together on the rock, you weirdos. We were spread out, spending time in the quiet and peace of a beautiful September Mojave Desert night, praying and searching our hearts with no distractions.

No phones, ipads, pagers, music, yelling kids, barking dogs. Just beautiful, peaceful silence.

When was the last time, you separated yourself from all distractions and noise and just spent time in solitude with the creator of the universe?

In front of me was a paper with scripture and thought provoking questions to ask myself. The scriptures all carried a theme of asking God to search my heart, try my spirit, inspect my heart.

As I read one of the questions, I stopped and thought.

When you read scripture, listen to sermons, and read Christian books, do you feel conviction for sin?

Totally. All the time. Constantly. I'm a forgiven sinner who is still full of indwelling sin and working on getting that crap removed. I beat myself black and blue over my sin. Go conviction and repentance!

Do you celebrate the successes of the Gospel and take time to enjoy your relationship with God?

Do I do what?

I realized that I take so much time to learn about my own depravity in contrast to God's holiness that I never take time to bask in the beauty and joy-filled exuberance of my own salvation.

While it is important to have a clear and educated knowledge of our sinfulness in comparison to God's unattainable holiness, God never intended that sobering information to be used as a means to abuse ourselves in to self-attained holiness.

On one hand, we see the depth of our sinfulness, how, everyday, we struggle to combat sinful tendencies and the sin that we struggle with over and over. We see how many of our decisions, though good in appearance, are laced with selfish motivation and rebellious intentions. We are broken.

On the other hand we see God in His holiness, eternally perfect in every way. His plans, His grace, His mercy, His judgement, His wrath, His love is all perfect all the time, all at the same time. His standards: perfection. Nothing imperfect can stand before for He is perfect. He emanates blinding glory, and His voice shakes the very foundations of the heavenly throne room. There is none like Him, and none are worthy to stand before Him.

Looking at these two truths is sobering, but I believe God uses this revelation to magnify one thing:
The work of Christ on the cross. By realizing our brokenness in context to God's immeasurable holiness, we see exactly how huge of an impact the work of Christ made. We went from being condemned to an eternity separated from God to being called "sons of God" and "heirs with Christ".

People talk about how unfair a condemnation to hell is when we brought that condemnation on ourselves. 

Want to know what is really unfair? Salvation. The perfect, righteous king of all giving His righteousness to an undeserving and broken people in exchange for their punishment. 
What a swell trade.

With this bouncing around in my head, I feel... Exuberant. Broken. Undeserving. Loved. Like I have purpose and value. Brand new. What else can make you feel like that? There's not a substance or relationship on this planet that can give you that freedom or feeling of phenomenal love overflowing and welling up like the purest spring in the midst of a barren wasteland of mirages and dried river beds. What else fulfills or heals like the eternal and perfect love of the creator of the universe? 

And how can you not rejoice in unbridled exuberance in the face of that undeniable truth? How can the spirit of the living God reside within you without dramatic change? What broken, ignorant person looks in the face of perfect love and looks away in undeserving shame?

Me. I do. And I recognize it as my tendency to view my righteousness as something I can earn rather than something that Christ handed to me while He was enduring my punishment. That's an unfair trade that makes me feel uncomfortable. As much as I struggle, there's no way I can repay Jesus for what He did for me. I belong to Him. He bought me out of slavery.

So when was the last time I took time to celebrate the greatness and goodness of the truth of the Gospel? When was the last time I marveled and rejoiced at the successes of the Word of God? Am I joyful in the face of my brokenness and Christ's restoration of my soul?

As always, I'm a growing work in progress. Lately, I can't help but smirk in the midst of brokenness and destruction, not out of a sadistic pleasure, but out of a joyful hope and expectant witnessing of God's glory.

I think that's what blows people's minds about Christians. In the midst of surging surf and rising tides, we turn our eyes to heaven and worship the God who created the water. 

Why? Because He IS our joy. 

Happiness is an emotion influenced by outwards circumstances and internal feelings. 
JOY is the direct product of faith in God's endearing faithfulness and sovereignty, having full knowledge that the lover of your soul is being glorified and is master of all.

Anyways. I've been working on this blog entry for over a week. I'll write a sentence or two, and then close it, hoping to find a way to finish this entry. I've let my busy, crowded schedule block out the joy and privileges experienced with being an adopted bond servant of the Most High God. It's like going to Disneyland and being so wrapped up in the crowds and standing in line that you forget that you are in line for freaking Space Mountain!

I think it's about time that I finally let this blog hit the web. Thanks for reading, guys! And thanks for bugging me to blog more. It really does help me write more of these!


Nate T B






Friday, August 22, 2014

School Supplies, BYOG, and Deserts.

Ahhhhh the return to routine and normality is an all too welcome respite from the craziness of summer.

Don't get me wrong, this summer was phenomenal, full of memories and ministry that could not have been done in a calm environment.

There's something about showing high school girls what ministry and service is while on a mountain side building a mile long trail through bush and boulders in the heat of the summer in the Prescott forest.

There was complaining and tension, but we came home to Las Vegas a closer and stronger community than we were when we first went up. It's incredible what two intentional weeks of ministry will do to a community.

And now school is starting.

Whether you just breathed a sigh of relief or a sigh of exasperated agony, we're all looking over the proverbial cliff called summer in to the void of schedule and routines, different faces, new places, different standards, and a little less money in the bank.

Unless you're a teacher. Props to you.

Looking over this cliff, we can see that, one way or another, we have to jump.

Are you prepared?

Got your books? Your pocket protector? Your TI-82? Your laptop? Your 64 count Crayola Mega Box? Your Gospel? Your pencil sharpener? Your Emergen-C?

Wait what was that you said?

Pencil sharpener?

No, before that.

Oh! Your Gospel. Ya, you can't forget that.

Unless you are a homeschooled student in a Christian home, the Gospel is not something you typically view everyday in the classroom. I went to Sunnyside High School in Tucson, Arizona. Sunnyside is a typical Tucson public high school, full of history and athletic success. My father and uncles all graduated from there as well as myself and my siblings. Sunnyside is a piece of our family whether we like it or not.

Unfortunately, I was the last of my household to pass through that school, so the reputation of the Barreras family had already been well established by the time I arrived on campus.

Almost makes me cry for my cousins who are attending there now.

Anywho.

Sunnyside was the typical public high school. Like any public educational establishment, it had its problems as well as its successes, but this is not a commentary on the public education system. I have neither the knowledge nor the passion to make informed opinions on the inner workings of our public education system. I was not a stellar student nor was I exceptionally involved in my high school outside of band, so I don't have much room to comment.

Ya I was a band kid. Deal with it.

That being said, Sunnyside High School was never a place of great spiritual edification or discipleship. Basically, the only time, the name of God was used was when looking at my math grades.

My math grades sounded very much like a bad speech impediment: D-d-d-d-d-d-dang, Nate...

Sunnyside was a place that needed the Gospel. It needed people in its walls who acted, looked, sounded, smelled like the Kingdom.

It's easy to proclaim the Gospel at church and at home typically, even among friends, the Gospel is a welcome subject of discussion. It's almost as if there is Gospel on tap.

"Want some Gospel?"
"Sure. Put it on my tab, Joe."

But we know that in spiritually arid environments, the Gospel is not a usual order. Many of us who strive to live in holiness and need the Gospel everyday find that being in a place where the Gospel is not present is draining and can be taxing. That's why missionaries are so stinkin' hardcore!

As followers of Christ, we need the Gospel. Everyday, we need the redeeming grace and love of our God every single day. We deepen our intimacy with God by consistently pursuing holiness; we pray, we're in the Word, we practice Godly character, we speak the truth of the Gospel, we proclaim the Gospel.

That's what separates the Followers of Christ from the pew squatters.

2 Corinthians 5:20 calls us "ambassadors for Christ", saying that God makes His appeal through us. As people living transformed lives, we are to be an illustration of the effects of the Gospel, displaying God's righteousness, His love, His mercy, His forgiveness. God appeals to others through His ambassadors.

Living in the desert, water is not something you stumble upon while hiking through the brush, but common sense and our mothers taught us that if we are going to a place with no water, you bring some. You hydrate before you go, and you bring water with you.

Using that same logic, if you are going to a place that is spiritually arid or scarce, you bring the Gospel with you. You saturate yourself in it, and bring it with you.

As Followers of Christ, we are the image of the invisible God, displaying and dispensing God's glory through the Gospel that transformed us.

As you head in to school this year, whether it's fourth grade, or the fourth year of your PhD, be the image of the Gospel. Draw others towards God.



Nate T B

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #5: Last Full Day

Yesterday, if you had asked me how I felt the week was going, I would have replied "is it barely Wednesday?" But now that it is Thursday, I can't believe that camp end tomorrow. 

Do we have to go?

I have seen a group of twelve acquaintances ride four hours up to a tiny, ancient camp in the Prescott forest and turn in to a family of Christ-loving students. You can't put a price on that.

Today, being the last full day, is expected to be the most off the hook, insane, crazy day of this whole week.

According to the beautiful Haylee Troth, today is the Great Race, Messy Games, and Water Games.

The Great Race is traditional race of eclectice challenges that challenges a team as a whole. The tradition of the Great Race reaches as far back as the history of camp itself from the time the Greek demigod, Camproditis Squirrel-chaser, proposed a test to camps across the world to test their campers of being worthy to bear the name of camp conquerors. In honor of the great camp conqueror, Krytos the homesick, who, in the last second, beat Camproditis in the Great Race of 47 B.C. in a speed round of Pokemon trivia, we continue the tradition.

The Great Race is a camp wide relay of different activities and challenges spanning from feats of brute strength to tests of the mind and agility. As a whole, the team travels together, works together, and is victorious together.

But there can only be one team of camp conquerors.

According to tradition, losing teams would be sent to the lair of the four headed squirrel, Adorabus, to be gnawed up, but because of the endangered nature of four headed squirrels, a dumb signed petition resulted in the relocation and protection of Adorabus. 

Now losing teams just wallow in the shame of failure and go take naps.

I guess that's almost as bad.

Water games are exactly what they sound like. Games. With water.

But Messy games.. The mere mention of this event send shivers to where my gall bladder used to be and leaves me in a cold sweat. I have no idea what Messy Games means nor what it might entail. Am I frightened? Does a snipe poop in the woods?

Yes. Yes it does.

So today should be a great day full of excitement and victory. I have full confidence in our abilities to be victorious and claim the name as camp conquerors and carry on the name of Krytos the Homesick.

We are all so tired in the very best of ways, and almost all of us have visited the camp nurse to wrap us up in bandaids and pepto. That's what happens when you give your all.

God is moving powerfully and obviously in the hearts of the campers and leaders, and I am so excited to see the camp fire return home and continue to burn brighter than ever before. A fire will continue to burn as long as it is given fuel and room to burn.

Continue to pray for the students and leaders up here as well as the speaker, Ryan, and maybe shoot a prayer of two up for me as well. 

Tomorrow is the last day of camp, but the first day of our first ever work week. Am I excited? Does a snipe poop in the woods?


Nate T B

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #4: Wednesday Morning and still kicking

Another beautiful morning in God's country. Partly cloudy with a 27% chance of rain later in the afternoon. Right now the temperature is a chilly 71 degrees.

As the dudes sleep, here I sit, sipping French press coffee and listening to Deathcab For Cutie as the sun peeks out from behind the trees. 

Everyday here is beautiful and a gift from God, and I am so grateful to be here with these students. Last night was an incredible night of faith and reflection, considering what aspect of their lives they are denying Christ's Lordship over. There were tears and so much prayer.

There's something awe inspiring about watching your high school student hugging and praying over a junior high student. 


Watching the Holy Spirit build fires and fan flames in the hearts of all of these students is beautiful and incredible! If there was a way I could capture an image that illustrated the magnitude of passion up here, I would cherish that picture.

I love talking to the other youth leaders that come up here with their students. The amount of knowledge up here is a gold mine of wisdom and differing perspectives that would be considered a blessing by anyone's standards.

Since we've been up here, I have heard from several of the other leaders that our students from Summit Ridge Church are some of the most competitive, hard working, and respectful students they
have seen at camp.


Kudos to the parents.

Today's team competition games look to be daunting. At 11:00, we play Kajabe Can-can against the untouchable yellow team.

Kajabe. Can-can is a game of quick adjustments and physical strategy that favors agility and implementation of momentum over brute force.

But brute force sure is handy.

The game is simple. 

Each player has a small twelve inch rope knotted at both ends for grip. With every other person on your team, the opposite team is on both your sides. Each player takes ahold of the player's rope beside them, forming a large circle around a trash can in the middle. When given the signal, a 360 degree game of tug-o-war begins trying to get the other team members eliminated by having them touch the can or let go of their rope grip. It's more intense than it sounds.

Then we play Scatter ball which a version of dodgeball without boundaries, so it's a mad game of sprinting and running.

And then after lunch, we have a series of pool games.
My favorite.

The day should be a full one, packed with excitement and intensity.

Continue to pray and consider picking up some kids from camp and hearing their awesome stories on the beautiful ride home. 

Nate T B

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #3: Tuesday Morning

I don't want to brag, but last night, it was in the low 60's.

Okay I'm bragging a little bit.

So far, camp has been stellar. Last night at cabin time, the comment was made, "I am friggin' wicked tired." To which I replied "It's only Monday

Well done, Prescott Pines, well done.


The students have been connecting and growing already, working through deep internal conflicts and wrestling with tough questions, "How can God's love truly be infinite, and what does that say about me?"

Ryan Senters, our speaker up here at camp has been a phenomenal speaker so far, bonding with the students and challenging them to deepen their intimacy with God. 

The weather is perfect, God is working, the Holy Spirit is moving, and I am so ridiculously excited.

Of course, as any good camp will, we all have sustained our fair share of bumps and scratches. 

During steal the bacon, a student from the opposite team was running away with the blue noodle. I wanted the blue noodle. 

That blue noodle was my blue noodle.

The staff made clear that this was not elementary school camp, and if we so desired, we could tackle and claim our prize.

I so desired.

I watched him snatch that blue noodle from a myriad of mixed rec-toys, and that blue noodle was the goal of the round. 

Like a bullet from a gun, I tore after him. My vision was tunneled, and all I could see was my noodle-in-distress being carried away by some mysterious high schooler. As he was merely feet from his team's line, I launched myself at him like a starving tiger.

I may or may not have roared when I pounced. 

I felt very tigery.

As I felt the back of his shirt flirt the tip of my fingers, I knew he had too much of a lead on me, so I settled for a good pair of legs. Before I slammed on to the ground, I got a good grip of his legs, wrapped them up, and death rolled like a Nile crocodile.

As I gnawed upon one of his ankles, one of my fellow team members came upon the gnarled mass of animalistic chaos and reclaimed our stolen property.

Actually the truth is, the kid grabbed the noodle, so I chased him and tackled him. It wasn't as gory as it sounds. He was 100% fine and I sustained a few minor lacerations to my right arm. It might have been from the vicious struggle of tooth and claw.

Or maybe a rock.

Everything at camp seems epic! Even the most mundane of tasks can become an exciting, high energy activity.

Have you ever played cards with camp staff before?

It's a life-threatening game of life and death. 

On a sad note, I am without French press coffee this morning. Yesterday morning, some of the other leaders saw my fresh pot of coffee, and they could not resist. 

They asked the impossible: "can I have some of your coffee?"

Of course I shared. Mr. Rogers taught me will.

Now I'm short a bit and only have enough coffee for Thursday.

Curse me and my generosity.

In closing of this entry, continue praying for safety and health for our students and leaders.

Pray that God would continue to mold and shape hearts, and that He would give wisdom to the leaders to engage and challenge their students to deepen their intimacy with our loving creator.


Nate T B

Monday, July 21, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #2: The First Morning

Well, we made it in one piece. 

As soon as we pull up in our van and luggage truck, the forest begins to echo with "Summit Ridge is here!" And "Nathan is here!" 

Isn't it nice to have a place where everybody knows your name?

Camp is beautiful. While Las Vegas is sitting pretty in 106 degree weather, getting out of the truck in Prescott, in the shade of the trees, feels a beautiful 82 degrees.

Immediately, the students are captured by the magic of the rustic beauty that is Prescott Pines Camp. The energy is already high and exciting as the summer staff greet us at the office before we sign in for camp. 

After checking in and moving in to our cabins for the next week, I am whisked away to the first leader meeting while the students are left to explore the camp and meet new students from other churches from all over the Western United States. 

It's so encouraging coming year after year and seeing the same faces year after year, all with new stories and experiences, each looking older than the year before. 

I guess that's what youth ministry does to you.

After the leader meeting, I headed towards the dining hall, hoping that a few of our students would be there, waiting for dinner, but, behold, I see the entire group together, playing ninja in line for dinner with new friends. 

Of course they're on time. It's a standard we live by!

Dinner is phenomenal, barbecue chicken with baked beans, corn in the cob, all the stuff you could want for a first meal at camp. 

Dinner ends, and the Ridge Uth heads own to the MAC which is the camp's gymnasium with two basketball courts and ping pong tables, balls hidden away in closets for the using. The MAC is a massive structure, an ancient Aframe building rising like an arrowhead out of the trees.

One very fun and sad game of basketball later, the staff and rest of the campers enter the MAC where we would start our first night game: flags and cheers.

The game is simple: meet the rest of the campers on your team, design a flag, and make up a team cheer to show your ferocity and team spirit to the other teams. 

Oh and you only have 40 minutes to do both.

Of course Summit Ridge dominated. We took second place in both our flag and our cheer. 

Our team? The Bouncing Blue Blowfish. 

Yup.

Ryan Senters led an incredible chapel alongside the band, Army of Light. 

If you're not sweating at the end of worship, then you're probably not in the same building as we are.

After chapel, we met in the oldest building on camp, the prayer chapel. 

The prayer chapel is a rustic beauty of a building sitting high on a hill with a beautiful view of the stars that inspires deep thought purely by its atmosphere. 

While the other youth groups are pranking each other and prancing around the forest in the wee hours of the morning, Ridge Uth is in bed early, physically and mentally preparing themselves for the team challenges in the morning.

I am always blown away by the passion for excellence our kids display. They are ruthlessly competitive and unceasingly loving. I am always blown away.

So here I sit, drinking freshly French-pressed coffee and listening to All Sons & Daughters' Give Me Jesus in the light of the rising sun among the trees and beauty of God's creation. Praise the one who
brings all things together for His glory!


I am already floored by the hearts of the students this week. 

Continue praying for the students this week as well as God speaks through Ryan and works in the hearts of the leaders and students alike.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him, all creatures here below
Praise Him above, he heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

Nate T B

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #1: T Minus 4 Days

For months now, we've been piecing together the plans and details of camp, organizing dates, planning transportation, making phone calls, contacting parents, planning mini-lessons, chatting with the camp, talking to staff, collecting money, but now we've come down to the final few days before we take our four hour long trek to the land of trees and squirrels: Prescott, Arizona.

Prescott is a lovely antique of a city, nicknamed "Everybody's Hometown." They've got entire lanes of antique shops, local coffee shops, small diners, pubs, and a deluge of senior citizens who dress up as cowboys just because it's Friday.

A crazy Friday night might sound a little like a movie; begin the evening with dinner at a local diner where the street musician on the corner serenades you with songs of a perfect world without computers and life on the prairie. After dinner, you cross the street to the square where people are dancing in the grass beneath the trees to the live Bluegrass band sitting underneath a Christmas-lit rotunda. Everyone is friendly, and you end up meeting at least five people who are genuinely pleased to meet you and would love to spend the evening telling you stories about the time their cousin was attacked by a raccoon while trying to change the tire on his jeep heading up Senator. A short drive up Senator brings you to a trek up a pine-dressed mountain with stars brighter than the city lights, and air cleaner than mama's fresh linens hangin' out on the line during a warm, breezy day.

Welcome to Prescott.


It is no coincidence that Prescott has more camps on that mountain than a Barreras family gathering has cars in Nana's yard. Each camp is beautiful and rustic in its own way, holding fast to the heart of camping; trees, clean air, bad phone service, and sleeping where you can see the stars. Have you ever been on top of a mountain so far away from city lights that you can see the wispy beauty of the Milky way spinning lightyears away? Have you ever seen so many stars that it's hard to point out the North Star in the mosaic of God's aesthetic greatness? Try pointing out Orion in the midst of millions of gleaming diamonds.

It's like trying to find a smurf in a ball pit.

I saw a star here in Las Vegas once! Then it shined a spot light on me and flew by.

Hm.

So I suppose it's apparent in this blog that I am pretty freakin' excited to go to camp and even more excited for the kids that we are bringing this year. I get so excited when I hear the words "I've never been to camp before." Camp is in my heart and runs in veins, and nothing gets me more excited than seeing campers encounter Christ and come back home on fire for the Gospel.

Nevertheless.

This will be my first summer camp I have not been an employee of Prescott Pines Camp in eight years...
Needless to say, I have been experiencing camp withdrawals. Symptoms of camp withdrawals includes, but are not limited to:

  • Quaking hands
  • Dreaming in camp songs
  • Wanting to dress in ridiculous outfits in public
  • Packing for camp weeks prior to going to camp
  • Sweating team colors
  • Training your youth group for camp games
  • Telling everyone with more than one ear about camp
  • Wearing camp shirts
  • Blogging about camp
The list goes on, but ain't nobody got time for that.

Something I'm really stoked about are the small breakout sessions where different guest speakers take a little time and speak on different topics, and I am one of the guest speakers. Last Winter I spoke on So I'm a Christian; Now What? This summer, I'm teaching on the Gospel Identity and what is means to be defined by the Gospel.

Isn't God good? Wow.

This will be a momentous summer of camp with so many firsts and so many finales. This will be my first summer camp as a pastor, my brother's last summer as Program Coordinator at the camp, Haylee's last summer working at camp, Mikayla's first time at camp, first time we're all riding in one van to camp, I'm so excited!

As the day gets nearer, be praying for all the students going to camp:

  • Mikayla K
  • Ashley B
  • Josiah C
  • Luis Kiki H
  • Kyle B
  • Lindsey M
  • Lily M
  • Ben M
  • Tyler D
  • Randi P
  • Elijah P
  • Cami P
  • and me! Nate T B
 Be praying that God would continue moving, working, and preparing our hearts for the incredible experience of camp. 

Pray that we would find a solid plan for transportation getting our Uth home.

Pray for Ryan Senters, the speaker, that God would give him wisdom and energy, and that God would speak His word through him.

Pray for the band, Army of Light, that they would be filled with passion and truth and lead the youth in pure worship of God

Pray for my brother, Danny, and his wife who is 38 weeks pregnant during one of the busiest weeks of camp all year.

Pray for Haylee Troth, Sarah "Breezy" Brizuela, Sam "Shmuel" Perez, and Ryan Farney, that they would lead the staff in love, patience, and fresh energy for their last camp of the summer.

More journal entries to come as the day gets closer and while we are at camp. Pictures too!


Nate T B




Thursday, June 19, 2014

Storms, Ignorance, and Memories

Can you believe that June is already almost over?

In a week and half, July will be upon us, and before we know it, we'll be sitting next to our buddy in Starbucks with an iced-venti-no-water-light-berry-very-berry-hibiscus-refresher-sub-green-tea and, staring at the street, murmur in a heat induced lethargy, "Can you believe that the summer is almost over?"

Or maybe that's just me.

Thus far, the Las Vegas summer has been exquisitely dry, but honestly, what do I know? This is the first summer that I have spent away from Prescott in seven years.

I'm having forest withdrawals.

A few of my students and former camp staff chums asked me a while back, "Why don't you blog more camp stories? Those are great."

Camp stories forever chronicle the pride-induced humiliation of my character development as well as the more embarrassing chapters of my discovering my spiritual gifts.

This is the story of how I discovered my gift of controlling the weather.

Just kidding.

This is a story that has been affectionately named "Johnny tests God" and is also well remembered as one of the worst natural disasters ever to blight Prescott Pines Camp.

This story takes place earlier in my camp career, as most of my humiliating camp stories do, during youth camp. Camp was on a fiery roll; the energy was high, the campers were involved and stoked, the staff were organized and enthusiastic, the band was rad, and the speaker was great. It was a great week of ministry.

Thursday was always a big day being as it was the last full day of the week of camp, so we always want to end the week with a bang.

It was water day, and the water games were intense and wickedly successful, the mud pit was deep and smooth, and nobody had gotten hurt. Towards the end of water games, dark black clouds that threatened the horizon began churning far off in the distance.

Being covered in mud, a little bit of rain would be fun as well as functional, washing the mud away.

With splotches of residual clouds drifting high above, a tiny sprinkle began to drop on to us, lightly kissing our mud-caked, adrenaline filled bodies, but after a moment, the spritz stopped, leaving us still very much covered in mud and discontentment.

As the field echoed with disappointed sighs and huffs, I turned my churlish eyes to the heavens and voiced my disappointment to the skies. I shook my fist and addressed the creator of the universe with a voice that burned with ignorance and pride.

"Is that all you got, God?!"

My rebellious exclamation echoed through the trees of the quiet forest. The breeze that whispered through the pine limbs gasped and held its breath, and the forest stood still. In the distance, a squirrel cried out in terror.

In a swirling barrage of violent buffeting gust, the foreboding oppressive cloud titans that crouched in the distance began closing on our position from all sides. The four winds that had graciously blessed us with a lovely breeze all day had betrayed us and transformed in to the harbinger of meteorological doom.

Brace yourself. A storm is coming.

Entranced by the sudden change of weather, we gazed up at the kaleidoscope of spinning clouds that converged upon us.

In my ignorance, I had doomed us all.

Then all at once, the wind stopped. Above us was a thick canopy of black clouds that blocked out the high afternoon sun. I stared at the new sky and tilted my head, wondering if we would get more than the previous spritzing.

And then I heard it. A quiet whistle and a soft thud. Between my feet landed something very out of place in the middle of an Arizona summer. I knelt down and picked up a gnarled piece of ice the size of a golf ball.

That's when we should have started running.

Have you ever had a bucket of water poured on to you? That's how the rain came. Not in progressively increasing levels of rain, but in thick sheets of rain that soaked you through in seconds. Golf ball sized hail pelted us from above, laced within the sheets of water. It only took one massive clap of ground shaking thunder to inspire us all to run for cover.

It was every man for himself, man versus the scornful mother nature. I remember running through streams and puddles, not being able to see through the stinging rain and onslaught of welt-inducing hail that beat upon
my cold wet flesh. I made to the MAC and tore open the door. Inside looked like a refugee center. miserable and frightened Arizonans consoled each other as water ebbed under the doors and covered the floors. The sound of gallons of water and hail pounding on the roof of the 65 year old building was near deafening.  

I was dripping wet, covered in welts, shivering from the sprint and the cold. Several of the other summer staff found me and ran to me.

"Johnny, this storm is so bad! Where did it come from?"
I didn't answer.
"We have to get to the Depot. The radios are in there as well as the other staff."

Going back out in to that storm was not my idea of a good time, but we had a job to do.

We ran to the Depot through the storm, being crushed by the weather the whole way. When we arrived, leadership pointed to us and said, "There is a group of girls still on the field under a cover of trees who are too scared to come here." Without discussing a plan, we sprinted away back to the field. Now the hail was all different sizes ranging from tiny rice sized pellets to racket ball sized monstrosities. We barreled over bushes and rocks, splashing through brand new creeks that had formed in a few seconds. When we got to the field, we found the group of five girls huddled under a canopy of branches, shivering and hiding from the hail. Using out shirts and towels, we created makeshift umbrellas for them to hide beneath as we escaped back to the depot.

We returned to the depot and collapsed in to a few chairs by a fireplace. Then the power went out. We were surrounded by darkness and the cries of surprised campers.

After an hour of darkness and meteorological onslaught, the storm subsided to an icy drizzle that lasted through the night in to the next morning. Sidewalks were covered by newly shifted earth, and buildings were filled with rain. I spent the rest of my Thursday brooming multiple inches of rain water out of the dining hall.

Unfortunately, the power stayed off all night and wasn't restored until the last ten minutes of the final Friday morning chapel.

As miserable as this story sounds, in the years to follow, I met hundreds of campers who were there that day who hold that as one of their favorite camp memories despite the cold rain, painful hail, and inconvenient power outage.

Just to clarify, I don't actually believe that the sudden storm was God punishing me or that my pride inspired the peculiar weather in the least. Looking back, it was an exciting memory filled with adrenaline, fear, action movie-esque scenes of rescue, and incredible feats of nature.

Nevertheless, I don't shout at the sky anymore.



Nate T B

Monday, June 9, 2014

Weddings, Funerals, and Joy

Well that was stressful.

May came and went like a hurricane, full of chaos, death, tears, powerful moving currents, surging waves, highs and lows, and then--

silence...

I had every intention of blogging all May, keeping you all updated with the events of my month of mayhem, but alas, my mind was elsewhere.

Let's see here.

Last blog, I told you guys about Michael and Amber's wedding. That was the very first week of May, and then I dropped off of the grid for a bit. On May 8th, I got the news that my uncle Marty had been shot while in Afghanistan.

This news was more than devastating: it was confusing and terrifying. Uncle Marty, or CSM Martin Barreras as the internet calls him, was always the family hero. He was the invincible family legend that filled us with pride. If you Google him, you'll find pages and pages of awards, medals, missions, stories, accomplishments, operations that changed the course of human history forever including the rescue of PFC Jessica Lynch.

As a child, when my pals and I played soldiers in the street, I pretended to be Uncle Marty.

Five years in the Marines, twenty two years as an Airborne Army Ranger, Uncle Marty was the American standard of "man". He was humble, a lover of peace and family, loyal, but unstoppable in combat. The very idea of him being wounded in combat was somewhat hard to believe. This is the man who removed shrapnel from his own chest with his field knife while sitting in a MASH hospital years back.

I remember asking him once "Tio, why did you switch from the Marines to the Rangers?" to which he replied jokingly, "Because I wanted a challenge."

And then we find out that he died. That was a weird feeling.

Especially because I hadn't seen him since I moved to Nevada. I didn't really get to see him one last time.

It did my heart good to hear that one of the last things he said to the family before he left was "Quit your sniveling: I'll see you soon."

And because Uncle Marty was a follower of Christ, I know that still to be true.

His funeral was to be massive. Hundreds on
hundreds of people whose lives were changed by him.

It was scheduled to be in Tucson on May 24th; the same weekend I was being a groomsman in my friends', Paul and Marie's, wedding.

Flip the stress switch.

After fighting with the airline company for five and a half hours, three of those hours being on hold, and $275 later, I rescheduled my flight to Tucson for the funeral and then back home from Phoenix where the wedding was taking place.

The wedding was simple and lovely. It was a light hearted, fun wedding that definitely captured the essence of Paul and Marie beautifully. My groomsman outfit for this wedding was under $100 compared to the $800 tux I rented for Michael and Amber's wedding.

Good thing I rented.

It was a powerful weekend of tears, laughing, hugs, love, heart break, reuniting with family, and saying goodbye to others. I saw friends and family from forever ago, and saw two of my good friends become one. It was a very moving weekend.

I got back home Monday night and slept for a long long time. Tuesday, Wednesday, and then leave Thursday night to Indianapolis.

I was pretty excited. I had never been that far North. Or East actually. I might sound like a desert rat when I say that I had never seen that much grass and lakes everywhere. My face was stuck to that plane window like a piece of gum under a desk. I was so blown away! And it was so cool there! It was maybe 90 degrees at its hottest, and the sun didn't go down until after 9:00 pm. It was a different world.

Oh and I saw a lightning bug for the first time in my life. Whoa. They really do look like they do in the movies.

Mind

Blown

The wedding of Charles Levi Whitton Storm and Abigail Ruth [Storm] was a beautiful, classy wedding in a small Indiana town in Miami county called Peru. Sounds exotic, yes?

It was a beautiful little town with grassy hills and wooded highways inhabited by friendly people with cute mid-western drawls that almost tempt you to adopt their accents just by talking to them.

The wedding was traditional and beautiful, and I didn't mess up! Yep, this was the wedding I officiated. I was wearing a borrowed suit coat and other pieces of formal attire I had collected throughout the years, and I didn't look too shabby.

It was definitely a new experience to be standing on stage with the groom during the wedding. I've been a groomsman, a best man, an attendee, but never the one officiating the wedding. The only role I have to do now is be the groom. More on that in a year and eleven days....

Standing on the stage with Chuck as Abbey came down the aisle was more magical than watching the groom as a groomsman. Right before Abbey stood at the head of the aisle, Chuck and I were quietly chatting about how nervous he was, but as soon as Abbey came in to view in her beautiful white dress, I doubt he even knew I was standing there. While they stood on the stage together, holding each others' hands, looking in to each others' eyes, it was so odd watching them communicate without saying a word. As I spoke, I watched them giggle at each other's telepathic jokes and tell each other how good they looked on this wonderful day without even opening their mouths.

It was romantic and friggin' adorable.

And then the long sleepy trip back home to peaceful, warm Las Vegas.

That was a crazy month. Lots of traveling and even more money spent. It had plenty of ups, and definitely a few downs that kept things exciting, and that has the potential to make an emotionally stable person very unstable if allowed.

Emotions are tiring and require self control. the smallest thing can effect them. Many times, its hard to look at a situation and confidently say "Ya, I'm okay. I got this" because we all know that, deep down, we don't got this.

The burden of human limitation magnifies the beauty of the sovereignty of the living almighty God.

At camp, there's a high ropes course.
Nothing fancy: Climb a tree, high wire walk, walk a log, and a trapeze jump. Good, terrifying times. The first year it was put up, I got to be one of the lucky first to try it out. My contact fell out on the log walk, and I cried.

Not ashamed.

The first time I had experienced this terrifying test of nerves and balance, I had little faith in the thick rope connected to the harness that held me tight. It was terrifying thinking about plummeting forty feet to the forest floor to my death. But that rope wasn't going to break, and that harness wasn't going anywhere. I was in the hands of Guy Deckard, the man belaying.

As the years went by, I did the high ropes course more and more until I was skipping across that wire and doing push ups on that log. The rope had never failed me, and I knew that I was in the secure and never-failing grasp of that harness around me.

The God that I worship and serve in Las Vegas is the same God in Indiana, and is the same God in Afghanistan. There is no moment in the history of matter and energy where the Almighty God has not been in absolute control of all things. Even when my knees got weak, and I felt like falling, God was holding me, and had a plan. he knew whether I was going to fall or not, and I was always safely in His hands.

There's a heart condition that describes an unconditional trust in the absolute sovereignty of God.
It's called Joy.

Happiness is an emotion affected by outward circumstances. Happiness is affected by the weather, the outcome of your sports team, the health of your relationship, your success at work.

Joy is a conscious recognition of God's unlimited power and active intervention in your life every single day whether you are at a funeral mourning your hero, or at a best friend's wedding.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
                                      Hebrews 13:8 


Nate T B

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Weddings, Groomsmen, and the Gospel

This past weekend, I had the honor of being the best man at two of my best friends' wedding. It was truly a privilege to be able to stand beside my good buddy Michael and be present for his marriage to my good friend, AmberLynn.
Photo credit to Terra Stopher

I'll be honest.

We looked good. Vera Wang makes a dapper looking man.

The ceremony and reception were both held on Mount Charleston at the resort, and it was gorgeous. Even powerful gusts of wind and a wandering ring-bearer could not ruin a day that perfect.

Both Michael and AmberLynn were both ecstatic and so happy all day at a wedding that ran late into the night with dancing and laughter.

Good times.

And of course I was taking notes for my own wedding. That is coming up pretty quickly.

Well.. like a year, but still.

One May wedding down, two to go. On May 26th, I have a wedding in Phoenix, Arizona for another two beloved friends of mine, Paul and Marie, whom for which I have been asked to be a groomsman. Later that week, in Indiana, I have a wedding on the 31st for my close friends, Chuck and Abbey who asked me to officiate their wedding.

I've never officiated a wedding before, so that should be a very exciting day for all of us.

Despite all the tuxes and planning and craziness, I love weddings. A wedding is a sacred ceremony binding a man and a woman together in a holy covenant that will last a lifetime. The relationship a man has with his wife is the highest form of human relationship.

A few months ago, I read a book that was informative and frustratingly correct in so many ways. The book was called Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Heistand and Jay Thomas. I don't want to go too much into the book, suffice to say that it was eye opening, convicting, and correct in ways that made me sigh deeply and groan while sitting in Starbucks. The baristas thought there was something wrong with me.


Anyways.



The authors refer to the Apostle Paul's description of the model for marriage in Ephesians 5, saying;

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 
                                                                                 (Ephesians 5:25-32)

Heistand and Thomas go on to explain that the "profound mystery" is not a biblical conundrum without answers to be pondered and thrown away. To the contrary! According to the authors, the answer to the mystery lies within the same verse that states, "it refers to Christ and the church." Paul is saying that the model of a Godly husband is Jesus Christ, whose entire life was dedicated to growing and blessing and protecting the church, even to the point of painful death.

In that way, marriage is a beautiful illustration of the gospel. To be married is to proclaim the gospel.

Multiple times in scripture, the church is referred to as the bride of Christ, and He is the groom. When the church finally is united with Christ in heaven, we will forever be His treasure and love, cherished in purity and eternal love.

Kinda rad, right?

One man in the bible who understood the metaphor as well as the role of a groomsman was the revolutionary and famed John the Baptist.

In the beginning of Jesus' ministry, He began gathering thousands of followers, many of whom were former disciples of Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist. 

One day, a conversation arose between some of John's followers over Jesus, saying that Jesus was stealing John's followers and growing more famous than John. John responds.

"The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease."

   (John 3:29-30)

John understands that the Christ is the groom and the church is His bride. John understands that being a minister of the gospel, a follower of Christ, puts him in the role of the groom's friend, a supporter and helper of the wedding, one whom is dedicated to seeing the bride and groom be unified in love and rejoices in that union. John the Baptist is the best man in Jesus' wedding to the Church.
Photo credit to Abbey Torkelson

And he finishes the illustration with a phrase that would change ministry forever: "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Looking back, the day of Michael and AmberLynn's wedding was not to magnify how snazzily dapper I looked in an $800 tuxedo. I was there to support and help the unification of Michael to his beautiful bride. I was there to help promote the gospel.

Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Dunn.





Nate T B