Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Retrospect, Glory, and Being a Tool

Dude, where did the year go? I feel like last week was August and we were stressing about getting back in to school, but the students just finished finals and we're talking about the New Years Eve Lock-In and all the big plans for 2014.

In retrospect, this year was chaotic and frustrating. Scary and uncertain. Full of disappointment and anxiety mixed with fear and a dash of anger.

But look where we are.

Look what God has done.

It reminds me of that worship song called Never Once:

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own

You are faithful, God, You are faithful

So PJ wanted me to think through the year and consider all that Christ has done and talk about some of the things that God has been teaching me and showing me.

I'm guessing he was hoping I would talk about it with him in person, but maybe if I do it this way he'll actually read my blog. 

So let's think back a year ago...

When I first moved up here, I was terrified of my own inexperience. I had never lived in a state by myself much less started and led a youth group. I was living with the massive and attractive Ben Mackey who is not only an American hero, but a star on National Geographic's Inside Combat Rescue, I was working at Starbucks in the mornings and doing youth stuff in the evenings, I was the youngest leader in the youth group. 
Wait... I still am...

Anyways! I was so terrified of messing anything up. I knew what was at stake and the importance of what we were doing, and I was so afraid of failing. 

If we're being honest and completely genuine, I thought Pastor John was wrong when he first hired me on.

In my head I told myself "What could a twenty one year old, single, college drop-out, camp counselor do to contribute to this beautiful spiritual community?" and I almost discouraged myself. Before moving up here from Arizona, I was praying more than talking. I was terrified. 

In every way possible, God was telling me to move up to Las Vegas and pour myself in to this ministry. All the Godly counsel I sought out, all of my prayer, all of my reading, it was all pointing me to move to Nevada. 
I guess I was just waiting for God to recant His command, "Just kidding, Nate! Gotcha!" But no such luck.

But God was in control every step of the way. In struggles and trials and painful learning situations, God protected, provided, and progressed. If someone were to ask me how I put Ridge Uth together, I would just shrug. God put this youth group together. And he has grown it and blessed it. All glory and credit goes to God alone. 

I was trying to think of all things I've learned,  but there's no way I can put all the information that I have received in to words enough for this blog. All of these thirteen blog entries are my thoughts and my heart of the last thirteen weeks, but even that isn't the full year. 

Hmmmmmmm....

I guess if I was going to sum up everything I've learned this last year, I could say something to the effect of...

In all situations and circumstances, God is sovereign and powerful. Everything is created by Him and specifically for His glory, ergo, everything has purpose and is usable to bring God glory. Especially us as human beings. We are the unique creation created to worship God and bring glory to our creator. God's sovereignty is best observed in the lives of His people. He provides, intervenes, and guides constantly. Through biblical discipline, we learn more of the character of God. The more we know about God, the more reasons we find to love God. The more we love God, the more passionate we are to serve God and share the gospel. God wants to be relied on and leaned on and trusted. The intensity of God's love and perfection is so beautifully appreciated when we look at the depravity and brokenness of ourselves. God is perfect. We are gnarly. In our sin, God loves us so so so much. So much, He endured death in the form of Jesus and was resurrected for the sole purpose of redeeming us and glorifying Himself. You are worth Jesus' life to God. 

Holy cow I could keep going, but there's not enough room in the internet to write all that God has taught me this past year. And I didn't even begin to talk about the tidbits and knowledge associated with leadership skills and leading a youth ministry in general. 

God is so good!

Looking forward to this coming year, I can't wait!

I've begun to tell people "I'm not blessed; I'm spoiled."

This past year has been so difficult, so stressful, so intensely chaotic and frustrating, and I am so thankful for it.

God is faithful, so I know that God is glorified in everything. Even in the terrible, horrible, despicable situations, God is glorified. 

And isn't that what we all want?

Isn't that what our entire existence is all about?

We can trust that in all situations, no matter the circumstances, God is being glorified. 

So in every situation, I am thankful. 

I believe that God created us as temporal beings so that we could look to the past and see how God had grown us and blessed us, how He had delivered us and saved us. God sees our future, present, and past all at once. He designed it that way.

Looking back the very first blog, we, as trees, have grown so much in the past year. Look back and remember yourself as that tiny pinecone, rough and tiny, insignificant, but so full of life and possibility when all of a sudden you are poured in to and explode in to growth. You are transformed from that tiny, rough, dirty shell into a growing, vulnerable, beautiful creation. With everyday, you have grown and struggled. You fought the push and harsh chill of the winter winds and survived the overwhelming flood. Not only did you survive the flood, but you used it to grow stronger and stronger with each passing hour. Every moment you endured was another moment you grew stronger. You relished and rejoiced in the light of the sun and allowed it to fill you and empower you. Now look at you. Look how far you've come. From that rough, insignificant, dry shell to the massive, ever growing colossus. What does this coming year hold? 

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

If you serve the God of the bible like I do, you are on the winning team. You are victorious in Jesus Christ. Praise God for all of His victories and blessings that are coming this year. Prepare your heart to be used. We are all tools to be used by God. So go ahead and announce to the world I am a tool

I bet I'll get in trouble for that. 

Gosh I am so excited to watch God work and be glorified this coming year!




Nate T B

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Camp Names, Grave Stones, and Legacies

So this blog gets kinda personal in to my thoughts as a minister. This week is super important to me! This week is Ridge Uth's one year anniversary for our first ever youth meeting.

One year ago, on December 12, 2012 (12/12/12: rad, I know!), a couple of kids and a few excited adult leaders met in PJ's living room for Summit Ridge Church's first ever Ridge Uth youth group. It was scary! I had never spoken to a group of high schoolers before! My oldest audience before Ridge Uth was my junior highers at camp, and those kids thought I was awesome.


At Prescott Pines Camp, all summer staff adopt a camp name. The reasoning behind this is 30% some vague safety regulation, 70% awesome camp tradition. All the camp names are western in origin and carry some odd generational connotation.
For example, the name Davy Crockett: the name of a leader and strong personality.
The name Billy the Kid: a name of rough-and-tumble rebellion mixed with multiple levels of hardcore.

Along with your camp name, you're encouraged to make this back story for your new alter-ego and wear a costume to go with it.

Ya, I know, camp culture is weird, but that's the point! Camp is a whole different world! Camp really is an escape from reality. As a camper, for a week, you are living in a teepee in a forest with these story book characters and experience God in this extravagant way that changes your life forever.

When I first started working at Prescott Pines, I was a quiet and nervous fourteen year old boy who was self conscious about his physical changes and socially awkward tendencies.

Ya camp kinda stripped me of that...

Towards the end of my formal camp training, we had the naming ceremony where all of the old staff declared their names and all the new staff were given new names either thought up by the veteran staff or given an old name of a former staff.

I was given the name Johnny Ringo.

Before my time at camp, there was a staff member who bore the name Johnny Ringo who had given that name quite the reputation. My predecessor was famous for his witty pranks, satirical apathy towards his campers, and prolonged periods of not bathing.
Everyone loved the old Johnny Ringo! but nevertheless, the name carried a rather significant reputation that I could not compare with.

When my camp career began, nobody knew the new Johnny Ringo. I was a new guy with an old guy's name.

Seven years later...

Everyone knows Johnny Ringo. There are staff at the camp who still refer to me as Johnny Ringo because they don't know my real name. There are legendary camp stories starring Johnny Ringo, camp rules and traditions that were established and carried out by Johnny Ringo, kids who, years later, have stories about their counselor, Johnny Ringo.

I'm not bragging. I'm getting ready to make a point.

I refer to Johnny Ringo in the third person because, in a lot of ways, I left that behind. Johnny Ringo is the name of the legacy and impact that I wanted to create not only in the lives of the thousands of campers that I had the opportunity to minister to, but on the camp itself. My goal was to create a legacy.

When people think of Johnny Ringo, I want them to think "he was a dude after God's own heart who was never hesitant or ashamed to live out the gospel in every aspect of his character. He was outrageous and wild and unpredictable all for the sake of making a Christ-shaped impact on those campers' lives"  and I know for a fact, that is the goal of every single counselor at Prescott Pines Camp.

Every year, after summer camp had ended, I always ran in to this predicament: Camp is over. Put Johnny Ringo in a box, and get back in to the real world. The real world... Like somehow my living out the gospel and being radical for Christ all summer was a fantasy. But this was my mindset. In my opinion, Johnny Ringo
was way cooler than Nathan Barreras could ever be: Johnny Ringo was the Assistant Program Coordinator  and hero of Frontier Village at Prescott Pines Camp. Nathan Barreras was an employee at GameStop who had good numbers and sales. Johnny Ringo was charismatic story teller who always had something witty or wise to say. Nathan Barreras worked two jobs and lived at home. Why couldn't I see that I was wasting my time?

As I write this, I'm kicking myself. I look at the impact I had made at Prescott Pines, and I see the missed opportunities I passed up in the "real world" because Johnny Ringo was in a box in Prescott. I was passionate and crazy for three months out of the year, but the other nine just reminisced over the summer ministry. I could have been making an impact in my community in the "real world" too! But I missed a lot of opportunity...

Maybe you're reading this and it makes no sense to you, or maybe you know what I'm talking about. I guess this blog is more personal than some of the past ones.

What can I say? I'm feeling very reflective today. And why shouldn't I? This is a great time of year to look back over the past year and see what impact you've made. Every step you take is like a foot print in sand. If someone followed your footprints, would it lead them to Christ?

As followers of Christ, we have this calling to leave a Christ-shaped impact on everyone we meet, to leave a legacy that points to the gospel.

A few weeks ago, in the dead of night, I was in a cemetery with my boss, PJ.

Creepy, right?

We weren't there for a funeral, we didn't know anyone there; we were just visiting.

Even creepier...

We walked the rows and aisles of grave stones and read the names of people past and the short notes on their graves. These grave stones were a carved illustration of what their loved ones most identified them as.
These short sentence-long memoirs best summed up the impact they made in life.

Pastor John challenged me: "I like to read these and think 'what will my gravestone say one day?'"

And that got me thinking. I'm not a negative dude. I don't dwell on death or anything like that, but I began to think what will people think of you when you are gone? 

I've learned from Johnny Ringo. My time to minister and live radically for Christ is not just when I'm teaching in front my students or playing on stage on Sunday mornings. Ministry is not something you do. It's an attitude. My entire life  is my opportunity to show Christ. My everyday existence is a loud outward shout that joyfully and boldly declares "I AM FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE, REDEEMED AND JUSTIFIED BY JESUS CHRIST'S DEATH AND RESURRECTION, AND I WILL BE THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, REFLECTING HIS GLORY AND LOVE IN EVERY ASPECT OF MY LIFE" and I guess that's an okay legacy to leave... 

Whether we want to or not, we influence the people around us. We make impressions on people and we don't even know it. Our kids at home, the baristas at Starbucks, our coworkers, our bosses, the person awkwardly waiting for the bus with us at the bus stop, the person standing behind you at Walmart, people are watching us all the time.

As a follower of Christ, am I showing people that I am a follower of Christ?

Goodness gracious, I'm getting emotional. Time to wrap it up.




Nate T B

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Veterans, Life Expectancy, and Burnout

In nine days, I will officially be a one year old youth minister. I know that seems like nothing, and comparatively, it's not. 

This weekend, I got the opportunity to talk to and get to know a ministry veteran named Don Engram. 
Don Engram has been involved in every form of ministry that a church can offer from bible smuggling to youth ministry.
Don was spreading the gospel behind the Iron Curtain and rescuing pastors in unfriendly countries before it was cool. 
He's been over the Atlantic Ocean almost eighty times all in the name of ministry and spreading the gospel.

Don is the type of man who, when he begins talking, everyone stops and listens because whatever he has to say, it is valuable and worth taking note of. 
I would go as far to say that they don't make men like Don anymore. He is a front-line ministry veteran who has more miles and experience in ministry than a twenty year old church van. 

Part of me was very intimidated by Don as he talked while the other part of me marveled and drooled over his wisdom and ministry insight. It was like sitting next to and listening to Batman talk about being Batman!

PJ, family, Don, and I all went to dinner, and PJ and Don talked about ministry and missions and church structure and theology, and I sat there, ate chips, and listened. I didn't have a lot to say in general. I mean, c'mon, what could I add to this conversation? That'd be like Luke telling Yoda how to be a jedi. Occasionally, Don would turn and look at me and ask me a question, and I would mini-panic and hope I gave a good answer.

After I got home, I kicked myself. I might have been slightly overreacting. I look at these older ministers and I'm so blown away by their humility and experience and knowledge. I look at them and think when I grow up, I want to be just like them except taller. 

When I was but an intern, PJ had me read all kinds of books on youth ministry. All of them had facts and statistics about students and leaders and churches and what to expect and blah blah blah. They all had different opinions and facts that usually contradicted each other, but one statistic I found scared me.

It didn't just scare me, it worried me.

Not just because it was a bad statistic, but because most of the books had the exact same statistic:

The average life expectancy of a youth minister is eight months.

Whaaaaaaaaaaa??

That's insane! At first I didn't believe it, but once I read it several times in several different books, I started to think about it.

It gave different reasons: under-funding, doctrinal differences, parental conflicts, promotion to head pastor, burnout--
What's burnout?

Burnout is a term often used by church leaders to describe an emotional and mental exhaustion caused by overexertion. 

A dictionary would describe burnout as burning "until the fuel is exhausted, and the fire ceases."

It is the crippling and debilitating state of stress and exhaustion that robs an effective minister of their passion for the mission and love for people. 

This isn't just for church leaders either! Burnout can overtake anyone who is mentally and emotionally invested in the church in any way.

And that's what got me thinking! How can Don Engram serve for so so long, and still be burning brighter than ever?? 

So I sought out my go-to resource that has led me out of many a jam in the past: google.com

I did hours of research on burnout; what it looks like, what causes it, how to avoid it, what to do about it, etc.
In my research, I found a list on how to avoid burnout that I want to share with you guys.

1. “Take heed to yourself” in accordance with Paul’s exhortation to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:16). Paul was first concerned with Timothy the person before he was concerned for Timothy the pastor. Many pastors are reluctant to take an honest look at their own lives. Paul understood the wounds, discouragement, and fears that besieged Timothy and afflicts many pastors. Accordingly, pastors should heed Paul’s wise command to pay careful attention to yourself. This includes remembering your calling and the redemptive story of God’s hand in your life, taking an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and wisely providing care for yourself and your family.

2. Cultivate dependence on God for the strength and power needed in your ministry. Remember, your ministry is not yours – it is God’s. He has called you, and He must accomplish His work in you. Therefore, stop trying to control what you can’t control and manage what you have no business managing. This includes managing other’s opinions of you and their reactions to you.

3. Lower your expectations (and those of your congregation). Learn to say no and to delegate by asking others to employ their gifts. Biblically speaking, being a pastor is not a one-man show. Have you turned it into one?

4. Learn to balance your life and pace yourself. Ministry is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Take the long view and realize that sometimes slowing down will make you more effective. Create margins of time so that you are not always rushed. Take frequent breaks. Give yourself permission to take a nap and to rest.

5. Create time away to get refreshed. When I coach pastors, they often look at me incredulously when I tell them to include time spent in solitude, recreation, and refreshment as part of their working hours. Why? Because your “job” requires you to be spiritually fit, and you can’t be in good spiritual condition by always being on the go. Jesus often “withdrew to a quiet place” and effectively said “no” to ministry opportunities. You should do no less. A practical way to actually implement this suggestion is to regularly schedule your times of refreshment on your calendar and treat them as “real” appointments. If you are asked for a meeting at that time, your honest response will be, “I have an appointment.” Protecting these “appointments” is not being selfish, it is exercising good stewardship, will increase your effectiveness, and will protect you from burnout.

6. Cultivate interests that are not directly related to your work as a pastor. It is refreshing to engage in activities where you are not the one in charge, the one in the know, and the one who must make it happen! Sports, gardening, fishing, carpentry, reading, biking, camping, hang gliding, kayaking, bird watching, and stamp collecting are just some activities that offer healthy distractions from ministry that will refresh you. An added bonus will be the metaphors and illustrations that will later aid you in sermon prep and counseling.

7. Develop a sense of humor so that you can laugh at yourself and difficult situations. Laughter is an antidote to cynicism and sarcasm.

8. Pay careful attention to your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns. Don’t underestimate the importance of staying physically healthy and daily exercise. Endorphins are God’s natural high achieved by sweat and hard work!

9. Seek intimate fellowship with pastors and others with whom you can share your burdens. A common theme I see in counseling pastors is their sense of isolation and loneliness. There are likely many other pastors in your city or town who endure similar struggles. Seek them out and cultivate deep relationships with them. Share your successes, challenges, and struggles. Don’t buy into the lie that you “have to keep up appearances” and “protect your turf.” Protecting your reputation is often used as an excuse to stay entrenched in isolation. By developing peer relationships, you give God an opportunity to create friendships, alliances, and ministry opportunities that may surprise you.

10. Get help if you need it. I know that you are used to being the one in control, doing the counseling, being there for those who are hurting, and keeping everyone else all together. I also know that some pastors don’t believe in being too “introspective” and see counseling as something that “other people” need. Those who are in the helping profession are most at risk for burnout. Recognizing that you’re getting burned out shouldn’t require anything as dramatic as almost getting hit by a bus. In his provocative article “Death by Ministry,” Pastor Mark Driscoll stated that it might be wise and appropriate to “meet with a Biblical counselor to get insight on your own life and tendencies.” One of the best things you can do for your ministry, yourself, and your family may be to visit with a trusted counselor who can be there for you, provide insight and feedback, and help you along the way.

Burnout is to ministry as the boogie man is to a six year old boy: you know that it's really not going to get you, but it's good to check under the bed just in case. 

I know this entry is not as entertaining as some of the past ones, but this has been something on my heart and mind for the past few weeks. 

Personally, I don't see myself in danger of burnout in the near future, but I think this is valuable information to know and apply in to your own personal ministry. 

Heavenly father, most high God, I pray that we as a united body of Christ would rely on you for our strength. I pray that we would trust in your faithfulness and lean on you because you are always faithful. I pray that you would give us the wisdom we need to be the leaders you designed us to be. I pray that you would give us the humility we need to be the servants you designed us to be. I pray that would project and reflect your glory in all that we do, on stage, at home, at work, surrounded by Christians, or alone. I pray that our thoughts and words and actions would magnify your character, and we would emulate Christ in all that we do. I pray that our lives would be worship to you, that we would present ourselves as living sacrifices to you. You alone are worthy to be praised. I pray that we would praise you and look to you in all circumstances. Thank you for the countless ways you have blessed us and for your innumerable graces.
Amen. 







Nate T B

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nemeses, Stockholm Syndrome, and New Creation

Every good protagonist has an equally awesome antagonist:

Luke Skywalker had Darth Vader

Sarah Connor had the Terminator

Rick Grimes had Shane

Professor Xavier had Magneto

Popeye had Bluto

        Jean Val Jean had Javert

        Spiderman had Venom

        Prince Phillip had Maleficent

But when it comes to ministry, who is our greatest enemy? Who is the mastermind of our undoing? Who schemes while we rest?

I'm sure many of us would jump up and yell "THE enemy is our enemy!"
And yes, I would almost fully agree.

Satan is the original sinner, the one who incited rebellion and tempted humanity in to damnation.

But that sore loser doesn't have authority over us! We have been redeemed and purified by the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has lost.

I love reading the Old Testament! The history and stories are legendary. The heroes and battles get my blood rushing and make me excited about the God that I serve!

And the New Testament makes me feel bad.

I read the New Testament, and I'm so enlightened and encouraged, but at the same time, I read and see so many of my own flaws and shortcomings and I feel so terrible! I look inward at my heart, and Paul is right! The heart of man is evil!

I'm selfish
I'm prideful
I'm a worrier
I'm an idolater
I'm envious
I'm a loser

Well... I have the capability to be. I used to be all that. Before I had Christ.

Back then, Satan was the arch-nemesis. Sin was completely in control of my life. I only knew selfish choices. Everything I did was to help myself. My choices and actions were all dictated by my sin nature. It was all I knew.

But then Christ revealed Himself to me. And I died. Kinda.

Everything I had been was gone. My old self was obsolete. I had been made a new creation! I had been made in to the righteousness of Christ as all followers of Christ become. The old was gone, and the new had come! Everything that had defined me before no longer had control over. I had been cleaned off and given a new identity. The Spirit of God had come to reside in my heart and mind and change me from the inside and out. My whole life had new purpose and direction! Sin no longer controlled my actions!

But the danger was still there.

My chains of sin had been broken, and I was rescued from the prison of destruction!

but the prison was still there.


There's an odd condition I read about in a Stephen King book. Since then, I've seen it referenced in several movies and shows. It's called Stockholm Syndrome:

"Stockholm syndrome, or capture–bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. The FBI's Hostage Barricade Database System shows that roughly 27% of victims show evidence of Stockholm syndrome."
-- Professor W. Pedia
I thought that sounded a lot like living in sin.

As followers of Christ, we have been set free! We no longer are bound by our sinful nature, but for some reason, we feel this old draw and pull to return to what we used to know. When things get stressful or tense, we want to slip back in to those old habits that bring us that small amount of peace and comfort and nostalgic familiarity. 

We miss our old prison cell. 

We miss the way our old shackles used to rub the skin off of our wrists.

We miss the tiny window that allowed us to see the sun fifteen minutes a day.

We miss the cold stone walls that grew mold faster than we could grow hair

We miss the way the jailer used to beat us down and spit at us.

Those were the good old days....

SNAP OUT OF IT!!!!

We have been given life! We are brand new! Everything that defined us before, all the sin, the garbage, the futility, the extra weight, the baggage is gone. It's been made irrelevant. That old person that you used to be is DEAD

Just like Christ, you have died and been given new life, you have been resurrected!

Freedom feels so good.

But so many times, we wrap ourselves up in guilt and shame and old habits and poisonous addictions because that's so familiar, and it used to bring you comfort.

As a minister and follower of Christ, YOU are held to a higher standard. We have the power to overcome temptation and sin and all kinds of evil forces and schemes of the devil, but sometimes, what we lack is the desire.

Romans 12 gives us a liberating command:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We need to renew our minds. For so long our brains have worked the wrong way. 

Repentance is the term I'm looking for. A lot of times, we think of repentance as this state of feeling sorry and apologizing, but that's not entirely accurate. 

Let's do some digging! Since the New Testament was written in Greek, let's see what the Greek has to say about repentance: μετανοέω or metanoeo is the Greek word for repent.

μετανοέω
metanoeō
met-an-o-eh'-o:
to think differently or afterwards, that is, reconsider (morally to feel compunction): - repent

To think differently. That's heavy. To change the way we receive and process information. When we receive Christ, we must pursue the will of God, but the only way we can do that is by renewing our mind. That's why we have the bible. The Word of God is everything we need to be made new. So many times, it gets used as a text book for answers or historical text for facts, but it is living and active and good for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. Renew your mind.

Unfortunately, it's not an over night process. Rewiring the brain is like rewiring a house: it takes a LOT of time, hard work, dedication, and shocks. You may need to knock down a few walls or maybe cut some wires off completely, but you know that in the end, when it is finished, it will work exactly how it should, good, acceptable, and perfect. 

As followers of Christ, we have the capacity to be our own worst enemy, to entangle ourselves in our old ways, but when we renew our minds and fix our hearts on the will of God, we experience true freedom.

Just like God always wanted.





Nate T B

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pianists, Brazilians, and True Freedom

Lately I've been fascinated by this concept that I read in Erwin McManus' book, Uprising. It's a beautiful, powerful book of soul rustling truth that causes you to look inward to your very convictions and check the status of your heart and where you stand in your passion for Christ. Any book that challenges me and affects me in a way that causes me to check the status of my armor is a book for me.

McManus has been writing books for decades, all challenging and offensive, all with mixed reviews and opinions about them. Many of his concepts and illustrations have started controversy and anger. His goal is to challenge and offend. His passion is passion; passion for the Word, passion for serving others, passion for missions, passion for purity, passion for freedom, passion for Christ! He captures the excitement and urgency of the twelve apostles and dictates it to paper, sharing the mission and drive that Christ first commissioned two thousand years ago.

I originally read Uprising in middle school with my old youth group in Arizona, but apparently, I didn't get a lot out of it. This time, this book is shouting at me, and it is saying so many good things!

"Freedom is filled with opportunity, and with that comes responsibility... behind real freedom there lies discipline."

Boom.

I had to read these lines a few times over. The first time I read this, I thought well duhhh, everyone knows that! but the more I read it, the more sense it made.

Later, McManus draws out an illustration:

Imagine a skilled concert pianist.

The ivories are his playground, his hands dancing skillfully up and down the musical ladder, creating masterpieces with two hands. Hours, months, and years of practice and work culminated in the melodious sounds of songs written hundreds of years ago.

After an hour of goose bump inducing piano, the pianist stands up, takes a bow, and addresses the audience. 

"Is there anyone in the audience who would like to play? Anyone at all? This is the opportunity of a lifetime." 

One man enthusiastically raises his hand and runs to the front and on to the stage and sits down in front of the beautiful piano. It was his dream come true. His hands glided over the shiny ivory keys. But he didn't know what to do. He depressed one key, and his face flushed. He could not play piano.
His whole life he wanted an opportunity to play in front of thousands, the freedom to create beautiful music, but he had never taken a single piano lesson. So there he sat, clueless and silent.

The pianist had the ability to create beautiful music and the freedom to play for hours just by memory and improvisation because of the years of hard work and studying.

The other man had the opportunity and desire to be a concert pianist, but what he lacked was the discipline. He didn't know the first thing about playing piano, so he could not truly understand the experience or freedom of being a concert pianist.

Another example.

Royce Gracie (pronounced Hoyce Gracie) was born in Brazil and is one of the most famous martial artists of our time. He was one of the original masters of the deadly martial art Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Ya ya ya, I know, I'm probably biased because I studied it, but it's true! The Gracie family created and mastered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and created a little tournament called the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The original UFC was a simple challenge: Anyone who can beat Royce Gracie gets one million dollars (that's $1,000,000).

This challenge brought fighters out of the woodwork. Everyone from Xiao Lin masters to drunken bar brawlers would step up to test their skills against the skinny, short Royce Gracie. Most failed. A few men here or there would make it all the way and claim the one million dollars, but the number was low.

Royce Gracie gave an open invitation to anyone. All had the opportunity to claim the one million dollars, but what they lacked was the physical and mental discipline required to defeat Gracie.

What I'm trying to highlight is the necessity for discipline within freedom. To truly enjoy and take full advantage of freedom, discipline is vital.

What we're looking at is not the freedom to play in a concert or win a million bucks; this is true spiritual freedom. The freedom that can only be found in Christ Jesus. The freedom that fills all needs, quenches all thirst, fulfills all dreams, and resurrects the dead.

In Christ and in Christ alone, we have this freedom. When before we were held hostage in our sin, Jesus negotiated a trade and gave himself over to punishment so that we could be set free. Free...

When before, sin dictated our thoughts and actions, now we have been given new life. The old has gone and the new has come. Like a ex-addict newly out of rehab, we have been given a new life, but we have no idea where to start. How can we live a new life when all we have ever known is the destructive path? How can we truly enjoy true life when everything we ever enjoyed from before is poison?

We have been made new and we are standing in the threshold of a beautiful, perfect world of opportunity and freedom. Freedom is foreign to us. But now we have it. So what do we do with it?

God gave us a manual. A "Freedom for Dummies" aka the bible. As followers of Christ, the bible is the foundation of our very existence, our cornerstone. If we are basing our whole existence on the Word of God, we must steel ourselves to it. It can't just be something we read and are familiar with. It must be in our hearts and minds. It should the convictions that we dictate our choices by. It is our truth and guiding light through deception and darkness as well as our songbook in times of rejoicing.

So often we search for freedom in other places, other people, scenes, alcohol, anything to fill that God shaped hole in our hearts. That hole has been there since sin entered the hearts of man. Ever since, we have chased after freedom, but the only true freedom that satisfies is that which comes from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus' freedom truly satisfies and gives us life.

As a follower of Christ, you have been given freedom. What does that mean for you? Now that you have freedom, what are you going to do? Now that you have been given life, what can you do with it?

"Freedom is filled with opportunity, and with that comes responsibility... behind real freedom there lies discipline."




Nate T B

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Raider Fans, Geeks,and God's Word



I guess if I could explain my learning style in a word, it would be chagrin. Chagrin is a state of satirical embarrassment brought on by humiliation made by your own misdoings.
Story of my life.

If I had a nickle every time I made an embarrassing mistake or said something stupid or did something that made me face-palm afterwards, I could probably afford my own house. And boat. And pet panda.

Fortunately for me, I've gotten better at concealing my embarrassment.

The other day, I was sitting at the dining table with Pastor Bradley and Pastor John (or PB&J) and we were discussing Pastor John's difficult upcoming sermon on 1 Samuel Chapter 25.

For a few months now, PJ has been preaching on the life of David in depth. Every chapter is loaded with all these rad Christ-type allusions and tidbits of New Covenant foreshadowing. It's enough to get a bible geek all flushed!

I always thought I knew David's life pretty well, but as I've been reading along, I'm realizing, much to my chagrin, that there is so much that I never even heard about!

So PB&J are talking about this chapter and going in to depth about the significance of Nabal being from the bloodline of Caleb, and the political situation within Judah at the time, and I feel so lost! I look up the passage on my iPhone, and start skimming through it. I've never heard this story. All of a sudden, I start to panic. I'm sitting here with two of my fellow colleagues whom I look up to, and I have no knowledge of this brain teaser that they are working through!

I kick myself in the rear and study up. I need to know this stuff! This isn't just my job, it's my life! It's more than just a historical account of a historically significant king; it's the tangible Word of the creator of the universe given to us for the purpose of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. These are the flawless thoughts and stories conducted and inspired by the God of all things. I need to know them! Not just because I work for a church, but because I am His creation, and my whole existence is for His glory.

Ya some of you may be thinking that I am maybe blowing this out of proportion, and maybe I am. Not knowing a single story out of the extensive tale of David's life is not the end of the world maybe, but as a whole, how well do we know the Word?

Let me try to unpack this.

Oakland Raiders fans amaze me. Not in a good way. They amaze me in the same way a fly trying to get out of a window amazes me. The sad persistence and dedication displayed amazes me. I watch the poor sucker try again and again, but every time he runs in to that invisible wall, unbreachable by something of his caliber.

I'm no better though. I love the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Oakland Raider fans are some of the most passionate fans in the world. They don't just like the team. They live for the team. They watch every game, know every player, past and present, they know all the stats, all the plays, the score of the three super bowls they ever won in NFL history, the most recent being thirty years ago, they know the coaches, the water boys, the cheer leaders, the managers, the owners, everything. Being a Raider fan isn't just something you do; it's something you are. 

Star Wars fans aren't your typical fans either. They don't just like it; it's part of who they in their everyday life. They know the line of Sith Lords starting at the time of Exar Kun and Marka Ragnos, they can recite the Jedi code to you and tell you the six main components required for the function of a lightsaber, they know how TIE engines work, and how the Mandalorians almost took over the galaxy three times. Their passion is the inspiration for their knowledge.

Another great example is the Walking Dead. I've followed this show since Episode 1: Days Gone Bye. The fans are everywhere! They know every character, every side story, every epic zombie kill, every plot twist, and are glued to their seats every Sunday in anticipation to see what Rick does this week. Golly gee wilickers! I love that show.

I could tell you what county Rick Grimes was a Sheriff's Deputy in before the zombie apocalypse, I could tell you what a luxum crystal does when faceted inside a lightsaber, but--


How does the Abrahamic Covenant affect us as followers of Christ today?

What can we learn from 1 Samuel 25 about God's sovereignty?

Maybe it's just me, but I feel like a chump.

I've been feeling this conviction to get even more in to God's Word!

Being a Follower of Christ isn't just something we do; it's something we ARE. We have been transformed and brought to life by Christ who is the Word of God. Walking Dead, Star Wars, football; it's all insignificant and goofy in reference to eternity. Everything we need to live our life can be found inside the bible. Why don't we spend more time with our noses buried in our bibles? Why don't we commit more time learning what God has to say to us? Our entire life should built upon Christ, the foundation, the cornerstone. Everything we would ever want to know about Jesus Christ, our savior and king, can be found inside our bible.

I don't want you guys to read me wrong. I'm not trying to create guilt or shame. In no way am I saying that Star Wars or the Walking Dead or the Raiders are evil or anything like that. I'm still going to enjoy The Walking Dead, I'll always have a place in my heart for Star Wars. I am saying that as Followers of Christ, the Word of God should be our greatest passion and the foundation of our very purpose. I struggle with this a lot. These are questions that I ask myself.

As human beings, we are created to bring glory to God, to magnify His greatness, to reflect His holiness for all to see. Everything we need to build a Christ-centered life is inside our bibles. I want to be a passionate, knowledgeable fan of the bible, knowing all the stats and all the facts, all the players and victories, all the things that God wants for my life.

In God's word, we can discern His will for us, we can learn more about the character and heart of God. The more we learn about God's heart and character, the closer we grow to Him, and the closer we grow to God, the more reasons we have to love Him. As our knowledge of God expands, our love for God grows deeper and more mature.

Christ is not a fashion, fleeting away-- Norma Jean

I am committing to know more about my bible than I do Star Wars, I want to feel closer to John the Baptist than I do Darryl Dixon. I want the Word of God to saturate my entire being and the glory of God to permeate through my heart. The only way I can do that is by spending time in the bible, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it. I want my relationship with my creator to hold top priority in my life. This my public declaration! Hold me accountable!






Nate T B

Monday, November 4, 2013

Patients, Patience, and Laparoscopic Cholecystectomies

So all my Nevada readers know, but a week ago, I got out of the hospital.
(Sorry for the late post!)

It takes a lot for a man to finally admit when he has to go to the hospital. In fact it wasn't just pride that barred me from going to the hospital, but principle. It's been YEARS since I've stepped foot inside a hospital because I was in need of medical attention. I started saying "doctor free since '03" but honestly, I have no clue how long it's been. It just sounded catchy.

My upper abdomen started hurting like a I had a platypus crawling around inside my liver. You never really think about how your liver feels until it hurts. Then you notice it. I tried ignoring, tried waiting it out, tried taking Aleve, tried downing water like a mad man (because camps proves that all illness can be overcome by the excessive consumption of water), tried staying busy, but it only intensified. By the time, the youth dodgeball tournament rolled around, I sweating and shaking from pain, still under the illusion that the Aleve would kick in. I had taken it two hours before. Eventually, I conceded. It was time to break the streak. I'm sure they would rush to my aid.

They probably have a database of all the people in the US and monitor how often they visit the hospital.
I was on the naughty list.

So I text my boss, Pastor John aka PJ, and I tell him that I was going to the Urgent Care, and he said he would meet me there.

The Urgent Care takes me in quickly, getting me on a table, a needle in my arm, and drugs in my system. Before the drugs kick in, they have results from my urine analysis and blood samples, and a pseudo-diagnosis.

"We think it's your gall bladder. Or your liver." We usually sees these symptoms and numbers in older, larger, less active women, and in younger teenagers who drink excessively on the weekends."

Man. Which group do I want to be categorized with? Tough choice...

"Nevertheless we don't have the right equipment to treat you here."

Dang.

So we check in to the Centennial Hills emergency room where the waiting games begin.

More blood tests, more drugs, and we wait.
Eventually I'm told that I need surgery. I'm told that my gall bladder is in bad shape, and we need to act now.
The only logical option in this dire situation? Wait longer.

I get a super snazzy room to myself with an IV and adjustable bed, and told that the doctor would be in to see me soon. Little did I know...

Day 2

Still no doctor. I'm blessed with the best nurse ever: Nurse Becky. She was passionate and informed and sweet and just like that overly concerned aunt that everyone loves! She was like my very own 2-1B. Unfortunately, bacta tanks are still to be invented.

I get an ultrasound, an MRI, and some test that I couldn't pronounce that involved laying under this machine that rotated around me that monitored the movement of my stomach fluids. Lovely, yes?

My family from Arizona and the beautiful Haylee Troth decided to surprise me. It was so amazing having them there to support me and love me. I definitely would have gone crazy without them.

Finally I get word that I need surgery. I'm relieved and scared at the same time.

My gall bladder had to go. Just like both of my parents, my gall bladder had filled itself with stones, and was sending them to places they should not go. Some of the stones were blocking some important tubing causing me to produce and distribute the wrong enzymes in the wrong places. If it wasn't removed, my gall bladder would rupture, my liver might be injured in the process, I would go septic, and I..... well I guess we could just say, I wouldn't have to pay the hospital bill.

Sunday is the day. So after three days of waiting, it's happening.

The only thing I remember from the surgery is laying on the metal table, looking up at the nurse and asking "Are you as nervous as I am?" to which she replied "Probably more".
After that I remember a bright light and a voice calling my name saying "Nathan... Nathan... Open your mouth, Nathan. and then the doctor pulled the tube out of my throat. That was it. It was done. My life had been saved.

It's been a week since I got out of the hospital, and I'm so excited to get my staples out.

In retrospect, most of my exciting weekend involved waiting. Even after I got my surgery, I waited another day before I was released by the doctor late the next day.

Now for the lesson.

I've never regarded myself as a patient dude. Usually when told me to have patience, I responded snarkily with "Patience? Patients lie in hospital beds. I got work to do!" Now here I am eating crow.

Lying in that hospital bed required so much patience. It was hard being so frustrated and so scared and trying to maintain my testimony as a follower of Christ and an employee of Summit Ridge Church. I wanted to yell and curse and demand a doctor. I was a grumpy patient. Especially when I was waiting for surgery. I had not eaten or drunk in 50+ hours, and I was feeling it.

Patience is one of the attributes listed in the fruit of the spirit.

I was working on the lesson for this week's youth group, and I decided to do a word study.

μακροθυμία or makrothumia meaning long suffering or persevering. There was also
 קוה or qavaw meaning distant tempered.

Both these words are used synonymously with patience and perseverence.

Sometimes it's hard to really grasp a concept unless you lean back and look at the whole picture.

Our God is sovereign and faithful. He is the provider of our every need and the planner of our lives. I can't help but think of Noah who waited for forty days because of God's promise. Zechariah also waited for years before encountering Christ. Elijah sat in the wilderness and was fed by ravens and hid out with an old widow for three years all on the promise of God. Abraham was already old before God fulfilled His promise to him.

Patience is the product of faith.

When we truly believe in the providence and perpetual love of our Creator, we know that He never fails, that He is always faithful, and that He will never leave us, even to the end of the age. When we have full confidence in who God says He is, we learn to trust and wait on the Lord. We endure in suffering and trials knowing that God is faithful and always victorious. In our trials, He is being glorified.

Whether you're waiting for surgery
waiting to get married
waiting to get test results back
waiting to hear back from them
waiting to find a place to live
waiting to heal
waiting to start
waiting to finish
waiting to develop patience

God is faithful always. He knows your needs and your heart. He created your life and is in control.



Nate T B

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rangers, Vader, and Prayer

A few days ago, I was talking to a nonChristian buddy of mine about my housing predicament.

Basically, I'm couch hopping until my future roommate's roommate moves out and I can be my future roommate's current roommate. Did that make sense?

Anyways! As you could imagine, it can be stressful. If you've ever been in a situation where you don't have a home and are living transiently, you know that strain it can put on your nerves and your patience. 
Fortunately for me, God has blessed me with awesome friends who have let me stay in their homes for weeks at a time. Definitely beats living in a '94 Jeep Cherokee Sport in the parking garage of Paradise Valley Mall.

So I was talking to my buddy about the situation.
I was tired and spread thin trying to juggle the stresses of life and be a good Youth Director all at the same time, and it's only by the grace and providence of God that I can manage all the craziness at once. And to think: I don't even have a wife or kids yet.
He nodded and listened.
I took a drink of my coffee. I really dig the new Ethiopia roast.
He took a bite of his muffin, and with crumbs on his lips and masticated muffin in his maw he asked,

"Why don't you pray about it?"

I stopped and looked at him. My brain tried processing what he had just said. My brain felt like I had just typed the word "the" in to the Google search bar.
You don't even believe in prayer!
Ain't I supposed to be ministering to you?
Why don't I pray about it?
How do you know I haven't been praying about it?
Hey! You don't tell me what to do!
but what I really said was,

"Huh?"

"Ya. You say that God cares about all that kind of stuff, so why not pray about it? Faith is your job, right?"

Well played... Well played.
I nodded my head.

He was right. 

As a follower of Christ, I have unlimited access to the creator of the universe, the ex-temporal master of all things tangible and not, the one who breathed in to Adam and gave him a free will and a soul, the Lord of all who sees all, knows all, loves all, and created all. The God who split the Red Sea and holds super novas on the tip of His finger. The Creator of water and gravity and the sender of summoned fire, the savior of the Israelites, the crusher of armies, and builder of civilizations who walked among us in flesh and was killed and then was resurrected who purified me from sin and adopted me to be an heir of heaven.

Ya. That's the same God we ask to bless our hotdogs and help us not get caught when we cheat on tests.

Don't get me wrong. God cares about our desires and our hearts. More than God cares about our actions, God cares about our hearts. He wants to know our concerns and passions. He cares about our fears and stresses, He wants to know your thoughts and opinions. 

God is not the disconnected, distant deity that observes from afar and shakes His head at our ignorance.

God is love. He's intimate. Over and over we are reminded that above all creation, we are His love. He created heaven for us; a place of eternal communion with God. Heaven is a place that we can always dwell and walk with our creator like He always wanted. He is not far away hoping we make the right choices and hoping to see us soon. He is always with us, among us, guiding us, working through us and around us. He is always intervening. 

When Jesus was killed, He fulfilled the law of the sacrificial system that had been practiced for hundreds of years. Jesus was the ultimate sin offering, the perfect lamb sacrificed, and just like in the first Passover, the blood of that perfect lamb saved us from death.

I love when Old Testament metaphors work out like that.

Jesus' sacrifice cleansed us from our sin. All the things that we had done, or ever will do were wiped away. All the records had been wiped clean; we were seen as innocent, without sin. Jesus healed the void between us and our creator.
It's all because of Jesus that we have that restored relationship with God.  

And it's not just one way. Communication goes both ways. Not only does God always listen to us, but He can talk to us. It's important that we take time to listen to Him.

Looking back at the conversation I had with my chum, what distressed me the most was the fact that most of my urgency was rooted in my atychiphobia. So badly I didn't want to let down my students or my leaders. I couldn't bear to let down Pastor John or the parents. Most of all, I couldn't live with the fact knowing that I had failed my God. So I tried with all my strength to please God and do all that I could to be the youth director that God commanded me to be. 
But that was the problem.
It was my strength.

It should have been obvious enough that God had done so much to get me where I am today. Or in the words of Rachel Caprine, "Totes obvi'"

If I want so badly to fulfill God's will and be used by God, then I need to in communication with Him.

Imagine, if you will, an Airborne Army Ranger. The elite of the elite. Equipped inside and out for any situation, always ready, always aware, and always dangerous. Any order given, and the Rangers carry out that order with perfect adherence, completing their objective with extreme prejudice.

But without orders, they're just well dressed soldiers getting dusty and tired.

Any experienced military man will tell you that communication on the battlefield is as valuable as bullets.

We're the same way. We are soldiers, fighting the good fight. We have our general orders, but if we want to be effective in the trenches and mud, we have to be in communication with our commanding officer. 

My geeky brain just turned on.

Remember Darth Vader? The corrupted, half-cybernetic, ex-jedi, father of Luke Skywalker (sorry for the spoiler, but if you didn't know that, you need find a bigger rock to live under)?
Darth Vader is the visage of passionate tenacity, always pursuing his objective. Equipped with enhanced cybernetic limbs, a superior knowledge of the force, and lightsaber skills that rival that of Jedi Master Windu, Darth Vader is the ultimate soldier. He can even survive in the vacuum of space for six hours with his own life support system. He single handedly led the assault on the Jedi temple after Order 66 was given.
Some of you are shaking your heads and saying "What is this psycho talking about?" and that is totally valid.

Even as powerful and equipped as he was, Darth Vader took time out of his day to have one on one time with his Master Sidious. He knew the objective and the goals, but keeping in consistent communication with his master kept him focused and on track. Eventually he caught Luke.

In the same way, when we pray, we are focusing our mind on God's heart. We are actively pursuing God's will and making it our will. By praying, we are setting our hearts and minds on God.

Praying is an act of faith in itself. 

When we pray, we are declaring "Yes! My God is real, my God is alive, my God cares, and my God provides. I rely on Him.
When we put our faith in God, He works through us in the same way he used the apostles' faith. Our prayers are the culmination of our faith and reliance on the characteristics of God.

God wants to be relied on. God wants us to trust Him and follow Him. 

God cares about wars and cosmic rotation and macro development, but He also cares about our times when we are so stressed we could punch a barista. He cares about our fears and tough times. He rejoices in triumphs with you and cares about the things you care about because He designed you to love those things.

If we are to build our entire existence around our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to know Him on a deep personal level. Reading His word. Seeking His heart in prayer. Sharing our hearts in prayer. Listening and waiting on God.

If we want to be effective "Rangers" and "Sith lords", then we have to be in communication with our master.

Take some time with your creator and pursue His heart.



Hey I stayed on topic! Mostly...





-- Darth Nate, lord of the youth

Monday, October 14, 2013

Cliches, Contentment, and Crashes

One day, I was sitting in my office. 

Yes, I realize that sounds very impressive until I tell you that my office is the long black table on the right as soon as you walk in to the Starbucks on Decatur and I-215. 

That’s my office.

Anyways! I decided that I should step out of the office for a bit, so I took out my earbuds and got in line for my third refill. In front of me in line were two ladies discussing their troubles:

"I just don't know what to do. He just lets it get worse and worse, and doesn't even do anything about it. We just need to stop going." said one lady. The other lady laid her hand on her friend's shoulder, leaned in and said,

"God will never give you more than you can handle."

At first, I thought "what a good friend. She's pointing her friend to the gospel. Way to go, venti-caramel-frappuccino-light-with-extra-caramel lady!" but the more I thought about it, the more internal conflict I had with this comforting cliche catchphrase of conversing Christians (holy alliteration, Batman!). 

Of course we have all heard this saying, but does it really have any biblical credibility? What does the bible say about this? And why did we start saying it? I searched the bible, but I couldn't find this comforting tidbit of wisdom anywhere.

It's not in the bible. At least not in the ESV, NASB, KJV, or NKJV translations.

The closest I found was 1 Corinthians 10:13:
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

but this verse is specifically about temptation. Even this verse gives the implication that the person being tempted is still in need of escape to help endure this temptation, and the provider of that escape is our faithful God.

Hm.

From there, I went on looking at some of the big names of the bible: 

Job's family was murdered by bandits, his entire fortune stolen, afflicted with plates sized boils, and a very unsupportive wife. That's more than anyone could handle.

Yikes. By the way, don't Google boils. Really. Trust me on this one.

John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and was eventually executed. More than he could handle.

Paul was blinded, stoned, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, bitten by a venomous snake; More than he could handle.

This list goes on for pages! Look at the Judges, the Apostles, anyone who followed God with their life, by human standards, were given way more than they could handle. Paul puts it beautifully:

"I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." 
(Philippians 4:10-13)
Paul tells us the summary of his life. He knows what it is be poor, to be in abundance, to be starving, to be happy, to be sad, to be beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, poisoned; he found the secret of being content in every situation: Christ. It's Christ. Paul points to Christ in his times of abundance and in the times when he is chained to a wall in prison and beaten daily. It is because Christ has empowered him. It is only through Christ could Paul even dream of enduring. It was not by his own strength or strong will could he endure these trials, but because God gave Him the strength. 

God gave Paul more than he could handle specifically for the purpose of revealing Himself through Paul's life.

Hear me out. 
People would look at Paul's life and say "there is no way that he should be where he is." and that is exactly correct. God empowered him and brought him where he was.

If God never gave us more than we could handle, then we would never really need God. As our creator, he wants us to rely on Him in the same way a parent wants their children to rely on him. 

When I was younger, a pastor named Dave Barreras said something that stuck with me.

"Being within the will of God is not always the safest place to be, but it is the best to be."

Pastor Dave and his wife Yvonne recently moved to Prescott, Arizona to open up a Gospel-centric Rescue Mission for homeless and families in need. Over the past year, they have faced phenomenal opposition financially, architecturally, governmentally, and physically. But they knew that they had been given the mission to serve the homeless and helpless, and they knew that being in the will of God was more important than being comfortable. They knew that alone, the two of them could not muster up the money or the support needed to accomplish this, but it is by God's providence that they have gotten this far. Being their son, I am humbled being able to watch God work miraculously in their lives and witness the creation of the Yavapai Territorial Gospel Rescue Mission.

Following God is hard. And scary. Sometimes it takes you places you're scared to go. It calls you to do things that you are not comfortable doing.
But isn't that the coolest thing? We mere humans have been empowered by God to do incredible, unimaginable things all for His glory.

We follow Christ where He leads.

I love how God leaves us lessons in His creation.

One of my favorite authors, Erwin McManus, said that followers of Christ are like rhinos.
A rhinoceros standing in one place is big and intimidating, but not necessarily dangerous; their vision is terrible, their turning radius is laughable, they're fat, and they're dirty. 
But a herd of rhinos: that's some scary stuff.

Every animal on Earth has a specific name for a group:
A herd of cattle.
A murder of crows.
A smack of jellyfish.
A committee of vultures.

A herd rhinoceros is called a crash.

A charging crash does exactly that. Crash.

When a crash of rhinos get charging in a group, each rhino can only see the rhino in front of it, following wherever it leads knowing that wherever they are going, nothing will stand in their way. Once that fat, grey tank gets rolling, it has enough momentum behind it to run straight through a building. Now imagine the power of fifty.

We are like a crash of rhinos. 

When we drop our head and follow Christ, there is nothing that can stop us. As hard as a brick wall is, when we follow the leader, Christ, we run straight through it.

When Christ is the leader, we know that no matter what we encounter, Christ encountered it first and overcame. 

We are unstoppable. 

We have been empowered by Christ for the purpose of magnifying His eternal qualities.

Paul, Job, dad, you, me, we all have been given the chance to follow Christ on a crazy adventure and overcome unspeakable odds. 




Nate T B









Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Dead Sea, Wookies, and Reconciliation

So the other day I was eating dinner at Pastor John's house like I tend to do at least once a week. When I first moved to Las Vegas from Tucson as an awkward loner, they adopted me as part of their family. It's been such a blessing being so close to my boss and his family.

Anyways!

On his dining table beneath the glass table top is a large world map that has inspired many a snazzy conversation and a plethora of good laughs. As Pastor John's daughter began explaining the geekiness of having a world map as a dining table, like usual, I got distracted. I began looking at the Middle East which was directly between the ketchup and vegetables.

 I could see the Sea of Galilee flowing down the Jordan River in to the Dead Sea.

All through the bible, these three watery entities are important settings for so many stories; Jesus' baptism, Jesus calming the storm, the stopping of the Jordan River for the crossing of the Ark of the Covenant, the recruitment of Jesus' first apostles, and so many more! The Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, and the Dead Sea are pretty important places throughout the bible. So many lessons were taught by Jesus on the shores of these bodies of water, but one of the lessons was taught to me by a short, round, balding man named Tim Reed.

Tim Reed is a humble professor at Arizona Christian University who has had significant involvement in my life. He was the professor and mentor of my father, the man who wed my parents, my teacher during my short time at ACU, and a consistent friend and source of wisdom. He taught probably my favorite class of time: Biblical Discipleship.

In this class, there would always be some strange object on his desk like a model ship or a potato or maybe a bottle of bleach, and he would use these ridiculous objects to explain deep theological concepts and train us in discipleship. One day, there was no object. Just a drawing on the chalk board.

The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are less than 70 miles apart; that's a shorter distance than Tucson to Phoenix. Despite the short distance, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are completely different.

The Northern of the two is the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is known for its beautiful, clear waters, abundant life, and powerful bipolar weather. People have lived in close proximity to this body of water for generations thriving off of its abundant fishing waters and fertile surroundings. 

The Jordan River flows both in and out of the sea which is one of the main causes of its fertility and clear, life sustaining waters. The Sea of Galilee is always flowing out as much as flows in to it. The Jordan River flows in to the Sea of Galilee, bringing in fresh, oxygen rich water, creating currents throughout the sea, and then the sea flows southward in to the southern Jordan.

The southern sea is the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is exactly that: dead. The salt content is so high that nothing can survive but sturdy strains of Mediterranean bacteria. The salt is so concentrated that fish cannot survive in the water for more than a few seconds. The salt is so dense, a full grown man can lay on top of the Dead Sea and not sink. Plants are scarce, fish are dead, and the water is poisonous to stomach.

The Dead Sea, though close to the Sea of Galilee, is the opposite. Both seas are fed by the same river, both are in similar climate and areas, but what is the cause of the vast difference? What could cause one to be radiant and life sustaining while the other is nothing but a reservoir of expensive salt?

The one difference is the Jordan River.

Both seas receive a constant flow of water from the Jordan River, but only the Sea of Galilee pours the water out. The constant flowing of the Sea of Galilee is constantly stirring and creating currents and spreading that oxygenated water throughout as well as continuing to push that flow south down the Jordan.

The Dead Sea is stagnant. All that water that is poured in to it just sits and becomes like the rest of the water around it. Bitter, useless, unusable.

I see a lot of parallels between our spiritual growth and these two seas.

In one hand, we have the Sea of Galilee; full of life, fresh, moving, life sustaining. This isn't just because of the water flowing in but more importantly the water flowing out. In our own lives, we are poured in to. We grow at church, small groups, books, personal quiet times, daily devotions, by being in nature. We have all these resources that are constantly pouring in to us and giving us the resources we need to be growing, active, radiant followers of Christ. But what do we do with it? Do we take in all this information and allow it to only bless us? Do we sit and relish in our secret wisdom of our own minds? What is the point of learning all of this wisdom and information? Why do we learn the importance of serving others? Why do we study the teachings of Christ that say to love your neighbor? What is the Great Commission even good for?

By not using the gifts and resources given to us, we are the Dead Sea. We are stagnant. We are being poured in to without allowing anything to be poured out. We are hoarding the love of Christ and denying anyone else the joy of experiencing the glory of God. Christ’s teachings were meant to be lived out and shared, not stored on the C:drive of our minds.

When we truly understand the heart of God, we see others not as a distraction from our own personal growth, but as the beloved creation of God.

We have been severed from the creator and lover of our souls by the sin that we harbor in our own hearts. The introduction of sin in to our universe split the intended order of things. When before, man could forever physically commune with God and all of his physical needs would literally pop up from the ground, now the presence of sin destroyed everything.

Imagine the heart break of Adam. 

One day, he is walking through the garden with no shame, physically looking at the face of God, hearing His voice, rejoicing in every moment of the perfect world. The next day, his first and closest friend, his creator, his God can’t stand to be around him. And it’s all his fault. I can’t even comprehend being able to look back and remember the face of God and know that everything is going to be different forever.

Some people hate thinking of the depravity of sin. They think that the talk of sin or hell is too negative or not happy enough, but I feel the opposite.

When we really understand the twisted perversion of sin and the venomous ferocity of our sin, we look at God and marvel.

Maybe we feel ashamed.

Maybe we feel dirty.

Maybe we feel unworthy.

Maybe that’s all true.

When we look at our sin, and we look at God, we are humbled. In no way do I think that God should love us.

But He does.

More than we can ever understand. More than you can dream, God perfectly, completely, and eternally loves you. Why? Because that’s who God is. Love is part of His character. It’s who He is all the time, and that’s forever. In the same way that God is eternal, unchanging, omniscient, omnipotent, self-existent, ex-temporal, and perfect, He loves. He always has and always will.

Even through our sin.

When I look at my sin and then look at the grace and love of God, I am completely blown away. By understanding the depravity of sin, I better understand the love of God.

With this deeper understanding, I can’t just sit here and think “Wow, thanks, JC. You’re the man.

NO!

I have to get up and take full advantage of this second chance that I have been given! God has poured His grace out on to me despite my sin! Not only does He love me, but He has removed my sin! Through Christ, we have been restored, reconciled, returned to glory! The relationship that Adam had with God in the garden is the relationship that we have with the Father today! My life is no longer mine! Everything I am, I completely owe to God, and I am going to use everything that Christ has given me to show what Christ has done in my life.

I feel a bit like a Wookie. I know some of you just cocked your head and said “what???”, but hear me out.

Spoiler Alert: if you don’t know me very well, I’m about as big a star wars nerd as it gets. I use a star wars reference in all of these blogs at least once. Sometimes accidentally  If I was any nerdier, I’d be writing fan fiction and building a life size replica of an X-wing. Don’t know what that is? That’s okay.

If you’re not familiar with what a Wookie is, Chewbacca is a Wookie. Everybody knows Chewbacca.

Within the Wookie culture on Kashyyyk, they follow a strict set of social and religious rules. One of these practices is called a “life-debt”. A life-debt is one of the most serious and binding covenants. When a Wookie’s life is saved by someone else, that Wookie can swear loyalty and service to that individual for the rest of their days.

I don’t want to get too geeky. You guys will beat me up and take my milk money.

In the same way, that’s how I feel. Christ saved me from death. Eternal death. Because of my salvation, I want to commit my life to serving Christ for the rest of my life. I owe Christ a life-debt.

Christ has restored me. He has given life to my soul and blessed me with glorious purpose that He designed for me and only me. We have all been given purpose that only we can fulfill.

By God’s great love and grace, we've been given life and made right with God. When the creator of the universe comes in to your heart and changes your soul, there should be dramatic change. Stagnancy should not be an option. The Holy Spirit is constantly stirring and compelling us to grow and serve.

Sorry, Lumineers: I don’t want to be the Dead Sea.



Nate T B