Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Arm-bars, House Fires, and Things Like That.

Something that we all have in common is the detestation of taking orders. Taking orders is something that must be taught, trained, conditioned in to us. By nature, we are rebellious and bitter to the word submission. Submission is one of those words that we either avoid altogether or we tiptoe around lest we start a throw down of fisticuffs. But why are we so frightful of the concept? Why is it such an offensive topic that we submit? Submit to God. Yikes. We're told to deny ourselves, we are to be doulos or servants. We are told that humility is one of the highest character traits of a follower of Christ. Even the apostle Paul referred to himself as a slave or a bondservant on several occasions. Submitting to our creator is how it's supposed to be right?
 But still, it sounds like surrender. Historically, Americans don’t like that word. Surrender is the other “S” word that we just don’t use in respectable company unless we’re talking about the actions of our opposition. Our country was founded on rebellion, built on independence, and thrives on “sticking it to the man”, so why should we have to submit to anyone? Why can’t we be in control of our own lives? Why can’t I earn my own righteousness? Why can’t I absolve my own sins? Why can’t I save myself?  Because you can’t. Submission is not the defenestration of your independence and free will. It’s the acknowledgment of your weaknesses and allowing yourself to be relieved of your conflict.
No one is denying you the right to save yourself; you just can’t. It’s impossible
The spirit of sin is rebellion. It’s the decision that you don’t need God. It’s the declaration that you will not allow God to provide for your life, that you don’t need His power. As an American, I get all twisty-tummied when I think about this. It reminded me of something from my adolescence:
When I was younger, I was a student at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school (Ossssss) for a few years. Jiu Jitsu is not like other martial arts. It doesn't involve punching, kicking, chopping, and flipping. It’s a grappling martial art focused on the “ground game”. When watching UFC, when you see an armbar, a rear naked choke, shoulder lock, knee bar, ankle hook, anything like that, you are watching jiu Jitsu. It’s a style that is focused on the application of knowledge of the human body, and manipulating that same human form in to positions it’s not supposed to be in. Every little detail is necessary when grappling. The height of your hips, the position of the thumb, the center of gravity, whether your hand is on top or on bottom, how high your knee is, the angle of the shoulder; all of these are ESSENTIAL to good jiu jitsu. It requires a lot of focus, discipline, and lots of sore mornings. At all times, when rolling, you are always shifting and moving and using all your muscles at once.
While rolling with another student, eventually, all that discipline and focus pays off, and one of the grapplers will get caught in what’s called a submission. This could be anything that inhibits your ability to fight on, whether that’s through pain, a physical inability to move, a lack of oxygen, or the fact that you are unconscious.
Obviously, you can’t run a productive school if all of your students are running around with broken arms and brain damage. Perhaps you've heard of the term “tapping out”? In the UFC, tapping out signifies surrender, that you can’t continue.
When I was but a young white belt at DeBrazil Brazilian Jiu Jitsu School, I was still learning the finer points of the art. I remember one night, I was assigned to grapple a more advanced student named Victorria. Yes, Victorria is a girl. I won’t try and defend myself. She was a stone cold killer of a girl. As we began sparring, in my head, of course I was thinking “I’m bigger than her, I’m physically stronger than her, I’m going to beat her.” As we wrestled through technique and fought for position, she locked in what’s called a “triangle choke”. The triangle choke is a very special choke that does not deprive the brain of oxygen, but deprives the brain of blood in general. This choke doesn't feel like you're being choked, so, like a fool, I kept fighting. She only held on tight and waited as I squirmed and chuckled at her failing submission. The choke was in deep, and the blood was not making its way to my brain. One moment, I’m working on slipping out and sinking in a knee bar, the next moment I’m waking up on my back with my teacher, Martin Escobar, looking down at me. She knocked me out. I was beaten, and I didn't even know it until I was waking up from my back. I definitely learned from the experience. I never got caught in a triangle choke ever again, but I still remember my embarrassing defeat.
In the martial arts world, there is a saying: “Tap, snap, or nap”. This refers to the three options you have when put in to a submission situation. You can choose to fight on! Even in the face of ruthless defeat, you push on, refusing to submit to the fact that you are slowly choking to unconsciousness: nap. You can refuse the fact that you are in a position where Victorria could snap your arm off and mail it back to your momma, that you can handle it, that you can protect yourself and overcome this situation. But the fact is, the more you fight an armbar, the more it puts strain on your elbow, and then snap! Or you can come to peace with the fact that you have been beaten, that you cannot continue, that you cannot fight on, and respectfullytap out.
Refusing to tap out when you're beaten is an act of pride. Pride is a disorder that I have suffered from since I figured out how cool I am. But all joking aside, pride is a main component of rebellion. It is the main reason we refuse to ask for help even when we need it. ESPECIALLY when we need it. It prevents us from accepting help.
Getting personal, I know that I falter most in this subject. I never ask for help and justify it saying “I don’t want to burden them”, but really, it’s my fault. It’s gotten me in tougher positions than just getting choked out by a girl. It’s gotten me sleeping in a parking garage in my jeep. That’s a different story! But you guys get what I’m saying.
Let’s zoom out and look at the big picture.
From birth, we are in a strangle hold. Sin is the genetic disease passed on for generations starting all the way back with Adam. Sin is the rebellious nature in our hearts that pushes us to reject the providence and sovereignty of the creator of the universe in our own lives.
Someone once asked me, “So, Nate, if you want me to submit to God, does that mean that God has got me in an armbar? Is He going to break my arm if I don’t submit to Him?” 
No nononononononononono no. That’s not it at all.
Sin has you in an armbar. And a knee bar. And an ankle hook. And a triangle choke. Before you even knew that you were fighting, you were beaten. You are completely debilitated, and there is nothing you can do in your own power. All your attempts to free yourself from your sin only locks it in deeper and harder making the grip so much stronger and the choke so much deeper. Imagine yourself lying on your back trying to fight this off, you’re tired, sweaty from fighting for so long, your muscles stopped hurting ages ago, and now you just feel limp, your mouth feels like a wad of cotton, and you just can’t catch your breath.
Right before you slip in to unconsciousness, there is a man. His gi is old and worn, but clean. He tells you to submit, admit your defeat, and embrace the fact that you cannot do it alone. He tells you to let HIM take your place. What? You want to take my place? I’m getting killed over here, and you want to take my place? Why? “Because I love you. Trust me.” What other option do you have? You tap out. You submit. The man steps up, and takes on that sin head on. The sin catches Him in a heel hook for a moment, but He steps out of it, and crushes its head. The sin is defeated.
Submission to God is not surrendering your independence or giving up. It’s acknowledging the fact that you cannot continue on the path that you have traveled on your whole life. You have done this on your own for so long and gotten no where. Deny yourself. Allow God to take control.
God created you with free will. You were created to commune with God, be with Him, and to enjoy His presence.
Christ wants us to submit to Him. It is by grace we have been saved, through faith, and not of our own works. By God’s grace, we have been rescued from our sin. He alone can save us. We must rely on Him, trust Him. By ourselves, we are weak and powerless in the face of sin, but we have been empowered by Christ!
Salvation is not a complicated concept: 
Imagine a burning house. 
Now imagine being inside that burning house. 
You’re in a bad place. 
You woke up in that bad place, and you are trapped. Smoke is all around you, and you're choking. The charred remnants of your home is slowly filling your lungs and you can't see. The flames lick the ceiling and you see no hopes of escape. 
There is nothing you can do. 
You need a savior.
Now a firefighter crashes through the wall (like a boss) and scoops you up in his arms and takes you outside to the safety of the ambulances and fire trucks. He has taken you from a bad place and put you in to a good place. He has saved you from a fiery demise and put you in a place of life with a future. 
That, in essence, is salvation.
When I get talking, I get off subject a lot, but I hope this metaphor was at least slightly understood. I didn't talk about zombies like I said I would, but this is just as random.

Nate T B      

Monday, September 16, 2013

Zombies, Fires, and Pinecones.

As a brand new director of youth ministries at Summit Ridge Church, I suppose it is my responsibility to be hip and updated with all the trends including blogging and iPhones. I just got an iPhone last week, so it's time for a blog now. Hopefully, I'll stay on top of this blog as we all continue to grow in Christ, our roots growing deeper, and our branches reaching higher.

The Ridge Uth leaders and I have been wanting to start up a deeper discipleship study with some of the students who want to really grow in to mature people of Christ, and, ultimately, invest in others. This is, in essence the Great Commission. "Go throughout all nations, teaching and baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." Notice that Christ isn't commanding the apostles to go and make converts everywhere they go: He's commanding them to go and make disciples. GO, TEACH, BAPTIZE. As followers of Christ, we are to be contagious like a virus or a fire

It reminds me of a good zombie flick: we are exposed, transformed, everything we once were is destroyed and dead, but then, in a supernatural turn of events, we are brought to life, our new existence is completely
defined by the very thing that transformed us. We were once dead, but now we are alive. 
Everyone we are in contact with is susceptible to being affected.

But maybe viruses, zombies, and forest fires are too negative to be used as metaphors of the gospel.

Trees! Everybody likes trees.

During my time serving at Prescott Pines Camp in Arizona, I had the opportunity to work around Ponderosa Pine Trees. In fact, Prescott National Forest is the largest congregation of Ponderosas in the whole world. These beautiful trees are tall and strong, home to the evil Ebert tree squirrel, and smell like vanilla. Really! You gotta try it.

During my seven years up there teaching and serving, I couldn't help but notice the awesome similarity between these gorgeous trees and us as followers of Christ.
Hear me out.

As a tree, it's entire life is defined by its ability to grow and reproduce, right? If it doesn't have a solid place to grow, it's chances of getting taller than six inches is slim. If it doesn't have access to the proper amount of water, it's squirrel munchies. If it can't get enough sunlight, it will never grow larger than your little finger. But. When the tree can grow deep roots, has access to water and food, and has sufficient sunlight, that minuscule sorry excuse for a seedling can erupt in to a hulking colossus of the forest, reaching towards the heavens.

We're the same way. As followers of Christ, we need a solid place to grow where are roots can dig deep and build a solid foundation of faith. This can be a church, an accountability group, a small group, a youth group, etc. This foundation of growth will be your home base, your base of operations, the place where you start as a tiny dried up pinecone and are brought to life when that seed takes root. Keep in mind, as a "tree" growth is only have of your purpose. The other half is making pinecones and planting seeds in all the ground around you in hopes that those seeds will take roots, but we'll get deeper in to that later.
Once you've taken root, you need water and sunlight.

That water is the word of God and the Holy Spirit. It fills you up and quenches your thirst. You have to become saturated with the word to grow. The word of God is exactly that: it is the words of our creator, the creator of the star,s and the ocean, and dolphins, and microorganisms, and trees, and atoms. He is speaking to us through His word. Theopneustos. If we want to know Him, we must know His heart. He put His heart in the Word, and it's published in basically any book store you stumble through. Heck, it's FREE in the App store. Really. Maybe downloading the bible onto your iPhone will make Apple seem less evil.

The sunlight could be represented perhaps by the good works that were designed for us before we could even wipe the drool off of our cute little chins. Those good works are not the cause of our initial salvation, but through them, God radiates through us. We grow when we follow Christ and when we serve. 

Once a tree hits a certain maturity, it begins producing fruit. The Ponderosa Pine Tree produces a prickly little sucker called a pinecone. The squirrels love to snatch these up and munch them to pieces. It's their main food, and they will fight each other for them, even creating pseudo-territories around healthy, fruitful trees, throwing sticks and things at passersby. But I digest...

When a tree hits a certain maturity, it begins creating pinecones. Inside these spiky balls of crunchiness, are a bunch of little seeds. Ideally, when the pinecone hits the ground, it will be crushed underfoot or maybe maimed by a squirrel in hopes that those seeds will be put in to the ground. Once those seeds are in the ground, they await to sprout in to a powerful arboreal marvel like the very tree that planted the seed.

As followers of Christ, we've all heard the term "planting seeds", and that is exactly the metaphor I am making. Seeds are planted in so many ways; evangelism, mission work, relationship building, stumbling across KLove, reading a book, a good work from a follower of Christ, a WWJD bracelet, etc. Once that seed is planted, it waits to be fed. Once exposed to the proper environment, it can grow in to a tree, and begin the process all over.

As a tree is growing, it does not grow alone. It is surrounded by other trees who pull water over to the growing sapling, give it shade, cultivate the ground, support and protect the growing tree. As Followers of Christ, we should do the same. Teach, mentor, protect, guide, and love the growing Christians. 

I hope this metaphor is coming out as clear to you as it is in my convoluted noodle of a brain.

I guess a final thought on the tree metaphor would be this: there are trees in the Prescott National Forest that are over 100 years old. Some of those trees took 20 years to sprout, and have been growing ever since. I guess my point is that growth is a long process. It's not a process that happens over a weekend at a camp or one night at a youth group. Growth is a life long process that is difficult, straining, dangerous, and exhausting. 

Maybe next time I'll go in to more depth on the zombie metaphor. That should get me in plenty of trouble.

Nate T B