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....


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.

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."


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."


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