Monday, October 20, 2014

Introspection, the Gospel, and Joy

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

Welcome to my life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I do what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why? Because He IS our joy. 

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

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

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


Nate T B






Friday, August 22, 2014

School Supplies, BYOG, and Deserts.

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

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

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

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

And now school is starting.

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

Unless you're a teacher. Props to you.

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

Are you prepared?

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

Wait what was that you said?

Pencil sharpener?

No, before that.

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

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

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

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

Anywho.

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

Ya I was a band kid. Deal with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Nate T B

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #5: Last Full Day

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

Do we have to go?

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

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

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

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

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

But there can only be one team of camp conquerors.

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

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

I guess that's almost as bad.

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

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

Yes. Yes it does.

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

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

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

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

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


Nate T B

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #4: Wednesday Morning and still kicking

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Kudos to the parents.

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

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

But brute force sure is handy.

The game is simple. 

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

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

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

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

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

Nate T B

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #3: Tuesday Morning

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

Okay I'm bragging a little bit.

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

Well done, Prescott Pines, well done.


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

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

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

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

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

That blue noodle was my blue noodle.

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

I so desired.

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

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

I may or may not have roared when I pounced. 

I felt very tigery.

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

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

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

Or maybe a rock.

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

Have you ever played cards with camp staff before?

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

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

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

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

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

Curse me and my generosity.

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

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


Nate T B

Monday, July 21, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #2: The First Morning

Well, we made it in one piece. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh and you only have 40 minutes to do both.

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

Our team? The Bouncing Blue Blowfish. 

Yup.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Nate T B

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Camp Journal Entry #1: T Minus 4 Days

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

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

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

Welcome to Prescott.


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

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

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

Hm.

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

Nevertheless.

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

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

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

Isn't God good? Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nate T B




Thursday, June 19, 2014

Storms, Ignorance, and Memories

Can you believe that June is already almost over?

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

Or maybe that's just me.

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

I'm having forest withdrawals.

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

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

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

Just kidding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Is that all you got, God?!"

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

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

Brace yourself. A storm is coming.

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

In my ignorance, I had doomed us all.

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

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

That's when we should have started running.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Nate T B

Monday, June 9, 2014

Weddings, Funerals, and Joy

Well that was stressful.

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

silence...

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

Let's see here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flip the stress switch.

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

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

Good thing I rented.

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

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

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

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

Mind

Blown

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

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

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

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

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

It was romantic and friggin' adorable.

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

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

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

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

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

Not ashamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nate T B

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Weddings, Groomsmen, and the Gospel

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

I'll be honest.

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

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

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

Good times.

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

Well.. like a year, but still.

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

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

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

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


Anyways.



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

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

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

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

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

Kinda rad, right?

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

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

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

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

   (John 3:29-30)

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

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

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

Congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Dunn.





Nate T B

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Saul, Forgiveness, and Identity

Last night was the first lesson in the beginning of a new series that I've titled The Call of the Gospel.

Pretty legendary, right?

Working on this one lesson has shown me a few things about myself:
     1. I need to do less historical context when telling the events.
     2. I love Paul.

Paul's accomplishments forever changed the world as we know it, revolutionizing international evangelism and spreading the gospel to corners of the Eastern hemisphere that were all but unreachable purely by the power and grace of God.

Without a doubt, Paul changed the Earth forever, and his accomplishments are an invaluable victory for the growing church.

What intrigues me as much as his later life is his early life.

Paul, born Saul, was raised in education and learning, studying at the feet of Gamaliel from a very young age. He was brought up in the ways of the Mosaic Law, studying night and day to understand the intricacies and details of the books of Moses.

After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the remaining apostles begin spreading the gospel, and the church begins to expand faster than the Sanhedrin can handle.

Enter Saul, a learned and passionate young Jewish leader whose task is to apprehend the followers of The Way and bring them to justice to pay for their heresy.

Saul's reputation spreads quickly through the cities of Israel, and Christians everywhere flee for their lives.

It baffles me how someone could spend so much time in the Word of God and not accept the divinity of Jesus Christ.

For years, Saul ravages the growing church, bringing hundreds of disciples, bound and shackled, to the feet of the Sanhedrin.

With warrants in hand, Saul is on the road to Damascus with a caravan of other Christian-hunting enforcers when Behold!  A blinding light explodes from the sky with a booming voice of the resurrected Christ. Saul's horse rears up, throwing him from his saddle on to the ground.

The voice calls out him by name, asking "Saul, Saul; why are you persecuting me?"
                         "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked, shielding his eyes from the light, shaking in fear.
           "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." Jesus replied.

It wasn't just men and women that Saul was hunting and murdering; it was Jesus Christ. Our Lord suffers with us, hurts with us, identifies with us, sympathizes with us. Like a husband with his wife, the church and Christ are one.

When the light fades, Saul is blind...

More than the shock of his divine encounter, Saul is confronted with the paralyzing reality that his life has been a lie. Years and years spent with his nose in scrolls and at the feet of wise godly men, and he missed the point.

Imagine the heart shattering weight upon his realization of his crimes against his God whom he had vowed his life to serve. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the internal conflict that Saul is experiencing in this moment.

The bible gives us an illustration of Saul's internal struggle:

And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 
                           Acts 9:9

For three days, he sat in a house in Damascus, no food or water, only prayer. 

For three days, he considered his sin and the grace of God that had chosen to spare him and use him. 

Saul had come to a full realization of his sin and an understanding of the holiness and greatness of Jesus Christ.

And then the gospel arrived in the form of Ananias. 

Ananias was a well-thought of disciple who lived and ministered in Damascus. 

Before Saul had encountered Jesus on the road, Saul was on a mission to arrest Ananias.

Receiving a vision about Saul, Ananias comes to Saul, call him brother, and heals his blindness.

What an amazing illustration of the gospel.

Saul, a sinful man, encounters God, realizes the evil of his life, and, purely out of undeserved grace and love, his eyes are opened to greatness and holiness of God and the beauty of reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

Those who have a greater understanding of the gospel impact and forgiveness are those who have seen the effects of Christ's forgiveness in their own lives.

I can't think of another person whose life was more obviously affected by the gospel than Saul. Looking where Saul started, murderous and hateful, and then transformed in to the author of two-thirds of the New Testament. 

Paul's life is a beautiful reminder that God loves sinners, passionately and eternally. He pursues them and works in them.

You don't have to be a sinless, perfect bible scholar to be used by God. God uses our flaws and brokenness to bring glory to Himself. 
Before Christ, I lived in sin and nothingness, full of shame, regret, and selfishness. 

Because of Christ, I have received forgiveness and a new identity.

Saul's identity was completely defined by the work of the gospel in his life. The gospel gives me purpose and a new identity. My past sin no longer defines me or controls me; to the contrary! My past sin ultimately brings glory to the one who forgives my sins. 

I see Paul's story, and I can't but relate to Paul. 

Can you? 


Nate T B

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ambassadors, the Word, and Toenail Moons

Last night, I was talking to one of my volunteer youth leaders, going over her lesson that she's going to be teaching to the students tonight.

Madi has been with Ridge Uth since the very beginning, carrying the name Red Leader because of her red hair and  because she's-- um... well she's a leader, ergo, Red Leader.

I thought the nickname was wonderful! She liked it too-- until she found out that it was a Star Wars reference. Apparently women don't like to be nicknamed after courageous fictional pilots who give up their lives heroically during the assault on the Death Star.

Anyways.

As she's going over her lesson, I am listening and nodding as I follow along in my bible.

She stops and waves her hand dismissively and steps away from her lesson plan.

"When I was young, I loved looking at the moon and think that it looked like a toenail. I was young, but when I learned that it wasn't a toenail but actually huge and millions of miles away with light from the son shining on it, it made me love the moon even more."

That's Madi for you.

"I found that the more I learned about it, the more I loved it. I know that's totally unrelated, but whatever."

No, that's not unrelated! I was so excited that she said that! She hit it right on the head.

Sure, the metaphor is a little... obscure, but the concept is exactly right.

Okay the metaphor is weird.

The more we study the Word, the more we learn about God.
     The more we learn about God, the more we understand God's heart.
          The more we understand God's heart, the more we love God.
               The more we love God, the more we want to become like Christ.

The bible contains all that there is to know about our creator. All other Christian text is based from what can be learned from the bible.

The better we know the bible, the more we can adopt the character traits of our savior.

A few years back, I was challenged by a very wise man. He asked me,
"If you were talking to someone who had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, what truths would he learn just by spending time with you?"

The challenge was harder than I thought. Am I Christ-like in my everyday interactions? Is the gospel a part of every aspect of my life? or just my church life?

What aspects of Christ-like character can be observed in me?

What does Christ-like character even look like?

The only place to find out is the source: the infallible Word of God.

Theopneustos at it's best.

The bible contains everything we can possibly learn about our eternal savior, Jesus Christ. in 2 Corinthians

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 
2 Corinthians 5:14-21

To summarize, because of Christ's work on the cross, we no longer live for ourselves. Everything we do is a reflection of what Christ is doing in us.

A crucial piece of the above verse is in verse twenty that reads "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

An ambassador is an individual from a foreign land who has the responsibility of representing the interests and desires of the leader of that land. Everything an ambassador does is a reflection of that foreign land.

If Jesus Christ is our leader, that makes the kingdom of God our land. We are ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ, representing Him everyday in all things that we do.

So let's revisit the previous question: Am I living a life that properly represents our land and leader, Jesus Christ?



Nate T B

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pizza, Ice Cream, and the Apostle Paul.

As a youth group, we just finished up our study through the book of Matthew. It was an awesome chance to be able to go in depth to a well-known book of the bible and dive in to some of the more famous stories and passages of scripture with a group of students who were more excited to learn than I was at their age.

It's almost enough to make a full grown man cry...

I said almost. Get back in there, tear.

It was an excellent way to be able to begin to explore how the gospel as a whole interacts with different aspects of our lives.

Something I learned from the Navigators bible studies is that ever-present question that ended each Thursday night: How does this passage point to the Gospel?

That's a really great question when you're studying 2 Samuel or Deuteronomy. It really challenges you to dig deep in to your knowledge of the character of God and the Old Testament Messianic allusions.

But when you're studying the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ atoning for the sins of the world:

How does this passage point to the Gospel?

Ummm... Well, it is the gospel, so...

When we ended Matthew, I felt so blessed to be able to work through the book with the students, but then I felt pulled in two different directions. Do we want to continue following the remaining eleven disciples in their journey of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ? Or do we want to change gears and challenge the students to a study through the book of Judges?

Both options hold merit and great potential as a series.

On one hand, we can continue studying characters and concepts that we've grown familiar with these past twelve weeks, strengthening and solidifying this New Testament theology for which we've laid the foundation.

On the other hand, we can take our fresh knowledge of the work of Christ on the cross and apply it to the beautiful imagery of redemption and undying love that God displays towards His people in the book of Judges.

There isn't a right or wrong answer in this conundrum. You can't really go wrong when you're studying the gospel.




It's like trying to choose between pizza or ice cream. 






Both are excellent choices, both are good for the soul, both are so full of possibilities, but both are drastically different.

I want to be able to take the New testament theology that we've been studying for weeks now and be able to take any passage of scripture and find how it points to the gospel, and by extension, our own lives in interaction with Christ. I want to be help guide the Uth through the transition and consistencies throughout scripture.

In essence, I want my pizza covered in ice cream.

So for the past few weeks, I've been scouring scripture and praying, trying to find a way I can help guide the students in this.

And then I found it.

I found a scoop of rocky road ice cream covered in peppers and sausage, smothered in marinara and melted cheese.

Paul of Tarsus, born Saul, was both a Jew and Roman citizen who was apprenticed and taught by the most famous rabbinic scholar of the time, Gamaliel. Tarsus was a city famous for learning and study. Saul was a man who knew the scriptures. He knew the Old Testament law like he knew his own name.

After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the gospel spread fast, changing the lives of thousands of Jews and Gentiles all over the Middle East. As the church grew, Saul became one of its greatest enemies, hunting down and arresting followers of Christ, also known as followers of the way. Followers of Christ would be arrested and tried as heretics, often being imprisoned or stoned to death.

After a dramatic and life changing experience with the risen Christ, Saul's life is changed forever. He becomes the first missionary, laying the foundation for all future missions. Paul's life brings thousands of people to believe and follow Christ. Out of the 27 books of the New Testament, Paul is the author of 13, being one of the most influential players in the Christian faith.

Paul's life illustrates the redemptive work of Christ as well as the seamless connection between the Old and New Testament. Paul's mission changes the face of the world forever. God uses a man who calls himself "the chief of sinners".

Throughout Paul's letters and writing, he makes references to the power of the cross in his life, how Christ has forever changed his life.

That's what I want for my students. I want the students of Ridge Uth to not only know the Word of God, but experience Christ in a way that changes their life forever. I want to see the work of Christ inspire the students to live a life glorifying to the creator of the universe.

I'm trying to be as descriptive as possible without giving away too much of what we'll be talking about on Wednesday nights.

Just like Paul, we are all flawed and broken, prone to wander from the fold of God, desperately in need for the salvation and grace that can only be found in Jesus Christ alone. Just like Paul, our sins have been atoned for, and we have been forgiven. Just like Paul, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, capable of changing the Earth for the glory of God.

I am so excited to start this new journey with the Uth as we work through the life and teachings of the Apostle Paul.

Most High God, I pray that you would give us the wisdom that can only come from you, that we may discern Your Word and Your will. I pray that we would experience the redemptive power of your word and grow in knowledge of Your holiness. You alone deserve to be praised and glorified, and I pray that everything we do would an act of worship to you, directing attention and glory to You. Thank you for all that You do everyday; gravity, oxygen, forgiveness, family, food. Thank you for everything that You are everyday for eternity. 



Nate T B

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Idols, Kings, and Holiness

I am a big fan of the Old Testament. The history and stories, the battles, romance, plagues, catastrophes, conquerors, assassins; I love it.

And it gets even better when you realize that the whole Old Testament is pointing to the main character of the New Testament; Jesus.

Every event and person in the Old Testament, in some way, points to the gospel.

True story.

One of the big epiphanies I had about three years ago was a realization that the Israelites are a screaming metaphor for our hearts. The historical Israelites who were held in captivity in Egypt for generations, who were led out in the Exodus, who wandered the desert forty years, who conquered the Promised Land, who, years later, would reject Jesus Christ: they create a perfect allusion to the tendencies and habits of the heart.

When I keep this in mind, the Old Testament holds more personal and intimate meaning.

For the past four months, Summit Ridge has been traversing the bible together, reading from beginning to end chronologically. This morning, we read through 1 Samuel chapter 4 through chapter 8.

This section of scripture is one of my favorite illustrations of God's demand for holiness among His people, and His hate for false Gods.

In a tragic battle, the nation of Israel is defeated by the Philistines. In desperation, the Israelites summon their favorite good-luck-charm to the battle field: the Ark of the Covenant. As the Ark is marched in to the Israelite camp, the Israelites cheer loudly for the assured victory to be had. But God is not a good-luck-charm to be summoned when needed. He is the Lord and ruler of the people, not a box that they can cart around when convenient.

The battle is a slaughter.

The Philistines claim the Ark and take it back to their capital city, placing it beside their false god, Dagon. According to the Philistines, once you had captured a nation's god, the people were defeated.

But this wasn't some fish-headed statue sitting in a tent. This is the Most High creator of the universe.

The next day, the Philistines entered the temple of Dagon to find that their idol was not standing beside the Ark of the Covenant, but laying face down in front of the Ark. They stand Dagon back up. The next day, they enter the temple of Dagon to find Dagon again lying on the floor before the Ark, but now the head and hands of Dagon were broken off and were laying in the doorway.

This temple ain't big enough for the two of us.

If this wasn't enough to put the Philistines on edge, bubonic plague begins spreading around the city where the Ark is held. The Philistines move the Ark away to a different town and the plague spreads there. the Ark is moved to five different cities before the broken Philistines send the Ark back on a cart led by a single cow.

When the Ark returns to the Israelites, they celebrate and repent of their pride and sin.

But before long, the memory of God's power and protection fades from the minds of the Israelites and they desire to be like the other kingdoms. They want a king. Instead of God's word ruling over them, they want a single person to control them.

This passage breaks my heart.

Partly because I know the story. I know what happens to Israel. But also because I see my own heart in this passage.

How often do I overlook the victories and blessings of God and pursue worldly things to dictate my life?

God wanted to be the sole ruler of the nation of Israel, speaking to His people through prophets and judges, guiding them as the perfect king of kings.

The Israelites lacked a true understanding of who God is and sought fulfillment in tangible things rather than finding their sufficiency in the sovereign king of the universe.

In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel cry out to the prophet Samuel that they want to be "like all the other nations", having a king rule over them. If we remember correctly, the other nations in the surrounding areas were evil, godless, twisted nations, who hated the Israelites.

God doesn't call us to be like all the other nations. In fact He calls us to be the opposite. In Leviticus 19, God tells Moses, "'Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, you shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.'"

Holiness is an attribute of God meaning sacred and set apart, separate from the rest.

God calls us to be holy, set apart for His glory and fame.

Just like God cast down the idol and destroyed it, we also should cast down our idols and destroy them and fully lean on God's power and providence.

Idols are anything other than God that we rely on for fulfillment. It can be anything; money, cigarettes, work, engraven images of Dagon, even people.

Just like in 1 Samuel, God is faithful and loves and protects His people even when they are in sin. God's love is stronger and deeper than anything created by man.

As people pursuing the heart of God, we strive and pursue holiness, putting off the old habits and ways of "the other nations", and being holy as the Lord our God is holy, separate and set apart specifically for the purpose of glorifying and worshiping God.




Nate T B

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ministry, People, and the Heart of God

At what point does ministry become drudgery?

What line is crossed that separates a person from a business transaction?

What are the boundaries of the gospel in life?

Where is it appropriate to deactivate the gospel-centric mindset?

These are some valid questions that I've heard and asked myself this past month, and it's caused me to really consider how the gospel really interacts with my everyday life.

For years, I attended a youth evangelism conference called Dare 2 Share where the fire of evangelism was first ignited in my young heart. 

Dare 2 Share  is a huge ministry that hosts youth evangelism conferences all over the country, training students and youth how to share their faith with friends and strangers alike while encouraging a deeper understanding of the gospel in our own lives. Even after all this time, I still remember the big lead in question that was supposed to be the gateway to salvation for all:

If you were to die today, where would you go?

Well that escalated quickly.

A good question, no doubt, but the gospel affects more than our earthly retirement plans. Without a doubt, the gospel promises eternal intimate communion with our heavenly father after our time on Earth has expired, but in what ways are we expressing the truth of the Word of God everyday?

As followers of Christ, we strive to emulate Jesus in all that we do everyday, but what does that mean?

Are we to live in Israel, grow up as carpenters, start our ministry when we are thirty, and walk everywhere we go? If that's the case, I stand condemned; I can't grow a beard like Jesus. I can't grow consistent facial hair to save my life. My beard has more patches than an Eagle Scout's sash.

What aspect of Christ are we supposed to be emulating?

As I read through the gospels, the answer becomes clear. Jesus wants us to care about what He cares about. He wants us to think like Him, act like Him, respond like Him, love like Him. He wants us to have the same heart as Him.

The heart of God.

That's heavy. We are called to have the heart of God. It reminds me of lyrics of the song Hosanna by Hillsong.
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom's cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

I love the urgency to adopt the heart of God, to love like God loves, and share the same passions as God. Well done, Hillsong.

So I suppose that brings us to the next question: what is God's heart? What is God passionate about? What breaks God's heart?

People.
God longs for His people.

Don't misinterpret me. God does not need people. He was doing just fine before He created time and matter. He desires to commune with us and bless us and spend eternity with us. 

God's love is not an action. To God, love is a character trait. It is something that is part of who He is as a whole. God cannot stop loving anymore than you can stop being human. Because God is perfect and eternal, His love is perfect and eternal, unmatched, immeasurable, and inconceivable. 

So God's heart is people.

In Luke 15, Jesus teaches the sinners and Pharisees alike that there is rejoicing in heaven when the lost and broken are brought home and restored. Jesus came to save sinners and heal sick. Not high five the righteous. If we are to develop a heart like God's then we are to develop a deep and urgent love for the people that God loves.

And I know I don't have to ask who God loves. 

As followers of Christ, we are to adopt the heart of God and love the people that God loves, serving them and desiring them to be reconciled with God. Reconciliation is what God craves and desires in all of us. 

Reconciliation is the healing and restoration of a relationship that has been previously broken. God desires us to be reconciled with Him, to restore the deep and eternal communion that we were originally designed for.

At the Starbucks I frequent, I was sitting at one of the high tables by the windowed wall facing the street. Outside was a young woman, maybe twenty three or twenty four, sitting in the dirt with a cardboard sign. Of the words scrawled on the cardboard, I could only make out the words "hopeless" and "please". For the first time in a long long time, I felt a churning in my gut that could only be explained as σπλαγχνίζομαι or a gut wrenching compassion.

I felt heart broken at this sight, and I wasn't sure why. I've seen plenty of homeless people before, especially in Las Vegas, but this kid had my attention, and I was about to find out why. God was about to create a predicament in my mind that would put me in a six hour brain tussle.

As I watched, a woman crossed the street towards the homeless woman and stopped several feet in front of her on the sidewalk. The homeless woman looked up at her and said something I could not hear. The other woman pulled out a sign of her own and opened it up so the street could see. The new woman's sign was brightly colored with nice red letters that said "DO NOT give your hard earned money to panhandling hobos."

My jaw dropped. 

The homeless woman looked at the sign, looked at her sign and stood up. She slid her sign in to her tattered backpack and began to sob.

The homeless woman looked at the other woman and then looked at me. From across the street, through the traffic, through the Starbucks window, she looked at me. 

And then she walked away down the street. 

Thus began my conflict.

There's lots of homeless people everywhere.
And they all need help.
I know some of them are just going to use the money for drugs or alcohol.
And they all need help.
I don't really know their heart.
Exactly.
They are the beloved of God and the focus of His affection.

This truth doesn't only apply to the homeless community in Las Vegas, but to every person who is in dire need of the love of God every single day.

I need God's love everyday. So do you.

I'm not a pro. I wish I could say that I am great example of Godly love, but then I'd be guilty of lying too. That only further proves my need for the love of God.

When we are sharing the love of God with another person, it is not a matter of looking down on a sinner, beckoning them to "get on my level!"

We are all in desperate need of the forgiveness and grace of God everyday. 

When we share the gospel with another person, we love because God loves. 

In the words of PJ, "We are merely a beggar showing another beggar where to find bread."

I never want it to be thought that I am trying to instill a feeling of guilt with anything I say. 

If we truly understand and value the work of Christ on the cross, then that will affect the way we forgive, the way we love, the way we value others, the way we value ourselves, everything! The truth of the gospel changes everything. We who were so lost and undeserving of forgiveness were forgiven and reconciled to God.

We remember how it was. I want everyone to be able to experience God the same way I have. I want to have a heart for the lost and broken and sinful just like Christ does.

Most high and holy Heavenly Father; you alone deserve to be praised and worshiped. God, I pray that we would adopt your heart for the lost and broken. We are all lost and broken. It is by your grace and love that we are reconciled to you. I earnestly pray that you would give us a heart of σπλαγχνίζομαι, a heart of gut-wrenching compassion. Lord, show me how to love like you have loved me, break my heart for what breaks yours. We praise you and celebrate your victory. Continue to heal and transform this growing work in progress.


Nate T B