Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Traffic, Trading Cards, and The Great Exchange

It's been one of those weeks that has you thinking about so much, but it seems impossible to articulate any words to explain whatever it is that you are feeling.

I'm sitting here staring at a blank page trying to figure out what it is that God is speaking in to my heart that He wants me to blog on, but it's like thought gridlock in my brain. All these ideas and thoughts are all trying to merge and move forward, but they're all jammed up and stuck. 
My brain feels like the Phoenix 101 at 5:45 pm.

I guess I could say that I am immeasurably grateful for God's guidance and empowerment in those weird gray situations where "good and bad" are more like "eh and meh". 

All of us, as followers of Christ, have impact on the body of Christ. Everything we do and say affects eternity. 

Talk about pressure, right?

Not really.

Once we realize that God is really in control of everything, the pressure to succeed and be in control of the situation slips away like a bad dream. We don't have to worry about how much we are accepted and how many likes our Facebooks have or how many people read our blogs. We have been accepted by Jesus Christ in our filthiness and unworthiness purely out of love. 

Our desperation for control and acceptance is obliterated when we embrace the love and lordship of our creator.

Because of Christ, when God looks at us, He only sees the righteousness of Christ. He is fully satisfied in you.

When I was younger, I collected sports cards. 

You know, baseball cards, basketball cards, football cards, curling cards.

Just kidding.
They don't have curling cards.
... right?

Anywho!

Like any aspiring collector, I wanted to find out if I had any cards worth serious coin in my possession.

I have a rookie year Michael Jordan, a Shaq O'Neil card when he was with the Magics, a Dante Culpepper card, Allen Iverson, and a few other cards that I saw as pretty awesome. 

Every once in a while, I would take them to a sports store and see how I could get for them. For some reason, I never got a consistent price. Different places would offer different deals and trades.

I would ask, "What is this one worth?" and slide a card across the counter. He would look at it, turn it over in his hands, look at the corners, look at me, and then give me a sad number.

"I'll pass."

I still have all of those cards. They're sitting in a box in Arizona somewhere. Eventually I learned something.
Michael Jordan is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.
If someone sees it, loves it, and wants it, whatever they insist on paying for it, that determines its worth.
Of course if we're receiving different offers, we want to finally settle on the highest priced offer.

So what are you worth?

What is the highest payment someone has offered for you?

I am worth one Jesus.

God sent Jesus in exchange for me. Jesus was the payment that was redeemed for my life.

But not just for me! Over and over, the bible reminds us that Jesus' sacrifice was not for all the Christians, not for all the good people, not for everyone who deserves it, but for every person ever born ever in the history of ever.

Ever.

God loves so intensely and radically, that He exchanged the life of perfect, sinless Christ for me.

I have value. I have been freed from my bondage of sin and released from my eternal death sentence by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You are more valuable and beautiful than anything created in this universe, and God puts value and purpose in you.

The love of God is undeserved, unattainable, immeasurable, illogical, unfair, unimaginable, unlimited, unending, and yours.

We see God's love when we breathe, when we wake up, when we enjoy food, when we go grocery shopping, when we experience gravity, when we experience turmoil and trials, when we suffer, when we love. Everything we have is a gift, an expression of the love and grace of God.

God has called us to a higher existence of true free will and discipline, holiness and completeness, Godly love and purpose.

In all the chaos and messiness of life, we can rest in the love, acceptance, and satisfaction of the Most High God who is perfect in love, grace, wrath, judgement, peace, power, and holiness.

What else do you need?




Nate T B

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Missions, Intentionality, and Made-Up Words.

Have you ever heard a group of people use a word over and over, and you're not sure what it means

or if it's even real...

Well the group of people I'm talking about is the church. Not the physical building or even just the folks here in Las Vegas.

When I say the church, I mean the invisible congregation of the unified body of Christ.
That's the church. I'm talking about.

The word I've heard over and over recently is "intentionality"

Even now as I type it, that judgmental, oppressive red squiggle slithers beneath it, beckoning me to make right what has been defiled.

Grammar is a big deal to me, so when my colleagues begin using a made-up word, my red flags begin to fly.

If you are unfamiliar with the concept of "intentionality", fret not. If your pastor has never used this word, that means that he speaks well and doesn't make up words.

Since there is not a true definition of intentionality, I shall attempt to create one for you.

in-ten-tion-al-i-ty -noun
     a- A state of being driven by a specific motivation or purpose.
     b- State of being intentional.

How was that?

The concept of intentionality is purely biblical. It is a state of living with a specific purpose. As followers of Christ and individuals living in obedience to the statutes of the living God, we are commanded to "go therefore and make disciples of all nations" including the one you live in. When Christ says all nations, He means every single one.

Christ's final commandment was like a mission briefing. Literally. He trains us, prepares us, gives us a mission, and then sends us out to accomplish His will. He laid down instructions for His followers and then told us to GO.

Making disciples is not a summer job or something we do on short trips or even just once a week. Making disciples is a life long ongoing mission.

If you're not called to make disciples in a different country, then you are called to make disciples in this one!

Intentionality describes this purposeful state of mind. It is the drive shaft of our hearts. It cranks our engine and turns our gears. Everything we do is influenced by it and done because of it. Every relationship we form, every place we go, every word we say is all a part of our intentionality.

We don't only make disciples when we go to Guam or Beijing. Those places need Christ as much as your neighbors do.

Your neighbors need Christ.

In this context, when I say neighbors, I mean the eight people whose houses surround yours in your neighborhood.

Do your neighbors know Christ?

Do your neighbors know that you know Christ?

Do your neighbors know that you live next to them?

Do you know their names?

This is not an attempted guilt-trip. I know Doug and his wife across the street diagonally from us, and I know Greg who lives right behind us aaaaaand that's it. The other six are ghosts to me. I know they exist because their trash is out every Tuesday  I don't know Doug's wife's name, but I know that they have a lovely dog whose name evades me at this moment. Greg has a wife and a daughter whom I have never met or seen, but I have heard them in the back yard at the same time as me while I'm watering my peas. Have I ever taken the time to talk to them or minister to them in any way? Of course not! I'm a hypocrite. We all are.

I've been feeling so much conviction lately! I have been convicted by a made up word that was made up by a few young bearded pastors in plaid shirts and tight pants.

But maybe it's not the hipster pastors at all. Maybe it is the Word of God itself that has been tugging at my lazy heart.

Pastor Bradley was the spark that lit this intentionality brainstorm firestorm, and I am phenomenally grateful!

Being missional is a trait of all fruitful followers of Christ.

Danggit! Missional is a made-up word too! I'm going home.



Nate T B

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Assessments, Lies, and the Love of God

All the staff at Summit Ridge Church have been reading through the same book together.

Ya, I know there's only three of us.

Nevertheless, the three of us are reading through The Gospel Centered Life together and discussing it as we go. This book is pretty rad! 

The focus of the book is to analyze the work of Christ on the cross and create in us a perspective that causes us to consider the gospel's interaction with every aspect of our lives.
Imagine it: our faith affecting every single aspect and detail of our lives everyday of the week.

What a concept, right?

Anyways! Right now, the book is forcing us to analyze and dissect the areas and aspects of the gospel that we don't fully understand or accept as truth in our lives. A full and true understanding of the gospel, according to the book, creates and equally expanding knowledge of both God's holiness and the depravity of our own sin. The more we understand the work of Christ on the cross, the more we understand the greatness and holiness of God which gives us a deeper and greater understanding of our own emptiness and brokenness.

As we explore this concept of this process, the book asks us difficult questions. These questions force us to check our own heart, see our flaws and allow God to fix them.

"As God thinks of you right now as you are, what is the look on His face?"

This question froze me. What does God think of me? I know He loves me. But what is the look on His face? What does God think about me?

As I began to brainstorm and formulate my answer, I began to feel these deep-seated ideas of failure and high standards. I saw God as my boss, looking at my performance records, flipping through pages, His lips
pursed and eyes down, scanning page after page of my successes and failures. After a moment, he leans back in His massive chair, looks me in the eye and tells me,
"I've given you a lot to work with, given you so many chances to succeed, and this is what you have to show for it? C'mon, Barreras. You and I both know that you can do better."

But I'm wrong.

"If you imagined God as anything but satisfied because of what Jesus has done for you, you have fallen in to a performance mindset. Because the gospel truth is that in Christ, God is deeply satisfied with you."

I had never been confronted for my performance mindset before. I always protected it and justified it, but the truth is, my performance mindset is unbiblical.

By living with this mindset, I diminish God's holiness and minimize His love as something that can be attained: something that I can attain if I'm good enough.

But that's a lie, isn't it?

There's nothing we can do to earn God's love. Before the universe had light or matter, God loved me. Before I had the ability to wipe the drool off of my chin, God loved me. Before I could even spell sin, God loved me. While I was living in my selfish sinful habits, God loved me. While I was giving my every breath trying to earn God's approval and love, God loved me.

...but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 
Romans 5:8

God loves me not because I deserve it or I did anything to earn it, but because that is who God is. Love is not an action that God can turn on or off. He doesn't comprehend it as an emotion or impulse. Love is a characteristic of God. God IS love. 

We will never be good enough to deserve God's love. We are flawed and fickle. God's love is eternal and unfair. While we were living in open and public rebellion of God, Jesus came and died for us purely out of love. 

Man...

That's heavy! The more I realize how broken and screwed up I really am, the more I see how incredibly and indescribably holy and perfect and spectacular God is. In all my fickle flaws and folly, God is love. More than anything else in the universe, more than the stars and the oceans, more than the planets and forests, God loves us. 

Why?

Because that's who He is. It doesn't make sense, and it's not fair. It's undeserved and unwarranted.

and I am so grateful.




Nate T B

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Provision, Protection, and the Harbinger

We survived camp.

Just barely.

Let me explain.

I have a twenty year old Jeep Cherokee Sport named The Harbinger who has the proud title of "first car". Ever since I started driving her, people have criticized my jeep for being beat up, dirty, run down, trashy, broken, and worthy of being driven off a cliff and collected as insurance money.

I suppose in a lot of ways, all of that is correct.

But part of me feels emotionally attached to the jeep.
Not just because she's my first car, but because we have so much in common.

Broken.
Dirty.
Run-down.
Unworthy.

but at the same time

Sturdy.
Experienced.
Repaired.
Reliable.
Comfortable.
Loved.

So in a lot of ways, I'm a lot like my rugged old girl.

Anyways! Every time I make the executive decision to take my jeep somewhere further than Walmart, the comments, jokes, and doubts of her integrity begin crawling out of the woodwork. I'm not arguing the validity of these concerns and doubts, but I would argue that all of these presented concerns are due to a lacking of faith her twenty year record of reliability and the fact that the other vehicles driving to camp are exponentially younger and cleaner

and you guys are mean poopy heads.

I am fully aware that the driver side door does not open, thank you. Yes, I do know that the trunk door must be propped open with a broom handle. The fact that the headlights point to one side is something I am aware of. She doesn't leak oil: she marks her territory. I do recognize the fact that the foam in my seats has begun to disintegrate: it makes them softer. The tint is peeling off? I do drive it everyday: I noticed, thanks. I lived in Phoenix while her air conditioning was broken. You don't have to bring that up. I know the speedometer only goes to 85 mph. You shouldn't be going faster then 75 mph!

They always have to point out every problem and flaw that she has.

Why don't they ever say stuff like "Whoa! Your jeep has the straight six! That's the best engine Chrysler ever made! It was based off of the engine that they put in the F4U Corsair fighter plane!" or "It's cool to see a car as old as yours driving around such an uppity side of town." or even "Dude, sweet car."

But I'm just being sensitive and emotional.

I picked up a cold at camp, and I just took some NyQuil, so I'm feeling a little loopy.

The day before our four hour drive to camp, I was underneath the hood, elbow deep in mechanical history and transmission fluid, tightening nuts and checking fluids. I checked the lines and levels of everything that could be filled and tightened everything that could be loosened. It was a good six hours of working on the old girl and cleaning her up to impress.

After six hours, she stood in all her scratched and dented magnificence, glistening in the sun light, ready to conquer the trek to the happiest place on Earth: camp.

The next day, at ten o clock in the morning beside a Dodge Charger and Ford Focus, the Harbinger was packed and ready to roll.

She performed beautifully, carrying three youth and eighty pounds of luggage from Las Vegas to Prescott. Once we got to the dirt road, I felt her old soul jump for joy in exultation at returning to where she belonged.
Dusty back roads and nature are the soul of any true jeep.

She had proven herself once again.

The Harbinger is a tangible representation of faith and providence.

After a successful and encouraging weekend, we began our trip home.

But something was wrong.

Usually stepping on the accelerator was a smooth crescendo of liger-esque purring, but this was more like the grinding and moaning of a five year old Macbook. I looked down at her dash board, and the oil pressure needle was slowly rising without stop until it ran in to the screw that held the gauge in place.

My phone rings.

"Hello?"
"Hey Nate. I'm right behind you, and I want you to know that there is white smoke coming out from under your car."

Uh oh.

Twenty eight miles east of Kingman, our miniature convoy of camp kids is stopped on the side of I-40, gazing in mortified wonder at the billowing bleeding beast that is the Harbinger.

Smoke pours out from underneath as her vital essence spills upon the cracked asphalt, filling the gaps with oil.

And for a moment, I prepared my heart to say goodbye.

I pop the hood and look inside. all of her oil had been pouring out from underneath for the last twenty five miles leaving her dry and unlubricated. The white smoke was the burning oil. Under the hood, I found her mortal wound. a small piece that was pouring out oil like it was designed to.

We began juggling ideas.

Call a tow truck? -- $300 and two hours: Nope

Roadside assistance? -- Call a tow truck: Nope.

Call the parents and ask them to come get their kids from the side of the road? -- Nope.

It quickly became clear that our best option was to throw a quart of oil in and limp her to Kingman as fast as possible. From there we can either rent a car or get her fixed.

The longer we wait, the more oil we were losing.

Let's ride...

It was the slowest and the fastest twenty eight miles I had ever driven. Google maps was taking me straight to an AutoZone that was right off of the interstate in Kingman.

When we "arrived out our destination", there was no AutoZone. It had shut down and moved years back, and Google maps was not informed. A dead end. and the Harbinger wasn't going to make it back to Las Vegas without a fix.

"What about over there?" Michael suggested. I looked across the street and saw a run-down, dusty little gas station that was slowly being choked to death by the Circle K across the street. Part of the gas station was an even more run down looking mechanic shop that was run out of the gas station. What other option did we have?

I limped the Harbinger to the front of the mechanic shop and called out for the mechanic.

No reply. The office was empty. The lights were off. I decided to go inside the tiny gas station and see if I could get some help. The lady inside matched the gas station perfectly; old, dusty, small, quiet. She tells me that the mechanic is out front filling a propane tank.

I never did catch his name.

He pops the hood and looks around.

"Ahjes ah seez wuss rung. Wheary simple."

Simple? I think I heard simple in there!

"Ehs jurr awl zendoong yoont."

Ah... I see. Sooooooo you can fix it?

"Jess, jess, bah erh ned uh noo  awl zendoong yoont."

A what?

"Awl zendoong yoont."

Oil sending unit?

"Jess"

I turn to talk to Michael for a moment, and when I turn around, my old oil sending unit is off and being wiped off and put to the side. Michael takes his Focus to the nearest AutoZone to buy a new oil sending unit.

I turn and look at my kids who are praying for the Harbinger and the mechanic. Faith in action. I am so proud of them.

Michael comes back after ten minutes and the mechanic installs the new unit in less than a minute. He looks around and grabs four quarts of oil and starts pouring them in the engine.

"Jurr wone ned n awl chunj 'ntym soon."

I laugh when he laughs and nod. We walk inside the gas station and he starts punching numbers in a calculator.

"Lussee eer. Hmmmm mgay mgay yerp *unintelligible garble* n wit da fur karts uh awl, forty dollars."

Forty dollars? Did he just say forty dollars?

"Yerp. Forty Dollars."

I hand the man forty dollars and start up the jeep. Flawless. She's healed.

We make it home before the end of the super bowl and we all lived happily ever after.

I don't have a deep theological observation to draw out of this anecdote.

God provides, protects, and intercedes everyday. God is not a distant on-looker: He is active and working all around us all the time.

In this whole adventure, I never once doubted that God would deliver and get the students home safely. I guess some of my own lessons stuck with me. I remember looking over my shoulder at Elijah and saying "God is sovereign. This is all part of His plan."

It's encouraging and comforting knowing that in all the universe in its infinite beauty and magnificence, the creator of time and matter loves me and cares about me. He kept us safe on the road, he brought us to the right mechanic, and worked in the mechanic's heart to help out a pathetic youth director. God is good, and I am loved. No matter how dirty, how broken, how worn out, how dysfunctional, how damaged I might be, I am loved.



Nate T B