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.


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?

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.
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