Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jealousy, Pride, and Coheirs

Captain's Log; Stardate 42115
         Tensions continue to rise as the impending summer looms overhead like a tower of blackened cumulonimbus rumbling in the distance. The threat of storm brings fear and anxiety with the relief of the fresh water that quenches the bone dry ground.

April is almost over, and that means so is school. What students view as the off season, those of us in ministry see as prime time. It's when we have the most opportunity to make a deep impact in the lives of students. August through May, we're constantly competing with school, homework, band practice, football practice, finals, studying, and whatever else comes with the fall.

But when June rolls around....


Many of the responsibilities of school fade away like a waning layer of snow revealing the beautiful lawn of freedom beneath.

We have the chance to engage with our youth in a more relaxed environment, an environment that is more natural, unscheduled, intentional. The opportunity to make this the Best Summer Ever is there; all it takes is a little planning and a shepherd's heart.

When we have a deep understanding of the impact and ramifications of the Gospel, the natural response is a desperate love for those in need of the transformative work of Christ.

The end of March also  brought the end of our study of the life of Joseph.

Genesis Joseph, not New Testament Joseph.
We were looking at the incredible life of the first savior of Israel over a span of six weeks, and I had never fallen so in love with a bible character as much as Joseph.

Talk about a man of faith!

In the beginning, I wasn't sure how I felt about him...
The scene is set with Jacob playing family crushing favoritism, picking Joseph as his most beloved son. Ironically enough, it was favoritism and jealousy that tore his own family apart and ripped open a rift between his brother and him.

Out of Jacob's four wives, Rachel is his favorite, so naturally, Rachel's first born son is his favorite. The only problem is he already had ten sons. Joseph was number eleven of twelve, and the other ten brothers hated Joseph for being their father's favorite.

Jacob treats Joseph differently than his brothers, giving him gifts, privileges, easier work, authority over his older brothers. The bible goes to tell us that they HATED him. That gives a good foundation explaining their hearts towards him.

But what about Joseph?

Is Joseph an arrogant, gloating punk, lazy, prideful, and manipulative?

Or is he naiive, young, loving and obedient to his father?

The bible doesn't describe his heart or his motivations. It does go on to describe a boy growing in to a man sustained only by his trust in the promises of God, triumphing over hate, slavery, anger, lust, and saving millions of people.

I came to a conclusion:

Our opinion of Joseph's obedience reveals more about our own heart than his. We are given no other information than that he was loving and obedient to his father and that he made a mistake sharing his divinely inspired dream.

In the beginning of the story, I found myself sneering at this kid, almost feeling condemned by him. I could see myself standing beside Judah, shaking my head and rolling my eyes every time he opened his mouth. What an arrogant weasel.

Then it hit me. I'm threatened and feel condemned by him. I don't know Joseph's heart, but I can see that his father likes him so much better than he likes me, and that makes me feel insecure about how loved I am.

And it's not just with Joseph. The more time I spend in the church world, I find myself feeling threatened and disliking people because I see them as people more deserving of the love of the Father. They give more money, read their bible more, worship better, have better answers at bible study, are involved in more ministries, have more friends, bigger youth groups, know more original language, can use bigger theological terms, have bigger degrees, and they smell better.

We look at them, and we feel inferior to them, and when we feel inferior, like a scared chihuahua, we bare our teeth and get defensive. The exposure of our own weaknesses causes us to lash out in defense of ourselves. We hurl out words like "religious" or "judgmental" when we couldn't possibly know their heart. All we know is that they seem to be better than us. They deserve the love of God more, and we can't stand watching them be better in their betterness.

Them.

They.

Like we're not in the same family. We envy them because we feel they have more of God's approval or God loves them more, but we are not a nomadic family of Hebrews in the desert with a flawed human father who picks favorites. Our Heavenly Father loves impartially and eternally. God loves more than you can imagine, despite our sins and jealousy that cause us to tear at each other.

But this prideful comparison goes both ways. We can look up to people and compare ourselves to them and scowl, or we can look down on people we see as below us and scowl. In both cases, we are taking the opinion of someone else or our own and elevating it to a place where God's opinion is almost irrelevant.

We say things like, "I know what God says, but...." or "God is the most high, but..." or maybe "My faith is number one in my life, but..."

I'm guilty of it, and I've been doing it for months now, and it wasn't until God revealed it to me through the account of Joseph that I saw this in myself. I've been looking at a Christian brother with such disdain and defensiveness that it has put a rift between us. I saw his incredible biblical knowledge and convictions as a commentary of my own personal failures and it boiled me. Every comment made me grit my teeth and any criticism was confronted with bitterness and defensiveness.

If I were to claim "that's not like me!" then that would only reveal how ignorant I am to my still flawed heart. God is still continuing to sanctify me everyday. It's a good reminder to remember that God will never finish sanctifying you until this beautifully designed meat sack stops working.

Since discovering this about myself, I've had to pray that God would adjust my heart's goggles. I've been looking at him not as competitor for God's approval and affections, but as a coheir with Christ. This powerhouse of a Christian is not a rival or archnemesis, but my brother in Christ, my fellow soldier, and my team member. I'm honored to have a man like him on my team.

So if you guys missed our study of Joseph, bummer. The whole six week series was centered around God's promises and how living according to the promises of God creates hope, peace, and victory.

Anyways! I'm getting married in..... 66 days, 1 hour, and 48 minutes at the moment I'm typing this. I have a countdown app, don't worry, I'm not just a creeper. I'm not that numerically talented anyways. There's a short list of to-do stuff like pick a first dance song, finalize flowers, get married, stuff like that, but other than that, we're right on top of it! In a few weeks, Haylee is moving up here to Las Vegas for good. She'll officially be a Las Vegan, and I'm not ashamed to tell the cyber world that she's a little nervous. Aaaaand so am I. Not nervous like hunting raptors in the jungles of Isla Nublar, but nervous like I'm sitting in the pilot seat of a space shuttle.

Did you watch Interstellar with Matthew McConaghey and Anne Hathaway? Ugh. Phenomenal. Beautiful flick.

So in a few weeks, Haylee will be moving here, I'll be moving in to an apartment that will become our first home, the psycho summer Uth schedule begins, and we have to finish planning for camp. I am so excited and so terrified! Stay tuned for crazy rants and observations that I discover about myself when the pressure is really laid on me. A wise man once said;

"If you want to know what kind of fruit a tree really produces, bump it, and see what falls off." In times of trials and tumultuous circumstances, our true character is revealed.

It's Wednesday, so you know what that means. Time to get my Uth on.




NateTB

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Heroes, Judges, and Dweebs

Well  February is practically over, and I'm still reeling from Christmas. Is it just me, or are the years passing by faster every year?
All my married friends keeping telling me, "Your wedding will be here in no time, and you'll wonder where all the time went."
At the current rate of acceleration, I should be getting married in about... two carry the four, divided by three, plus seven... two and half weeks. Crap. Haylee's going to be mad.

Anywho, in the youth ministry world, we're just wrapping up a series that I put together out of the book of Judges called Heroes Like Me: The Heroes Looking Back at Us in the Mirror.

I tend to have a flair for the dramatic. I blame George Lucas. On a side note, while we're talking about dramatic names and Star Wars, did you ever wonder how the Death Star was named and how that ever got approved? This is an imperial government entity, not a high school metal band.

Long long ago, in a conference room far far way...

"So the galactic peace initiative is in full swing with our transorbital assault battle station almost ready for christening. Phil, do you guys have a name that the constituents will really stand behind?"

"Um ya, we've been taking some surveys in some sample audiences, and our top choices are the Galactic Liberator, the Freedom Nova and.... the Death Star..."

"What was that last one?"

                       "The Freedom Nova?"

"No, the last one."

                        "... the Death Star..."

"The Death Star? Really? Was Lord Vader one of your sample audiences?

                        "... and Boba Fett."

"Danggit, Phil... We should have hired the Gungan."

These are the things I think about when I'm trying to sleep at night.

Anyways, Heroes Like Me  has been an awesome adventure for all of us in Ridge Uth. I don't know about you guys, but I'd never spent a lot of time in Judges unless we're trying to remember the name of the chick who spiked that dude's head with a tent peg.

Jael. Her name was Jael. I learned something.

For the past two months,I've had my nose in the book of Judges nonstop, dissecting these tragic tales of failure and victory, love and loss, war and peace, obedience and apostasy. As far as biblical screen plays go, the book of Judges is riddled with them.

Really Darren Aronofsky? Noah? C'mon. I liked the book wayyyyy better.

The book of Judges captures some of the darkest times in Jewish history. Judges takes place after the Israelites claim the Promised Land from the Canaanites and are struggling with their identity in God's Lordship. With the surrounding cultures having kings and false Gods, the pressure to conform and adopt their practices are too enticing and easy to pass up.

Over and over again, Israel falls in to sin, rejecting the God who led them out of Egypt in to the Promised Land and submitting to cruel rulings of tangible false gods and pagan practice.

As always, sin grows until it encompasses all aspects of life and enslaves them. They are slaves to their sin and to the godless cultures around them; the Midianites, Sidonians, Ammonites, Ammorites, Maonites, Philistines, all enslave and oppress the Israelites.

Israel, seeing its sin and disobedience, repents and calls out to God for salvation.

Our God is a God of salvation. As always, God is faithful and delivers His people.

  1. Sin
  2. Slavery
  3. Supplication
  4. Salvation
  5. Repeat

But the vehicle of God's salvation was always different and sort of..... broken. Was God wrong in His method of salvation. Not at all, but were the people God chose to deliver Israel broken? Yup.

Let's take a look at some of the Judges God used as the vessels of His will:

  • Deborah: the only Judge whose life is not recorded to end in vile failure. Unequipped to lead as a military leader, mother, wife, and voice of God to Barak, the chosen savior of Israel whose cowardice and lack of faith cost him his reputation.
  • Gideon: the weakest member of the weakest family of the weakest tribe of one of the weakest nations in whole Middle East. Unbelieving, skeptical, jaded, fearful, and doubtful. The perfect candidate.
  • Jephthah: son of a gentile prostitute, raised in a broken home, dejected from his family, bandit leader turned commander of Gilead, rash, immature, prideful, emotional, violent. 
  • Samson: Oh Samson... Nazirite from birth, given superhuman strength through the Holy Spirit, cocky, insecure, fickle, selfish, prone to fits of rage, did not begin his salvation of Israel until the day of his death.
What the heck? These guys are a pack of dweebs. Sinful, broken, distracted, selfish, hypocritical... Oh.
They're just like me. Just like us. God picked the broken, unqualified person to do His will. Why? because God came to save sinners, not the righteous.

The tragedy of the Judges does nothing but exponentially magnify the relentless and gracious pursuit of our God. If he can look on the nation of Israel and repeatedly say "I love you, I choose you, and I forgive you" then why the heck can't I? God pursues us relentlessly. He never stops because His love is greater than our illusion of independence. It's not until you realize that you are utterly helpless and screwed that you realize your need for a savior.

I think I'm getting off topic.

An observation I made while reading through Judges was the way in which God used His Judges. It wasn't until they were humbled and full reliant on God that God used them. Try to keep up with me:

Deborah was a thumpin' good prophet. She was humble and relied on the leading of God before she lead the army to crush Sisera and his cavalry.

Gideon's army was too big, and Gideon felt he could rely on the army to save them. God wanted Israel to rely on Him and realize their true savior: not Gideon, the great I AM. He shrank Gideon's army until Gideon was weak and made small and forced to rely on God's lead.

Jephthah was brought low by his own family, dejected and rejected, living a humble dangerous life. Even his own rash decision had a part in humbling him before God.

Samson's life was a laundry list of pride and disobedience and rage. He left a heap of women and bodies in his wake,  but it wasn't until he was brought low, blinded, his strength gone, enslaved, that he began the salvation of Israel from their oppression. God gave him the strength Samson needed to destroy the Philistine leaders. Samson gave his own life to deliver Israel.

As we begin to study the biblical heroes, we see this trend of humility and reliance on God, Moses, John the baptist, Paul, Peter, the prophet Elijah, God brings uses the humble and small to do His will.

1 Corinthians gives a glimpse in to God's M.O.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." 
1 Corinthians 1:27-31

In a culture that promotes the edification of self and independence, I have to ask, are we putting ourselves in a position to be used by God? 
Does our insatiable hunger for praise and glorification harden our hearts from our reliance on our heavenly father? We live in a world so resourceful and rich, we can live comfortable, safe lives focused on our own successes easily.

But there's something so eerily uncomfortable about being too comfortable. When we focus purely on our own successes, life looks easy, and often we lean that way because the mission of the Kingdom of God looks so impossible. 

We see our limited abilities and say "I can't", and God replies, "I know."   

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

There was a man named Jesus Christ, who is God in human form. He is one with the creator of the universe. He once said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

So these are a few of my thoughts that I've gathered from our studies in Judges. 

Judges shows me that God is relentless in His love for me. He won't ever stop chasing after me and saving me everyday, removing sin from my heart and becoming more like Christ.

Judges shows me that God uses the broken and flawed to do His will. He empowers us and transforms us, guiding us patiently to the promised better future, the future God always intended for us.

The book of Judges shows me the perfect metaphor of the human condition, and our desperate constant need for a savior. Everyday I need Jesus to rescue me out of the mess I've made myself.

This coming Wednesday will be the grand finale of Heroes Like Me when we look at one more Judge who came and saved Israel from the oppression of godlessness. It's so cool to look at the life and teachings of Jesus and see how Jesus fulfilled the whole Law, he was the better Moses, the better High priest, the better Judge, the better prophet.

I don't have quite a loyal following as Oprah, but I would love to put the book of Judges on my "Nathan's Choice" book list.

 Nate TB

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Observations, Ambassadors, and Today's Generation

I know nothing about parenting. I don't presume to know anything about parenting.

I know that children need food and to not give them matches and that holding a baby by its head is frowned upon in public establishments.

Everything I know about parenting I know from a one-sided perspective. I was parented to. I have been a recipient of parenting. Thumpin' good parenting if you ask me, but I guess I don't have another set of parents to compare.

I've never changed a diaper, drool and and snot still deeply disturb me on an emotional level. I've never had to spank an eight year old or ground a teenage girl.

 I've never spent all night rocking a colicky infant who just won't stop crying and won't sleep after hours and hours of asking the baby and God, why? What is wrong? Is it me? 

I've never felt the dread and panic of a child's first broken bone.

I've never felt the nagging guilt of other parents' criticism of my parenting.

I have no clue what it feels like to be a parent, and I never want it to be thought that I am speaking as someone who knows.

I speculate and observe.
Much like the wheels on the bus, that's how I roll.

From my years working around kids and students, I've observed a whole bunch.

I know that when a nine year old starts panicking about a lost sock, he's associating mom's love and approval with her statement, "don't lose any of your things."

I know that twelve fifth grade boys will follow you off of a cliff if they know that you love and accept them for their flaws and goofiness.

I know that a sixteen year old boy may not remember any of the Navigators Topical Memory System verses or any of the catechisms, but he will remember when you showed up to court to support him when he got caught with drugs at school.

I know that if what a student says at youth group is different than what they said on twitter, then twitter heard right.

I know that a a seventeen year old student smoking cigarettes in your backyard is not a sign of rebellion; it's a sign of feeling out of control in a conflicted home.

I know that the tiniest taste of the true love and joy of Christ will stay in your brain, haunting you and calling you back to Him until you surrender yourself fully in to His waiting arms.

I've learned a lot in my years serving this younger generation. Sure, compared to my other millennial compatriots running multi-billion dollar corporations and changing the face of Africa, I seem small and mediocre, but I am convinced that I have witnessed God transform more lives than Mark Zuckerberg.
By the way, for my non-millennial readers, Mark Zuckerberg is the creator of Facebook who just recently turned 30 this last year.

Do I wish that my life was easier? Do I wish that I was full fledged youth pastor at a massive church with a 200+ sized youth group?

Nope. Not even a little bit.


God is so active and powerful here in Las Vegas! Many people criticize Las Vegas for its sinful entertainment and broken culture. 

I guess the way I see it, that sounds like every city. Anywhere. Las Vegas just invested more money in to it and is less concerned about keeping it covered up.

In my reading, I see Jesus going to where the sinners were and choosing to show the love of God there. He was even seen eating.... with sinners. Gross.

A fun question I get pretty often is, "What is wrong with this younger generation?"

That's a dang good question. What is wrong with them?
and by extension, what is wrong with me? I'm part of that awkward generation that was born in the early 1990s, so I'm trapped in the middle between the kids from the 2000s and the parents born in the 1980s and before.

What is wrong with this generation? What is it about these kids that make them the way they are? People say that this generation is one of the worst; moral relativity, technological consumption, vanity, laziness, greed, violence, entitlement, and complacency.

Does that about sum it up?

Do you want to know what's wrong with kids these days? The same thing that was wrong with every single generation before them.

Sin.

I think we're just given more and more resources to be able to be comfortable in our sin.

We live in a culture that tells you that you need to rely on yourself. Independence and superiority is the paramount of human existence, and if you're not on top, you're on the bottom.

We spend trillions of dollars trying to elevate ourselves and glorify our accomplishments and make ourselves out to be "special". Since when did losing teams get ribbons and trophies?

We, as a culture, have compromised excellence for acceptance. Hard work is viewed as "old school" or primitive. Our reliance on our technology to do our thinking and heavy lifting has made us lazy and has cost us our intimacy with each other.

Yet here I am.

                          Blogging.

I am a hypocrite. A few weeks ago, I was talking to PJ about my inability to sit still and be alone in the quiet without distractions or music or tv.

Technology and my lack of discipline has robbed me of my attention span and ability to carry on a good conversation.

And with the increase of technology, there is a decrease of personal accountability and responsibility. Instead of baby sitters, we have xbox, instead of encyclopedias, we have iPhones. There are students in our high schools who don't know how to read because they have never been forced to.

It blows my mind to see how the social dynamic has changed just in my lifetime. I grew up in Tucson, my best friend and I outside in the streets, beating each other with sticks and throwing frisbees and balls. That was everyday. Not planned events or long weekends of good weather. We sat on the brick wall and made fun of each other and explored the overgrown ditch next to our house.

Technology is our biggest blessing and biggest curse. But technology is not the antagonist.

In Star Wars, the Death Star was not the bad guy: it was the Emperor.

The antagonist is us. We are the problem. The heart is an idol factory. We find things that give us what we believe God cannot provide for us.

That is idolatry.

That is not new.

The very first original sin was caused by Eve's desire to be God. The snake (Satan) convinces her that God is holding out on her and lying to her about the fruit. He tells her that not only is God holding out on you by not letting you have the fruit, He doesn't want you to have it because it will make you like God, knowing good from evil.
And with that, Eve was seduced.

The human soul was created to crave God. The bible teaches us that God wants us to live full, abundant lives. We learn that real, full, perfect satisfaction in life and eternity comes from an intimate relationship with Christ. Humans were designed to be in community with our creator.

But if we aren't in community with God, the craving remains, and instead of God satisfying our desires, we search for things to fill our emptiness; money, relationships, things, entertainment, drugs...

But nothing on Earth can fill that God-shaped hole.

Our reliance on anything besides Christ leaves us empty. If you want life long satisfaction, you can't rely on something that has an expiration date.

There is a solution to the brokenness in our world. I've seen it. Witnessed it. Christians.

A lot of people bash on Christians or the term "Christian" because they don't see what the heart of Christianity in its Christians. In the first century church, Antioch nicknamed the followers of the Way "Χριστιανός" meaning followers of Christ.

Mohandas K. Gandhi once said "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.

This is not a guilt trip. This is not meant to be a judgement. This is our opportunity for the world to see who Christ is. That's why we are still here right now. That is the reason that we were not immediately jettisoned to heaven the moment of our conversion.

"Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

Did you catch that? We are ambassadors for Christ. God is making His appeal through us. We are the image of the invisible God. We are the Church, given the unlimited and awesome power of the Holy Spirit, designed to represent Jesus Christ while He is not here.

We can't lean back and look at the television and say, "It's no use trying to change the world. We'll just have to wait til Jesus gets back." God is on this planet right now in the form of the Holy Spirit choosing you to make a difference in this world. The mission of God is to reconcile the relationship that we had with Him in the Garden of Eden. We are His poster children, His pamphlets, His representatives.

Jesus did not come to Earth and establish Himself as emperor over Israel. He came and lived a holy life in His community with His neighbors. He blessed the people around Him with the love and grace and mercy of God. He made a difference in His local community that spread like a purifying fire and changed the course of world history forever. Any secular historian will agree with you on that.

We as the older generation have the ability to set the example and influence the younger generation.

We as the younger generation have the ability to disrupt the downhill trend of cultural norm and live an intentional life that is Christ shaped.

Do not underestimate the abilities of God. God used one man to form a nation committed to the Lord, He used a couple fish and pieces of bread to feed over 5000 people, he used one man to minister to communist Russia.

Christ is the cure to the world's sickness. We are the nurses in the waiting room: "The doctor will see you now."







Nate TB