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Not Again

The pews wouldn’t be near as full. Congregants would be rolling in even later than usual and perch on the edge of their seats, not necessarily riveted and immersed in the message, but more so because they eagerly anticipated the countdown until they’d be dismissed. With spring sunshine, March Madness games on television, and people in vacation mode driven by their children’s Spring Break holiday week, hearts and minds would be in a lot of other places rather than that morning’s service. Or was this my assumption of others that truthfully I could be convicted of most?

Even as a part of the praise team, my own focus was falling short of what could be defined as a committed and devoted worshiper. More than my body language on stage or how well or not I performed, the greatest evidence against me came days before. On Thursday evening, after rehearsal with the band, my wife asked as I walked in the door, “How was practice?” Following grumblings about technical issues and minor miscommunications between vocalists I responded, “We’re doing that same song again! I mean, can’t we put it to bed already? I feel like we’ve done it a bazillion times. I’m just tired of it.” At the time, I thought nothing of the comment. That Sunday morning, I didn’t give a second thought to it. Yet, as I happened upon a blog post written by a member of a mainstream praise and worship band yesterday, I knew I was convicted.

 

“The Lord spoke to me at that very moment, ‘This song is old to you? Your worship and affection to Me on this Sunday morning depends on how excited you are about the song being played?’” –Becky Johnson, “I’m Kind of Tired of This Song”

 

I had justified disengagement in worship on the basis of being ‘tired’ of a song. Didn’t I believe that God Almighty was beyond worthy of my praise? Well, then shouldn’t I continually be seeking more ways to joyfully, enthusiastically, and emphatically worship Him with all my heart, soul, and mind regardless of what the melody is? I, even more than the criticized congregation that day, missed having my heart aligned with my Lord and Savior and I’d chosen to find a simple song as the scapegoat.

The reality is, whether I’ve heard a song 10 times or 10,000 times it shouldn’t detract from what I believe Christ deserves; faithful reverence for the grace and mercy He continually shows me. What if as I stumble along the way, making mistakes on my faith journey, God finally decides to take a similar attitude towards me? “He’s done it again! I mean, can’t he figure it out already? I feel like he’s done this like 100 times. I’m tired of him.” What if He then stopped putting effort into me?

 

Colossians 3:16 [NLT]

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

 

Men, we need to realize that although a great song, video, or message can add to our praise experience, we’re there to worship, not be entertained. The objective has to be on becoming more connected with God and demonstrating our adoration for Him. For when we truly put in what He deserves, which is in fact our whole heart, our selfish focus on avoiding boredom fades away.

 

Set a Fire Down in Your Soul,

 

Austen

No Average Joe

cross

Last week I had the opportunity to see the new Pure Flicks movie “Do You Believe?” It is the story of a Chicago Pastor who comes across a man carrying a cross. When they meet, the man asks the Pastor, “Do you believe in the cross of Christ?” The Pastor makes the obvious statement of who he was. Then with a convicting glare, the man asks the question that I believe resonates from the screen to the hearts of those who hear it. He asks the Pastor ” If you believe, then what are you going to do about it?”

From there comes 12 stories that are all linked by the call from the Pastor to his congregation that if you believe in the power of the cross that achieved victory over death and brought with it a new regenerated heart for God, then what are you going to do to show the world what you believe?

When is the last time you thought about the transforming power of the cross of Christ. The moment that changed the world forever! The moment it brought freedom to those that were once bound to the slavery of sin. Is it doing a great work in you? When was the last time you remembered that you were bought with a great price as it says in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and are called to glorify God with your actions.

If you stop and ponder it long enough, then I believe a great joy will rise from within you, and you will begin to experience an excitement to seek out others and share with the redemptive work Christ did on the cross. What will that moment look like? Scripture calls us to always be ready to give a testimony.

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 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, – 1 Peter 3:15

Be prepared to share with them that they have a Heavenly Father that seeks to have a renewed relationship with them that was separated through our disobedience in sin. Yet despite that disobedience, he in fact loved us enough to provide a way for us through his son Jesus, who he sent to pay the ransom of sin on the cross.

Be prepared to share the amazing things that Jesus has done for you and how your heart has gone from self-centered to Christ-centered.

I believe that now more than ever we need to act. To be bold in our belief. What does it mean to believe and look like a true disciple of Christ. I believe in the cross of Christ! I believe in it’s power! The question really is that if you believe in the cross, what are you going to do about it?

Strength to you in the power that the cross offers

Jeremy

 

 

Torn

Torn

You make hundreds of decisions every day. Do they all turn out how you liked or expected?  Not for me. Hopefully, as you go through life experiences, you start to learn what to expect from the choices that you make and eventually start to show some maturity. However, in this world, I have seen some 18 year olds who display more maturity than some 50 year olds, which may be an indicator of their spiritual condition more than anything. Where do you turn for guidance in the decisions you make each day?

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.   Romans 7:21-23

Every big or small decision you make throughout the day is a small spiritual battle you are fighting. There are likely selfish inclinations that pull you to do what feels good without regard for the well-being of others or even your own long term benefit. Remember, doing the right thing is seldom doing what comes easiest to us. It may take vision, determination, prayer, and often some hard work to see it through. When we realize we are engaged in a war, it is easier to recognize our weaknesses and the attacks we encounter so we can defend accordingly.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.   Matthew 7:13-14

In helping me refine my ability to make good decisions, I have found these few things (among others) helpful. Granted, my batting average is not near 1.000, but they have helped me avoid some silly mistakes in my life. Also, any practices that tend to draw you closer to God, instead of further from Him are generally good.

Regularly question your motives for how or why you make decisions. There are several simple things you can ask of yourself to help guide your choices:  Is this worth the time/effort/money that I am putting into it? In the long run, will this be more benefit to me or others? If everyone knew about this decision, would it bring me joy or shame? Can I live better without this in my life? Would this be pleasing to God? Does God have something better? Is this something I should talk over with others or pray about before deciding? You get the idea.

It is good to have someone (pastor, mentor, elder, friend) you look to as a good example of how to live. I have heard it is helpful to always have three types of mentor relationships in your life. One is to have someone you can go to for good advice and counsel from time to time. This may be someone older and wiser than you and who should be walking closer with the Lord than you. If you are not able to meet face-to-face, you should be able to call or email them without too much hesitation or delay in response. A second relationship would be that of a Christian brother who may be in a similar stage of life as you and with whom you can trust with your deepest secrets. A third relationship is to have a close relationship with someone you are mentoring, though not necessarily younger. Even if this is your own child, having someone look to you as a spiritual leader helps hold you accountable in many ways to what you say and do. All of these relationships help foster spiritual growth and discipleship in our lives.

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.   I Corinthians 11:1

Keep in the Word! The more you read and hear the Word of God, the better you know and understand His heart and desire for your life. When God’s word is written on your heart, the Spirit uses these messages in addition to other experiences to guide you in your walk. If you are unsure what the bible says on a certain topic, it is easier than ever to do a search for what you are seeking with Bible apps, Biblegateway.com, and other online resources, not to mention an old-school book-style concordance. There are limitless bible reading plans, a one-year bible, and even the simple practice of reading a chapter of Proverbs for each day of the month (e.g. Proverbs 26 for today).

I am sure there are other things you find helpful in making good decisions and which guide you on the right path. Remember you are not alone in your day to day struggles. You have an advocate and a friend. Encourage a brother today, and stand strong in the Lord!

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.  Romans 8:26-27

Strength and Courage in Christ,
Clark

3 Things I Am Learning

I just finished an eight day missions trip to Honduras.  We had a team of 19 people, 17 were under the age of 20, and 3 were still in middle school.  I promised all their parents I would bring them home alive, although we were flying into the murder capital of the world, a country full of sex trafficking, and a center for major drug trafficking all over the world. No pressure.  It was a great trip; so many students grew in love for God and people.  I watched them grow in boldness as they shared their faith, worked hard, and sacrificially encouraged each other.  I have been on several missions trips before, and here are three things I am learning. 

imgres1. Poverty doesn’t equal sadness

Often times, we see commercials about third world countries, and the children are always sad and lacking. When I went to Honduras, we built a house for a single mom who lived in a tin shack.  Her children had maybe two small toys, yet they were full of joy and laughter.  Before I left, my 5 year old daughter heard I would be giving away things when I was there.  She was so excited and ran to her room and brought down her favorite stuffed animal.  I was so proud.  I gave it to a little girl about three years old.  She looked at it, hugged it, looked at it, hugged it, and started jumping up and down in excitement.  My daughter has plenty, and this little girl had little; both little girls were full of joy.  They are all The King’s kids, and he takes care of His.

2. The message doesn’t change, the methods do

We went to a local Honduran church.  It was great!  Their sound system was messed up.  They sat on pine planks, while many just stood there.  They started 20 minutes late.  Yet the place was alive. They LOVE Jesus. They love to worship.  Their style is very different.  The methods they use to communicate the Gospel is very different than ours. Then the pastor came to preach.  It was great!  It was about humility in the Church.  Here is what I learned… The message doesn’t change, the methods do.  This month we are adding rap to our worship set for our students… So get ready men, methods are changing!  20 years ago student ministries weren’t using electric guitars and drums, now they do on Sunday. Just saying, methods are not sacred. Just the message!

3. Jesus loves the WHOLE world

One night while we were there, I met a man who was drunk and high stumbling around on the street. He had abandoned his family and left them in a helpless spot.  Many mothers are forced into prostitution just to put food on the table.  When I saw him, I was SO angry with him.  I wanted to go shake him and tell him to man up.  Then I remembered what I had been telling our students.  Pray that you would see people the way God does, and then pray for them.  So I did.  I started to cry as I cried out for his salvation.  I realized what was wrong with him was not alcoholism, addiction, or running away.  What was wrong with him is he didn’t know Jesus.  If he knew Jesus, these things can change.  Until then, according to the Bible, he is lost, blind, and dead.  In Jesus, he can be found, able to see, and a new creation.  As I continued to pray for him, my heart was moved from anger to love.  Jesus loves him VERY much and gave His life for this man. 

2 Corinthians 5:16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!

So, Vital men, what are you evaluating “from a human point of view”? Are you looking at other men through the lens of Jesus?  What methods are you making sacred that are not?  Go be Vital!

Recklessly, Obsessively Following Jesus

Brandon Sereg

A Steady Life Drive

Driving I-80 always brings about a story–the crazy 90 mph mini-van, the tipped over truck in the median, or the peculiar license plates–whatever it is, it’s usually talked about for a day or two. As a frequent traveler, I have lots of stories to tell from I-80, but I’ve also developed a lot of time-passing tactics that allow me a smirk and some pleasure on a 5+ hour drive.

One of those is trapping zig-zagging speeders behind a very slow truck. I like to set my speedometer at a pace that other cars are going. If the speed limit is 70 and someone is going to risk going 83, then I’ll sit behind them, hopefully in safety, sporting the same speed. What’s interesting though, is that some speeders who wildly weave through the two lanes, run themselves into trouble–that’s where I come in.

Although they passed me 5 minutes ago, set at my leisurely pace, I end up catching them again because ahead there are roadblocks made of puttering side-by-side trucks. As I approach, I smirk, leading a row of 5 other cars, shutting the speeder into a box that they now have to wait and repass us all. 

imagesWe like to take the fast lane in life, too, thinking it will get us where we want to be at our own pace. We zoom past details and forgo necessary steps, hoping we will get there sooner than expected. Unfortunately, when we pursue this course of action, we more often end up like the boxed-in-car instead of arriving early at our destination. And I think there is a reason for that.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). I like to encourage that our best use of time isn’t always doing things, but contemplating what we have just done. Day by day we learn to operate in what comes and goes. Some items like a problem at work or an argument, we have already been prepared for through training or experience, other things like depression, budget cuts, and familial separation, we may not know how to walk through.

Those later issues, the ones we don’t quite know how to handle, are the ones we usually try to rush by on the freeway of life. Unfortunately, down the road, we get caught, boxed in, and have to handle what we have sped past. It’s in those moments I am reminded of the passage in Ephesians, that we must walk our path carefully in wisdom, best using our time to try to be sure we stay away from evil, and journey in truth.

I hope you don’t hold grudges against yourself or others through the chaos of the road race and in the decisions made in reaction to unknown, confusing events. We learn as we go–it’s not easy to know what to do in surprising, conflicting moments on the highway of life.

Today, look ahead, see the stretch of life that exists in front of you, examine the rearview mirror and how far you’ve come, and focus your steps, slow, wise, full of potential. And smile. Not that you are the one boxed in, but that you are the one steadily driving by.

Love Loud!
Cory Nikkel

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