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My Rock. . . November 20, 2008

Posted by Nate in Church, Friends, Personal, Scripture musings, Spirituality.
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I wish I could put into words the kind of emotional roller coaster I’ve been on these last couple weeks. Life has been so unstable, and I feel like the portion of my life spent in turning the page to “Chapter 2” can be defined as a huge trial.

Those of you who know my personal struggles would call me sheltered or naïve. What I’m going through right now pales in comparison to what many are dealing with. Perhaps I am sheltered. I thank God that I haven’t experienced some of the trials my friends have experienced. But those of you who know me well also know that I have a tendency to bear the trials of others. I carry their weight on my shoulders and suffer their pain as if it were my own.

I had no idea just how earth-shattering the transition to “Chapter 2” would be for me. Or that one person could impact my life so profoundly and be the catalyst for the change. Thanks to one person, my life looks nothing like it used to, and the course I travel will never be what I had envisioned.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see what God has in store, but I feel like I’ve lost all stability in my life. But I know I can find it again.

God promised that, even though life may be completely unstable, he is an immovable rock. The prophet Isaiah wrote these words:

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
you who seek the Lord:
look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.

In all the instability of my life, my God, my Creator, my Originator, the Heart from which I was born—He is completely stable. And no matter what comes into my life, He will always be there.

We used to teach the children at Liquid Kids the song “My Rock.” The chorus is as follows:

You are the Rock
You are the steady and unchanging
The way You care for me is wonderful, amazing
I can depend on You, trust in You, rely on You
You are, You are my Rock.

No matter how unstable my life becomes, no matter how many times I turn the page to “Chapter 2,” no matter how difficult those page turns may be, God is my Rock.

A beautiful weekend. . . November 3, 2008

Posted by Nate in Church, Friends.
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Nothing is more beautiful to me than hearing story after story of how God is stirring the hearts of individual people. I can’t help but shed tears of joy over each soul that Christ restores.

On October 26, 2008, 62 people pledged their loyalty to Jesus in the city of Morristown, NJ. Even remembering makes me cry.

Rediscovering me. . . October 13, 2008

Posted by Nate in Friends, Personal, Scripture musings, Spirituality.
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“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

~James 1.2-4

I had a bit of a wake up call last night. I guess you could say I’d forgotten who I am. The last few weeks have been a struggle for me, and I sensed God withdrawing his presence from me. Or so I thought.

When I start to feel alone like that, I begin to withdraw and wallow in self pity. That sucks because I’m a pretty fun-loving guy. It’s a sad irony. I begin to feel lonely, so then I start to do things that make me feel even lonelier. Where’s the healing in that?

For example, a few weeks ago I was hit with some pretty disappointing news. It was tough to swallow, but I got it down and was able to move on with life. Sort of.

Since I never fully addressed the pain that I had experienced that day, it began to plague me for the following weeks. And as the pain intensified, my sense of vulnerability increased, as did the feeling that God was pulling away from me.

It’s a scary feeling. Because I knew in my head that it wasn’t true. God promised to never leave me. Then why did I feel like he was doing just that?

I think it was because he was strengthening me. He was stretching and expanding my capacity in order to make me more mature. What I interpreted as his withdrawal from me was his allowance of stronger attacks on my soul in order to intensify my resolve.

But in the heat of the moment, I didn’t make this realization. So I pulled into myself and allowed the pain to engulf me. I even grew slightly masochistic and slowly cut off some of the friendships I really wanted to flourish.

So there I was—a lonely, self-deprecating shell of the man I had been, and a distortion of the man I was supposed to become.

So why James 1? It began with a “faith-quake.” God decided to send something into my life that would shake up my faith in him. I hadn’t questioned my faith for a while, so it seemed fitting that a trial should come along. The aftershocks were just as harsh, attacking me at my weakest points: my obscenely strong desire to connect. And it was painful.

God had just one word for me: “Persevere.”

“What?! You mean, in the face of all these trials, you want me to suck it up and keep going?”

“I am with you,” he told me.

“So you’ve said before,” I replied.

“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see my glory?” And then he hit me with it. “I began something good in you, and I will be faithful to bring it to completion. . . Even if you are faithless, I will not lose faith in you because to do so would be to disown myself.”

So what was the wake up call? A few harsh words from a friend of mine that opened my eyes to an amazing truth about myself: I am loved. That’s who I am. That’s who I’d forgotten.

It’d have been nice if she’d simply said, “I care about you.” But sometimes the brusque way is the better one. We learn about ourselves through the ugly honesty of those who truly care.

King Solomon wrote that “wounds from a friend can be trusted.”

The wounds weren’t really all that bad, but thanks to those harsh words, I’m pretty sure now that I have at least one friend. 🙂

I’m not quite myself just yet; that “faith-quake” shook me harder than I’d initially thought. But thanks to some “wounds from a friend,” I’m on the path to rediscovering myself.

The femininity of God. . . September 23, 2008

Posted by Nate in Church, Friends, Spirituality.
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Last weekend I was enjoying the final Saturday of the summer with some friends at the Bancrofts’ house. We had a fantastic time. As a side note: David, (the Worship Bloke) and Jess are fantastic hosts. If you’re ever invited to their house, don’t pass up on the invitation. You’ll regret it if you do.

Anyway, moving right along. I noticed something while there. Men are distinctly men, and women are distinctly women.

We’re each designed to have certain attributes that God placed within us. On the surface, they’re exhibited in things like our choice of drink and conversation. I have no idea what the women were talking about, but the men were talking about video games, technology, blowing stuff up, recording equipment. . . Okay, so “blowing stuff up” wasn’t really in conversation, but given enough time, it might have shown up.

But there we were, standing in a circle near the fridge, enjoying our beers and conversation that girls might interpret as mere grunting.

In the other room, the women were chatting about God-knows-what and sipping their glasses of Cabernet or Merlot.

But when the men entered the room, the conversation didn’t shift to male conversation or remain female. The dynamic changed. . . and as the exchange continued, the conversation grew spiritual.

I think that’s evidence that the man and woman were meant to come together on a spiritual plane. There’s something deep about that connection, even when there are multiple people in the room and many of the relationships are purely friendships.

Sure, there are deep conversations between women as there are between men. But there’s something unique about the exchange that a man has with a woman. It’s deeper somehow.

I think it’s a completion of God’s image in us. Whenever man and woman come together on any level—conversational, emotional, physical—the image of God has been put together.

While God has chosen to reveal himself in a distinctly masculine way, it would be presumptuous of us to view him as entirely male. God transcends male/female distinctiveness.

That’s not to say he’s neither male nor female. That would be to deny the fact that our gender distinctions aren’t part of God’s image in us.

God possesses qualities of both Man and Woman. He is both the Warrior and the Mother Hen.

I’m still exploring this idea for myself, but I find no reason to deny God’s feminine qualities. Moreover, I find reason to affirm that God does, in fact, transcend the gender differences.

Like I said, he has chosen to reveal himself to us in the masculine. But if we deny his femininity, we begin to say that God’s image is more pronounced in Man than it is in Woman. That’s an unfortunate conclusion because it leads to the abuse of the authority God gave Man.

Again, I’m still figuring this all out. Feel free to challenge me if you’d like. I’m very open-minded about this topic.

Malls, Mexican food, and men. . . September 14, 2008

Posted by Nate in Friends, Personal, Spirituality.
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Who would have thought an afternoon doing some shopping at the Garden State Plaza and topping it off with a great meal at On the Border would yield a conversation about discovering who God wants us to be?

During the course of our dinner chat, my buddy Matt brought up an interesting thought about mankind’s primary relationships. He is first to connect with his Creator, for this is the chief of humanity’s priorities. He is then to connect with the woman, for this is the creation God designed intently and specifically for the man. All other relationships must take backseat.

As he talked about man’s responsibilities and purpose in relationship, my other friend Courtney brought up a frustration that most women have with men: they don’t step up. They’re weak and unwilling to follow their dreams of changing the world for Christ. They’re unwilling to become the men after God’s heart that they were designed to be. They’ve lost the will to be men.

As a group of single twenty-somethings, the natural inclination for us was to discuss how this affects our past and potential relationships. So let me follow that train of thought for a bit.

God designed us as sexual creatures. He placed His image on our lives in many ways, and our connection to each other on the sexual plane is just one of the myriad ways He’s done that.

Think about the idea of God loving the world. He longs to connect with the world, to share His joy with all of Creation. But Creation has not known or seen His love or is unwilling to experience His joy. So He places His Son into the hands of Creation and hopes that Creation accepts His proposal of love.

Parallel that with the man in his love for the woman. He longs to connect with the woman, to share his joy with her. But the woman doesn’t know his love or is unwilling to experience his joy. So he places his heart into the woman’s hands and hopes that she accepts his proposal of love.

Ironically enough, the woman wants more. And she deserves more. Like Courtney said, men have lost their willpower. We know what it means to be a good Christ-follower—trust Jesus and love others. But we’ve forgotten what it means to be a good man.

I know her frustration all too well.

I’ve dreamed big. I’ve longed to serve God with all that I am. I’ve desired to follow in the footsteps of men like King David, King Josiah, the Apostle Peter, and the Apostle Paul. Everything inside me cries out to God to allow me the opportunity to do great things for His Kingdom.

But I’m afraid.

I’m afraid, not because of outside forces or society’s push. I am determined to stand strong against that. I’m afraid, not because my friends may think I’m crazy to attempt such incredible things for a God I can’t even physically see. My friends would support me 100% in such an endeavor.

No, I’m afraid because of myself. I’m afraid because I know my flaws and my failures. I know my sins and my selfishness. I’ve seen myself falter time and time again.

That is why I’m afraid.

I dream to take on the world. I dream of doing great and innovative things for the Kingdom like Scott Harrison at Charity: Water, Tim Lucas at Liquid Church, and Shane Claiborne at The Simple Way have done.

But I’m afraid because I’ve seen where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’ve been trudging through the mire of lust, barely able to come up for air. I’ve sloshed through the swamps of pride and selfishness, weakened by the downward pull of upward desires.

But worst of all, I’ve suffered through the guilt of my sin, and I’ve been robbed of my dreams. I’m afraid of the evil that I’m capable of.

So to all the “Courtneys” out there—women longing for men who will lead them, boys who are looking for men who will mentor them, and other men searching for strong men who will guide them—I have one request for you: pray for us. Pray not that we’ll come into your lives, because odds are we’re already there. Pray that we’ll overcome our fear of ourselves. Because when we overcome that fear, we’ll finally step up. We’ll become the leaders you want us to be.

Because I, for one, want to dream big again.

But this time, I want my dreams to come true.

Under the steeple. . . September 11, 2008

Posted by Nate in Church, Friends, Personal, Spirituality.
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Tonight is eerily quiet. Yet in the silence, a deafening collision has taken place. Two worlds—that of a simple, unassuming, sheltered life; and the world of unspeakable pain, betrayal, and abandonment—have crashed into each other.

I guess I had no idea what I was in for when God brought me to Liquid Church.

Real life isn’t all smiles, hymns, organs, and a big steeple.

Real life is broken. It’s ugly. Consider yourself fortunate if you haven’t dealt with substance abuse, a cheating lover, rape, alcoholism, suicide, physical abuse. . . need I continue?

So I have to ask myself, Is this the world I want to set foot in?

Am I ready to face the ugliness?

I’m not gonna lie; my own life is full of its ugliness. Lies, deception, addiction. But suddenly my brokenness pales in comparison. My life was truly sheltered.

So what’s it gonna be? Am I jumping in? Or am I running back to what’s comfortable? Maybe I prefer the organs, hymns, and steeple. Where secrets are kept locked away for fear that the parishioners will shun, and the elders will discipline. Where relationships are skin-deep because no one knows the real me. And no one knows the real me because the real me will get the fake me into trouble.

Keep smiling, everybody. God loves you. And so do we. . . as long as you’re not broken.

Or maybe I should embrace the ugliness. Where secrets can safely come out because people embrace the pain, and they mentor and suffer alongside. Where relationships connect at the heart because people know the real me. And people know the real me because the fake me doesn’t exist.

It’s scary because I’m vulnerable now. We all are. We’ve admitted that we don’t have it together. We’re afraid because we think that we’ll lose each other if we expose our brokenness.

Because that’s what happened under the steeple, isn’t it? We lost friends because the real us wanted to come out. We were judged, ridiculed, laughed at, scolded, disciplined.

Misunderstood. Rejected. Scorned.

So maybe this messy life is where I belong. After all, the first step to healing is admitting there’s a problem. I always thought it was strange how no one ever had problems under the steeple. And those who did weren’t far from disappearing.

No wonder people are afraid of the Church.

Power source. . . September 9, 2008

Posted by Nate in Friends, Scripture musings, Spirituality.
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As the thunder rolls softly outside my window, I start to think about all the times life has sent storms my way. I’ve been through some rough ones, but hearing about someone else’s hurricanes always seems to put things into perspective.

I’ve never experienced the loss of a limb, for instance, or the heart-wrenching pain of betrayal. So I guess I’m writing with absolutely no authority when the worst pain I’ve experienced is the constant rejection of the offer for a date. Well, that and a multiple-fracture injury to the jaw, chin, and teeth.

Oddly enough, I’d say that the source of strength through each one of my little storms is the exact same source of strength for everyone who’s experiencing a tornado ripping through his/her life.

In Liquid Kids we’ve been teaching the kids how to tap into their “Power Source” (the Bible) to gain the superpowers that they need to face the trials of everyday life. It’s funny how that power source never changes.

I know that at least one of my friends (most likely more) is suffering through some unbelievable pain—pain I can’t even possibly comprehend. But I’m pretty confident in my power source. It’s gotten me through some pretty rough times, and I know it’s strong enough to get you through them too.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture.

Romans 3.31-39 (The Message)

How to heal. . . August 1, 2008

Posted by Nate in Friends.
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We can’t go through life unscathed. I know it sounds cliché, but Jesus never promised a smooth ride when He called us to follow Him. Hurts will come. Difficulties will arise. Our closest friends may vanish. They may even cause us irreparable pain.

In my own life, the current test is to accept change. To understand that distance doesn’t sever the bond of brotherhood, friendship, and love. But even more important, to move on to new friendships.

“We are wounded in relationship, so we must heal in relationship.”

We cannot heal in isolation.

Is it hard to let go of a friend you’ve had for 20 years of your life? Of course it is. But the worst thing you could do to yourself is attempt to deal with it by yourself. You’ll end up idolizing that friendship when it was nothing more than, well, a friendship.

Or what about pain directly caused by someone you had thought was a friend? When you’re posing the question, “How could you do that?” and the only answer they give is a turned back. Or an accusatory glare.

Again, we can only heal in relationship.

People have the capacity to pour both good and evil into one another. Not one person dishes out evil exclusively or good exclusively. Everyone has some of both to offer.

If someone hurts us, our natural reaction is to isolate ourselves. We’re afraid of opening ourselves to the kind of damage we just experienced.

But until we open ourselves up to relationship again, we cannot heal.

God designed us for community. We can’t take in any good—love, generosity, laughter—unless someone else is there with us to offer it.

We heal in relationship.

Whether that relationship is with the person who hurt us to begin with (remember, people offer both good and evil, so that person who hurt us can still offer good), or whether we develop new friendships, the idea is still there. We need community.

We cannot heal in isolation.

When God gives little gifts. . . July 13, 2008

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I’m going to refrain from any sort of thought-provoking entry and simply post a story from this weekend.

This weekend has been extremely taxing. I won’t go into all the gory details, but suffice it to say that I was going into church this morning with an awful lot of baggage from Saturday.

As you probably already know, I love my church. I love being there, I love learning from God’s word through Tim’s preaching, I love the worship band, and I crazily love all the peeps there! But I was feeling especially worn out today by the time the third service came around. I’d spent two morning services working with the Liquid Kids program, had run to lunch down the street (in the blazing summer heat) and back to church for my Life Class. After class, it was off to serve with the Greeting Team for the next two services.

I normally wouldn’t feel the weight of the day, but the previous day had been so draining, and my rest the night before was almost nonexistent. So naturally, I began feeling the weariness set in both physically and emotionally.

But as the weariness began to settle in heavily, I had a couple energy boosters. Two very encouraging chats with some buddies of mine really helped get me through some of the trials of the weekend. It’s great having friends who are willing to sit down, listen to what’s on your heart, and actually care about what’s going on in your life.

But the most amazing and energizing moment came from a very unexpected source. A girl I’d never met face-to-face before gave me a hug.

Now, I’m not normally a hug-crazy guy, but I don’t care who you are; when you get to the point where physical exhaustion is beginning to damage you emotionally, a hug is always welcome.

And what made this special was the moment where “Do I know you?” turned into “You’re him!” and the look of “I’m so glad I found you!” spread across her face.

Could something like that be awkward? Of course. But for some reason it’s exactly what I needed. It’s connecting with that bond, the one that says, “You’re my brother in Christ. I have nothing to give you but love!”

And in that moment I thought, “I’ve never met this girl, but she’s my sister somehow. She’s family. And I love her.”

Maybe it’s a little weird. Maybe that’s just the weariness of the day talking. Regardless, I’m so thankful for God’s embrace in that moment. It was a small, yet eternally meaningful gift and a moment I won’t soon forget.

Reflections of the Healer. . . June 22, 2008

Posted by Nate in Christianity, Church, Friends, Spirituality.
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I really don’t feel like writing tonight. Maybe that’s why I need to. This past week has been such a trial. A friend’s death. A friend in a physically abusive relationship. A friend’s reputation tarnished by a lying ex-boyfriend. My own failure to resist Satan’s whispers in my life. A friend going through such heartache she couldn’t put any words to her pain.

I was dried up this week. Emotionally parched. I started looking for something to quench that thirst. Oddly enough, I looked no further than the word liquid. It was on an old chocolate bar wrapper. I ate the bar over a year ago, but the wrapper, which was nothing more than a souvenir at the time, now serves as a tangible reminder of the day my journey in faith took a turn toward something new. On the back of the wrapper is a Scripture reference: John 7.38. Great reminder, I thought. But I certainly don’t feel like anything is flowing out of me. I feel more like living water is being drained from me.

In his blog Great Leaders Serve, Mike Leahy, Executive Director at Liquid Church, shared a note he received from someone at church. . .

“I know I have shared with you briefly that I have been struggling for a while. And one of the most painful things that I struggle with is loneliness and Sundays are especially hard. To be greeted with a welcoming smile and warm hearted hello is temporary comfort to my aching heart. Something as simple as saying hello can make a huge difference.”

I think one of the ways we are made in God’s image is our ability to heal. Small things that we do reflect the glory of Christ’s power. Christ touched the leper and he was cured of his leprosy. In much the same way, we as Christ followers have the same kind of power. We can provide healing to someone whose heart is broken. A smile, a hug, even a high five. . . these actions we perform day in and day out provide so much comfort and can actually temporarily heal the wounds that someone has suffered.

I gain a lot at church. I am moved emotionally through music. I am moved rationally through the classes and sermons. But something stood out vividly to me today. I can be healed at church. I can find temporary cures for the pain I’m suffering through seemingly unlikely means.

Chatting about a Cuban cigar with Jeff. Sharing an awkwardly goofy handshake with Tom. Blowing a high five and having a good long laugh about it with Beth. Sharing a few burdens with Laura. Smiles and updates from Lauren. Pats on the back from Dave B. Hand shakes and shoulder bumps from Bobby. Smiles and a CD from Suzy (I had totally forgotten I’d asked for that, by the way. If you’re reading this, Suzy, thanks! You’ve got quite the memory!).

I almost cry when I think about the kind of power each of those people have. Christ died to save us from sin. But the power of His love doesn’t stop flowing there. It keeps pouring out every time one of His followers shares a word of encouragement, puts an arm around someone who’s hurting, or listens as a broken heart exposes its painful contents.

And every time we do that, we mirror the healing power of the Great Physician.