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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.

Whatever is true. . . October 31, 2008

Posted by Nate in Christianity, Scripture musings, Spirituality.
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Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

~Philippians 4.8

“Whatever.

“Anything.”

I think I’ve had it backwards all along. I think we all have. For too many years people have used this verse to limit themselves and others around them. It’s sad, really. I even had this verse thrown at me when an authority figure confronted me about the fact that The Matrix had found its way onto my list of favorite movies.

This is a pivotal passage, to be sure. Your interpretation of it will dictate how you live your life and how effective you are in cultivating meaningful relationships with those who haven’t heard the gospel. But beyond that, it’s a command. A statement with the understood subject you. So naturally, it’s something we need to obey.

I guess how we obey this command isn’t as important as simply obeying the command, but I want to present some ideas here about one kind of “how.”

Last night during a vision and strategy meeting for Liquid Kids, I stole a few minutes with Bill, one of our new pastors and ultimate cool guy with glasses and no hair. (Tim Stevens now has competition!) Our conversation quickly moved to topics like the TV show “Saving Grace” and XXX Church. What got me about him wasn’t that he was okay with the content in “Saving Grace,” because even he admits it’s not the greatest. What hit me was that he found something redeeming in it. He found the story of redemptive love and radical grace in the middle of so-called “trash on TV.”

And the guys at XXX Church are doing something amazing. They’ve found something worth loving in what every Christian agrees would be the worst possible environment for a follower of Christ to be found. But that is what it means to show a radical kind of love. Imagine, if you will, what Christianity would look like if Jesus didn’t spend so much time among whores and thieves, insurrectionists and freedom fighters. How life-changing would grace be if He were unwilling to do that?

Here’s an excerpt from an email that Craig from XXX Church received after a gay erotica show his team spoke at:

No, thank you guys for coming! Your crew was incredibly friendly and welcoming and willing to speak with anyone and everyone. We even gave them stage time in a prime slot to promote your message. . . Your message that he loves everyone and the fact that your determination to spread that word even in what I’m sure was the craziest and weirdest event and location your crew has witnessed shows me that you guys are doing a great and selfless thing. . . Please keep doing what you are doing.

P.S. The gays thought your crew was adorable, we loved them! It was a total shock to have a bible handed to you in the midst of such debauchery.

XXX Church found something worth loving at that event—human souls. Just like Christ found something worth loving on earth. Satan meant for an event like this to destroy men’s souls. But God has different plans. I can almost hear Joseph’s voice here: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Whenever I hear a story of redemption, something inside me rejoices. But when that story comes out of the darkest place possible, it’s that much more beautiful.

Let me ask you something. How far are you willing to go to find the noble, true, right, pure, lovely, or admirable? If you come across it, are you willing to embrace it? Or will you shun it because it doesn’t fit into your box?

How do you choose to obey that verse? Do you think only on what you already know to be noble or lovely? Or do you see the pure and admirable in places that others are unwilling to go?

In The Matrix there’s a story of a man who has come to rescue people from the destructive path that they had chosen by creating AI. He possesses a unique ability and is the only one who can save them. And he will do everything in his power to secure their salvation. Even go to his death.

Sound familiar? Is it a beautiful story? Is there something noble and true in it? Then why not embrace it?

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.

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)

Life water. . . July 22, 2008

Posted by Nate in Christianity, Church, Scripture musings, Social Justice, Spirituality.
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No, I’m not knocking off a SoBe product. I’m talking about something completely different.

I decided to switch out of my normal Scripture reading routine thanks to something Pastor Tim said on Sunday. He pointed to a passage in Revelation 22:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

There’s an amazing image here. Did you catch it? Let’s backtrack to John 3.5. Here Christ makes the statement that one must be born of water and of the Spirit.

Without water, we’re dead physically. Without the Spirit, we’re dead spiritually.

Water is the giver of life. Water refreshes and cleanses. It revitalizes and renews. It restores and heals.

So is it any wonder that a river of life water flows down the middle of “Main Street in Heaven”? (Thanks for the imagery, Tim.)

Let’s jump to John 7.37. Here Christ paints an interesting picture. It’s almost as if He’s claiming to be life-giving water. Or, at least, that He is able to offer this life water.

So far we’ve established this much: living water is an essential part of spiritual life just like water is an essential part of physical life.

Let’s bring this home.

Knowing how important the concept of water is to Christ and His Kingdom, what do you think we should do about it?

“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.”
~Matthew 10.42 (The Message)

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this world is suffering a water crisis. More than one billion people—that’s one out of every six—have no access to clean drinking water. Children are dying everyday from water-borne diseases. How will you help?

If you’re near Morristown, NJ, you can show up at the Green in the center of Morristown on Saturday, August 2, and take part in the WaterWalk. For every person who walks 30 feet carrying two Gerry cans, Liquid Church will donate $20 to charity: water, who will use 100% of the donations to build wells for villages in Africa. Villages where people are dying for lack of water. (For more info on Liquid’s WaterWalk and the Party on the Green, head over to this page.)

If you can’t make it to Morristown that weekend, you can partner with Liquid Church and donate to charity: water through Liquid Church’s secure donation site. Be sure to make reference to “GLOCAL” (“GLOCAL” is the name of our summer outreach partnership with charity: water) in the comments section.

And pray. Don’t just give on a whim. Consider what’s important to you and ask God to lead you in the right direction.

Maybe this whole water thing is a way of bringing glimpses of heaven down to earth. A way of “bringing up there down here.” We are, after all, Christ-followers. What better way to follow Him than to do what He said? So do you think you could “give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty”?

“Tears may start”. . . May 24, 2008

Posted by Nate in Christianity, Scripture musings, Spirituality.
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Remember that game of “Telephone” we used to play as kids? We would always get a kick out of the difference between the starting phrase and the ending phrase. The message was whispered across the line, and for some reason, the final person never said what the first person did. I guess he was just too far away from the source.

I always wanted to be closest to the beginning. That way I could be certain I heard the unadulterated message. I remember the first person whispering in my ear, “Here’s my heart.”

I passed it along, wondering what the last person would say. Ten kids later, the new message appeared: “Tears may start!”

That’s not what I heard.

I learned something today about God. He never shouts at his children. He always whispers. Elijah learned this in his encounter with God in the desert (1 Kings 19.9-18). Elijah was at a low point in his life here, but through it all, he still drew close enough to God to hear the whisper.

We often look for clear signs from God. Something blatant. We’re waiting for God to yell at us. He’s not going to. A “clear sign” from God comes only when we’re close enough to discern the message in his whisper. When we’re that close to God, a whisper is all we need.

I had a choir director in college say, “This part of the song is almost a whisper. If they can’t get the message, the audience needs to listen louder.”

I wonder if I’m close enough to hear his whisper. There’s really no litmus test, per se. But a good way to tell is the amount of time I’m spending in his word. I figure if I can’t get enough of it, his lips are probably right up against my ear.

Too often we’re so far away from God that the message we receive from him is distorted by all the barriers between. Just like in “Telephone,” all the obstacles between us and God change his message just enough to give us something that doesn’t even remotely resemble what God originally said. But God isn’t going to speak any louder to us.

Maybe we just need to “listen louder.” The volume of God’s voice is never going to change. We just need to turn the volume up on our listening.

Or get closer to him. That way we’ll figure out what he wants when he says, “Here’s my heart.”

Trying out Love. . . May 8, 2008

Posted by Nate in Scripture musings.
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Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4.15-16

This passage was a little tough for me to tackle. Love is everywhere in the Bible. It’s the most prominent idea in the New Testament. Christ tells us constantly to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to love our enemies.

But perhaps the most powerful statement Christ made about love is found in John 13.35, in which he is quoted thus: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So what is it that defines us as Christ-followers? Is it not our love for each other?

I’m often convicted of my own unwillingness to love fellow believers. I grew up among very judgmental believers who stood behind the standard of “Biblical Separation” as though it were the defining banner of Christianity. “Don’t listen to that kind of music. Don’t watch those kinds of movies. Don’t hang out with those kinds of people.”

After coming out of that kind of environment, it would be easy for me to turn around and judge those people for their judgment of other believers, for their blatant disobedience of Paul’s admonition in Romans 2 that “in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

But in doing so, I do the very same thing. It’s not easy to love those who have condemned you. But it’s what Christ called us to do. It’s how everyone will know that we belong to him. The songs we sing, the clothes we wear, the words we say—none of it says “I’m a Christian” better than the love we show for each other, for the outsiders, and for our enemies.

“Father-God, fill me with your love. So much that it pours out of me onto others. It’s easy to love the like-minded believer, and even to love the lost because of the longing to see them come to you. But Father, it’s hard for me to love those who’ve hurt me. The branch of believers who’ve placed harsh labels on me. Give me the grace I need to love them too.”

Following the leader. . . March 25, 2008

Posted by Nate in Scripture musings.
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~”What then is Apollos? What is Paul?”~

I’m often bothered by how readily we take after the teachings of people instead of directly from the Word of God. We get into debates about minutiae of our faith because of what teacher we most closely line our beliefs with. One person reads books by Jim Berg. Another listens to sermons by Tim Lucas. And I’m sure neither of those guys wants people to follow what they teach. Rather, they’d prefer believers go straight to the Word of God.

“Don’t take it from some guy with big hair yapping about how great this Book is,” yells Tim Lucas, Lead Pastor of Liquid Church in Morristown, NJ.

Man is flawed. I think we all know this in our minds, but so many of us fail to actually live this out. The teachings of one man or many men cannot save. Their teachings have no power to change lives. But God’s Word does because it is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

So I urge you, brothers and sisters, go to the Scriptures. Don’t follow a dogma blindly, if for no other reason than the ability to give a well-thought out response to the questions plaguing the minds of outsiders to our faith.