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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.

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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?

God, the Lover. . . October 22, 2008

Posted by Nate in Personal, Spirituality.
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Imagine a scandalous love affair. One where a woman, unsatisfied with her husband’s provision and care, turns to a stranger to find the passion that seems to not exist in the promise made between her and her groom. The stranger enters her life, promising passion, affection, and desire. She opens the door of her heart to him, and he walks in offering her hope.

She also opens the door of her husband’s heart to him, and as he walks in, he carries with him an arsenal of weapons. He destroys everything. He ravages the innermost fabric of the husband, leaving him broken, shattered, and lost.

Who opened the door?

I did.

Every single day.

When God whispers to me, “Return to me. I’ve paid the price for your freedom.

I open the door to that scandalous love affair when I forget my God.

When I put my own desires, pleasures, and needs in front of Him.

When I love myself more than I love Him.

When I ignore His children. . . the weak,

the poor,

the broken.

I break the heart of God. And I crucify the God-Man over and over again.

Because He died for the weak, the poor, and the broken. And when I, the Christ-follower, forget those whom He died for, I nail Him to the cross again,

with my own hands.

I break His heart when I seek fulfillment in secret evil pleasures like porn,

drunkenness,

promiscuity.

I break His heart when I long to connect with friends and family

more than I long to connect with Him.

I break His heart when my hobbies (books,

video games,

music,

movies)

replace His love for me.

I open the door to strangers and let them tear apart my true Love’s heart.

Is it not sufficient? Is His love not enough? Or must I find something else to satisfy? Must I elevate the gift above the giver? Will I find fulfillment in knowing more about a flower or in getting to know the gardener? Can I fall in love with the uplifting and encouraging words of a woman, or can the woman herself suffice?

Is the love of God more captivating than the Lover-God?

When the woman returns to her husband, he has lost no love for her, and he reaches to her with outstretched arms because he still wants her. Because he still loves her.

Because He still wants me. Because He still loves me.

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.

Who I want to be. . . October 3, 2008

Posted by Nate in Personal, Spirituality.
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It’s difficult to put into words the string of emotions I’ve experienced over the last several days. I can say this much: the week hasn’t been an easy one. Oddly enough, the major struggles in life are the ones that make us grow. If it weren’t for the hardships, we would never mature. We would never become the people God desires.

Paul wrote these words to the church in Philippi: “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” In the very next paragraph he begins to talk about his imprisonment.

I’ve found that to be a huge source of encouragement. Paul basically says: “You’re going to grow. You’re going to become the people you were meant to be. I’m on that same journey; in order for me to become that person, I have to go through chains.”

So I look forward to becoming that person. I know who I am, and I know who I want to be. And in order for who I want to be to become who I am, I’m going to have to go through many difficult circumstances.

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)

Eternal life on earth. . . August 13, 2008

Posted by Nate in Christianity, Social Justice, Spirituality.
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Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
~John 4.13-14 (ESV)

I’m sure you’ve heard the old colloquialism, “You’re so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good”? Probably less familiar is the traditionalist ideology that this is actually a good thing. I really don’t think that mindset should characterize Christians. But the thought process is out there, pervading many churches that preach a “Get Out of Hell” gospel.

I don’t think that’s what Christ died for. Sure, there’s the beauty of an afterlife spent by His side. But is that the emphasis of the story of Jesus? Christ said He came “that [we] may have life, and have it to the full” (Jn 10.10). The assurance of an afterlife spent with Christ is a wonderful thing, but is that the point of faith in Christ? I really believe God did something bigger than that when He spilled His own blood for us.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
~2 Corinthians 5.18-20

Did you catch that? “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ.” There’s something amazing in that sentence.

God created the world and everything in it and said that it was good. Creation was good. But it was broken. Humanity, once the Crown Jewel of Creation, became its Scourge as Man chose to turn his back on God and taint the earth with his rebellion.

But God never turned His back on Man, and in an amazing act of purest love, poured everything He was into humanity and set in motion the reconciliation of Creation. That was the very moment Eternal Life began.

There’s something else in that passage. “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” God is using us to reconcile the world to Himself!

Wow.

Each Christ-follower has been given a priceless gift and an incomparable charge.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
~John 1.12-13

We’ve been given the power of Christ. But like Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Christ has charged us with the spreading of His gift here on earth.

Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
~Matthew 28.18-20

If God is reconciling all of Creation to Himself through Christ, and Christ has given us the right and responsibility to be His hands and feet here on earth, shouldn’t our goal be the uniting of Heaven and Earth? Or as Pastor Tim puts it, “Bringing up there. . . down here.”

What do you think that would look like?

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 think it’d be a good idea if Christians stopped thinking so much about eternal life in heaven and started thinking more about eternal life on earth. You’re going to die; there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t do anything about what lies on the other side of that. But Christ has given us the power to do something about what’s going on around us now. He’s given us the power to bring an eternal, more abundant life to earth.

Are we even trying?