Tuesday, February 16, 2010

a much needed update

i hope my words find you well. i've been told that our best tool is our story, so we are sharing an honest look of our story. if you received this it's because we love you and we do not want any confusion about why we are back in lubbock. it's come to our attention that there is a bit of confusion so l'ray and i feel like we need to fill in the gaps that so many of you may be wondering about. this is long so please read to the end to fully understand the context of what is being said.

i've always heard that there were 7 stages in the grieving process. as i've reflected on these stages recently i'm happy to say i'm officially in the 7th and final stage "acceptance and hope".
but in order to get to the 7th i need to tell you about how i've arrived there and why i was even grieving in the first place.

in august of 2009 i was blessed to have the chance to travel to Zacapa, Guatemala with a team of around 20 people. we spent a wonderful week pouring our hearts out on to the kids who lived inside the walls of the orphanage. needless to say it was an amazing week. a week that transformed me and realigned my perspective of life, money, contentment, grace and peace. i returned with an excitement and passion to pour out my love to the broken, the poor, the forgotten. my first week back in the office i was approached by leadership and asked if i would explain my tithing numbers. when i accepted the position at the church i was asked to commit to tithing and i gladly accepted. l'ray and i had no problem doing this but about 6 months before this meeting we had felt like God was asking us to commit money elsewhere. in our lives we give what God is asking us to give and that almost always totals far above the confines of a set percentage. we had been giving money to the church, different organizations, specific people in our lives who were not doing well and needed help, and a few others that we had been helping but didn't really know (we just felt like God was asking us to give).
this begins the first stage of grief...

shock and denial...
i was given a week to decide whether we would "get on board" with the method of tithing an absolute 10% to the church and then what ever was left over we could give away where we saw fit. it was this or i would not be able to be a staff member. during this week i spent much time in prayer, reflection, study, and conversations with experienced church leaders that i knew had been in ministry longer than i had been alive. it all pointed to one thing - go with your conviction. i didn't feel like i was giving, therefore living, in a way that was unbiblical, so i told church leaders that i must remain true to my convictions of what i felt like God was asking me to do. by the end of the week we found out that i would be asked to resign as young adult minister because of us not being able to meet the standards of giving that was expected as staff.
this broke our hearts. we immediately began to question whether or not we made the right choice... should we find a way to come up with the extra n% so that we could stay at fbc or do we stay true to our convictions? these questions plagued our souls deeply and we waited to get the "go ahead" to tell our close friends, and my young adult leaders what was going on because many by this time had seen a change in our demeanor and could tell that not everything was well.
we soon began telling as many people as possible what had transpired over the previous weeks and what lay ahead. over the next few days we had countless meetings and phone conversations trying to explain what came next and how we got to that point. it sucked. these conversations were some of the hardest i have ever had to have. many people understood our decision, some did not, and others acted indifferent, but all wished us the best. on our last sunday i went to my young adult classes and explained that i would no longer be their minister and told them a very abbreviated version that explained the what, when, and why's. as my last sunday wrapped up, it was announced that l'ray and i would no longer to be serving at fbc as the young adult minister because "we were leaving to pursue other ministry opportunities".?.?.?. so starts the second stage of grief.

pain and guilt...
after my last sunday service i was approached by around a dozen very excited people asking what the new ministry i was going off to pursue was and how i had been called to go? i had to look them in the eye and tell then that there was no ministry and i had no idea what lay ahead for me or my family. they turned and left a little more confused than when they approached me. the next couple of weeks were filled with me having conversations with people who either didn't fully understand and needed more explanation, or people that wanted to help me find work. it was a roller coaster to say the least. everday when i would sit down and had time to reflect, the pain in my heart screamed from within. i was saddened because we were leaving our church home. there was also a number of people that we were close to that began to not speak to us - this probably hurt the most. when it was confirmed that i would no longer be on staff, i decided that i would leave the church in such a way that was the "high road" even if it meant that we didn't fully explain everything to everyone. what this turned out to mean was that we suffered the brunt of people being angry because they didn't understand our leaving and they felt abandoned by us. the next weeks were riddled with pain and guilt. i spent many nights not sleeping and many days trying to stay busy doing anything to take my mind off of it. my heart was heavy with pain because we were asked to leave a place we dearly loved and we were asked to leave because we didn't give enough. as pain dulled, guilt sprung forth. the feeling of guilt was deep within me. i felt guilty because i began to hear of people who thought we abandoned them and the church. i felt guilty because some of our friends began to talk to us less and less. i felt guilty because i knew i would never be able to fully explain myself to every member of the church and therefore would make their own assumptions about why we left based on the information they heard and because of that they would not understand why we chose to stick with our convictions. out of this sense of pain and guilt i began to feel another emotion that had surfaced at times earlier but only for what felt like split seconds...

two months had passed since i had left the church. i still had yet to find a job. at this point i wasn't concerned any longer with working in ministry nor did i really desire to because of my anger and confusion. through networking and an old connection back in lubbock i had landed an interview. this interview was the closest i had come to finding a job. i had sent out and dropped off countless resumes over the past two months with nothing to show. i had applied for jobs as a waiter, bartender, janitor, retail sales person, etc, etc, etc, but i received nothing. we were incredibly excited to have an interview because after not having any income for over a month our bank account was getting slim. the interview in lubbock went well and i was told that the job was mine. so we packed up a few necessities, cleaned our house and put a "for sale" sign in the front yard. we had already determined that we could only pay mortgage for one more month with no job before we couldn't pay any bills so we put it up for sale. after being in lubbock for a week i found out that the job didn't come through. they decided to not hire anyone for the position for the time being. this was a blow we weren't ready to receive. it was a hard pill to swallow.
i soon landed another interview with a local restaurant as a bartender and within two weeks i had an interview. at the interview i was told that they would not hire me because they hire from within. another job opportunity so close but not captured. by this point, it was time to write another mortgage check. with the check mailed we decided it would be best to stay in lubbock. after all, we had both grown up in lubbock and knew more people there than in lewisville, therefore it would hopefully prove easier to find employment. what i didn't know was that no matter who we knew and talked with, employment was not easy to find. with no job and a family looking at me to provide for them, i began to be more and more angry.
i was angry at the church. i was angry that people who told us they would support us had yet to contact us to even see how we were. i was angry with the church staff as a whole because other than one pastor there was an absence of support other than the general "well, if you need anything give us a call". i was angry that a church checks to see how much their staff gives to see if they measured up to a certain standard and disregarded the conviction of the Holy Spirit. i was angry that instead of asking if everything was okay in our lives, i was asked why my percentage of giving wasn't higher. i was angry at people who were angry with us because we "withdrew" and "moved away". i was angry because the same people who felt like we withdrew from them, also withdrew from us. i was angry with the way our leaving was announced and how much confusion and problems that caused us with people of the church. i was angry because the people who i thought would support us the most left us because they felt like we abandoned them when we left the church. i was angry because people who had nothing to do with fbc were the people who supported us most. at this point i remember thinking, "is it the person who is going through tough times that needs to reach out to the church or is the church that should be reaching out to those falling to the bottom?" this question alone carried alot of anger.
it was my anger that caused me to miss many things; things i deeply regret missing. i missed seeing a dear friend's son after he was born - this my greatest regret. i missed seeing friends that i wanted to connect with again but was scared that they hated me or were mad at me like so many others, or felt hurt by my lack of presence in their life. i missed these things because i let my anger get the best of me. but God knows how our hearts work and he was working in someone else's life as he was mine during this time and i soon had a key conversation with a friend that turned my anger and it began to deflate...

depression, loneliness...
after a much overdue conversation with a friend i hung up the phone feeling like a pile of crap. i felt God telling me that the anger needed to leave so that i could begin to heal because i was holding on too tightly to the anger i had been living with. so i walked out and told l'ray that i knew God wanted me to let this anger go. so i began to try. this would prove to be harder than i had imagined. when a person goes through something significant the emotions that flow with that event are hard to let go. just think about a significant event in your life - good or bad. when you come around people, places, sounds, or smells, who played a large role in that event all of the emotions begin to turn your stomach and memories flood your head. it's almost as if you can see it clearly again. needless to say, the pain and anger i had been feeling for the past two months was holding as tightly to me as i was to it. eventually things got better.
my parents and l'ray's parents offered us their homes to live in until we sold the house. we would randomly receive a check from dear friends that helped pay bills. even with all of the money we received and the blessings we felt from people, we were still getting close to having no money in the bank. depression for me set in when i realized that i wasn't providing for my family at all - other people were. no matter how spiritual or religious you are, as a man growing up i knew men did one thing, they provided for their family. i was not doing this. this sent me into a dark place - spiritually and mentally. i had been job hunting for almost three months and had not been hired for anything. without random gifts and my photography we would have been in the red a month back. my depression was blocking me from seeing that God was providing. he provided us with $400 when i spoke to students at the BSU at Eastern New Mexico University. college students at enmu gave us $400 when they heard about me being without a job! this event flooded my soul with emotions. i was filled with joy, love, anger, heartache and sadness. then a married couple who make less than $1000 a month gave us over $700 as a gift! that's 70% of their income! (to everyone who has been intentional about checking in with us to see how we were. we are incredibly appreciative of your prayers, phone calls, and emails - Thank You)
these things did a number on my spirit. i loved seeing God provide through the poor married couple, and the broke college student but i hated seeing it at the same time. my depression came from seeing the poorest give more than the wealthy. the thing was that it wasn't even about giving to us anymore, it was about giving in general. the depression kept going down over the next month until i was asked by a friend to go to India. he asked me to go on a trip to India to take pictures for the mission organization he works for so that they can document what's happening. photography had become my therapy over the past several months and now i knew why. God was moving in me and he was using my depression, anger, and pain to move me in the direction he wanted me to go. then a week later i was given a tip that a local alternative high school was going to need a part time teacher in January. things were looking up and for the first time in months i was feeling a little better...

the upward turn...
i quickly found out more information about the job and sent an email to the woman who ran the alternative school. i told my friend that i would love to go to India. i felt God ask me to create a legitimate photography business and begin organizing it in such a way that partnering with mission organizations and non-profits would be part of it's structure. my depression was getting better....then Christmas arrived.
Christmas is hard for a parent when you don't have money to buy your kids anything. this Christmas we didn't. i tried to land more photo gigs to get enough money in to scrape together to buy Kye and Haygen Reese something but it never came. it was a humbling experience during the holidays. when you're broke and poor but no one knows it, it is hard to have conversations with people around Christmas because they always talk about what they were going to get their kids and the money they shouldn't have spent but did anyway, then they want to know what you're getting your kids, and so on. it was a tough holiday season.
Christmas came and went. the kids, l'ray and myself received more presents than we ever needed and i walked away from the holidays with a greater appreciation for generosity. during that time my pride began to lessen. i felt God giving me a dose of humility like i had never known. we had less money in the bank than ever before but our balance always seemed to go up right around the time when we paid bills on our house, or our car payment and it was amazing to see. as we started the new year l'ray and i made a big decision. we had needed medical care for some time now for the kids and ourselves but had no insurance, so we decided to apply for medicaid. when a person grows up in a home where they never really need anything, going to the medicaid office is what "lazy people who abuse the system do". i felt like a failure. on the form you can select if you would like to receive money for food stamps as well. this was a decision i wanted to say "NO" to, but when you don't have money to buy groceries and you don't want to continue to place that burden on family, you check the box.
in january of 2010 i spent 3 hours in line in "the bad part of lubbock" to finalize all of our paper work. as i stood and looked around i noticed a few things. the majority of these people don't want to be there any more than i did. they don't want to ask for help. the people i talked to were hopeful and resilient about their situation. they were thankful for some type of governmental help. they were at the bottom and they had more hope in their eyes than some i've known on top. but, as you can imagine, not all were hopeful. some were sad and strung out. some were broken and old. others were just floating through life and knew the system better than the workers. my time in line actually raised my spirits. God had begun a shift in my reality. as i left the office i no longer cared what my shoes looked like. i no longer cared if my hair was falling out. i no longer was concerned with what my house looked like or how many square feet it had. God had realigned my perspective in Guatemala, now He was changing the way i thought and reacted. you see, our perspective on life can shift, but until our thoughts and actions change, our perspective is simply a way we view the world without acting on what we see. my mind was now functional again...

soon after i learned that the job at the alternative school was mine if i wanted it - i jumped at the chance of working again. i began a week after school had already been in session. it felt incredible to be working, even if it was part time. i was back where i feel at home - with the outcast. the kids i have are not the creme de la creme but rather the kids one step away from jail. actually, about once a week one or more is taken in. my heart is drawn to the broken, the unloved, the downtrodden. God had me stand on convictions at a church that i loved and didn't want to leave knowing that those convictions might cost me my life in lewisville. now, four months later, it is my convictions that brought me back to the broken. life was beginning to be rebuilt one brick at a time. i'm striving to restore relationships i had in lewisville that i don't want to lose. l'ray and my marriage has been to hell and back but is now on it's way back up. my relationship with God is returning to where it needs to be. for some time my relationship with God was what took a back seat to my stress and emotions, because God brings up crap you don't want to hear - you may need to hear it, but you usually don't want to. we are praying about starting a house church. my passion for the homeless at it's max and i'm working on ways to spend time with them (i LOVE the homeless - they're the most authentic people i know). my best friend from high school asked me to partner with him and start a cause driven t-shirt company (rediculously cool). all of these occurrences i attribute to God. it is God that brings us to our current grief stage...

acceptance and hope...
we aren't happy and joyful everyday, but we have hope now. we have hope that God will bring us to where we need to be. we have hope that L'Ray will soon be back in ministry and i will be pursuing my various endeavors God is leading me in. our days are filled with emotions that come from the experience of being asked to leave a church we love over something we consider trivial, and then making the decision to move back to lubbock and try not to leave our relationships in lewisville behind. sometimes these emotions are positive and other times the emotions are destructive. but the beauty in all the hell that we have been through is that God has provided when we had nothing left. we've seen men and women step up and say, "we want to be the church for you and we're going to support you". we have had family let us live rent free since october. we have parents and siblings keep our kids when i had interviews or photography work. we have had people rally around us and pray consistently for our well being. we've seen God manifest Himself in more ways than i can explain.
i recently reflected on something i told our college group at our first meeting at the beginning of the 2009 summer. i said, "by the end of the summer i want you to be men and women who live by your convictions." months later in august, i was asked to stand on my conviction and be just what i had been praying our college students would be. there is no doubt that this was no mere coincidence.
i've learned a few things over the past four months.
- our hearts are our best judge on what to give, how much to give and who we should give to (our minds clutter our thinking). it's hard for God to speak to a heart when our minds would rather He not be so honest.
- life is a beautiful journey when you're actually living it. too many people today get focused on the things that don't last nor matter when the life God has for them sits at their feet if they would only look down to see what they're stepping on.
- your perspective on God is based on how you view the people you admire. if you admire conservative minded men, God will have the characteristics of a conservative man. reality is being open to a God that is conservative and liberal, that walks among the rapist and the saint. if you're open to a God outside of your ideas and your box, then He will blow you away but be ready because when you follow a God who isn't confined to a church, or a doctrine, you will often find yourself as the misunderstood outcast.

praying you become a misunderstood outcast.

peace be with you.

if you would like to leave a comment or have further questions, please send to me at rustin.klafka@gmail.com

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

the emptiness of the cross

the rain gently taps my window as if it were nature's percussion section of a symphony orchestra. a beautiful accompaniment to "one love" by Bob Marley playing softly in the background. the elements are in place to create the ideal atmosphere for reflection and meditation.

so i sit.

i reflect.

on my past 11 months here in Lewisville.

on how it felt to have a second child, Haygen Reese.

on successes and failures.

on serving the needy and trying to find ways to urge believers to serve.

as my mind is filled with sounds, smells, and emotions of serving people my heart overflows with fear, heartache and joy.

this reflection of service is one that occupies my mind most.

there is a prevalent feeling of fear at the moment. it's not a fear for me personally, but for others. early on in my walk with Christ i was terribly fearful that people would never come to the saving Grace of Jesus Christ and that is still the case today, but i've begun to realize that my method at which i present the Gospel is different. my method to counteract this fear is different.

i used to present a compelling argument through scripture references and historical facts that would lead people to understand that Jesus was real and then i would lead into the "spiritual" elements of how a person becomes a believer in Christ. it was either the Roman Road or The ABC method or both if someone needed some serious swaying.

i walked with Christ for 7 years before i met the living, breathing, loving Jesus that i know now.

the Jesus i knew the first seven years of my Christian life was found in the the pages of books by men like C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, John Piper, and Martin Luther.

that Jesus was convincing,




i poured myself into hours of studying scripture. i would write exegetical papers for myself because that was the best way i learned. i spent countless hours in front of my computer or staring down at words written 300 years earlier because i wanted to know Jesus more.

i did learn a considerable amount about my Saviour through my studies, but i'm not sure i learned who He was, what he cared about, why he did what he did, or what Grace looked like.

i'm not discounting the benefits of studying scripture because i believe it helped me learn some key cultural elements that reveal more about Jesus than i would have known otherwise.

what i am saying is that i had gained a good bit of knowlegde about Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, Luke and other characters of the Bible but i had yet to feel what Jesus felt when he touched the leper or what emotions pulsed through His body as the woman grabbed the hem of His garment.

i had my head wrapped around Jesus but still couldn't understand why people give up so much to follow Him.

the comprehension of why people sell everything to become missionaries in India, or downsize to a 1000 square foot home so they can give more to the needy escaped me.

it wasn't until i sat beside a homeless man who had lost everything he owned, which were the things he could carry on his back, in a flood in central texas, that i felt the cry of the oppressed.

for the first time in my journey with Christ i saw heartache.

i saw hunger in a man's eyes.

i saw humility.

i remember my soul being filled with confusion and brokenness.

confusion entered my heart because i could not comprehend why i saw Jesus in the eyes of this man unlike i have ever seen in anyone's eyes before. before this i had stood up and shaken a thousand hands on many sunday mornings and never saw the heart of Christ like i saw in His eyes.

as our conversation went on, his story broke me. his life was a tale of poverty, of trials that i may never face. it was a story that great books are made of.

in this moment sitting beside a man that smelled like he hadn't showered in weeks, the sweet aroma of Grace poured over me. i've tried to explain what the feeling was that consumed me, but i truthfully can't. i could type the most eloquent poem about what i felt, but it would never do that feeling justice.

Jesus showed up in homeless man's eyes. i could hear him in his voice.

in less than 10 minutes i began to understand why Jesus touched the leper. healing the man wasn't Jesus' only teaching point of His action. when you let go of all of your pride, all of your selfishness, all of yourself, that's when you can Jesus.

you can spend 24 hours a day studying scripture and reading the words of our church fathers but until you get up from your table and allow your tired eyes to rest on the needy, you'll never know what the Gospel is.

if you never get your head out of books you may never know who Jesus is.

this is probably where my heartaches the most - seeing believers justify pursuing life for themselves and in doing so, fooling themselves into thinking that all they need is to learn about the elements of being a faithful christian.

the reality is that knowing how to follow Jesus and actually dying to yourself to follow Him are two entirely different things. this is what separates a believer from a non-believer.

the question today isn't "how much scripture do you know?" or "how many christian books have you read?" but rather, "have you put your selfishness aside today, to serve Christ above all else?"

when you set yourself aside to serve Jesus, he's not going to have you pursuing life for you alone. Jesus will have you in trenches; in the heart of desperation.

Serving is never comfortable, nor is it easy, but why would you want it to be. man wasn't created for the pursuit of happiness but rather for the pursuit of the cross. the very symbol of desolation, torture, and humiliation.

but when you reach the cross you don't see a man hanging on it because he is gone. your eyes can still see the blood stains on the ragged wood grains; the very symbol or our atonement.

this empty cross is your truth.

it's your love.

it's the very grace that was poured out for you and has left a stain for you to see so that you will never forget the grace you must give to others.

this cross is where you die to yourself.

today, may you be covered in the conviction of the Holy Spirit to live as Jesus is asking you to live.

may your heart be filled with visions of the needy, the oppressed, the widow and the orphan.

may the love and grace extended to you be your driving force to serve.

may you see the cry of the oppressed.

peace be with you.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

inconvenienced by the Gospel

this past weekend i was able to be involved in something that changed me. it brought me back down to reality and showed me that what i do today has eternal significance. on saturday, april 25, 2009 thousands gathered in over 100 cities in North America, Europe, and Australia to raise awareness for the thousands in Uganda that are kidnapped and forced to fight in a war they do not believe in.

everyday in Uganda, children as young as 5 years old are abducted from their homes, taken to the Lord's Resistance Army camp and there the unspeakable happens. some are killed. others are forced to kill their friends, family or anyone the LRA so chooses, others are mutilated and left for dead. the unspeakable happens daily.

these children are forced to become the rebel army and now 90% of that army is below the age of 14. for over 20 years this war has been fought by children that are abducted and forced into slavery so that the bloodshed can continue.

children, the same age as your children or grandchildren are standing guard with AK-47's, ready to shoot at this very moment.

in three years, this is my son. i can't fathom.

children - fighting



and for what?

this is why we gathered.

we gathered for peace.

we gathered to represent the thousands of children already abducted being forced to kill.

our plan was called 'The Rescue' because that is what must happen for these children to live to see tomorrow.

Invisible Children is a cause that is very dear to my heart. it is something that God has placed a heavy burden on my soul to pursue. these children who i may never meet are my passion.

i want to listen intently to what God is asking me to do and then follow Him.

once the divine tug has been pulled, i must follow. because if i don't follow, why am i even listening.

if i don't follow and become part of the solution, then i'm part of the problem.

for most of my life i didn't realize that if i see a need that i feel the Holy Spirit prompting me to reach out to help and i do nothing - i am part of the problem.

God isn't going to ask you to be a part of every humanitarian effort in the world, or give money to every homeless man you see on the street, but he does ask you to serve. Christ urges us to move, to lift up the oppressed, to raise the broken, and to help mend the deep wounds carved into the people around us.

we are all called to serve.

you might be called to serve the homeless. you might be called to move to South Africa. you could be called to adopt and give kids a home. you could be called to reach out to the depressed millionaire or to move to China and train pastors of the underground church.

i don't know who you are called to serve, i just know we are all called to serve someone. we are all called to listen for the cry of the oppressed and then find a way to build them up, to bring them out of oppression, but this can only be done when we are willing to give up ourselves to the cause.

over the course of the weekend i spent some time with a young man who teaches middle school in fort worth. now he doesn't look like your typical clean cut teacher. he had an arm full of tattoos on his left and a few more on his right, and he has had dreadlocks for the past year. not that his appearance means anything, but i thought it was interesting that a 20 something white guy who has dreadlocks and full of tattoos is able to lead our youth and i love the fact that the school district didn't let his appearance skew their judgement of the quality of his character.

as we talked, i found out that he and a group of young men just move to what he called, "the ghetto of fort worth" for the specific purpose of building up the community around them. they have converted their back yard into a community garden and have other projects in the works to lift up the poverty stricken. did i mention that previous to this, he spent two years teaching school in Uganda.

this is a man who is truly listening to what God is asking Him to do and then actually doing it.

after hearing his story i began to share with him a conversation i recently had with a young man about serving. during this conversation, a question kept popping up:

why do christians not serve more than we do?
is it a lack of concern?
is it a lack of time?
if there was a root to it all, what is at the root of us not serving the way the disciples of the first century served?

perhaps our current culture has gotten the best of us... we are a people, a country, driven by quick, easy remedies. we are men and women who thrive off of convenience. technology is outdated, the day after it is released because there is a new product coming out tomorrow that is faster, smaller, lighter, smarter, etc., etc., etc.

we are coaxed by media and advertising to think that these new products which are 'better' are exactly what we need - we can't live without them. and we buy into this lie.

we grab hold,




our lives today are driven by the convenience of the products we can buy.

think about it.

our phones, our cars, our homes, computers, what we eat, where we eat, television, ebooks, email, and more. they are constantly evolving into products of convenience.

if at the core, our lives are driven by the convenience of it all, are we following the prompting of God and giving our life to the Kingdom or are we building up storehouses of worldly things so that our lives are easier?

which did the disciples live for? convenience or the Gospel?

am i saying that we shouldn't have cell phones, good cars, email or things that make our lives more convenient? No.

what i am suggesting is that if you are allowing convenience to be the deciding factor behind whether you are serving the poor and the oppressed, you may want to take a step back and examine the purpose of your life.

it is convenience that seems to be the deciding factor on whether we should serve or not. it is this lifestyle that has fooled us into thinking that we don't have the time to serve. the truth is, we all have the time to serve. the question is: what are you willing to give up in your schedule so you can serve.

we spend entirely too much time devoted to things that don't matter and to be honest, are for own selfish pleasure.

think about how much time you spend doing things that really could be taken out of your life, but you don't want to let them go. there are a million things we do that we could do without.

far too often i let the things of this world become my deciding factor on whether i should serve or not. i am urging you to not do what i frequently do - give my life to the american dream of convenience - instead give your life to the Gospel.

sacrifice your convenience so that you might build up the oppressed,

speak for the voiceless

give hope to the hopeless

love the unloved

wash the feet of the dirty

feed the hungry

clothe the naked

give up your life today.

in the book of acts we read of the disciples leaving their homes to go where God was asking them to go. they left all that was convenient to them to share their lives with those who needed the hope of Jesus Christ.

was their life less complicated than yours? no. some of these men and women of the early church had families and children, but they left anyway because they were convinced that following God was better than floating through life as a half hearted believer.

are you in the neighborhood you're in because that's where God wanted you or because of convenience?

or are you like my friend called to the ghetto to build up the poverty stricken?

the ever pressing question i think of following Christ isn't if you hear where He is asking you to go, but rather are you willing to go where he is asking you to go.

today, it's up to you to ask God to search your heart and show you if you are a person driven by convenience or a person living to serve.

may you consider others better than yourselves.

may you realize that all of the things that make life 'easier' aren't what you need.

may scripture infiltrate your soul and consume you.

may serving the oppressed, the orphan, the poor and the widow be how people know you.

it's time to lay down a life of convenience, dust off your feet and start walking.

peace be with you.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

life lost under fear

i'm very excited for you all to read this post. this weeks artlicle was written by a dear friend, Sheldon Schwartz. he is a man who strives with all he has to be Christ every moment of the day. so please read with a readiness to move.

If I were to ask those of you reading this what you believed to be the most frequent command in the Bible, what would you say?

What would you say is the most given instruction spoken to us by God,
the prophets,
and the apostles?

I assume some of you would say something like "Turn from your evil ways," or "Do not commit adultery," or maybe "Obey my commands."

Others of you may lean more to the positive side and say that it would be something like, "Love one another," "Care for the orphans," or "Rejoice, and be glad."

Even though all of those are really good guesses, none of them quite reach the mark set by this one command. I am sure that most of you will be stunned to discover that the words "DO NOT BE AFRAID" make up the most frequently spoken command in our Scriptures.

But why this command? Why did God choose these words to speak to us more often than any others? And if this is God's most frequent command to us, what should we do with it?

The other day I was talking with an old friend who has, over the course of the last year, had his world violently shaken, turned upside down, stomped on, and seemingly ripped into a million little pieces.
The two of us, and our families, have been friends since before I can remember; and the pain and shock from the situations in their lives have undoubtedly resonated through them into my life, my family, and all those who have loved them for so long. It has truly shaken our community; and the fact that my friend has any joy or hope left in his broken, beat down, and heavy heart can only be attributed to the grace of God.

However, on this day, the day of our conversation, my friend was not having one of his better days. He was tired; extremely tired. Tired from holding his over-sized world on his shoulders for so long.

He was overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed with feelings of defeat and loneliness; as if all of his perseverance was in vain.

But most of all he was afraid.

Afraid that even though he told everyone it was going to be ok; that maybe it wouldn't be ok. Maybe everything was going to crumble and never be rebuilt.

Afraid. Afraid that because his father had failed, maybe it was in his genes to fail as well. Maybe he doesn't have whatever it takes to get over the mountain either.

Afraid. Afraid that he could not love the woman he has given his heart to the way she deserves to be loved; so, in his words "maybe it would be better if I lived the rest of my life alone, so that I never have to break her heart."

Afraid. Simply, and understandably afraid.

And it was in this moment, while my friend was pouring his heart out to me, that I saw myself in his shoes. Not as one looking from the outside in, but one that is wearing the very same sneakers and walking the very same path. I am in the same shoes as my friend, different circumstances, but the same shoes - heading in the same direction, with exactly the same problem: Fear.

Fear of the unknown, the what-ifs, and the uncertain. If you are anything like me you find yourself in our shoes from time to time, or maybe, if you are even more like me, more often than not.

Pastor and author N.T. Wright once wrote, "We all cherish fear so closely that we find we can't shed it even when we're told to do so. The person who has been worrying all term about exams finally finishes, and still wakes up the next morning with the adrenalin pumping, ready to dash off to the exam room one more time. The person who has worried for years about money, and then suddenly inherits enough and to spare, still finds that he or she goes hot and cold all over when walking past a bank."

I believe that most of us live our lives filled with fear. Some of us live this way knowingly, but most of us walk around hardly even noticing it. This is probably because we are all born into a world that drags us into this way of life shortly after we emerge from the womb.

Just look around.

When we were kids we were so afraid of being alone, unloved, and abandoned that we would cling desperately to our parents every time they would leave us, and then moments later we would mix with other children in hopes of finding a friend that would never leave our side.

Then, as we grow older, we become more aware of this race to out-do and out-shine everyone else, which leads us deep into the fears of looking stupid or falling behind.

As we begin to think about marriage we fear whether we are making the right decision, or if we will be a good spouse, or whether or not the whole thing will be a huge mistake and end horribly.

Most of us apply for jobs and are afraid we will not get the one we really want, and then when we do get it we are consumed with the fear that we don't have the ability to get the job done right or as good as the other person they could have hired.

Others of us are growing older and fear that we will not make it to see another year. So, we allow this fear to rob us of the last and maybe greatest years of our lives.

The list goes on and on and on.

So, why the command to not be afraid?

These truths about us and our habit of fear, lead me to believe that the reason the command "DO NOT BE AFRAID" occurs so often in the Bible is because God understands our depravity.

He knows that our default button usually is hidden under the label of fear. Therefore, He commanded us not to fear; over and over and over again...not just so that we wouldn't, but because we do not have to.

All of us know the effects of fear on our lives. It robs us of life. The worries consume our hearts and swallow all the hope, joy and freedom that Christ offers us. Fear sucks the life from our souls, and always leaves us feeling empty and alone. Yet, even though we hear the words "DO NOT BE AFRAID" from the mouth of our Father over and over again, we struggle to obey this command. If all this is true we must ask the question: Why?

Why should we not be afraid?

If God, Jesus, the angels, the prophets, and the apostles all command us not to be afraid, then what ground has God given us to help us stand on our quivering legs of fear?

In chapter 20 of the Gospel of John we find Mary weeping bitterly outside the empty tomb where Jesus' body once lay. She was afraid that someone had stolen the body of her friend, her healer, her Lord, and the one she had believed was the hope of Israel. I believe that Mary was not just weeping for herself or the loss of her friend; but she was weeping because the hope of Israel, the hope of the world, had been brutally crushed by the brute force of the Roman Empire and now His body had been stolen, probably never to be seen again.

In her mind this was another dream lost, more broken promises, a life of empty faith, and another failed Messiah. Her hope had been crushed. It had been swiped right out from under her, leaving her alone, sad, and afraid.

And here we find ourselves again. Mary in the same shoes as my friend, the same shoes that I find myself in, and the same shoes that you are probably are wearing too. But we all know that the Easter story does not end this way. Jesus appears to Mary.

Matthew tells us that He speaks these words to her, "DO NOT BE AFRAID." Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me." In other words, "Mary, DO NOT BE AFRAID. I am here. I have done what I said I would. I have risen from the grave. I have overcome the evil that you feared had won the victory. Death can not hold me! Your hope has returned and with me I have brought you life, peace, salvation, and the freedom from fear."

And there is our answer: The resurrection...that's the truth that will break the chains of fear...that's the solid ground that will keep our quivering legs from crumbling.

Jesus has risen! He has defeated death, and therefore removed all the fear from those who put their faith in Him! We have been set free. The resurrection of Christ is our hope of glory. Its our hope that God is on our side, that He wants what is best for us, that He is not going to leave us alone to wither and die. Its our hope the God is telling the truth when he says He loves us, and it is this truth that ultimately sets us free from living in fear.

The truth is Christ's resurrection reveals more than just our path to salvation, our forgiveness of sin, and our entry into heaven. These truths are undoubtedly real and vital to what we believe. But the resurrection of Christ points beyond that. It points to the God who is responsible for it all. It points to His character, His faithfulness, His undying love for His creation, and His endless pursuit to win them back to Himself.

The resurrection of Christ proves that God can be trusted with the small things in life. He can be trusted with your career, your school, your finances, your pain, your anger. He can be trusted, because He is the God who raises the dead.

I believe one of the biggest lies the enemy can place in the mind of a follower of Christ is that Jesus is not enough. If Satan can only get us to believe that Jesus is not enough to trust with our careers, our marriages, our businesses, our children, our money, or anything else in life, then he has won a great battle. However, if Jesus did raise from the grave then there is ultimately nothing we should be afraid of; as the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 116:8 "For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling."

I'll close with another quote from N.T. Wright, "If, then, we recognize the truth about the surpassing God, the God who raises the dead, we can trust him with every lesser task that may come our way. He can be trusted with exams; he can be trusted with jobs, even when they don't necessarily work out the way we thought they should. He an be trusted with marriage, both as we look forward to it with eagerness and trepidation and when we find ourselves within it and facing the stresses and strains of that all contemporary marriages must expect. He can be trusted with money, even when it seems as thought there is even less of it available than we had thought. He can be trusted with old age. He can be trusted with death itself. Of course he can; he is the God who raises the dead."

Let us walk in the freedom of fearlessness because our Father is good.

This is my friend's hope,

this is my hope,

this is your hope.
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Thursday, March 19, 2009

just a savior?

today i want to take a moment to challenge you. it's good to wrestle with things and be challenged in the way that we think and what we believe. for some of us, our beliefs have never really changed too drastically in the past 5, 10 or 20 years. i'm not here to change your beliefs but rather push you to contemplate the way we percieve the world.

today is not a political statement. the issue discussed will be something i have wrestled with in the past and i want you to simply think about, but don't think about it from a republican, democratic, conservative, liberal, libertarian, or any other view. think about the issue from a Biblical mindset. try to think about what scriptures would have to say. think of how Jesus would view the issue. try not to think about what you've been raised to believe and try to not let your baggage overshadow the Gospel.

i recently received an email that discussed americas's "border policy" in regards to the benifits illegal immigrants have in the u.s. it stated, "the government gives benefits to 'illegal' aliens who have never contributed, where does that leave those of us..."

without jumping over to your "politcal" side, how do you feel about this?

did the excerpt from the email resonate with you?

have you complained about illegal immigrants lately?

was the issue of how our next president handled immigration part of your decision on who to vote for?

what is it about people coming to america that you don't like?

i've heard all the arguements about crime, drugs, taking jobs, etc. but what about the other 90% who just want to have a chance at living in a safer place? or having employment?

what does scripture say about "immigrants"?

in the Old Testament God told the people to leave some of their crops for the foreigners, so that they would have something to eat.

when I think about this, I wonder if these foreigners were like our illegal aliens?
They were coming onto the land of God's people and eating what was left there for them. this idea of "God's people" has been carried over into the american mindset - think manifest destiny. if you don't remember what manifest destiny was, in a nutshell it was a political slogan that developed into an american mindset when men and women were spreading across the "un-claimed" landscape we know now as america. it was the belief that God had ordained the early settlers to take the land.

back to the foreigners of the Old Testament. they didn't work for the food they received, they never labored in the field to help it get to harvest, but God saw that they needed to eat regardless of what they did or didn't do. He asked His people (believers) to take care of them, to sacrifice, not to build fences around their land, but to allow people to come on it and eat from it.

think about the story of Ruth. this is a story about "illegal aliens" coming onto someones land and gleaning. it's a beautiful story about faithfulness, provision, loyalty, grace and love. Ruth and Naomi didn't have all they needed but it was the obedience of a believer that allowed them to eat off the land.

did God know that some of the people coming in were going to be violent, bad people - of course, but He still wanted them to be given some of what He blessed the believers with. like OT times, today we have 'foreigners' coming onto american soil and we are giving them what is left over. now some might argue that we give too much, but is it ours to give or keep? as it was done in ancient times, does God ask us to leave some for them to glean on as they come in and stay.

to be perfeclty frank, if I lived in juarez, mexico, I would want to come to America too. have you ever stood in el paso and looked across the border? the differences in the houses inhabitants of juarez call home and the homes in el paso are staggering. i would find a way to get here as quickly as I could.

so where do we draw the line between being Christians who want to protect our country and keep people out who need to be out, and being more than like Jesus?

i just feel Jesus saying, "come on over, we love you and will do anything we can for you. take my house, my car, my job. take what I have, because you are that important to God, so I will treat you as such." i don't see Christ saying, "stay there. you're an outlaw, a drug user, and not a good person, so you are to stay in your own filth, in your own country."

are we letting culture regulate our view of scripture or are we letting scripture change the way we view culture?

from a Biblical perspective, do we really own this country? i personally don't think so. if all things belong to God, doesn't this land belong to Him as well. now I know not all government officials are Christian but we are, so how do we support closing something off when it's not ours to do so with.

i heard a pastor make a statement about how the vast majority of believers today love Jesus. we love Him with all of our hearts, we love Him because He is our savior, but the reality is, we never really want to live like He did.

do we really want to become like Jesus? it's a serious question that i think we need to all ask oursevles. i know i need to ask myself.

we all love the fact that Jesus served the people and He even got down on His knees to wash His disciples feet, but is that really what you want to be your focus in life - serving others?

we are incredibly grateful that Jesus was beaten, spit on, and hated for what He did, but we would never let that happen to us.

we love the idea that Jesus laid down His rights, but we spend our lives fighting for ours and defending ours at all costs necessary.

we praise Him for our "blessings" He has given us and we thank Him that He spent His time on this earth in suffering for our sake, but we are going to have fun while we're down here and have a good life.

is your desire to be like Jesus? is Jesus just your savior or is He your role model?

i think it's important to ask ourselves this because all too often we get caught up in justifying all of the things in our lives that we really can't line up with the Gospel. it's as though we tell ourselves for so long that Jesus wants us to have this and this and this, that eventually we know Christ only as our savior rather than knowing the Jesus that we should be living like everyday.

all of this is asked because we, as followers of Christ, must see that there is something missing from most of our lives. we know the Savior, but do we know the Servant?

once Jesus becomes your role model and you start living like Him, your perceptions of the world will change and you might not be as concerned with politics as you once were, but rather, your concern might shift to the hearts and well being of all of God's creation. Jesus was a man who changed the country He lived in by changing the hearts of people, not by changing laws.

a last thought to chew on for the week - if you are passionate about abortion, or gay rights, or illegal immigration, i want to ask you when the last time you personally spent time and loved on a pregnant teenager contemplating abortion? when was the last time you befriended a gay couple and invested in their life? when was the last time you sat down and talked with a man who worked here illegally and sent all of his extra cash back home so his kids could eat?

we spend so much time talking about issues that are important to us, but we scarcely love the people these issues effect most.

being political is much easier than being like Jesus.

today, may you love the ones you don't want to love.

may your heart be stretched and your mind be perplexed.

may all that is in you be unsettled so that you wrestle with where you are at with Christ.

may you become more like Jesus today by serving those around you.

i love you all and i pray for your time to wrestle with all of this.

peace be with you.

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