When Suffering and Worship Collide

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The last few years have felt in many ways like being caught up in a tornado.  Spinning round and round, with no way to get out, yet debris keeps slamming into you and things and people you are emotionally tied to get ripped away…all at the same time.  Some of the things that are slamming against you are hard truths that you have conditioned yourself to ignore, like character flaws, poor boundaries, unhealthy habits, and poor discipline.  Some of things that you are clutching on to and end up being ripped away, taking a little flesh along with it, are those difficult to identify codependent relationships, a facade that you have allowed people to believe is really you.  But in the end, this is the journey of faith!

I have come to realize that my Father is less interested in my immediate feelings and more interested in refining me to be effective in His Kingdom. As Oswald Chambers says in his famous work My Utmost for His Highest, “If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all, they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so you will never be surprised at what you come across.” And this truth is exactly where I have begun to discover that suffering and worship blur a little bit. “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)  When we are allowed to suffer a little bit (never fully understanding the sufferings of our Savior), when we experience that refiner’s fire, we begin to realize that worship is more of a lifestyle than an experience.

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” – Archbishop William Temple

These past few years, I (along with my entire family) have experienced a lot of transition.  I have had relationships that I believed were healthy and beneficial be exposed for what they were; manipulative and selfish in many ways…leaving me wondering what in the hell just happened. I have struggled with self discipline; losing my love for running and spending quiet time with my Heavenly Father out on the roads.  This loss of discipline has caused an erosion of physical, mental, and spiritual health…

BUT, as I said before…through the challenges a new definition of worship has arose in my spirit.  I am learning to worship in everything I do, regardless of what it feels like.  Only when we begin to realize our Father is sovereign, can we embrace the difficult situations for what they are, and rest our forehead on His chest in humble thankfulness for the breaths we take.

In this journey of loss, change, and self-discovery, I have met friends who love me for who I am and have no agenda.  I have had friendships restored that I thought were lost forever.  I have discovered my love for running again.  I am gaining the discipline I lost.  I am surrounded by people who push me because they see the potential in me.  And, I am learning to worship Him in everything I do, with everything I am, with everything I have, every hour of the day.  I am convinced that only through pain, suffering, and discomfort can we even get the slightest glimpse of the love our Father has for us…the same love that drove Jesus in obedience and joy to the cross.  Only when we begin to understand that kind of love does worship become a way of life, not an experience.

Blessings…

Scott

 

Valleys are Just Spiritual Mountains

mountain-reflection_FotorI am going to stray from Nehemiah on this blog and talk about a subject the Lord put on my heart this morning.  My hope is, although a tough subject for some, I can help us change our perspective a little and give someone hope who is walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

We all go through tough times, but our experience is often dictated by our perception What do I mean?  You can walk through the experience feeling like it is hell. Your emotions and your ability to learn will follow; your brain will record the experience from that vantage point, risking a hardening of the heart.  Conversely, you can seek the depths of God through the valley experiences and allow them to shape and form who you are, essentially strengthening your character and ability to endure all the while maintaining a soft and pliable heart.

Many of us are overwhelmed by the challenges we encounter and our natural proclivity can be to enter survivalist patterns.  Have you ever met a “doomsdayer” or a “prepper” who had a positive outlook on life?  Why is that? In many cases they are preparing for the worst, not stopping along the way to reflect on the beauty of creation, and far more importantly not looking out further than death.  When I say further than death, I mean into the eternal home we have in Christ.  I heard it said by someone (I think John Bevere) that one characteristic of Americans is that our hope ends at death, even in the church.  We do not look forward to the hope of eternity with our Father.  We focus on a 70-80 year temporal perspective.  In summary, we are short sighted and it effects our attitude negatively.

I want to give you a practical example of what I am talking about.  About 12 years ago, Danielle and I found ourselves seeking the “American” dream.  We had two vehicles and just moved into our nice country house with 3.5 acres and a large pole barn.  It was a beautiful country setting and from a visual perspective was the epitome of relaxing.  Pictures of sitting in the back yard, sipping lemonade and watching the sunset over the corn fields is exactly what I imagined.  It was the exact opposite.  We were laden in debt, drove a combined 150 miles per day, and Danielle was pregnant with Sidney (our second).  This was the valley of the shadow of death for me; I was a giant ball of anxiety.  In the end, we let the house go (stressing relationships), sold a car, Danielle quit her job, and we moved into an apartment about 13 miles from my work.  We lived on $29k a year.  Danielle would take me to work when I didn’t ride my bike, and we ate at home for every meal.  Danielle and I learned how to be good stewards of what God had provided for us.  We met amazing friends, became members at a Daybreak Church, whose leadership truly changed my life, and I went back to college to finish my degree.  Out of the valley of the shadow of death came life and hope.  I would not trade any of this for any worldly blessing we could imagine.  Nothing was more valuable than walking through the valley with a positive perspective.  Was it always easy?  No!  But my brain has recorded that event as significant personal growth…a blessing in disguise.  Out of the ashes came life.

Jesus fully understood this.  He was fully God, but fully human in His earthly home.  He understood that through suffering, perfection came.  Yes, he was already perfect, but perfection in this case is a kind of completion.  Suffering completed Him and us.

“For it became him, for whom are all things, and through who are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:10)

Jesus Christ is the Author of our Salvation!  If he could walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side bearing the scars of trial, yet healed and whole, how much more can we?  He did it for us.  He provided the path for life.  He single-handedly offered us the path to walk through the valley of the shadow of death triumphantly.  Now, do not give the enemy one single ounce of credit for the valley, because the valley was offered to bring you to full completion, not to give the enemy glory for stealing something that never belonged to you in the first place.  Christ arose from the dead, so that we could be renewed.  Hear Paul’s words…

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Change your view to one that is eternal, not temporal…focus on the lessons of completion through all seasons of life, NOT on the loss of worldly things.

Blessings in the name of Jesus Christ, the Author of our Salvation…

Scott

 

 

Rebuilding Foundations…

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Today’s post is by another great friend to our family, Dawn Wagner.  Dawn’s honesty, humor, and love for those around her is refreshing and authentic.  She is an amazing friend and confidant to my wife; which brings me great joy.  I am incredibly thankful to have a family, like Matt and Dawn’s, to walk with through life and ministry.  This is just a small piece of the wisdom that God has blessed Dawn with…

Isaiah 58 has been an intriguing chapter that God has used in many different seasons of life to stretch me and challenge me in the way I view myself, others, and even the Lord. It amazes me that I can’t read it without having fresh, challenging thoughts emerge – thoughts that convict, challenge, humble, and inspire me – all at the same time. I love that about the Holy Spirit.

As I read through Isaiah 58 today, my eyes were drawn to verse 12:

“Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;

You will raise up the age-old foundations;

And you will be called the repairer of the breach,

The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.”

At the heart, fasting is the tool God has given us to reach into heaven to “see” Kingdom realities and be empowered to establish his Kingdom on earth.  When we fast and pray, following the model shown in Isaiah 58, we have the ability to see God supernaturally restore our community. Somehow, in the denial of food and “favorites,” we are given perspective and power to do His bidding.

  1. Ask the Lord to develop you to become all he has dreamed for you. Invite him to shape and mold you to be used in supernatural ways to impact our community.
  2. Pray that the Lord continues to give us his eyes and perspective for our community. Ask him to reveal the broken foundations he wants to repair.
  3. Ask the Lord to give us favor as we pursue making a difference in our community. Ask him to reveal the areas, connections, and keys to make a difference.
  4. Ask the Lord to empower us to be the Church he dreams of us to become. Give us, as a corporate body, sensitivity to see what is in the Father’s heart. Ask him to give us a game plan to bring it to pass.
  5. Pray that the anointing of God would be evident in our corporate gatherings. May the lost become found; the interested become committed; the committed equipped to advance God’s Kingdom.

– Dawn Wagner

 

Man’s Best Friend

ZoeFotorI do not believe in coincidence and I do believe in general revelation.  A little over four years ago, on my oldest daughter’s birthday, we picked up Zoe. Zoe was our first family dog and a beautiful Golden Retriever.  From the beginning she was mischievous, like most Golden puppies, yet she grew into being one of the sweetest dogs I have ever known. She was always the first to greet me at the door with a big happy puppy smile and her bushy wagging tail. Zoe was our family dog, but I was her alpha, and that meant she looked to me for protection and affirmation. It was no coincidence we picked up the little puppy on June 29th 2013, but now we are on the brink of watching Zoe pass away. She has developed a pretty aggressive lymphoma and is in the last days of her short life.

I say it was no coincidence, because pets can be instant common ground that is the beginning of many great relationships. Having a Golden Retriever who is happy to see everybody and stands in your front yard to greet whomever walks by is the easiest way to get to know your neighbors. We developed some great relationships simply by Zoe greeting people in the front yard. Specifically our friends Paul and Sheena whose Goldendoodle bounded into our yard to greet Zoe, and the first conversation started. And now at the end, we had the opportunity to meet one of the most amazing and sweetest veterinarians I have ever met, Dr. Proshek at Kingsbridge Animal Clinic in Garland, Texas.  We have seen him and his amazing team pretty much once per week over the past 3 months as we have walked this journey with Zoe. We have become “regulars” at Kingsbridge and enjoy seeing everybody’s smiling faces as we drop Zoe off for her weekly visit. Zoe hangs out for the day and follows them around the office, takes a nap in Dr. Proshek’s office on the carpet, and simply shares her sweetness with the staff…Zoe has become one of their own. And we are so incredibly thankful for the care and love they have shared with Zoe and our family.

I believe in general revelation. General revelation is the belief that the Father (the Creator) is revealed throughout all his creation. Somebody said that “if I could be half the human my dog is, I would be twice the human I am.” While I am not entirely sure that is true, I definitely get what they were trying to say. Zoe is the sweetest and most forgiving dog I have met…that is something I could learn so much from. I was impacted to my core yesterday reading through the Gospel of Mark, specifically chapter 15. Mark states 4 times how Jesus was mocked and criticized, and yet He never retaliated…He did not seek out justice at a justified point in time; He simply turned the other cheek, and said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus was more interested in sacrificing Himself so that those who mocked Him had an opportunity to turn from their ways and pursue a relationship with God. Zoe represents the all too familiar unconditional love of a dog. General revelation of God is very clear, we simply need to open our eyes to the beauty around us.

Zoe is an amazing family pet, one we will never forget and cherish the many memories she blessed us with.  In death and in life there is mourning and joy, we simply have to look in the right places. There are no coincidence, there is only a plan leading to hope in the One who knows all and will bring an end to death and restore His perfect creation forever. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for (divinely guaranteed) will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). What I know is loss is NEVER for nothing, we must stop and look around us for the opportunities of relationships with those who are in need of Hope.

Hope, Love and Blessings,

Scott

 

One Scary Word

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I have a natural tendency to question everything around me, including myself.  This is one of those traits that is both blessing and curse.  My questions usually sound like, “what if we (I) did this a little different, what if there is a better way, what if we (I) have allowed what we (I) see and experience around us (me) to blind us (me) to real truth?”  Most of my life I have been driven by a deep curiosity for all things around me and a desire to do things differently…a desire to live my life serving God’s mission how He wants me to, not how I necessarily want to. I will never claim to have gotten it perfect and I do believe this pursuit has been perceived by some as unstable or unconventional…but, I am more interested in pleasing my Father rather than others’ perceptions.

Lately, I have been challenged in my quiet time to pursue holiness.  And if I am completely honest with myself, that word puts a little fear in my heart.  Fear of what I must give up or what I must start doing in order to confront this challenge head-on in my faith walk.  The sense I have in this challenge is the measure of righteousness pursued is a direct reflection on how God will use me in His mission/ministry and if there is one thing I want in life…it is for God to use me to glorify Himself.  Before I go too far, I fully understand the fact I am already made righteous through my Savior, Jesus Christ.  But this pursuit of holiness is causing me to ask questions, evaluate, and challenge myself in many ways I would not previously have done.

Let me give you a tangible example.  I have a friend who has brought up multiple times how he believes Paul was a “man’s man” and probably used language that was peppered with various “adjectives” and other bad language.  The only thing I can think of is this – it is an attempt to justify his own use of crass language and seeking affirmation.  Here is the part that I am challenged with, a few years back, I would have said the same thing justifying my occasional use of crass language.  These conversations caused me to dig in and truly look at Paul’s life from a biblical perspective.  I am no theologian, but I do have a Bible and a pretty solid understanding of how to study it.  When I need answers…that is where I go.

As I dug into this topic, I could not get away from Ephesians 4:29 (Amp), “Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].”  As I read this over and over again, I consider Paul’s life; his desire to reach the lost with the Gospel message, his understanding of freedom in Christ, yet his willingness to give it up so he didn’t make a brother stumble.  I have to come to the conclusion that Paul was a real person, made real mistakes, but charged all of us (and himself, because most preachers are speaking to themselves at the same time) with ensuring our words build up others and are a blessing to everyone who hears us.  That seems pretty straight forward to me.

I can’t stop there though because Ephesians 4:29 is but one verse, surrounded by other verses that must be taken into account.  We must study in context of surrounding scripture.  The general topic is how we should walk in this life of following Christ.  I should completely discard my past self.  I should reject all falsehood; lying, defrauding, telling half-truths (ouch, no more fishing stories), and spreading rumors (Eph 4:25 Amp).  I can be angry, but I cannot allow it to cause me to sin, let the sun go down while remaining angry, allow my anger to cause resentment, or lead to bitterness (Eph 4:26,27 Amp).  As I read, it all comes back full circle to the challenge of holiness in my life.  Holiness does not come overnight and I am not convinced it can completely come this side of eternity, BUT that does not give me an excuse to not pursue it.

Hebrews 12:14 says we must, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (NKJV).  Other versions use the word strive, work towards, work at, all telling me that it is not easy to find peace with all people and the holiness that God calls us to.  This is something that must be practiced daily and in every area of my life (church, home, business, friends, etc.).  I must work hard at ensuring my actions, my words, my life demonstrates holiness.  Does that mean I don’t screw up?  Nope!  God looks at the intent of our heart and he has grace for us when we come humbly before him and admit our shortfalls, His grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9).

Let me end on this thought.  All my questions, this call to evaluate everything in my life and to pursue holiness, are not me looking at others and condemning their actions.  It is simply me trying my best to walk the path the Lord has called me to.  Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  This charge by Paul gives me extreme hope and assurance I am on the right path.  If we consistently challenge ourselves, ask ourselves if we are simply copying the behaviors and customs of the world or allowing God to change our perspective, then we will understand God’s will for us.  However, the latter must be true then, if all we do is copy the world in our actions, words, and life, then we will NOT understand God’s will for our lives and live in deception.  Holiness is unattainable separated from the Blood of Christ, but that does not mean we can sit back and relax once we have a relationship with Jesus.  My faith is worked out daily as I encounter different situations, learn and study the Bible more, and simply spend time with my Father in prayer.

My challenge to myself and you…Do not fit in.  Be different.  Study the life of Jesus (even His own family took offense at him, Mark 6:3).  Pursue holiness in all you do and you will understand God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for you.  When I stand before my Father in heaven, I don’t believe it is the things I did do that will concern me…rather the things He called me to do that I didn’t take action on.

With love, grace, and peace,

Scott

His Grace > My Imperfections

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The Apostle Paul is my Biblical Hero. You may say, well what about Jesus? I love Jesus with all of my heart, soul, and body. He is my Savior and my man crush; Paul does not even hold a candle to Jesus…and that is why Paul is my Biblical Hero.  He was a deeply faulted man, a man who had rage against Followers of the Way to the point he would either torture and kill them or have his people do it for him. Paul was the lowest of the low by his own admission. He was a man who was deeply aware of his many faults…he is a man I want to be like.

We live in a society where we are successful for our individualism and our appearance. We are successful when we climb the corporate ladder, make lots of money, marry the trophy husband or wife, have beautiful and gifted children, own a massive house that exceeds our budget, have the perfect body to the point we are willing to buy it, drive new cars, and have all the toys. We are successful for what is on the outside and quite honestly nobody really gives a crap what is going on in the inside as long as you keep it there and don’t expose it. NEVER EXPOSE IT…to the point you cannot live with the internal pain any longer and you begin to consider or worse…commit suicide. We live in a world right now where we are willing to risk mental breakdown to maintain the perfect image. Willing to risk our marriages, our health, our soul…over an image…What the…!

Paul was a man who was so disillusioned with what he thought was truth, he became a feared murderer. Until the day that Jesus stood before him and asked him one simple question, “Why are you persecuting me?” That was the day Paul’s perspective changed and he began to see the corruption and filth that was interwoven in his own flesh.  His eyes were opened to his brokenness. That day the Lord humbled him to save his soul. Paul was made blind and had to be led to a Christian, who he was going to persecute, in order to regain his sight through prayer. From that day on, Paul became a lover of Jesus to the point he was willing to go anywhere and do anything, simply to share the love of Christ with the world. He risked his life, his well-being, and he worked hard to bring the message of Grace to the world.  Paul says in Romans 7 (see the chapter for exact words), he did what he didn’t want to do, even though he knew what was right. He was keenly aware that NOTHING good lived in him and he fully admitted he was a miserable person, yet he found faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

That is why he is my hero; because he knew in and of himself, he had nothing. His only hope was Jesus. I am a deeply broken person. I have struggled with pornography. I have used drugs. I have abused alcohol. I have anger issues at times. My kids are not perfect. I am keenly aware the only person who thinks I am a trophy husband is…who am I kidding?! I may swear occasionally (more so in my head). I speed a lot. Dave Ramsey would never hire me. I like clothes a little too much. I can easily obsess about anything.  And the list goes on and on. I am a deeply wounded and damaged individual, but I know one thing…I must strive every day to be more like Jesus. His grace is not a reason for me to go on in my sin, but I am thankful His grace covers my sin.

The most damaging lie we tell is the one that attempts to portray perfection…the “I have it all together” attitude. That lie is one that has both earthly and eternal consequences. There was only one who stepped on this earth that was perfect, for the rest of us…imperfection is in our DNA and the only hope we have is Jesus. Be honest, be open, find a friend to pour your heart out to, and pursue the love of Jesus over your own faults. His grace is greater than your imperfections…learn to give yourself the same amount of grace.

I love you!

Scott

Kingdom Friends

DSC01597_FotorWhen our team was in Sierra Leone at the beginning of May, one of the things that struck me most was the pure brotherly love shown by men in that country.  We had the privilege to travel with the WHI employee who was charged with developing village partnerships.  Every village we would visit, he would walk with the Chief to simply develop and build a relationship.  You would often see him walking with his arm wrapped around the chief or the two men walking through the village holding hands. There was one purpose in this action; it was completely selfless and it was done to bridge the gap of division to create unity and the strength of community; to see the village strengthened through teamwork.  I will be honest, the act of holding hands took many of us back at first, because here in the states we have a hard time disseminating between brotherly love and sexual love due to our overly sexualized culture.  But there was nothing impure about this, it was simply two leaders who wanted the best for their communities and were willing to bridge the gap and work together in order to see a common goal accomplished.

I was reading from 1 Samuel 18 this morning and was challenged by the relationship of Jonathan and David.  This was a deep and close relationship. It says in verses 1 and 3, “Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” and “Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.”  This relationship was only possible because of Jonathan’s devotion and love for the things of God.  His dependence on God allowed him to put his own personal well-being behind those people he loved.  His loyalty and allegiance to David was only possible due to his loyalty and allegiance to his Heavenly Father.  The love Jonathan had for David had nothing to do with selfish desire, it wasn’t a self-serving or sexual kind of love; it was a pure love between brothers that could only come out of a cultivated and deep relationship with God.  Jonathan and David were bonded by their love for God and His purposes…for the things of God and His Kingdom.

I have done my best to walk the last 21 years of my life in pursuit of the ways of God.  I would be lying if I said I was successful all the time or really a majority of the time.  I really do not know the percentage of time I have been successful in the ways of the Lord, but the fact remains the Holy Spirit always redirects me to the ways of God when I get off the path.  There have been times over the past few years where I get close to someone, begin to build a solid relationship, and we connect in a deeper way due to our common desire for the things of God’s Kingdom.  We connect because of an unselfish desire to see the Body of Christ united and the spiritually lost introduced to their Heavenly Father. Along with those types of relationships, trials will come.  Jonathan had to walk a fine line of serving his best friend David and loving a father who wanted to kill his closest friend. What was Jonathan’s compass pointed at when he encountered those types of situations? Truth…God’s truth. Jonathan understood that great friendships come at great cost, but truth always prevails when fought for.

I have had these types relationships, but I have failed when presented with tough situations, confrontations, or bad decisions.  I wasn’t strong enough spiritually or emotionally to stand up for truth, to press in and fight for the relationship.  It was far easier for me to walk in the opposite direction and take care of my family and myself.  I could sit here feeling guilty and beating myself up, but that does no good either.  I simply look back, evaluate what was good, what went wrong, and make sure history does not repeat itself.  I also cannot allow the fear of what might happen prevent me from diving deep into a friendship/partnership that could result in the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

I find myself once again in a situation very similar to Jonathan’s relationship with David. Yet, the Lord has stripped me of pride, shown me the value of true servant leadership, filled me with love for His church, and put in me a desire to not run from confrontation, but simply press into it with the Love of the Father.  Jesus’ love is not weak, nor soft, but it is compassionate and firmly planted in Truth; willing to lay down His life for all of God’s children.

So…what is holding you back from friendships that have the ability to change the world around you?  What is holding you back from being the change instead of complaining about the current situation?  What is holding you back from embracing the lost and introducing them to a loving Father who misses them? What is holding you back from moving forward instead of dwelling on what wasn’t or what could have been.  Decide today to take a step towards the Son…

Blessings and love,

Scott