March 30, 2009

Risky Business

Believe it or not, in the year 2009, there are people in various places around the world that are being persecuted and even killed for following Jesus. These are people that are literally risking their lives for the name of Jesus, like the ones talked about in Acts 15:25-27, Romans 16:3-4 or Philippians 2:29-30. It has never been nor will it ever be easy to follow Jesus because the very core of what it means to be a disciple of Christ is counter-cultural. With commands that talk about loving your enemy, being a servant to all, practicing humility and submission, a willingness to be last, submitting and respecting authority, loving God with everything you have, living generously...these commands are not only counter-cultural but they are also counter-me. Not one of these things come naturally for me or for our culture, which, as I see it, creates a risk in two ways:

1. If you attempt to challenge people to live by these counter-cultural standards you risk the probability of them telling you to "shove it" through their actions, words and/or attitudes.

2. If you attempt to live by these counter-cultural standards you risk the probability of getting "shoved around" by the actions, words and/or attitudes of a culture that does not recognize or care about your attempt to live in this selfless sort of way.

So, how do those of us who live in suburban United States apply this idea of being willing to risk our lives for the name of Jesus? While many of us don't have people trying to stone us because of our relationship with Jesus, I have no doubt there are things that you and I could "lose" because of it. Maybe you need to risk losing the group of friends you run with, your "status" in your fraternity or sorority or maybe popularity in general for your relationship with Jesus. Maybe you need to risk losing that big business deal for not compromising your following of Jesus. Maybe you need to risk the awkwardness that can result for following the Spirit when it leads you to point out the sin in another person's life. Maybe you need to risk being last, serving all, loving your enemies.

Are we risking anything for the name of Jesus? What does it say about our faith if we're not? I wonder if it's possible to leave everything behind and follow Jesus like the first disciples did without risking anything. I would have to guess not.

March 27, 2009

Sure, Why Not?!?

So it has been starting to feel a little more like Spring lately and as Tai and I were sitting on the patio (one of last summer's projects) in the backyard we decided we should rip the aluminum siding off our house...right then...and so we did and so it has begun...

The Cost of Faith

While spending some time in my daily devotions this morning I came across this thought around the story of God testing Abraham's faith in Genesis 22 that I thought was pretty powerful.

An act of pure faith is the death of what we love most so it may be offered to the loved one because only love is stronger than death...

The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

March 24, 2009

Mind Clutter

Things that are currently "cluttering" my mind as I sit on my porch, in no particular order...

-I think sitting on my screened-in porch is one of my favorite places to be, especially when it rains, though it's not raining right now.

-Johnny Cash's recording of "Wanted Man" is good.

-Johnny Cash in general is good.

-At times I seem so easily distracted from Jesus. We are 4 weeks into Lent and I almost forgot it was Lent. I'm lame.

-I know I spent the last week in the hills of southeastern Kentucky but I may have missed when greed became status-quo.

-Feedback is such an interesting thing. We often desire it but then don't know how to respond when we get it, especially if it's honest. What if we gave honest feedback to each other and were open to receiving honest feedback about ourselves from others.

-Spending an hour at a BMV branch downtown can be quite an experience as well as provide some much needed perspective.

-I wonder if I would like the new U2 album. I heard it wasn't that great.

-Have you ever wished you lived in a different era? I think I could have really liked 1945 to 1965 for some reason. The main one being "Ol' Blue Eyes" and the rest of the Rat Pack.

Feel free to add your comments or clutter if you feel so inclined.

March 22, 2009

Henderson Settlement Day 5

A day filled with some more odd jobs around the settlement, a really nice hike into the woods near the reservoir and about 7hrs of making & canning apple butter. It was cold in the morning but warmed up as the day went on to a sunny and comfortable 58 degrees. Perfect weather for standing around a giant copper kettle that is sitting over a wood fire stirring the ingredients of said apple butter. After the apple butter was made, we had the chance to enjoy a great hike in the hills behind the settlement. I might have actually like that hike better than the one we did on Wednesday but either way it was a good time. Here are some more iPhone pics to enjoy...

Devotional Challenge Day 5:
In order to discern God's will, we need to be walking with Him daily. We already know His will; His Word tells us that it is to love God with everything we are, love everyone more than ourselves and to follow Jesus. Being and staying connected to the true Vine (Devotional Challenge Day 1) makes it that much easier to discern God's will in our lives.

March 20, 2009

Henderson Settlement Day 4

We all thought it was suppose to be rainy in the morning but it ended up being partly sunny and a little cooler. We spent the day working on many of the same projects we had been working on earlier in the week. The group has gotten much closer as the week has gone on, which has been pretty cool to see. At night we had the privilege of listening to 2 guys play us some good 'ole bluegrass music...and it was SWEET!! Seriously, these guys were good and hilarious. This was the first time I had experienced this in all the times I've been here and I am certainly glad I did.

One of the things I've found really interesting is how I like this place more and more every time I come. The people are ridiculously nice, the landscape is beautiful, the food is not too shabby and the ministry meets the needs of people in very practical ways. This week more than any I have found myself wondering what it would be like to move here. There is something about the lifestyle that is so simple it is pretty attractive.

Here are a couple pics for fun, with more to come (all of which were taken with my iPhone).

Devotional Challenge Day 4:
If you want to be a leader, serve people. When people realize that you care more about them than you do yourself, they will follow you.

March 19, 2009

Henderson Settlement Day 2 & 3

Day 2
The weather was much better than the first day. The group spent a lot of time outside doing all sorts of random work around the settlement campus. We had people working in the greenhouses, filling trenches, cleaning out the public pool, replacing a gutter, riding around on the back of the truck with Rodney doing all sorts of random stuff, drywalling and who knows what else. Either way we all felt good about the day and especially the weather. It became clear at devotions that night that we had all gotten some sun that day, and for some of us it was the first real sunlight our skin has seen for a number of months now. We were also given a presentation in the evening from one of the staff members that shared some statistical information for the surrounding 4 counties. A couple I found especially powerful:

-Of the 100 poorest counties in the US, 29 are located in SE Kentucky.
-2 of the counties where Henderson does a lot of their ministry are ranked 20th & 76th poorest.
-The median annual income per household in the county where the settlement is located is just above $22,000, compared to that of the US around $45,000. Keep in mind that the federal poverty level is $22,050.

Devotional Challenge Day 2:
When we decide to follow Jesus, we are not given the choice of whether or not that means we will be His disciple. Being a Christian and being a disciple are the same thing and require us to obediently deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.

Day 3
We spent our free day hiking in beautiful, sunny 70 degree weather in the Cumberland Gap National Park about an hour away from the settlement. There is one point in the park where you can stand and look out over Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Needless to say, it was a great day of hiking, laughing and being outdoors. We had heard some good things about this little "mom & pop" restaurant just over the ridge from the park so we headed there after our day at the park. We found ourselves in Cumberland Gap, TN where we enjoyed some down-home cooking that did not disappoint at a place called Webb's Kitchen. The food was great and the service was even better. For whatever reason, us 'Yanks' are not nearly as nice as our Southern counterparts, which I'm always reminded of whenever I am in the South. We were all pretty beat when we got back to the settlement but despite ourselves had a good devotional time as one of the IU students spoke for our evening worship.

Devotional Challenge Day 3:
Following Jesus and being involved with ministry requires more than words, it requires those words being lived out day to day. 1 John tells us to love "with actions and in truth." This is not a choice if we desire to truly follow Christ in the things we say and do.

March 17, 2009

Henderson Settlement Day 1

Located in Frakes, KY Henderson Settlement is this incredible ministry organization that ministers to the people of Appalachia by providing for their basic needs: food, clothing, shelter and in all of these, Jesus. You don't have to spend too much time in the Gospels to notice that when Jesus interacts with people He not only meets their spiritual needs but their practical needs as well giving sight to the blind, enabling the lame to walk, healing the sick and even raising the dead. It is this fact that, in spite of being in the middle of nowhere, puts this ministry in the middle of everything.

Tai and I arrived late on Sunday night looking forward to spending the week here with 17 college students (16 from IU + 1 from Purdue) ready, willing and able to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this area. It is an ecclectic group of individuals with a few strong personalities and an overall desire to glorify God through service.

This is a somewhat nostalgic trip for me for a couple reasons: 1) I have previously led (I was trying to count earlier) 3 or 4 mission trips here when I was doing student ministries a number of years ago and 2) 6 of the 17 college students were in my youth group when I led trips to this very place. I was looking forward to and am enjoying the chance to reconnect with "my kids" while here at Henderson. I know this has proved to be a special place for most, if not all 7 of us for one reason or another.

Yesterday was our first work day and it proved to rain pretty much the whole day. After spending some time waiting around for our jobs, which is pretty typical for workcamps on Monday mornings, we split into 3 groups. 1 group headed to the greenhouse, 1 group to reorganize a few rooms in the community building and 1 group to clean out ditches and pick up fallen limbs around the campus. Needless to say for some of us it was wet/muddy work but work nonetheless and we were all happy to be put to service. Getting through day 1 I realized this is a group of students who desire to serve others, "love" each other like siblings, and want to know and sense God in their lives. Could be some good things to come.

Devotional Challenge Day 1:
Sometimes we get caught-up in doing ministry instead of being ministry. As long as we make it a point to stay connected to and focused upon Jesus, ministry will happen but when we fail to do that our "ministry" will be sadly shallow.

March 8, 2009

"I Am the Vine"

A sermon I gave this morning.

On this 2nd Sunday in Lent we continue a series entitled “The I’s of Jesus”. We are going to be spending the majority of our time in John 15:1-11, focusing especially on verses 5-11. My hope this morning is to key in on 2 main themes of this passage: Jesus as the True Vine and Being Connected to the Vine.

Jesus as the True Vine

Notice that Jesus uses the phrase “I Am” two times in this passage and follows each of them with the “true vine” and the “vine”. It’s important that we recognize the significance of these few words. Remember the story of a guy named Moses (Exodus 3:11-14) who was out in the wilderness watching his father in-law's sheep and how he comes across a bush that was burning but wasn't burning up? God starts talking to Moses from this bush and tells him to go get the Israelites out of Egypt. After some discussion Moses is finally convinced to go but before he does he asks a very logical question, “Who should I tell them has sent me?” because he knew that the people would ask. God’s response…”I am who I am. Tell them I AM has sent you.” Jesus is making a statement of authority and His relationship to God the Father by using this phrase.

The other word that is significant, “vine”. Many times in the Old Testament Israel is symbolized as a vine but is usually noted as lacking something. An example of this can be found in Jeremiah 2:21, “I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” Another example of this is Isaiah 5:1-7. Notice the contrast between an unfaithful, disobedient Israel and a completely obedient and righteous Jesus.

Jesus is letting us know that what He has to offer is like nothing else out there. He calls Himself the “bread of life”, “good shepherd”, “light of the world”, “the way, the truth and the life”. He tells a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-26) at a well that He has “living water” to offer her so that she won’t thirst anymore. She’s confused because she doesn’t see how He is going to make that happen since He doesn’t even have a bucket but eventually she tells Him the Messiah will come and explain everything to her. Jesus politely responds, “I who speak to you am he.”

Jesus is telling us that He is the real deal. He is telling us that He can be trusted with our hearts, our minds, our relationships, our families, our careers, our worries, our doubts, our questions…our very lives. Look at verse 4, this is a promise. Jesus has no intentions of going anywhere unless you and I tell Him to. Verse 5, apart from Jesus, we got nothing. Every other vine that you and I try to hold onto; power, prestige, wealth, all the earthly desires of our hearts leave us flat on our back and empty in our heart because they can’t handle the weight of our shame, guilt, regret or the weight of our desires to be sustained, fulfilled and joyful. This is what makes Jesus the True Vine. There was an image that kept coming to mind as I spent time on this message…

Now, please don’t think I’m telling you this because I work for a church and I get paid to say these kind of things. I am saying this as someone whose life has been changed by holding onto Jesus.

Being Connected to the Vine

Now, there may be a few questions that come up at this point like:

How do I know if I’m connected?

How do I stay connected?

What is this fruit that I keep hearing about?

You know you are connected to the Vine when you have told God that you are going to let go of all of the other things that you have been holding onto instead of Jesus and hold onto Him. When you have allowed Jesus to be your Savior AND Lord. What I mean by this is that you haven’t simply used Jesus as a ticket to heaven and then continued to live however you please but rather give Him not only your eternal life but your daily life. This is called discipleship. Verse 7 & 8, I know I’m connected when the things I wish for are the very same things God tells me in His Word He desires for me. The things He wants to do in me and through me. Jesus is not telling us that we have access to a personal genie but rather He is telling us what it looks like to be a disciple. This means we are going to bear fruit because that’s what happens when you and I are connected to the Vine but please understand that this is not easy. It requires commitment and sacrifice and discipline to produce this kind of fruit.

What’s the fruit of a disciple look like…love, a love that is self-denying and self-sacrificing. Paul talks about this fruit in Galatians 5:22-24. A love that through obedience leads to complete joy, verses 9-11. A couple religious guys are talking to Jesus when they ask this question in Matthew 22:36-40. You are a disciple of Jesus if you obey His commands to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. This is the fruit that we are expected to bear as disciples to everyone we meet.

Let’s talk gardening for a second. Honestly I know very little about it but as I spent some time researching the process of pruning, I came to a better understanding of why Jesus calls God the gardener and why you and I need to be pruned every so often. I’m sure many of you know about pruning and how it is a process of trimming away things that stunt growth, things that keep the plant from producing the most fruit possible. Discipleship, which requires being connected to the Vine involves spiritual pruning. God shows us places in our lives that are getting in the way of loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and others as ourselves and wants us to offer them to Him so He can cut them away from our lives.

How do we stay connected…We stay connected by allowing God to prune away the things in our lives that get in the way of us being disciples. Sometimes we don’t know what needs to be pruned or if we’re honest, don't want to be pruned but we must trust God as the gardener knowing that He wants us to have complete joy in Him. There may be something that comes to mind as you’re sitting there right now that the gardener needs to prune from your life, things like envy, greed, lust, pride, jealousy, deceit. The Holy Spirit uses different tools to prune us, a couple examples of those tools would be; Scripture, prayer and community (aka the church). To stay connected to the Vine we have to make these a significant part of our lives because it’s in these that we find encouragement, support, challenge and growth. We cannot stay connected in isolation.

And so the questions that we’re left with as we wrap up our time together…

Are you connected to the True Vine? If not, what is keeping you from connecting with Jesus?

Have you fallen off the True Vine and do you need to reconnect?

And if you’re connected, are you finding ways to stay connected?

March 5, 2009

Don't Call It A Comeback?

On my way into the office today I was listening to the news on NPR and in between the news of GM nearing bankruptcy and the poor leadership of AIG I caught a glimmer of's true friend Captain Planet is making a comeback! I'm not sure how you feel about this or how many of you even know who Captain Planet is but this could be HUGE not only for the environment but also for the economy(?). Think of all the new action figures that will need to be made, not to mention the solar powered flashlights (figure that one out).

And so the million (or maybe billion if you've recently received any sort of bailout) dollar question is...Which one of the 'Planeteers' would you be and why?

March 4, 2009

A Week In So Far

It can become so easy to forget about Jesus. We lose Him in the midst of day planners, iPhones, budgets, Facebook, text messaging, work stress, Twitter, relationships, etc. It's scary when I realize how often I forget about Him throughout my day. If it really is all about Him (which I believe it is), then I do a pretty poor job at times of really making it all about Him.

I find this time of year, the Lenten season, to be a powerful reminder that it is all about Jesus and what He endured on our behalf. Lent is a perfect time to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross" (Heb. 12:2). And so it seems appropriate to ask ourselves the question,

We're a week into Lent and...??

March 1, 2009

Catching Up

Remember when I started reading Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell and Don Golden a month ago? Well, I finally got around to finishing it up in between all of the reading I have for the 2 classes I'm taking right now. I think I like this one the most of the couple that Rob Bell has written. Overall I thought it was pretty good; a quick ready but it also had some interesting points to think about and certainly be challenged by. They draw some extreme parallels that I'm not sure I agree or disagree with at this point but nonetheless they have given me some things to think about.

On a completely separate note, have you ever been so frustrated with something that it actually makes you feel exhausted?