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My search for Jesus

Who Are You Inviting To Church

I read some interesting statistics at backtochurch.com this morning. They claim that 82% of the “unchurched” are somewhat likely to attend church if invited. They also claim only 2% of the churched invite someone unchurched to come to church. I’m grateful to be in a church where I know it’s much higher than 2% of the people are inviting others, but it’s disturbing to see that kind of a number. One in fifty?! Wow!

Having grown up in church myself and drifted away for years, I have to admit I didn’t stumble across a whole lot of  people inviting me to theirs. In fact, one in fifty would have probably seemed really high when I think about it.

Yes, there are other ways to introduce someone to Christ than inviting them to church. I’m actually a rare example of that, but that’s probably just because I had firsthand knowledge that the church was a great place for desperate people, and I was desperate. I was fortunate enough to live within a little over an hour of a church that utilizes other means of presenting Christ to people than counting on just invites. They use social media really well, have a very well polished website that has everything from sermons to ways to actively serve in the community. In my case in particular, I was drawn in by the TV ministry. I literally was woken up by the “Elevation Experience” following Saturday Night Live back in February 2012 and was inspired by both the music and the preaching. I recorded it the following week and showed my brother, Chuck, and he and I, along with his son, Max, have been attending Elevation ever since! All three of us get to serve on different teams and see how God moves in different ways week after week.

What God has done in my life to change me I can’t keep to myself. That’s why it’s amazing to me to think about that one in fifty statistic. Yes, God did find a different way to get me to this church. However, in the past four years I’ve had the opportunity to take at least 29 others to church with me by inviting them. I really feel it would be more if I didn’t have to bring them an hour one way, but I try not to turn that into the excuse not to invite them. Instead, I add not only the invite to church but also to grab a bite, on me, afterwards.

I’ve seen six people of those 29 raise their hand and receive an orange Bible and go to the tent and say they’ve given their life to Christ. I admit, I sometimes feel disappointed that they don’t decide to ride down with me and get involved like my family has. That probably has a lot to do with pride,  but I honestly want everyone I know to experience Christ like I have and there’s no better way I know of than being involved in the local church. Some of those friends are actually active in local churches closer to home, and to that I say, to God be the glory! Some I have no idea what they’re doing spiritually, and I need to do a better job of staying in touch with them, but I also need to let God be God and know at least I’ve tried to show them I care about them.

I will hopefully never understand the 98% of people who never invite an unchurched person to church. When Jesus changes your life and you are radically changed absolutely for the better, why wouldn’t you want those around you to know about Him? If you aren’t inviting others to church, or to a closer walk with God, perhaps it’s because you really aren’t walking with Him yourself. I didn’t write this to shame anyone, just to raise some awareness and let you know, there’s always a seat available to ride to church with me!

 

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Awfully Important to Love Yourself

I believe there are five things that hold us back more than anything else. I also believe we can have the confidence to overcome these things when we see ourselves as God sees us. We have to shift our focus to overcome them, but here are the five things I see as our biggest obstacles:

Anxiety can keep us from being able to perform a task. We can actually make ourselves physically ill with the mere possibility we won’t be able to make someone else happy no matter what we do.

Worry is an even deeper form of anxiety that can keep us up at night. It’s often the thought of what can possibly go wrong. It’s the “what if” mentality but focusing on only the negative.

Fear takes worry to the next level in that it actually scares us. We see only the negative outcomes and think of how our actions can harm us and/or others.

Unwillingness kicks in because of all the above factors scaring us out of trying. When anxiety-worry-fear kick in often enough, we eventually may become afraid to even try.

Lethargy comes when even though we may be willing to try, we are so drained mentally and even physically we just don’t have the energy to do it.

The first letter of those five words spells awful. I believe when you step back, remember Jeremiah 1:5, where God says “before I formed you in the womb…I set you apart and appointed you…” When we realize we’re fully loved by Him and fully capable to do what He wants us too, we can truly learn to love ourselves. That’s my final two letters, or my suffix, to my awful word. Loving Yourself may be the most important thing in being able to be all you can be. I say it’s awfully important.

That Your Faith Should Not Fail

I’ve had the honor and privilege of being asked to pray for people. Specifically, I have had several people ask me to pray for their children. One of the beautiful things about people knowing that I drifted far from God and came back to Him, is they know I can relate to the struggle their children are going through. I believe God allowed me to go through some of the things I have so that I can empathize with others now.

The prayer itself is hard sometimes, as I don’t know every detail of someone else’s struggle. I pray asking and believing God can and will show Himself to them in a way only He can. Often I pray for the comfort of the loved ones. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but what if we’re supposed to struggle sometimes to test our faith?

If your child was Simon, or Peter, would you have prayed asking God keep him from denying Christ? I think we all probably would have. Yet Jesus knew Peter would deny Him three times but pleaded in prayer (Luke 22:32 NKJV) “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”

I know there were people praying for me while I was so self-absorbed God was an afterthought. I know there were family members in pain over how I was living my life. Maybe I needed to go through everything I did to get to a point where I was so vulnerable I finally understood how much Christ loved me. Maybe you or a loved one needs or needed to as well.

The beautiful thing about this passage is seeing that our all-knowing Savior knows we’re going to turn our backs to Him at times. Yet all we have to do is return to Him and He can use those tough times where we tried to do things our way as a teaching tool for others. Our story can strengthen others.

This brings me back to how I pray for others now. Yes, I want good things for them, the best. Even though they may momentarily, or even for years, turn away from God, I am now praying for their faith. Only God can turn our messes into ministry, but if we never had a mess how much of an impact can we really have on others? While you may be praying for someone right now, are  you experiencing that peace that passes all understanding? Maybe your faith is being tested and you are so focused on who you’re praying for you aren’t learning the lesson(s) you should.

Please don’t think I’m saying not to pray that others don’t fail God or that I want people to suffer. I just want you to know that while there is pain, God is working all things together for His good to them that love Him. They may need to go through their current trial in order to get to the point they quit relying on themselves or anyone other than God. I pray that their faith and your faith will not fail!

 

One Way Friendship

Do you ever get frustrated when you make the effort to reach out to someone and they don’t respond? Has it happened with someone you consider(ed) a friend? It happens to me a lot. To be honest, it hurts.

I start evaluating why my feelings don’t seem to matter to them. Don’t they appreciate me? Did I do something to offend them? Is it simply a time and distance effect that makes it easy to forget about me? Did they ever consider me a friend at all?

The answers to these questions go unanswered for the most part. Sometimes the answer really is the time and distance that separate us, and perhaps I was guilty of ignoring them for too long. I’ve done some soul searching and realize too many times I have been the person who didn’t respond. I didn’t show that I cared at one time or another, and that’s probably because I was so wrapped up in me.

When I dig a little deeper it’s easy to see I’m guilty of being the one who ignored Jesus for so, so long. There are still times, daily, when I know I’m not leaning on Him the way He’d like. Yet the great lesson I’d like to share through this is He is always there for me. He is the best example there is of how to deal with a one way friendship.

I believe He hurts when we ignore Him. The big difference between His hurt and the feeling we have when we’re ignored is He hurts for us, not Himself. We’re missing out on so much goodness He wants to give us.

So often we don’t reach out to God until we’re in a desperate situation. I know I’m guilty of that. I ignored Him for decades. The fact He still welcomed me back with open arms blows me away. That’s why today I just want to say thanks to God for everything He does.

I want to follow His example and not give up on those who I feel are on the other side of my one way friendship. If that friendship became that way through a fault of my own I am truly sorry. If it’s just a deal where life has become so busy you don’t have time, I understand. Just know that the day you decide you need a friend and there’s no one to be found, God will be there for you. I’d be happy to be there too, but my feelings will be more than fine if you find your refuge in Him. He’s the ultimate on love, forgiveness and one-way friendships. He laid down His life for His friends.

Successful

photo (1)This word is defined by different people different ways. Many think it has to do with how much money you make. Others think it’s the title of their position at work. A lot of folks would say those who have been blessed with a close family are successful. There are probably too many people who think they’ll never be as successful as _____(fill in the blank).

I just participated in my church’s year-end offering and our pastor encourages us to pick a word we’re believing for 2016. I’ve thought long and hard about it the past few weeks and was really struggling. Then, while discussing something completely different, I told someone how thankful I am that this life is an open book test for believers. That’s when I finally realized I have that book for my benefit!

I opened up my New Living Translation Bible (yes, I believe it’s okay to read more than one version) to the concordance in the back. I wanted a word that would jump out at me. It didn’t seem to work, as I wanted it to of course be about God, not me. Then I stumbled upon one that just sounded so selfish to me: Successful! Well I decided to look at the first Bible reference it gave me out of curiosity. Deuteronomy 8:18 was the first one. It reads, “Remember the LORD your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.”

This was such a great reminder to me that everything I have is from God, including my abilities. He wants me to have success for His glory! It’s not something I should shy away from in any way. Instead I should pursue success while remembering any gain is because of Him!

The craziest little detail was the word fulfill being in this verse. The series we are finishing this weekend as we bring our offering is titled Full.Filled. Sometimes I work too hard to think of the perfect thing to say or do when the answer to my question is right in front of me in this instruction manual / love letter I call my Bible. I’m boldly declaring this is going to be my most successful year to date, thanks to Him! If you have a word you’re believing in I would love to hear it!

Why Be Baptized?

Jesus' baptism

Jesus’ baptism

I know a lot of people think we Christians are silly dunking people in the water all the time. I’d like to explain the importance of this event the way I read it by sharing a few scriptures. I personally believe it is a decision each person should make on their own, following the example of Christ Himself. It is not a requirement for salvation itself, as that comes by grace through faith in Jesus. However, if we want to live our lives for Him and die to ourselves, this indeed is a necessary event we should all study and follow.

In the book of Matthew, chapter 3, John the Baptist tries to talk Jesus Himself out of being baptized. “13 Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. 14 But John forbade him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? 15 And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him. 16 And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: 17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” 

Can you imagine being there when this happened? Can you imagine hearing God declaring from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased?” I think it’s important to note this event happens before Jesus ever performs His first miracle. How does His baptism pertain to us? I’m glad you asked.

We are joined with Christ in baptism. Spiritually, we die to ourselves and are resurrected with Christ in that moment. He sends His Spirit to live in us when we do this. Romans 6 tells us, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”

We are actually freed from sin. Does that mean we’ll never sin again? Of course not, but we shouldn’t walk in it either. We have new clothes now. Christ fulfilled the law for us, knowing we couldn’t on our own. He did this on the cross and conquered death in resurrection. This is the symbol that is baptism. Galatians 3 says, “24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

How freeing it is to be able to put on Christ? Based on these scriptures I believe that moment is signified and solidified when we are baptized. Yes, it is symbolic, but don’t lose sight of the miracle that happens either. To be made new, to have His Spirit living inside of us. That is why we get baptized.

God Loves The Atheist

I know quite a few people who don’t believe in God, some I even think of as good friends. One in particular loves to debate me on a wide range of topics, including God. I absolutely love this friend, even when he stirs up my blood pressure a bit. Today he asked a very honest question. “An atheist that is an altruist and helps make the world a better place without any ulterior afterlife motives should go to Hell instead of a serial killer that sincerely asks for forgiveness and worships?”

The answer to me is twofold. First, since we all sin and have sinned, both actually deserve Hell. Secondly, while none of us deserve Heaven, God made a way for us, but there is only one way. The fact is, before sin entered the earth, there was only one way to ruin eternal life for man. God created all of the earth and put Adam and Eve in charge of it and said they could eat off any tree in the garden, except one. This story is called the “fall of man” by most, but to me there’s a deeper message. Even if we have just one rule to follow, if we try and do it under our own power, we will fail!

Throughout the Old Testament it was proven over and over again that man couldn’t follow the laws of God that were placed on them after they were kicked out of the garden. There are certainly good people who don’t believe in God and those who believe differently. However there is no magic code for how many good works or how well behaved someone can be to achieve salvation. That again is done only one way.

God sent His Son, Jesus, to become flesh like us. He lived a sinless life among us for 33 years. He was the only one who could follow those rules and He offered Himself as the atonement for our sins by sacrificing Himself on a cross for us. Jesus then conquered death and the grave and rose again! He could have just let us die without a way, He didn’t owe us anything. My atheist friends like to question how God could save the killer, the rapist, the drunk and not the guy who does good? It is a fair question, but I don’t pretend to understand God. His ways are not our ways. Just look at the people He used to write the Bible.

Moses killed a man and fled. After forty years in exile, he returned to take God’s people to freedom. David gave us the Psalms, is called a man after God’s own heart, yet very publicly sinned by not only taking a married woman to be his own, he also had her husband sent to the front lines in battle to try and cover it. If we were writing the Bible I doubt we tell that part. Most of the New Testament was written by Paul. He was first known as Saul and devoted his life to kill the followers of Christ until a resurrected Savior met him in the middle of a road. As for me, even though I knew better, I spent a couple decades just trying to live for a good time – kind of like the prodigal son.

I know I don’t deserve God’s grace and forgiveness. I feel for those who try and earn their salvation as it can’t be done. Sure, I like people to notice the changes in my life, but not for selfish reasons. Yes, I’m human, and it does feel good when someone says they noticed. The thing is, my desire isn’t that they notice me, it’s that they notice Him in me! You see, for the Christian, doing good works isn’t about trying to earn salvation. We aren’t saved because we do good, we do good because we are saved. I am still very much human and make mistakes, and maybe nothing I said will help an atheist believe the way I do. How will I ever know if I keep what I think is the best thing in life a secret? Yes there are good atheists, and yes God loves them. I love them. They have the same free offer of salvation anyone does, they need only accept it.

My life’s journey is so much better when I’m relying on God. I can’t prove He exists to a non-believer anymore than they can prove He doesn’t to me. I will say this, I don’t know anyone whose life was changed for the better because they don’t believe in God. That’s not saying there aren’t great people who don’t believe. I understand questioning the fairness of salvation, but the fact is, none of us deserve it, which makes the fact it’s offered to all of us that much more of a love story.

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