The Bridge

Over the years, the valley had grown wider. All the storms (big and small) compounded and made it tough to traverse so . . . we built a bridge.

I had a great Spring Break! Miranda, Kasen, Kesleigh, and I spent the week in Livingston with our good friends (we consider them family) the Godbolds. We also got to spend time with the Bowles, Leitschuhs, and Dale Googer’s. It was incredible! We spent the week as bridge builders.

We built a bridge over a little creek on the property, but there were also other bridges built. Since the time we moved away from Tomball, we have felt separated from our friends, but bridges were built. I watched my children meet new friends and learn new things – bridges were built.

Bridges were built with discussions around the fire. They were built as we reminisced. They were built as we shared stories and laughed. More bridges were built as we sang old songs and even as we reflected in the silence.

Livingston – this place – the people it represents – the memories – all of it reminds me of who I am and challenges me to remember who I want to become. This is a bridge. Livingston is a bridge between my past and my future. I’m grateful for this bridge – for this place – for my friends – for my God.

The years had worn on them – torn the banks.

We built a bridge.

Livingston is a bridge.

I want my life to be a bridge.

Hijacker

If this represented my life, it would be a nice big tree with no roots at all. I'm good at facades.

I’m a hijacker.

I was listening to a podcast by Tullian Tchividjian called “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.” In it, he described how even our spiritual growth efforts can become self-centered by taking the focus off who God IS and making it about what we do.

The intent of spiritual growth is to build our relationship with God, but I’ll confess that sometimes I find myself hijacking it for my own glory. I’m not nearly as interested in spiritual “growth” as I am in gaining spiritual “knowledge” to add to my “spiritual” arsenal or to expand the “spiritual” facade I hold up for others to see. Wow! Did that make any sense? What I meant is this: Instead of being motivated to “grow” toward God, I am motivated by selfishness to make myself look like I’ve “grown” toward God. Sinful. That’s what it is. I’m sinful. I need Jesus to rescue my attempts at spiritual growth. I’m so sick that I need Jesus to keep me from tainting the very practices that guide me toward Him. True spiritual growth efforts are motivated by the greatness of God which moves us to seek Him. Often, my efforts are motivated out of a desire to know more than my friend’s know – out of a selfish “I’m more spiritual” attitude.

I will also confess that I love the way I feel when I go to another “level” or “spiritual” high. Even a new tidbit of information or insight about the Bible is enough to make me feel like I have “grown.” My insatiable desire for more doesn’t allow me to fully rest in Jesus’ effort on the cross. This is sinful. I wrongfully believe my efforts and knowledge about Scripture is what matters. It’s NOT! What matters is God’s character. NOT the things I do, but the things He IS. What matters is the cross! Because of who He IS, He chose to go to the cross. And because of that, I am already close to Him. Even when I seek spiritual “growth” with selfish motivations, even in the midst of my sin, He died for me. He loves me fully! Right where I am He loves me.    He . . . . . loves . . . . . me.

God should be glorified. Completely glorified. ‘Cause He’s great and we are not. He is faithful. He is love. He is amazing! Loving each of us no matter how sick we are. He is so out of our league. We can never understand how great He is – how great His love is. His ways are so much higher than ours. (Is 55:8-9)

I guess what I’m saying is that this hijacker wants to return this glory back to it’s rightful owner.

To God be the Glory forever, and ever, AMEN!

Romans 11:33-36
33Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
36For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

 

Gran Torino

grantorino1Clint Eastwood is truly a legend, but I must admit that I was never a really big fan. . . well, that is. . . until now. “Gran Torino” is a great film depicting many aspects of society today. As our world becomes more and more global, cultures collide – and Gran Torino illustrates this well. Earning it’s “R” rating for language and violence, this film is ultimately still about community, love, loss, and relationships between the most unlikely candidates. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but the end is a masterful expression of Jesus’ teaching in John 15:13. (Spoiler alert!!! Don’t look it up or click the link if you haven’t seen it. If you’re spiritual enough to have that verse memorized, well, I figure you’re also spiritual enough to forgive me for spoiling the ending for you.)

Anyway, I would highly recommend “Gran Torino” to any adult who can endure the language and enter into the cultures represented. The ultimate message is not only powerful, but one which is desperately needed in our world today.

Cathedral

Livingston_2This weekend, I experienced the sacred mystery of an amazing cathedral. Entering, I was first struck by the arches of east Texas pine stretching to a ceiling of endless blue. An easiness washed over over me and the world’s worries disappeared as I became overwhelmed by a sense of peace. We rested on old rocking chairs at a humble altar of two by four decking where we offered up our most lofty dreams and concerns communing with each other and the Creator. We laughed around a table sharing something more than our lives – truly sharing the present moment. It’s a sacred place – a holy place – where God engages us and helps us to think bigger stretching our hearts beyond the corners of our present state. It’s truly a joy to be in this place – an experience that I’ll never forget, and yet it’s also one which is not alone – I have come to expect and long for these experiences.

Thank you Godbolds! I truly consider our times with you in Livingston sacred.

Here’s a few pics of Kasen’s second trip.
Livingston_bath_2
Livingston
Singing_w_daddy With_aunt_laurie_2

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Legalism

Calvin Miller says something in his book “The Empowered Leader” which is so simple and yet so clear that it forces me to think/meditate on it more. He says, “God can only direct the flexible.”

How often do we equate our legalistic (non-flexible) behaviors with being more spiritual – Saying to ourselves, “If I can do this or that or spend this much time serving Him, then I’ll be more spiritual.” Romans 14, it seems pretty clear that the weaker man is the one who is more legalistic. The one who lives in freedom seems to be the stronger.

Just thinking about this stuff this morning.

Using my Gifts

Another assignment was to write about how we can more effectively use our gifts and God-given personality in our lives.

Family
I should begin playing guitar and singing more often around the house. Maybe even write some songs for Kasen. Miranda has been after me for years to play more often and specifically wants me to play for Kasen. I’ve just gotten lazy about getting the guitar out, so this is one area that I could easily make a change in.

Church
I use my gifts and talents all the time in church. I teach Bible Studies, lead groups, step out in faith on certain  projects, and I lead the congregation in worship on Sunday mornings with the musical abilities God has given me. My personality comes out in everything I do. I often wish I had more opportunities to teach outside of the youth program. I could certainly be more effective in using my gifts if I could arrange for some other people to help in the areas where I’m not gifted. This has been difficult, because volunteers are hard to come by, but I will make it my goal to find some help with attendance, finances, organizational/administrative stuff. This would free me to do the things I’m gifted in – looking into the future with faith, teaching, leading/training others, thinking creatively, etc.

Work
As a youth minister, church is my work.

Letter to God

OK – So evidently in class the other night (while I was in the hospital) Dr Ayers, gave a journal entry assignment to write a letter to God describing how we feel about our spiritual gifts and what areas we should improve. Here we go:

Dear God,
Gosh, that’s not near enough of a salutation, but there aren’t enough words to truly give You the greeting that You deserve either. I want to take a moment to express my gratefulness for the spiritual gifts You’ve given me. Growing up, I would never have guessed that I’d be the man I am today. Your presence in my life has truly been transforming and the gifts You’ve given me have been a huge part of that work. I was the kid who hid behind the curtain in elementary school, and now You’ve got me in front of groups of people telling them the good news! In this latest assessment, it seems that You’ve given me the gifts of leadership, teaching, and faith. Although I’d never taken this test before, I’m not surprised by the results. When I looked at the results, they resonated in my soul. You have truly made me this way and in discovering these gifts, it’s as if I had known them all along – like uncovering something that was already there. I’m so excited and feel so blessed that You have given me the privilege of being a steward of these things and I’m excited to see how they will be used. What places will You carry me to use them? How will You craft them inside of me so that they will become sharper instruments in Your hands? Lord, help me to completely surrender to You. I do not want to be a bad steward. I would love to one day see You and hear the words “good and faithful”  used of me in regards to how I used these gifts.  Lord, it may be strange, but I also want to thank You for giving me the weaknesses that I have. I am clearly not very good at serving, giving, or compassion and so those are great opportunities for me to grow. They will also be areas where I can learn to trust in the body of Christ and grow by watching them. I understand that these areas are probably areas where I will get myself in trouble, areas where I will fail, and be criticized, but these are also opportunities. I will be able to demonstrate my love for You by being obedient in these ways.  These may very well be the greatest demonstrations of my love for You. It’s my prayer that I will be able to honor You in all of life. I want to honor You by working within my giftedness and efficiently serving You, but I also want to honor You in the ways that make me uncomfortable and probably don’t come as easy to me. Allow me to bring You glory with how I live. Thank You for breathing life into my bones and giving me these opportunities. It’s a privilege to be by Your side and to serve You. It’s an amazing honor for a finite sinful man like me to be given such beautiful opportunities to make eternal differences by being a steward of these gifts. I don’t want to let You down, but I’m gonna need Your help. I also trust that You will help – so Thanks for that too.

Luv ya! Steve

Spiritual Gifts Assessment

Gift Over the years, I’ve done quite a few different spiritual gifts assessments. The one we did tonight in class was a “blind” test. (One where you don’t know what gifts you’re answering about) It also included a large list of gifts and defined them a bit differently than the one I normally wok with. Here are the scores I got tonight:

Leadership – 24
Teaching – 23
Faith – 23
Pastoring – 21
Hospitality – 19
Exhortation – 17
Wisdom – 17
Administration – 16
Prophecy – 12
Evangelism – 12
Mercy – 10
Giving – 6
Service – 5

The test I normally use only checks for what they describe as the “motivational gifts,” which includes only 7 gifts: Teaching, Perceiving, Exhortation, Administration, Giving, Serving, and Compassion. Each time I’ve taken that one I end up with Exhortation and Teaching as my highest scores. Interestingly enough they define exhortation a little differently – in this test, it is a combination of encouraging and pastoring. The test I took tonight pretty well matches what I’ve seen before if you take that into account.

Certainly interesting results considering the kinds of things God has been placing on my heart lately. Hmm????

Painting the Future

Hiro
Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to “paint” the future? That’s exactly what Isaac Mendez does. (He’s a character  from the TV show “Heroes.”) I believe that’s what a good spiritual leader does too. They imagine (or they are told by God about) a better future and paint/interpret those ideas so that others can see them and get on board to accomplish that goal.

Check this out.
The stages of a painter’s life are: (from The Leadership Challenege, Kouzes & Posner, pg 58-62)

1. Paint the exterior landscapes. (They follow other models.)

2. Paint the interior landscapes. (They seek to know themselves.)

3. Paint themselves.  (They express themselves in their own style.)

This just makes me excited, ’cause I see myself in stage 2 of this model. I’m learning more and more about who I am and how God has gifted me. I have been through some leadership and followed other people’s models, but now those models just seem inadequate. Everything seems to be pointing to the idea that I’m right on the edge of what might be the greatest ministry time of my life. It’s my prayer, that God will continue to reveal Himself to me regarding all of this. I’m excited about the future as I travel along by His side.

Prayer:

Lord, keep me humble and walking with to You. I love being with You. AMEN!

Here’s another idea that has me thinking the same way:
Henry and Richard Blackaby (Spiritual Leadership, pg 43-46) write about the stages of leadership development put forth by Robert Clinton in his work, The Making of a Leader. Here’s how it works:

1. Sovereign Foundations – God’s activity during formative years.
2. Inner Life Growth – Development of character and spiritual life.
3. Ministry Maturing – Early attempts at spiritual leadership.
4. Life Maturing – Learning to lead in their strengths. Connect character to leadership.
5. Convergence – Maximum effectiveness where ministry and life experience converge to a specific role. This is what the spiritual leader will be most remembered for – their greatest success.
6. Afterglow or Celebration – Celebrating and building upon work of convergence. Also a time for training up new leaders.

Wow! This stuff makes me really excited ’cause I feel like I can look at my life and say that I’m in step 4 – the Life Maturing stage.  (By the way doesn’t that stage sound alot like the “paint the interior landscape” stage 2 in the other model?) That means that I’ve still got Convergence ahead of me. That also means that the dreams I have about the future are going to come around right about the same time that I hit the “maximum effectiveness” stage of development. I could never have orchestrated all of this – it’s only by God’s hand and His intervention. That also means that He is intimately involved in preparing me for a future that will go beyond my imaginations.

I couldn’t imagine a better place to be. I have a genuine hope for my future.

Angelology

Angel
It is clear from the Scriptures that angels exist. They are actually mentioned in 37 of the books of the Bible. Jesus Himself speaks of them (Mt 25:31-32, 41) and interacts with them (Mt 4:11). Here are some of the basic teachings about angels from the Scriptures:

1. They are spirit beings. They are called “spirits” (Heb 1:14) and do not have bodies. They also do not die (Lk 20:36) or get married (Mk 12:25). However, they do appear in human form sometimes (Gen 18:3).

2. They are created beings. Ps 148:2-5; Job 38: 6-7; Col 1:16

3. They were all created at the same time. Heb 12:22 says there are “myriads” of them but since they cannot reproduce (Mt 22:30). . . .Col 1:16 also suggests a singular act of creation.

4. They are a higher order than man. Heb 2:7 says that angels are higher than men – even higher than Jesus while He was in the flesh. They don’t die (Lk 20:36) and have more wisdom than man (2:Sam 14:20). Their wisdom is limited though – certainly less than God’s (Mt 24:36). They have more power than men (Mt 28:2; Acts 5:19; 2 Pet 2:11) but it is still a limited power (Dan 10:13).

Some of the most prominent angels are:
Michael (Dan 10:13; 12:1; Jude 9)
Gabriel (Dan 9:21; Lk 1:26)
Lucifer (Is 14:12)

Some of the things that angels do include:
Serving God (Rev 5:11-12)
Ministry to Jesus (Lk 1:26-38; 22:43; Mt 2:13; 2:20; 4:11; 28:5-7; 1 Kgs 19:5-7; Acts 1:10; Mt 25:31)
Ministry to Believers
Protection (Ps 34:7; Acts 5:19; Rev 7:1-14)
Provision (1 Kgs 19:5-7)
Encouragement (Acts 27:23-25)
Direction (Acts 8:26; 10:3, 22)
Assist in answering Prayer (Acts 12:1-11; Dan 9:20-27)
Carry us home (Lk 16:22)
Serve God in Judgment (Rev 8:2-12; 9:1, 13; Mt 13:39-42)

How does this change my life? I believe it has and will continue to change my life every time an angel ministers to me as a believer. I am not aware of specific times when this has happened, but I do believe that it has. There are certainly countless times when I have been in need of protection, provision, encouragement, direction, and answered prayer and have received those things. I feel confident in saying that angels have probably had a hand in those situations. I also believe that their work in ministering to Jesus and in serving God have an affect on me – maybe not a direct impact, but that doesn’t mean anything. Also, by having this understanding of angels, I’ll be able to pray specifically for God to send angels when I find myself or my friends in need of these kinds of ministries.

(Info from “The Moody Handbook of Theology” by Paul Enns, pg 287-292)