Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's not what goes in, it's what comes out.

Oh, I don't think anyone will read this blog, it's been so long. But, just in case there are lurkers still out goes.

I picked up a CD Audio Drama called The Word of Promise the other day. It's the NKJV New Testament read, word-for-word, but put to orchestra music and sound effects. The readers are famous actors and such. For example, Jim Caviezel reads the part of Jesus and Terence Stamp is the voice of God and the Holy Spirit. Fantastic work!

As I was listening yesterday on the way home from work, Jesus was talking about how it's not what goes into a man's mouth that defiles him, but what comes out of his mouth. What goes into the mouth is food that passes through. But, what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart.

My first thought is, "Thank God, it's not food that defiles a man. Eat hardy boys!" Huh... No, not the Hardy Boys, sicko. Eat food without worrying about religious regulations of different kinds, etc. Eat for enjoyment.

Then, I think that if it's the stuff in our hearts that causes us to spew out poison and be defiled, we need to exam ourselves a little bit closer and ask God to give us pure hearts. Are we struggling with anger and hate? Are we thinking about good things?

I wish you all a Merry Christmas! The Audio Drama is a great gift for anyone. Especially someone who has a lot of commute time during the week! :)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Letting go...

So, I'm gonna start putting into practice all the stuff I've "believed" about my responsibilities as a pastor. I mean, really put it into practice. I can't say I truly believe something unless I act upon it, right?

I'm gonna let go of control and worry. I'm giving away "my" job as a youth pastor.

For the longest time I've been operating "my" area of ministry with only necessary help, because I couldn't "do it all." That life is over for me. I'm taking a stand and I'm going to refuse to do things that way anymore. I might take some heat at first, but there's no other way.
You may have heard the statement, "Let go and let God." I'm taking it one step further and I'm letting go and letting the people of God.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Through fire and flood.

"We went through fire and flood. But you brought us to a place of great abundance." -Psalm 66:12

I can't even begin to describe the overwhelming feeling I have that God is about to do something incredible in our youth ministry. That verse is the foundation of a new discipleship group we are starting next Sunday night called, "Fire." It will be led mostly by the students themselves.

So many times I have doubted myself and my ability to succeed. Partly because I know there is much laziness in me. I feel as though I could do better. I could be much more diligent and organized.

But, God is reminding me that He brings the increase! I must prepare the fields, He'll bring the rain. Lately, the fields have begun to grow a new crop. Fresh rain is falling. Even some of the old is turning green again.

"You faithfully answer our prayers with awesome deeds, O God our savior." -Psalm 65:5

Last Friday, we gathered with several other youth groups for a pre-See You At The Pole Rally. It turned out to be a smaller event, with around 100 people present. But, God's presence was so big, the size of the crowd didn't seem to matter to anyone. And if you've been around youth lately, they tend to base their opinions on such things.

We didn't invite a special guest speaker or worship team. We used the local church youth band and had a time of open mic. Students freely volunteered to come and share what their vision was for their schools. Then, we passed the mic around the room and heard quickly from every student what they wished would happen in their school.

One of my students got up and the Holy Spirit was all over him. He took a tissue, blew his nose in it, and asked if there was anyone who wanted it. Then, he began to speak about the time the apostle Paul touched handkerchiefs that healed people and delivered them from demons. He said that God told him he could be like Paul. He could be so full of the Holy Spirit that the Lord could even use his shadow to bring about healing in his school.

He preached for about five minutes, and when he was done, his peers cheered for him and for the things he was saying. I haven't seen that kind of zeal since I was a teenager. Others came up too and had wonderful things to say. It was so refreshing to see a genuine and real faith being expressed.

We have been through fire and flood, but Christ Jesus is bringing us into a place of great abundance. Not an abundance of wealth or prestige, but spiritual fruit and a great harvest of souls for the Kingdom of God.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Prayer is our battery, and we're still going.

Things are still going great with our youth group. I am in awe at God's sovereignty. Thinking about things, I cannot think of too much we've done different this year than the past four and a half. We pretty much stayed the same.

So, what is it about summer 2007 that has changed our youth group into a core of worshipers and seekers, ready to learn and serve Christ? What suddenly caused them to be better friends and cling to one another? Was it something I did? No. It was the Holy Spirit and desperate prayers.

Earlier this year we really were ready to quit. Mentally, it was taking it's toll. I was questioning my ability to influence and see a breakthrough. I even told people that this was the year it needs to happen or I can't go on like this any longer. God gave me a vision and it was to be fulfilled in 3-5 years. This is the 5th year. When I told that to a board member, he asked me if I was putting time tables on God. I told him I wasn't. I was putting time tables on myself. Whether I was capable of leading and influencing was my concern.

Then, about 2 months ago, I gave a list of students to our senior adult Sunday School teacher. They began praying for the kids and the youth ministry. This past Sunday morning, the Lord reminded me of this as I was getting ready for church. The faithful saints had been praying, I was desperate, and God answered our prayers.

So, here's my advice to all of you. When you are in need, find faithful people that can pray. Find the kind of people that quietly pray when no one is around. And seek God yourself. Get to the bottom of your rope and get desperate for God to move. When you do this, you'll probably come to the same conclusion I have - you'll realize that you can do nothing without Jesus. You need Him for everything good.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Devil - I'm still here!

The past six months have been rocky and busy. But, I'm still here.

After years of prayer and hard work, we're finally beginning to see a breakthrough in our youth group. Kathy and I have wanted so bad for these kids to have a hunger for the things of God and it looks like they are now.

It was frustrating each time they would be mean to someone else, or laugh at and mock the song service. I would hate it when they discouraged their peers from taking seriously a message or participating in an activity. Sitting with their arms crossed, they often talked and texted, even when they were asked not to. I'm so tired of hearing about "emergency" cell phone calls and "weak bladders."

We went to youth camp over a week ago and God really met each one of them in a special way. Something clicked and stuck. They woke up from their apathy and started realizing that Jesus Christ has a plan for each of us and that we ought to be in love with Him and know Him as much as we can.

They all became better friends during the week through being on the same team during rec games and praying for each other during altar times every night. Some of the older ones took up the mantle of leadership and reached out to the younger. Finally. They started acting like a family that cares for one another.

Now that we're back to "normal" life, they haven't let the fire die. One of them told his mom that he wanted to have family devotional times every week at home. He also organized a student led Bible study and they've already had a meeting on their own, without me! That's never happened before.

While we were at camp we had opportunity to discuss translations of the Bible and how the Bible came to be. They all expressed interest in taking a field trip to the Bible Museum here in the Phoenix area. We're taking that trip this Tuesday.

For the past two Sundays they have come down to the front of the sanctuary to stand and worship together. It has opened opportunities for prayer and encouragement. Even some who did not get to go to camp have caught the new zeal. And this past Wednesday night's youth service was great. They wanted to pray for one another and we ended up staying for an hour beyond our normal ending time.

In my High School Sunday School class they gave $62.50. Let's just say that's a switch. :)

For all who want to quit... For all who are frustrated and can't yet see the light... Don't give up! Stand your ground and keep fighting. Raise your hands toward Heaven and cry out "I'm still here." Though Satan would want to thwart your work, you stand as a testimony to the greatness of God. You tell the old serpent to get lost, you're not going anywhere. For as long as you have breath, you serve Christ!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I first started believing when...

Lately, I've been reading blogs that are asking questions about faith and why we believe. So, I thought it would be interesting if we reconstructed how we all came to believe and perhaps some of the thoughts that convinced us to commit to those beliefs.

But, first, the story of Thomas from John 20:

One of the disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he replied, "I won't believe it unless I see the nail
wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side."

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. He said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don't be faithless any longer. Believe!"

"My Lord and my God!" Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who haven't seen me and believe anyway."

We are those who haven't seen Jesus and believe anyway! How did this happen?

Let's reconstruct our story by finishing this sentence: I first started believing when...

I'll go first, and later (if necessary) add to it. Feel free to comment after you finish the sentence too.

Monday, May 14, 2007

It's been awhile...

Sorry friends. I haven't been the most faithful blogger over the past several months. I don't know if things will ever change, but today I wanted to share something from the Scriptures I found to be encouraging.

Luke 5:1-11 tells the story of how Jesus called Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow him. He says, "Don't be afraid! From now on you'll be fishing for people!"

Fishers of Men by Adriaen van de Venne, Oil on panel, 1614 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

It can be a scary thing to have the Lord call you to a life of people fishing. These guys were commercial fisherman; established, with money in boats and nets, etc. Their contacts folder was probably full and their livelihood depended on selling the fish to those contacts.

Normally, you just don't up and walk away from a business. But they did.

I was thinking about that. Why call them out of their business? Why not keep them there and have them reach their contacts?

Well, Luke records a miraculous incident just prior to Jesus' call. Jesus had them cast nets into a dead spot that had already been fished all night. When they let the nets down, so many fish were caught that it required another boat and both were on the verge of sinking. Impossible!

And that was the point. Jesus showed them that he could make the impossible possible. Why spend time at the grind when, in a matter of seconds, Jesus could just command the fish into the nets and onto the boats? All the expertise in commercial fishing could never match the ability of the Master fisherman and His voice of command.

Their work would never be the same again. Jesus was beginning to reverse the curse. Once men were cursed to work the ground, sweating to produce food, but someday they would gladly depend on the Lord for all their needs, working only out of pleasure and enjoyment.

Through Christ, God rescues us from the fall. He offers us to cry out to Him and depend on Him and not "need" to work again. If we become fishers of men, our work is eternal, receiving eternal rewards and payoffs. Simon Peter and his partners could not stay in their business, because Jesus was calling them to come and learn from Him; come and catch people; come and understand His unlimited supply and the salvation He was bringing. He needed their full attention so that they could continue the message long after He was gone.

I believe Jesus is still calling people out of their "businesses" today. He offers a switch: They stop "working" out of need - and He provides everything.

Not a bad deal. If you've ever felt the call of God on your life, hear the Lord's words again, "Don't be afraid! From now on you'll be fishing for people!"

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Weekend in Sedona.

Hi friends! Thought I'd stop in tonight and post something new. Life's been wonderfully full.

Here are some pics from an awesome weekend we had in Sedona a few weeks back.

The beautiful ladies in my life!

Sedona's rock formations were absolutely amazing.

What a beautiful day looking at God's artwork.

This church facility is actually built into the rocks and the cross stands 90 feet high.

The weekend we spent in Sedona was a much needed break from everything. We hadn't gone out of town and spent time with my in-laws since we moved here 5 years ago. When we lived in New Jersey we did more with them than we've done while living only 15 minutes from them. Isn't it funny how that works?

While we were there, we ate dinner at a restaurant called Relics. Not only was the food fabulous, the service was the best I've experienced anywhere - and I've been to quite a few places. The waiter made us feel so welcome and at home. He even knew specifically how the potatoes were prepared by the cook, and when he described the process, it made me want them even more. When we got up to leave, the waiter and the host shook our hands. I was impressed.

Afterward, I began to think about church and suddenly found myself wishing our greeters and ushers had the same zeal and warmth as our waiter at Relics. Oh, and don't forget the knowledge. Wow! What kind of church would it be if the greeters and ushers had a reputation for "the best service" anywhere?

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your church's "service"?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What we really believe.

"While most of us Christians believe in some kind of hell, we usually just don't bring it up much. It is an unpleasant subject and leads to too many questions about the character of God. Hell is that crazy doctrine that we keep locked in the basement of our belief systems. We all know that it is there, chained to the underbelly of the theology of the holiness of God. We hope that it stays in the shadows and never comes up in conversation. Why? Because if people found out what we really believed they would think we were radicals, extremists, and kooks. If hell isn't real, then maybe we are [radicals, extremists, and kooks].

But if it is real, then why aren't we more intense, more aggressive, more intentional, more urgent? If hell is real (and the Bible says it is) then we should be motivated to keep as many people we can out of it - friends, foes, teachers, classmates, coworkers, teammates, family members, strangers. . . everybody." -Greg Stier in his book Dare2Share

If we could only see the afterlife, we might be less scared of men and their opinions. Why are we scared in the first place?

Here is a quote from a Christian Universalist website called The Tentmaker:

"Many of us who have been subjected to the terrorism of Hell do not respond as emotionally as some of the people represented in the above testimonials. We are more hard-hearted. We have learned to "back-file" the teaching of Hell. We suppress it in our subconscience because if we did allow it to be on our minds daily, we would go crazy. It is those who are unable to bury the teaching in their subconscience whose lives are most severely destroyed by the teaching of Hell. The fact that most Christians believe unbelievers are going to Hell but they do little to no evangelizing proves they are really very heartless people or that they have buried the belief deep in the back of their minds. If average Christians REALLY believed in Hell fully, they would spend much more of their time trying to save the lost. The fact is, only a few percentage points of Christians ever share their faith with anyone."

Do we really believe?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I'm Oliver Brown.

It's been a long while, but I'm finally returning to blogging. I hope you'll welcome me back.

But first, I want you to meet the newest member of our family...

Oliver Brown

Yep, Jenny has a little brother now. You can see him here, munching on some parsley. And just to give you a little perspective on his current size at around 6 weeks old, here's a shot of his mommy holding him.

We picked this little guy up at a yard sale a few weeks ago! For $12.

We were browsing around looking at an old gumball machine and VHS movies, when I spotted the bunny on the bench, lounging like a tiny puppy. It impressed me that he wasn't trying to get away in the front yard or anything. He seemed very tame and so adorable. Of course, my wife and daughter had the same thoughts, only even more. Jenny begged me to buy it, but I thought, "We can't. We don't know anything about rabbits. What if he he's sick?" He was a little dirty with crust around his eyes.

We got back into the car without the bunny and drove off in discussion. We decided that we shouldn't do it for all kinds of reasons and told my daughter our minds were made up. Once we were out on the main road, we turned at the light and headed west in search of other yard sales. Seeing the next sign, I pulled into the development and followed the arrows. It led us right back to the same yard sale.

Okay. So, I got out of my vehicle, leaving the girls behind, and went to ask some more questions. After about 10 minutes I found myself walking back to the car with the bunny in my arms, along with a small bag of pellets to feed him. No cage, nothing else. The girls were so surprised (and happy) that I actually did it. It was very unlike me.

Needless to say, we are enjoying him so much. I've almost got him trained to bring me his toy. Each time I put it near him, he picks it up with his mouth or nudges it back to me. Too cute.

Which leaves me with these thoughts and questions: God loved us so much that he bought us with his blood. He must look upon us with great admiration and delight, desiring to play with us, feed us, train us, and teach us obedience. Are we cooperating? Do we yearn for his affection? Are we trainable?