Friday, November 29, 2013

True Christian Gratitude and Thanksgiving

For they shall not be ashamed who wait for me.
Isaiah 49:23

I love the message of the Bible.  I just completely love it.  The words are just like candy to my ears.  I just want to hear it.  So I love this Bible app I have, and I'll set it playing on my phone as I'm trying to get to sleep, right before bed.  And it's just Wow, this is the word of GOD!

That's so incredible!  This is what GOD SAYS!  WOAH!  Actually and totally, it's completely factual in that this is the maker's communication to us.  Can you look out the window of your house and see whatever is out there and just realize for a second, God made that.  He made it.  And if you're a Christian reading this, that's your Dad.  Wow.  I put my faith there, in his word. His words says that he made all things.  The word just glows and shines in my ears, as I listen before bed.  It's wonderful to listen to the Psalms in particular.  It's called "You Verse Bible App."  Give it a try, totally free.  I've been putting together some free onlines resources, pdf Bibles and commentaries and such things.  Check it out: Free Resources for Seekers And also, thank you for taking some time to be here :)

I'd like to wish you all a very happy and joyful Thanksgiving.  I hope your time with family was full of love and communion, and if it wasn't, my heart aches for you.  But don't worry, because we, the body of Christ, are your family.  You are never alone.  You are one with us, in Christ.

I've been quite ill with the flu for the past week, and thus my ability to put pen to paper, or more aptly, put hands to keyboard has been somewhat handicapped.  The studies at Liberty continue well, as well as the church plant for The Edge Church here in town I'm currently helping with.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful day to spend with family in reflection of the many ways that God has blessed us.  I've heard great men infer that true happiness is found in gratitude.  I believe that to be true.  There is certainly enough mention of giving thanks in scripture.  As Christians, let's give thanks everyday.  It's in the repetition of thanking Our Father for things that an attitude of gratitude is developed.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV) Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I have a wonderful daily reading book that helps me to understand the principle of gratitude, among many other principles.  It's called "Jesus Calling" by Sarah Young.  It interprets pieces of scripture, adjusting them into daily readings as if being spoken directly to the reader.  I've found it wonderful thus far.

Worship itself is a powerful method for growing as a Christian.  We can thank God as we go about our days, but what about actually getting on our knees and just praising him?  I've found this to be such a powerful experience.  The experience of praising the one true God, on my knees, for even a short period of time is transformative.  For a few minutes we are taken into the direct presence of God where we speak directly to him who authored all things.  By the time I finish, whatever pain or misery that was in my heart has been comforted by his presence, by his Spirit.

At the same time we are adjusted internally when we fall to our knees and worship God.  We are brought a little closer to the Father, and as a result our world view changes, and our actions change.  The Bible calls this sanctification, a progressive process of being made Christ-like!  Of course prayer must be matched with private Bible study so we continue to grow in admiration and love for his truth.  According to Ironside, a theologian, "The Word of God is the foundation on which we build.  Prayer keeps the soul in touch with the power by which alone we build aright.  Mere Bible knowledge may make one heady and doctrinal.  Prayer alone, if unguided by Scripture, tends to fanaticism; but the Word and prayer together give a good firm base on which to rear a sturdy Christian character."
(Source: Theology for Today by Elmer Towns, p.305)

One could say that as a Christian I am not even capable of being truly grateful or giving true thanksgiving without God, or more specifically, the Holy Spirit teaching me how gradually.  It's this process of sanctification that I place a heavy emphasis on in my writings.  Ravi Zacharias once said that one of the hardest issues he has with his faith, is that so many Christians claim the power and majesty of the transformation given by Christ, yet so few show evidence of that transformation.

Personally I want to be a Christian who shows by his words and his actions, that a great transformation has taken place, and is taking place progressively day by day.

Hebrews 10:14 (NIV) says "For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."

Let's be people who are being made holy.  Let's pray on our weak areas.  Let's pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us to resources and experiences we need to be sanctified.  Let's read books on Christian counseling techniques to clear out our character defects, like the judgmental nature, rudeness, envy, greed, laziness, and so on.  Let's journal about our problems and increase Bible study time.  Let's watch Youtube sermons and listen to Christian mp3 sermons.  Let's attend conferences and seminars.  Let's take an active role in becoming better Christians everyday.  Let's cooperate with the Holy Spirit as he changes our wants and desires.  These are the fruits of the spirit, the character being developed in Christians.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT) 22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Fitch, a theologian, gives a wonderful description of what this fruit of the spirit looks like in a mature Christian, describing the result as: "A loving, affectionate spirit, radiant with peculiar joy, and full of tranquility; it is very patient in disposition, even when provoked; it possesses unusual insights into the needs and wants of others, is generous in judgment and is utterly loyal; it is by nature very humble, forgets itself in the happiness of others, never allows itself to get out of control, and is always reliable because of it's unusual adaptability and self mastery."
(Source: Theology for Today by Elmer Towns, p.306)

Our God is a generous God.  He is a loving God, full of mercy.  But he is also a holy God.  Our heavenly Father is quite literally perfect.  And I recall looking at pictures from the Hubble telescope and getting some of my first tastes of that perfection and how overwhelming it was.  The picture at the top of this post is not art or photoshopped, but an actual photograph taken by the Hubble telescope of far off clusters of stars and galaxies.  That is the power and glory of our God.

Who have we all sinned against?  We've all sinned against the perfect creator of galaxies, of this planet, of everyone around us.  We have done great wrong.  So?  What of it?  I know my past, and I know my future as well, the place I will be with Jesus Christ one day soon.  It is a fact and a reality.  We as Christians are already victorious in Him.  And I see too many Christians not living victorious but rather living defeated.

Do we need to live as defeated Christians, miserable and guilt-ridden because we've sinned against God?  Do we constantly need to be reminded of our old state as doomed sinners?

Absolutely not. 

By the reception of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we are indwelt with his presence.  We receive the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.  And the architect and creator of all things becomes our personal Father.  We are gifted with the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and the life he lived, and by the death he died, all our mistakes and failures are blotted out permanently.  Once for all time!

Hebrews 9:28 (NLT) so also Christ died once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.

I love the message of the Bible because it's such timeless truth.  I love it because it's real and defensible, reasonable, coherent, loving, forgiving, and completely holy.

The message of Christ is so very beautiful to me.  My heart sings when I hear it.  I ache for it.

It's the message of an outcast.  And that makes me feel so much better about it.  I was always an outcast, one who went against social norms, and I still do.  I was and always will be distrustful of authority.  Why?  Well, let's see.  Public education taught me evolution and nothing more and forced me to come to a place where I was verbally and physically abused for 12 years.  As far as church I was brought up in a Catholic congregation, taught by nuns who pounded the ten commandments into my head, but taught me nothing of how to properly understand Jesus Christ and what he did.  A media taught me that I would become a rock star or wealthy man one day, then I was ejected from high school to face some very brutal realities of existence on this planet.  Not to mention the government of my country is so incredibly corrupt I don't even have a clue what to do about it but pray hard and pray often.  And I could just go on and on, you know even lately I see so many Christians, our own side in this spiritual conflict, who give the gospel a bad name! 

It breaks my heart.  But I have to keep my eye on the government.  And I have to keep my eye on the body of Christ.  And absolutely on myself.  I try to be easy on non-believers, moderate on fellow Christians, hard on church leaders and hardest on myself.  That is not an easy thing to do.  Being a Christian is hard sometimes. But it is much better than what someone like me would probably normally be doing...

The normal is to try to get laid, for a guy like me.  It's to find a wife or whatever.  It's to go to secular college and get a secular job.  It's to grab all I can.  It's "YOLO, you only live once!"  Those are the norms... everything is fine, economy on the rise, watch sports, go to the bars, never develop a belief, and never ask questions.  Well that isn't what I'm doing.  It's not what I'm going to do.  I've tasted that and there is nothing there.  Just nothing... Nothing of substance, nothing that brings the best out of me...  Nothing that strums the strings in my heart, the ones made of eternity, and my desire for it.  When the strings on that harp within me are played, by God himself, I taste a piece of my future!  That is what I have today, and yes, that is much much better.

We all have eternity planted on our souls.  Nothing here can strum the strings of that eternity, nothing but God.  And the only way to Him is Jesus Christ.

The Bible is the message of one who walked against the norms.  Christianity is indie to me.  Well real Christianity, the one in the Bible, being followed by actual Christians who have actually received Christ, is the real indie-outcast Christianity to me.  It's the modern flock around the John the Baptist type preacher, preaching in the wilderness without fear, feasting on wild honey and quite unconcerned with what "people might think." 

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. Exodus 23:2

We don't need to live defeated as Christians, following the crowd of defeated half-asleep Christians who "play church" every Sunday.  We don't get a big long list of rules to follow when we receive Jesus Christ.  The message of Christ is of freedom, freedom from sin and freedom from all manner of addictions to this world and all it's "stuff."  

Let me encourage you today to live as a victorious Christian.  When we live in victory, we have confidence in our salvation and we have confidence that we can go out and make new disciples.  Victory is our reality as Christians.

1 Corinthians 15:57 (NIV) But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

And now tell me, if your eyes are reading this.. and wondering about things, the world around you, the night skies, wondering about meaning and reality, and reaching for something outside yourself, earnestly seeking the truth... I wonder, would you want to be a Christian?  One of the true indie-outcast Christians?  Are your burdens heavy?  Have you tried to find pleasure in the world and been left empty?  Is the weight of your mistakes and regrets destroying you? Are you sad?

There is a solution.  And that solution has a name.  His name is Christ Jesus.  I beg you, put your trust in him, as I did.   I was a miserable drug addict at the end of his miserable sad little life.  I was given rest. 

At the same time, I understand if you're not there yet!  Willingness, oh sweet willingness... right?  I have to be willing to give my life to Jesus Christ!  Sometimes we're just not there yet.  But if that's you, let me encourage you to pray for willingness to receive Christ.  I wish someone had told me that a few years ago.

Why did it take so long to become willing?  Why so much pain and destruction?  Those questions run through my head from time to time.  But they're always replaced by so much gratitude that I have it now.  And I become so grateful all I can say is, "Thank you Holy and Loving Heavenly Father, for granting me the ability to want that which I ought to have wanted in the first place, yet wanted to want, yet for some reason could not want!  Until I cried out to you save me from that which appears to me now as original sin, planted into my soul from my first waking eyes, and left with me for 27 and a half years, to my utter ruin, until the grafting of Christ onto that nature.  Now willingness is as a fountain, most of the time, enough to spare me from physical death outright at the hands of degenerative and chronic sin, with the promise in my heart and soul of eternal life, as well as the redemption of my body one day, so says your perfect word."

No one has perfect faith.  No one 100% knows.  But we believe.  :)

"Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable." 

“Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Thank you so much for being here.  And once again I hope your Thanksgiving was a blessed one!  Let's go in peace and love and victory today.  Let's be a part of the work the Holy Spirit is doing in us.  Let's live in true gratitude and thanksgiving every day of this Christian journey.  Let's remember how our Savior lived, and if we haven't received him yet, maybe we've struggled long enough.  Maybe we need rest as much as anyone else.

Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)
25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[g] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Heavens Declare // Photos from Hubble

19 The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above[a] proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

We're exposed to so much CGI, artwork, action motion pictures, sci fi epic movies, sometimes we forget there is a real universe out there.  I'd rather see it with my own eyes, but here we go, real photos of the actual universe.  Beautiful.  Let's hope we aren't too desensitized from the media.  Words like "glory", "eternal", "power", "majesty" and the phrase "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty" really start to come into focus...


Gazing at the images from the Hubble telescope and for the first time, really breaking past the mind-washing that it all "came together by chance" and realizing inwardly.. God made this, all of this, the images seemed to come to life, glow, and my heart knew a new kind of reverence and awe. I love you Father.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Modern Mindset & Challenges we Face as the Body of Christ

Good morning :)  Glad to have you here, and I hope I can be a blessing to your walk with Jesus Christ today.  And I hope I can also be a blessing in your efforts to learn more about Christianity if you're curiously seeking.  It's one day at a time for me.  I proceed into the future, learn new things, explore different ideas, and wrangle with complex ideas of sharing my faith with others, the challenges of the church as a whole, and the mindset of the modern human being.

Just like anything, the Christian life is a journey.  But most people I see, they don't seem like they're on a journey.  And this opens up to my topic, which is the modern individual mindset in relation to the body of Christ, which is the church.  Ok, so, two types of non-religious people:

The first type, and I see them everyday, is the type where they seem like they've been staring at television screens, computer screens, cell phone screens, waiting rooms screens and all the other screens for so long and so often they've never stopped long enough to figure out what they believe in and why.  I tend to look for distinguishing paraphernalia such as bumper stickers, posters, or clothing.  And when I observe these people it is almost without doubt three things: their favorite sports team, their favorite alcoholic drink, perhaps a hobbie like hunting or fishing, and any given brand name repeated.  There is a lot of that up here in the north-central Wisconsin frozen wasteland tundra.  Lots of cheese and beer as well.   The kind of people who watch a lot of television!  The kind of people who follow top 40 music, watch citcoms, professional sports, work average jobs, and go to bars on weekends.  That's one extreme.  Reaching this first type is a challenge mainly because there is just little to no interest in spirituality as a whole much less Jesus Christ or the Bible.  I'd describe them as empty shirts.

And there is the second type which many of you probably think of as "hipsters."  These are the modern skeptically minded, scientifically minded, jaded anti-everything-ilists.  They have very firm beliefs on major issues of the times, tending to think their positions are indie and edgy.  But the same ideas tend to permeate the culture and tend to depend on the latest fashions in belief and idea.  How about this for a broad example.. post-modernist in ideas on truth & morals, all inclusive in ideas on spirituality, eastern dialectical in approach to philosophy, and tolerant to ideas of homosexuality, abortion, and drug legalization but strikingly intolerant to ideas of organized religion, Christianity in particular, and any measure of accountability for their own actions.  Tolerance is a huge topic lately, but we'll get there a bit later.

GK Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy said, “But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be a true revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. . . . As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. . . . The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

As Christians we believe and know certain things that the world doesn't agree with.  We believe in moral absolutes.  We believe there is truth and we can know it.  We believe in a God who we call Father.  We believe in a unique Savior.  These are things the world does not believe.  These are things the empty shirt and the modern skeptic do not believe.  And yes there are many more "types" of people and one could say that there are no "types" of people at all.  Both would be right to certain degrees, a person is unique in DNA and thought. A person is also heavily influenced by culture and media, leading to observable patterns in people in general.  What I'm trying to say is that the individual is of paramount importance in the Christian life.  We ought never lose sight of the fact that Christianity is about love, and compassion toward individuals, not necessarily groups as a whole.  Bringing people lovingly into the fold is most often done on a person to person basis.  Just a side thought to remember.

Recently I watched an incredible presentation by Pastor Mark Driscoll where he outlines 9 things that Christians and non-believers disagree on.  Mark Driscoll is a wonderfully popular Pastor on the West coast.  He commissioned a study and focus groups run by non-Christians to talk to non-believers about their problems with Christianity.  Below is the video if you'd like to take a look.  Mark Driscoll is a New Calvinist and I don't exactly agree with all his methods and approaches, but he certainly is a powerful speaker.  I found the presentation highly compelling, but he lost me in the last few minutes on some issues of evangelism.

Here is the video:

I certainly hope that in my life I can have a meaningful impact in the lives of others in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There is a huge task ahead of every evangelical Christian.  And it scares me, because of the direction it's heading.  It scares me more because the modern American church whether Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal, and so on, seem to be way out in left field with their approach.  Mark Driscoll calls it being "off mission" in our task of being missionaries for Christ.

I like the approach Driscoll outlines in the introduction to "The Problem with Christianity."  He sets up his sermons to be apologetically inclined, and looks at the concerns of non-believers and takes their questions.  At the same time his church has "community groups" that focus on bringing in friends and specifically addressing their questions.  From the community groups new people are encouraged to attend sermons which are opened up for questions.

I've seen something similar at a local congregation called "Downtown Mission Church."  And the name says it all, because they have a specific "shop" right next to a bar at the very center of the city.  On Thursdays they'll have sort of "mini sermons" about 30 minutes long, and after it's done they'll open it up to discuss the topic, and people will raise their hands and a friendly discourse gets started.  I love that.  Another outreach began sometime after in the downtown area, and I think storefront Christian outreaches are an effective approach to evangelism.

The churches of America have to engage the culture.  The church seemed to kind of cut itself off from culture, somewhere in the 60s, 70s, or 80s, almost like the monasticism movement of the 3rd century.  Monks living in the desert off locusts and honey, but unfortunately hardly paving any sort of way aside from into isolation.  Culture has to be engaged.  The church has to be a vibrant part of the culture.  There are many vibrant ways to engage culture, and Driscoll makes a point that while the church at large is arguing over minor issues of doctrine, in varying levels of importance, they're addressing zero questions that non-believers might ask.  And I think that can be linked to church leaders and church congregations being out of touch with the modern mindset. 

Francis Chan, in this video from a Liberty University convocation (the university I attend) refers to many Christians as "weirdos."  And I'd be inclined to say yes, I completely agree!

Francis Chan also makes some incredibly crucial points about culture and evangelism.  As Christians we have to stand out from the culture, yet we need to engage the culture.  And he raises the point that Christians seem to do the opposite, they look identical to the culture and at the same time tend to hang back from sharing their faith, failing to engage the culture.  At the same time he mentions that there are Christians who do share their faith, and they tend to come off as weirdos!

You know, evangelism explosion (a method of evangelism) on the college campuses walking up to me asking if I think I'm going to heaven or not?  That's just odd.  And I recall going through the conversation with them and raising just the kind of concerns that people like Ravi Zacharias tend to address in their apologetic talks on university campuses.  Ravi Zacharias says in all his time doing apologetical (defense of the faith) work he always receives the same questions, and the questions never change.  I was not a militant atheist or even an agnostic looking for a fight when these Campus Crusade people were talking to me.  I was still a seeker.  So I basically inquired into evidence, and explained how I just wasn't yet willing to make that "leap of faith."  I hadn't seen any evidence for the existence of God.  Unfortunately they had no counter for my argument.  At that point if I could go back in time and tell myself some stuff, I would raise issues of the historical accuracy of the Bible, the incredibly high amount of documents supporting and encouraging the validity of the original texts, the philosophical coherence of Christianity, negations of the theory of evolution based on mathematical improbability, and then segway into the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the formula of Christianity when compared to the other world religions. 

We've got a culture in front of us that considers Christians intolerant.  And they don't want to tolerate Christians or our beliefs either.  Of the many points in Driscoll's talk, that was a key one.  It's hipocricy, sure it is, but there it is

We've also got a culture that is quite scientifically minded, and I believe when addressing people who are earnestly seeking a spiritual connection we ought to address them with the Ravi Zacharias and Francis Collins approach of addressing scientific and philosophical questions head on.  Many a time I would ask such questions of Christians and they would simply and this is no lie, they would simply tell me that I needed to believe God is God because the Bible says so.  You can't slap someone in the face with a Bible and demand they believe it!

We have a rebellious generation in front of us, armed with ardent scientific skepticism.  I was part of it until Jesus saved me.  The church failed in the United States to raise up another generation of Godly people.  Ceremonialism conquered, good works as a method of salvation conquered, and now as Driscoll put it there are many, many "zombie churches" that should be gone, but aren't.  Churches that shouldn't exist, yet they just kind of hang around anyway.

Driscoll adjusts the format of services, the format of small groups, and sort of turns his church into an information age evangelical force, an open house, without even using the term "evangelism" and I just love that.  He makes massive sweeping changes while still remaining Biblically sound.  That's what we need.  We need churches who adapt to the culture, integrate partially into the culture ( in relevance, style, angle of ministry, but also remaining utter in observance to sound doctrine) and engage the culture by putting an angle on teachings that addresses specific questions and concerns of the modern mindset. 

There will always be doctrinal questions and debates within churches and the scholarly framework of Christian theology.  And there are people engaged in those ministries who fight for sound doctrine and engage in the debates over details of scriptural intepretation.  We absolutely need those people in their ministry.  But when that's what we're preaching on, it creates divides, endless divides within the Christian church (the body of Christ) as a whole.

 I was at a launch team meeting with some local leaders and we watched a clip from John MacArthur's "Strange Fire" conference.  The conference was convened to respond to the Charismatic movement in Christianity taking place in the United States.  I wasn't particularly impressed with the footage I saw of the conference, which amounted to a bashing session at best.  It's important to address a situation where poor doctrine is being taught on a mass scale, I totally agree, but I would have done so quite differently.  Here is the clip we watched:

I would rebuke this bunch with one piece of scripture if I had such a chance, and that would be with 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV) which states"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful."

There is a balance to be found in understanding the Holy Spirit.  I thought Pastor Shane Idleman addressed a good balancing of that topic in this video:

So issues like this emerge more so than I would like, well that's the kind of world we live.  So be it.  There are plenty of disagreements.  I can live with that.  But I would love to see a more united body of Christ.  We can disagree all we want about various issues, but if we're agreeing on the cross of Jesus Christ and the Bible as the ultimate expression of God's authority, then I think we can unite quite a bit more than at currently.

There are so many denominations and separated sections and sub-sections that there is no unity of effort or gathering of resources and people to provide a united front.  If I had the time and resources outside of what I already do now, and the course of ministry the heavenly Father seems to be leading me in, I would engage actively in uniting the church in the United States as much as possible.  I would try to develop connections between various organizations across the board from east coast to west coast, develop closer networks of churches, and engage in bonds of united leadership.  We Christian leaders sit down together and talk about all the little details we disagree on and denominations form and non-denominations form, and divides form and pretty soon you have churches going up across the street from one another competing for business.  The UNITED BODY OF CHRIST is not a BUSINESS. We're a family.  Even when we don't agree on the time of the rapture in relation to the tribulation, we can agree on salvation through Christ Jesus.  Even when we don't agree on the five points of Calvinism, we can agree on prayer and worship.  Even when we don't agree on speaking in tongues, we can agree on the power and love of the Holy Spirit.  I would try to foster dialogues like that.  But it doesn't seem like that will be my ministry in the future, maybe, you never know, but if it's not I'll pray that God will raise up someone else to take on that daunting task.

For me, preaching the true Christian message to a generation raised on scientific skepticism, transformed by a depraved media, disenfranchised by an irrelevant half asleep Christianity, and married into a culture of complete selfishness and thoughtless patterned repetition is as daunting a task any I could ever face.  

But, God. ...And I'm filled with peace.  Because when the task is just too daunting we can't even begin to start, God has already finished.  He makes it possible, when all the odds are against us as Christians.  I believe we can do this.  We can see a resurgence in the Christian message in the United States, and I'll be even more bold and say that we can see a resurgence in Europe and continued growth in Asia and Africa as well.  It's a daunting task, it truly is.  But with God, we can.  And don't tell me God doesn't take sides, when the angel told Joshua that it was right before a battle, so regarding war, sure, but in regards to the body of Christ and sharing the Gospel, God is 100% on our side!

There are some solid things we can do to see a revival in our time:

1) We can do is pray on the completion of this task. Pray through the completion of this task.  And pray more, after the completion of this task.  Pray daily, pray in your head on the way to work, pray at your desk, pray at lunch, pray with friends, pray at church, and pray everywhere else too.  God isn't deaf, he hears our prayers and they avail much.  After seeing so many prayers answered in my short life as a Christian, I'm astounded and believe completely in the power of prayer.  If this isn't done, no chance in succeeding at all.

2) We can get educated on Christian Apologetics, the defense of the faith.  Youtube is a great resource, I've constantly watched Ravi Zacharias talks at universities, and there are many other speakers, some from RZIM and other apologetic organizations available to view.  There are many great books by people like G.K. Chesterton, Francis Collins, and particularly C.S. Lewis where we learn to intellectually defend the faith, as well as scientifically.  That way we can answer the questions of skeptical non-believers. 

3) We can get evangelical on a day to day basis.  There are so many things we can do to help the process of fulfilling the Great Commission just on a day to day basis.  We can share scripture on social media.  We can talk to friends.  We can email.  We can chat.  We can start blogs.  We can leave Bibles in bathrooms!  Post to Facebook, Craigslist, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social media.  Start a Bible study.  Talk to a friend.  Talk to a stranger!  Drop off Bibles at food pantries or homeless shelters.  There are tons of great ideas.

We can take the message to our home congregations.  Do you attend a church that isn't growing in new believers?  Shoot your Pastor an email.  Better yet talk to him or her in person.  Talk to others at your congregation about how we can challenge the current generation with the message of the gospel.  Organize events.  Get some community groups started, Mark Driscoll is getting free resources together on his website.  Establish an outreach, or new policy toward evangelism.  Use your imagination! 

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." -John 16:33 NIV

I think the most important thing to remember and which must always remain as the large beating heart of all our efforts is the Cross of Jesus Christ.  It's easy to get lost in all the efforts and approaches and lose the essence of the message.  The life and gift of Christ Jesus is powerful, and the example set for us in scripture in his life remains to this day a quality battle hardened use for evangelism.  The life of Christ can inspire the most stubborn skeptics, as we all have the desire to be honorable individuals within us.

When we reflect on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and keep it central in our message, we know both the great love he showed us and our powerful debt to him, and with that knowing our own compassion, courage, and determination in this quest is made complete.

May God richly bless you and keep you strong, safe, and determined in our quest to evangelize the world.  This task is daunting to us, but a whisper on the lips of God from being complete.  Nothing is impossible to him, and thus, nothing is impossible us, the body of Christ.

It was just before our great and powerful Lord Jesus Christ was arrested and willingly gave his life for all people that he made it clear to us; he had already overcome the world.  Then Jesus the Christ looked up toward heaven and prayed words that echo through eternity:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

“I have revealed you[a] to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of[b] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by[c] that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.
13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by[d] the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you[e] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” -John 17 NIV

Academic Paper: Biblical Authority

Justin Steckbauer
Biblical Authority

(This is a short academic paper I wrote on Biblical authority.)

The Bible claims to contain the written word of God transmitted through the revelation of his truth, communicated (inspired) through human writers. 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The Bible claims within it's pages to be breathed out by God himself. The Bible's authority comes from God himself in his communication of timeless truth. The message in the Bible stands out from all other books ever written in that it's words provide a link to the supernatural, and the result is transformed lives.

There are many reasons to believe the Bible is in fact the truthful word of a supernatural creator. The Bible is highly accurate historically, when compared to events cited in outside sources historically. The Bible has sold the most copies of any book ever written. It's also important to note that every human being on the planet seems unable to find fulfillment in human endeavors. This seems to suggest that we are created with eternity in our hearts, and need a connection to a loving higher power to satisfy us. The best evidence for the Bible is probably in the perfect life of Jesus Christ. His words cut through the most obstinate readers, and communicate the perfect lifestyle for all humans to follow.

The Bible was written by normal people of various occupations and lifestyles, but it is also the perfect word of God. 2 Peter 1:21 (ESV) states, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Inspiration means that the Holy Spirit works through divinely chosen individuals to communicate God's truth accurately. There is no flaw in that process, no possibility for the human to make a mistake, so what's written is considered utterly truthful and authoritative. There are no flaws in the Bible. It is correct historically, geographically, and scientifically. The Bible itself teaches that it is inerrant (2 Timothy 3:16). Jesus Christ viewed the Bible as without flaw (John 10:35 ESV). The Old Testament prophets indicated they were communicating God's truth (Exodus 4:14-16). The Bible has always been considered accurate until recent times, historically the church has regarded it as inerrant. If the Holy Spirit does communicate without flaw the truth of God to divinely chosen human writers, then it must be inspired as well as inerrant.

Since the Bible is true and without flaw, then I need to accept God's authority over my life. I don't recognize the Bible's authority over my life, that would be biblolatry. I do recognize God as sovereign, my personal Father. It's not by his law or even by his written word that I'm able to follow his commands. It's by the reception of his son Jesus Christ as savior, that I then undergo a trans-formative process through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I learn of God through the Bible. It effectively transmits a perfect message, but my Father is the only authority. There is no way for me to obey even some of his commands without the Holy Spirit. It is impossible for me to live eternally without Jesus Christ. I just try to improve a little bit everyday on this Christian journey, and instead of doing it alone, I constantly pray to my Father for support and guidance.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Cross of Christ Jesus & Reflecting the Savior

One of the fundamental truths of Christianity is that there is a God and I'm not it.  And I imagine that's an underlying truth as to why so many can't stand it.  They can't hear it, but they can, and they hate themselves for knowing it and they hate you likewise for saying it.  They will try to shut you up.  They will try to get you angry.  They want you so mad that you're afraid to bring it up again.  Keep bringing it up, but only if you can do so lovingly.  If you can't, start journaling and start praying for the people you're upset with, and when you pray for them, pray for two weeks straight, that they have everything you want in life.  Then your resentments will disappear. 

Let's be lights, reflecting the son. 

Be a light wherever you stand and whenever you stand.  Whether in mental hospital or chat room, school or steak house.  Be an example of truth, kindness, and justice.  Be a reflection of the Savior.

One can never escape the very essence of Christianity, which is Christ Jesus, and the ultimate love he showed on the cross.  Many can become lost in other areas of the faith, which are worth exploring and knowing, but the heart of Christianity, the heart of the faith, is the life Jesus lived and death Jesus gave for his people, all of his people.

Is my heart filled with reverence every time I speak the name of Jesus Christ? 

That is one of the solid goals here.  We've got to understand just what Christ Jesus did on the cross, on mount calvary, two thousand years ago.  We have to understand the debt that was payed, if we're to reflect the Savior in the world today.  It's by that understanding and the impact it has on our hearts, that we begin to understand what true love is. 

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I believe we learn to love after we receive the Savior, and begin a process of transformation.  We've all been hurt by the cruelty of this world.  We've all suffered at the hands of untrustworthy people.  That's ok.  They were not worthy of our trust or our love, but Christ Jesus is worthy of both.  Maybe a lot of us can't understand what was done at Calvary because we've locked our hearts away.  I know I did.  But the love we show for our heavenly Father will be returned a thousand fold.  It will not be betrayed or torn asunder.  We can offer that love, and by making a commitment to God he can teach us how to love again.

That's what is happening in my life.  I'm being taught how to love.  And of everything I might say about it, among all those thoughts, there is one penetrating truth: it is a good thing.  When I pass the commitment to my Father, and grant him reign over my life and input on all my decisions... well, life gets a lot easier.  It's not that life gets materially prosperous, but it is that no matter what happens I am eternally secure in my salvation.  And whenever I face a perplexing baffling situation in my life where I just don't know which way to turn, which way to go, I'm truthfully not as terrified as I would be without God.  Because I learn to get on my knees at that moment and give the situation to him.  So of course life is better with Christ Jesus, with the Father in charge.  And I would even say it gets easier, not in duty or undergoing persecution, but in the fact that I don't take it all on alone anymore, I take it on with the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE beside me.  That's how personal my God is.  

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis provides a brilliant metaphor in that statement.  The sun in our solar system is what allows us to see, even at night.  I didn't have any clue how to know a thing before I accepted Jesus Christ.  I had some vague ideas, some theories, but in the end it was all bull.  But when I became a Christian, it was by the transforming of my mind that I soon began to see the clear truth of things in the world.  Before then I had no frame of reference.  I didn't know the world was created.  I didn't know all hinged on my connection to God.  But now I do know, and experience continues to teach me that I see the truth now, like never before.  

“All who call on God in true faith, earnestly from the heart, will certainly be heard, and will receive what they have asked and desired.”
Martin Luther

It's so simple, it's haunting.  Where I see simplicity, yet infinite truth, I see the hand of God at work in the world.  The Bible is full of that.  A single verse can be examined and endless pages could be written on the meaning and truth within it.  I love the Bible.  For me it is the ultimate communication of God's authority and truth.  Finally, a book that I can test all things to, and discover whether they are truthful or not.

We need that in the world today.  We need a measuring stick for our actions.  We need something to test against.  It's just like how science needs immutable laws that govern interactions in the known universe.  Without those laws there would be no order, no measurable truth to examine and expand upon.

But the Bible misinterpreted?  Oh, that's no fun.  In the classic book The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, there is a scene where "Christian" the main character is journeying along toward salvation, when a man stops him and suggests he try morality as a way to salvation.  And he then goes off the path, and attempts to climb Mt Sinai.  The symbolism is rich as Christian tries to climb the mountain where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  That's what happens a lot of the time, especially in Catholic and Lutheran churches.  They try to climb Mt Sinai.  They try to follow the ten commandments to the letter.  But the Bible says we are no longer under the law. 

Galatians 3:25-26 (NLT) says "And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian.  For you are all children[a] of God through faith in Christ Jesus."  I don't know about you.. but to me, that seems very clear!  If man could have been made right by strictly following the law, there would have been no need for Christ Jesus.  No man can be expected to follow the law to the letter when they lack Christ within.  It's an impossible climb.  It is not a journey any man or woman can make.  The law taught us that.  Which is why we receive Christ Jesus within ourselves, and by that reception and the transformation that occurs after, we then are made good by God over time.

C.S. Lewis put it very well when he said: “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

Can I understand the kind of love it takes for my God to redeem forever someone who earnestly does not deserve such a thing?  I quite literally did not deserve any such thing.  I was a criminal and a liar, and most completely afflicted with the deadly human ailment called selfishness.  Bill Wilson called selfishness a plague on mankind.  And we are all afflicted.  All but Christ Jesus. 

For one to come about in the world, and live a life, 33 years and more without wronging people...  Without being self absorbed...  Without cheating, without lying, without causing pain to others...  Without acting as a fool...  Without spitting in the face of God...  He lived such a life of perfection.  What did he receive for this perfection of life, this incredible, unheard of act of living a flawless life, never seen ever before or ever since in all the history of man, not ONCE?  What did he receive, being tempted in all ways that every human is, and not falling to any such temptation?  He was conspired against.  He was pushed before authorities and condemned as a criminal.  He was beaten and whipped mercilessly.  He was publicly humiliated.  He was nailed to a cross, and left to hang there until dead.  And more than that, he died and was disconnected from God, bearing the weight of all of our sins.  Every time I made a mistake, or will make a mistake in which I harm others or myself, that is one more sin Jesus had to endure in his being on the cross. 

And what did Jesus Christ say as he was on the cross, slowly dying?  He prayed, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."(Luke 23:34 NIV)

And then as he bore the sins, and was punished for my sins, your sins, all sins, for all time, he cried out words that haunt my very being when I hear them in my mind, when I see them in print, he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matthew  27:46 NIV)

What happened at that moment to Christ Jesus?  It has been debated.  But I doubt it can even be imagined.  And for that, he is my Lord and Savior.  He is worthy of my praise, he is perfect.

His LOVE is perfect.
His LIFE was perfect.
His FORGIVENESS utterly perfect.
His JUSTICE perfect.

In all ways to me, he exemplifies what DIVINITY means.

There is no other religion on the planet that approaches the uniqueness and divine character of Christ Jesus.  Once sufficiently meditated upon there is a single conclusion:  Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, Immanuel, God with us, in person.  He is the historical and factual messiah.  He in fact lived and died, and rose again.  Such a personal God, to come to Earth personally to save his people... such a perfect life lived... such a perfect sacrifice... and such a divine character.  If I were not a Christian, but examining the faiths, I imagine I would look at the sacrifice of Christ Jesus and say THAT, is what a divine life looks like. 

Every time I meditate on that life, my own ability to love grows.  My own ability to receive love grows.  And I grow in admiration for my Savior.  I grow in loyalty to my God.  I grow in my transformation to be a picture of Christ Jesus in the modern world.

That is the goal.  This is the mission.  Let us live it.  Let us remind ourselves when we speak the name of Christ Jesus, of the depth and meaning within his character and within his sacrifice.  And let us remember the wonderful Good News: Christ Jesus lives!  He rose on the third day in fulfillment of scripture!  And he works in our lives individually, everyday!

I don't go into the brutal details of the death of Jesus to inspire guilt, but to inspire awe in your heart and mind for such an offering.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as our reception of that kind of forgiveness is a cause for celebration.  

In the history of the Christian church, the very first services in the 1st century were held in homes.  They would read scripture, and what struck me was that the first Christians, when they held services, held them as celebrations!  Not drudgeries or rebuking sessions, but celebrations of the salvation received through Christ Jesus, and the wonderful hope of the coming Kingdom of God! (Source: The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez, p. 107).

I'd like to close with Romans 5:1-8 from the New International Version of the Bible.  If you're reading this as a non-believer, skeptic, or agnostic, this bit of scripture really explains what it means to be a Christian.  And if after reading you'd like to turn your life over to the universal God of all things, it's very simple and doesn't require any robes or long drawn our ceremonies.  Simply drop to your knees, wherever you happen to be, and pray to God.  Outloud, or in your mind, "Father, I acknowledge I need you in my life, I believe Christ Jesus died on the cross in payment for my many failures.  I accept Christ Jesus as my personal Savior.  Father, I give my life to you, to do with what you would.  Please, use me to your glory in the world.  In Jesus name, Amen."

Romans 5:1-8 (NIV)
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

My Part in the Kingdom

This is a paper I wrote for Church Ministry 201, I thought I'd share it now that I'm in the D term. 

PART ONE: My Fit in Ministry (Before): I'm currently involved in several areas of ministry. At my home church New Day I'm on the prayer team. We pray for the service every week Sunday before it starts, and during the collection people write prayer requests and turn them in. Then we pray for the various prayer requests. Prayer is and will be a vitally important part of ministry for me. Unlike many in the church I literally and actually believe there is a God and that he answers prayers.
I'm also on the launch team for a new church called “The Edge.” It's a church designed to appeal to heavy metal rockers and music enthusiasts. This is key for me, because I was once a rock enthusiast. More so though, I was and am a drug addict and alcoholic. That's a powerful area of ministry, reaching out to those who feel like no one understands them and their addictions.
I have been pursuing a general course toward one day starting a church for seekers and lost people. I had a general major in religion and I hoped to one day start a large church, hopefully with growth, and eventually establish an international ministry. I've been observing various church leaders in the area and learning from them. I've been pursuing my own studies of apologetics, church ministry, atheism arguments, and arguments against evolution to arm myself for ministry. I do believe the primary state of mind in my church will be evangelism. My church ought to be thought of as a launching point only, to go into the community constantly. I had also been considering being a Chaplain in the military or in a hospital, public speaking evangelism, and incorporating 12 step recovery into my ministry as much as possible.

PART TWO: Spiritual Gifts: My three spiritual gifts that tied for first were showing mercy, exhortation, and pastor/shepherd. I would say that my spiritual gifts line up well with my path in ministry. Showing mercy is huge for me. I need to constantly be kind and compassionate and lift people up. I love encouraging people and I agree with Ministry is.. when it says that encouragement is hugely lacking in ministry. No wonder God called me to ministry! I love encouraging people. It's one of my favorite things to do. I also like teaching people how to encourage others. Exhortation is very important and close to my heart as well. This might fit with a more traveling public speaker mission of evangelism. I very much love and feel greatly compelled in my heart to share powerfully practical applications of scripture. Without practical application you get ministers who yell at their congregations to become holy, without explaining to them the process to see that happen. The twelve steps are useful in this capacity. In Kirk Cameron's film “Monumental” he analyzes a large statue left by the pilgrims, and the first step to safe guarding Christianity and liberty is inner transformation. My third key asset is pastor/shepherding. This makes it clear to me that I ought to eventually end up in a church preaching a consistent message week by week. I don't know if that's how it will start, or how my mission will conclude, but I'm sure it's in there somewhere. I try not to nail down too much at this point, I'm just starting, and I don't want to have a plan that I try to fulfill, I want to see God formulate a plan and put his mission before me so I can follow his plan, not my own. I did not score particularly well in serving, giving, or evangelism. I'll need to have ministry leaders with me who are good at gathering supplies and giving them to the public. I'll need people who are strong in that area. I didn't score too bad in administration, but I personally can't stand administration. The message is what's important to me. I'll need plenty of leaders around me who are good at organizing and who are good at getting the message out. Unfortunately I didn't score that well in evangelism, so I'll need to surround myself with leaders who are passionate about getting out into the community and can help plan those types of actions.

PART THREE: Church Evaluations: I found myself most interested with international ministries, public speaking, mission trips, small groups, celebrate recovery, hospital ministry, evangelism to non-believers, and giving sermons. I think I tend to look for the most authentic and genuine forms of ministry and reach for that. I also reach for large scopes in my ministry. I'm left handed, I'm a global thinker and organizer. I also have huge ideas for ministry rolling around in my head. I'm a planner and pioneer of new ideas at heart. I'm not exactly sure how to translate that into my ministry work, but I'm sure God placed those things on my heart for a reason. Primarily I saw a very evangelical spirit in my interest. I'm not interested in hiding behind the church walls. I want to be welcoming in new believers and non-believers. I especially want to be reaching out to drug addicts, alcoholics, codependents, and people with depression issues. I've had these issues first hand, and I know how devastating and confusing it is. I see my spot in ministry to bring these kind of people into the fold lovingly. Before my conversion I considered myself an intellectual, philosopher, journalist, and author. I believe a big part of my ministry will be speaking to atheists, agnostics, and idol worshipers giving intellectual arguments, apologetics, for the belief in Christ as Lord and savior. I feel a connection to confused and skeptical college students. I'd like to have a seekers ministry if possible, and encourage seeking. Celebrate recovery interests me, but I have issues with it's application in my previous experiences with it. I also enjoy small groups, and would want to incorporate them heavily into my church or ministry. I do believe my findings fit with my ministry path so far.

PART FOUR: Interaction with Church Leaders: I've noticed many things as I've interacted with church leaders and I've drawn a number of simple and complex conclusions as a result. Whether these church leaders know I'm watching them or not, I'm constantly watching everything they do even more so than most because I'm looking for tools to use once I graduate. I really like that Pastor Aaron is so genuine and positive. That makes a huge impact on ministry. The congregation will notice if a Pastor is being fake, it's very easy to tell if anyone is being sincere or not. Pastor Aaron is a powerful public speaker as well, and that stood out to me. When reading between the lines, I notice Pastor Aaron finds little ways to break through peoples apathy and religious skepticism. I also noticed where Pastor Aaron is coming up short. The man is very busy with a wife and five children, but he lacks a certain amount of connectedness with the congregation. He's always “busy” so people like myself have learned to just no longer even inquire about assistance or questions we might have. That is a serious problem, but I could see the same problem with myself. After investing hours in writing a sermon, getting their early, presenting the sermon, and taking care of all the other church business I'm gonna want some time to myself. Developing friendships and relationships is a hard thing to do, and an even harder thing to maintain. I've seen only a few ministers who do it well, and they're usually highly relational and charismatic in their style. They're people ministers. Aaron and I are very much not so much people ministers, but message ministers.
I learned a lot from my interactions with Pastor Dan as well. Once again Pastor Dan is powerful in his message and presentation of scripture, but lacks in general relations with the congregation. He is not particularly charismatic and tends to be rather awkward. This is something Pastor Aaron, Pastor Dan, and I have in common. I've noticed that Pastor Dan doesn't seem to make a lot of use out of the internet. The internet and internet outreach will be key in my ministry and it already is. I've noticed something both pastors could learn from is a style of growth used in politics called grassroots activism. I intend to constantly promote a message of grassroots evangelism in my church and/or ministry. Grassroots means that since there isn't enough money to really go out in force, the entire congregation takes on the duty of bringing in new people. Grassroots is strong with constantly pushing the message on the internet, hanging up posters and leaving business cards in the community, making phone calls, and just bringing in friends. It's been used effectively in political campaigns with short money such as the Ron Paul 2012 campaign, and I intend to formulate a similar model of evangelism in my church.

PART FIVE: My Fit in Ministry (After): I believe I'm on the correct path in ministry. I'm just getting my feet wet in the various churches and organizations in my area. I'm just learning at Liberty University what it really means to minister to people for God. My conversion date was less than a year ago, so I feel like studying and investigating a wide variety of ministry options is a good idea. I'm learning so much day by day and it's an incredible process. I've learned huge amounts of useful information in the course and I hope and pray that the knowledge stays with me and that I apply it well. I feel like I'm on a good ministry path so far. I'm learning the value of prayer, church planting, 12 step recovery, and personal Bible investigation. I've also found it highly effective to journal in my blog about my growth, and share little nuggets of wisdom I encounter on the way. This helps me to remember what I'm learning and maybe help some people along the way. I started my blog last March when I got baptized and I've had around 12,000 views on it so far. I'm very excited about the path before me. The chapter on prayer and how the great ministers and evangelists always prayed a lot deeply impacted me. I was praying three times a day and I thought that was good, but after learning that Martin Luther spent two hours a day in prayer, I realized I needed to set more time aside for it. I've been getting better with that. I transferred my major from religion to Christian counseling. I figured I would learn more about practical application of Christian principles by studying Christian counseling classes.
My next steps in ministry are fairly clear to me. I need to continue getting good grades at Liberty University. I need to continue to investigate spiritual principles as much as I can. I need to continue to find ways to be more relational and confident. I also need to break past my fear of one on one evangelism and start talking to more people I see throughout the day about the gospel. I would like to study apologetics as much as possible as well. I asked God in prayer to help me intellectualize my faith, and while watching the live stream at Liberty University I saw the video from graduation last summer where Ravi Zacharias spoke. In the last few weeks I've ordered several of his books, watched a dozen of his talks at universities, and starting incorporating his angle on evangelism into my blog sermons and writings. The message of apologetics is powerful and being a recovering self righteous intellectual, I could certainly see myself ministering to others in that area.
I'd have several key suggestions for people going into ministry. I would urge them to remain humble first. I would also urge them to pray constantly, and seek to have a strong message of encouragement and practical application. I would urge them to be very evangelical in their approach to ministry. I would urge them to consider inner transformation as the first key when beginning. I would also urge them to reach out and show uncharacteristic compassion and patience with people who are lost. We need more of that in the world today.