My Flying Leap of Faith

I remember the old Indiana Jones movie – I forget which one it was – where Indy stood at the edge of a large canyon that seemed to be bottomless. And on the other side of the canyon awaited the priceless relic for which he had spent the entire film searching. He stood there frantically looking for a way to get across. Not seeing any possibility and knowing that somewhere not too far behind him, his enemies were pursuing him, he remembered a verse from the Bible. (You may remember that the Bible played a very significant role in his pursuit of the Lost Ark of the Covenant.) Anyway, the verse was 2 Corinthians 5:7 where Paul says to the church, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (KJV). With that reminder, he closes his eyes and takes a step into the canyon. A step that could very likely end very badly. Or, on the other hand, it could end very well. (The chances were better, however, that it would end badly.)

With his eyes closed and his foot extended over the canyon, he lowered it, only to have it rest (just in time) on an invisible bridge. A bridge that had not been visible before this step of faith. (I can’t remember if it became visible once he was on it. But that’s beside the point.) The point is that he didn’t see the bridge until he took the step. And even after he stepped, it may have very well continued to be invisible except through the eyes of faith.

Recently, I took a step of faith. Very recently. In fact, it was less than one hour ago. I resigned the job I’ve had for the past five years to pursue what I believe is a God-given dream.

For the past five years, my primary source of income for my family has been through this company. It’s a great company. I’ve been thrilled to be a part of it. It has afforded me a lot of privileges and benefits I would have never been able to enjoy if it had not been for this company. But the time has come for me to say goodbye to it.

Now, you may be asking, So, what are you going to do now? How are you going to feed your family of five kids? How are you going to afford your mortgage? To which I answer, “I don’t know.” “I don’t know.” And “I don’t know.” I have no other plan but to follow the leading of God’s Spirit as I feel He has very clearly directed my wife and me to take this leap.

There was only one other time in my life when I felt so alive in faith. Living dangerously as I felt prompted by God’s Spirit. That was five years ago when I left a great church that paid me well and provided great benefits in order to move to a new city where I knew practically no one so I could help start a church with no promise of income or insurance or housing. I often joke that I could relate to Lloyd and Harry when they said, “We got no food! We got no jobs! Our pets heads are falling off!!!” (Well, two-thirds of that joke was true.) But I digress…

The point is that the Lord directed us into a season of living by faith at that point. Shortly after that leap, He provided me with a terrific job (the one I actually just resigned), free housing for four months, and we never missed a meal – as proven by my waistline.

This reminds me of the famous story of Abraham and his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah from Genesis 22 in the Bible. God called Abraham to a tremendous leap of faith. This was not Abraham’s first leap. This had become a way of life for him. His first leap came years earlier when, at God’s direction, he left his life in his father’s homeland to go into the unknown. That was unheard of at that time. Young men grew up expecting to carry on their father’s legacy. Not leave it behind and start a new one. But that’s what God had called him to. And during the early years of that leap of faith, Abraham had some days when he believed that everything was going to work out well and other days when he wondered, maybe even doubted. (Ishmael, anyone?) But through it all, from God’s perspective anyway, Abraham’s faith never wavered, but actually grew stronger (Rom. 4:19-21).

Years after Abraham’s journey of faith began, God was still leading him further, deeper into it. Into places he would have NEVER gone without God’s leading. That’s when God asked him to do the unthinkable. Sacrifice his son. His only son. (Does that sound familiar to anyone?) The book of Hebrews in the Bible give us insight into Abraham’s thinking when he unbelievably obeyed God on this matter. It says, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Heb. 11:19, NIV). So, believing that God could and would make things right when everything fell apart, he went forward in faith… In faith……………… In faith. (Those words just look so good to me right now. I couldn’t move past them.)

Maybe you know the rest of the story. On the way up the mountain, Isaac asks his father, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham answers, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8, NIV). They get to the top of the mountain. They build the altar for the sacrifice. Abraham binds up his son and lays him on the altar. He raises the knife to kill his son for the sacrifice. God stops him while the knife is in mid-air. Abraham looks up from the altar and sees – what else? A ram caught in a thicket. Yeah. That’ll work!

They proceeded to sacrifice the ram that God had provided in place of Isaac. The story foreshadows the eventual coming of Jesus. There are so many correlations between Isaac and Jesus  and ultimately, that lamb, which was a substitutionary sacrifice, and Jesus. I don’t want to get into all of that now. (You can listen to my sermon on this if you’d like. It was on March 27th.) But what I want to say is that Abraham didn’t know how it was going to work out. Just that it was going to.

I am aware of that fact that some people in my life will think I’m delusional. (Did I mention I have five kids and a mortgage?) I am aware of the fact that I could end up looking completely foolish if nothing comes of this. I am aware of the fact that the dream which I am pursuing as I set aside everything that has been normal to me for the past five years is one in which there is ZERO potential (from a human perspective) for any kind of decent income. That dream is my church. I am the pastor. But I haven’t been a very good one because I haven’t been fully committed to it as I’ve been torn between it and my “day job.”

But in order to pursue the dream, I have to let go of that which hinders me. I have to go “all in.” I have to take the leap. And ultimately, I know “the Lord will provide” because He already has. 😉

God’s Strength or My Weakness?

I came across a quote by Mother Theresa in a book I am reading. The book is Furious Pursuit by Tim King and Frank Martin. I highly recommend it. It’s one of the good books I’ve come across on the power of God’s Love and Grace. But I digress.

The quote began Chapter Five. It read: “[God] will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your own weakness.”

So, I ask myself, and I ask you a very important question. Which do you have more faith in: God’s ability or your inability? God’s strength or your weakness? God’s faithfulness or your faithlessness? God’s love or your shortcomings?

So, which is it?

May Christ increase, and may all of our circumstances and problems decrease. And may He use His Church to accomplish great things in this world for His glory.

Don’t Try. Trust.

I generally practice what I preach (by God’s grace). But like everyone else, sometimes I realize that I am not doing as well with that as I should be.

I often talk about “trusting in God.” In fact, I talk about it a lot. If someone is going through a hard time. My advice: “Don’t try. Trust.” And I mean it. Every word of it. (All three words anyway.) But when it comes to me practicing what I preach… well… let’s just say I’m learning, too.

When a problem arises, my usual response is to try to immediately fix it. So, I start thinking about what action steps I need to take to get through the problem. I tend to be a very deliberate person, so I don’t usually act on impulse. I generally gather all the information, think, get advice from people I respect and trust, and put together a plan of attack.

At first glance, you may think, That sounds pretty good. What’s the problem? But what I’m learning is that there is a problem with my response to adversity.

My first thought has always been, Okay. Something’s wrong. How do I fix it? What I feel that God has been teaching me over the past couple years is to reorder my thinking so that when adversity rears its ugly head, my thoughts are not focused on what I need to do, but on what God wants to do through the situation. Instead, my thoughts should be: Lord, I know that You love me, and I know that everything is under Your control. You cause all things to work together for my good. I trust in you. Lead me in this situation. That’s it.

Recently, Jessica, who is our children’s pastor, posted a very simple status update on her Facebook page. It simply read “Psalm 91.” I was curious what was in Psalm 91, so, I opened my Bible and read it.

I can’t express how much those words ministered to me as I read them that day.

My eyes watered. My throat swelled. My heart raced. And in that moment, a sense of peace and calm came over me.

Psalm 91 (NLT): 1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 This I declare of the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I am trusting him. 3 For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from the fatal plague. 4 He will shield you with his wings. He will shelter you with his feathers. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. 5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor fear the dangers of the day, 6 nor dread the plague that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. 7 Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. 8 But you will see it with your eyes; you will see how the wicked are punished. 9 If you make the LORD your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, 10 no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your dwelling. 11 For he orders his angels to protect you wherever you go. 12 They will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone. 13 You will trample down lions and poisonous snakes; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! 14 The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. 15 When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue them and honor them. 16 I will satisfy them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

For the past week, I have meditated on these words and received them as God’s promises of love and affection for me and my family. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had moments of weakness. Moments where I needed to be reminded of these truths. I’ve had my share. But when my natural response would be to TRY something. To DO something. He is teaching me to TRUST.

I once heard Pastor Joseph Prince preach on a subject similar to this. He said that when he was young and worked as a lifeguard, he was trained to let a drowning victim give up before he was to attempt to save them. The reasoning was that, as long as the victim was trying, he was dangerous. He would more likely drown his rescuer than be rescued as long as he was flailing about. So, the lifeguard was trained to get close and wait for the drowning victim to QUIT TRYING before he could offer help.

I wonder how many times God has stood nearby, waiting for me to quit trying, so He could swoop in and save me.

UNcommon

I recently asked a question on my Twitter page to which I received some very good responses. That question: What is one thing that is very common, but when one other element/ingredient/thing is added to it, it becomes amazing?

The responses were great.

Mud is very common. But when it is massaged into a ball, a certain amount of powder is added to it, and a little more skillful massaging, it becomes a beautiful, decorative piece called Dorodango. (Don’t worry. I’d never heard of it either. But if you go to the link, you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

Clams are very common. Sand is very common. But when these two common things work together, a pearl is sometimes the result.

Perhaps my favorite response came from my friend, Amy, who said, “A blanket is very common. But add sleeves, and you have a Snuggie.” A truly amazing innovation!

I recently read 2 Corinthians 4 where Paul talks about how a great treasure was placed within flawed vessels to create a beautiful result. That result: the beautiful (and yet paradoxical) truth that God dwells in flawed people. How amazing is that!?!

In that chapter, Paul said, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (verses 6 & 7).

If you are a follower of Christ, meaning that you have acknowledged your hopelessness and sinfulness apart from Him and have put your faith in HIS provision for your salvation, then you have been made UNcommon. You were a very common man or woman. Made common by your flaws. By your brokenness. By your inability to do much of lasting worth on your own. And you were given a very UNcommon gift. The gift of Jesus Christ as your Savior and the Spirit of God to live within you. This makes you very UNcommon.

You are not common. You are UNcommon.

You are not ordinary. You are EXTRAordinary.

(And not because you’re so special, but because of the special One who lives within you.)

I wonder why we don’t see more UNcommon results in our lives and in our churches. Are you (like me) tired of the common and ordinary? Are you ready to see UNcommon results and EXTRAordinary living?

Help Portrait

Help Portrait event

Date: Saturday, December 12

Time: 8:00 AM

Location: Peoria Dream Center (downtown Peoria)

I’ve been praying for ways the church I pastor can be used in the community to illuminate the light and hope of Jesus Christ to those in need.

These days, it seems that many churches are taking a missional approach to ministry. They invest a lot of their resources into the many opportunities to help people in their community. They have food kitchens. They have second-hand stores. They have various sorts of benevolence ministries. And it seems that they have a lot of their people involved, because people want to make a difference.

Josh (one of our worship leaders) approached me with an idea that he was already going to be a part of. Josh is a photographer in our town. He and another guy are heading up the local branch of this event called Help Portrait which was started last year in Nashville by a photographer there. (It is a movement that is in cities and countries all over the world.)

The idea is that people in need would have an opportunity to get a portrait taken. Many of them would never have that opportunity without an event like this. So, photographers, hair stylists, and make-up people gather together, prepare the people for their moment in the spotlight, and then take pictures of them. Then they receive their portrait (probably by mail later in the week after it has been developed).

The part our church (and people who aren’t photographers, hair stylists, or make-up artists) get to do is make these people feel comfortable and at home while they are waiting their turn.

The part that I really liked about this idea was when Jeremy (the photographer who started this movement) said in the promo video, “What this is about, is people giving what they can give.” A photographer has a skill that can add value to people in need. It may not be the traditional ways that people help those in need. But it was what Jeremy thought he could do.

What if we all asked ourselves, What can I do or give that would offer hope to someone in need? It may not be a traditional way people have helped others in the past. But if we all offer something (and I’m specifically talking about the Body of Christ – the Church), the people who need hope will begin to see the love of their Heavenly Father for them in action.

www.help-portrait.com

Christmas Light and Hope

This past Sunday, we announced some plans we have at LGC for our involvement in people’s lives during this Christmas season.

I had lost my voice a few days before, so I was unable to share the message I felt that God had stirred in my heart. And although I most certainly know that GOD DID NOT MAKE ME SICK (I can’t be clear enough about that), there was a real opportunity that may have been lost had I not been.

Justin (our youth pastor), Josh (one of our worship leaders), Jess (my wife), and Jessica (our children’s pastor) all took a few minutes to share some different areas that they will be helping to lead in our efforts to bring light and hope to people who need it.

The three events cover three areas we feel very strongly about. First of all, Josh talked about an event called Help Portrait that we will be a part of. This event is about reaching those in need. Then Jess talked about a community event called “Little Bit of Christmas” in Sunnyland. We will be a part of this event, too. It is our chance to bring light and hope to people in our community. Then Jessica talked about the LGC Kids’ Chrstmas Pageant. This event is intended to minister to our own church family as well as our friends and family.

Over the next few days, I’ll be blogging about each of these three areas. My hope is that I can clearly express my heart for why all three are necessary and why we want to invest in these areas.

Dreaming Wide Awake

wide awakeMy dreams tend to be quite ridiculous. I mean, my dreams while I’m sleeping.

One night I dreamt that I was holding onto a weather balloon that caused me to float high over a lake where my family used to camp when I was a kid. The next thing I knew I was wearing a cat mask while walking through a Middle Eastern Bazaar and looking for a certain kind of food. (I’m not even sure what kind of food it was. I think I made it up.) Not long after that, I was probably running a marathon with watermelons for shoes or playing hopscotch with an alligator. I can’t remember. The point is, my sleeping dreams are usually quite ridiculous.

I have learned though, the power of the dreams God gives us when we are awake.

Erwin Raphael McManus wrote a book entitled Wide Awake. I have had it on my “To Read” list for quite a while, but until just recently, it never made it into my hands.

McManus is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I find that when I read his books, I feel the Holy Spirit gently speaking to my spirit about the dreams He has put within me. Dreams that have been lying dormant for a while, but that He is awakening within me.

I feel that I have been sleepwalking for a while. I tend to do this (go through the motions without really living life to the fullest) when I get busy, but my actions aren’t driven by my dreams. I think we all struggle with this. And we need people and events that rekindle the burdens in our heart that God has given to us.

When we started LGC, we felt that the world absolutely needed this church. We felt that the message of the finished work of Jesus Christ was one that needs to be heard. We felt that the church world (as well as the unchurched world) needed to know of God’s love for them. Everything He ever did was motivated by love. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us more. There is nothing we can do to make Him love us less. His love is perfect and unchanging.

Lately, I’ve asked myself, If LGC picked up and left, would Sunnyland and Washington even know we were gone? The sad answer is, no. I don’t think they’d notice. However, I’m convinced that if we begin to dream God-inspired dreams again and follow those dreams with clarity and focus, we will leave such an impact on people’s lives that the community views our presence in their town as vital – so that the feeling is mutual.

God is challenging me to pray for vision that requires His force behind it. I don’t want to come up with my own ideas and ask God to bless the work of my hands. But I want to ask Him what He is up to in our world and get on board with it. I want to dream. Because I want to have an impact on more than just my couch.