May These Words be Salty Pt. 2

What you are about to read is the second of three blogs that will span September 2 through September 5, as a massive update on what God has been doing in my life through you, my incredible support and readership. I hope, as it states in the About section of this blog site, that you are encouraged, strengthened (maybe even convicted) by the Spirit’s presence; that the Holy Spirit would speak through my life, and thus through this blog. Thank you, so much, for hanging through this tumultuous and inconsistent past few weeks that I call my life. Lastly, I am humbled that you would even give this page a gander… so it is much appreciated (and most excellent)! In the words of Paul in Colossians 2:6, may these words be salty. 

On August 19th, James and I, in my burdened honda set our sights on the West Coast. We stopped in Nashville, TN to visit my amazing godmother, or as we call her, Aunt Kay (if you’re reading this, I love you! Thank you so much for the free meal and place to stay).

 The next night we camped in Perry State Park and enjoyed a delicious, fire-cooked “hobo meal” which consisted of fresh: potatoes, garlic, spicy sausage, squash, onion, bell pepper, and seasoning salt all rolled together in aluminum foil and placed on some hot coals. Makes me hungry just thinking about it.

After feeding ourselves well, we headed to Denver to meet my awesome roomate Layne and his incredibly hospitable cousin Nikala.  The sheer beauty of the drive through the mountains had us wishing we could stay there longer. It got me wishing I could stay til winter to ski.

Then, for our longest drive, we camped at the grand canyon for a night and then explored it all the next day, the following are a bunch of pictures from our adventure at the canyon:

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28 ESV)

I am unsure as to whether jumping ledge to ledge, exploring the rim, and throwing rocks into a massive canyon can be considered worship, but I can tell you, I was struck with reverence and awe at our Father’s creation while at Grand Canyon National Park. You can look at picture after picture of the Canyon and never experience the breathtaking beauty of it because it is only something you can understand once you see it for yourself in person. In John 3:3, while addressing a man named Nicodemus, Jesus states: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In the same way we can read our bibles and commentaries, we can watch Rob Bell and Francis Chan videos, we can even go to church every sunday, but until we are born again.. until we understand the heavy grace and mercy of God crashing down on our lives daily… until we know that we are saved, that we can claim salvation through Christ by faith, and faith alone… then we will never see the Kingdom of God. The pictures just don’t do it justice.

 

One of my favorite moments of our most excellent road trip was when we stopped at a random spot along Route 191 called the Wilson Arch. It wasn’t planned or a part of the itinerary, just looked like an awesome place to explore. So we hopped out of the car and climbed, slipped and walked all over this place.

While there we did what any explorer would do… we stacked a bunch of rocks.

  This is our amateur cairn, or epic peace statue. 

James has been my small group guy since I started volunteering at Mandarin Presbyterian in the 10th grade. Seven years later, here we are, road tripping together and as I look back, the unplanned road stops, the daily 8+ hours worth of driving, the rock stack, the climb down into the canyon, the way we would drop rocks off of cliffs just to hear the gunshot boom as it cratered the canyon floor is what makes me value James as an incredible friend. But it also scares the crap out of me, because in Hebrews 13 it says:

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. (v. 7)

and

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (v. 17)

I have been humbly, and many times awkwardly, leading James and my small group for seven years. That’s longer than the ministry of Christ while he walked the earth in flesh and is a grain of sand compared to his ocean of awesomeness. I hope there are some parts of my life, pieces of me that my small group would want to imitate, but the one fact I know is that there are many other parts that I never want them to see, much less engage in and imitate. If I am to be watchman of their souls, or of your soul, if you call me a leader, then that is a massive amount of responsibility.

Frankly, I’m scared of screwing that up, or really, screwing it up anymore. If you call yourself a leader as I do and you’re reading this, I hope you are too.

So I then cling to the words of Paul:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV)

Recognizing the need for self-discipline Paul wrote these words. In a beautiful metaphor, he showed those of us who preach and teach what we have to do: we have to practice self-discipline and self-control. The only way I’m going to make this whole “soul-watching” thing work, is if I first trust solely in Christ and salvation found through him, and second, constantly move away from what is unbiblical and move towards what is. But then, I love what Tim Chaddick, pastor at Reality:LA said in his sermon last week: “If you’re a follower of Christ, you are called to ministry.” See, Christ didn’t call Peter to be a christian fisherman, but to be a fisher of men. Any occupation that we hold and really anything that we do, including a road trip, should be saturated by the word of God and follow the example of Christ. So maybe what Paul was saying wasn’t just for those who call themselves preachers and teachers, but for anyone who follows Christ. Are you still in the race? Are you still qualified for the prize?

God’s given us an unshakeable Kingdom; a church that not even the gates of Hell can overcome. Let’s keep a good watch over it.

Advertisements

May These Words be Salty Pt. 1

What you are about to read is the first of three blogs that will span September 2 through September 5, as a massive update on what God has been doing in my life through you, my incredible support and readership. I hope, as it states in the About section of this blog site, that you are encouraged, strengthened (maybe even convicted) by the Spirit’s presence; that the Holy Spirit would speak through my life, and thus through this blog. Thank you, so much, for hanging through this tumultuous and inconsistent past few weeks that I call my life. Lastly, I am humbled that you would even give this page a gander… so it is much appreciated (and most excellent)! In the words of Paul, may these words be salty. 

 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 2:4-6 ESV)

I live in Pasadena, California now.

BOOM.

Right? Crazy. So crazy. A week ago I would’ve told you that it hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m now resembling the metaphorical remains of a car stuck on the train tracks, abandoned, then pulverized by an oncoming CSX train with attached cars, vividly graffitied by the phrase: “Welcome to Cali, rookie.”

Okay that’s a little extreme. But nonetheless, “I’m a little overwhelmed” would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. Pasadena resembles my father’s hometown of Red Bank, NJ, of which I love, and Pasadena is in the middle of the San Gabriel Valley, which means if I want a view of the mountains, I just walk out the front door. Not to mention everyday “Cody-essential” commodities such as an Apple Store, a Mongolian BBQ, and a Pizza-n-Fries hole in the wall are all within biking distance (much to the chagrin of my bank account). Oh yeah, and I can bike to school too (much to the benefit of my gas tank). However, within an hour radius of Pasadena (with non-rush hour traffic) there is L.A., Anaheim, Santa Monica, Huntington, Newport, and Laguna Beach. If I could embellish the phrase “I don’t know where to start exploring,” I totally would in this situation. Regardless, California is awesome so far.

My journey across the United States was incredible, thanks to God, who created it’s western beauty that I had failed to experience with my own eyes for far too long, and to James, my 7-year-faithful small group guy turned friend and confidant. I’ll particularize the details of that trip in the next blog, part 2, to keep this one a little shorter than usual, but I do want to begin to mention some scripture we studied over the 5 day trip.

James and I began working through the book of Hebrews, taking a chapter day by day and each night breaking it down verse by verse, with help from YouVersion and the increasingly handy 2011 ESV Study Bible purchased this summer.  Hebrews is an incredible book which reconciles Old Testament themes, people and rituals, with the salvation found in Christ. Tim Chaddick, Pastor of Reality: LA, the church I have been attending out here, spoke last sunday on how we have a tendency of domesticating radical ideas as Americans; in other words, we subdue ideas, we pulp them into submission, eventually watering down them down so we can comprehend and swallow, rather than something we have to chew on and wrestle with. He gave examples of the revolutionary genre of Rock-n-Roll in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s that we now call “classic.” During this summer, on the last day of one of our trips in Mississippi, a trip leader blasted “Hell’s Bells” by AC/DC as the students were packing up. Don’t get me wrong, I am no stranger to at one time head-banging as a high schooler with my Dad to this song, but really? The last day of a spirit filled mission trip? of meeting and reconnecting with Jesus? Hell’s Bells? The irony is uncanny. THAT my friends, is domestication at its core.

So we, in many ways, have domesticated Christianity. We have highlighted our favorite verses and skipped over the others, we’ve focused only on the red verses and forgotten, or refused to consult the black and white foundation of those incredible red words, and even in those red words we tend to pick and choose. I’m guilty of all of the above. However, as Tim spoke of and as I realized wholeheartedly after reading Hebrews, that if we take scripture as a whole, within His entire will, knowing it as the very word of the Creator, it will ALWAYS disrupt this domesticating process.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13 ESV)

The book of Hebrews further confirms this view that if we want to understand Christ, to imitate him and those who follow him wholeheartedly (Heb. 13:7), then we must take scripture as a whole. The Bible is two testaments for a reason, and the writer of Hebrews does a pretty solid job of explaining why that is.

So let’s not water down the living water (John 4), but be filled and overflow with it. Because we aren’t dealing with a distant or dormant God, but a living God. Which is exciting but also sometimes terrifying.

it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31 ESV)

I’ll go into my fear in greater detail tomorrow, but this verse could not ring more true. Because the true Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do not sit idly by while we attempt to make Christianity palatable. For we who have surrendered to His will know that He rocks our world, destroys our own very foundation, our childish self-made kingdom so that we might be built upon the solid rock of Christ, that we might grow from the True Vine, and bear good fruit. We understand and submit to the fear of the Living God because not only, after experiencing this fear are we told “do not be afraid” through His word, but we also cling to the truth of the prophecy of Jeremiah, fulfilled by the second covenant in Christ, that:

I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more. (Hebrews 8:8-12; Jeremiah 31:34 ESV)

Our understanding of Christ must go deeper than public approval. It must. Or we’ll be left in the dust and 50 years from now all we’ll be known as… is “classic.”

I give it all to you, God, trusting that you’ll make something beautiful out of me

Every Wednesday we host a foot washing after going through an incredible testimony by Mark Felder (Bizzle – christian, hip-hop artist) and an expository sermon on John 13.

Yet each time, with every group, it is amazingly different. Each group, for that matter, is amazingly different. But the night you might notice that the most, is Wednesday night. Each week it has evolved and transformed, morphed if you will, to each group. Everyone brings in their own preconceived notions of what this night might look like, what it’s supposed to look like, and I am so guilty of that. I say “tonight, despite the general feel that everyone should serve and be served, is going to be totally spirit led through your groups.” However, I am always operating on a generalization, a relative order of things to happen. Then, each week, that “order” is completely blown to pieces. Call it being humbled, call me stubborn, but my greatest realization that I saw tonight, was that each time the Spirit totally and utterly takes control. And we ask that of Him, every Wednesday. That the Holy Spirit would lead, that hearts would be softened, lives would be changed. And every Wednesday they do, just not according to what I thought it would look like.

So, in retrospect, I’m sitting here, way past my bedtime thinking, that’s why God’s blessings are so powerful, that’s why answered prayers are so unreal. Because they simply, completely, utterly, demolish our preconceived notions of Christ’s power and we are struck with awe at his majesty. No wonder Moses approached the burning bush. No wonder Peter, James and John were basically speechless on the mountaintop as He displayed his true splendor. God is in the business of blowing our minds.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

Tonight, high school students and leaders cried. Male high school students, you know, the same guys who shower in boxers with a hose, wept in prayer. Some came to say thank you to us in mid-sobs. Hearts were dramatically changed and we ended the night singing about how our God is Mighty to Save. These things will never cease to amaze me. God will never cease to amaze me.

I just had to write a post tonight, because Wednesdays are unlike any other. It’s one thing to read about a teaching of Christ, but to actually do it is a whole other. He said “you are blessed if you do these things” towards the end of John 13. Students, Leaders and Staff alike were all blessed by the presence of the Lord tonight.

So now we face Thursday, and this one will be like no other. Next Step has the incredible opportunity to lead a local youth revival with our thursday night service, along with the group we have here right now. There could be up to 200 students total packed into the sanctuary tomorrow night. If you could please, join our team in prayer by lifting up tonight (technically now thursday night), that we would give it all to Him and hold nothing back. It was Wednesday, but now Thursday’s a coming.

My prayer, personally, that I hope you might find encouragement from, that you might pray for yourself is this:

I give it all to you, God, trusting that you’ll make something beautiful out of me. 

Will Reagan lyrics to the rescue once again.

Now Playing : Nothing I Hold On To (Live) – Will Reagan & United Pursuit 

Humbly Humbled and Recklessly Loved

This one has been long overdue! I am terribly sorry for my lack of updates! A lot has been happening:

+ our worship director has bell’s palsey
+ site assistant has an infected thumb
+ construction assistant had an infected eye
+ I sliced my finger open cutting a watermelon and had to get 5 stitches and contracted a nasty cold

We had 5 ER visits in two weeks, with this week being the first in three without one. In the midst of all of this, by the strength of God, we still ran 3 weeks worth of mission groups rather smoothly. He is so good. Even though the slicing of my own finger cannot be attributed to the Enemy, the many other happenings on this trip continue to convince me that spiritual warfare is a very real thing, and that the mission field has the best seats in the house to experience it all, both the high’s of seeing the presence of God firsthand and the dangerous lows of also seeing, feeling and enduring visual opposition.

I’ve been reading through the book of John in Eugene Peterson’s The Message and I found this verse just before having an incredible worship experience last night. It’s amazing how the Spirit can reveal such insightful truth at just the right times. After explaining the eventual coming of the Holy Spirit, making clear the Gospel, Christ states:

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world. John 16: 32-33 (MSG)

And that’s where I am right now, deeply at peace. Besides not being able to feel the top of my pointer finger (haha), life is still incredibly awesome and God has remained an unshakeable strength in my weakness. I feel recklessly loved.

…anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.
John 12: 25 (MSG)

Over these past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to be humbled, almost daily. Which, on the surface, is really no fun. Programming gets totally changed, people fall asleep mid-sermons, my human body finally gives and sickness occurs, fatigue takes it harshest tolls and conviction is rife. But the most glorious part of being humbled, being shown how weak we truly are without God, is that it has been an answer to my prayers. My pride (often mistaken for confidence) has always been something I’ve wrestled with, and so everyday, and every night before worship, I pray that He might humble me so that when I speak, I will not be disqualified from the prize of eternal life (1 Cor. 9: 24-27). I’m in the process of letting go of my life daily, that I might recklessly love, that I would love without inhibitions of second thoughts, that I wouldn’t limit my love or choose to love certain people, but that my love would be unlimited and unrestricted. This love is the same love we receive daily through the grace of Christ. It’s what is keeping us alive here and what helps us further the Kingdom. That’s the kind of love I want to show.

So just in case any of you are worried… our team is doing awesome! We just sent off an awesome week five this morning with lots of new friendships and are now sitting down enjoying some delicious pizza at a local place in Pass Christian.

We are lifting up:
– tiredness
– healing
– my amazing brother, who’s had a rough week, but experiences such an incredible love from an incredible church
– all of our past weeks, and future weeks, that commitments to faith would be steadfast
– that our amazing Creator would continue to work completely through us

I love all of you and cannot thank you enough for your support! I’m so sorry this blog post has taken so long to be published. Until next time…. Recklessly Love!
—————————————————
What we’re listening to:

Cornerstone (album) – Hillsong Live

Nothing is Impossible (song) – The Planetshakers

Washed by the Water (song) – Needtobreathe

Spirit Pending

Looks like I should just stop planning posts! So much for getting this post out on Saturday

Week 3 is now here and the sheer diversity of groups has been awesome. There is an incredible uniqueness that comes with each week and it really helps with sustaining that energy I was worried about losing. Tonight, I’ll be doing the first big talk in the weekly series on knowing the truth and daring to live it. For the purposes of other groups that might find this blog before they come, I won’t discuss what we’re teaching till probably August when I get back. I’ll do a daily sermon, in blog form, that first week in august when I get back so you guys can get an idea of the teaching that is going on in Next Step.

In light of my previous post, I must say that miraculous things continually occur here when lifted up in prayer. We are becoming closer and closer with our community here, which is a big deal for Next Step. We really don’t want to be seen as simply a missions organization, but one that partners with it’s impacted communities in unique ways so that there is always a long term goal and contact. As a worship team, we have already played two sundays at Crane Creek Baptist’s weekly services and our “contemporary style” is being met with a lot of encouragement (but we definitely tone it down, I’m on the cajon and no electric guitar). Everyone here was relatively worried about Tropical Storm Debby, but again we prayed so hard and the storm at first loked like it was going to take a hard left and now it’s heading right. Either way, our area remains unaffected as of today and the roofs, along with other outdoor work projects are being continued. However, TS Debby is ravaging its way through my hometown of Jacksonville, FL and most of northern florida in general, so as we are, please also keep their safety in your prayers as well. Dad says the pool needs a bunch of people to cannonball into it to get all the excess water out! haha

Today I was able to take a much needed day of rest and catch up on a few things, specifically sleep and my Fuller Seminary adventures. Life has been excellent and I am so pumped to see how God is using this blog. I love reading the comments and people text me about its content and it just makes me so happy. If you ever have a request to read about something you’d specifically like to know about here, don’t hesitate to ask!

I am currently reading through the book of John in Eugene Peterson’s “The Messgage.” Even though it is a paraphrase, the insight his interpretations of scripture offer are incredible. In the midst of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Christ is basically convincing this woman that he is the Messiah and how worship of the Lord is actually supposed to look. Rather than placing emphasis on “holy” grounds such as Jerusalem, Jesus offers this:

 “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

This is part of an interpretation of John 4:23-24 and I abolutely love it. In the ESV, the 24th verse reads: God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

Both contain the same truth, but I connect with the Message on a whole other level because of how it defines worship. That it must “engage” my spirit in the pursuit of truth. That worship needs to be totally honest. That we don’t raise our hands for show or lift up a shout of praise because everyone else is doing it, but because we truly feel the Spirit’s presence and want that connection.

The same soul God breathed into each one of us is the same one He wants us to worship Him with. Intently.

The youth pastor of CCBC (Crane Creek Baptist Church, the one we’re staying at) preached this past sunday and laid out simply the foundations to our relationships with Christ. Whenever we are in any relationship, family, friendly or intimately,  the first major milestone you hit is actually getting to know them. If we want to pursue a relationship with Christ we have to get to know him. And how do we do that? Well the one book on earth that describes him the best is probably on a bookshelf, in your car, under a dirty pile of clothes or quite likely left at a church event. Getting into the word daily has dramatically stretched and enhanced my faith in so many ways. A lot of times, people (like myself) think that if we go to church enough, watch enough online sermons or cool videos on God then we’ll get it. If we go to enough camps or do enough mission work, we’ll get it. But the reality remains that the greatest way to deepen your faith is to get into His word. It’s so simple, I’ve heard it preached on a thousand times and am finally figuring it out. Scripture like the one above speak so much truth into our lives, and it dares us live that truth out. That’s what this summer at Next Step is all about.

Know the Truth. Dare to Live it.

Here’s what we’re lifting up:
+ the safety of all affected by TS Debby
+ the healing of our vocalists (voices are really getting worn down)
+ an incredible week 3
+ rest, and humbling ourselves enough to know when we need to take it
+ great weather
+ a continued strive to put in 100% effort into providing the best possible experience for students to encounter Christ

Our worship director Jake was discussing the set with us during practice one day last week, and as we talked out the details of worship, he said the phrase something like “we’ll do that, spirit pending.” So awesome. Because everything we do, all the worship we offer up is really contributing to the Spirit’s work. So my last big prayer, is that we would all yield to what God has in store for us, His will, and in the midst of all that, we let Him guide every moment. Spirit pending.

Love you guys, thank you so much for all the support!

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Go Download/Spotify this

+ Song: Get Down – By: Audio Adrenaline

a classic song that the youth love. Always fun to hear students worship to the same ones you worshipped to in middle school haha

+ Song: This is the Day – By: Phil Whickham

one of my new favorites by Phil. Love the message of the song, definitely check the lyrics out on this one

+ Song: The Lost are Found – By: Hillsong Live

From the God is Able album. “The lost are found, the blind will see, the lame will walk, the dead will live, and You are God, forever you will reign.”