I’ve talked with Christians and other Christian leaders and many agree that we have an unfortunate issue in our culture. They say in countries where Christianity is illegal or where Christians are persecuted, the Church is experiencing the most growth. Conversely, in a country such as ours, where we have virtually complete freedom, Christianity is on the decline. Some would say that our freedom and wealth have lead us to lose our perceived need for God. I would agree with that because of evidence in my own life.

I’m training for a half-marathon. After a long break from running (about half a year) I’m getting back into it and it’s not very comfortable. But I’ve been reminded of something. When I’m in the middle of a run, I feel closer to God and I think I’ve figured out why.

In my day-to-day life, what need do I have of God? On my own initiative and strength, I go to work and earn a paycheck. With this money, I purchase things that meet the needs of myself and my family. If I have a problem, I can work it out on my own or if I need help, with my wife or a friend. I’m never without something I need (in fact I often have extra to spare).

When I run, though, something happens. I get to a state of physical distress. I get to where I am gasping for breath and my muscles are aching. Oxygen and blood are on short supply and I sometimes feel as though they may run out. And suddenly, I am in a state of great need. I am at the end of myself. And I have an awareness of my need for something greater than myself – God. On the surface, it’s a need for God to help me get through the run. But it awakens me to something deeper than that. It helps me realize that I live a life that takes no risks. A life that does not require God’s provision. There is so much I do on my own strength while God sits the bench. I may be lucky God doesn’t just say “Sianara, I see I’m not needed here.”

How do I order my life in a way where I need to rely on God more? I suppose I could ask God to show me. Where does God want me to sacrifice? Where does God want me to take risks? Where does God want me to have to trust Him? Hmmmm. Sounds scary. But what do I want to do – lay on my deathbed one day regretting that I always played it safe? Seriously. I’m sure an awesome revelation of God’s power and faithfulness awaits anyone willing to risk a life of sacrifice and obedience.

I feel like I don’t have the courage. Case in point. I don’t have what it takes. I need God to give it to me. I do need God.

Oh my gosh. My kids are so awesome. I can’t believe how smart and creative they are sometimes. No, you don’t understand. I love to talk about them and tell stories of the funny things they do and say. I love to brag about them. I am so proud of my kids and I love them so much! I’m really bummed sometimes when my kids don’t act fully themselves in front of others. They don’t show their true personalities like they do at home. People are really missing out. I just want everyone to know how cool, how creative, and how smart my kids are – how fun they are to be around. My wife and I look at each other sometimes and ask – are other kids like this, or are our kids just extraordinarily brilliant?!

If you are a parent, I would assume you can relate to this. When it comes to our kids we are so quick to praise them. When we do this, do you think God feels slighted and say “Hey, what about me?” You know the God I’m talking about? God, who sent Jesus to die for us. …Who has withheld his wrath on sinful man from us because Jesus allowed us to take on his righteousness …Who created all the universe with the power of his spoken command …Who has provided great wealth and blessings for us …who gave us our very breath of life as a gift today …who invented things like music and relationships and love?

What about God? Aren’t we proud of our God? Aren’t we proud to be associated with Him? Aren’t we proud that our God is above all other gods? Do we look for opportunities to tell stories about us and God?

Where is our praise of God? Where are our stories about how awesome God is? Where is our bragging about how smart and creative and brilliant God is? Why don’t we talk with our friends about the generous gift of life God gave us that morning? Sometimes it seems like God is just some utility silently running in the background that we only bring up when life isn’t operating as we think it should.

How does God handle being ignored? He has done more and is more, and deserves more credit for awesomeness than anyone else in the universe. Yet he sits back and watches as the very people He created virtually ignore His contribution to their life.

Perhaps I’m overstating it, but, I don’t know. It seems to me I should be acknowledging God a lot more since He is behind pretty much every great thing in my life – and yours.

Christians agree that Christianity is not about religion as much as it’s about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and that that is central to the life of every Christian. When you have a relationship with someone you spend time with them and dialogue with them. So, of course, Christians are to pray, which is just a fancy word for talking with God. But here’s my question. When you talk with God, do you perceive Him as far away in Heaven or very near, like a friend sitting across from the table?

In scripture, there are a countless people who had regular personal encounters with God. Of course Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden. Moses regularly held conversations with God, saw Him manifest in physical form and even was privileged to see God in person (from the back at least).

That’s great, but what about us? Is God really here with me as I type this? The Bible teaches us that God is omnipresent – everywhere at all times. It also teaches that God is very interested in us and follows our every move. You would think, then, that God is always everywhere we are and His attention is on us. Do we really believe it, though? If God is here, why don’t we have a knock-your-socks off experience? Why do our faces not glow like Moses’s did? Why do we not fall to our faces in awe and reverence?

I feel fortunate to have a faith that allows me to know God’s presence with me. When I speak to Him, I believe He’s close and that I have His full attention – even to the point where I sometimes pause and see what He might reply. This has been a result of seeking God and walking with Him for the past 15 (or so) years. If you were to ask say to me “But how do you know He’s really there?” I could only say, “I don’t know. I just know.”

I believe that if you were to honestly ask God to reveal Himself to you and you were fervently looking for Him (and you didn’t assume you knew when, where, and how He might show up) you would find Him. I believe if you want to find Him, He would show up and make it clear that it’s Him.

The more you begin to recognize how God shows up in your life, the more you will see Him and your relationship will grow from there. And you move from praying to some distant, gee-I-sure-hope-you’re-up-there-somewhere-listening God to a face-to-face God who is interested in carrying on an ongoing conversation with you. And you enter into this dynamic where more and more you remember to realize that God is actually with you.

What I have found is when we start to engage God in a truly personal relationship, He begins to ask us to do things. After all, we Christians are to continue the work of Jesus on this earth. So watch out because enjoying a deep level of intimacy with God requires obedience. Obedience is a demonstration of our love for God. It is also a demonstration that we have a living faith. It demonstrates that we really believe Jesus’ death and resurrection atoned for our sins, freed us from sin, saved us from God’s wrath, and that we owe Him our life for it.

With God, we do not need to invite Him to be with us – as we often say in our prayers (be with us as we…). We only need to come to an awareness that His presence has been with us all along.

How do you perceive God? Do you really believe He’s near or do you believe He’s a geographically distant God? How has God shown up in your life?

I’ve been reading Introducing the Missional Church and the most recent chapters have been about engaging your neighborhood.  What that means is befriending your neighbors, listening to the story of their life and then discerning where the Spirit is moving in their life – how is God working to draw them to Him.  The idea, then, is that you join in with what God is doing – addressing specific needs in their life.

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to meet some families in our neighborhood at our daughter’s Daisy (Girl Scouts) Vest Ceremony.  It was really cute.  A bunch of other kindergartners stood in a line and received little green vest they will soon be forming a daisy on with with “petals” they earn.  The ceremony included an informal carry in dinner and families were invited.  What a great opportunity to make some new friends!

To make a long story short, I chickened out.  There were about 7 or 8 families there, including a handful of other Dads.  I didn’t introduce myself to one person.  And I was very disappointed in myself.

I am a self-diagnosed closet extrovert who grew up thinking he was an introvert.  I never learned good conversation skills and the thought of initiating a conversation – especially on the phone – causes me mild anxiety. But when I finally get into a conversation, I am very energized.  My dad never knew a stranger and I remember him always chatting it up in line at the grocery store.  I really hope that is hiding in me somewhere.

So anyway… I was really hoping to make some new friends there but, alas, I let a prime opportunity slip away.  We did chat with a family on the way out but I still did not learn any names.  Why is it so hard for me to go up to someone and say “Hi, my name is Ben, what’s yours?”  I know there are a number of tricks out there to help fellas like me.  My friend Jared, who is a Marine Recruiter (until his recent promotion) told me to remember F.O.R.M – Family, Organization, Recreation, Music.  4 areas of life to ask questions of.  But my first hurdle is working up the nerve to initiate the conversation.

Give me an email or a blog and I’ll talk your ear off.

Do any of you have the same problem? Any tips or encouragement you have would be appreciated! 🙂

Today I started training for a half-marathon.  Boy was it brutal.  My legs were really hating me for 1) putting on extra pounds and 2) making them drag them around our neighborhood.  While running my mind usually bounces around to all kinds of things.  I found myself trying to overcome my brain’s strong desire to deactivate my legs.  For anyone who has trained for anything, there’s a huge mental factor.  You have to have a strong will to keep your body going – or distract yourself from the discomfort.

What I decided was a key factor in continuing my training was that I was going to have to learn to be ok with the Cumulative Value of my training.  So often we expect things like physical training (or even spiritual training) to operate on the same laws and principles of our consumer culture.  We want instant results and when we don’t see them we say “heck with this, it ain’t workin’!”  I know you’ve seen this played out in your life.  Perhaps that’s why a lot of our resolutions fizzle quickly.

The idea of Cumulative Value (which I learned from pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church) is that there is huge value of making small investments over a long period of time.  (It’s a lot like compound interest in investing.)  In my training, I have to be ok with not seeing or feeling any measurable progress from any given day to the next.  I have to trust there is cumulative value to all my little deposits of training-effort that will grow over time.  Instant gratification does not have any role in the equation.

So with any new year’s personal goal, what if instead of planning to cross a finish line, our goal was for daily deposits into that venture.  What if our goal was not to have our kids be self-assured, but to encourage our kids at least one time every day.  Or look for a way to serve our spouse at least once a day.  Or decide to pray for someone once a day.  If you have ever lost trust in a relationship, this principle is at work.  You only regain trust after days and days of integrity.  You don’t feel like any one day makes a difference but it all adds up.  If we got into a daily or weekly practice of something, one day we’ll look back and realize we’re in shape to run 13.1 miles.  Beyond that, we’ve hopefully developed a healthy life habit in the process – which is much more valuable than achieving a goal.

So in any training, I think something that will help me is to be ok with my daily deposit and just trust the principle of cumulative value.  Gotta love it.

If one were to peruse this  blog they would see a link to Monday Prayer nights.  If they clicked it they might see just two posts from many weeks ago and think ‘that’s odd’.   Tonight, after a busy holiday season, Monday Night Prayer was back.  What is it about a new discipline that is hard to work into your regular rhythm of life?

So we prayed together out loud.  No, the Holy Spirit did not ascend like a Dove, nor did we see tongues of fire.  But I trust over time these little bits of shared prayer will lead us into deeper encounters with God and strengthen our sense of oneness.  A lot of times we Christians use the “where ever two or more are gathered in His name…” verse in regard to church activities.  But the same goes for private family time. There’s no doubt that as we continue to practice this discipline, we will come to recognize God’s presence and learn to hear His voice together.

Plus, it feels much better when our oldest child to come out and find us praying in stead of watching TV or on our separate laptops.  As the cheesy church sign says: “A family that prays together stays together”.

I came across this post on a pastor’s blog that gave me a slightly different angle on the new year. I thought it was good enough to just quote in its entirety right here:

Sometimes our resolutions are so fancy and productive that they become a distraction. I know I’ve spent past New Year’s Days compiling lists of all the things that I want to change. Then I get to the end of the day and feel overwhelmed by the list and decide to just give up. No matter how SMART or DUMB the goals are, if you are buried in them you’ll lose.

Maybe you need to dissolve this New Year. Let your sense of self take a back seat to your family, your church, your staff. Instead of resolving to change a bunch of things about yourself, maybe it’s time to look out for the interests of others.

I know this blog is devoted to using media in sermons, but what if pushing for media is hurting your church? Maybe you don’t need to do it this year. Maybe you need to love people and put your desires off for a while. I’m not saying you should cave to pressure, that’s not helpful. Rather consider the needs of others first.

Maybe it’s time to dissolve this New Year

Of course! How wrapped up we get in ourselves that we don’t even realize it. Can you imagine what it would be like if even just the men in our country decided to turn their attention to their marriages, their families, their communities – their sons and daughters? How many dads/fathers have a new year’s resolution to make more time to meet the needs of his family (and I’m not talking about working more so he can provide for them – that achieves the opposite) From what I’ve learned so far, what a family needs of a dad/husband is an abundance of relational time. Engagement. Affection. Encouragement. Honesty. Integrity.

If I made that my new year’s resolution, I wouldn’t have time to work on anything else – and I’d probably have the most fulfilling year ever. Go figure.

Happy new year, everybody! Let’s spend the year putting our family and friends first!

We just finished our Christmas Eve service and I’ve got to get to Kroger for a honey do list and head home for our first of 3 Christmases.  It was a joy being with our church family tonight celebrating the coming of Jesus to Earth.  Have a safe and joyful Christmas!