Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fresh Starts

Fresh Starts

As summer is starting to come to a close, I am looking back on the amazing time I had in Santa Cruz and all of the wonderful people I met and all the amazing things God did in my life, but I am also being rather abruptly confronted with this new school year – new classes and new people to meet. Coming back from a summer in which I changed so much everything seems new, and it reminds me of a conversation a friend and I had about fresh starts.

Sometimes all you want is a fresh start. Maybe it’s to start over in a new place where no one knows you and you can recreate yourself into who you want to be. Maybe it’s just a do over to change something that has happened that seems to have changed everything else about your life. Maybe it’s new beginning to a relationship or avoiding it entirely. Whatever it is, we all seem to be naturally drawn to the idea of a fresh start.

We all sometimes just want to step away or step back and begin again. I think it’s partly because things in this world often don’t want to let us go, and things of this world are heavy. We walk through this life collecting memories and relationships and guilt and reputations and beliefs and disappointments and regrets. They grab hold of us and don’t want to let go. We try to shake them and ditch them and if nothing else ignore them, but we can’t seem to lose them. Eventually we just want to collapse from the sheer weight of it all. I feel like that’s why people are so attracted to fresh starts; they are just tired – tired of bearing all their baggage and burdens. They just want someone to take it off for a while so they can start walking again. That’s why fresh starts are so appealing; you aren’t carrying the weight of your steps yet.

That’s the situation I find myself in often – so tired of carrying all of life’s baggage. I just long to have it lifted off. I just long to be redeemed.

And that’s why I am so thankful for Christ. He is so quick and willing to bear it all for me. No situation is too large, no guilt too heavy for the arms of the Savior. A life with Christ promises a fresh start each day. I may not be able to change my situations, but in Christ I am able to enter into it new- a new person and new creation. And I am so thankful. I am able not only to be washed clean but made new. As I walk on hard pressed from the weight of this life, I am able to surrender that to someone far stronger and far more capable of bearing the load. Even as I find myself there now again wishing for a new start, I am thankful for a God strong enough to carry me and loving enough to redeem me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

His Story

His Story

This is my testimony that I shared last night at Monday Night Live (our weekly project meeting). This isn’t my story. It’s God’s of how he found me and saved me and loved me through it all.

I grew up believing there was something wrong with me, and I lived my life trying to prove to others and to myself that there wasn’t. From a young age I can remember always just feeling broken.

I would spend all my time trying to gain the approval of others – my family, my friends, even complete strangers – just to feel brief highs of approval from myself, but even those moments were fleeting and temporary.  My brokenness seemed to be saturating, and before long it would come creeping back in.

It got to the point where I couldn’t even enjoy relationships with other people because I was afraid if they got close enough to see the damage, they would turn running

So I tried to become someone else – a Bryan who was loud and outgoing and hopefully funny, a personality too big to touch, a personality that kept others at a safe distance.

I was trying to convince the world that I didn’t need a savior, all the while staying up every night hoping that one day I would be good enough to save myself.

But that was exhausting. The harder I tried to put up the act, the more broken down I became and the less I believed it myself until eventually I was just so full of self-hatred that I didn’t want anything to do with life anymore.

And that’s where God found me, for you see I didn’t go looking for God. As a matter of fact, I did everything I could to run far far away from him.

After being raised in a church almost every Sunday, I knew enough about God to harbor massive amounts of anger and resentment towards him for building me broken. I wanted nothing to do with God – despite my outward appearance of active church goer and youth group leader.

But that’s where God met me, in the middle of all that anger and brokenness. It was later in high school that I quit just hearing about God but instead he started revealing to me who he was. God entered in to my anger and my brokenness and took it upon himself because God didn’t build me broken; he built me for himself to have and to know and to love.

It was my sin that broke me – my wrongdoings, my failures, the places I fell short, and what I thought was wrong with me came from the broken relationship I had with him because that’s what I was created for and that’s what I was missing. But Christ came into this world and took my failures upon himself. He bore that weight for me so that nothing could separate us, so that he could bring me back to himself.

All I had to do was trust that he was enough, and that he was who he said he was – a God worth loving who loved me.

I just remember understanding this for the first time and just being blown away and just tired. I was tired of running from God, and I was tired of living life with a lie plastered across my face.

So I decided to give my life over to Christ in hopes that he could put my pieces back together into something usable, but what he did was far more than that. He didn’t just put me back together with glue in the cracks; he made me new. He made me something more than I could have ever been on my own. He made me his. I am just so thankful to be his.

Now I try to live my life for him and his glory, trusting him enough to trust others with myself because I know that I serve a God who shines through the brokenness.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Faith Proved Genuine

Faith Proved Genuine

Being on the outreach team in Santa Cruz has been one of the biggest blessings so far here on Summer Project. Getting to plan, lead, and taking part in all kinds of different outreaches throughout the city has definitely been a learning experience. Not only am I learning how to share Christ with others in the power of His Spirit, but I am also being slammed in the face by the proverbial tsunami of brokenness from the people here.  You can see a want for God around every turn, but equally present are god-replacements and spiritual band aids. It’s a very spiritual place, but it’s a place lacking in truth.

But from the many outreaches we’ve done and from the times I have just gone out into the city to share Christ on my own or with my discipler (Charles Itschner-He’s the man!), I have had a good number of conversations with people that have left me thinking (as I hope it has done the same for them). This post is I response to one of them.

My discipler and I went down to the wharf with the intent on talking to someone with the hope of sharing Christ with them. We stumbled upon (or rather God had us trip over) a fisherman named Victor. He was originally from the Ukraine but now currently lives in Sacramento and was in Santa Cruz visiting for the day. The conversation progressed and he eventually asked where we were from and why we were here, which allowed us to explain Campus Crusade (or CRU) and the purpose of our summer project. We asked if he wouldn’t mind talking to us for a little while about his beliefs as we were trying to get a better grasp of the spiritual climate in Santa Cruz. (I promise this sounded much less “Mormon-ish” in the moment) He agreed telling us that he was a Christian as well, having been raised in a Christian home. One of the questions Charles asked was, “If someone were to ask you how to become a Christian, what would you tell them?” To this Victor really didn’t have an answer. He mentioned that he had kind of inherited it from his parents, being raised in the church. He said that he could tell them the typical answers like belief in Jesus, but that just sounded kind of corny. (We live in a time among a church who often believes the truth is too corny to share – I could go on about this, but that’ll have to be another post for another day) So Charles and I proceeded to share and explain the Gospel to this man, with the hope of teaching how to better share his faith as well as giving him a clear understanding about who Christ really is. Throughout the entire conversation, Victor seemed really interested, despite the whipping wind on the wharf. Afterward his tone changed and the way he spoke to us shifted to a more serious a more honest voice. When we asked how we could be praying for him, he answered,

“In a world where so many people fake their faith, I worry about the genuineness of my own.”

And it’s that statement that really stuck with me from that conversation. We continued to talk with him, and we prayed over him, but I left with those words echoing through my head.
It’s a valid concern, truly. We live in a country where “Christian” seems to be the default status, where churches are often filled with people going out of obligation and appearance rather than any desire to know God more – Churches where lies are often sung as bookends to a sermon that people are just trying to bear through while wearing clothes too tight and binding all the while focusing instead on the best way to beat the traffic to a filling Sunday lunch. Genuineness is seldom seen and a noble thing to search and hope for. But how can we find it? How do we know what we have is real, and we aren’t just like all the other fakers out there? How do we keep it?

These are questions that rocked my Christian walk. Over and over I found myself praying the “sinner’s prayer” because after examining my life it didn’t look like I really meant it the last time. I kept messing up too badly and too often. “Real Christians” didn’t act like me. So as Victor’s words brought me back to that time in my life, I tried to remember how I had answered it. The answer, I remembered, was faith.

We find genuine faith in Christ, and we know that it is real because we trust in Him to keep it, to keep us. The thing I didn’t realize growing up was that my faith wasn’t mine to maintain by doing all these works to keep God happy and impressed with me. My faith was His to hold and pour into me. That’s how grace works. There was nothing I could have done to earn God, and there is nothing I can do to lose Him. I am simply His, forever. Trusting in that truth is how you begin to walk. Just like a new born learning to walk, you can do nothing on your own without your Father lovingly holding you up, and yes you fall and stumble, but your Father doesn’t scold you; He picks you back up and encourages you, helping you forward. But this is how it stays forever. It’s not that the more mature you become in your walk, your legs get stronger and you learn to hold yourself up. The more mature you get, the more you understand that you’ll never be able to hold yourself up alone, and the more you lean into the Father’s hand.

So please be praying for Victor as God shows him this, and continue praying for me as I am still learning and often trying to stand on my own.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ordering My Steps

Ordering My Steps

Last week while I was running along the cliffs I saw a woman sitting on a bench facing the ocean reading a bible. This is definitely not common practice in Santa Cruz, so it stuck out. It was really encouraging to see a fellow believer in this city (other than my fellow “Crusaders” as we are called by the locals) and to know that God had other people He was using here and that we weren’t alone in our mission. I continued running until I got to the lighthouse, where I always turn around and go back to the Peter Pan (it’s about a three mile round trip – a pretty good run to start off your morning.) As I was heading home, I couldn’t get this woman off my mind. I really felt God telling me to stop and talk to her. Now I’m not sure if you know anything about me, but I’m not the greatest one to take steps of faith and randomly talk to strangers, even if I feel like God is telling me to. In short, I’m a coward. But I couldn’t get this woman off my mind, so I figured that I’d pull over and try to give her some encouragement and maybe ask her how I could be praying for her and then continue on my run; thereby fulfilling my Christian duties and alleviating this nagging feeling on my heart.

So I pulled over, and the encounter went something like this:

“What are you reading?”

“The Bible,” she responded in trepidation, wondering what form of Santa Cruz crazy had come to interrogate her today.

Laughing I said, “I know. What passage?”

“Oh,” she said relief washing over her face as she recognized me as a fellow believer. “Matthew 20.”

“Well, I just wanted to stop by and talk because this is a rare sight in Santa Cruz, and it was really encouraging to see you out here reading.”

“Oh well thank you. I’m actually the pastor’s daughter at First Baptist Santa Cruz. Are you from around here?” She asked after apparently picking up on my southern charm or perhaps reading my NC State shirt.

“No, I’m from North Carolina. I’m actually here on a ten week mission project with college students all around the country. I just got in the other day.”

“That’s great! We definitely need more of that around here. I actually work at Stanford; I’m here visiting family. I’ll definitely be praying for all of you.”

“Thanks. Is there any way I can be praying for you?”

She went on to describe her current dilemma over whether she was about to marry the person God wanted her to. I informed her that I would indeed be praying, and I continued on my run, Christian duties fulfilled and conscience satisfied, but that wasn’t enough. As I got to the bottom of the hill that leads up to the cliffs, I felt like God wanted me to go back. Maybe I should pray with her now; maybe I should ask her a question about being a believer and working at a university. I didn’t know, but I knew I was supposed to go back, so with and acquiesced, “Okay, God,” I started my way back of that hill to the woman on the bench, whose name I had learned was Stephanie. She saw me coming back and smiled.

“Hey. I hate to bother you again, but I really wanted to ask you a question about possibly working in a university.”

“Oh, that’s fine. I just finished my reading. Are you wondering what school to go to for grad school or what master’s program to get involved in?”

“No, actually I was wondering how easy or difficult you found it to share your faith and witness to others in an academic setting like that.” She was a little surprised by my question, but she sat and thought for a moment, and what proceeded to flow out of her mouth at that moment was some of the greatest wisdom I had ever received from a stranger (not that I get wisdom from strangers often, but I digress - this was good stuff). I had wished I had had a pen and paper with me so I could have taken notes, but what she said went a little something like this:

“We live in a time where Christians are really afraid to open their mouths about their faith, and they often use their environment as an excuse. But God is either God in that setting and that environment, or He’s not God at all. We can’t be afraid to speak because our faith hasn't been given to us to make us fearful but free. We have not been given a spirit of timidity but of power.  We are free to be His and used by Him, and there is freedom in letting God be in control. Every morning I wake up, and I ask God to order my steps that day in His will not my own, for my life to be His to use not mine to own.  Whether you work in a university or are a minister, that’s just your assignment to do His work. You have to realize that, that no matter where God puts you, it is where He wants to use you. That should be your ultimate purpose while you are there. And you can’t try and connect the dots of your life on your own because as soon as you start trying to make plans your way and not His, that is the moment you are going in the wrong direction. You have to let the Lord guide your path and connect your dots and order your steps. Your environment doesn’t matter because your purpose never changes.”

She went on to explain that she was not only an associate dean at Stanford University, but a minister at her church. (dream job?) We then began to pray together and over one another. I’m sure the people running by thought it was an interesting sight, but Santa Cruz is in no shortage of interesting sights. I then thanked her and continued my run back to the Peter Pan Motel. She actually flagged me down in her car later to give me her card and told me to email her sometime about how my summer is going.

The Lord truly blessed me through that conversation. I was amazed to see how God would reward us for taking even the smallest steps of faith, but that was one thing I really wanted to work on this summer. It’s the reason I joined the Outreach team. I really wanted to challenge myself to take bold steps of faith in the power of His Spirit and just let Him carry me through. Not only was I rewarded for taking that small step of faith, but what Stephanie said spoke directly to that. “God is either God in that environment or not God at all.” God is either God in every aspect of my life leading me through and having control, or I’m not letting Him be God over my life at all. I have to trust that He will care for me even when carrying out His word and His will gets scary. So thank you, God, for speaking to me through Stephanie and teaching me what it means for you to not only be my Savior but my Lord as well. Please order my steps for the rest of my days.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Praying the Impossible

Praying the Impossible

I heard a story the other day of an older woman who when asked how she and her husband had stayed in ministry for so long answered, “I pray the impossible.”  When questioned further she said, “I believe that when I pray, God gathers the angels and says, ‘Look over here. Something is about to happen.’ But when we pray small, God says, ‘Sit down angels. They can handle this in their own power.’ I don’t ever want to make the angels sit down.”  Now that’s probably not doctrinally or theologically accurate, but I feel like there is something in that, and it got me thinking.

Habakkuk 1:5

Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.

That’s my prayer for this project. That’s my prayer for my life. I pray that God will work in and through me the impossible that even if I were told about it before hand, I wouldn’t believe it were possible.

There is something about praying the impossible that takes you outside of yourself. It’s something you can’t do alone, and so it forces you to rely on God. It puts the pressure on him to act and on us to just believe faithfully with patience in obedience.

I want to make demands on God’s grace because I serve a God who wants to work on behalf of his people.

Matthew 7:7-8,11
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, it will be opened.
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him.

I serve a God who loves me and the people of this world and wants to use me to help them and reach them in impossible ways. So why not pray for the impossible from God?

Luke 1:37
For nothing will be impossible with God.

We always try limiting God, putting him in a box, recreating him in our image, but God is so much more than we can even imagine. A view of a small God makes for a big world, but a view of a big God makes the world seem a lot smaller and easier to handle.

Isaiah 55:8-9
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Why can’t we trust in those ways, which are greater than our own and believe God will work? So often it seems we are afraid to ask too much from God as if we are going to offend him. Or are we really afraid that he won’t do what we ask and what that might mean? Do we really have such little faith?

Matthew 17:20
Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there.” And it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.

We serve a God who works through his people. We are his plan for reaching the nations. How will he accomplish great works in this world if His people have too little faith to expect such things from him?

John 14:12-14
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Christ said that his people will be able to do greater works than even he could do. The word used for works includes signs, teaching, and prayer. We can do this in the power of his Spirit that he has given us. Why do we often have such a small view of that power?

Ephesians 3:20
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.

So even more, God can do all of these impossible things by the same power that is at work in us, in his people, in me. This should give us confidence to act and pray expecting the impossible.

Another reason to pray the impossible is because Christ did it. After he had withered the fig tree in front of his disciples, he said,

Matthew 21:21-22
Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to this fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith

So I want to learn how to pray the impossible until it’s the only way I know how.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

But Also in Power

Well I suppose the proper thing to do for the first blog post is to explain the title.

But Also in Power

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

1 Thessalonians 1:4-10

My entire life I have been powerless to do anything. I was tossed back and forth by the waves of circumstance, unable to hold on to the control that I so badly fought for. In fact, the harder I seemed to grope at it, the rougher the waves would grow, and I would be left sinking and bitter. It wasn't until I realized that this power was not mine to have that I was released from this struggle. The power is our LORD's.

But as His, we are given access to that power. That immeasurable power, the power that raised Christ from the dead, the power that created the laws of the universe and is willing to break them on our behalf dwells within His children. Now we have the privilege of taking that power to the nations. The gospel came to the Thessalonians not only in word, but in power - the power of His Spirit! So we now must take it not only in word and deed but in power of the Spirit.

Today I still find myself powerless to do anything significant on my own, including taking the gospel to others, but I am blessed to no longer be alone and blessed enough to be used by that power to do His work. That's exactly what I get to do this summer, and as I step of that plane to Santa Cruz tomorrow, I will be going in that power, in that Spirit, in His Spirit. For I am His, and will forever remain in Him - blessed and loved and alive!