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Monthly Archives: July 2012

  • Trust Required

    Posted on July 15, 2012 by Boyd Bailey

    Yet you brought me out of the womb, you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. Psalm 22:9

     

    God requires us to trust Him from our birth. In the beginning, we are totally dependent on others. God uses doctors, nurses, and midwives to navigate us through the birth canal. There is nothing we could do to gain access into this life other than wait on the warm embrace of others. Ultimately, it was God’s work that brought us into the world. He conceived us in our mother’s womb and He brought us out of our mother’s womb. There has never been a time we have not been required to trust the Lord. He knew we needed this requirement from the outset. Trust is who we are. It is part of our DNA. Our Savior stamped on our infant soul, “Trust in Me is required.” From our first breath to our last, we are required to trust in God. There is no getting around His requirement. He made us trust in the beginning, so we would learn to continue a life of trust in Him.
     
    We were born desperately needy. The milk from our mother’s breast sustained our life. She was our lifeline. She was the nurturer we trusted without reservation. In the same way, we depend on the milk of God’s word. We are babies in our belief, in need of the elementary principles of the faith. The writer of Hebrews 5:12-13 says, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” But then he goes on to say that we need more than milk for a mature faith. “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” At the genesis of our faith, we were infants who sucked life from our Savior Jesus. Like air to a scuba diver exploring the vast unknown of the underwater world, He was what kept our souls going. We trusted Him totally as our redeemer and refuge. Trust was required then. Trust is required now.
     
    In this life, we never graduate from our Savior’s school of trust. We are in Christ’s classroom of trust until we graduate to heaven. It is a required course for Christ- followers. He loved us when we were infants, and He does not cast us off in our latter years. He was our God when we left our mother, and He will be our God when we return to mother earth. Be glad that God requires trust in Him. Trust connects us to Christ. It keeps us close to Him. There is no better place to be than near the heart of God. Trust Him to love you in spite of those you distrust. Do not project your distrust of others on the Divine.
     
    Moreover, trust in others is required for robust relationships. Do not replace trust with skepticism because of the few who have fractured your faith in people. Yes, in the beginning, because of relational inexperience, you may have been naïve in your trust of others. But do not allow these few bruising relationships to keep you from trusting. If you trust God, you can trust others. Little faith in God leads to little faith in people. A big faith in God thinks the best of others. He can control your feelings of being controlled. Don’t be defensive with your spouse or co-workers. Trust that they are in this with you. You want them to trust you, so trust them. Trust is required for growing relationships.

    Taken from Reading #13 in the 90-day devotional book, “Seeking God in the Psalms”… http://bit.ly/bQHNIE
     
    Post/Tweetthis today: Trust in God, even when you distrust others. #trust #distrust

    Click on our Wisdom Video blog… http://bit.ly/JCjzJB

  • Rest from Work

    Posted on July 14, 2012 by Boyd Bailey

    “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.” Hebrews 4:9-11

     

    It is hard for some people to rest from their work. They love their work, enjoy their work, and may even worship their work. Hard, smart, and productive work is good, but worshiping work is bad. It is reckless and leads to ruin. It may be relational ruin, physical ruin, or even financial ruin. But work that is worshipped gets out of hand quickly. God is the only one who deserves worship. It is good to be proud of the quality of your work produced with pure motivation, but do not allow work to become an end in itself. Your true identity does not come from work; if so, you are positioned for a roller coaster ride of emotions. One day you will feel secure, another day you will be swept away by insecurity.
               
    As a follower of Christ, your identity is found in Him. This is one reason why rest from work is vital. When you work all the time you tend to drift from your moorings of faith in Christ to faith in yourself. It becomes a trust issue. “Can God be trusted enough for me to rest from my work?” Of course He can handle the work that remains. He divinely redeems the time of your limited work and produces more lasting results; results that will last longer than if you had worked all the time.
     
    After all, you are His workmanship in Christ Jesus. When you take the time to cease working, God is allowed to accelerate His work in you. Some of God’s best work takes place when you don’t work. He works better when you don’t. His work is a work of grace, and it is a beautiful sight to behold. So, enjoy your Sabbath rest as He works on your heart. Allow Him to draw you to Himself, so when you go back to work you are refreshed and revitalized.
               
    There is a trap to avoid as you take a break from work and enter into God’s Sabbath rest. You can physically be away from work but still be at work mentally, so free your mind from this split-focused activity. Do not make your mind jealous over your body’s freedom from work. Rest your thoughts from work, and you will discover your thinking is more robust and innovative when you reengage in your work. During your Sabbath rest, shift your thinking to the bigger thoughts of God and His plan. Superimpose simple faith in Him over the complex issues that are assaulting your rest. Your mind, body, and emotions are all part of your Sabbath rest.
     
    If your Sabbath rest from work involves people, then relate to them with relevance and relationship. Let them see the sincerity of your involved presence. Do not act as if you wish you were somewhere else. Your rest is a time for you to relate the ways of God to others. Your life is a testament to God’s faithfulness. Let others read it up close and personal. Your Sabbath rest can be a catalyst for others to reengage with God. Set the example, and watch others follow. Your Sabbath rest gives others permission to do the same. It’s not always easy to get to God’s rest, but once you arrive, it is well worth the effort. His rest ignites your obedience and trust. So, rest from work and rest in Him. Then watch your work become better.
     
    Taken from July 14th reading in the 365-daydevotional book, “Seeking Daily the Heart of God”… http://bit.ly/bQHNIE
     
    Post/Tweet this today: Some of God’s best work takes place when we don’t work. #work
     
    Click on our Wisdom Video blog… http://bit.ly/JCjzJB
  • Embracing the Struggle

    Posted on July 13, 2012 by John van der Veen

    Life can be messy and painful and beautiful. And yet, hope can be found in every moment. This is the heartbeat of Josh Riebock’s book Heroes and Monsters. Much like Paul, Josh identifies that there is a constant struggle within each believer, to follow truth or self. We recently caught up with Josh to talk about his book and unpack its themes.

    Josh

    Family Christian: You grew up in Illinois, correct?

    Josh: Yeah, I actually grew up in Chicago. That’s a relatively loose term though… [It was] Western suburbs near Wheaton, West Chicago, Naperville, DuPage County area.

    FC: Wheaton has this connotation of being a bit of a Bible belt area... Did you have a Christian upbringing?

    Josh: Well, with every year that goes by I feel more like I don’t know… Certainly we said that’s what we believed. Any church that we were ever a part of would have been an evangelical church, though we were never really committed to any particular group of people. It was a kind of public faith. In private it became complicated as to what we actually believed. At times it felt like our faith was much more about belonging to [the] Bible belt community and maintaining a wholesome image of godliness rather than believing and seeking God ourselves.

    FC: Do you think you realized as a kid that there was more available or did you basically grow up accepting that type of “nominal” approach to Christianity?

    Josh: I think I wasn’t aware enough to separate the two. I didn’t realize this until way later in life, I guess, decades later as a young adult. That’s when I realized I measured my sense of spirituality (and even my standing with God) based on how godly other people thought I was. The bottom line was about people-pleasing. I equated my faith with how pleased with me people of faith were. Like you hinted at, I wasn’t able to separate that as a kid so I just thought what we were doing was normal and good – that this was what Christ wanted of me; to be perceived as a man that had it all together and was a “pretty godly” guy.

    FC: And through various acts God continued to (in your own words) “wrestle you to the ground.” In your writings you’ve talked a little about a certain camp experience. Is that point more or less where the wrestling began, or was God working in your heart from a very early age?

    Josh: I have to think God was probably doing a lot in my life that I wasn’t aware of. I feel like that’s normally the case. The experience you’re talking about specifically—I was 21 years old, and on my third college. I encountered a group of guys who cared about me, they loved me, and they were willing to embrace where I was at, not where I should be in their minds or anything like that. They were willing to take me as I was and we entered into this friendship. As I grew closer to them, I noticed they had real passion for God. What stood out to me so much was that their greatest passion wasn’t to be perceived as “godly” like mine was, their passion was God Himself.

    As I got to know them better, we went on a new student retreat for Colorado Christian University. That weekend was the culmination of a long period of wrestling. For me it was that question of “Are any of these things that I’ve been subscribing to on the outside [just] in order to be accepted by Christians? Is there a real God behind these rituals?” That weekend was one of the culminations of what God had been up to in my life for a long time, although I wasn’t aware of it. I feel like every few years I’m able to look back and see moments and say “Okay, maybe that was the culmination, or maybe that was the culmination.” I feel like God continues to produce things in my life that draw me closer and I feel like my tendency is to fight every time.

    FC: How much do you think God utilized your parents to open your eyes to the truth of Christianity?

    Josh: My mom was actually a Bible teacher. I went to a private Christian high school in DuPage County. My mom was always a champion of the broken, the fringe person, the person who looks at themselves and assumes God wants nothing to do with them. That mark left such a deep imprint on my perception of people. As I grew to know God for myself rather than simply through my family and cultural Christianity, I was taken back to a lot of things that my mom had been living out in front of me all that time. That’s when I realized that this God isn’t just a champion of fringe people other than me, He embraces me as well. So the mark that my mom left on my life was massive. My dad was never verbal about his faith, about his beliefs, [or] about what he really wanted me to believe. But my dad was very smart, he was very intelligent, he made himself who he was, worked himself out of some rough situations in inner city Chicago, was a college professor. In spite of all his accomplishments, he maintained a sense of incredible humility. I found it so hard to see the picture of Christ in my parents at the time, but when I look back, I see the humility of God in my father and I’m able to see the work of God in him now. I think at the time I was blind to it.

    FC: You’ve said that the title Heroes and Monsters is more or less addressed to your dad. At the same time he is both your hero and your monster, and how we’re all like that – with the ability to profane and praise. How does one work that out?

    Heroes

    Josh: I think that maybe more important than working it out is to first accept [that we can be that way]. To me, it’s a continual reminder that points me to God – not just in a moment of salvation – but a daily reminder of how badly I need God. I remember hearing stories of people talking about their experience of coming to God. So often, the stories I heard were of people describing an uneven life, a broken character, highs and lows, and then the way they would describe it is they would have this moment where they were awakened to the reality of Christ and opened their life to Him. He came in and then it was just smooth sailing and all of the sudden all of these issues of the heart were ironed out in the blink of an eye. For me, that certainly has not been the story of my life. But it’s also not the story I see in scripture at all.

    In Romans it’s eloquent theology and it’s very profound, and then Paul gets to Romans 7 and says the things I want to do, I don’t do, and the things I don’t want to do, I end up doing. I don’t understand myself. So he sees and accepts that reality. I think that’s a difficult thing for any person to do - to take an honest look at who we are as people; to really look in the mirror. Sometimes it’s even more difficult for a person who would say they’re a Christian because we assume that when we come to Christ we’re supposed to be fixed. But Paul acknowledges that it’s the hero and monster in [him] that [helps] to point out his need for Christ. He says praise be to Jesus Christ. So for me, before working it out it’s about acknowledging and allowing it to be a constant reminder that we need a God, Who is more than we are.

    FC: Josh, do you continue to wrestle with God (and maybe that’s too personal of a question)? Do you think that following Jesus is a “call to wrestle with God” continually?

    Josh: Yes I do. Whether the word is wrestle or struggle, I see that throughout the course of my life. I find much more fruit in my life when I’m willing to wrestle with God about the honest things that are happening in my heart and life, whether that’s good or bad. Whether those are moments of doubt, hate, anger, fear or pain, I find much more fruit when I’m willing to wrestle with God rather than wishing or pretending those struggles away, and then being [left] in a flat, dead relationship with God. I heard someone say once that it’s true we are often transformed by God’s embrace, but perhaps we’re never more transformed than when we wrestle with God. I have found that to be true. If I’m honest I’m much more out of harmony with God than in harmony with God. I don’t know any other than to just deal with it, and that often means wrestling. I see confession as a form of wrestling too. “God, this is where my heart has been. This is where I’m at.” Even that feels like a form of struggle. It’s not a bad struggle. It’s the beauty of struggle.

    FC: With that in mind, Josh, what do you hope to accomplish with this book? You are obviously very honest about your past, your family and that continual struggle or wrestle with God. What do you hope that a reader walks away with when they hit the last page?

    Josh: Another great question. A few things come to mind. I look at Heroes and Monsters as a story. In that context, I don’t know that I have a specific hope other than I hope it does something. [Let’s say we went] to see a movie. What makes it powerful is if you can sit there and say, “Man, this part hit me” and I say, “This other part hit me.” We’re moved by different pieces [of the film] and maybe different parts of our life are touched, but the point is that we are both touched. And so in that way, I just want [the book] to do something. On a more specific level, what I would love to see is people drawn into intimacy with God by willingness to examine their own life. It’s only when we’re honest that intimacy is possible. That’s true person-to-person, but it seems like it is certainly true person-to-God [as well]. The Psalms are such intimate pieces of Scripture because there’s so honest. People acknowledging they don’t know where God is. They’re upset, they’re afraid. That’s what makes it such an intimate piece of art. If I was specific, my hope would be that someone would feel the freedom to look at their own life, not just the bad or the pain, but see the great parts of it too, and allow those things to draw them into really deep connection with the people around them and the God who is always with us.

    FC: So let’s talk a little bit about what came before Heroes and Monsters. You worked at a restaurant. You were a coach. You were a painter, a janitor, and a wilderness guide. Where did that take place?

    Josh: I did that just outside [of] Colorado. I had a mentor of mine who led these wilderness trips in Colorado through a place called Noah’s Ark, a rafting company. He wasn’t employed by Noah’s Ark, but he would lead groups of students out there on leadership development trips, and he asked me to come and lead these trips with him. So a couple of times a summer we would spend four or five days at a time backpacking and white water rafting through the mountains near Buena Vista, Colorado. It was amazing. Actually, I never need to go camping again my entire life. (laughing) It’s not really what fires me up. But at the time it was an amazing experience. I learned so much about leadership and about people and conversation. I absolutely loved it.

    FC: You were a pastor and now a writer. When did you meet your wife?

    Josh

    Josh: Kristen and I grew up down the street from each other in Wheaton. Actually just around the corner. We went to the same elementary school, junior high, and high school, but I’m almost five years older than her, so [any] knowledge we had of each other was second-hand. When I graduated from college, I ended up coaching each of her brothers in both high school soccer and basketball. So I got to know her family pretty well. By the time I turned twenty-five, she turned twenty [and] I was working at a church. We were enlisting some more help in that church. Kristen ended up becoming one of people who came to help, then I ended up falling in love with the help.

    FC: You wrote a book, My Generation. Tell us a little about that.

    Josh: I wrote My Generation after Kristen and I had moved to Austin. Actually we had been living in Austin for a couple of years. I worked at a church [there] for almost two years, and then I quit to become a writer, and My Generation came out. Essentially what it’s about, what I see it as is a compilation of stories that examine what it would look like to alter the lives of a young generation of people. Basically people that are part of my generation. The Millennial Generation, the Y Generation. What would it look like to live in a way that impacts those lives? It’s not me saying, “Well, you know, here’s all the things I know, and go do this and it will change people’s lives.” A lot of it is actually the stories of how others have really altered my life, brought healing and hope to my life and brought out the best in me; pointing me to Jesus in the process.

    FC: Did you enjoy your time as a pastor?

    Josh: Ya know, it depended on the day. (Laughing) I suppose that’s a bit of my personality, but as a whole I worked in churches about five and a half years. I walked away having learned so much, having spent time with so many incredible people. I felt like I was in way over my head. A lot of the time, it really became about me, and I made it about me a lot. I left my time as a pastor knowing that it was exactly what I needed for that five and a half years. I was humbled a lot, so to your question, “Did I enjoy it?” I don’t think I enjoyed being humbled (laughing). I can’t necessarily say that, but I look back and I can say it was certainly transformational. I have so many fond memories of doing it, but for me at the time, the learning process was very, very painful. I probably like it more now looking back on it than when I was in it.

    FC: Josh, as a former pastor and now a writer, what is your thought of Christiandom here in the US today? Is the church in trouble?

    Josh: Yeah, ya know, I don’t know. I think it depends on what we’re looking at. I don’t know the statistics, but the statistics that I hear about church attendance – it’s declining. [But] I don’t know if church attendance declining is a bad thing. The truth is, I look at my own life and I went to church for so long and it had nothing to do with a relationship with God. So I don’t know if that’s an indicator of how many people are actually embracing Christ. So, simply measuring that statistic alone, I don’t know. For me, I get to travel a lot in addition to the writing. I spend a lot of time around really wonderful leaders around the country in the context of church. I meet so many people who, when I walk away, I say, “These people love Jesus deeply.” They want to know how to impact their community and how to participate with God in what he’s doing in the city and the lives of the families in their church. And this is so encouraging to me. I think the church gets in trouble when we wrestle with and we’re spending all of our time on questions that, in my opinion, aren’t going to lead to the deepest impact. When the question is always “Well how do we get people here next Sunday, and how many people are in small groups, and what does the front of the sanctuary look like?” That’s when I feel we get into trouble. I think when the thing we wrestle with is what it would look like to really embrace Christ in our own lives and [how can we] allow that to bleed out into the community and lead people that way. When I hear people hungering after that and spending their time in that, I find it wildly encouraging.

    FC: How can our Christian communities help to revive the hero or slay the monster?

    Josh: I suppose it sounds simple, but we have to create environments where we're free to express our doubts, fears, insecurities, questions, and struggles to one another. Environments where we're free to share our dreams about who we want to become. Too often the church environment drives all of our weaknesses, doubts, questions and dreams underground, rather than inviting those things to the surface so that we can encourage each other, accept one another, and move forward together. When we're able to honestly engage the people around us, growth and transformation can happen. But when that isn't the case--when we aren't willing to dig deep within ourselves, offer grace and understanding to one another, when we aren't willing to walk through the messiness of life together—community becomes an obstacle to transformation rather than a conduit of it.

    FC: Josh, who are you currently reading?

    Josh: I actually just got a new book in the mail today. It’s a book called Magic Hours by Tom Bissell. It’s essays about creativity, about creating things and the people that create them. I’m actually really excited to dig into that. Most of what I read is either memoir or fiction. That’s pretty much all that I read, and some short stories, but the majority of those things probably wouldn’t fall under the category of a Christian book. Sometimes I don’t feel my imagination captured by the things that would fall under the category of a Christian book. So I seek out people who really stir my imagination and my creativity and teach me about storytelling and character development. I love to read. I read for enjoyment, but every time I pick up a book I feel like I’m in class. I feel like I’m always trying to learn to do better at my own craft. So I love it.

    FC: And who are you listening too?

    Josh: For one, I love a band called The Killers. I listen to a lot of Broadway music. I listen to a whole lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber, who wrote Phantom of the Opera and stuff like that. I also listen to a local band here in Austin called Penny & Sparrow, a singer songwriter guy who’s really gifted, very talented. I love music. I feel like I’ve always got something going around in my head. If you really want to get specific, I’ve got a thing for the 80s.

    FC: We thought you would mention Guns and Roses too!

    Josh: (Laughing) I’ve got a lot of other hair bands going, they’re my constant. I have these other seasons where I listen to other guys, but I love BonJovi, Guns and Roses and Queen, I always listen to that music too.

    FC: How old are you, Josh?

    Josh: I’m thirty-two. I’ll be thirty-three in a couple weeks. So, I was born in ’79.

    FC: So you’re too young to be listening to the 80s music, aren’t you?

    Josh: (Laughing) I don’t know. I look at the 80s as more a matter of the heart than a matter of the calendar. So for me, I may belong in the 90s according to my birth certificate, but according to my soul, I belong in the 80s.

    Pick up Heroes and Monsters today, also available as an ebook.

  • Beginning of Wisdom

    Posted on July 13, 2012 by Boyd Bailey

    “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

     

    The fear of the Lord is fundamental to finding wisdom.Without awe of the Almighty there is no access to His insights. Where reverence for His holiness is void, there is lack of understanding into the ways of God. The first step in acquiring wisdom from almighty God is to fear Him. There is a worship of the Lord’s majesty and a dread of His judgment.
     
    His Holy Word—the Bible—is taken to heart as truth for the purpose of life transformation. At first, fear of the Lord may be so overwhelming that it conflicts with love and distracts our desire for intimacy. Anyone who has been broken understands this process. However, once a healthy fear of the Lord has been embraced, there is peace and knowledge in submission to and love for the Holy One.
     
    “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).
     
    Moreover, we mock God when we move away from the language of fear; He is not one to be mocked. So, as devoted followers of Christ, we sow the seeds of respect, reverence, and fear of the Lord. This discipline of faith results in a harvest of holiness, happiness, and wisdom. Fear of Him leads to knowledge of Him. Therefore, bow before Him on your knees in prayer, and seek His face for forgiveness and relational restoration.
     
    Celebrate together with Christ our conquest over sin, sorrow, and death. What is counter-intuitive on earth is intuitive in heaven. Listen to David admonish his son Solomon, who became the wisest man in the world: “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9 NASB).
     
    Prayer: What area of my life lacks fear of the Lord, and how can I expose it to accountability?
     
    Related Readings: Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Matthew 11:27; 1 John 5:20
     
    Post/Tweet this today: Without awe of the Almighty, there is no access to His insights.#awe #wisdomhunters
     
    Click on our Wisdom Video blog… http://bit.ly/JCjzJB
  • Sweet Tea and a Pool - The Perfect Combination for Summer

    Posted on July 12, 2012 by Family Christian

    Oh those beautiful summer days... how they seem to last forever!
    Oh those beautiful summer days... how hot can it get???

    We thought that we would share a few ideas on what your family can do to keep cool this summer.

    Sweet

    Here is the perfect Sweet Tea recipe shared from a friend:

    • Bring approximately 2 quarts of water to a boil.
    • Add 2 family size tea bags and remove from the heat.
    • Let sit for at least 15 minutes, but if you forget about it for a while it will still be fine.
    • Add 2 1/4 cups of sugar to a 1 gallon container, stir in tea, add water to fill. Chill. Enjoy.
    • Want some variety? Add a regular tea bag in the flavor of your choice. DEE LISH!

    VeggieTales

    Here is the perfect cool down plan for the kiddos!

    • Grab a kiddie pool
    • Fill with water from the garden hose
    • Grab a sprinkler or two
    • Everyone put on a bathing suit
    • GET WET!!!

    So get out there!
    Enjoy the summer!
    After all it provides a great way to interact with your family.

  • Security and All Things Comfy.....

    Posted on July 12, 2012 by Family Christian

    Guest blogger Heather Williams


    There is something about me that is inherently comfort seeking.  It starts as early as I wake up and start the death march to my coffee machine.  I seek comfort.  There is something so "wrong" about that.  More and more lately I have been aware of my selfishness and my complacency.  It is time for a change..a drastic change in my life.
    I was reading in Matthew where Jesus told the first disciples to follow Him...

    Matthew 4:18-22

    New International Version (NIV)

    18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

    21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

    These guys didn't even ask questions.  I would have been like "umm Jesus do you not SEE that i am fishing here..give me a second."  It seems irrational to just stop everything you are doing.. in their case.. stop their job, their livelihood, their way of life and just follow Him.  But I get it.. I have made that decision (not as easily as these guys.. truth be told it took some more convincing)  and I left all I was and was doing and followed Jesus.  Then... I just settled into a "christian" job and a "christian" way of life.  I became comfortable.  I was alright with weekly services that I would plan music for.  I was cool with everyday church as usual.  Every now and then I would get passionate about change but if it got shot down I did not fight for it.. I just accepted it and kept floating on the lazy river of my comfortable, cozy, christian life.  But God has been waking me up in a drastic way.  I don't want to be comfortable I don't want to settle for a float on a lazy river.

    I also read in John 15(the message)

    1-3 "I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.
    4"Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

    5-8"I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

    9-10"I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love. That's what I've done—kept my Father's commands and made myself at home in his love.

    It is clear to me that just "choosing" to follow Jesus is not enough.. you have to "live" in Jesus.  HE is the vine we are the branches...yeah, I know the kid song.  Being intertwined with Jesus, grafted in.. there is going to be pruning.  That..does NOT sound comfortable.  But it says that in order to produce fruit we have to be.   Any living vine has to be trimmed of the things that will choke out the fruit.  In my life I am seeing complacency and comfort seeking as things that are choking me...keeping me from being more fruitful.  No more.  I am done with it.

    I encourage each of us to search our lives.  What are the things that are in need of being trimmed off?  Are there things in our lives that we are clinging too like a security blanket?  If so why?  What do we need to lay down?  Jesus was HARD CORE.  I don't remember reading that He ever made life easy for any of His followers.  The choices they were asked to make were not easy.  They gave up everything to follow Him and then they stayed with Him.  I don't know about you, but the choices I put the "christianeese" stamp of "is God calling me to this?" are pretty ridiculously small compared to the Disciples.  Not to make light of our life choices, just some compare and contrast.  In other countries we have people who have to make a choice that affects their life.  We have people who literally risk their lives to follow Jesus.  I want my life to be a radical one that is so much so that when people look at it they get uncomfortable.. they become aware of things that God wants to get a hold of in their life.  I want to be a life that shows Jesus' love so radically that it encourages others to do.

    God, my prayer is to be with You.  I want to abide in You.  I want my life to be so overflowing with fruit that my branches are heavy.  It scares me to even ask and pray this..but I want more of You in my life.

    amen.

  • Humility Finds Favor

    Posted on July 12, 2012 by Boyd Bailey

    “(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) Numbers 12:3

     

    Humility finds favor with God and man. Because of their trustworthy temperament, the spirit of the humble solicits trust and blessing. Like honey attracts a bee, so the Lord’s heart is drawn to the humble. It is a sweet exchange when the Holy Spirit fills a submissive soul. There is no downside in taking the road of authentic lowliness. It is the path less trodden, because its route encounters roadblocks, mix-ups—even ridicule.
     
    However, our humble hearts are the hinges that swing open the door of God’s grace. Greater grace requires greater humility—especially in face of unfair criticism. The Holy Spirit is our defense attorney, retained on our behalf, by our heavenly Father. He will bring the truth to light and discredit the dishonest. The Lord lays bare man’s motives. Our humility is a prescription of choice to combat pride. It cleans our spiritual veins of vanity’s vestiges.
     
    “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5b
     
    Your humility is the product of the Holy Spirit’s deep work of grace. It is not squeezed out of hard human effort; rather it is the delicious juice that flows from an abiding faith in Jesus. So, as you cultivate a heart that harvests humility, you prayerfully ask the Lord: “Are my motives in line with Yours’?” “Are my affections focused on Jesus first?” “Do I, by faith, daily empty myself and invite in the Spirit’s fullness?” Humility is intentional.
     
    Furthermore, will you remain humble as you experience the favor of God? The hounds of hell never stop soliciting you to take credit, where Christ is the only creditor. It takes extreme gratitude and generosity to ward off pride’s persistent assaults. Indeed, your consistent celebration of your salvation in Jesus and your dependence on God’s grace enhances humility. So, never forget where He’s brought you from and where He wants to take you. Your humble heart, in the eyes of the Lord, prepares you for His blessings.
     
    “He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.” Proverbs 3:34
     
    Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray for humility to be the default for my heart’s desires.
     
    Related Readings: Job 5:11; Matthew 23:12; Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:8
     
    Post/Tweet this today: Humility cleans our spiritual veins of vanity’s vestiges. #humility
     
    Click on our Wisdom Video blog… http://bit.ly/JCjzJB
  • Humble Listening

    Posted on July 11, 2012 by Boyd Bailey

    “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:9

     

    Humble listening is both science and art. Science, because there are common occurrences in effective communication. Eye contact, emotional engagement and comprehension all contribute to listeners who truly understand. Humble listening is an art as well, because people differ in their experiences, ability to communicate clearly, and limitations based upon their biased interpretation of their own feelings.
     
    Therefore, as a humble listener we see ourselves as servants seeking to truly understand another’s heart and mind. We listen to their words for inflections of emotion. We may sense excitement in a high-pitched voice, or anger in a tone of defensiveness. Fear floods out of shaky speech and apathy is evident in monotone words with a deadpan face. Compassion comprehends these indicators of the heart. Yes, humility diagnoses emotions.
     
    “I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, I gave you my full attention.” Job 32:11-12a
     
    A loving listening ear is a valuable gift you give to those the Lord puts in your path. Do you hear the hurt in your husband or wife’s heart? Are your ears engaged with empathy in prayerful patience, before suggesting solutions? As you listen well, you represent Christ well. As you listen well, you love well. As you listen well, you honor well. Humble listening waits patiently so as not to run ahead of hearing well—it gives space to the process.
     
    Most of all, a servant of the Lord is sensitive to the voice of the Lord. We humbly submit to His speech expressed in Holy Scripture and confirmed by the Holy Spirit in prayer. Godly counsel also validates the voice of God. Lastly, people or institutions in authority over us are a mouthpiece for our Master Jesus. His established authorities are boundaries for our protection and progress. So, listen to and obey the law of the Lord and the law of the land. Indeed, humility is slow to speak, quick to listen and always ready to serve.
     
    “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20
     
    Prayer: Heavenly Father, give me the grace, patience and discernment to listen well.
     
    Related Readings: Psalm 34:11; Proverbs 10:19; John 5:24; James 3:3-12
     
    Post/Tweet this today: Compassion comprehends emotional indicators of the heart.
     
    Click on our Wisdom Video blog… http://bit.ly/JCjzJB
  • Pulling No Punches - an interview with Lecrae

    Posted on July 10, 2012 by John van der Veen

    From “latch-key kid” to key player in the Man Up movement, Lecrae’s life is an example of God’s transformative power – and he’s not quiet about it. In his signature straight-shoot approach, new album Gravity calls Christians to open their eyes to the weight of need in their world and share the love of Jesus as never before.

    Lecrae

    Family Christian: Can you give us a brief overview of your childhood? Where did Lecrae come from?

    Lecrae: I was born in Houston, Texas to essentially a single parent household. We moved from Houston to Denver, and then, just because my mother was single and was just kind of struggling to make ends meet, I would stay with my grandmother quite often in San Diego, California. So between Texas, California, and Denver, those were the places I bounced around. I was just a sponge. I picked up so much in all that time. Obviously not having a strong male influence or role model, I gravitated to anyone who would pay attention. Most of the time those were terrible influences [who] influenced me to run in the wrong direction quite often. I grew up with a great sense of insecurity in figuring out what I was and where I belonged. Not growing up in church didn’t make it any easier. So I pretty much wrestled through that my whole life until my senior summer in high school. I got into a lot of trouble and [things] really exploded. I had to say “God, I need your help.” That’s really when I began to sense that God was drawing me and [I] later became a Christian after hearing the Gospel.

    FC: What made you feel that impression that God was pursuing you?

    Lecrae: I had gotten into trouble my senior summer. Financial trouble, trouble with other people, trouble with women – I was just running myself into a dead end. So I’m thinking, “I’m seventeen, let me do the mature, adult thing, and go to church.” Grandma was a Christian so the roots of the foundation I had established of the Christian God were through my grandmother. And that was where I needed to go. By grace, there was a young lady that I went to high school with that invited me to a Bible study. I went, and I had never seen Christians who dressed like me or talked like me, so I thought they were Martians from another planet! When I saw them, I said, “Oh you guys are human!” They loved me genuinely and that’s really what started it.

    FC: Do you still live in Houston?

    Lecrae: No, I’ve since moved from Texas to Memphis, and from Memphis to Atlanta. I’ve been in Atlanta for the last three years.

    FC: You’re married?

    Lecrae: I am, with three beautiful kids.

    FC: So did you marry that lady from high school?

    Lecrae: No, I actually met my wife at the same Bible study [though]. She was friends with the young lady who invited me. I met her there, and obviously I thought she was way too Christian for me, but I became a Christian and grew in the Lord and it worked out between us.

    FC: How much was music or the arts part of your life growing up? Did you realize early on that there was some talent in your life, or did that come later?

    Lecrae: Absolutely. I was a latchkey kid so I would sit at home for hours while my mother was at work. I had to use my imagination. I’d sit in front of the television so much. Sometimes she would allow me to watch television and she would come home to see if it was warm so I had to figure out what I could do with my time. It just became an outlet to start writing, experimenting, and just trying to be creative. I knew I had a passion for the arts, but we didn’t recognize it. It was one of my fifth-grade teachers who recognized it and suggested to my mother that I be put in a special class. That special class led me to audition for a special school so I actually went to a performing arts middle school for a couple years. That’s really where I started to hone my writing skills.

    FC: Would you say that you’re trained in other forms of art beside hip hop?

    Lecrae: I definitely wanted to be around artistic people all the time, [because] you pick up a lot. Acting and theatrics are my forte. I got a full scholarship for acting. I thought I was going to be an actor. I saw a movie with Bruce Willis in it and thought, “I want to do that.”

    FC: So at what point did you decide that maybe there was something in hip hop for you? If you were leaning toward theater or acting, or at least had a desire for that, when did you decide “I want to do something with hip hop”?

    Lecrae: Hip hop – it’s an art form but it’s a culture as well. You grow up in the culture and you never leave it. It’s a style of dress; it’s a way of thought. I always grew up in the culture, and it was part of who I was and I carried it into every world I was in. Even moving into the theater world, I would bring that element into it. What was unique about me and different about the world I traveled in, was I grew up watching cousins and uncles. They loved hip hop, listened to it constantly. As a little kid, you just listen to everything they listen to, they’d break dance in front yard and I was just exposed to this. From grabbing paint cans and trying to learn how to do graffiti to all those different elements. As I grew older I found that I really had a knack for rhyming and I pursued that. So by thirteen I got serious about using my writing and rhyming skills. I did it everywhere I could. I didn’t really have a lot of social currency in middle school or high school. I wasn’t the most popular kid. I’m super tall, but I started playing basketball late so it took me a while to catch up. My social currency was being able to rap and that’s what I would do in the cafeteria at lunchtime. That’s what really connected me to other peers.

    FC: Did you feel forced to approach hip hop or lyrics differently after you became a Christian?

    Lecrae: As a Christian I really did kind of wrestle with “How do I do this?” The things that really steered me away from Christianity [originally] was that I really did think it was about putting on airs and about rules and regulations. I liked baggy jeans and my urban style and I thought that Christians and that didn’t mix. And so going to the Bible study I saw individuals who did dressed like me and talked like me. [Up until that point] I didn’t know Christians wore their hats back and things along those lines, so that really intrigued me. I loved that I could be authentically hip hop, but authentically Christian. The things that God didn’t endorse, obviously I would have to let them go, but there were so many beautiful things that He did endorse and so many wonderful aspects within hip hop culture that just made me me that He could use for His own glory. I just began to walk in that and allow Him to change me.

    Lecrae

    FC: When you hear the term “Christian rap” or “Christian hip hop,” what do you think?

    Lecrae: I think what people are trying to communicate is that there are redeemed individuals within hip hop culture. And I would say I’m one of them. I think that as a Christian, we’re to be a light in this world. I think it’s almost like saying “Christian American,” it doesn’t mean that I’m not American, it just means that I’m distinctly and authentically Christian as much as I am American. And so my Christianity is going to permeate throughout my American-ness. So when I think about Christian hip hop I think of an individual who is a Christian who is using hip hop to communicate things that God will endorse.

    FC: What do you think of the Christian hip hop industry? Are we doing well? Are we competing, in a sense?

    Lecrae: As an industry, there is definitely a lack of infrastructure. Simply because it’s definitely more of an organic art form, I think there’s definitely a lack of infrastructure. I think that’s been one of the passions that my friends at Reach Records have had; to bring some awareness to music and to really bring a different light and perspective. I’m really grateful to all of the different entities within the Christian music industry for embracing us and giving us a seat at the table. And I think that’s only helping more hip hop artists in positions to serve.

    FC: What artists do you listen to personally, either hip hop or not?

    Lecrae: I love listening to all the guys on my label: KB, Tedashii, Pro, Andy Mineo, Trip Lee. I love those guys. There’s another guy, Swoope, that I think is a phenomenal artist. They’re people that really inspire me and I think they’re just phenomenally talented at what they do.

    FC: You’ve been busy with collaborations lately, appearing on Britt Nicole’s newest and also with Jimmy Needham. Who would be on your list of dream collaborations?

    Lecrae: I’m a big fan of Brooke Fraser and Gungor, so I would love to work with them. You might see some Lecrae and Tenth Avenue North action happening as well... I definitely would say Hillsong United. I’m blown away at all that they do. I’ve been to Sydney and seen how incredibly passionate they are about what they do. I think that’s mind-blowing. I’ve been really fortunate. Not many artists can say they’ve done stuff with the Chris Tomlins and the Crowders. So that’s really been a blessing for me.

    FC: Do you think you’d ever cross over into mainstream music? And what do you think about that type of responsibility?

    Lecrae: There’s a saying that goes around that says “I you crossover make sure you bring the cross over.” That’s definitely my heart and my aim. I want to remain distinct and authentically Christian in whatever realm I’m in. I don’t want people to walk away saying, “Lecrae is a Christian because he said so. Lecrae is a Christian because they labeled him that.” But I want them to say, “Lecrae is a Christian because I can tell by his life that he values Jesus.” That’s really what my aim is, for people to see I truly treasure and value Jesus and His Word. If [crossing over] happens then, by God’s grace, let their lives be changed.

    FC: So you’re not apprehensive of something like that happening? You’re just saying, “If that happens, God’s going to have to be the one to make it happen”?

    Lecrae: Absolutely. I think as Christians, we all have the same calling, and that calling is to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and love others as ourselves and to glorify God in everything that we do. If I was an architect, who all of the sudden made it into one of the biggest architectural firms, I’m still going to have that same calling. As a musician, to be able to walk in mainstream realms, I still have that same calling. The Bible says, “Take heed, lest you fall,” but this has really been the story of my life. I’ve traveled into other realms in order to be a light and be a missionary. Some of them were very dangerous, and I don’t look at this as any different.

    FC: What do you think of church culture today, here in the U.S.?

    Lecrae: Obviously, I love the church, the church that God is establishing, that Jesus died for, so I’ll never have any negative things to say about His church. Even though she’s spotty and has issues, He’s perfecting her. Church culture, or what I’d call Christendom, is this kind of traditionalism that we’ve set in motion. It doesn’t necessarily have any validation in the Bible, and I think can be very dangerous—creating rules and regulations and putting ourselves in positions where we’re the final authority on things because this is the way it’s always been done. It’s dangerous and we can be Pharisees in that regard. I’m very optimistic that there are sincere believers out there that are okay with tradition but don’t want to endorse traditionalism for the sake of traditionalism but want to embrace tradition because it’s God-honoring. I think that’s a beautiful thing.

    FC: Tell us a little bit about Man Up: what went into it conceptually and what you hope it accomplishes.

    Lecrae: Yes, so Man Up was kind of us at Reach Records and Life Ministries surveying the culture, both the church and outside the church. There was a lack of understanding of what masculinity really looks like and what it is. Obviously, we believe the Bible is the authority on masculinity, and so we wanted to address that. Men, specifically in the West, have no rights of passage, no way to know when they become a man. Everywhere else in the world you gotta kill a lion or stab a shark, or go on some journey, and you come back and you’re a man. But here in the West, we’re really kind of clueless as to what makes us a man. So we’ve begun to make up our own definitions when Jesus has given us so many. He was the picture-perfect man. He was selfless, He was sacrificial, He was courageous, He was authoritative, and He loved his wife – the church – to the death. Those were some of the elements that we wanted to put out there and portray for those inside and for those outside the church, that they may say, “Ah, this is what manhood looks like. And it’s a goal that I’ve never attained in my own strength.” And so, one of the key factors in manhood is repentance. Ya know, you’ve got to man down to man up. Wave your white flag and say, “Jesus I can’t do this.” I think that’s the first step in being a man.

    FC: And it has been well-received?

    Lecrae: Incredibly well. So we did a campaign where there was an album, a short film, a tour, and a conference. The tour sold out, the album has been incredibly successful, the film is attached to the album so people have been watching it and being encouraged. And at the conference we anticipated about 1,000 people and 2,200 men showed up – three generations, the grandfathers, fathers, and sons. It was mind blowing. It was a powerful, powerful time.

    FC: That is so valuable for men and fathers. Talk to us a little bit about Church Clothes: the mix tape, the video, the controversy.

    Lecrae: I’ve always been a missionary and what people don’t know is that I’ve always taken some strategic and eyebrow-raising steps. So historically that’s been my M.O. I moved to one of the worst neighborhoods in Memphis, as a newly married man, which everybody said “That’s ridiculous, that’s insane, you’ve lost your mind.” From there, my wife and I went to Asia in ministry there and had to duck and hide and run from authorities and she agreed to go pregnant. Everyone thought we had lost our minds again. God showed us incredible fruit. I’ve always done music to push people to get them to get uncomfortable in their seat so they could wrestle with things. Not to become pew potatoes, just simply sitting there, growing fat with knowledge and not applying it. It’s a mixed tape that’s really aimed and geared toward hip hop culture. And one of the formats that is highly respectable within hip hop culture is a mix tape. Just talking about controversial issues that I don’t think people outside of the church wrestle with. Being an artist that’s well received in Christian circles, the majority of my fan-base is Christian, and are hearing it and seeing it, and have all these questions and issues. For me, it’s me saying to them, “Hey, this exists out here. This is what people are wresting with. We need to get out here and love on people and engage people and engage culture.”

    FC: So you’ve encountered some controversy with your music. Do you think it’s because you take a bold approach?

    Lecrae: I think some people don’t get it, but as we talked about I think there’s a Christian culture that wants everything to be comfortable and safe and they think that’s what Christianity is. It’s “Aaah, I’ve escaped the craziness of this world and now I’m safe.” And we would like to move into a safe environment and have, ya know, a Christian barber shop and a Christian swimming pool and not have to deal with the world anymore. But Jesus prayed that we would remain in the world but [be] protected. He also told us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church and for the gates to not prevail against His church and [for that to happen], it must mean we’re trying to storm them. So, I think there’s just a sub-sect that want to remain safe and tucked away and not engage the world for the glory of Jesus.

    FC: Can you just stop rocking the boat for a while?

    Lecrae: (laughing) I would love to, but I can’t.

    FC: No don’t! Don’t stop rocking the boat. So, tell us about Gravity. What’s the theme of the record?

    Lecrae: Gravity is loosely based on Ecclesiastes and I think what Solomon was trying to do was bring some weight to life and that’s really what I want to do, to paint some sober pictures. Honestly everything sober is not bad so I don’t want people to think that sober pictures are bad. You know, there is a sobering picture when you’re overwhelmed with all of the hurt and the pain in this world. There’s a sober picture of how it’s only for a short period of time, it’s short-lived, or that we still have Jesus. So that’s what I would call a weighty part, a gravitational pull to remind us of who we are in Jesus. So obviously, just wanting to paint hope, but also just giving the pictures of the realities of this life that we live, and how there’s no escaping it other than Jesus.

    FC: I do have a couple of questions from our Twitter followers. They should be fairly easy. What was the hardest thing that the media has put you?

    Lecrae: Ya know, I don’t know if it’s the media. I would say it’s probably social media. Social media is just constant, it never stops, 24 hours a day. And so there’s always someone who is very loud and very opinionated. I will say it’s strengthened my faith if anything, because it’s made me feel closer to Jesus, or relate to Him more. I’m sure He was constantly criticized, and constantly someone had an opinion about what He was doing. I’m not perfect like Him though so some opinions or critiques might be warranted (laughs).

    FC: Who was your favorite artist growing up?

    Lecrae: My favorite artist growing up would probably be Lauren Hill. She sings, she raps, she sings from her soul, and then she wasn’t afraid to articulate her faith once she started to embrace it. And I really appreciate that about her.

    FC: She certainly wore her heart on her sleeve, that’s for sure. One more question, are there any guests on your new record?

    Lecrae: Absolutely. It’s still in the works, but I would love to work with the likes of Brooke Fraser and Gungor. There are a few, but I don’t want to give them away until it’s signed, sealed and delivered.

    To find out more about Lecrae's new album, Gravity, click here.

  • Invite Instruction

    Posted on July 10, 2012 by Boyd Bailey

    “Rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning” (Proverbs 9:8-9).

     

    Wise people invite instruction. They understand correction and rebuke are necessary to grow in wisdom and righteous behavior. Without well-meaning instructors willing to get in our faces, we aspire to be average at best. However, an invitation to mettle into my affairs defines authentic accountability. Effective correction makes us uncomfortable at times, but we become wiser as a result. Indeed, conflict is inherent in accountability.
     
    So, if your relationships are conflict free, you can bet you are not being held accountable in the truest sense. Wisdom comes in the form of raw relationships that reek with loving reproof and a willingness to change. It is out of a rebuke that you wake up and understand the realities you are facing. Your spouse is not nagging, just nudging you to act responsibly. Therefore, invite instruction, and you will increase in wisdom and understanding. There are no regrets from wise recipients of reproof.
     
    “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25:12).
     
    Furthermore, be willing to be the bearer of bad news. With love and grace, go to your friend who has asked for your counsel, and give him or her truth. Pray first; then deliver the unpleasant news.  It is much better for others to see the error of their ways before they reach a point of no return. Talk to them, not about them. Pray for them privately, not publically with a pious prayer request.
     
    Love motivates rebuke, then become a recipient of love. Your relationship will retreat in anger or rise to a higher level of respect through righteous rebuke. Take the time to prod another toward perfection because you care. Be respectful and instruct with patience. One day the student may exceed the wisdom of the teacher.
     
    “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).
     
    Prayer: Dear Lord, to whom do I need to listen and learn from their correction and rebuke?
     
    Related Readings: Psalm 141:5; 2 Peter 3:18; 2 Timothy 4:2; Revelation 3:19
     
    Post/Tweet this today: Avoid gossip, talk to them not about them. #gossip #confront
     
    Click on our Wisdom Video blog… http://bit.ly/JCjzJB

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