Extraordinary

Extraordinary.  I wanted to have a word to describe my experience, and it was the best one I could find.  I’d never been outside of the United States before, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect when my feet touched Dominican soil.  I was excited, scared, and any other number of feelings all at one time.  “I’m here on mission,” I thought, “but, what does that even mean?”  All I knew was that for the next 5 days, I would have to trust God to lead me into finding that out.

I’ve wanted to share my experience since we returned, but I just couldn’t find the space in my spirit where I was ready.  In talking to others who’ve done this, I heard a recurring theme:  you’re not going to be the same.  I woke up every morning for a week plus after returning thinking about the Dominican.  I’m certain that I dreamed about Barahona every night.  During the day, I would realize that I was physically here in Rogersville, but my head and my heart were in a place I’d only known for a few days.  My thoughts were dominated by people that I’d only known for such a short time.  But, by the move of an amazing God, it had become the same as if I’d known them all my life.  How can you explain that?  How does one find the words for it?

You know what?  I think that in this moment I just figured out how to say it.  I fell in love with Barahona, Dominican Republic.  I fell in love with Batey Central.  You know why?  Because, Jesus is madly in love with them!  And, I believe that because I’ve fallen in love with Jesus, He causes me to fall for the nations of the world.  You can’t help it.  You are completely smitten with the people He loved so much that He laid down EVERYTHING for them!  He’s got it bad for people, and if we’re following in His steps, we will, too!

I wish I could tell you all the stories about the people who walked each step in this with us and the absolutely miraculous, God-breathed moments we experienced.  It was sacred…it was holy.  It was exhilarating…it was sobering.  We laughed…we wept.  It was, well, extraordinary.

I left here to go and serve, but I found myself served even more.  I left here to possibly teach someone something, but I found myself the learner.  I went to take Jesus to people, but I found Jesus in the people.  I went to take hope, but I found hope that I didn’t even know that I needed!  I found that His Church is alive and well, and I realized yet again what an honor it is THAT WE MAY serve Him.  I am more thankful than I have ever been for all that my Savior lavishes on me daily, and I don’t mean the stuff that I have.  Everyday I rise from my sleep with the chance to impact lives for the glory of Jesus Christ; my life is a series of moments…God-breathed, Christ-driven moments to make a difference in someone’s day or even their life!  I don’t deserve that, but in His profound grace He chooses to use me.  May I never take that for granted again….

So, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  You can find them by searching 3SXTY on Facebook.  We captured the face of Jesus in our new friends, and I don’t think you’ll have any problem seeing Him.  I saw the face of Jesus in us in those pictures, too.  Smiles just a little bit brighter than before…eyes on fire with His passion.  Hearts overflowing with Him showing so much joy; no wonder it was hard for us to leave!  But, we brought that back with us, and I hope it blazes forth daily from each of us as we continue on mission here at home.  And, if you would like to know more about what you see in those pictures, just find one of us.  But, let me warn you…be prepared to hang out for a while!  We have a lot to say, and it’s o.k. if you wonder how we can still be so excited even now.  We’ve all been a little peculiar since our return, and I hope that doesn’t change one bit.  We’re going back if the Lord chooses to hold off His return.  He invited us to “come and see,” and what we saw we can’t wait to experience again with some new faces in tow.  

In the meantime, thank you, Jesus, for all You’ve done and are doing in us.  You inspired us to go, and You met us there in ways that have inspired a new wonder and awe of You.  Keep our friends in Your care, and do the same miracle in the lives of all the teams that come after us this year.  We know You’re doing the “immeasurably more,” and we can’t wait to see what’s next!  Now, with a new fire, we’re taking the Kingdom to Hawkins County, TN; wreck this place for Your glory, Lord!  We’re with You!

 

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An Open Letter To Volunteer High…A Response

As many of you know, this past Wednesday I presented an open letter to all of Volunteer High addressing my heart concerning the struggle with loss across the school in the past year.  I was overwhelmed by the response!  I could have never imagined it, and I have come to realize that it requires that I go a step further with all who read the letter.  It is clear that there is a substantial number of people who not only want, but need to have an open and candid conversation about the pain of these days and the fallout from it not only as a school but in individual lives as well.

With these things in mind, I am issuing an invitation.  This coming Monday evening at 7 p.m. I would like to have a gathering for discussion at Hope Community Church starting at 7 p.m.  I want to be clear that this is not an attempt on my part to have a church service or anything of that nature.  I have no intention of creating an environment that is uncomfortable or intimidating for anyone who would like to come.  This gathering will happen in a church, but it will be used as a venue only.  If you happen to be someone who has an issue with church for any reason, I want you to understand that we simply want to offer a safe place to discuss what’s happened in your lives.  Will anything pertaining to God be discussed?  Given the nature of my letter’s contents, I would expect so.  I want to be up front about that.  The issue of God’s role in these tragedies is one of if not the chief topic on the minds of most of you right now.  If you belong to another church, please don’t be intimidated by the setting.  Many of you have been with or around us before, but for those who haven’t, we will not do anything that will breed concern on the part of you or your church.  I just want to help in whatever way I can, and I believe this will go a long way in helping in the healing process.

I hope you’ll come.  Judging from the overwhelming number of people who have addressed this letter, I know you’re out there.  Won’t you please join us?  I hope to see you there.

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An Open Letter To Everyone At Volunteer High School

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Chris Bishop.  I’m the youth pastor of 3SXTY at Hope Community Church, and my heart is broken.  There has been a tremendous amount of loss at your school lately, and I know many of you are devastated.  Since hearing the news of the most recent occurrence, I have been clamoring for some way to help…some way to bring some comfort.  I talked with one of your own just this past Saturday, and what he said cut deep.  “People are doubting.  Everyone thinks God has turned His back.”  All I could think was I have to find a way….a way to tell them that’s not true!  In fact, He’s closer than ever.  He’s near in our suffering.  He wants to be there for you more in these moments than you may even know.

 

I realize that I’m “speaking” to people at all sorts of levels in terms of their relationship to God.  Some of you know Him very well; some of you know of Him; and some of you may not know anything of Him and don’t see any reason why He should matter to you at all.  There are likely some of you that hate Him for reasons that involve experiences that I cannot even fathom in my wildest imagination.  You’re coming from a place of unspeakable pain and hurt that a guy like me couldn’t conceive if I tried.  Whatever the case, I’m humbly asking you to let me speak into this situation that all of you are sharing in, and I will have to leave it to you to process it and do with it what you will.  If you choose to disregard it, my feelings will not be hurt. But, I hope it will offer you the thing all of us need more than anything in this world…HOPE!

 

The biggest question running through your minds is, “why?!?!?!”  How can God be on the scene when these things happen?  The simplest answer to that question is that our world is broken.  It was broken at a tree with a decision to eat and, as the Villain put it, to be like God.  Adam turned his back on God, and everything fell apart.  Like a virus in a computer system, sin has destroyed and eaten away at what God made with intentions of eternal beauty.  The world is decaying and we’re all subject to that brokenness.  Bad things happen, and we must live with the fall out from that.  Our choice was made for us, and that may seem unfair, but here we are.  The beautiful thing is that even when we deserved nothing, GOD…NEVER…GAVE…UP on us!  Jesus came to make all things new!

 

In the second half of John 16, verse 33, Jesus says this:  “in this world, you will have trouble.  But, TAKE HEART!  I have overcome the world.”  In loss, in pain, in hurt, in emptiness…you can trust that through death on a Cross and resurrection from a grave, that Jesus came to give you hope.  In Matthew 11:28 Jesus said, “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  In 1 Peter 5:7 He said, “cast all your care upon me, for I care for you.”  Jesus wants to be IN THIS WITH YOU!

 

If we were to live to be hundreds of years old, we would never be able to fully understand all of the circumstances and situations that come our way and why they have to happen like they do.  There will always be questions that we don’t have clear answers to.  Hope is found in the fact that we can have a relationship and do life with a Savior who understands the full picture.  And even when He doesn’t give us all the answers we’d like to have, we can go on knowing that He knows best and we can trust Him with anything….even the bad things.  Joseph makes a statement to his brothers in Genesis 50 after they have done some unspeakable things to him that just blows me away about how God works.  Joseph says, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Joseph is saying that even that which seems so evil and unbelievable is and can and will in some way be used for good by God.  He even takes the terrible things and uses them to do awesome and life-changing things!  What an incredible God He is!  You may ask how I can say actually believe such a thing.  In short, because I’ve lived the truth of those words many times over in my own life.  I’ve seen Jesus overcome!  I know that what He says is true!

 

I am trusting God that these words will reach the eyes and hearts of all who need them.  I’m trusting that He will prove Himself true in life after life that is broken down and hurting right now.  I know my God is greater than anything that life can throw at us, and He wants to be BIG for you right now!  Let Him.  He’s near.  Don’t doubt Him….He hasn’t gone anywhere.  My prayers are with you, and if I can help you in any way, please let me know.

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Jesus is BIG

The following blog was written a few days ago, but I’m just getting a chance to post it.  I hope you’ll read and pass it along…

I’m sitting in my Mom’s TV room on a cold, snowy Christmas Eve in West Virginia.  A little while ago I finished reading my daily selection for Advent, and I was reminded again of the absolutely EPIC beauty of Jesus’ coming.  If we were to be able to live a thousand years, I would never be able to comprehend all that Jesus is and does for each of us every single day of our lives.  I have spent a huge part of my life on this Earth trying very hard to earn His favor by being the best person I can be.  In truth, I felt like I had a huge role to play in saving my life.  The fact is that all I managed to do was make Jesus very small.

 

The beauty of Jesus is the ENORMITY of Jesus!  I believe that the reason many take so long to let Him into their lives, and even reject Him outright, is that many Christians have managed to make Him so tiny and inconsequential that someone cannot understand why He even matters.  He’s been utterly stripped of all the things that make Him the most important person in the history of the world.  As a pastor, I see this way too much.  It’s heartbreaking coming in contact day after day with people who turn away from Jesus and toward other things that can never fulfill the desires of their hearts simply because they don’t see any reason why Jesus could or would make any difference or have any impact on their life.

 

One of the biggest thieves of a correct understanding of how “big” Jesus is happens to be the very structure that began as a means of worshipping Him:  religion.  Somewhere along the line religion started pushing Him down into rules and regulations which turned following Him into satisfying checklists rather than relying on His radical act of grace and mercy at the Cross to make us right with Him.  Performance overtook relationship all but banishing it into obscurity for a time.  I’m glad to live in a time where grace, mercy, and relationship have begun to push back and take their rightful place in the discussion of what it really means to KNOW God.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is once again surging to the forefront where it belongs.

 

The hardest thing for me to do is to know what to say and how to present this concept to people in a way that is understandable.  I want to put it in terms that are so ridiculously simple that they reveal the height, width, and depth of the love of a God in a revolutionary way that just knocks you off of your seat!  So, you can imagine the joy I felt when I sat down to read one day and discovered an author who said everything I ever wanted to say in the way I’d always wished I could say it.

 

Enter Jefferson Bethke.  I can hear some of you saying, “hey, wait a minute, haven’t I heard of that guy?”  Maybe.  If you’re one of the millions who watched his video, “Why I Love Jesus But Hate Religion,” yes, you have.  If you watch TV news networks, you’ve probably seen him called into discuss faith-based issues of the day on many of their programs as a result of the aforementioned video.  Yes, lots if you have heard of Jefferson Bethke, and hopefully you’ve watched some of his other videos, too.  He’s an extremely talented young man!

 

The cool thing is that he was given a chance to write this book, “Jesus > Religion,” to expound on and further explain what he had to say in his video.  He was given a platform to speak into possibly the biggest issue hindering the spread of the Way of Jesus Christ, and he has done a phenomenal job.  I’m thankful that his voice will be an indispensable tool to aid my voice as I speak to people in the future.

 

If you’re a follower of Jesus and want one of the simplest and remarkable descriptions of how Jesus went about His business, you’ll wanna give this a read.  If you have questions, frustrations, or you’re outright sick of Christianity for whatever reason, you’ll wanna give this a read.  It’s an invaluable glimpse into the heart of the One who gave everything for you.  We Jesus-followers are an imperfect bunch, and we’ve been known to get things wrong.  But, this book paints a beautiful picture of who most of us are really trying to be.  I’d love for you to see it, and I hope it’ll inspire you to give us another chance.

If you’d like to buy or get more information on the book, you can check out http://jesusisgreater.tv/.

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Splatter

What kind of title is that?  Splatter?  Well, it’s the title of a blog full of things that are on my mind which may or may not relate to each other.  Sometimes you just need to say a bunch of things without having to make sure they all connect into some cohesive whole.  So, what you are about to read is the splatter that results from throwing the things that are going on in my head on to a blank screen. Anyway….here goes…

I’m pretty sure that in the past couple of months I’ve fallen in love with music all over again.  I believe that the true enjoyment of music and the process of discovery are inextricably linked.  You can fall into the rut of listening to the “same” very easily in today’s world of formatted radio stations and cookie-cutter product.  It’s in finding the stuff you’ve never heard or the artists who are always pushing the creative envelope that the true love of music is found.  I’ve come to understand that ALL art is God-breathed.  Before you throw something at the screen, let me explain.  God pretty much established Himself as the source of all creation in Genesis 1:1.  For those of you who stumble upon this little blog who don’t believe that, I don’t want to argue with you, so we’ll just agree to disagree and you can skip the rest of this paragraph.  Or, you can read on and maybe you’ll see something that initiates a new intellectual thread for you. Now, when I say He is the Creator, I want you to take it a step further and see that He is a very CREATIVE Creator.  Have you looked around you lately?  Have you seen the colors of fall?  Have you looked at a blue sky that is so piercing that it almost hurts to look at it? Have you seen the sun nested behind those billowing white clouds in that very sky?  STUNNING!  God is a creative Creator, and He made us all to create, as well.  So, anyone who creates is mirroring an intrinsic part of who the Creator is.  Now, make no mistake, the things we create can certainly be misused and abused.  We create out of our brokenness; God doesn’t have any such issue.  But, the point I’m trying to make is that there is amazing art being made that it’s worth your time to listen to.  I’ve been finding a lot of that lately, and I’m LOVING it!  If you would like some examples, feel free to ask, because if I should continue discussing one thing this will cease to be splatter!

I believe that God is about to do something BIG!  Why do you say that?  Well, will you settle for “I just know?”  I’m all too aware that God’s clock doesn’t tick with the same set of rules that mine does, but I’m pretty sure that it’s going to happen soon.  You might say, “o.k., Chris, then what’s the hold up?”  Very simply put, I think He’s waiting for us to get off our butts and get serious about Him.  We’re still way to busy figuring out how to make God an accessory to our lives as opposed to making Him our lives.  The order is messed up, people.  Make everything else an accessory to God and you might want to get a firm grip on the wheel, because God is going to take you to places you don’t even have the equipment to imagine!

I’m am incredibly selfish.  It becomes more and more apparent to me on a daily basis that I care entirely too much about myself and my wants.  God is relentlessly pursuing me concerning making my heart more like His, and I don’t like it one bit!  But, I WANT my heart to be like His.  You talk about some serious tension!  I’m living Romans 6, 7, & 8 every day of my life, and I’m determined that I am going to become determined to decide to make the choices that I am completely capable of making to be more like Jesus.  I know I can do this, because Scripture tells me that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  A life surrendered to Jesus has all that it needs to do anything God requires; I have to stop waiting on God to change me and realize that God did change me when I met His Son, and now He’s just waiting on me to decide to use the tools He gave me to do the things He created me to do!

I love my wife.  I have no earthly idea why God would see fit to place a lady of such quality in the life of a guy who can forget to properly value and care for the gift that lives in the same house he does.  I’ve been going through this Boy Meets Girl series with the 3SXTY kids, but what God has done is remind me of who and what I have in my own life, and I must cherish her as Jesus cherishes His own bride, the Church.  When you read this, Peggy ‘Chelle, please know that your husband loves you very much, and I’m sorry if I’ve been less than you deserve.  I renew my commitment to you to strive to be what you deserve every day for the rest of my life!

In conclusion, I am stunned daily by the level of grace and mercy that are extended to me by my God.  If I were God, I’d have been done with me a long time ago.  Thank you, Papa, for NEVER giving up on me and chasing me with the most ferocious love I’ve ever known.  You have given me everything that I have, but I need You to remind me constantly that it’s Yours.  I’m so grateful that I belong to You!

 

 

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Open

Open.  There are so many ways we can look at this word.  There are positive connotations and negative ones as well.  Which is frequently determined by the listener based on personal bias, thoughts, or experiences; in short, what you mean by the word open is very much open for discussion!

I see the word open in both ways, but it’s likely for different reasons than you think.  I see open in a positive fashion, because it indicates that nothing is hidden or held back. I see open in a negative fashion for the same reasons.  Why?  Because that kind of transparency is pretty scary.  Everything is out in the open; it’s everything fully revealed for better or for worse.

I think that’s why we’re all so scared of the concept of accountability.  Being held responsible for something is a big deal; it’s an even bigger deal if that something happens to be something you wouldn’t commonly allow someone else to know much less take responsibility for.  So, with that in mind, I want to tell you about an awesome book I just finished reading called…..you guessed it, OPEN.

OPEN was written by Craig Gross.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Craig is the pastor of XXXChurch.  You want to talk about scary and uncomfortable–start a church that runs headlong into confronting the pornography industry and attempting to rescue men and women from its harmful effects.  Needless to say, Craig must be somewhat comfortable with uncomfortable.  But, this is good for you and me, because out of this place of comfort Craig wants to talk to and teach us about how we can hold each other accountable for the potentially harmful and, at the very least, negative things we have in our lives.  I’m not just talking about porn…I mean ANYTHING.

I’m a youth pastor, and I have thrown the word accountability around like a sack of potatoes for years now.  “You need to get other people involved in your life…people who can hold you accountable for your actions and help keep you on the right path,” I say. But, while reading this book, I came to realize that I haven’t really ever told them how to do that.  The truth is that I didn’t know exactly how to do it much less how to explain the process to them.  I’m very happy to say that with OPEN I have found a resource that has educated me and will help me do the same for my kids in the coming weeks, months, and years.

OPEN is full of not only guidance and advice on how you can invite people into the very personal and difficult parts of your life like various forms of addiction or even places where you just need to get more disciplined with something, it’s also backed up with real-life experiences to show you how it has worked in the author’s own life.  Questions like what is accountability, how do I do it, who do I do it alongside, and many others are answered in a simple and frank way that’s easily processed and sensible to anyone who takes the time to read the book.  Gross leaves no stone unturned, and he is unflinchingly honest about successes and failures in his own life as well as the lives of others he has known over the years.

I’m thankful for someone like Craig Gross who is willing to tread into territory so many of us would not even dare venture into and is willing to be open about his own struggles and successes.  OPEN is real in every sense, and it’s a great read.  I found it to be engaging and interesting, but, above all, I found it helpful in an area where we can all use more education and direction.  Go out and get a copy of OPEN, and check it out for yourself.  You WILL NOT be disappointed!

If you want to check out a sample of the book, you can do so at GetOpen.com.  You can purchase a copy there, or it can also be found in the usual places like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other retailers where books are sold. 

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When Everything Changed

I’m not sure why I’m writing this now.  I could’ve written it almost anytime over the past 2+ years, but I’ve come to understand that timing is everything when you feel like you have something to say.  With that in mind, I’m going to assume that this post has been delayed for a reason.  I’m comfortable leaving the reasons in God’s hands.

For this to make sense, I need to give you some background.  The last third of 2009 was rough.  There’s no value in giving you the grizzly details, but I began my first, and so far, only major bout with depression.  It was brutal…I wouldn’t wish the way I felt on ANYONE!  It carried on into 2010, & it brought with it some pretty unexpected events, all of which God was conspiring to use to make me a better follower of Jesus.  I can say that, because “hindsight is 20/20.”  I certainly didn’t know it at the time I can assure you.

The most difficult part of this journey was in my life as a pastor.  I have never doubted my calling to pastor teenagers.  I can say that with great clarity.  But, by January of 2010, I seriously doubted that I had any idea how to do it effectively.  Translation:  I realized that I had no idea what I was doing.  I had cobbled together a collection of resources, ideas, & strategies from people who seemingly knew what they were doing, but I could clearly see by this point that it just wasn’t working.  This realization, along with other circumstances in my life, drove me to the place that I should have gone long before I did.  It drove me to my knees.  I finally said what I wish I’d said much sooner:  “God, I have no idea what I’m doing, and I will not survive if you don’t show me how you want this to happen.” 

That prayer took me to suburban Chicago where I met with an incredible group of people with the Willow Creek Church Student Ministry.  They poured into me & inspired me toward a change that would completely reshape how we ministered to teenagers, and we set a new plan into motion.  The details of that story are pretty interesting, and it was a pretty intense transition, but that story is for another time.  It was a major change, for certain; but, it isn’t the change I want to tell you about here.  So, let me tell you a story within that story…

In youth ministry, conferences are a rite of passage.  Acquire The Fire, Winter Xtreme, & all kinds of others are out there, & over the course of time you’ll get to a bunch of them multiple times.  I’ve been to a few, & I’ll get to a bunch more before it’s all said & done.  But, in the summer of 2010, I felt oddly compelled to do something I hadn’t done before.  One of the coolest things about this youth ministry I lead is that I have men & women who have graduated out as students who have chosen to remain with me as leaders.  They serve in the band, A/V ministry, sound, food, & anywhere else I send them.  They do it faithfully, and I am beyond happy to have them with me.  During the course of an ordinary day at the church, I felt oddly compelled to go to Passion.  Now, Passion is a gathering of 18-25 year olds held each year in Atlanta, Georgia designed to simply focus college-age students toward glorifying the Name & renown of Jesus.  I’m not in the age bracket anymore, but there is limited space for leaders, & I kind of qualify for that as we have our own little “college ministry” going on inside of our youth leadership team.  We were in our early stages of creating what 3SXTY, my youth ministry’s name, is now, and I felt led to take three specific students with me, so I took them aside one-by-one & posed the idea.  I will omit their names to respect their privacy, but each signed on, & we set our plan in motion.  I still don’t know exactly why God inspired me to choose those three guys.  Only they know what God spoke into them during those days; I hope to know the whole of it someday.

Fast forward to January 1st. of 2011…the four of us arrived in Atlanta, and I quite frankly was totally unclear as to what my role was to be for the next four days.  I thought, “Well, God, this is a conference for college students, so I guess I’m just gonna hang out.”  Truthfully, I kind of had myself figured to have been called by God to be a glorified chauffer & this was all gonna be for the three young men that came with me, so let the “vacation” begin!

You don’t have time for me to detail those four days for you in a blog post.  If you’d like all the details, we’ll just have to sit down & talk about it in person some time.  For those who did the days following my return, I want to say thank you for letting me spill on you all that was bubbling out of me.  You showed amazing patience & were so gracious in letting me work it all through out loud, and you deserve a medal for jumping on that grenade!  But, for the purposes of this writing, I need to focus on one moment in time which altered the trajectory of my life, in my opinion, forever.

On the final day of Passion 2011, we entered Philips Arena with great anticipation.  God had met with all 22,000 of us in such real & intimate ways.  I quite honestly didn’t know what it was going to be like re-entering the real world.  I’d never encountered God that way before, & I was so scared of losing it somehow.  I’d been filled in a way I couldn’t explain, but you can’t stay in those places forever.  It’s what happens when you take them back home with you that changes the world.  During the course of the gathering–I could no longer call it a “conference,” the term didn’t fit or do what had happened justice, we had engaged in what was called “Do Something Now.”  There were a number of global causes that had been chosen who were in need of funding to carry out such valuable acts as providing clean water to communities without, providing housing for people in unspeakable situation who would never be able to get a place on their own, as well as many others.  A goal had been placed in front of this group of students which would fund the chosen causes of $500,000.  Now, anybody who knows a college student knows that squeezing $5 in cold hard cash out of one of them is virtually impossible.  The words poor & broke are synonymous with college students, right?  But, here was an ambitious goal, & the leadership of Passion believed God for what he was asking them to do.  So, here in the final session, we were going to find out the final total of what had been raised over our four days to put toward these causes.  I have no way of putting the moment in context for you….I don’t have words.  It was informed by every other moment that I’d had leading up to it, but when the total was read, I fell apart.  We had raised over 1 million dollars for the causes of Do Something Now!  I did the only thing I could do in that moment.  I wept.  Loudly, openly, viscerally wept.  Joy was pouring out of me to the point that it almost hurt!  I remember thinking as I had several times over the past three days, why am I so raw in this moment?  What in the world is God doing to me?  In that instant, I could hear the still, small voice that the Bible speaks of as clearly as I’ve ever heard it in my life.  He said four simple words to me: “This is what’s possible.”

Those four words rocked my world.  I mean the foundation of me shook!  These college students aren’t that far removed from the students I teach.  When this generation unites behind a cause with a purpose, nations, OUR NATION, will change!  Up until that moment, I have to admit to you that I seriously questioned if there was any hope of seeing the generation I was teaching rise up for the cause of Christ beyond just a precious few.  I realized that God was telling me not only that it was possible, but that IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!  I knew it….in the marrow of my bones, I knew it!  I knew that nothing was ever going to be the same.  Everything changed….

I sit here typing today, February 3rd., 2013, & I want you to know that the promise that God made to me that day….it’s happening!  It was happening before I ever drove into Atlanta in 2011, I just needed to be shown.  Each week that passes, I come face-to-face with one happening after another that screams, “I’M DOING A NEW WORK IN YOUR DAY…CAN’T YOU SEE IT’S HAPPENING?”  Revival is here….an explosion is coming, and I can’t wait for it to blow!  I hope we’re ready, because it’s gonna be HUGE!

I write this today, because I think God wants to use my story to inform someone else’s story.  I don’t know who you are or what you’re going through, but I want you to know there is something, no there is SOMEONE, to hope in!  He’s at work, & He’ll always finish what He starts.  Believe Him for what’s coming & prepare to be blown away!

I also write this today, because I want to say a very public “thank you” to Louie & Shelley Giglio, the founders of the Passion Movement.  I honestly have no idea if I would even still be doing this today were it not for this incredible work you’re allowing God to do in & through you, as well as the incredible people who work alongside you.  God uses all of you daily to minister to me.  I’m a 41 year old pastor of teenagers in Hawkins County, TN, but I feel so much a part of the Jesus Generation you’re lifting up, & I hope it’s O.K. that I consider myself in that population.  I wish I’d come sooner!

To the three young men who shared Passion 2011 with me, I am honored to walk alongside you in this journey of faith.  I hope you read this, & I hope you’re still being rocked by what God did in those days.  It was just a beginning in many ways, but what a beginning it was!  I love you, & I am so proud of each of you.  Don’t let anything stand between you and what God has for you!  We’re gonna change the world, fellas!

Thank you, Papa. I love You!

 

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A Unified Front

As I write my fourth and final blog about what it means to me to Live Second, I think it appropriate that unity is my topic for the day.  This afternoon, I gathered with a group of people spanning many churches here in Hawkins County, Tennessee, that came together for one purpose:  the continued unification of our churches as we plead with God to heal the deep wounds of sin here in this place where we live.  We have come to realize that while we were busy deciding who was “right” we abdicated our rights of influence and evil filled the void with all kinds of deceptively alluring things that now place our population in chains.  The only thing that can transform the culture is a supernatural move of God on our land, and it can only begin with the Church becoming what Jesus prayed for it to be in the seventeenth chapter of the book of John.

The world needs to know that we are one.  The world needs to know that we are a source of love unlike any other they’ve ever seen.  The world needs to know that they matter to Jesus.  But, they won’t know any of that until they know that they matter to us!  We are valued and cared about by God’s people; therefore, God must care about us, too.

We need to get this soon, or we’re going to miss our opportunity.  Circumstances are being presented all around us daily into which we, the Church, can step and represent to love of Jesus Christ to the world!  Heartbreak, despair, unspeakable evil, and so many other things run rampant all around us, and people need to know more than ever that God is FOR them!  They need hope, and we have THE HOPE OF THE WORLD right here with us, so let’s get busy sharing Him!

It’s time we stop worrying about our own little empires and get about doing some Kingdom work.  We need to start treating others as more important than ourselves just like Jesus did.  Putting others first and ourselves second is some kind of powerful in a society that is seemingly built on me first in pretty much every way.  It should start with the Church of Jesus Christ!  Time to put first things first and start serving people, don’t you think?

Come on, Church, let’s get busy LIVING SECOND, and putting others before ourselves…..just like Jesus would do!

If you would like to pursue the challenge of Living Second, you can pick up the book at http://www.iamsecond.com/live-second-book, or you can pick it up at all major book retailers and websites.

 

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Real Love

God is nothing if not prompt!  When determining what to write about concerning “Live Second” today, I came across a reading that was especially for me in light of the events of this past week.  God always has a word for us exactly when He knows we need it.

So, I’ll start with a question:  what is true love?  All of us have our own definition that comes to mind informed by age, experience, media, books, and other things that have influenced it.  My definition has changed over the years in response to all of these things, but I think in my 41st. year that I may be starting to kind of get a handle on it.  Interestingly enough, I’m finding my answer in a part of the Bible that I’ve read more times than I can count!  It’s a place that’s been used in all kinds of contexts.  It goes as follows:

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!”

What you just read are the first eight verses of the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, the “Love Chapter”; it’s probably one of the most used passages in the whole Bible.  It’s become a favorite at weddings over the years, and I’m sure it’s been used one more than one Valentine’s Day by a sizeable number of people as an expression of love to a significant other.  Trouble is, I think we’ve missed most of what’s it’s really saying.  It seems that love is the backdrop for….the major influence to be exerted over EVERYTHING else we do in life!  It looks to me like love is a force to be reckoned with if it exists within us as it is presented here!

I wish you and I had time to break this whole passage down from start to finish, but I realize many of you are very busy people who took valuable time to read even a few of these words, so I won’t attempt that.  I hope you’ll consider it on your own and that it will impact you in the ways it has me!  But, I hope you’ll give me the liberty of sharing a little of my week with you.  I believe that I’ve been given a glimpse of the depth of our selfishness as human beings this week that I’ve never seen before.  I don’t think it appropriate to give details; were I do that, I fear I would begin to display a lot of the qualities that love is not as my disappointment and frustration would bleed through.  The most sobering fact I’ve faced is something that someone said to me a long time ago; he said, “what you see in and criticize about others is generally the greatest problem that exist within you, too.”  The truth is that we as human beings, often without even recognizing it, are so consumed with ourselves that we don’t see a fraction of an inch beyond us to those who we are affecting or in most cases not affecting while we plow through life piling up the things we think life owes to us.  One thing I know, THIS IS NOT LOVE!  A statement in my reading from Week 7, Day 5 in “Live Second” had this to say: “Love has little to do with feelings and everything to do with selfless, humble, thoughtful care for another person.”  How are we doing with that?  More to the point, how am I doing with that?

Where can we look to see a true demonstration of that kind of love?  Well, the very best example that ever lived just happens to be the One who this season we are in the midst of celebrating was created for.  It just so happens that we’re celebrating His birth.  But, the example was best lived out in what He was born for…His death on a cross.  Listen to what I think is a perfect summary of that one defining act, also contained in the aforementioned reading:  “You loved us while we were still your enemy, you died for us while we cursed your name, and you planned our salvation knowing our rebellion and pride.”  THAT IS THE LOVE THAT 1 CORINTHIANS IS TALKING ABOUT! Selfless, others first, you second love that changes things!  I mean, do we even care about the people around us on a surface level much less about how badly they need to know Jesus?  THEY HAVE NO HOPE!  YOU CARRY THE HOPE THEY NEED!  But, how are they going to know that if we don’t love them enough to be second?  We must put Jesus first, we must live second.  We must understand the magnitude of the love-display that began with the cry of a child in a dirty manger in Bethlehem!  Until the full force of that act of love hits us causing the destruction of everything that separates us from loving people like Jesus did, we will never make the difference that He put us here for!  THE CROSS….LOVE DEFINED!  Is it changing you?  Until it does, you’ll never be able to LIVE SECOND!

If you would like to grab your own copy of “Live Second,” you can order it at http://www.iamsecond.com/live-second-book, or you can find it in any major book outlet in your community!

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“Not Worthy”

Let me be clear on something…I don’t deserve anything from God.  Yeah, you don’t have to read it again; and, I meant exactly what I said.  This flies in the face of what the society we live in tells us, so I wouldn’t expect it to be a popular statement.  We mostly hear that the world owes us, and our expectations of what God is supposed to do for us are so high that we become enraged at Him if we think He’s coming up short of our standards.

Why is my viewpoint different?  Long story short, because I know me.  I’ve come to understand who I am and that I am sorely lacking in most areas of my life.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that my account would be locked permanently in the red if I, in fact, got what I deserved.

Because of all these realizations about myself in recent years, there’s been a notable adjustment taking place in my everyday life.  I’ve come down with a case of something I never want to get over or be inoculated against.  I’ve developed a terminal case of gratitude!  The cool thing about this condition is that it’s not affected by my circumstances, expectations, or any other outside influences for that matter!  I’m grateful for one GIGANTIC reason…I DO NOT GET WHAT I DESERVE!

“Come again, Chris?  You’re gonna have to explain, ’cause that makes no sense to me at all!”  Well, o.k., here goes…

Check this out:

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
—Psalm 103:1–6

Now, in order for what I’m saying to make sense, you need to address that passage from Psalms in light of a specific fact; The Lord, specifically Jesus, the Son of God, does all of the aforementioned things for me when I have nothing to offer Him but my weakness and a series of failures that I couldn’t write enough blog posts to list!  I have nothing to offer, but my brokenness, yet, He loves me so much that He died to offer me this kind of grace and mercy……wait for it……FOR FREE!

The “Live Second” reading on page 44 says it beautifully:

“Confession is the act of acknowledging God’s right to judge but trusting in his habit to forgive. Nothing we do or say can obligate God to forgive. We cannot be good enough to earn forgiveness or perfect enough to not need it. But if we humbly ask for it, he gives it every time.”

I know what I deserve for the person I am naturally, but another passage from the book of 1 John, tells me that if I confess my sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive me, and He will clean up the stuff I can’t undo or fix on my own!  I don’t deserve that kind of forgiveness, but I’m beyond grateful that Jesus offered it to me anyway when what I deserved was to be left out in the cold to wait for my punishment.  Jesus brought HOPE where there was NO HOPE!

I believe that more than demands a life where I LIVE SECOND and place Him first!  It’s the only logical response such a gift demands!

If you’d like to pick up “Live Second,” you can get it at http://www.iamsecond.com/live-second-book, or you can find it at your local Lifeway Christian Store in addition to most outlets where books are sold.

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