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Moses

Moses and the Burning Bush: Paying Attention to God

Before I began full time ministry, my wife and I were working in eastern Tennessee.  We were newly married, just out of college, no money, living on a college campus (which was part of my job), and we were praying about what God wanted to do with us.  Partly out of dissatisfaction over our current situation, but mostly out of a desire to be used by God in more and deeper ways, we starting asking Him in earnest where He would have us go and what He would have us do.  Within the span of about three weeks, both my wife and I were offered full-time jobs (mine my first full time ministry appointment as a Worship Director), packed up our few belongings, got a cheap apartment in the Chicago suburbs and moved.  It was a whirlwind month, but neither of us will forget what God did to make that transition possible.

Fast forward four years.

We had been living near Chicago and doing ministry there for awhile.  I was nearing the end of my first Masters Degree and again Katie and I began wondering if God might be calling us to take another step.  We started paying attention, listening for His direction, this time a little more experienced at knowing what His voice sounds like.  Often, we had come to discover that whatever the strangest possibility offered to us, God could be in it.  Though we loved where we were, what we were doing, the friends we had made, the ministry possibilities knocking on our door (not to mention having just bought and renovated our first house), this strange opportunity called.

Months prior, as Katie and I were praying for God’s direction, part of those prayers included asking Him to give us more opportunities to share our faith with non-Christian friends.  We wanted to see God use us to bring people into relationship with Him.  This strange opportunity was partly an answer to our prayers for direction, and partly an answer to prayers for greater evangelistic activity.  A Lutheran church in Peoria, IL (somewhere we had never heard of) called looking for someone to train and program their congregation for evangelism.  Neither Katie nor myself had set foot inside a Lutheran church before (not because we were opposed to the idea; simply because we both came from non-denominational backgrounds) and it would mean completely giving up on everything we had worked for years to build near Chicago, starting once again from scratch.

This was one of those strange, exciting, dangerous, unknown leaps of faith we had grown accustom to God calling us to do.

So we did it.  God has richly blessed us in this new endeavor, and each time we take these steps following God, we get a little better at paying attention to what He’s doing around us.

Awhile ago I was reading in the book of Exodus for the umpteenth time and read a phrase I hadn’t caught before.  Moses was wandering around Horeb and saw something strange, exciting, dangerous, and unknown: a bush ablaze but not consumed.  Exodus 3:3 picks up the story,

“So Moses said, ‘I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up,’ When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’”

Did you catch that?  Only when Moses took the time to investigate the curiosity before Him, and only when God saw that Moses was paying attention, did He call him over.

That moment, that moment of investigation and paying attention, changed Moses’s life and the fate of the nation of Israel forever.

So what burning bushes in your life should you be paying more attention to?  Is God doing something near you that is strange, exciting, dangerous, or unknown?  Look into it and talk to Him about it.  It may be the moment God uses to start something amazing in your life.

Son of God

The Son of God Movie and #HotJesus: Is Jesus Too Sexy?

The hashtag, “HotJesus” went viral last week. It all had to do with the Son of God movie that was released in theaters and the physical appearance of actor Diogo Morgado who portrays Jesus. Apparently some people think Morgado is a good-looking guy and said so. That raised the issue of whether or not his physical good looks detracted from the message. On the other side people were saying as long as it gets people to the movie to hear the message, what does it matter. As you may have guessed I have some thoughts on the whole thing.

First, this is not new that Jesus in movies is good-looking. In the early 60′s Jeffrey Hunter played Jesus in The King of Kings. He was a Hollywood Hunk at the time. In the 70′s it was Ted Neely in Jesus Christ SuperStar and more recently Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ. Neither of them are ugly men. So why would we be surprised that the latest portrayal by Diogo Morgado is any different. It’s Hollywood. Unless you are a character actor who needs a certain look, chances are you are going to be above average in the good looks department. At least you will be once they make up and airbrush you enough.

Is there a reason to be concerned about the physical portrayal of Jesus?

Does it really matter as long as people see the movie and hear the message? Clearly it does. In our overly sexualized culture some folks become way too focused on “HotJesus” and missed the point of the message. Certainly there will be people who go to see the movie because they heard about “HotJesus” and in spite of that they will get the message. But even still there is a reason to be cautious, even concerned with how we portray Jesus. First and foremost is that we have absolutely no description of what Jesus looked like. So any attempt on our part will be pure speculation that is heavily influenced by our own biases. Such portrayals can unintentionally say more about us than they do about Jesus while at the same time telling some people Jesus is not for you. The recent statement by a politician that “Jesus was white” only serves to show the danger. For the record Jesus was a middle eastern Jewish guy. Not exactly a candidate for a Western European Caucasian.

The one statement in Scripture that gives any hint to the physical appearance of the Messiah comes in Isaiah 53:2 which says,

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him

In other words, Jesus was very average looking. You wouldn’t pick him out of a crowd because of his looks, good or bad. I am convinced that was by God’s design. Jesus came into the world to be our representative on the Cross. In literary terms he came as an everyman character.

He was someone we all could relate to so it would make sense for him to be average looking.

Being average looking was important for another reason. It meant that people were drawn to Jesus not by his physical good looks but by three other more important traits: his unconditional love, his authoritative teaching and his miraculous power. In his love for people Jesus reached out to the sinner and the rejected as well as the religious and social insiders. In all cases they experienced love and personal acceptance while at the same time being told that they were sinners in need of repentance. Jesus showed how to love people while rejecting their lifestyles and calling them to do the same. That is a skill woefully lacking and needed in today’s world. His teaching was done with such confidence and a sense of authority that when he spoke people marveled and debated and chewed on what he said. The Word of God has the effect. And finally when he healed people, cast out demons, turned water into wine, walked on water and raised the dead, people noticed and they marveled. At no point did his appearance become the topic of discussion.

It was all about his message, his love and his power.

Where the follower of Christ must be concerned with portrayals of Jesus is that, as Marshall McLuhan said , “the medium is the message”.  Whatever vehicle one uses to transmit a message will in some way impact the message itself. Radio impacts the message differently from television which is different from a movie which is different from Broadway which is different from a tweet. An ugly Jesus impacts the message differently from “HotJesus” which is different from average looking Jesus.

If he came originally as an average looking man then maybe we should be more diligent to see him as such.

Maybe more importantly there is a lesson here on God’s command to not make any images of him. As soon as we make an image of God we confine God to something that cannot contain him and we run the risk of focusing on or even worshipping the image more than God. There is a lesson to be learned from both Islam and Judaism with their connections to Moses. They each forbid any human depiction that may be worshipped or which of necessity would be woefully inadequate, not to mention inappropriate, in its portrayal of deity.  We will never get to that point with Jesus. That ship has sailed. There are more physical depictions of Jesus in art than you could ever count. But that should not keep us from continually moving the conversation away from what Jesus looked like to who Jesus was and is, God come in the flesh, crucified, buried, risen, ascended to the right hand of the Father,the only way of salvation, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and the one who is coming again.

 

Signs From God

Signs from God

Today’s entry is slightly different. It’s actually audio from a talk I recently gave to 300 students at UCLA. Here is a bit about the talk, I hope you might give it a listen:

People often ask me if God gives signs to help us believe in Him. Some people are just unsure, while others have heard that God is against intervening in the process. However, if you dig into scripture, God consistently gives people signs to help them believe in who He is. He loves helping people who don’t know Him, or aren’t paying attention to him, by giving them signs that pique their curiosity.

I recently gave a talk on “Signs” that I’d love to share with you. Together, we take a look at the story of the Magi during the birth of Jesus. You see, the Magi were not followers of the Jewish law and not believers in the Jewish God. But God gives them a clear sign that was unique to them and would have made them perk up and say, “What is going on here?” It was so alarming to them that it actually caused them to travel to all the way to Bethlehem. What were these signs from God? You’ll have to listen to find out! Click below to start streaming the talk now:

 

Love at First Sight

Love at First Sight

Do you believe in love at first sight? I always thought this to be a very shallow question – anyone who has been married for years will agree that true love takes time. Sure, you can like or lust after someone in just one glance, but to fall in love is a process…at least this is what I always believed.  However, as I began to really ponder the idea, I began to realize that there is one exception…

If we were to ask our Creator about love at first sight, the answer would be unmistakably… yes.

So many authors, poets, artists, and lyricists  have tried to beautifully articulate the word “love.”  Yet, no poem, song,  movie or story can compare to that of God’s love for us. He loved us so much that He gave everything for us and it was absolutely love at first sight. You see, I believe when God spoke it is “very good” over mankind, He instantly knew that nothing could separate us from Him:

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.(Genesis 1:31)

I’d like to share some something I wrote when traveling to Israel a few years ago. The trip was a graduation gift from my in-laws and obviously it became the trip of a lifetime the very moment I stepped foot on that holy ground. Being where Jesus spent His precious time on earth was beauty beyond words. I got to see all the sites that I had read about for so long. I saw my faith come alive before my very eyes. To fully capture this scene would be like trying to explain a sunset to someone who cannot see colors. This was my experience during the remarkable time I spent in Jerusalem. What I would like to share are words from a song I wrote called, “He Gave Calvary.” Please take a second to look over the significance of Calvary to our faith:

When you hear Calvary- Do you sense the mystery?
When you hear Calvary ­ Do you see love amazing?
When you hear Calvary ­ Do you find life’s security?
Cuz’ when I hear Calvary ­ I know Jesus loves me

Yea ­ He loves
Yea ­ The story’s been told
Yea ­ It never gets old
Lay at His feet ­ For He gave Calvary

When I think of the sacrifice ­ What a high price it was to pay
I feel forgiven ­ Even as I’ve gone astray
Been made righteous ­ Death’s not mine to claim
When I hear Calvary ­ I know Jesus loves me

Yea ­ He loves
Yea ­ The story’s been told
Yea ­ It never gets old
Lay at His feet ­ For He gave Calvary

Down the Via Dolorosa ­ My sins were His to shame
When He bore the cross in my place ­ My life forever changed
The nails that pierced His hands and feet ­ Took my scars away
And Jesus loves me this I know

Yea ­ He loves
Yea ­ The story’s been told
Yea ­ It never gets old
Lay at His feet ­ For He gave Calvary

Yea ­ He loves you
Yea ­ The story’s been told now ­ It never gets old

Lay at His feet ­ Surrender everything
For He gave you Calvary

Click Here to Listen to the Song.

So, as I was preparing to walk the Via Dolorosa, the road of suffering, I wanted to take it all in. I’m a very emotional and sentimental person, so  I decided to buy a pair of leather sandals that would only be worn to walk the exact journey that Jesus took to pay for my sin. I wanted everything to be perfect and I wanted the streets to be quiet. I wanted to hear the Lord’s whisper to me and I wanted to take in every moment of pain in order to better experience His great love for me. But….that is not what happened at all!

The streets were loud and noisy and the road, to my disbelief, was in the Muslim quarter of town and had become a modern day marketplace where you could purchase your choice of religious trinkets. It didn’t matter if it was Jesus or Allah, as long as you were buying something. I became devastated and angry all in one heap of emotion. How could the Via Dolorosa be treated with no regard? How could this location be in a part of town where no one believes in the Truth? Then I heard a whisper from the very heart of God, “Do you think this walk was quiet for Me? Do you think that everyone stood in silence as I went to die for their love? I came for everyone, including everyone you see here, just as much as I came for you.”

Only tears could express the rest of my journey that day.

The love of God could physically be felt in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the Church which stands where the hill would have been where Jesus was crucified). Like a record that skips on a particular word, my mind was stuck on the word “gave.” This is the exception to the phrase love at first sight….Jesus’ love for us is immediate and permanent. I physically saw the very spot where all of history was changed. I stood on the very spot where the precious blood of Jesus was spilt. His love seemed to echo from the wooden cross where I knelt. As tears poured down my cheeks, I understood the love that is unexplainable.

The song I wrote above is about the love and gift of Calvary. He gave everything. He gave you Calvary. So, regardless of your love life or who you are or aren’t spending it with this year, I hope you take a moment to bathe in God’s love for you. It’s personal, it’s perfect and it’s forever. So while I never believed in love at first sight, now I do.

 

Hopes, Dreams, & Aspirations

Hopes, Dreams, & Aspirations (Part Two)

This is a continuation of Hopes, Dreams, & Aspirations (Part One) where began to explore the kind of hopes, dreams, and aspirations God has given us. Picking up where we left off, we will explore the last three kinds of dreams we are digging into:

Broken Dreams

Broken dreams are painful to reflect upon because this kind of dream, while it was once very much alive inside of you, has now died off in some way. That being said, God can restore your Broken Dreams and bring them to life in new ways. While some Broken Dreams may look shattered, their pieces might still be useful. Perhaps, in the pieces of your left-over and old Broken Dreams, you discover something better – a true treasure. God gave you the original dream for a reason, maybe it’s time to fix the Broken Dream and give it to the ultimate Healer. In my humble opinion, here are a few ways to start repairing your Broken Dreams:

  • Give the broken Dream to God. Ask Him for guidance and pray for His healing over it. Find the heart of the dream and the root of why it failed. Did pride crush your Broken Dream? Did unrealistic expectations allow your dream to dissolve? Did a distraction pull you away from the dream? Find the good lesson in the bad experience and turn your brokenness into a beautiful testimony of God using your broken pieces for His glory.

Childhood Dreams

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up? Believe it or not, the answer to this question, a question many of us answered in kindergarten, says something about you today. If you wanted to be a fireman, you may have changed your mind on your occupation, but my bet is you are still interested in being a hero. If you wanted to be a ballerina, perhaps you still admire gracefulness and beauty. Childhood Dreams say something about the way God wired you. Re-discover your youth by allowing yourself to find your Childhood Dream and apply it to your adult life. Here are some ways you can start using your Childhood Dream today:

  • Childhood dreams will allow you to think ‘outside the box’ and break away from your daily routine. It may allow you to gain a new freedom that you had previously restrained. Think back to your Childhood Dreams and write down all the things associated with the occupation you picked as a kid. Now, make a list of your current job and find the commonalities and differences. Ask yourself what is missing, in your current life, and then use your childhood longings to bring new insight into your life.

Corporate Dreams

Some dreams can only be accomplished through a team effort. Corporate Dreams are powerful because they are dreams that are not just in your own. Instead, they are dreams being thought about, and sought out by, a group of people. While everyone may have different roles in fulfilling this dream, a Corporate Dream is meant to succeed because of the efforts of many people and a common goal. However, this kind of dream is also challenging because everyone has to be on the same page to unite together towards the Corporate Dream. Everyone must share the same vision for the dream in order for it to be fruitful and rewarding. In my humble opinion, here are some ways to help move a Corporate Dream forward:

  • Create and communicate your vision statement clearly. While great minds supposedly think alike, this is not always the case.  In order to make this an advantage, and not a disadvantage, keep the team united in their commonalities and allow each member to express their love for what the Corporate Dream embodies. Also, encourage strong leaders to help steer the ship, all the while taking advice from a wise community of council. While corporate dreams may be daunting, often they reproduce amazing fruit! God is all about a group of believers uniting, so much so, that He calls the Church His bride. As believers, we must work together to strengthen the Kingdom.

Above I listed five types of dreams: Big, Hidden, Broken, Childhood, and Corporate Dreams. These dreams are all very different in nature. However, they are all equally important. It is important to think back, over your lifespan, and identify the dreams that you may have not ever realized were God given dreams. In fact, you might even find that you have multiple dreams brewing away in your spirit. I personally have experienced all five of these dreams. Here’s a bit of my story:

As a child, I knew from a very young age that I wanted to sing. I loved being in front of people and I loved music. My Childhood Dream was to be a singer. As I grew up, this dream didn’t change at all, but it did grow. It grew so much that it became a Broken Dream. My motives went from wanting to bless people, to wanting to highlight my own name. There was a period in my life where the dream had to literally die. I stopped thinking about it all together because it physically hurt me to think about all my failures when it came to not being the ‘star’ I had hoped to become. However, during this period, I also discovered some wonderful Hidden Dreams. I discovered my creative passion for writing both lyrics and articles, and through this I discovered my first love of Christ in a new and powerful way. I discovered that music and writing was what I was hard-wired to do. I learned of it’s true purpose – glorifying God and not myself.  This realization birthed a Big Dream in me-to share God, through music and writing, in many ways and places. My Big Dream required me to fully surrender and trust in God. This then led to, a Corporate Dream, which birthed the dream of Purpose City and our team. You are reading this today partly because of my experiences – good, bad, and ugly with dreams.

I am assured God will use your dreams, just like He is with mine.

What’s your story? How are your dreams being realized and fulfilled? Do you see how your dreams can be a gift from God? I believe dreams are a beautiful treasure that we are meant to explore, value, and awaken. God wants us to fulfill our dreams. Are you ready to start living your dreams?

 

Hopes, Dreams, & Aspirations

Hopes, Dreams, & Aspirations (Part One)

Martin Luther King had a dream that shaped a nation. The late John Lennon was not shy in communicating that he was a dreamer. Even Joseph, in the Bible, had dreams that were foreshadows of his future. Yet, depending on your personality and the different life experiences you’ve had, you may feel very differently about the five letter word “dream.” For some, this may serve as your fuel, a vehicle and a means to which you strive towards everyday – for you, your dreams are everything. For people who hear the word “dream” and think in this way, dreams are beautiful things that will someday come true. For others, the word brings forth pain, anguish, disappointment, and is ultimately a word that is left out from your everyday vocabulary because it evokes anger or resentment.

The reality is, a hope and a dream are placed within every human soul – some shun them while others embrace them. Yet, when dreams are properly viewed and handed over to God, they can be a precious gift.

In order that you might properly follow your dreams and discover the heart of what you want out of life, you must first accept that dreaming is an on-going process because God sometimes gives you only a small glimpse of the full picture He is painting in you. First, let me categorize some of the different types of dreams that people have for their lives.  As you read on, you will find that there are five types of dreams that I’ve chosen to dig into here. What category does your dream fall under: Big, Hidden, Broken, Childhood, or Corporate?

Big Dreams

Some of our dreams are so big that, if you were honest with yourself, they are hard to share with others. These dreams can be unhealthy because they can be unrealistic. However some Big Dreams, if acted upon correctly, can literally change your life into something extraordinary. BIG Dreams (I use BIG for an acronym: Believing In God kind of dreams) can be constructive or destructive. In my humble opinion, here are some questions to ask, in order to discover, which type your Big Dream is, and ultimately, if it is worth pursuing:

  • What does God think about your Big Dream? If you and God were in a room discussing your Big Dream, would He be in the center of it? Would you be in accordance with His will? Would this dream benefit others too, or is it just self serving? Does this dream have practical steps that you are acting upon daily? Does this dream confirm the God-given talents and attributes that He has placed within you?

While these are only a few key questions to ask yourself, if the answer to any of these is a little fuzzy, chances are, this Big Dream needs a little refining before it can go from a Big Dream into reality. God is both a creator of logic and unlimited imagination. Likewise, we must exercise both when it comes to our Big Dreams.

Hidden Dreams

This type of dream is like a small seed inside of you that is destined to grow. In fact, it may just start out as something you feel passionate about or it may be something you feel compelled to help initiate a change in. It may even be something that angers you that you cannot seem to shake. However, make no mistake, Hidden Dreams are meant to be uncovered. Hidden Dreams are, most likely, something that was birthed in you a long time ago and you just haven’t awakened it yet. Here are some ways to awaken your Hidden Dreams:

  • Make a list of things that excite you greatly or anger you deeply. Remember, emotions that get your blood pressure rising, or create a passion within you, are things you can help change. Think back, into your past, what were some of your hobbies? Figure out, with each of these activities, why they captured your attention.

While not every activity will turn out to be a Hidden Dream, some of them very well might be. Like I said earlier, God doesn’t always reveal everything to us when it comes to dreaming. Frankly, some things would send us running! Yet, God has hardwired us all differently to ultimately serve His plans and hidden dreams are exciting to discover to use for His glory!

Check back for part two next week as we continue exploring our hopes, dreams, and aspirations!