The Heights & Depths

I’ve fallen in love with raw humanity. The heights and the depths – I want it all. It’s not all about the mountain-tops, but sometimes about “the walking in between” as Ben Rector sings about in his recent album. I think that, in order to know and to love someone, you must understand that you will have to know them at their very worst, just as you may see a glimpse into their very best – their pain will be yours, just as much as their joy. And I think there is beauty to that.

Let’s think about it for a moment. No one is always happy, polished, and attractive. Yet, we nearly obsessively (or perhaps I’m speaking for myself, but hear me out) ensure that we remain polished around others. “How are you doing?” is followed by “Great! How are you?” even on a day when you may truly be breaking inside. So instead of facing the scars, we apply another coat of makeup. Sarcasm and supposed witty humor become our defense-mechanisms – we don’t want people to see what’s really inside, so we’re funny, not real.

I think it’s time to face the pain (yours and my own, together).

Every writer has his own beliefs and views, but as I’ve read memoirs (particularly Sheldon Vanauken’s “A Severe Mercy” and Brennan Manning’s “All Is Grace”) I’ve discovered one common theme among some of the greats – they are unashamedly transparent, raw, and honest about their brokenness. They believe what Paul said when preaching that they must become lesser, so that Christ can be made greater within them. Therefore, they lay pride aside, and lay bare their vices and broken relationships – that their readers may see that DESPITE their inability to be perfect, God still made them new, again and again, and used them for His glory.

During an episode of Scandal, one of the characters is facing a scandal (shocker) of their own. In the end, they become relieved that their “dirt” has surfaced. Once it has been brought into the light, it can be dealt with and “handled”. Despite the show’s occasionally risque nature, this is a potently biblical concept. Darkness loses its’ power when brought into the Light. When you flip the light-switch on in a dark-closet, the unknown becomes known, and our true colors show forth. Even more shockingly, with our polished facade now tarnished, we become more easy to relate to, less prideful/arrogant, and more likely to recognize humanity’s collective need for the gospel of grace.

A need within the church is the real life-on-life, connectivity, that goes much deeper than the surface. I can dress well and talk church-talk with the best of them. However, some days, underneath the sharp mind and quick witted extroversion, lies a boyish nature, wild imagination, and glaring insecurities that can drive me into isolation. There are days when I cannot stand to look in the mirror, so my head hangs low, ashamed of what it sees. Certain days, I attempt to convince myself that big-picture dreams are out-of-reach, because I do not measure up. Other days, I avoid social gatherings, simply because of my weight, or the fact that I sweat easily compared to others. One could easily chalk this up to spiritual-warfare and suggest that I pray and focus on God more. While those are all good things, I do not think it is always a matter of doing more. I think it may simply be a matter of bringing to light areas of struggle and allowing those “scandals” (areas lacking Christ-like nature and belief in God’s grace/power to overcome) to be “handled” (wrestled through) with the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It is difficult to shift one’s mindset from maintaining a polished appearance to being transparent and vulnerable with those around them. For me to admit that I am weak some days (or most days – depends on the season) and need others to lift me up, means that I am admitting to my inability to be self-sufficient, a great American travesty. But the ideology of pulling oneself up by their bootstraps is slowly dying, as more and more so, we realize our distinct need for community – brothers and sisters in arms, to make war against that which attempts to steal, kill, and destroy any element of what is good within us.

Reading Sheldon Vanauken’s memoir, “A Severe Mercy”, I’ve discovered that he had a deep friendship with CS Lewis. As he writes of their conversations and meetings and shares some of the letters and other correspondence, you begin to see the Christ-like character that both of these men possess. Sheldon describes CS Lewis as a man that would get right to the point, always leading Sheldon to the real issues at hand – the heart. 

Our weaknesses and insecurities may present themselves in physical embodiment through aesthetic flaws, substance-abuse, indulgent vices, and repressive thinking, but they all lead to the same thing – the brokenness of our hearts – the need for something bigger, greater, and more powerful than ourselves to overcome sin and to call out the righteousness that can be planted within us by the Spirit. (Paul would be proud. That’s a New Testament-like run-on sentence if I’ve ever written one. But read it again – I believe there’s truth within.)

I’m a doer and fixer. After all, I am a guy. We’re problem-solvers. We see problems, diagnose the situation, and attempt to implement a plan to fix that problem. So often, it’s easy to go the route of behavior modification, as opposed to wrestling through what the real underlying issues may be. Here’s an example. I want to lose weight, right? Who doesn’t? So I eat less (most days), exercise more, and alter my diet. That should fix the problem, right? Not really. The underlying issue still exists. Underneath a stronger, more endurance-trained (unfortunately not slimmer) me, there is still the mindset that I am not desirable. That’s the root issue. I want to be desirable. Then the question becomes, is God big enough for that? Is His Love enough for me? Will it satisfy?

So that is where we’re heading, friends. Deeper. The heights and the depths. There’s no turning back now. It’s high time the church were challenged to dig deep and pray hard. A life that lacks passion isn’t a life worth living. A passionate man/woman knows pain, as much as they do joy. But their joy is greater, because they’ve wrestled through the depths of darkness, and found their reasons to hope in the Light.

As we go deeper, we will be lifted higher. The humble man is lifted up by the LORD. One who prays has his prayers heard by the Son, who takes those requests and petitions them before the Father. As we face the deepest of depths, the Spirit will lift us up to the highest of heights. Let’s summit this mountainous life, together.

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Quarter-Life Crisis: Grace’s Direction

I graduated from K-State a year ago. Yes, it’s really been an entire year. Do you remember when you were younger and you thought “Once I graduate high-school, I’ll have life figured out. Before you know it, I’ll have a bachelors-degree, be married, have [insert number of children – to be determined by wife here] kids, have a successful career, and everything will just sort of fall into place.” Well, things have fallen into place – just not what I would have originally planned or dreamed up for myself. That’s okay – it takes some flowers longer to bloom than others – thankfully, it does not negate for their own splendid value, or beauty.

A friend of mine recently asked how I was doing, and I replied something along the lines of, “Well, things are good. It’s difficult to remain on the straight-and-narrow. Some days, the flesh wins. Others, I remain faithful. Still fighting the fight.”

For some reason, I’ve always had this idea of myself. Perhaps I’m an idealist – in reality, it’s most likely that I’m a perfectionist, optimistic-realist. A bunch of fancy words that basically mean I’d like very much to credit my goodness to myself and to believe that I am, indeed, capable of said, ‘goodness’ (whatever that is). 

The humbling reality, is that I am, indeed, not capable (on my own). I’m not quite sure how many times God will need to patiently, graciously remind me, but I’m grateful that He does – even more grateful that afterwards, the gentle, amplified reminder of His grace follows.

Back to my incredibly frustrating ideal. It’d be wonderful if I could once and for all learn all that there is to know – to be perpetually blessed with wisdom and insight, then also to be blessed with the will, self-restraint, discipline, and prayer-life to move those mountainous obstacles. That’s my ideal. Turns out, it’s really not possible on your own. If it were, I’d be doing it, and selling you my “Five Steps to Success” book, but I’m not Joel Olsteen or Oprah.

But I know Grace.

Do you know Grace? Oh Grace, sweet Grace. Jesus. I know Him.

It’s easy to get caught up in the future. There is nothing wrong with visionaries. If there were, then there would be something immensely wrong with my genetic makeup. I’m a planner. There is, however, something wrong with letting your aspirations for the future, or assessment of the past, take precedence over the right-here-right-now. Why? Because Jesus, is right here, right now. In the heights, in the depths, Jesus is here. The source of your utmost joy and holding your hand throughout the depths of this fallen world’s agony – Jesus will “never leave, nor forsake you.”

Do you and I believe that? If we do, it changes our lives entirely.

If we believe that He will never leave, nor forsake us; if we believe that He has good plans for us; if we have tasted and know that He is good, then we can rest. Rest is an immensely precious gift in a restless world. And God desires to be that place of rest for you and I.

Will we rest in His arms? Will I rest in His arms?

The straight-and-narrow path is worth the daily fight. It leads to Life. Our victory, it turns out, lies within our surrender. If we can surrender our pride and submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading, then the LORD will go before us, and we become heirs to the Promised Land. The thing about the Promised Land – you’re walking on it – right here – right now. His Kingdom is already invading – it’s already here. For the sake of many’s salvation, He is graciously patient, waiting yet another day to pour out His wrath on darkness.

In the days, months, and years to come I want to learn more about abiding – about being present in the here and now, and about trusting the LORD in the moment, rather than impatiently grasping and fighting for my future. Would you join me? Would you pray that in my struggle with LORD – in my wrestling – that He would bless me, taking away my old identity and giving me an entirely new one?

So yes, I’ve been wrestling through a quarter-life crisis of sorts. And yes, I’ve let the flesh win a time or two (or three). But Jesus is still with me, and I refuse to leave the Church’s side. I will fight for the Lord’s Bride, just as I will one day fight for mine.

Rather than plan out my course and choosing “North”, “South”, “East”, or “West”, I’m learning to trust Grace’s direction.

Preach it and teach it,

but you’ll never reach it.

Perfectly imperfect.

Immoral moralists.

Purity died, then resurrected.

Now dressed in His perfection,

yet merely a reflection –

I’m learning Grace’s direction.

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Am I Enough?

It’s a frequently asked question – “Am I enough?” Men and women alike wrestle with it, as they have that ultimate stare-down with the person looking them square-on in the mirror every morning. Our answer to that question typically sets the tone for our days – we are either upbeat and optimistic, or downcast and waywardly due to deciding that we are indeed, “enough” or not, respectively.

We ask ourselves that question when considering who we might date, marry, or simply be friends with – we wonder if we will measure up – if we will truly be enough for them and if they will truly be enough for us. Time and time again, we end up being reminded just how much we are not enough for that other person, as they move onto the next watering hole – the next sensual or emotional high.  The next rush of adrenaline.

It hurts, doesn’t it? That sick-feeling you get in your gut, as you realize that something else, or someone, was better than you.

I wonder if that’s how God feels.

You see – my point, today, is not to become all introspective and lead us down the road of examining how we view ourselves (although I’m certain that would be a great topic for another day). My point is, I believe God asks this question, too.

It’s amazing to consider that we were made in the image of our Creator. He hand-crafted each one of us and said that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” – no room for mistakes here – we are all gifts, given by the Gift-Giver, Himself. Seriously, though, isn’t it cool to consider that God found us worth making in HIS IMAGE? I mean, He could have easily decided to give us animal-like qualities, but instead, He gave us hearts, souls, and intellect, as well as free-will. Absolutely incredible.

“Am I Enough? – I believe our LORD asks His people. “Justin, am I TRULY enough for you?”

Pike Peak

As I drove home from the gym this evening, I felt this question being asked of me. It was humbling, as I discovered that we answer that question every second of every day, in the ways that we think, respond, and act.

Is it more praiseworthy and powerful for me to get on my soapbox and preach that “He is Enough”, or would it perhaps be more powerful for me to worship Him in my thoughts, reactions, and deeds?

I love words. They’re so powerful and they have an exponentially greater amount of influence upon my heart (as an avid reader/writer) than they likely do on the average person. However, is it not always the life that backs up the words that leaves the legacy? Martin Luther King Jr. would have been just another pastor, if he had not lived out what he taught, and fought peacefully for the well-being of his church. Instead, since he was a man of courage, peace, gentleness, and fierce boldness with the truth, His words carry infinitely more power. And I wish for my words to carry that degree of power someday, but that starts now, with years upon years of diligent faithfulness.

The Groom (Jesus) is asking The Bride (The Church – you and me) if He is enough.

“Am I Enough?” – Christ asks us this Friday as we remember His being nailed to the Cross for us. “Am I Enough?” – God asks His children, as we remember Him raising Jesus from the dead, conquering death! “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:24) “Am I Enough?” – The Holy Spirit wonders, as He pours His gifts out upon the Church, baptizing them in Spirit and in Truth (Acts 2:1-4).

Dear Reader, is He Enough?

“But even though the enemy might want to bury you, Jesus is in the habit of interrupting funerals.” (Louie Giglio)

The funeral procession of your life may very well already be underway. You could currently be surrendered to a plethora or deadly addictions, and we are promised that sin does, indeed, lead to death. BUT, “Jesus is in the habit of interrupting funerals.” I don’t care what it is, or where you are, or how far you’ve run. You come to Jesus. Death lost its sting roughly 2014 years ago. Sin only has power over you, if you let it, and if you refuse to surrender to the Living God.

“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3) I’ve tasted and seen – the Lord is so, so GOOD.

Much like we’d wish to be someone’s anchor someday, and for someone to be ours (in the context of marriage), I believe the LORD has a great and jealous desire for His Church to anchor themselves to Him. Yet we run wild. To this “lover” and to that.

“Aren’t you tired?” – one of my favorite quotes from The Help fits perfectly here. Aren’t you tired, friends? Is it not exhausting to run from one well to the next, to the next – only to find them dry, and filled with sand.

If only we took a moment to look up to the Heavens, and to answer God’s question – “Am I Enough?”

Find Him to be enough for you, and you will thirst no more.

The rains of Heaven will never cease to quench your thirst, or enthrall you with amazement. He Is Enough.

 

 

Parable of the Prisoner

The Parablethe prisoner

Etched into the barren, stone walls are the words, “I am…”. Two simple words – two words that were once spoken by an Almighty God to describe Himself, as He said, “I am, I am.” But as you sit in the cell, contemplating the words on the wall, you can’t help but assess yourself. “What am I?” – your mind wanders, like one lost in the desert, attempting to make meaning out of the “nothingness” of your existence.

Sitting becomes difficult, as your mind races in a million varying directions, so you begin to pace the small cell – back and forth – until your feet hurt. All the while asking yourself, “What am I?”

Whispers come…

“You are lost…”

“You are worthless…”

The dust beneath your feet becomes wet, and as you look to see if the old pipes in the cell have begun to leak, you realize the wetness is your tears. You believe those whispers.

“You are insignificant…”

“You cannot…”

“No one hears you…”

The dust has become mud now, as your tears cannot stop – they will not stop. You realize that you’re on your knees now, wondering if this is all that you really are. Are those words true? Has it really come to this? Are you truly lost, worthless, insignificant, incapable, and mute? The walls of the cell seem to be closing in on you now, as one final accusation is whispered…

“YOU. ARE. ALONE.”

Although a whisper, the words seem to have a cutting force this time – much deeper and more powerful than the previous blows to your heart. Your vision clouds, and your body seizes, as you collapse – paralyzed by fear. Because you very well believe all that was said – and you are, indeed, alone.

Hours pass, and you attempt to fall asleep. It’s useless, as your mind is taunted by all that was whispered and by the words on the wall that simply say, “I am…”, and find in yourself the desire to answer that question.

Who am I?

What am I?

Who have I become?

Soon, it’s morning, and sunlight shines through the dank cell-window – the light blinding your tired eyes. Footsteps can be heard in the distance. You can finally ask to be released from this torture-chamber. Standing up and brushing yourself off, you prepare to meet your jail-keeper, the one that holds the keys to the prison that you’re in.

The sound of footsteps is much closer now, and anticipation grips your heart, as it beats wildly, ready to plead your case for freedom. At the cell-door now, stands a figure staring back at you. Your heart has stopped, and your feet pace no more.

The individual staring back – the jail-keeper – is you.

The Explanation

If there had been a sign at the entrance of the prison described in the story/parable above, it would have read, “Prison of the Mind”. Unfortunately, many of us are inmates within this prison on a daily-basis. Many of you reading this right now are sitting in that prison, believing yourself to have no power – no freedom to walk out of the cell.

The whisperer – the accuser – was satan. Lurking in the corners of our mind if we allow him to, or simply drifting ideas through the wind of the changing seasons of life, he likes to silently destroy us. If he can keep us silent, then he wins. And if we believe ourselves to be worthless and mute, then we remain silent.

Do not remain silent.

Do not sit imprisoned, listening to lies.

When Jesus conquered death, He conquered sin. The accuser has no power other than that which you give him. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and bestowed upon the believers there the gifts of the spirit, He gave you and I the power to overcome the evil one – not just power to be defensive, but to go on the offensive as well.

You are NOT powerless. You are NOT alone.

You ARE heirs. You ARE filled with the Spirit (His power to overcome). Most importantly, YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. You are, however, constantly pursued, looked after, loved, cherished, and lead toward redemption.

What are you waiting for? Take the keys. Open the door. Walk out of prison. Walk into the light. Strike your heel upon the serpent – the accuser – the evil one. Fight. Live. Breathe. Love.

YOU. ARE. FREE.

Faith Takes Action: An Expectant Church

I’m a man of many words, but am I man of action? Do my words deliver the passionate lifestyle that my passionate speech and writing would encourage and inspire in others? That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? Have you cross-examined yourself in such a manner recently? It’s hard.

We do not usually enjoy having our motives questioned, nor do we quite appreciate being critiqued. Hasn’t it always been said that “we are our harshest critics”? I think it’s true. But, I also think that many times I’ll critique the living Hell out of myself and then just sit there, in my own personal Hell. “Yep, I’m overweight. And yes, I’ve been a bit too lazy and undisciplined.” And then what? I sulk. I sit there in my own disgust. And I feel sorry for myself.

Problem solved, right? Obviously not. The problem still exists and I’ve done absolutely nothing to confront it, other than admit it’s there and then let self-inflicted wounds immobilize me, while satan takes advantage of a man down for the count, due to his own blows.

As a society, we tend to have a way of bringing problems to the surface through cynicism, humor, and other means. We may order one drink too many and then comment, “Guess I’m an alcoholic,” looking for a few laughs, rather than thinking for a moment, and realizing that we may actually be on our way down that path. Someone laughed, so it can’t be that bad, right? I can put off fixing  that issue for a while, then, right? Once again, “obviously not”. It should be addressed, whether it is a spiraling-out-of-control physical relationship, an unquenchable desire for alcohol, substance-abuse, or any other concoction of demise.

Faith takes action. I can sing, “Let Your name be lifted higher”, all day long, but ultimately, if my actions do not lift Him higher, do I really mean that? If His name is lifted Higher and if He is a God of hope and healing, then shouldn’t I have hope and shouldn’t I seek healing? The pastor last night said, “If God is not a God of hope and healing, then what are we all doing here?” Think about that for a moment. If He does not have the power to heal, to redeem, to restore, then why do we gather?

So let’s say for a moment that you’re teenager that has recently become addicted to pornography. Your beliefs dictate that you believe in a God of restoration and so do your social-media updates, as you post the latest Bible study notes, and tweet things like, “God is good.” But do your actions dictate that He can restore you? Have you sought healing and restoration? Have you brought that sinful hindrance into the light and asked for the breaking of chains, so that you may be free? Do you walk in freedom, or do you walk in shame? I pray, today, that you would walk in freedom.

Are you seeing my point?

If you speak of freedom, do you walk freely?

If you speak of hope, are you hopeful?

If you speak of submission to God, do you live under spiritual-authority, or avoid it at all costs?

If fellowship is necessary, have you dived into community, or remained in isolation?

Our actions reveal our truest intentions. Think about that for a moment. You and I could say all day long that we want to be the best basketball player, but if we’re kickin’ it on the sofa all night, eating potato-chips, and avoiding exercise, do we really intend to become the best basketball player? In the same way, we can say, “I want to honor God in this relationship (or in this job, friendship, ‘season of life’)”, but our actions will reveal our true intentions. Are we following God, or following the lure of the satisfaction of our desires? If we wanted to be the basketball player, we’d train harder than anyone out there. If we want to surrender our [everything] to God, then we’d seek Him continually, for [everything].

At this point, I will assume that you are all on-board. “Justin, yes, let’s take action! Let’s back up our encouraging words with encouraging actions and lifestyles.”

Now, what do we expect? Do we expect God to actually work all things out for our betterment?

If you study the Old Testament church and the church in Acts, you will find at least one thing in common with them. They BELIEVED. They prayed for provision and then wrote checks they could not cash, based upon their belief that God would come through. Men were threatened with a fiery-furnace, being torn limb-by-limb by the mouth of a lion, and the entire Egyptian army, yet they did not falter, as they BELIEVED God would save them. People gathered in homes, praying and believing, despite the potential for secret-police to discover their meetings and bring them before a ‘court’, that could ultimately lead to their hanging. Why? Because they were expectant of God’s deliverance and wanted to see the Holy Spirit move themselves and others to faith. They were desperate for His glory to be revealed. They believed.

Do we believe? Are we expectant?

The prayers of an expectant church would change the world. Sure, there’d still be opposition. But, think of your church, right now. It’s already doing great things: praying with strangers, meeting the needs of the poor, healing broken hearts through counseling, and the like. But, is your current church expectant? Take your church, then multiply its’ effectiveness by infinity, as God’s resources and reach are in incomprehensible–that would be the result of the prayers of an expectant church–a church that takes actions, then expects God-sized results. 

In conclusion, faith takes action and is expectant. It does not live in defeat; it does not profess truth and then live in lies. If our churches, bible-studies, life-groups, and personal lives reflected God-sized faith, Christ-like character, and the prayers of disciples that believed–revival and times of refreshing would uncontrollably break out–the enemy would be dismantled and dismayed. I want that. Do you?

 

Arsonist

There’s a storm brewin’,
Rolls of thunderous chaos,
Lightning; fierce, bright, terrifying.
Timber quakes and dishes rattle;
My heart is alive again.

Grass green; post-storm.
Life flows from these streams,
Revival flows through these veins.

An arsonist.
I’ll set the world ablaze;
Light a match and set it to hearts.
Engulfed by compassion,
There’s no stopping this wildfire.

Welcome to faith,
To love once again,
To Hope and joy,
Usher the Spirit in,
May I present to you, Jesus.

Forgotten Lessons

Brothers & Sisters,

I’ve been reading off and on, “Forgotten God” by Francis Chan throughout the course of this semester. I’ve finally finished the book! Perhaps having to visit the doctor on Saturday was a hidden blessing as it gave me much time alone with God, without many distractions to spend studying, praying, reading, etc. The book is essentially about the power of the Holy Spirit and the way that today’s churches are set up in ways that do not display a dependence or apparent need for the Spirit to come through.

Francis Chan writes, “I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit. I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn’t be doing this by my own power. I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through. That if He doesn’t come through, I am screwed.

Challenging perspective, right? Do we live our lives for Christ to such a degree that we are desperate for Him to come through in the body of Christ? More specifically, in our personal lives do we live in such a way?

Read the following passage:

“I think that we all could agree that living ‘according to our sinful flesh’ is not what is intended for us as children of God. Yet even so, we often choose to face life’s issues and circumstances in exactly the same way as someone without the Spirit of God. We worry, strive, and grieve no differently than unbelievers. While it is true that we are humans like everyone else, it is also true that we are humans with the Spirit of God dwelling in us…”

Here’s the kicker…

…Yet, whether consciously or not, we essentially say to God, ‘I know You raised Christ from the dead; but the fact is my problems are just too much for You and I need to deal with them myself.

Personally, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve looked at my problems through this lens, to where I said to God, “but wait a minute, what are you doing, LORD? I think I know a better way…” He must be up there laughing as He patiently waits on me to realize just the opposite, that I need Him to take the reigns.

The truth is that “He desires to do more than ‘help out’ a bit. He wants to completely transform us. He wants to take a timid heart and set it ablaze with strength and courage, so much so that people know something supernatural has taken place–life change just as miraculous as fire coming down from heaven.” A few pages later, Chan writes, “God wants the praise for what we do in our lives. But if we never pray audacious, courageous prayers, how can He answer them?” O that we would develop a heavier heart for prayer, to seek the LORD for wisdom regarding every matter of our lives. What will it take before we surrender and realize our absolute desperate need for the Creator to assist in the lives of the created?

Finally, I want to share with you a story that I believe we should read and be mindful of, going forward as “the church”…

“A while back a former gang member came to our church. He was heavily tattooed and rough around the edges, but he was curious to see what church was like. He had a relationship with Jesus and seemed to get fairly involved with the church. After a few months, I found out the guy was no longer coming to the church. When asked why he didn’t come anymore, he gave the following explanation: “I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like. When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang. You see, in the gangs we weren’t just nice to each other once a week–we were family.” That killed me because I knew that what he expected is what the church is intended to be. It saddened me to think that a gang could paint a better picture of commitment, loyalty, and family than the local church body. The church is intended to be a beautiful place of community. A place where wealth is shared and when one suffers, everyone suffers. A place where when one rejoices, everyone rejoices. A place where everyone experiences real love and acceptance in the midst of great honesty about our brokenness. Yet most of the time this is not even close to how we would describe our churches.”

Can we, as the church, with confidence, say that this has not happened within the context of our gatherings? Have we loved deeply to the degree that shortcomings and flaws have been overlooked, that we may love unconditionally and share the grace which has been so mercifully shared with us? Unfortunately, I believe that there are times when this is not the reality. Only one thing is capable of changing hardened, apathetic, and stubborn hearts like ours (notice that I include myself), and that is prayer. Prayer, I believe, is the most under-utilized resource that Christians have at their fingertips, yet never seem to fully use it to its’ potential. Let’s pray that God would build His church, an unstoppable force, empowered and sustained by the Holy Spirit. (Francis Chan)

In conclusion, I have some questions to consider. Will the Holy Spirit continue to be the “Forgotten God” that Chan writes about in his brilliant book? Will we continue to live our lives in such a way that they could have been lived without the LORD? Shall those that witness our lives say that we lived no differently than the rest of the world and that nothing stood out, or set us apart, from the rest? “My prayer as I’ve written this book,” Chan writes, “is that it would not merely add to your knowledge. Maybe that sounds strange, but I mean it. Often in Christian circles we talk about truth in lieu of applying it to our lives. We hear an incisive sermon, discuss at lunch afterward how ‘great’ or ‘powerful’ it was, and then never think about it again, much less allow the Spirit to change us through it.

I pray that we would choose to live in a such a way that truly reflects the glory of the LORD, that leads us to repentance and to a way of life that would truly, desperately, need a Savior to save. LORD, “speak loudly and drown out the other voices calling us to conform to the patterns of this world. You are the Spirit of self-control and love. Give us the self-control needed to deny our flesh and follow You. Give us a love strong enough to motivate courageous action. Manifest Yourself through us that we may serve and love Your bride, the church, as You do.” Amen.