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When God Feels Far Away…

I talk to many people who feel like God is far away.  A question I try to ask is, “Who moved?”

Paul says in Acts 17:27 that God, our Father, is not far from any of us and that his desire is that we reach out to him and find Him.  In James 4:8, James says, “Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.”

Paul and James are saying that whenever there is distance between us and God it is not God who has moved away but we have.   We end up wanting the world rather than God.  We end up prioritizing our pleasure, comfort, plans, and business and in doing so we drift away from him.  We come to him when we need him, but then we walk away when things are good.  Our relationship with God is just that, a relationship.  It needs to be worked on. It needs regular attention or we grow distant and our relationship breaks down.  If I only talked or spent time with my parents or my wife when I needed something our relationship would suffer and, in reality,there wouldn’t even be much of a relationship there.  Then when we come to him we are full of doubts because we’ve forgotten who He is,  We’ve forgotten his character and love.  We’ve forgotten how good he is and how he works all things for our good. God wants so much more for us.

God is the good Father from the story of the Prodigal Son.  We all have run away at some point.  We all have wanted the world.  We all have just wanted to run with our inheritance and live however we’d like outside of our Father’s house and rules.  Yet God is not far from us and He desires that we reach out to Him and come home.  We cause the distance.  We walk away. Yet God is the perfect Father who always wants his little boys and girls to come home.  He is just waiting for us to return so that we can have a full relationship with Him again. In fact, the story of the prodigal son is imperfect compared to the real story of us and God. In the real story, the Father sent His good Son, Jesus, to pay our debt, to share His inheritance so we could replace the one we lost, and to bring us home, back in the family, back to the loving arms of the Father.  When we come home, the Father runs to us, wraps His arms around us, calls us His children once more, and treats us as if we never left.

God isn’t far from you. He is near.  He’s right there.  Perhaps He’s even allowed you to see the distance you’ve walked away in life so you’d run home to Him.  He loves you so much he gave his Son, knowing that he’d suffer and die while rescuing you.  If He’s done that, he certainly won’t write you off.  He’ll certainly be with you as you return to him.  He’ll certainly run to you, embrace you, and treat you as if you had never left.

Picture found here

Dads, You are heroes. It’s time to step up!

Dads,  You are heroes.  It’s time to step up!  

We started weekly worship gatherings in a new church about a year ago.  For three years we’ve been reaching out to people in neighborhoods, bars, and parks. We’ve heard countless stories of brokenness. It usually starts with, “My Dad never…” Most people, especially the men we’ve met, who are far from Jesus and the church, have serious daddy issues. We hear of how most these young men never had their dad’s marry/or remain married to their moms. Their dad was never there growing up. Their dad never said, “I love you” or “I’m proud of you.” Their dads never taught them what it was like to be a man.   A growing number of people we’ve met never knew their dads at all.

If you’re a dad, you are a hero. Your kid, even if he’s 55 and you’re 72, still yearns for your presence, your approval, your love. You are either going to give them those things and prove to him that you’re the hero he always thought you were. Or you’re going to show him you’re more like a villain…and more likely he’ll think it’s because of him, that he’s not worthy of a hero’s love.

There’s some good news: It is never too late to step up and make things right.

Here’s even better news: Jesus can redeem the lost and broken years. With the help of his power, by faith in him, and the leading and directing of his Spirit we can change. God’s Spirit can transform our hearts and lead us to repent to our children in the ways we’ve wronged them. His Spirit can help us become the men and dads were are called to be. God can transform our children’s hearts to forgive us as well.

Here’s the best news: Jesus is a perfect father on our behalf who always did what was best for his children, who was always nearby, who always showed unconditional love and approval. He was the perfect father in your stead to your children. He was looking out for you children even when you weren’t. He did everything necessary to be with his children, to protect them from danger and provide for them a future.  Through faith in Jesus, His perfect record is your’s before the father in heaven.  You are guiltless for all the ways you’ve wronged your children and for every good thing you did not do for them.  You have a Father in heaven who loved you children in your stead, and, just as sweet, you have a Father in heaven who loves you.

Let’s live in that love, men!

 

Video found here

Jesus’ promise to be with us always is tied to us going on his mission!

One of my favorite bible verses is Matthew 28:20 where Jesus is about to ascend into heaven and says, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  I remember this verse was used all the time to remind us that Jesus is omnipresent, he’s everywhere which means we’re never alone.  You’re going through hard time?  Jesus is with you.  You’re lonely and having a hard time make friends, keeping friends?  Jesus is with you!  Having a hard time finding a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife.  Jesus is with you.  Facing an impossible challenge?  Jesus is with you!  You’re not alone. He’s there to be with you, comfort you, and help you through whatever is standing in the way of your happiness, health, or safety. Yet is that the right way to view what Jesus is saying?

A number of years ago I was reading the context of this verse again, Matthew 28:16-20.  For some reason I saw what I never saw before.

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.

His very next words are:

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Jesus’ promise to be with us always is tied to us going on his mission!  He’s saying, “I’ve defeated sin and death through my death and resurrection on your behalf.  I’ve created you, my church, to bring my salvation to all people.  Go and make disciples, everywhere in the world, by baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I’ve told you.  Oh,  Don’t be afraid, go in confidence that I’m now in charge and have all power and I’m going with you.  I’m never going to abandon you while you.  I’m on this mission with you until it’s completed at the end of the age.”

Now don’t hear what I’m not saying.  I’m not saying that Jesus is only with us if we’re “on mission” seeking the lost and making disciples.  There’s other verses in the bible that talk about God being near to all people and actively present in the lives of those who look to him.  However, this specific promise in Matthew 28:20 is given in context of mission.

We’ve started a new church in the last couple years, and are coming to the 1st year anniversary of our corporate weekly worship in September.  Since God has called me back to faith, I’ve had a passion to see all people come to the God who has loved me and saved me.  Yet in the last couple years, as we’ve given ourselves wholeheartedly to, and have reoriented our lives around, God’s mission, we’ve seen God everywhere.

Every day, I wake up or leave my house and it’s like I’m going on a crazy, epic, adventure.  I say to God, “How are you going to show up today?  What are you going to do to me, for me, through me for the sake of your kingdom?”  What’s amazing is that we are seeing God everywhere as we go with his mission in mind.  His fingerprints are evident all over the lives of the people we’re running into.  It’s almost like we can see his hands bringing our little missionary band into encounters and relationship with the unbelieving, doubting, and hurting at just the right time.  Why is this?  Because he has all authority and he’s with us always in a special way when we’re seeking to see others know Him and grow up to be His disciples.

Some Christians live their lives thinking that God has privileged them, that the world and our culture should be fit to bless them and so they engage in the culture wars to make this a “Christian” or “Moral” nation.  Some even wrongly believe that God simple wants to bless his people by removing their difficulties and pain and by blessings them with all sorts of good health, a beautiful spouse, a great career, etc.

One day the world will be perfect.  Jesus will come down and save his people, his church.  He’ll give us perfect health and perfect bodies as he takes away all sickness, pain, and death.  He will give pleasure, comfort, security, and peace.  He will give us the riches of his Father’s kingdom as we live with our Creator and Redeemer face-to-face.  We’ll have everything we’ve truly ever desired and dreamed of because we’ll have him.  We’ll have the best life that we could ever dream of because we’ll have him.  Yet that’s not what we have now.

It’s almost as if our land has been captured by an enemy power.  The true king has come out of exile.  He’s liberated our town.  We’ve seen him again face-to-face. He’s going to fight for us and His victory will be our victory.  Yet he can’t stay. His mission doesn’t end with us.  There’s others to be liberated but he invites us to take up arms and follow him.  He invites us to join his mission.  Those who stay in the village might see him from time-to-time when he returns between skirmishes or if the people are in danger again.  Yet those who join him in battle get to see him every day.  The get to see Him work and fight for them.  They get to witness his awesome power as he fights for them and his passionate love and he sets captives free.  This is the calling of the church, his people.

The World doesn’t exist for the Church.  It will one day.  Yet for now, the Church exists for the World.  We exist for the mission.  When we’re on mission we’ll see Jesus in ways we have never dreamed as we walk beside him and see him work in and through our lives for the sake of bringing the world back to him.

 

If you like this post you might also like It’s Dangerous Business

Pictures found here, here, and here

Exchange Stories: John and Alex Testimony

I’ve been away from Blogging since Christmas. Life has been busy in trying to grow a new church and disciple the people that God has given to my care. Here’s a short testimonial from John and Alex on how God is changing their lives through The Exchange Community.

If Christmas is a Birthday then It’s about a Birthday Boy.


When little Joshua opened his eyes it was still dark, yet he wasn’t tired. There was an excitement in him, an anticipation tingled in his skin. He could hardly stay still. He couldn’t wait for this day to begin. Yet he lay there in bed dreaming. You see, Joshua loved this day because of the special time he got to spend with those people who loved Him so much. He couldn’t help thinking about how they would show him love through the gifts, and the party, and, oh, the singing… More than anything, little Josh couldn’t wait for his Mom and Dad to come into his room to wake him up with a big hug and say, “Happy Birthday, Joshua! We love you so much!”

Now imagine if little Joshua wasn’t noticed on his birthday. Imagine if he was laying in bed, waiting for that birthday hug from Mom and Dad, but it never came. What if he went the whole day without hearing, “Happy birthday, We love you so much! We’re so happy you’re in our lives.” How do you think he’d feel?

Worse yet, imagine if Everyone threw Josh a huge amazing party. What if everyone in town showed up, they even sang some songs about him and hung his baby pictures up in their own homes, but the rest of the year, no one really talked to him? They never said, I love you even once.
They really didn’t notice him or pay any attention to him.

Imagine another scenario. What if Joshua was laying in bed waiting for his birthday greeting and hug from his family and he heard his parents voices from outside, and Joshua got up, went and opened his window to hear his parents and siblings praising the neighbor boy, Nick, telling him how great and special he was and how they were so thankful for him? What if, on Joshua’s birthday, he came down the stairs and saw the house decorated for a party, but It was his neighbor, Nick’s, name written on the banners and it was his pictures hung all over the house?

All these scenarios are true. There’s a poor little boy named Joshua or Jesus, who is forgotten about every year on his birthday. Sometimes his loved ones make a big deal of him for his birthday and forget him the rest of the year. Other members of his family show up to his party and say it’s only magical, special, and meaningful if Nicholas (Santa Claus) is there and so they talk about Nick , and tell stories and sing about him rather than the birthday boy.

The amazing thing is, because Christmas is about Jesus it’s about us as well. Imagine if little Josh, on his birthday, got up and was full of excitement, not because of what people would give him, but because of what he would give them. What if he gave all his presents away? Imagine if he spent his the entire day serving, and giving and loving others. Imagine if Joshua made his birthday all about everyone else.
On Christ’s birthday, he did just that.

On Christmas Jesus, the Son of God, didn’t receive gifts. Rather, he gave them. He gave us the greatest gift, Himself. He’s given us Love, joy, peace, and hope. Let’s make Christmas about him. In fact, because he’s so great and because all he’s done, lets make life about him as well.

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Pictures found here, here, and here

Hold On To The Promises!

We walk by faith and not by sight.  Jesus said  being a disciple would be an exciting thing (Life to the full) yet also dangerous (Take up your cross and follow me).  As we walk further in planting The Exchange Community with starting a weekly service the Enemy fights back.  Yet I remember that God is faithful, we can trust in him.  God is faithful, we can follow him.  Why is that?  We can trust him because all of his promises are fulfilled in Jesus.  His victory is assured!

Check out this song that’s really speaking to me based off of Romans 8:

A Daring Confidence

Dale Meyer, Former speaker of The Lutheran Hour and president of Concordia Seminary has a daily blog called The Meyer Minute. It’s a great source of Gospel-Centered daily devotional thoughts.  His words have lifted me up and inspired me in Jesus love countless times.

On the July 24th post Meyer gives a couple quotes from Martin Luther about the place of Good works in a Christian’s life:

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. (Martin Luther, Preface to the Romans)

As we seek to live a Gospel-Centered Mission-Focused life, we need to remember that we’re not striving to impress God.  We don’t need to earn his love, to win his approval, or to secure our salvation.  We have that all in faith through Jesus. Our future is secure.   All we do, then, is in response to God’s love he’s shown us already.

“Faith is living, daring confidence in God’s grace.”  As followers of Jesus, we can stop examining our motives, stop tallying our good deeds, and look to Jesus’ love on the Cross  and know that he will give us all good things.  We’re then freed to love him and to love and serve others in his name without motive and without fear.

The Rob Bell looking Luther picture found here

How Should We Dress When We Go To The Exchange?

How Should I dress

How Should You Dress at the Exchange?  Any way you want!  When Jesus was on earth he never made people dress in their best robes and sandals before he’d talk to them.  He never told them to get a haircut, to shave, or to take a bath before he’d love them.  He never told them to take of their hats, take out their piercings, or cover up their tattoos before coming into his presence.  In the Bible we see Jesus inviting people to come as they are no matter what they looked like, not matter what they’ve done, no matter how messed up their life was at that time.

If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable in a Church but want to know Jesus, this community is for you.  The Exchange Community is a Church for people who normally would never walk into church.  We’re not about religion.  We’re about Jesus, knowing him, loving Him, and Loving others.  Come to the Exchange where People are Loved, Lives are Changed and God is in our Midst.

Come As You Are.wide

 

Should I Bring My Kids To The Exchange Community?

Should I bring My Kids

Jesus said,

Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these. ~Matthew 19:14

We Love Our Children!   Yet sometimes it’s difficult to get anything out of a message or to worship when our kids just won’t cooperate.  For some the option has been for one parent to keep the kids at home or to send them to a Sunday school class during the worship gathering.  Yet, in these cases, our children never learn the importance of having a rhythm of worship.

We offer an age appropriate story, activity, and snack for our smaller children during our message time.  This way they get to worship with their family yet also hear a message at their own level.  Just have you children sit with you and we’ll call all the children right before the message and bring them back before the closing song.

We also have a little room for parents with small children to use if necessary.

Here are a few suggestions to help you engage and teach your child about the worship gathering:

  • Before worship, talk to your child about why we worship God.  Because of the great love that God has shown us through Jesus, we want to give thanks to Him and learn more about his love.
  • Communicate your behavior expectations before the gathering begins.
  • Have your child do the things you do, stand, fold hands, pray, etc.
  • Follow along with them in the bible reading for the day.
  • Especially if your children are too old for our kids Corner, sit close to the front so the child can visually engage with the speaker.
  • work on elements of the gathering at home with them: The Lord’s Prayer, Apostles Creed, and frequently used songs, etc.
  • Talk about the good things that happened at the gathering.   Ask your children, “What did you learn about God?”, “What did you learn about his love?”, “What did you learn about Jesus?”, “What Story did they talk about in Kids Corner?”
  • Pick up a, “Jesus Story Book Bible” at the local bookstore or in the back of church to help you teach your children about Jesus during the rest of the week.
  • Teach them the gathering is just part of the Christian Life.   Join a Missional Community to show them how God’s people follow Jesus together and Show his love through.

God With Us

GOD WITH US

Poem by Isaac Wimberley

The people had read of this rescue that was coming through the bloodline of Abraham

They had seen where Micah proclaimed about a ruler to be born in Bethlehem

Daniel prophesy about the restoration of Jerusalem

Isaiah’s cry about the Son of God coming to them

So for them—it was anticipation

This groaning was growing, generation after generation

Knowing He was holy, no matter what the situation

But they longed for Him

They yearned for Him

They waited for Him on the edge of their seat

On the edge of where excitement and containment meet

They waited

Like a child watches out the window for their father to return from work—they waited

Like a groom stares at the double doors at the back of the church—they waited

And in their waiting, they had hope

Hope that was fully pledged to a God they had not seen

To a God who had promised a King

A King who would reign over the enemy

Over Satan’s tyranny

They waited

So it was

Centuries of expectations, with various combinations of differing schools of thought

Some people expecting a political king who would rise to the throne through the wars that he fought

While others expecting a priest who would restore peace through the penetration of the Pharisee’s façade

Yet a baby—100% human, 100% God

So the Word became flesh and was here to dwell among us

In His fullness, grace upon grace, Jesus

Through Him and for Him, all things were created

And in Him all things are sustained

God had made Himself known for the glory of His name

And this child would one day rise as King

But it would not be by the sword or an insurgent regime

It would be by His life

A life that would revolutionize everything the world knew

He would endure temptation and persecution, all while staying true

Humbly healing the broken, the sick and hurting too

Ministering reconciliation, turning the old to new

A life that would be the very definition of what life really costs

Saying—if you desire life, then your current one must be lost

And He would portray that with His own life as His Father would pour out and exhaust

And Jesus would be obedient to the point of death, even death upon the cross

So just 33 years after the day that He laid swaddled in the hay

He hung on a tree suffocating, dying in our place

Absorbing wrath that is rightly ours, but we could never bear the weight

So He took that punishment and he put it in the grave

And He died

And when I say that He died, what I mean is that He died

No breath, noheartbeat, no sign of life

God is a God of justice, and the penalty for our sin equals death

That’s what Christ did on that cross

Then… On the third day, in accordance with scriptures, He was raised from the grave

And when I say that He was raised, what I mean is that He was raised

Lungs breathing, heart pumping, blood pulsing through His veins

The things that He promised were true

He is the risen Son of God, offering life to me and you

Turning our mourning into dancing

Our weeping into laughing

Our sadness into joy

By His mercy, we are called His own

By His grace, we will never be left alone

By His love, He is preparing our home

By His blood, we can sing before His throne

Jesus paid it all

All to Him I owe

Sin had left a crimson stain

He washed it white as snow

So now we, as His bride, are the ones waiting

Like the saints that came before, we’re anticipating

He has shown us that this world is fading

And He has caused our desire to be for Him

So church, stay ready

Keep your heart focused and your eyes steady

Worship Him freely, never forgetting

His great love for you

Immanuel, God with us

The Gospel is so beautiful!  What do you think of this Gospel presentation? How does it speak to your soul?

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