On Monday I had the privilege of going the Phoenix Seminary Pastor’s Conference in Arizona. Gunner, John Hessler, Jared Warren, and I all drove there together Sunday afternoon, stayed the night in a Motel 6, attended the all-day conference, and then drove back Monday evening. We rolled into Phoenix, AZ at about 7:30 pm on Sunday and were absolutely starving. We walked into the check-in room, where something interesting happened. The lady serving the counter appeared to be about 50, obviously from a hard background. Time had not looked kindly upon her. At any rate, as we were checking in, she peppered her speech with mild curses. I can’t help but wonder if she was cursing because that’s how she talks, or because it was “cool.” Four college guys sharing a room on a Sunday night in a college town (Arizona State University). We asked about coffee and a continental breakfast for the next morning. She responded by saying “We have coffee in here in the morning, in case you need to clear any hangovers.” What an interesting comment. She naturally assumed what we would be doing, and that thing had quite literally never even occurred to us. What has our culture come to where in such situation is expected sin from us. We asked where food and shops could be found. She directed us saying, “There’s lots of stuff to do down there.” We were driving around on Camelback Drive when we noticed many of the restaurants conspicuously had no windows.
I once read an interesting article about cultural righteousness. It asked the question of how much of our righteousness is based upon our culture and upbringing instead of God’s Word. For instance, if I were raised in the South in the 1950’s, would I have participated in the atrocities against blacks? I hope not, but I can’t say for sure. I’ve been raised in righteousness. It’s just the way things are, not a conscious choice. I wonder how much of my spirituality comes from being surrounded by right thinking, and I’m simply swept away by the tide. That is a blessing, but we also need to remember to search the Scriptures, lest we fall like our brothers in the South, circa 1950.
I am convinced children are the same everywhere. It does not matter their social status, their parent’s income, their ethnicity. They are still the same deep down. After working today with kids, I can see why Christ said we are to be as children before the Lord.
The OMC blocked off a portion of the street and our carport in order to meet the community in which we live via a block party. The goal was to meet adults through their kids. Consequently, we heavily emphasized kid attractors: face painting, snowcones, basketball, and a bounce house.
I took a turn in the bounce house, figuring I’d bounce for a few minutes, then go waste the afternoon watching a movie. Bounce houses make good icebreakers. I had forgotten how much I enjoy being around kids. These kids from the neighborhood are just like the kids from my home church. There are the quiet ones, the bullies, the ones with too much energy, the shy ones. In particular, there were four children I got to know through the bounce-house “ministry.” Andy was the oldest, a somewhat self-confident boy of ten. He enjoyed being around older guys, but still wanted to feel slightly in control. Destiny was eight. She needed to win. Especially when it came to beating her older brother. Faith was a quiet and shy girl of seven. She enjoyed watching us and tackling Peter Skurdall and I when our backs were turned. Evan was four. He was cautious at first, but warmed up to us quickly and was the most aggressive of the four. I wonder why wrestling in a bounce-house is almost therapeutic for children. These kids needed to play. You could see it in their eyes. Their lives are not easy. A four year old boy deserves a father who loves him and spends time with him. A ten year old needs a hand to guide him as his life progresses. I only saw one grown man come to the party with his children. Children need their dads to spend time with them. Even if it coming and watching them bounce around for twenty minutes, they need to be shown they are important. I got to do that for an hour and a half today.
Hopefully the parents of these children wonder why Peter Skurdall and I would bounce and roughhouse with their kids for an hour and a half, why we would let them tackle and beat up on us. Why The OMC put on a barbecue and entire block party for free with the express purpose of getting to know people. This was just the start of building relationships with our community with the ultimate purpose of witnessing. But it is indeed a start.
Service is an integral part of following Christ. It is not optional. It is not biblical to serve even half-heartedly. It is to be our passion. By launching into service, we are traveling deeper into sanctification; understanding what it means to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Outreach Week is a unique experience. For a college institution to set up a program for college students to serve in local churches and then cancel classes for them to take advantage of this program is truly unique. There is no possible way for me to write everything the Lord taught me during this last week in one post. Its length would intimidate even the most voracious blogivore.
This year, I co-led a team with Emily Greer up to Lancaster Evangelical Free Church. My roommate and friend Patrick Beal and Melody McClure rounded out Team LEFC. I didn’t really know Emily and I had no clue Melody even existed before this week. One of the blessings of Outreach Week is meeting new people and really getting to know them through serving alongside them. There is something intrinsically edifying and encouraging about service. It’s almost as if we were created to serve… Some may criticize the rational behind Outreach Week, claiming it to be unauthentic service, as real service is continual service in the same location. I beg to differ. To see the change in people’s eyes and the lives impacted is an outward manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit, regardless of the time spent in a given location. Take every opportunity to serve, may it be small or large. It literally only takes a minute to share the gospel with someone. Outreach week is five days long. There is no such thing as an ignoble service.
Most of our service took place with the youth. The first night, we had the blessing of teaching the message. Each of us sat down and shared what the Spirit had been teaching us recently. (In an interesting side note, Melody and Emily sat down and wrote an outline of their talks, Patrick and I just winged it. This seems to be a female/male trend!) I was able to share out of Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Sports have consistently been an anchor slowing my pursuit of God. I know this is true for many other believers who have a competitive nature. As I look back, every time I began to move my focus from Christ and onto sports, I got hurt. While I’m not calling this divine judgment, it is something to think about. When I drift from Christ, Bad Things happen. Those who are loved by God will be corrected by Him. I’m no great teacher. But I hope God used my words in spite of my weaknesses.
I am convinced spritual inspiration strikes at the strangest moments. I was in the middle of running down Lyons Avenue, which I do quite often when I began to think about the persecution of the church. How would I would react if America began to genuinely persecute us? I am quite willing to run to the point of utter exhaustion, where my muscles are aching, my mouth is like cotton, and my entire body is screaming to stop and rest. Yet, my mind urges me onward, with the realization that I can still run one more step, and another step, and another. I am so willing to lay it all on the line while running for entertainment. Am I willing to do the same spiritually? Am I willing to run to the point of exhaustion? Am I willing to continue to serve when it is hard and my body says “No, Nate it is futile. You can’t do this. You deserve a rest. You’ve worked so hard.” How much harder it is to train for that which is unseen than that which is seen!
Paul shows great insight by comparing the Christian walk to a marathon. It is hard; it takes great training. There will be times where I feel like giving up. Giving up is never an option. The seal of the Holy Spirit cannot be melted off, and He will not let children of God sit around in spiritual apathy! I must discipline my mind the way I do my body, with diligence. Why is it I can easily budget the time to run for an hour, but can barely keep my mind on the Scriptures for ten minutes or even find the time to study them in a given day? I pray for the grace to be able to endure hardship for the gospel. I am quite willing to endure physical pain for that which is temporary. Oh that our spiritual lives would reflect the diligence with which we pursue the treasures of the earth.
Today at TMC was the bi-annual “departmental chapel.” Instead of holding chapel in the gym, each major broke up into groups and held their own individual chapel services. The owner of several Baja Fresh restaraunts in the area came and spoke to the business majors, addressing the need for balance between the physical world and the spirtual world. Business majors tend to be quite the materialistic group of individuals, so this message is always welcome in my own heart.
Interestingly enough, the portion of chapel which most impacted me was the time of singing before the message. Here at TMC, we are blessed to be led in music by the very talented Chapel Band three times a week. The music today was quite below the usual high-quality music. It wasn’t bad, but the songs were not my personal favorites. I didn’t want to sing and praise the Father for what He has done in my life due to the low quality of the music.
During this, a sobering quote from Augustine came to mind. I don’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like this: The moment singing becomes more powerful to me than the truth I am singing, I would prefer not to sing at all. The truth of this statement is quite powerful. I wonder how much of our singing is for the Lord and how much of it is seeking an emotional high. A beautiful melody can very well amplify the message contained within a song, but the focus must not be on the melody, but rather the words being sung.
There must be a balance to this, of course. I very much appreciate a well written song. I am the kind of person always listening to music or humming a tune throughout the day. There is a reason hymns such as “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” endured, but “I Am Not Skilled to Understand” passed into anonymity. Musical quality is of great importance, as we should practice music to the glory of God. However, it must not be foundational to the quality of worship we bring to Father as we sing.
Why does the internet need another blog? It seems there are plenty of blogs in cyberspace. Blogs covering religion, sports, photography, and gossip ad nauseum. However, there seems to be an incredible absence of truly edifying discussions over the web. The internet has become the escape of my generation. Between AIM, Facebook.com, and MySpace, we have become incredibly adept at having utterly meaningless interaction with each other. How tragic! The internet can be utilized for so much.
It is my prayer for this page to cause people ~ my friends and myself ~ to ponder anew what the Almighty can do. In all the time I spend on the internet, which is not a great amount, I confess, the most rewarding time has been reading the blog of Gunner Gundersen, my RD and friend. I hope others may be as affected by the insights found here on this page as I have been by his blog. (You can find the link to it on the blogroll.)