Monday, December 31, 2007

Aloha!

Just got back from Kona, Hawaii on the big island! It was wonderful, I begin to sweat profusely at about 75 degrees, so I wasn't sure what I was going to think of the tropics. Hawaii was awesome, when the water is 70, who cares if it is 82. We went boogie boarding, hung out on the beach, and our condo was perfect.

(The sunset from our condo)

Serenity and I were able to get away just the two of us for almost an entire day. We slept in, went out for breakfast, and then went to the beach to boogie board, snorkel (sorry Heath and Emie, I loved it) and take a deep breath away from our (wonderful) children.

(Serenity and I at Hapuna Beach)

I tried to teach Avery and Ally how to swim, but they thought the water was too cold and wouldn't go in. Here we are in the middle of the day, it is 82 degrees, the sun is blaring and they both want to be in the hot tub.

(Avery and Ally at Kikaua Beach)

Even though we didn't get any pictures, my favorite was the Kayak trip to the Captain Cook Monument across Kealakekua Bay. As we kayaked the 1 mile across the beautiful calm, clear, blue waters we were accompanied by dozens and dozens of spinner dolphins. Swimming along side of our kayaks and cresting every 20 ft. or so. On occasion they would jump out of the water or spin just under the surface. When we got to the other side of Kealakekua we snorkeled, seeing all sorts of colorful fish. What a day!

(The view from our balcony)

Avery did learn to swim with arm floaties on. He couldn't stop giggling he was so proud of himself. He was getting increasingly brave as the week went on, venturing out into the water at Kikaua Beach all by himself - and loved it (which is basically a lagoon and is very calm, but still very brave).


(We are a bunch of rebels - we went swimming anyway!)

The best part of the entire trip was just hanging out as a family, eating, swimming, and playing on the beach - We all loved the trip - THANKS GRANDMA!!!


(Avery and Ally diggin' a hole with Daddy at Kikaua Beach)

Monday, December 10, 2007

What's Up?

I know that a few people out there might check this blog only to see what is happening with the Coulombe Family, rather than to hear Andy's rants and ravings. So, for those people here you go:

We are now under the "covering" of Isaiah's Stump, a non-profit Christian organization that frees missionaries to follow God's calling in their life.

We have not officially sold our house yet, but are waiting on God to sell our friend's home, who will then purchase ours.

Same with the RV. We need our house to be sold before we begin looking. I also am beginning to wrap my brain around the fact that God may give us one!

God is continuing to shape and mold our mission and calling. Serenity and I both believe that God is going to do miraculous things on this journey, and from the very beginning we believed that God was calling us to minister to the poor and marginalized. We are getting more and more confirmation that we are also supposed to minister to the Christians we come across. Maybe a type of renewal or awakening. A return to the true meaning of the Gospel that so many Christians have ignored or turned their backs on. A literal interpretation of Jesus' words. I know, revolutionary! As we have led groups from Grace Chapel under the Burnside Bridge, we have begun to realize what an awesome opportunity this may be to reach out to those who have all their needs met by taking them down to meet those who do not. We were unprepared for this facet of the ministry, but it has been encouraging and exciting at the same time.

We are beginning to formulate letters that we plan to send out to different ministry organizations: The Simple Way, Church Under the Bridge, Burning Bush and other Catholic Worker communities, Rescue Missions, etc.

Our departure date is still not solid, but we plan to be on the road in one capacity or another before July 12th since we have a wedding to go to in Kelowna, BC.

Our "mental map" looks a little something like this: Northern states / Canada in the summer, Eastern seaboard in the fall, Southern states in the winter. Is that vague enough for you? As we nail down communities and ministries we want to connect with, we will let people know more geographic details.

Our total monthly living expenses sit right around $1,400, and we plan to begin gathering support for our ministry soon. Every dime of the monthly expenses we pray will come from friends and family (or God)!

There you go, hopefully this will give some of you prayer requests as well as a better idea of what we are planning and needing.

Andy

Broken and Contrite

I will not give,
to you my King,
a sacrifice that costs me nothing.

My offering,
Your asking price,
my heart laid bare,
broken and contrite for You.

These are the words of one of my favorite worship songs. So many times I don't do this. I hold back and don't give God everything he asks, I give Him something else, something easier for me to give. All He asks is that I lay everything down at His feet and come with nothing other than a broken and contrite heart. In other words, I understand and accept that I have and will always come up short and can only be redeemed by Christ's blood, and that I deeply desire His forgiveness and atonement and realize my need for it. That's it.

Most of the time I end up turning it into something else. I end up giving a sacrifice that costs me nothing. I give my time, I try to treat people nice, do the right thing, be a good husband and father, serve others who are in need, reach out to the poor. He doesn't ask me to do any of this, and I quickly lose focus on Him and begin looking at things I have done, or need to do.

I've wrote about this before, but for my own sake, it needs repeated: He doesn't need us to do anything! He is the almighty maker of heaven and earth, formed the mountains and valleys and created the plants and animals. Just thinking of the creation that surrounds us everywhere, from the concrete jungle, to the actual jungle, everywhere around us is the awesomeness of God. If He created all of this beauty, why then, would he need us to do anything? He only asks us to, with a contrite heart, lay down our brokenness at the foot of our Almighty God! I pray Lord that we only lay down your asking price.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Angry Andy

I struggle with anger. I always have, don't know if I learned it or if it is just part of me, something that constantly reminds me that I need a Savior. Most of the time I see myself getting angry and I know what is happening, but my pride takes over and I don't want to slow the ole' anger train down, if you know what I mean. For the most part I have it under control, I don't beat random people up who look at me funny (at least not since '97), I don't get angry at people who cut me off, and I don't become angry with people close to me. And here lies the problem - "I have it under control." I usually do not lean on the Holy Spirit to give me the strength to have "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23), I just try to do it myself - and I fail - miserably. I failed this last weekend. We all fail when we don't have the Holy Spirit prompting us, guiding us, correcting us. Probably an even better way of saying that is when we ignore the prompting. I made the reference to '97 because that was when I started my conversion, when I started to allow the Holy Spirit to work, and He has done miracles in me, but many times I ignore the promptings of the Spirit.

This past summer our three kids stayed at my parents house for a week while Serenity and I got our anniversary away. It was great. When we met back up with Grandma and Panka (our kid's name for my Dad), Panka told a story of Avery and a situation he had with his sister. Ally had taken a toy or something from him, so he hit her on the head and took it back. Panka disciplined Avery by having him sit in a time out or something along those lines. When questioning him about why he would punch his sister and what he needed to do to fix the situation he said, "I don't know, I think I need to eat some fruit or something." Puzzled, Panka asked again, getting something close to the same answer. Again my Dad asked, this time I can imagine he was becoming slightly frustrated, Avery responded "I'm telling you, it is in a book I have, you just have to eat some fruit and you don't act that way." It wasn't clear to Panka until he told me this story and I told him about the Fruits of the Spirit book I read to Avery and his sisters occasionally.

I wish it was that easy, just eat some fruit. Having the Holy Spirit work on you is tough most of the time, and it is constant. Every hour of every day I need patience, I need love, I need self-control. If I ignore the promptings of the Spirit to slow down, and to show kindness, eventually those promptings will be silent. I won't hear them any more, and I will become frustrated, quick to anger, bitter, and unkind, I will be a typical human being without a relationship with our Savior.

One thing is different between now and '97, I know I need the Fruits of the Spirit, so I continue to listen for them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sunday School Answers are for Punks

When did it happen? When did Christianity become boring? When you look back to the early apostles their life was nothing near boring - traveling from church to church, house to house avoiding the Roman authorities who were looking to squash any threat to the government of Cesar. Most of them are killed boring ways like upside-down crucifixes and "death by sword." That doesn't sound boring to me.

Take John the Baptist. He lived a boring life of calling out the Jewish and Roman leaders to repent and turn from their sins, all the while living in the wilderness, eating locust and honey and wearing animal skins. Eventually he directly calls out Herod Antipas, a Roman leader, for marrying his brother's wife and is beheaded for his comments.

The list goes on: the early Celtic monks, St. Patrick, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer they all rocked the boat. At no point was their life boring, nor did they ever believe God wanted their life to be boring. Excitement and uncertainty was a daily part of their lives.

Christian Anarchist. Most don't believe that those two words go together. How about Christian Pacifist Anarchist? Wasn't that Christ himself? Didn't He rock the very foundations of our world? If we took the gospel literally wouldn't we turn everything on it's head and create total and complete anarchy? Selling your possessions and giving to the poor? What are you kidding me - that isn't literal, right? Offering up your right cheek when your enemy smacks you on the left one? First being last, last being first. What the heck is He talking about? None of it makes sense to our well groomed, mainstream, boring Christian society. I don't believe it is supposed to be this way, I believe God wants us to be wild, to be trouble makers, far from boring.

French Christian Anarchist Jacques Ellul once said: "Christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension incompatible with society."

If I spend what I usually do this Christmas, I'm not incompatible with society. If I give my extra change once a year to the lady ringing the bell back and forth when I walk out of the grocery store, I'm not incompatible with society. If I sit back and veg out to American Idol, or buy Coke because they tell me to, or vote for "insert name of any politician in the U.S." I'm not incompatible with society. We have surrounded ourselves with so much routine that incompatibility and uncertainty are the last two words out of our mouths.

We forget about God from Monday morning through Saturday night because we view Christ as a real nice guy. We missed the point. When we view Christ as a real nice guy, we view Christianity as boring. We try to have all the Sunday School answers for our non-Christian friends, when what most people are looking for is what Christianity really is - exciting, uncertain, wild, and appealing. Christ was radical, an extremist, an "agent of a dimension incompatible with society." Maybe we should start taking His words literally and the majority of non-Christians (and Christians) will really start to live as Christ desired - as "creators of uncertainty," we will all become Christian Anarchists.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Football Makes People Happy

Our monthly homeless outreach was yesterday. In October we went down under the Burnside Bridge and ate with around 125 homeless men and women. One of them, nicknamed Dimples, mentioned that he would love to watch the San Francisco 49ers play. So, we decided to bring down a TV. I brought the TV, Tim brought the generator and Dish Satilite. With his level and compass in hand (amazing work this guy Tim) he brought the joy of football under the Burnside Bridge. About an hour in, I had to step back and just take it all in, about 30 homeless men and women watching football on a 27inch TV under a bridge in 35 degree weather. It was awesome! Some of them smiled for what might have been the first time in a month, and we were able to take a little bit of time, and small amount of the resources God blessed us with and lay that down in front of these people. One man was given a Bible and wanted us to sign it. Another asked us to pray with him because his wife had cancer, and he was flying to California the next week to meet his mom for the first time (he had been adopted and looked to be about 35). We prayed for healing both emotional and physical. These are all mustard seeds!

Our job isn't to catch the men, our job is to throw out our line and fish for them. God supplies the terminal tackle.

Towards the end of the afternoon, when the Broncos vs. Bears game went into overtime a homeless woman who was with a quiet man in a wheelchair leaned over and asked how we did all of this. I explained how we plugged the TV into the generator and how Tim brough his satilite dish down. She responded with "Football makes people happy, all of this gives them hope."

"All of this" is Christ working little mustard seeds of His love, even if it is an overtime win for the Bears - sorry Paul.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

In a box

Our church, Grace Chapel, did a little profile on what we do when we go downtown. They showed it the weekend Donald Miller spoke. We were not at all interested in going downtown to "feed" the homeless and speak the gospel, all the while having a camera over our shoulders. Seemed a little weird and a little too much self-promotion. The last thing I wanted was for these people to feel like we were using them, especially in God's name. They are people. So, all that said, I didn't really want to do it, and I believed it would be very awkward.

It was awesome! God basically told us, "your expectations are so lame. Don't you know that I can work any way I choose. Don't dare put me in a box!" In about 20 minutes (that was all we really had, we had somewhere to be.) we prayed with several people, blessed 25 of the homeless men and women we met with a sack of food, water and other supplies. Serenity randomly connected with a woman that she has kept in contact with since, and actually saw at the very next homeless outreach we did with Grace Chapel the following Sunday. For this woman, the support and prayer she received from God the Father through Serenity that afternoon means the world, and might have been the only reason God sent us down that day. Don't put Him in a box.

Check this link for the video Grace Chapel cut of that afternoon.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Our own Civil War

A couple, named Tim and Jen Fidanzo are coming with us. They made the decision (at least Tim did, Jen had months earlier) at a prayer meeting this past fall. While a friend of ours was praying over him, Tim got the vision of our dining room "chalk board," where we write down any thoughts or comments, or questions we have for our upcoming journey. He envisioned it, and the map of the United States that is taped to it, as tracks. Our friend was praying that Tim would know that God had already laid out the tracks, and that all he needed to do was to stoke the engine and fly ahead, not worrying about where the end lay. It was that vision that Tim heard God call him and Jen, and that calling was to join us in downward spiral.

Now, I like the Fidanzos a lot. They have a bunch of strong qualities, they love working with the poor, but most of all, they love Jesus. However, they are Duck fans. And in a season where the Ducks look poised to make a BCS run, they let everybody (especially OSU fans) know it. Not saying they weren't Duck fans last year when they went 7-6 and lost to OSU in the Civil War and got drummed by BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl (wouldn't have even made a bowl if it wasn't for the asterisk win vs. Oklahoma by the way).

I know God has planned this. Going alone, just isn't how God designs it. He calls us to do life together. When you are real with people and you take the time to really "live" with other people, it can get messy. Problems can arise, conflicts can grow, and frustrations can overwhelm. But this is how God designs it. Community is what God wants from us, not individualism. Individualism creates thoughts like "mine and theirs" and "us and them." Jesus never used that language. Living in loving community forces us to say words like "ours" and "we." In many ways you could argue that living in community is one more way we die to our selves and grow nearer to Christ. The early Church of Acts did:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47

Going with Tim and Jen will allow us to refocus on God day by day, minute by minute. When Tim says some stupid comment about the 27 year losing streak or I talk about the four picks and 2 fumbles Harrington had in 2001, God is giving us an opportunity to humble ourselves, take a step back, see a much bigger picture and die to self by lifting another up in humility. Seriously, look at Matthew 19:30 - But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. Loving Christ really boils down to putting others in front of you (downward spiral).

In reality, Tim and I need each other. To be who Christ is calling us to be on this journey, we need conflict, so that we will have the opportunity to humble ourselves and put the other in front. Without community we would never learn this. Without iron and iron, we would never become sharp.

I have a feeling though, sometime in late November or early December, I will wear my orange and black and he will wear his green and pee yellow. :)

Monday, October 29, 2007

They Call Me A Communist

I was a red-blooded American, I loved Pat Tillman, and hated Michael Moore. It was 12:15am and I was on the phone with my brother arguing about communism and democracy. Which governmental system was best? By this time, I was in my 2nd year of teaching, and my brother was working on his bachelors in sociology from the University of Oregon. We both used circular logic and explained our cases thoroughly. But neither of us were right. My argument went along the same lines as Winston Churchill's:

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Plus, Stalin and Mao and their communist policies both killed more than 50 million people each, and that isn't even mentioning Pol Pot or Fidel Castro.

My brother went on to graduate first in his class from UofO, and I continued to dislike the liberal Ducks for turning my brother into a communist. I've begun to think differently.
My brother and I went backpacking in the North Cascades this past summer, great trip except for the mosquitoes. I was looking forward to the trip, but in some ways I wasn't. God was asking me, in very clear ways, to ask Casey for forgiveness. For not being the brother I should have been, for treating him like crap growing up, but most of all, for acting like I had it all figured out. If there is one thing God has shown me over the past year, it is that I don't know what I have always thought I knew.

Dom Helder Camara, a Roman Catholic Archbishop once said: "When I give bread to the poor, they call me a saint; but when I ask why people are poor, they call me a communist." I'm beginning to wonder why people are poor. A lot of people want to smile and pat me on the back because I go downtown and feed some homeless people. But those same people, get offended and become defensive when I ask why. Why do we as Christians spend less than 1% of our incoming on serving the needs of others? Why are we as a nation, based on democracy and capitalism, ignoring the needs of millions of starving people world wide while we build bigger steeples on our churches?

Governments will crumble, kingdoms will fall, but God's Kingdom is built on the Rock, Jesus Christ. So, if I put my faith in George W. Bush, or if I put my faith in Josef Stalin, my faith will wash away, people, governments, systems, made by man will fade away. Ultimately it doesn't matter what system I believe in when it gets washed out to sea. God is bigger than governments. The love that He sent down in the form of His Son, Jesus, is more powerful, more effective than economic systems. If we could all get past the argument my brother and I had and look vertically I think we would begin to see the depth, width and height of God.

As Shane Claiborne wrote in Irresistible Revolution:When we focus on Jesus, "capitalism is not possible, and communism is not necessary."


Social Studies 101

I teach social studies. Websters defines social studies as: "an academic subject devoted to the study of society including geography, economics, history, government, and civics." One reason I became a teacher is because I love history. My least favorite subject to teach is economics. Government or civics is somewhere in the middle. I have voted on every issue that was presented to me since I was 18 for the simple fact that people told me it was my duty. Then, becoming a social studies teacher, I had even more of a responsibility to vote, I had to set a good example for my students. I remember lecturing Serenity and telling her about how important it was to vote. Not any more. The past year I have had no love or interest whatsoever in politics. I really could care less about who wins any election. I can feel it right now, social studies teachers reading this with udder disdain - "and you call yourself a social studies teacher." But I don't care. Students have asked me, who are you voting for, and it gives me an opportunity to say something along these lines:

My vote goes to Jesus. He is our creator, it would look silly for me to endorse any other candidate. My allegiance should be to Him, not to some affluent Ivy Leaguer, even if he prays in office.

This usually leads us into a conversation that is worthwhile and meaningful, and the thoughts and disappointments of why a social studies teacher doesn't vote usually disappear. I threw away our last ballot, and it felt good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Love of THE Father

I'm not sure if you can fully understand the concept of sacrifice and love (the 2 central themes in the Gospel) until you have your own kids. Here is Avery. He is my pride and joy, my first born, my only son. He makes me laugh, he makes me well up with overwhelming pride. He makes me cry. I love him so much it makes me hurt - literally hurt. I am so excited to see what kind of man he turns into, and I believe he will be a crazy man of God - one that could change nations for Him. He is compassionate, loving, brave, funny, intelligent, but probably best of all, he loves his Daddy, and wants to do everything with him. That makes me feel good. I am loved, and Avery has such a heart, that he wants me to know it. He tells me he loves me every time I see him. He gives his Daddy hugs and kisses all the time, they are specially to me. He is my little Avery-man.

I was watching him the other day work in a sticker book. This one had a "tractor" theme. I could watch him play for hours. His little mind was racing, pulling out one sticker and putting it in a rock yard scene, then back to another sticker, this time an even bigger tractor, his eyes light up and his smile nearly grows from ear to ear. His eyebrows raise, and I know he is thinking "look at this one, it is huge, the biggest tractor I have ever seen!" Avery kept this up, total delight in his sticker book, for what seemed like ages. I kept watching him from across a room, tears began to gather in the corner of my eyes. I pictured Jesus, when he was 4 1/2, playing intently with some sort of toy. God must have looked down on him with a smile on his face, so proud of his little guy.

When you have a child, and you watch him like I watched Avery that night it amplifies Gods love for us. If He could love us so much that he would send His son to this earth to bare the sins of man and be sacrificed in a violent and brutal manner, how much does He love me? How much does He love you? I can't even fathom it. My mind can't even begin to imagine it. Thinking how much I love Avery, so much it hurts, I think if I did grasp the concept of how much God loves me, my head would explode. When you have a son of your own, you begin to understand though. I try to remind myself each day while thinking about Avery - now imagine how much God loves you. This puts my day back into focus, right now, God is looking down on us thinking, "I love you, I am so proud of you, you make me smile, I delight in you."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

System Failure

I am horrible with computers. Give me 10 minutes in the "control panel" and I will screw it up, trust me. I kind of like them, they serve a purpose, and I can get around fairly well, but I end up doing some sort of irreversible damage to it, and most of the time I have no idea that I even did it. I got the itch to try to "clean up" our computer, make it run a little faster. Did the defrag, streamlined a few other areas of the hard drive, then I came across a "system restoration" icon. Interesting. Read the tutorial and it said that by doing the restoration, and returning the system back to the settings you had at a previous date that you wouldn't lose any newly saved information, and hey, I might fix all the things I have screwed up since then. So, I tried it out. It was simple enough. Not sure if I'm any better off though.

I have had some of my non-Christian (and to tell you the truth, Christian) friends tell me that what we are doing is "admirable." I'm never sure what to do with that other than to say, "that isn't the reason why we are doing it. If it were up to me, I would sit around eating Dorritos and watching football. It's got to be about God." Al Gore bringing our attention to global warming, now that is admirable. Some teacher toiling in a classroom for 30 years, now that is admirable. The focus of what we are doing should never be admiration because this isn't about us! This story isn't about us, and as my pastor said today in his message, "We aren't even the lead character in our story." It is about doing what God has called us to for His glory not for others to admire what we are doing. On an even greater level, it is about being obedient. If this was just about doing something admirable, we would run in circles trying to do things on our own that we can only do through Christ. I came across an insight today about this very thing: Obedience results from a relationship with God, but obedience will never create or earn that relationship. Doing something that is admirable seems so small to what our God can (and wants) to do through us.

The apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:9-10 says: Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

God, before time began, already laid out his plans for us. He already gave us a job. How silly would it be for me to take credit for it? How narrow would it look if I sought admiration from others when God already "planned for us long ago." How do I know that sitting on the couch eating Dorritos can not be for me?: because He has redeemed me. He has brought me out of the muck and mire, He has erased my sins through the blood of His Son Christ Jesus! Paul writes in Ephesians 1:7 "In Him we have redemption through his blood." Or in other words, in Him we have a "system restoration" we have been reset, we have been made whole again. Obedience is what should overflow out of that restoration. It is just the small role I play in His story. In the shadow of the Cross, how silly would it look if my goal was to get the admiration of the people around me, especially if, without Christ, I would still have system failure and "fatal errors."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

In a van down by the river. . . .

On the first day of school this year we had a motivational speaker talk to the students at the high school I work at. He was good, better than I had expected. He came from a pretty rough background - no dad, mom was a drug addict and he basically had to run the show for his siblings. He had a coach in high school that challenged his attitude and he was motivated to do greater things. His main message was that to be everything you want to be, you have to be real, you have to be transparent, and you have to have people around you that support you and are positive. Right on. Sounds good.

That night the Lord used this guy's message to motivate me in a different way: He was telling me to share my testimony with my students. Most of the kids knew I was a Christian, I would try to insert my beliefs in here or there in the course of a lesson plan, but never laid it all out. This year though, was going to be different.

So, the next day, I scrapped the lesson plan, and took the entire class period to lay out my testimony and then told them that this was my last year of teaching and coaching, I was off to truly follow Christ, to pick up my own cross. Scary as heck, wasn't sure how they would react, or if by next week I would be fired. No worries (as of now at least:))

Since then, I have had literally hundreds of opportunities to share my faith with my students. God has blessed me by giving me these opportunities. My words are definitely challenging them to think in a way many of them probably never have, but probably more significantly, they have challenged me to live out my faith in an authentic way in every area of my life. School has always been an area that I have kept under wraps, and I have had every excuse not to be transparent, not the least being that I could get canned. I have no excuse now, because seriously, who cares if I get fired.

The typical response is laughter, or raised eyebrows, a long pause, and then laughter. Usually though, they end up wondering about some things. How? Why? Where? When? Then I have my opportunity to tell them how, why, where and when. They usually respond by shaking their head in disbelief and then smile and ask more questions. It has been awesome, that motivational speaker really knows how to motivate.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Simple Gospel

I'm starting to like Donald Miller. Cheppe (high five), a buddy of mine introduced me to Blue Like Jazz a while back and raved about him, he is great, he really understands, blah, blah blah. I read a chapter or two, and hated it. He seemed to skate around just saying it. I would get frustrated and threaten Serenity that if he kept going I was going to quit reading. He is an excellent story teller, he seems to suck you into his ramblings, then, in my opinion, he would fall short, not really wanting to say the truth because it might scare off a few people. I thought maybe the last chapter would tie it all in and the light bulb would turn on, but it didn't. I didn't think I would read another Donald Miller book again. Then for some reason, I bought Searching For God Knows What. Still rambling, but more focused, more truth, much more simple. Trust me, you have to read him to understand what I'm saying, but in my opinion, skip Blue Like Jazz.

In Searching, Miller tells a story about how while teaching a Bible college class, he told the students that he was going to present the gospel but leave out a key element and to see if they could figure out the missing piece. He talked about how man was sinful, the beauty of morality, how great heaven will be, how people who are God-centered have a sense of fulfillment on earth, while using real life stories to tie it all together. In the end, when Miller asked the class what he left out, after sitting in silence for several minutes, not one of them noticed that he left out Jesus. He left out Jesus, and none of them noticed!

The gospel is simple, and when we try to apply some new theology to it, it gets cloudy, confusing. These students were trying to out think the gospel. Sometimes I do the same thing. I try to understand and intellectualize some theological concept that in many cases is just created by man not God. Jesus uses some pretty confusing parables and lessons to teach us some pretty basic concepts: Love God, Love each other. We want to understand everything before we believe, when what God actually asks us to do is believe and then He will reveal things to us. Ephesians 4:14-15 says:

"[If we understand the knowledge of God's Son] We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church."

We simply need to believe in Him, then do what He commands us to: Love Him and love each other. When we are desperately seeking "the answers," to life's questions, we will be continually disappointed. When we treat Jesus like a genie in a bottle, giving us answers to the problems plaguing us, our community, our country, or our world, we will "be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching," but when we simplify our task to 2 steps 1) believe and 2) go and love, we begin to understand in a completely different way. Children don't go to seminary, they don't have everything figured out, but that is exactly how God asks us to come to him - like children. Don't out think the gospel.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Simple Gospel II

Many of you may or may not know, but here goes: I struggle with sexual addiction. I know it is every man's battle, so I'm no longer ashamed. Satan used to heap loads and loads of shame and guilt upon me (I'm pretty sure he is still trying), but I am battling. I go to a group every Saturday of men who are battling it along side me. Accountability, along with transparency, and obviously God, is the only thing that will allow you to break the chains of sin in your life, no matter what that sin is. I have spoken to friends about this, have publicly proclaimed it, have spoken at men's gatherings, and have called some of my wife's best friends and laid it all down, so that she has someone to talk to about it. God has given me freedom in this area, and has broken the chains of sin that have shackled me since I was 11 or 12 years old. Just so you know, I am writing this with a smile on my face, because Jesus saves! This isn't some dreary, sad story of addiction, this is a joyful and triumphant celebration of freedom in Christ. This due to one simple idea: I am lily white.

Follow me here: Before I knew Jesus, I was my sin. I owned it, it defined me, like I said, I was shackled, any sin came from within, it was who I was, a fallen man in a fallen world. But when I believed that Jesus was who he said he was, I became blameless, I was no longer my sin, my identity, my definition now came from Christ, the sin no longer came from within.

I continued to sin after my conversion, but I was still blameless. Christ did all of that on the cross 2,000 years ago, He bore my sins. The revolution is the fact that now it comes from outside of me, it comes from Satan, from demons, from "spiritual forces of evil." As I mentioned in another post earlier this month, "becoming a believer doesn't stop us from sinning, we still have free will, the revolution is that we are no longer the originator of those sins, we no longer own it. The temptation, the sin comes from something outside of you, it comes from Satan. Ephesians 4:12 says

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

We are no longer an enemy. Our nature is no longer the enemy, our enemy is in a realm we can't even see." So, seeing sin in this context fires me up. I turn into a soldier, knowing that the self-loathing, the shame and the guilt are just weapons that the Enemy uses to bring me down, and to put me in a body bag so I can no longer be the man who Christ has already died on the cross for.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Everything

Everything
Tim Hughes

God in my living

There in my breathing
God in my waking
God in my sleeping
 God in my resting
There in my working
God in my thinking
God in my speaking
 
Be my everything
Be my everything
Be my everything
Be my everything
 
God in my hoping
There in my dreaming
God in my watching
God in my waiting
 
God in my laughing
There in my weeping
God in my hurting
God in my healing
 
Christ in me
Christ in me
Christ in me the hope of glory
You are everything
 
Christ in me
Christ in me
Christ in me the hope of glory
Be my everything

I've been pondering the lyrics to this song recently. I actually have the song stuck in my head right now. I desperately want to be in this place, where my every moment is focused on Him. I guess that is what the lyrics are asking for "Be my everything." The song also eludes that the only way this will happen is if Christ is "in us." The Holy Spirit. It is such an abstract concept, it is tough for my concrete-sequential mind to understand. I'm starting to though, be patient.

I have felt some freedom through an understanding of a concept that I have known, but not really "known" (if you know what I mean). Here it is: before we know God, before we are Christians, we are our sin, our sin comes from within us. When we experience a true conversion, we become lily white, we are pure in God's eyes, He no longer sees our sins, we are no longer sin. So, my line of thought would be, OK, then why do I keep sinning, why am I tempted? Becoming a believer doesn't stop us from sinning, we still have free will, the revolution is that we are no longer the originator of those sins, we no longer own it. The temptation, the sin comes from something outside of you, it comes from Satan. Ephesians 4:12 says "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." We are no longer an enemy. Our nature is no longer the enemy, our enemy is in a realm we can't even see, that is why the Holy Spirit is so critical in our battle. The Holy Spirit is EVERYTHING. It is literally, "Christ in me." Without Him, how could we battle against "spiritual forces of evil" we can't even see.

The truth is that the only way we can make it through this difficult world is if we have Christ in us. That is why I desperately want God to be my everything. In my living, breathing, waking, sleeping, resting, working, thinking, speaking, hoping, dreaming, watching, waiting, laughing, weeping, hurting, healing, (and writing), BE MY EVERYTHING!


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Carl's Shoes

Recently, my wife Serenity and I have been able to have some "date" nights. They have consisted of going downtown and interacting with the homeless. Last night we went down with some friends of ours to a place called Transitional Youth (TY). TY is a place where youth can have a safe place to hang out, get fed, watch a movie, and play some games - cool place. Daniel, one of the leaders, is doing some really awesome work there.

I usually put very little expectations on our activities, probably because I don't put much mental effort into being intentional and praying through how God can use me specifically to minister to the people I come in contact with, not just homeless, but in my day to day walk. As we were praying prior to going inside TY, Serenity prayed about how scared and nervous she was about going in, and that made me get scared and nervous and I stopped focusing on how He was going to use me, and began to focus on my own awkwardness and shortcomings relationally. Never a good thing. So that set the stage.

The first 30 minutes I felt awkward, and nervous. Tim, one of the friends who introduced us to TY, was playing pool with a kid. I like pool, I like to compete, I desperately wanted to break the ice and engage with someone, so I decided to watch their pool game. I think this kid could smell the awkwardness on me. After watching for a few minutes, I decided to introduce myself. I asked, "what's your name," and without looking at me, responded with "does it really matter," and continued to shoot pool. I actually thought to myself. . . . "does it." How superficial was my approach to this guy? Did I want to know this kid, or did I want the awkwardness to go away? He had a valid response.

Earlier I had a conversation with a guy named Carl, he was probably late 20's. He was mentally ill, so the conversation flowed in and out of where he had been, things he had done, and cyborgs and computer chips placed in his brain. A really weird place to be, especially when you feel a demonic presence around him, but you feel God is asking you to keep the conversation going. I felt compelled to continue talking with him. There was a sweetness to him, I could obviously tell he was hurting, and he had pain from his past. He was revealing this to me in small pieces; group homes, foster care, physical abuse from others in the group homes, jail, hurt, pain, and on top of that, a mental illness that plagued him. A patchwork of his story goes something like this: He lived in California, was in a variety of foster homes, ended up in a group home where he got beat up, which resulted in some damage to his head and face, began using, and for one reason or the other, went to jail multiple times.

God kept bringing my eyes to his feet. I remember the Holy Spirit saying: "He looks to be your shoe size." As the night went on, I ended up playing ping pong with him. My desire to build his self esteem was blown away by my desire to win at everything (I'm still working on that one). We blew right past 21 points (usually the place where one person wins) and played to something like 52-23 when I said, do you want to start over 0-0, and play to 11? Carl started playing and I lost 11-9. God humbles you, even through ping pong. For being non-coherent with many of his thoughts and ideas, Carl was a pretty good foos ball player as well. Turns out, group homes and foster care have a lot of ping pong and foos ball tables.

I went to the kitchen and got him a soda. Once again, as I was drinking my soda, my eyes fell to his shoes and I heard once again "your shoe size." I said "Dude, do you want my shoes?" He responded by talking about how uncomfortable his shoes really were, I think he misunderstood my question. I repeated it, "do you want my shoes?" After a little more nudging, Carl accepted. I have to be honest here, this was not a reluctant gift. I have plenty of shoes, I actually have another pair almost identical to the ones I offered, plus my reasoning for giving my shoes up was almost self-centered due to the fact that in Under the Overpass, Mike Yankowski lays out a situation almost identical to this, where he spoke about his flip flops and the pain and blood from stubbing his toe to a group of Christians he encountered. Their eventual response was, "we'll be praying for you," as they walked out the doorway, in perfectly good flip flops. I couldn't NOT give up my shoes, my own guilt would be overwhelming.

So, I wore Carl's shoes home, they weren't too bad. As we prayed on the way home, it hit me, I may literally be in his shoes, but I'm not "in his shoes." I don't have to find a safe place to lay my head down for the night. I don't have to search for my next meal. My heart began to break for Carl, knowing that right then (RIGHT NOW), he is on the streets, possibly hungry, possibly scared, and probably confused.

If I truly want to "be the least" how could I accomplish that by giving my left over junk to Goodwill and having them redistribute the wealth God has blessed me with. What better way could I have symbolically showed Carl that what is mine is his, he is important, and ultimately God loves him. I don't think Carl understood that last night, but if he encountered that every day, every night, that demon who is using him, confusing him, and controlling his every thought would flee. It would have to. The love it would encounter, the people it would come across, that spirit would run, because it fears Christ, and Christ is love. I pray that God gives me a supernatural understanding that He is in me, there is no need for fear and awkwardness and that I can continue to take advantage of His love by pouring it out to others.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Boat For Sale: Free

I love to fish. I'm not a very good fisherman, but I do love it. I love waking up early, putting the boat in the water, I love the quiet mornings, and the beautiful trees that line the shore, but most of all, I love to land big fish.

A month ago I was fishing with a buddy of mine, Brandon. He is a good fisherman. Nobody was catching a thing, but Brandon hooked into a 23 inch Rainbow that was thick. My adrenaline rushed, and I was happy to help him land it. I picked it up to take a better look at it and the beast was so big the line sliced through my finger and left a cut for 3 weeks. I enjoyed having it in my boat, but I still wanted one of my own.

One reason I love reading stories about the disciples is that many of them were fisherman. They probably loved it for many of the same reasons I do. But when Christ came calling, He asked them to put down their nets and follow Him (Matt. 4:18-20). And Peter, along with his brother Andrew did it. That is amazing. Did Matthew leave something out? Did it really go down like that: "Hey, you guys, put down your nets, we are going to fish for men." "Ok stranger, I will follow you." What was it exactly that Christ was asking them to do? I think he wasn't telling them not to fish, I think it was more than that, Christ was calling them to forget who they thought they were (fishermen) and pick up a new identity, one firmly planted on the foundation of who they were in Christ.

The thing I can relate to is the fact that after Christ died, Peter picks the nets back up and starts fishing again. Too often in my own life, when I have doubt, when I'm not sure, I don't look to Christ, I look for the old way, the way that used to work, I go back and pick up my nets.

I can picture it: Peter and Andrew are sitting around wondering what just happened the last 3 years and start thinking, "let's do a little fishing to clear our heads, get our mind off of all of this and relax." But they end up not being able to catch a thing. It may be slightly pathetic, but when I go fishing, I think my own self worth is wrapped up in whether or not I catch fish, so I'm guessing when Peter and Andrew didn't catch anything, they weren't able to relax. That is why when this far off character (Jesus) yells to them to throw their nets out the other side of the boat, they actually do it. And, as usual, Jesus comes through with a miracle, 153 fish! Peter then jumps in the water and swims towards Jesus. After fixing Peter breakfast, Christ asks him: "Do you truly love me more than these?" (John 21:15) Donald Miller in his book Searching for God Knows What suggests that "these" in Christ's question is not the disciples, but the fish. In other words, Christ might have been asking Peter, "Didn't I tell you to follow me?"

I should know who I am in Christ, but instead I keep going fishing. I search for my identity in how many fish I catch, how funny I am, how smart I am, how athletic I am, this is what I look to to "define" me. But when I am looking to Him, and am solid in His purpose for my life, I can rest easy knowing that it doesn't matter how many fish I catch.

I have denied him more often than Peter, but Christ is patient. I have times where I just want to pick back up my nets, but Christ is patient. So I remind myself each day to look vertically.

I am however, giving my boat away.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Photo Shoot

I know it is a slight deviation from my usual posts, but I think some of you would love to see some pictures of my family, and I would love to show them off. Here we are at a recent family picture day. This was about as good as it would get with three kids under 5.

Here is our Eva.

Avery and Ally did a little posing on their own.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Theologian Ricky

I met a guy named Ricky yesterday. He is a homeless man who lives downtown. My wife and I led a group from our church downtown to bless the poor with bags full of goodies. Socks, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, Clif bars, and an ice cold bottle of water, among other things, were put in the bags. I handed one to Ricky while he was standing near a street performer. We began talking, and instantly he asked me if I believed in predestination. Ricky started preaching to me, telling me that God loved me and how God looks at a man's heart. It was awesome, one more way that you become blessed when you go downtown to bless the poor and homeless. See, every time I go downtown I go to bless the poor, and I come back to find that God has exposed one more area of brokenness in my own life. The men and women down there end up teaching me more about Christ than I teach them. A lot of these guys are street theologians and have a better grasp on what it means to follow Christ than I do, they live it out every day. Ricky then asked me, "Hey, are you the guy who gave me this bag of stuff?" My heart sunk, and I responded to him that I was, and we practically went through the same conversation over again, with Ricky adding that he was predestined to spread the Word to the "street people." Ricky is a follower of Christ, I know it for sure, even with mental illness, God blesses people through him. I then look at my own self-doubt, and feel foolish when I doubt my own abilities. Then God gently says, but you are nothing if you rely on your own abilities. God uses the weak to teach the strong, people like Ricky show me how prideful I am. Like I have something more to offer God than Ricky does. Looking at Ricky I understand that I can't lean on my own abilities, and better yet, I don't have to.

In Me by
Casting Crowns

if you ask me to leap
out of my boat on the crashing waves
if you ask me to go
preach to the lost world that jesus saves

i'll go, but i cannot go alone
cause i know i'm nothing on my own
but the power of christ in me makes me strong
makes me strong

cause when i'm weak, you make me strong
when i'm blind, you shine your light on me
cause i'll never get by living on my own ability
how refreshing to know you don't need me
so i'll stand on your truth, and i'll fight with your strength
until you bring the victory, by the power of christ in me

if you ask me to run
and carry your light into foreign land
if you ask me to fight
deliver your people from satan's hand

to reach out with your hands
to learn through your eyes
to love with the love of a savior
to feel with your heart
and to think with your mind
i'd give my last breath for your glory

Good Sermon

I need to remind myself of the disciple Stephen. Most people refer to him as Stephen the Martyr, and although he was the first martyr, I don't think that is what he should be remembered for. He was one of 7 disciples to be chosen to lead food distribution to the poor and to reach out to the widows in the community of believers in the early church of Acts. He was known as an excellent leader and speaker, and above all you could say he had extreme faith in the sovereignty of God. When he was falsely accused of speaking blasphemy against Moses and against God (Acts 6:11), he didn't quiet his message, fearing what the people would do. He was eventually pulled before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court, and asked to defend himself, which he did rightly, the entire time knowing that he was speaking his death sentence (Acts 7, read it, it is pretty scathing, good stuff, the kind that gets your own blood flowing). Did he water it down? Did he trim the claws of Judah? Nope, he spoke from the heart, and obviously allowed the Holy Spirit to speak through him. Scary, but he must have fully believed "where O' death, is your sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55) He knew his fate, and kept talking, unashamed, unafraid. Ultimately, he knew who God was. I think that is important, so I will repeat it, he knew who God was, and he was bold in his beliefs because of it.

I believe that a real understanding of God always leads to practical and compassionate actions toward people. That is why I think Stephen knew who God was, he wanted to reach out to the poor and widows. Trust me, I don't believe that I have an understanding of God, far from it, but he is giving me glimpses, and a compassion for the poor and marginalized is what is overflowing from that glimpse.

The main reason I have to remind myself of Stephen's ministry is that it wasn't too long, and probably looked nothing like he had envisioned it. One sermon and then stoned to death. God better be sovereign. He takes a good leader, a great debater and speaker and offs him after one sermon. Just one more reminder that God doesn't need us, no matter how talented we are. God calls us more to be obedient than He does to be good. Whew, that takes some pressure off. We don't see the big picture, only God does, but maybe Stephen's words when he was being stoned "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60) planted a seed into the guy holding the coats, Saul, who two chapters later has his own conversion and becomes possibly the biggest reason for the spread of the Gospel in the early church. I have to be OK with our ministry whether it looks like Paul's, or even if it looks like Stephen's ------ because God is sovereign.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A letter to our church family

Dear Friends and Family,

We are excited about the direction God has us moving in. Many of you we know well, and have been sharing in this journey with us, while others are part of Grace Chapel, our home church, and only know us through an occasional smile and nod every other Sunday. One way or another, we believe God is calling us to communicate to you the exciting adventure He has us on.

God is calling our entire family to the mission field. Not to the traditional “mission field” that many of you are envisioning right now. Rather, in the original “church of Acts” sense, one with an apostolic vision, meaning, we will be traveling from place to place, spreading the mustard seed of God’s love and the Gospel of Christ. We plan to travel the United States intersecting the lives of the poor and marginalized and spreading the love of Christ to them through acts of love and compassion. Some of these acts may be monetary, such as buying a homeless family lunch, or new sleeping bags, or they may be acts of love such as washing a homeless man’s feet and sharing with him the Good News that God loves him. We plan to go to laundry mats and begin conversations about the love of God. We plan to buy pizzas and approach homeless camps under bridges and talk about our hope in Jesus. Sometimes we may show up in an inner city slum and say nothing at all, just provide the basic necessities that the poor so desperately need. As the old adage goes, “preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words.”

We desperately want to begin His Kingdom now. Our vision is not to go around and get people off the street, but to show people that there is hope, and that they are important and loved. We want the people we come across to know that the loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness that is prevalent in our country today is nothing when compared to His love and His hope.

The details. I am a teacher at Woodburn High School, and I plan to resign at the end of this coming school year. We will sell our house sometime this year and with some of the money left over we plan to purchase a used motor home. We will spend the left over cash from the sale of our house on the people that we intersect. We plan to sell all of our belongings and contribute that money to the same fund. We are also in the process of starting a non-profit organization that will allow people to contribute not only to helping the poor, but also to support us through basic living expenses. We also desire a non-profit organization that will have a board of directors who will keep us accountable and help us maintain the vision God has for us. We are very open to God’s leading, and our itinerary will most definitely change. We plan to leave in July of 2008, and as of now, our trip will take us to around fifteen cities throughout the United States and Canada. We will hopefully be able to find a church, faith community, or faith organization that will support us while we are visiting each city. Our plan is to stay at each of these cities for around ten days. We pray that God will lead us to people who are open to His word and that the Holy Spirit speaks to them through our words and our actions.

We know that this ministry will impact the poor and marginalized throughout the areas we travel to, but we are extremely excited about what this is going to teach us as a couple, as parents, and as a family. With three children Avery (4), Allyson (3) and Eva (1), we will be doing plenty of parenting in a 30ft motor home. Ultimately I pray that this ministry will show our kids what it truly means to be a follower of Christ. We fully understand that although this may be an “adventure,” it will also be filled with times of stress, sadness, fear, and exhaustion, but we also believe that we can rely on God, knowing that Christ carried His cross and through His strength we can pick up ours each day and follow Him.

A lot of details need to be worked out, and a lot of miracles need to occur for our journey to begin. We are sending this letter to you for one major reason, we covet your prayers and desire for our home church to walk along side of us as we move towards obedience in Christ. We would appreciate your prayers for the following things:

1) That the stress of quitting my job and living without income will be over-ridden by God’s ever-reaching sovereignty.

2) To sell our house, this is the key to beginning our ministry, and we are truly relying on God to come through.

3) Someone knowledgeable to either a) walk along side us and guide us as we sell our house “by owner,” or b) have a realtor sell our house for very, very low commission.

4) To find a used motor home at a reasonable price that would not only fit our needs as a family of five, but be in good mechanical condition.

5) For someone who is knowledgeable about the process of starting a non-profit organization (accountant, attorney) to come along side us and guide our decisions.

6) A laptop computer in order to keep in touch with supporters of our ministry and keep records of finances, etc.

7) That we will be able to make contacts with churches, faith communities, or faith organizations that will be supportive of our ministry in each of the cities we plan on visiting.

We thank you for taking the time to read this letter. If you have any comments or any questions for us, please talk to us at Grace Chapel, or email us. If you would like to offer support in any way, or would like to receive email updates along the way, please email at:

serenity@sterling.net or andy@sterling.net

Sincerely,

Andy and Serenity Coulombe

Friday, August 24, 2007

Eyes and Ears

One of my biggest struggles and desires thus far in our quest has been to make sure people "get it," that they understand why we are doing it, or better yet, they understand what the gospel is truly saying, and that God is calling them too it as well. I'm coming to the realization that there is nothing that I can say to people, or explain to people that will help them understand. It is actually freeing. To release the grip on my desire to explain things. It is difficult too, it is a selfish desire that people see things my way, not so much that they can experience the freeing power of Christ, rather that we can have a few more people "get it." I have caught myself getting overwhelmingly frustrated with people who don't get it. And then God gently reminds me that for the longest time, I didn't get it either. That is the true nature of the Holy Spirit. He will reveal things to people in His timing. And, sadly, He may never reveal the truth to them either. Conversely, the Spirit may reveal it to them, but for whatever reason they do not listen.

Ezekiel 12:2 says: "They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear."

This is where I can release it. If people, good people, good Christians, ignore what the Holy Spirit is telling them, how could I convince them through talk, through reasoning. I can't, and that is what is so freeing: only the Spirit can guide the hearts of men.

Serenity and I have both come to the realization that many times, God only reveals the true meaning of the Gospel to those who consider themselves true sinners, as Brennan Manning says, "Ragamuffins." We are gradually coming to the realization that GOD DOES NOT NEED US! To some that is offensive, or at least mildly alarming, they say "well, I am inherently good, I am worth something." I believe that God has begun to reveal the Truth to us because we are beginning to understand that we are true ragamuffins, we are true sinners, and we are powerless and ultimately worthless. Would the truth of the gospel really sink into the heart of the [fill in the blank here] who still believes that he has something to offer God? No, he would reject this absurd belief in making himself the least, and taking up his place in the back of the line because he would be too good to be there. Remember, GOD DOES NOT NEED US! This is why people don't get it, God through the Holy Spirit is not calling them, or, they are not listening.

Manning states in his Ragamuffin Gospel "Nothing compares to the kingdom of God. In [the ragamuffin's] eyes its worth is beyond all worth. . . . This is the ragamuffin's secret, which nominal Christians do not understand, but for which martyrs have given their lives. For the sake of the kingdom of God, thousands upon thousands have had their possessions confiscated, homelands seized, and families, careers, and good names sacrificed. The nominal just don't get it. They hear the Word of God, but it does not speak to them interiorly. . . . [they say] You can't pay the rent, cook soup, or puchase a computer with religion. What matters is muscle, intelligence, connections and stronger battalions. The rest is opium for the people. The nominal do not know the secret. The treasure is hidden from their eyes. The values and lifestyle of the ragamuffin rabble are simply incomprehensible."

To so many of our friends and family our coming lifestyle is "incomprehensible."

It is amazing to me how the Spirit works. He (or she, I have read commentary about how the Holy Spirit was spoken and written about in the feminine tense in ancient Greek and Hebrew.) has placed books from authors who have eyes that see and ears that hear the call of Christ into my hands. These books have spoken volumes into my life the past year, and have contributed to the wrestling match between the old way and the new way revealed that is going on in my head. At the risk of sounding as if I steal all of my ideas and thoughts from other authors, let me offer up another addition to this line of thought from the author of The Barbarian Way, Erwin McManus:

"Barbarians [those passionately following Christ by picking up their cross each day] hear a call different from that of civilized Christians. We understand clearly that we follow the God who chose the way of the Cross. If Jesus would not avoid the "place of the skull," then we should not be surprised where He might lead us. If even He found Himself sweating blood at Gethsemane, then we should be certain we will stand at crisis moments where all we can do after asking for relief is declare, "Not my will, but Yours." In those moments you may find very few who stand by you to provide you comfort and strength, and strangely enough, you may find far too many trying to reason with you that God would never require so much of anyone. Yet even with all the noise pounding inside your head, you will still clearly hear the voice of Christ and his barbarian call if you listen carefully enough."

I'm listening and I can hear Him calling, and I truly desire for you to listen for it too.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Forgive and Forget

In the spring of 1997 I was 19 years old and a sophomore at Oregon State University. I had gone to OSU to study fish and wildlife and earn a degree that would let me play outside all day in the woods. What I ended up with was a lot of painful memories from poor decisions I made. I went very quickly from a naive kid from southern Oregon to a drug user and alcoholic. My life revolved around where I could find my next $50 sack, my next case of beer, and while I was wasted, where I could get laid. I got to the point where I was getting in trouble with the law, and even selling drugs to friends of mine.

An amazing attribute of God is that He never holds you with a tight grip. Kinda like my Dad taught me to hold a golf club "Like you are holding a bird: not so loose that he will fly away, but not so tight you will squeeze his head off."

God has a path for you, but he doesn't force you to do anything. You have to choose to follow, to be obedient. YOU have to make decisions. YOU have to make choices. Like the choice to forgive the people who hurt you.

On March 20th, 1997, the night before I left OSU and transfered to Southern Oregon University, I was hammered again. On multiple drugs and finished with who knows how many beers sitting in my friends house. Now when I say "friends," I don't mean in the real sense. None of these guys would help me move, or would talk about real things, about life. None of them would be there for me when I needed them to be, I knew it, they knew it. They were all I had, and I opened up to them on many levels without them really, truly being a friend. That night I faced rejection. A group of friends who I shared little in common with except who we bought drugs from, told me that I was a loser, that I wasn't worth their friendship. At the same time, God embraced me, literally. I was no longer high or drunk, but I was sober, and I distinctly heard God for the first time in my life: "Andy, you are My child and I love you. Get up and leave this house, you are Mine; this is not the life I have for you." And with that I stood up and left that house on 9th and Harrison. Most of those guys I have never seen again.

That was the moment I believe I became a follower of Christ. Yes, there have been ups and downs, lots of them, but this was the point where I started believing in Christ not because my parents wanted me to, or my friends were at Sunday school, but because I knew He was the Way.

One of my biggest struggles since that day, "the day of my conversion," has been to forgive my friends at OSU, or anybody who has hurt me for that matter. It has only been through my realization that I am a loser, and I am worthless that I can truly forgive others. Without Christ I am nothing. I can do nothing to earn His love, He just loves me because I chose Him. Isn't that amazing. I don't have to go to the right church, or even go to "church" at all. We don't have to go on this trip ministering to the poor to earn God's love, He has already given it to us. If He loves me and has forgiven me, a loser and a sinner, why can't I forgive those who have wronged me.

Recently I realized a truth that has clinched it all for me: Not only does God forgive us, He FORGETS it all too. He isn't sitting up on His throne saying: "I love you guys, and I forgive you of all the things you've done," as He makes marks in His Book of Naughty Deeds like Santa Claus. He has FORGOTTEN! My pea sized brain can't fathom or comprehend. I can definitely forgive those guys at OSU, and I have, but I struggle with forgetting the pain they unleashed.

I am reading Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel. In it he says "Christianity happens when men and women accept with unwavering trust that their sins have not only been forgiven but forgotten, washed away in the blood of the Lamb. . . . . 'A sad Christian is a phony Christian, and a guilty Christian is no Christian at all.'"

A true lover of Christ is someone who is not sad or guilty, but overjoyed that God's love will never be taken away from them - no matter who our friends are, or what we have done with them.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, will come between us and separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Romans 8:38-39

Friday, July 27, 2007

God is faithful!

I friend of mine told me that if we meet resistance, or we have internal doubt about our downward spiral, that it should energize us. If you live in complacency, Satan lets you be. If you are pursing God with passion and reckless abandon, Satan gets angry, and ultimately becomes threatened. Satan will constantly feed us doubt.

However, Proverbs 15:22 says:

Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisers they succeed.

I guess the trick is determining which "advisers" are truly seeking the face of God, and which are giving counsel rooted in their own shortcomings, jealousy, and pride.

Last week was a week of doubt. Was this following the will of God? What is His will? What does it even mean? If we are broken and contrite in front of our Lord, is our will His will? Maybe this is crazy. Maybe God doesn't want us to step out right now.

And then we had worship. It is amazing what God can do when you stop looking horizontally and look vertically. As the old hymn goes:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

As I mentioned in the last post, I have tended to lean towards the teaching that goes on from the pulpit rather than opening my eyes to what God has for me when I sing to Him and worship Him while basking in His power and grace. This is what happened last Sunday morning. As I walked into the church not knowing what God was doing, or even more accurately, IF God was doing anything in my life, the words to the worship song spoke directly to me in a life-changing way:

NOT TO US by Chris Tomlin

the cross before me the world behind
no turning back
raise the banner high
it's not for me
it's all for YOU

let the heavens shake and split the sky
let the people clap their hands and cry
it's not for us
it's all for YOU

CHORUS:
not to us
but to YOUR name be the glory
not to us
but to YOUR name be the glory

our hearts unfold before YOUR throne
the only place for those who know
it's not for us
it's all for YOU

send YOUR holy fire on this offering
let our worship burn for the world to see
it's not for us
it's all for YOU
for YOU

the earth is shaking
the mountains shouting
it's all for YOU
the waves are crashing
the sun is raging
it's all for YOU

the universe is spinning and singing
it's all for YOU
YOUR children dancing
dancing
dancing
dancing
it's all for YOU
it's all for YOU
my all for YOU
my all for YOU

When we stop focusing on our circumstances and our surroundings and begin to look to the Lord Almighty, everything else just fades away. There was no doubt in my mind that God was telling me: "Right on, keep pressing towards me, you are my child and I love you." This erased ALL doubt, how could it not!

Later that day I was listening to another worship song called "My Will" by DC Talk:

My Will by DC Talk

I'm setting the stage for the things I love
And I'm now the man I once couldn't be
Nothing on earth could now ever move me
I now have the will and the strength a man needs

(chorus)
Its my will, and Im not moving
Cause if its your will, then nothing can shake me
Its my will, to bow and praise you
I now have the will to praise my god

Complexity haunts me for I am two men
Entrenched in a battle that Ill never win
My discipline fails me, my knowledge it fools me
But you are my shelter, all the strength that I need

(repeat chorus)

I'm learning to give up the rights to myself
The bits and the pieces Ive gathered as wealth
Could never compare to the joy that you bring me
The peace that you show me is the strength that I need

God was whispering to His child: "bow and praise me, and everything will be OK." When you hear God in this way, you can't go on worrying about the details. GOD IS FOR US, NOT AGAINST US! He will show us the way!

The Chuch Was Dead - Literally

When Serenity and I first moved to Wilsonville we started looking for a church to attend. We didn't have any kids then, and we had only been married for a year or so. My maturity as a Christian was infantile, and I was not allowing Christ to work in my life. I had many issues, the usual for any man, pride, sexual addiction, more pride, some father wound, you know, the usual. My theory when looking for a church was to find one that "fed" us. A body that spoke to us through strong teaching from the pulpit. The music and the worship that ensued meant little to me, and it played a very minor role in my equation to find a good church. Seren was nearly the complete opposite. It is the left brain / right brain argument. We probably went to 6 or 7 churches before finally settling on Grace Chapel, which has played probably the most significant role in challenging us to be more open to God, and allowing him to work in our lives. The relationships we have forged there are ones we will have for our lifetime. It is an awesome, God centered and loving church, and God definitely directed us to it.

During our search, we came across a little church we decided to give a shot one Sunday. That morning we had been arguing about, you guessed it, what church we should go to. We pulled up in the parking lot, still fuming and approached the greeter at the front door, who happened to be150 and on an oxygen machine. "Just a very eager elderly gentleman, press on, see what is inside," I told myself. As we made our way across the foyer, late all be it, the congregation stopped in the tracks to see these new (and young) attendees. We smiled and nodded as we walked into the sanctuary and quickly found a couple of seats in the pew two from the back. We were hands down, no question the youngest people by far on the church grounds. We joked later that the playground equipment was actually there just to trick younger individuals into thinking people of child bearing age actually attended the service. The congregation was singing "Kum ba ya." I am serious, no joke. It gets better though, the pastor, who was also leading the congregation in the hymn, continued singing and walked all the way back to where we were standing and pointed to the page number in his hymnal and then smiled and returned to the front of the sanctuary. After we completed the hymn, the congregation was instructed to be seated and then another hymn began. I leaned to Serenity and said "let's go." She said in a very pained expression, "we can't." I retorted, "are we going to become members here?" Not waiting for her response, I continued, "why sit through an hour and a half of agony when we could have 30 seconds of agony now as we leave quietly through the back doors." And at that, we walked out without making eye contact with anyone. I know, cowardly, but it was for the best, trust me. This story is one of the reasons why I believe God has a sense of humor.

Within two weeks we had found Grace Chapel and have attended ever since.

I'm not sure if that experience would be too much different today, but what I do know is that the Holy Spirit has worked in my life where I was at. If you draw closer to Him, He will draw closer to you. Time and time again, He has presented the opportunity for me to die to self and be renewed in Him. Time and time again, He has presented the opportunity to stretch my faith and trust in Him. Through all of this, He has given me freedom over sexual addiction, over the pain of a father wound, and begun to squash my pride under the weight and power of His grace, mercy and love.