Friday, October 28, 2011

Wedding Thoughts

Tomorrow is two weeks before our wedding.  It is very odd in some ways, something that I've looked forward to for so long and that Dana and I have looked forward to together for quite some time as well.  There have been lots of preparations, lots of thoughts and planning, but as I look forward to that time the overwhelming sense I get is one of unpreparedness.  In so many ways its hard to believe that the day is less than a month away; the funny thing is that a year ago we thought we would already be married at this point, but it still seems like it is a long way off.  Maybe some of that is due to the fact that it has been pushed off so many times, so now that it is actually coming around it is hard to believe that this time its for real.  Or it could be the fact that I've started a new job in the past month and with all the newness related to that it is hard to comprehend starting something else so very new so very soon.  Or it could just be the fact that this will be the most important day of my adult life, and it is natural, in some ways, to both anticipate it as well as repress thoughts of it.

Overall, I must say that I am very excited, and perhaps the biggest reason it is hard to imagine getting married in two weeks is the fact that I feel like we already are.  So much has happened in the past few months that has required us to work closely together and to rely on each other, and we've made some large life transitions together with me interviewing at Swamp and starting in my new roles here, that in many ways it seems like our lives have already pulled into one.

But yet there is the anticipation of so much more.  In two weeks many of the simple life decisions that I make (such as how I clean up after myself, how I do the laundry, how I cook dinner, even how I clip my toenails!) will not only effect me, they will also effect Dana.  Soon, when I make decisions, and not just large ones such as what job I have and where I live, but little intricate things of life, like what I'll eat for dinner and whether I'll go out at night or stay at home, will not only effect me, they will effect Dana as well.  And I have great excitement about that, there is the sense of anticipation, the joy of sharing life with someone, but there is also some anxiety about it.

And so I find myself at this place, two weeks before our wedding, both anticipating the day but also struggling to remember that it is not that far away, and all of these things draw my mind towards a passage that I think is very important for me to remember.  Ephesians 5:25-30:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body.
 My prayer is that in the coming weeks and months I would remember this anticipation, that I would remember the desire to share life with Dana, that when things get tough I would look at how blessed we are, and how blessed I am to have her.  But most of all, I hope that I can keep my gaze firmly focused on Christ, that I can remember how it is that he loves us so that I can turn around and love Dana, that I can make the choices along the way to give myself for her, and most of all that through our relationship she would be drawn closer to God.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Root of Bitterness

I found this to be a provocative illustration of Hebrews 12:15 when it speaks of the "root of bitterness".  How often our lack of forgiveness and unwillingness to address something outright can lead to a root of bitterness, a poison tree, living in our lives.

A Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

William Blake

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

John the Baptist - Not Receiving What You Want

This past week at Senior Youth we read Matthew 3 and discussed it a bit.  I had some notes in my Bible from a previous time reading through Matthew, but they really stuck out to me again, so I thought I'd share.

In Matthew 3 we are introduced to John the Baptist, the man preparing the way for the Lord.  He is so radical in his life for God that he lives alone in the desert, he eats weird and wacky things, and he isn't afraid to criticize and even insult the leading political and religious party right in public (of course they can't throw him out of synagogue or town because he's already outside of it all...hmmm...maybe a lesson for us.  We may speak and act like we have nothing to lose in sharing our faith if we really had nothing to lose.  But that's a side point.)

So John has given everything that he is, everything that he has, to follow God's calling on his life and to prepare the way for the Lord, for Jesus.  And his message is as such, because he even tells them, "I baptize you with water for repentance.  But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."  Imagine that!  So here's this guy with all these people coming out to be baptized by him and to hear him speak and his message is, "Hey guys, I'm not the real deal.  I'm just the precursor.  I'm just here to get you looking and seeking so that you're awake and alert when the real thing comes along."  What humility!

And then he does, or should I say, He does.  Jesus comes along, he comes right to John where he is baptizing; this man whom John has been speaking about and prophesying, the one who will be great and mighty, who will baptize with the Spirit and fire, and here he is, in front of John, asking John to baptize Him!

And now, when we understand all of this, it makes the next sentence so much more clear.  John says, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"  I've heard many people puzzle over what this means.  Why would John want to be baptized?  Jesus wasn't out baptizing people, why would John expect Jesus to baptize him?  Because John's message was that Jesus would baptize people.  John wanted to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire!!

But he never was.

This is the sad story of John the Baptist from which we each can learn some lessons.  Think of John, wasting away in prison, thinking through his life and his message, thinking "Where is the fire and the Holy Spirit?"  The one thing that John longed for, the one thing that John preached for, the one thing that he asked Jesus for, he was never to receive.  John died before the Spirit came in tongues of fire on Pentecost and the final piece of John's message was fulfilled.

What is it that you long for?  What is the one thing that you just wish God would do?  What are those things that you find yourself talking about spiritually and wondering if they will ever be accomplished?
Are you getting tired of waiting?  Are you getting tired of talking and praying and seeing no fruit?  Are you wondering if you were wrong all along, if this is maybe not God's will?
May the story of John the Baptist encourage you to keep pressing on no matter what the outcome.  May you never tire of the things that God has placed on your heart but continue to proclaim them and to live them out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Intentional Mission and Living Outside of the Christian Bubble

I read this article last week and found it to be extremely helpful.  I myself became convicted about the Christian bubble that I lived in while I was in high school.  I grew up in a Christian home, most of my activities were through church clubs and youth group, I played in a Christian band with my family, I attended Christian school and was then home schooled, and on and on I could go.
While I was in high school I became convicted about the fact that I had no friends outside of the church, and so I started attending Bucks County Community College.  My favorite place to hangout was on the front steps with the smokers (yes, my parents feared that I would end up with lung cancer...), but what I found to be amazing is that I had deeper spiritual discussions with these people than I had ever had with my Christian friends.
There was the ex-Jehovah's Witness who had toyed with paganism and Druid practices but didn't really believe in anything.  He was mostly hoping to graduate from college and achieve a "normal" 9-5 life (he was in his 30's and had worked nights most of his life).
And then there was the atheist who wanted to discuss physics and the probability of a God existing.  He also liked to tell stories of peeing out of his 3rd story window in Quakertown at 2 in the morning because he was so drunk.  He challenged me both intellectually and spiritually.
And there was the brain injured NA addict (yes, he was addicted to Narcotics Anonymous) who should have been attending SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) judging from his conversation and constant flirting with girls who were obviously not interested.

I could go on and on, but I actually have a point I'm trying to make...

When it came time to make that big decision as to which college to attend I had most of my friends and family pushing me towards a Christian college.  They had a fear of the interaction of a Christian teen with the secular culture, but I looked at it and thought, "I'm planning on being a missionary.  How will I be able to handle going to a culture where I am immersed in secular life and have no Christian contacts if I can't even attend a secular university?!"  And so I attended West Chester University and made more friends outside of that Christian bubble.

But now fast-forward to the present, to me right here today.  I find that I have slowly and all too easily slipped back into old habits and old ways of thinking.  I made attempts in this past year, while working at Christ Community Bible Church, to live outside the bubble.  I had the diner that I ate at twice a week for 3-4 months in order to build relationships, but just around the time that I started building those relationships I lost my focus on why I was doing it, got consumed with the amount of money I was shelling out for it, and stopped going.  And then there was the bar that I started going to on a weekly basis, but then I started to wonder/worry what people at church would think if they found out I was regularly eating/drinking at a bar, and my mind also once again turned to the amount of money I was shelling out (bars are a bit more expensive than diners...) and so I stopped.

So now, as I start a new job, begin at a new church, start a new marriage, I am once again confronted with the question of, How will I live outside the bubble?  Although the question becomes even more complex because it is now, How will we (Dana and I) live outside the bubble?  How will I lead a youth group that intentionally lives outside the bubble?  How will I lead the congregation in worship that intentionally pushes them outside the bubble?

And so I start this all off with a blog post, remembering the past, assessing the present, pushing towards the future, and asking you the question, How will you live outside the bubble?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Prayer Letter

I sent this letter to the prayer chain at Christ Community Bible Church this week.  Thought I would share it here as well.

We asked for so much prayer in the past few months that I thought it was appropriate to share some answers that God has brought along. Swamp Mennonite Church voted on my position as Minister of Music and Worship / Youth Pastor last Sunday (October 2) and God blessed us with a confirming vote of 98 positive out of 98 votes. It was truly an answer to prayer! (Although there's one man who still insists he voted no :) It seems like every church needs a jokester.)
And then, this past week we signed a lease on the 24th apartment that I looked into (I didn't drag Dana along for all 24 of them). We have our keys and our lease officially starts tomorrow (October 12) which is exactly one month before our wedding! We will be living at 15 S. Main St Quakertown, PA 18951. I will move in in the next few weeks and then Dana will join me after our honeymoon.
We are definitely experiencing a mix of emotions right now. We're excited, happy, scared, tired, thankful, and many other things.
Thank you for all of your prayers and your loving support. You are a great church family and we miss you already. Sunday mornings are still especially difficult as there are reminders all around of what we are leaving behind, so you can continue to pray that in those moments we would look to Christ and remember all that He left behind in coming to us. Pray that we would humble ourselves and be willing to serve those around us, and also that we would be able to quickly build solid relationships that provide us the love and support in this branch of the family of God.

Sorry, this got long, but a lot has happened in the past month.
In Christ,
Nathan (and Dana)

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Cost of Discipleship

I just came across a paper I wrote my senior year of high school.  I enjoyed reading it so much that I decided to add it as a page here at the top of my blog.  I hope that you find it encouraging and convicting in your walk with the Lord.  It is a bit long but I just read through it in about 10 minutes, so if you have the time feel free to take a look at it.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Responses to Pain

It seems to me that there are five possible ways for a person to deal with emotional pain.

1)  The first way that a person tends to deal with pain is reciprocation.  This is the natural sinful desire to hurt someone back for the hurt that they've caused you.  However, in our more ethically advanced society this does not always come out as direct backlashes, rather it comes out through hateful attitudes, indifference towards the person, doing the things that drive them nuts.  Sometimes we don't even know why we're doing it, but deep down inside it traces back to the hurt they've caused us.  A lot of times these hurtful / hateful habits start with one simple decision to not speak to someone or to not do something that we normally do to care for them.  If we can stop ourselves from making that first decision to act in an unloving way it seems to me that we would keep ourselves off the slippery slope of reciprocation.

2)  The second way is somewhat a halfway point between the first and third, so I won't say much about it.  Sometimes we don't reciprocate to the person who offended us (for whatever reason, intimidation being a common one) but instead take out or emotional pain, hurt, and anger on someone or something else that is around us.  It has been said, "Hurting people hurt people" which is often true, however I still believe it is only one of the options.

3)  The third way that people deal with pain or hurt is to just accept it.  They decide that it is not worth retaliating and they are not willing to make someone else hurt for them so instead they take it in and they just hurt, A LOT.  Unfortunately this has been painted as the Christian approach to pain by many, but it is actually very contrary to the Christian understanding of forgiveness, but we'll get to that later.  The problem with this approach is that our hearts, our emotions, cannot sustain this level of pain if we never release it, so this tends to come out in explosive anger or self-destruction.  In fact, I believe that part of the rise of self-destructive habits in our culture (such as cutting) is due to the fact that option 1 and 2 have become less and less socially acceptable, as well as option 4 and 5 as we will see, so more people must turn to option 3, which only tears them apart.

4)  The fourth way that people deal with pain is somewhat of a hybrid between option 3 and 5, so again I won't say much about it although I could (and probably should).  The fourth thing that people do when they are in extreme emotional pain is to take it out on God.  They get angry at God, they shake their fist at God, they yell at God, they curse God.  Interestingly, most Christians would see this as the least Christian response out of any of those yet named, however when you read through the Psalms you start to get the idea that this may be as close to the truth as we've gotten yet.  I believe that there is a place for this response to pain and hurt IF it leads us into the fifth way to deal with pain.

5)  The fifth way that people deal with pain is to give it up to God.  This is when someone says, "This is too much for me to bear, dear Lord, please take this from me."  This was Jesus' response in the Garden of Gethsemane when he pleaded with God to take the cup from him, interestingly God did not but by Jesus giving up the pain, by him pleading his case to his father, he was able to then bear up under it.  Too often people confuse option 3 and option 5 because they tend to have the same short-range results.  When people take the pain on themselves the result is that they do not act out against another person, and when people give the pain up to God the result is that they do not act out against another person.  However, the difference is not in what they do not do but in what they DO.  The person who takes the pain on themselves becomes self-consumed, they either end up feeling high and mighty and like they are better than anyone else or they end up feeling like crap and hating themselves, but the person who gives their pain up to God is freed to love no matter what, to accept the circumstances (NOT the pain, that they've given away) and continue to love and live for God despite them.  In fact, the person who has taken this approach will actually love MORE when they are hurt, because when they give the pain up to God they will see their own sin, their own faults, their own failures, and it will give them a compassion and sympathy for the person who has hurt them.  In options 1 and 2 you don't love others because they become objects to inflict your pain on, in options 3 and 4 you don't love others because in your mind THEY should be loving YOU (because you have so much pain), but in option 5 you are freed from any of this and are suddenly able to love.

So cast your cares upon him because he cares for you.  He is more than able to take them upon himself, in fact, he wants to take them upon himself.  You don't have to bear them any longer, you don't have to cause others to bear them any longer, you can be freed and you can love.  There is that split second when someone hurts you where you decide what to do with it.  Some people immediately scheme about what to do back, others go and yell at someone or break something, others ignore it and simply internalize it, still others get mad at God and shake their fists; but in that split second, make it your conviction, your desire, your impulse to turn to God and say "Father, take this cup from me, it is more than I am able to bear.  I know that Jesus already took this pain upon himself, I know that he already bore this sin, I know that he loved even when he was spit upon and beaten, send your Holy Spirit to put the same love in my heart."