Let God Build

Men build religions.

Webster’s dictionary defines religion as an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods. German philosopher and anthropologist Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach wrote in The Essence of Christianity that man creates God in His own image. In many ways, I find this to be true.

Humankind’s broken relationship with the one true God leads it to build religions in place of a relationship with God. Why? Because there is a cost involved. The cost is surrender of our lives to Jesus Christ. God’s ways are not our ways, and yet His ways are the only path to experiencing joy and peace in this life and the next.

I was recently reading the book of Amos in the Old Testament, and this passage jumped out at me:

“I hate; I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:21-24, New International Version

Here is the passage again from The Message translation, which brings a more modern perspective to the passage:

“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” Amos 5:21-24, The Message

CRISTA Ministries has a big dream: A dream to see individuals summited to Christ and our organization unified in its mission.

It is not our job to make things happen spiritually through our wisdom or to decide what difference we are making. Our job is to submit to Christ together and individually.

Here’s how we do this:

Pray intensely and intentionally without ceasing. “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18

Act on what we hear God saying. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” James 1:22 -25

Do the hard, daily (and sometimes boring) work. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Be patient and plant seeds. It will take longer and be more difficult than you think. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a tiny mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds but becomes the largest of plants, and grows into a tree where birds can come and find shelter.” Matthew 13:31-32

Together we are on a costly and joyfully journey. Come join us!

Stand Firm, Walk Boldly

CRISTA’s annual week of prayer is coming up February 8-12, and I hope you’ll join me in lifting up our ministries here in Shoreline, and all over the world. The purpose of this week is to remind us that our work is only valuable if it springs from a personal and corporate commitment to worship Him, hear His voice, and reflect His Spirit.

We want to connect with the places where God is at work and get aligned with His purpose and His way of operating. This is often unnatural to us, so we need reminders. We have the privilege at CRISTA to take time to pray during our regular work schedule, but CRISTA’s Prayer Week is a special time set aside to focus as a Corporate Body on what God is saying.

We have a full week of events planned throughout the week. The climax of the week is Friday’s Day of Prayer and Worship, where our entire staff gathers to acknowledge that “without Jesus we can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We worship, pray, confess our sin, and bask in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is how we continue to be refreshed and renewed in what God has called CRISTA to do for the past 63 years. Our theme this year is “STAND FIRM.” The verse we chose reminds us that we are on the same path that our founder Mike Martin started walking many years ago.

1 Corinthians 15:58 says, “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (MSG) The “all this” is referring to the entire book of 1 Corinthians. Paul affirms the Corinthians to STAND FIRM, by remembering and acknowledging God’s power through Christ’s death and resurrection. And we have that same power, that same “all this” going for us – thanks to Christ.

If the Gospel is true, we are to find our footing in CHRIST, and our joy in knowing Him and following His leading – regardless of what we see through our circumstances. We are called to STAND FIRM – because when we STAND on the solid rock of Jesus, we have a firm footing for anything that comes our way.

We’re Just Pilgrims Passing Through

The last month I attended three memorial services of people I knew well. Each service had several important similarities. First, they were all packed to capacity with family, friends and admirers. Second, people came from near and far to celebrate their lives.

Yes, I said celebrate.

People were present for the celebration of a life well lived. As the services celebrated each person’s life, a central fact permeated loud and clear. These three lives focused on loving God first and then manifesting that love in their relationships with family, friends and the work they were called to do. It was inspiring.

The airwaves are full of stories of tragedy and evil. These people and so many others hold our world together through everyday acts of love and kindness. The difference they make is only partly demonstrated by the crowds that showed up to honor these three men.

Howard Inouye was called to be an engineer at Boeing and then a long-term math teacher at King’s Schools. Everywhere he went he spread joy and knowledge by being an inspirational example of what it means to live a Christ-focused life everywhere he went… at home, work, and play.

Rick Roberts was called to be a pastor. He worked with kids in Young Life and then served in the local church. All of this in urban ministry. He was one of the most courageous and brave people I have known. He faced daunting challenges in both his work and personal health while maintaining a clear focus on the greater purpose of demonstrating His own personal love for Jesus in a way that others could clearly see.

Phil Smart, Jr. was called to be a car dealer. Phil was a man of bright personality, intense commitment to his co-workers, family, friends and anyone else he ran encountered. He overcame difficult personal challenges along his journey, devoting himself to a continually growing relationship with Jesus Christ. His relationship with God spilled out to everyone around him, not in religious language but in a personal presence of love and care for everyone he encountered.

None of these short comments do these three men justice. My point is that in spite of whatever came their way, these men demonstrated how powerful it is to live a life that is centered around a growing, transforming relationship with Christ. This in turn leads to becoming a person of humility who is a giver of all they have for the good of others. Thanks Howard, Rick and Phil for showing me the way.

Guarding Your Heart

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it,” Proverbs 4:23

“As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart,” Proverbs 27:19

I recently typed the word “heart” into a New Testament word search. There are 149 verses that use the word heart in them. So I tried typing in a ‘heart’ search in the Psalms and Proverbs. 202 verses came up, just in those two books alone.

Most of these verses indicate that the heart is of central importance in our life. It is a repository of good or evil. I don’t want to get into some theoretical discussion of what exactly the Bible is referring to when it uses the word ‘heart.’ I know intuitively that no matter whatever it is, it is important enough for me to pay attention to. I have to guard my heart because everything I do flows from it.

Eventually, what is in our hearts comes out.

For the better or for the worse, as much as we try, many of the emotions, feelings, thoughts and words that come from within are beyond our control. Anger from someplace deep inside comes out, sometimes takes us by surprise. Those inward feelings have the potential to not only control us, but also destroy our own self-image and relationships with each other. Lust for wealth, sex or anything else we desire comes from someplace deep inside of us and can often consume us.

Man’s heart is not naturally turned toward the good, beautiful and wondrous parts of life. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Evil thoughts. Murder. Adultery. Slander. Not such a pretty picture, yet we see this brokenness everyday around us personally – and in the news, for sure. Unfortunately, the state of our heart is reflected in our actions. “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart” (Proverbs 27:19). We will be found out.

Guarding our heart is not something we do once when we decide to follow Jesus. The Lord is after a complete redo of our heart that takes life-time attention as we yield to Him and His spirit pouring life into us each day. God’s desire for us is that we be filled with His spirit in our hearts and become more like Him each day. This is a high calling indeed. It is a long-term obedience in the same direction over your lifetime.

So how do we guard our hearts?

  1. Understand that God wants you to know you are loved unconditionally – just the way you are – and at the very same time, will give you the resources to become more like Jesus. This is a very high and holy calling.
  2. Learn that God’s ways are not our ways. In Isaiah 55:8 it says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”
  3. Change your mind. The changing of the heart comes by changing your mind. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)
  4. We learn something when we do it. Isaiah 50:10, “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.”
  5. I think you will find that the natural response you feel when you fully understand, learn and obey is a pure joy in God’s goodness and for a heart that pours forth worship. John 4:23 says, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

As you guard your heart, give yourself lots of grace and mercy in the process – just like the Lord bestows on you. It takes a lifetime of learning. God understands us, loves us, and relentlessly pursues us – more than we could ever imagine.

The Questions Jesus Asked

I was reading an interview with a well-known leader who explained how he never spoke first in meetings. Instead, he always started with a question.

I was immediately reminded of the questions Jesus asked in the New Testament. Some could think of Jesus primarily as a preacher or teacher, but so much of the New Testament records his conversations with individuals. He asked over one hundred questions during these encounters. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Why are you so afraid? (Matthew 8:26)
  • Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? (Matthew 9:4)
  • Who do you say I am? (Matthew 16:15)
  • What is it you want? (Matthew 20:21)
  • What do you want me to do for you? (Mark 10:51)
  • Do you want to get well? (John 5:6)

These questions seem pretty straightforward, but they go so much deeper. I spent some time reflecting on each of them in the last few days, and as I ruminated on these questions in my own life, I landed on two things I’d recommend for you that have helped me grow deeper in my relationship with Jesus.

First, consider asking more questions in your relationships with others. Great questions asked in a curious and caring tone can change the nature of the relationships we all have. Now remember, this won’t work if it is a tactic or if you’re not particularly interested in the person or the answer. Instead, you have to engage and have sincere interest in their answers.

Secondly, answer for yourself Jesus’ six questions above. Find a quiet place and take some time to think on them and answer truthfully. Write down your answers (Jesus said if we ask, we will receive). For me, these questions provoked some really hard thinking. Maybe they will do the same for you.

May the Lord bless you and give grace as you grow in your relationship with Him.

sig-blonac

The Lavish Love of God

Rock Creek, Montana

Rock Creek, Montana

Every year for the past thirty years I have gone fly fishing. For the last ten years, I’ve fished with a great friend named Larry. We choose a river somewhere in Montana, hang out, and fish all-day every-day for a week. And I mean fish. We hire a guide some days or go by ourselves and wade in the river on others. Either way, we get up early in the morning and fish until dark. It is one of the few times each year that I have no responsibility and nothing I have to do. It is a completely restorative time. That is why I keep going back.

I am a doer. I like working and accomplishing things, whether it is at CRISTA or at home. I can’t sit still for long. So, during the first few days of this year’s fishing trip I set out as usual to catch (and release) as many fish as I could. About the third day it dawned on me: “I don’t have to hurry anymore or get anything done today.” I challenged myself to go slow and enjoy the experience.

I sat by the river and told myself to relax and stay put for an hour. To make sure I didn’t move too soon, I timed myself at first. I found a flat rock where I could keep my feet in the cool water. I noticed a dark dipper bird diving underneath the water to feed on bugs. Then I saw a kingfisher dive from a tree branch to scoop up a fish in its beak. Amazing. Then, an osprey dove straight into the river and came up with a large fish, returning to its nest on top of a dead tree to feed its young. I reveled in the beauty of the mountains, the sky, and the river as it flowed cool and clear.

I began to thank God for the beauty of His creation. His presence slowly enveloped me. Spontaneously I asked Him, “What do You want me to do with the rest of my life to serve You?” Like a lightning bolt the stunning answer came. “Nothing.”

“Really God, nothing?”
“Yes, nothing. Just be with Me,” He said.

A few days later, I returned home and sat with my wife Kathleen in our family room to debrief the time. While I was gone, she had different grandkids over each day. They all have such unique personalities, which makes them so special. One wanted to go play sports, another shopping, some exploring, others staying home.

Then, she stopped and contemplated one very special moment. When Kathleen asked one of our grandsons what he wanted to do, he came over to her, gave her a big hug, and said, “Grammy, I love you and I just want to be with you.” It was the highlight of her week.

I hope you get the connection between our relationship with God and my wife’s experience with our grandson. God doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t need us to do anything for Him. He simply wants us to be with Him and experience the lavish love he has bestowed on us through His creation and in His Son, Jesus Christ.

I John 3:1 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God…”

The definition of ‘lavish’ is to expend or give in great amounts or without limit. This word is used six times in the Bible. Very few humans can love like this, if any. Understanding and accepting the love of God and knowing through faith that we are His sons and daughters, regardless of what we do or don’t do, is a transforming experience. Learning to accept and live into this lavish-love is a life-long journey.

We are adopted sons and daughters of the Creator of the universe. We have been given unending love out of the limitless resources of His personhood. My prayer for you and me is that we can rest in the lavish love of God, knowing that there is nothing we need to do but accept that it’s all we need.

sig-blonac

The Miracle of Seattle Urban Academy

This month I attended Seattle Urban Academy’s (SUA) “Miracle Event.” This is the annual dinner celebrating God’s work at SUA while raising support to keep it thriving. You might think it is hard to schedule a miracle. Yet every year I walk away feeling like I just experienced more than one.

Seattle Urban Academy is a positive, educational community where students at risk develop academic, social, and spiritual maturity to graduate from high school and transition to higher education and sustained employment. Do you want to hear some incredible statistics? Take this:

Nationally, an average of 10% of at-risk students complete a post-graduate program. But at Seattle Urban Academy, 80% of graduates who enter a four year college, junior college or an employment training program complete their endeavor. Now that is a miracle.

The school is small by design. Average attendance is 35 students. This year nine students will graduate. Two have received a full ride scholarship to Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., and six others are going to accredited universities and community colleges this coming fall. Again, more miracles.

Some other miracles we have seen at SUA:

  • 96% of SUA seniors graduate
  • 91% of SUA graduates go on to higher education or sustained employment within a year of graduation.
  • 65% of SUA graduates are employed vs. 25% of Washington-state youth
  • New enrollees earn an average of 278% more credit their first quarter at SUA than the average credit earned per quarter at their previous schools.

God is at work, and it is such a privilege to be part of the miracle story he is writing through SUA.

Believing,
Bob Lonac
Bob Lonac
President & CEO of CRISTA Ministries

Why Prayer Week?

2 Corinthians 2:12 – 6:13 is the apostle Paul’s summary of Christ’s work on earth. This is a significant passage that goes deep. It is a section referred to as “The New Covenant.” Paul calls us ambassadors, fellow workers with God, servants of God. Ambassadors speak with the full authority of the Head of State (Jesus for us) but they do so under his direct guidance. Ambassadors do not wander off on their own and then ask for him to ‘ok’ their decisions.

God has a purpose not just in the big sense but in our everyday lives. We are not on a mission for God, we are on a mission with God, directed by the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. We are empowered when we welcome His Spirit into everything we do, looking to Him for direction and understanding. We do not get our joy primarily from what He accomplishes through us, but in experiencing a deepening relationship with Him.

Our annual Prayer Week at CRISTA is coming up February 2nd–6th, 2015. At CRISTA, we firmly believe that God wants to align our vision with His calling through prayer. The purpose of Prayer Week is to collectively lift up and entrust CRISTA Ministries at the beginning of the year and pray boldly and specifically about how God will use us through our ministries to bring glory and honor to Him.

I invite you to join me in the events and programs during Prayer Week in February, praying on your own or as a group during the week and then continuing throughout the year.

How will you join Prayer Week this year? See the schedule below and mark your schedule!

Prayer Week Schedule

Creating Trust Through Transparent Conversations

A leader within CRISTA Ministries said to me recently, “Transparency is almost always your best friend.” I have been thinking a lot about the concept of transparency, and what the Bible has to say about it. In a day and age when everyone seems to calculate their statements and responses in order to project the image they want —  or not offend others, or gain votes, or  win trust — I am realizing more and more the accuracy of the biblical teaching from Ephesians 4:15: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Speaking the truth in love is not an easy thing for most of us. Actually pulling this off requires us to:

Walk in humility. Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” How we communicate openly and honestly is just as important as what we communicate. The tone of humility and grace helps pave the way for openness on the part of others.

Have a team of people you trust to help you see reality and gain wisdom. No one sees the whole picture. No one knows the truth completely. A group of people around us helps us see things from others’ perspectives. I John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” This fellowship not only keeps us in the light, but it helps us speak the truth in love.

Speak the truth as you see it with courage and a tone of tenderness. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Be open to others who speak the truth to you. Not being defensive personally or professionally is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. Proverbs 18:2 says, “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.

I want to help others in my life grow and become everything God made them to be. Building a Christian ministry that reflects God’s desire to bring His Kingdom down to earth is a challenge, but it is well worth it.

I aspire to be transparent in conversations with my family and friends. I hope you noted that this is a lifestyle – it is not about adopting this as a tactic that rings hollow to those we are engaged with. I know how freeing and how challenging it can be to be open and honest in your communication with others. There is always some risk! Yet the other options just don’t sound that good to me.

Every Little Thing Means A Lot

You’ve probably heard of the New York Times bestseller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff by Dr. Richard Carlson. Every little bit counts.I copied this snippet from the book’s Amazon listing: “Are the little things in life driving you crazy? Isn’t it time you put these small annoyances into perspective once and for all?”

This #1 New York Times bestseller offers suggestions for daily changes that can add up to a more relaxed, stress-free life. Richard Carlson reveals ways to calm down, live in the present moment, let others have the glory at times, lower your tolerance to stress, trust your intuitions, and ultimately live each day as if it might be your last.

I have not read this book, but I get the point and agree with it.

But the title of this blog, “Every Little Thing Means a Lot,” is also true.

Everything communicates. Our body language, the tone of our voice, the exact content of the words we use. The font, the color and the size of the words we read. The accuracy of the things we say. The things we do, the things we don’t do.

I have an appreciation for good lawyers, because this is something they grasp. Details matter so much that they get paid real money to worry about them.

Leaders need to pay attention to the details.

For instance:

  • Don’t sign anything you have not read or don’t understand. Ugh. It is hard work to go the extra mile with proofing. It takes time and most often the document is fine anyway. When you have a leadership role in your family or at work, know and act like signing something means you are acknowledging its value.
  • Send well-written and well thought-out thank you notes. Few people do this anymore, even fewer make them sound personal. When I receive these and they are well done, I become more of a fan of the person who sent it.
  • Make good on your word. Do what you say. Through your follow-through, trust is built or diminished. Quit saying you will call someone to get together when you never intend to. This habit quickly wears down trust. I keep a note card in my pocket and write down what I promise.
  • Remember birthdays, anniversaries and important dates.
  • Learn people’s names. One of the most important words we hear is the sound of our own names.
  • While walking around our campus I witnessed one of our Vice Presidents bend down and pick up some litter and throw it in the trash. This was not in the job description, but man, was I impressed!
  • A person I work with on campus always rises when someone enters their office. This shows value and appreciation for the person paying a visit. I am trying to do the same thing.

The list could go on. Make your own. My point is that these things may seem small to us, but to others they will probably have a big effect. Have fun doing random acts that make a big difference.

Bob Lonac
President & C.E.O. of CRISTA Ministries