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Surrender to Christ

Our Big Dream at CRISTA is to be fully surrendered to Christ and united in our mission. Recently, I had a conversation with someone who said, “I don’t think I am fully surrendered to Jesus. Maybe I am not a good enough Christian to work here.” First, I love the honesty and transparency this person showed. Second, I wanted to say, “Me, too”.

Surrendering can be something we do at a particular time in our lives or a realization that occurs to us over time. It is when we want to turn the reins of our life over to the Lord. The rest of our life is a process of relinquishing our own will to His as we grow into a closer relationship with Him. There are ups and downs. One of the tensions I experience is that the closer I sense God’s presence, the more I know His Holiness and realize my own smallness.

Psalm 103:13-16 says,

“As a father has compassion on his children,

so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed,

he remembers that we are dust.

The life of mortals is like grass,

they flourish like a flower of the field;

the wind blows over it and it is gone,

and its place remembers it no more.”

After reading this, I looked up the definition of the word surrender:

  1. to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession of on demand
  2. to give (oneself) up, as to the police.
  3. to give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc.
  4. to give up, abandon, or relinquish (comfort, hope, etc.).
  5. to yield or resign (an office, privilege, etc.) in favor of another.
  6. to give oneself up, as into the power of another; submit or yield.

Surrendering is first an act of the will. It is something we choose to do. Surrendering means following the person of Jesus Christ and yielding to His will.

In John 6:68-69, Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Matt 4:19 states: “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’” Jesus asks that we follow Him and become fishers of men. Following is an act of will.

God loves us just as we are, yet leads us to be more like Him by giving us resources along the way. In “The Power of the Other,” Henry Cloud identifies four stages of relationships. In the fourth stage, we develop relationships with people that accept us for where we are but also have high expectations for us to grow; they help us get there by providing resources. This fourth stage describes what our relationship with God should be like. So what are the resources that God provides?

  1. Understanding for the mind. Romans 12:1-2: “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.”
  2. Free will. Joshua 24:17: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
  3. The Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
  4. Trials and testing. James 1:2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
  5. God’s protection and oversight. 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
  6. Faith. Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
  7. Sovereignty. Deuteronomy 3:24 “Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?”

Community

We recently took 25 of our top leaders at CRISTA away for a three-day retreat to Miracle Ranch. Our goal was to build community and spur more diversity. CRISTA actually has a lot of diversity but we want more. We want to reflect God’s kingdom more. The more we reflect what the Kingdom of God looks like the more joy we will experience and the more winsome we will be to the world.

Community comes from the root words common and unity. What we have in common promotes unity. It is critical to know what unites us. For us, we are united by being surrendered followers of Jesus Christ. He himself outlined many times that diversity of gifts, talents, ethnicity, race, political beliefs, economic status, age and gender is to be valued and promoted. This variety helps us gain wisdom and insight. We seek to grow in our character and become more like Him. Our work is to believe in Him and seek to walk closely with Him through this life.

The life of Jesus Christ was marked by love. Scripture teaches us that God is love. He came and gave his life for every person. He said love your enemies, go the extra mile with those in need even when they are very different from you. Be generous with all you have and are. You are not here for yourself. You are here to rejoice in His presence and make this earth more like heaven.

Most communities come together because many of us like to be around people like ourselves. Age groups, political views, economic status groups make us feel comfortable and reinforce our own way of looking at the world. God wants us to strive to see things from His point of view. No one has a corner on that. Wisdom comes from listening and seeing things from other’s point of view.

Community matters. We are relational and social creatures. Studies show that when newborns are taken from their mothers and left alone, they fail to thrive. They sometimes even die.

Love matters. God’s love is the only thing strong enough to bind people with a multitude of differences together.

I Corinthians 13
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

These words are very familiar to many. Reading them or giving intellectual assent means very little. We are to be the incarnation of this kind of love. When we love like this, it creates the environment for everyone in the community to grow and thrive. To become more like Jesus.

This is my prayer for our CRISTA community.

The Battle is the Lord’s

I recently reread one of the most familiar stories in the Bible, the story of David and Goliath. This time around, I saw a new perspective on this amazing story.

Not one other person would challenge the Philistine champion. All of Israel was in fear. When David volunteered to take on Goliath in hand-to-hand combat, a combatant who clearly was the odds on favorite to win, he stated the reason he was willing to go to battle: “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:47) The battle is the Lord’s. I am still thinking and praying about all that this means.

We seem to have many battles all around us in the world today. I know that God is sovereign and capable (all powerful) to turn any battle, big or small, into a victory if we are willing to lift up His name and give Him the credit. We only have the tools we have been given, and we continually need to sharpen and practice using our tools. And when God calls us to use them, we must step forward with courage and humility and be ready to give glory to God for the victory that is assured.

Tumultuous times like these have come and gone through the ages. The early Christians were under constant persecutions. Atrocities abounded. The Inquisition was not a fun era in the history of the church for believers. Some thought World War II was the end of the world.

Remember Jesus said in John 14:26-27: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

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.

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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.

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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