Thursday, January 30, 2014

LEGACYouth: Catching Fire

Recently, I was driving down the interstate on a cold midwinter’s day when a new song came on the radio. As I listened to what I expected to be another hollow pop song about compromising romance, the lyrics wasted little time in surprising me:

We, we don't have to worry ‘bout nothing
Cause we got the fire, and we're burning one hell of a something
They, they gonna see us from outer space, outer space
Light it up, like we're the stars of the human race, human race

When the lights turned down, they don't know what they heard
Strike the match, play it loud, giving love to the world
We'll be raising our hands, shining up to the sky
Cause we got the fire, fire, fire, yeah we got the fire fire fire

And we gonna let it burn burn burn burn

It soon dawned on me:

We’re a culture fascinated by fire.

I don’t care if it’s a Katniss Everdeen dress, a piano played by Mauro Ffortissimo or a rain only Adele could love, at the end of the day, we want something up in flames, smoldering in our quest to find something to believe in.

Have you ever wondered why fire is such a captivating visual? Is it simply the sensory effects of a chemical reaction, or is there further beauty hidden within the unseen?

Consider the etymology. Over time, the world has associated passion to fire, fire to wonder and wonder to meaning.  Apply a quick transitive property to the trio and suddenly you have fire smack-dab at the heart of identity. And since identity is everything, how amazing is it that it’s crafted with a fire unable to be separated from unconditional love and the passion flowing from it?

Think about it. Have you ever tried finding a word picture for passion that has nothing to do with fire? It’s not easy, is it? Why? Because fire is the purest emblem of sustaining desire, the logo of a desperate outcry to be for something or someone.

Thus, whether we’re lovin’ or whether we’re hatin’, we ain’t livin’ unless we’re fanning something into flame. Why? Because to live is to love and to love is to burn and one cannot burn without fire. It’s the most epic requisite of life. And if we see fire in the context of worship, then we can deduce the fact everyone is worshipping something. Even if the “something” is deemed “nothing”, it’s still something, since the “something” connects to a source of meaning and value.

So if everyone is worshipping something, if everyone is hoping to catch fire, the question is: “What fire are we after?”

For there are many elements capable of igniting an ember within, but only one can provide the everlasting spark we’re looking for. Only one entity in the entire universe can offer a resolute foundation worthy of building a life on.

"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” ~ Hebrew 12:28-29 (ESV)

Whether people realize it or not, many are in search for lasting stability. Some call it “the pursuit of happiness”, but what they’re really looking for is solid ground, complete with something not only real and tangible, but also honest and steadfast. Need evidence? Look no further than some of the loaded lyrics coming out of secular mainstream music these days (cue "Unconditionally" & "Roar" by Katy Perry, "Brave" by Sara Bareilles, "Burn" by Ellie Goulding, etc.) It's extremely humbling when you discover fire is not something God deposits solely into the spiritual elite. Everyone is carrying a torch within the deep places; everyone is looking for a light in the darkness to be a light in the darkness.

Unfortunately, where many find themselves is stuck between the rock of self and a hard place. And it’s here where the greatest deception and discouragement occurs. But with God’s fire, there is always a pathway in the direction of where He wants to take us. In some cases, this manifests through purification; in others, it’s rejoicing; in others, it’s overcoming strongholds*; for others, it’s knowing the word of God**.

Bottom line: Knowing how to burn with God’s fire is imperative amidst the distractions and deceptions of this age. Sometimes, the problem is we don't have a clue on what needs to create and sustain it. So in the coming weeks, we will thoroughly unpackage holy fire, its essential ingredients (i.e. a catalyst, contact, spark, fuel and protection), its purpose in our lives and how we can not only acquire it, but share it as we approach Acquire the Fire 2014. I don’t know about you, but I want more of God’s fire in my life. I don’t want to be an indifferent bystander, but rather a firestarter for Jesus. Life cannot be lived to the fullest unless we’re committed and attuned to the work and voice of the Holy Spirit.

*So I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, and it shall devour her strongholds.” ~ Amos 1:10 (ESV)

** Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? ~ Jeremiah 23:29 (ESV)

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LEGACYouth: Riskolutions Revisited (SOAP Edition)

Last week in LEGACYouth, we centered our discussion on how to rightly perceive change in light of the Gospel (i.e. how to change the right way for the right reasons).

Question is: How do we actually do this? 

Of course, the "Sunday school" answer is: staying connected to God (see cell phone illustration as part of our Living Más discussion -

However, I wouldn't blame you if you rolled your eyes, thinking these four words sound like a broken record. Why? Because such an answer, in light of its accuracy, is supposed to be dug into, not just superficially addressed. Seriously, God is pleased when we pursue the Spirit in us, which inspires us to wonder: "What does this actually look like? How do we stay connected to God consistently through the ups and downs of life? How can we tell we are where we're supposed to be?"

While reading and applying Scripture seems like the obvious answers, perhaps you feel like something is still missing…like a blueprint or gameplan that will help you connect personal response to the truth of who God is and the great work He has already started in you. It's no question God is faithful to do His part in our lives each and every day. But how often do we leave this truth at the altar, check out of church unchanged and numb ourselves to our need of Him, when everything inside of us in pulling in the opposite direction? 

Have you ever felt this way, caught in the middle between hope and fear, yet so hungry for understanding, you couldn't help but cry out: "God, I know you are who you say you are and you are faithful to do your part, but how do I mine? What do you want from me because if I just knew, I would do it!"

Here's something to chew on: God believes in you. Why? Because God loves you and loves you strongly. And out of this passionate love flows a faithfulness which consistently seeks to develop us into His likeness. In other words, God is faithful to deposit holy desires from His heart into ours! Just check out this verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24... 

"May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, he’ll do it!" (MSG)

Pretty awesome stuff, right? How great is it we can feel mightily encouraged and justified at the same time when we consider how we are to grow in 2014. There's something so radical about believing the right way…in believing we can accomplish the resolutions of God. After all, His heart is purely and unconditionally resolute.

Yet, keep in mind: belief by itself can only go so far. How we translate our innate desires into transparent action, as part of a balanced, everyday pursuit, is everything...and it's a journey that can't be navigated apart from a balanced Spirit and Truth lifestyle. As a pastor, such truth ignites one of my all-time greatest passions: to help people live God's dream. To discover the dream, one must be hungry to discover God. 
Last week, we revisited the SOAP method, a catchy acronym on the outside that helps us connect with God on the inside.  

For those who are not familiar with SOAP, here's a quick review:

Scripture: Pick a verse or two that stands out to you.
Observation: What is it about that verse that stands out to you? Why?
Application: How does it apply to your life? How can you apply it to your life?
Prayer: Write out a prayer asking God to help you apply it.

Throughout 2014, we will be using the SOAP method as part of our discussion times, as we center our attention on becoming more like Christ. For now, think about some spiritual resolutions (or rather riskolutions*) you can take on in 2014 that will help you stay connected to God in a greater way in 2014. If you need an idea for your Scripture, try Ephesians 4.

*Note: Remember riskolutions are resolutions of change through courage and faith as compared to our own will power and strength. It's believing in the God who provides numerous opportunities for us to share the light in us in ways we never thought possible. 

The requirements of riskolutions are integratable determination, unhindered love for God and unwavering faith that you are the man or woman that God has prepared unimaginable things for.

Below is a humorous video that captures the futile side of independent resolution, as opposed to Spirit-led riskolution:

Also, for those who haven't see the Acquire the Fire 2014 promo video, here it is for your viewing pleasure...

Also, in case you missed service this past Sunday, we took time to honor Erik & Stacy Hildner, who recently completed four years of faithful service in LEGACYouth. As a tribute to their leadership, I created a special video in their honor.

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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Living Más

Have you ever noticed how happy people are during the first few weeks of every New Year? I know I do. Sometimes, I will leave the apartment simply to secure a “thinking spot” at a popular hangout destination where I can not only write but “people-watch” as well. Upon some recent observations, I’ve noted an uptick in smiley faces and jovial camaraderie, which has peaked my wonder into what may be the cause. And after pensive review, I’ve come to realize how this special time of year is likely a big part of the reason.

We may not know everything there is to know about hope, but one thing we likely do know is happiness and hope have a fairly proportionate connection. As one is hopeful, he/she is respectively happy. Seriously, have you ever encountered a hopeful person who drooped with depression? Probably not. Why? Because most people who are hopeful about the future are not defeated by their present…maybe they are even in a state of current contentedness.

Speaking of the present, it’s officially 2014 (i.e. ‘tis the season for resolutions, wishful thinking and dreams about skinnier, wealthier and more popular living). And with the change in calendar comes the prospect of starting our own individualized journey to a better life now! I mean, why wait? It’s not like time is separated from a secular culture that is driven by an “In with the new, out with the old” philosophy. After all, we have to embrace what we can’t control, right? Considering we live in a culture driven by constant change and any means able to sustain the motivation needed to make it happen.

Think about it this way: We live in a Taco Bell world, where the driving message behind every corner is: “You gotta live más!” (i.e. You aren’t really living unless you’re grabbing a bull by the horns, hitting the ball out of the park or capitalizing on a burst of spontaneity in some way).

On the surface, this slogan makes a good deal of sense, as there is genuine merit in breaking out of a comfort zone and taking on a new experience. The problem is we have little to no idea on how to achieve this the right way, or rather yet, the full way.

Yes, living más may sound good and all, but what does it really mean?

For example, we may be inspired to exercise more or eat healthier, but is our aim a healthier lifestyle or to simply look good and accrue “cool points” among our peers?

Truth is: God genuinely wants us to live más; however, if our motivation is superficial, then the change we’re so hungry for will be too.

Truth is: Christ is everything to making the right change happen the right way. Why? Because as John 10:10 and Acts 17:28 state, “[He has come so] that [we] may have life, and that [we] may have it more abundantly…in Him we live and move and exist.” And by abundantly, Paul is talking about an exceeding abundance (Ephesians 3:20) that far exceeds our expectations and anticipations in constant, overflowing fashion. And if He’s the only source of the change we’re looking for, then it’s imperative to be connected to Him.

Think about your cell phone. It has many awesome apps and can link you to anything you want to know about the universe. However, without a charge, the phone will die. It’s a mathematical and technological certainty. In order for your phone to be the phone it’s supposed to be, in order for your special, little communication box to function properly, your phone has to be regularly plugged in, daily connected into its source of power to receive the charge it needs.

Question is: What is your source of power? You can’t change without being connected to the right source. Without the right source, your mission to change will eventually die. It’s not that God doesn’t care. Good intentions are all well and good, but we have to allow them to grow beyond intentions and allow God to fulfill his desire to build on and complete them. He simply wants to open your eyes and calibrate your understanding to His grace (which allows us to see how good intentions by themselves can’t sustain us or lead us to where we want to go). Unfortunately, this is why so many are ignorant to knowing how to change the right way because they don’t know the right source.

There’s an old saying that claims “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. What do you think this means and how does it apply here? Also, what do you think about Jack Black's quote on #Yolo being the stupid man's version of carpe diem ("seize the day")? If the message behind #Yolo harps on "you only live once", so do whatever feels good in the moment, what do you think the difference is between "carpe diem"/"living más" and "#Yolo"?

Regardless of what we pursue, God is pursuing us relentlessly, seeking a generation who will know He is the only true source of everything we need. The reason why God doesn’t want us to depend or rely on any other source is because He doesn’t want us be discouraged or disappointed.

With Christ, we can know sustainable change when our foundation is rooted in God, in the word and truths of His ways. But without Christ, a self-empowering pursuit will only lead to discouragement and disappointment once the results we crave fail to materialize. Furthermore, without Christ, we can’t encounter His strength necessary to endure hardships and setbacks. Without Christ, it’s impossible to live más in a sustainable way.

Think about what God sustains in each of us. It is estimated that as adults our bodies contain sixty trillion cells that have all been carefully organized to perform life’s various functions in harmony. Our brain contains ten billion nerve cells. Each brain nerve cell is connected to as many as 10,000 other never cells through the body. Our body has so many blood vessels that their combined length could cricle the planet two-ad-a-half-times. Our tongue has about 6,000 taste buds. Our nose can recognize up to 10,000 different aromas.

God also customized each of us with our own special DNA blueprint, which is contained within every single cell. It has been estimated that if our individual blueprint were written out in a book, it would require 200,000 pages. And God knows every word on every page! How awesome is that!?!

Now in this day and age, wisdom (or rather mirages of wisdom) is painted on a canvas of superficial hope and colorless sentimentalism, proclaiming the idea that anyone can alter the course of the future by simply changing an attitude.

The problem is without God in the equation, no one can have the right attitude or experience real change for the right reasons. Although the world may advocate certain accuracies, such as it’s not wise to change for oneself, someone else or to flee reality and adversity, it runs into a “Budd-ish” wall when it begins harping on self-enrichment (i.e. the idea one can obtain a ‘certain power’ when opening up to others and learning to understand them and their situations better).

But we are exhorted in Proverbs 3:5-6 to not lean our own understanding. The major setback of this is that you are your own filter, how you see and understand is based on what has formed your perception. When we rely on God and apply his filter, we are equipped with a filter that sees and knows much better than we do in our natural mind.

It’s not complicated, folks. At the end of the day, God has to be the source of our charge. We can’t be empowered without His power. He is the only one who can purify hunger into something holy, into something worthy, into something laden with His love.

Power Up: While intentions can be good, they can only be great when they are submitted unto the Lord. So let’s not settle for less, when we can take living más to an entirely deeper level: by remembering how incredibly blessed we are to be connected to a God who is for us, who knows our blueprint, who is the reason for our hope and who is invested in the change we desire. In Him, we can do all things.

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