Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Right Question.

It's been awhile since I have written anything. I've been fairly busy at the church and haven't felt especially compelled to write anything recently, until tonight. Before I get into the reason that I wanted to write let me fill you in on the past couple of weeks.

In the first part of the month I spent four long days roofing a house for a lady that goes to Crossroads. This lady could not afford to put a roof on her house and it was in dire need of one. So Crossroads put a crew together and we went to work. It was a bit frustrating at times, but overall it was a good experience. I got to know a couple more people that go to Crossroads and really put into practice what I heard the boys in Maine talk about. I got to use a service to build relationships and build relationships I did. I am now on a first name basis with at least four more people than I was before doing the roof. So I feel good about about. After that I worked in the office doing varies different things. I wrote three weeks worth of devotionals that go along with the sermon for the week and are posted on I put together demographic information for Defiance. I researched marriage and the effects of cohabitation on marriage and put together a brief document that explains why cohabitation (living together before marriage) is a bad idea from a social science and biblical perspective. I have also spent some time doing some carpentry for my mom, playing volleyball, golfing, reading, palying guitar, riding my motorcycle and hanging out with friends.

Now on to what I wanted to share. I have spent a lot of quality time with Matt Boyers (the head pastor of Crossroads) over the past month and it has been really great. He said something the other day that kind of struck me about prayer. He said something to the effect of "prayer is not so much asking for things from God out of our own desires but rather it is learning to speak His heart." I thought about that for a while. Most times I ask for things that I want and I desire and it is not that often that I really stop to see if what I'm asking for is what God wants. Recently I've been asking the question why a lot and I realized that this is the wrong question. God's ways are way beyond our understanding so even if He would choose to answer the why question we probably wouldn't be able to understand it, which we leave us only with more questions. The question we should be asking God is not why, but rather what. What can I learn from this situation God? What are you trying to teach me? This is the right question. What changes your attitude from resentment and doubt to eager expectation. Why questions God and His heart. What places trust in God and His heart for you and your life.

In Isaiah 65 The Lord says "I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’to a nation that did not call on my name." The question why does not require action it just leaves you with more questions. God is waiting eagerly for us to ask Him the right question, what? What now Lord? What would you have me do here? What are You asking from me? What can I learn from this situation? What requires an answer along with a response from us. When we ask the right questions, when we inquire of the Lord Zephaniah tells us that "The Lord your God is with you, He is might to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing." Are you asking the right question?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I've learned I know what I don't

Over the past week I've spent my time: reading, cutting out fliers, building a float, walking in a parade, conversing with people, praying, doing demographic research, watching movies, and the list goes on. It's been a great experience and I've really enjoyed getting to know Mike and his family better. We've talked about many topics ranging from atheists, the Church, church planting, the government, and relationships (of the romantic and non-romantic type). He's a wise man and it has been really good to pick his brain. As I head back home tomorrow, I think the main thing that I will take from this experience is that I don't really know that much. I know I know, you're all really shocked that I don't know it all, but it's true. Mike has joked with me a lot over the past week and a half about how I am currently at the pinnacle of knowledge. The main point that I am trying to make and have seen the importance of through conversing with the intellectuals of Minnesota is that true wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord. Not fear as in being afraid, but fear as in putting God in His place or rather letting Him put you in yours. The kind of fear that invokes a revere, respect, and honor. The kind of fear that creates a curiosity and causes you to stand in awe and gratitude that God would lift the veil from your eyes and allow you to see the truth; that being Christ crucified and resurrected. This may seem basic, but every person I've talked to who doesn't grasp this simple truth is just talking and thinking themselves in meaningless and illogical circles. The start of wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. Solomon was right. What'd'ya know!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I'll Take the Coffee

From one basement to another. I moved in with Mike Armbrust and his family on Monday of this week. I'm living in his basement with my own bathroom, a pool/ping-pong table, pinball, a piano, a guitar, a 37 inch LCD TV with dish, two couches, a queen size bed, and very fast wireless internet access. I'm really suffering for Jesus. Along with that I am finally getting to hang around some people my own age. Mike has two sons still at home. Wes is 19 and Zach is 18. So it has been fun getting to know them. The other day I went to Toco Bell with Wes and his girl friend. So I was the third wheel, but I'll take whatever contact I can get with someone who isn't married with 2 kids.

On the ministry side of things, I've been going to meetings with Mike and chatting with him about how he got into ministry and the do's and don'ts of church planting. He's got me reading this book entitled Starting a New Church by Ralph Moore. The first part of the book was really good, because it focused in on what it takes to be a Church planter, which speaks directly to my internship, but the last bit of it has been harder to relate to because it's kind of the how to's of church planting, which is valuable but a lot farther into things than I'm going to get this summer. Nevertheless it will probably be a great resource later on in life.

As I continue in this internship I really feel like God is leading me in this direction, and it would be really easy for me to jump the gun. I am eager to get started in some ministry, but I also really see the value of finishing my degree. Mike gave me a good word about this. He's said that it is always good to practice contentment. He said, "you're 20 so be happy being 20. Don't try to be 25 or 30 or 15. Do what a 20 year old should do and enjoy it because you're only 20 once." Basic wisdom, but it's great to be reminded of that every so often.

Today we met with a group of local pastors for prayer. I had know idea what I was getting myself into, which was probably a good thing. We met at The River Church (Mike's church), which is in down town Farmington, to pray for Farmington. I soon found out that we would be walking around the town to pray for it. I was ok with this. I can walk the streets and pray for a city. So we started walking and proceeded to enter a pizzeria to pray for the business and the employees. We weren't going to just pray for Farmington in our little group of pastors; no, we were going to pray for the businesses, the owners, and the employees specifically pulling them into our prayers. We were out to evangelize via prayer. It may sound as if I am against this, which I am not, but it is definitely out of my comfort zone and to be honest I was a bit skeptical of it. It ended up being a great experience. We went into the city council building and met with the city administrator to pray for him and the city. His reaction was interesting. We told him what we were doing and then asked him if he had any specific prayer requests for himself or for the city. He gave them to us and then we asked him if we could pray for him. He paused for a moment, the short silence was a bit awkward, and then said, "well I firmly believe in the separation of Church and State and so I can't ask you to pray, but I'm not going to throw you out if you choose to do so either." We were alone in a conference room. Really, separation of Church and State? So we proceeded to pray for him and then left. We also went into this senior center and talked a bit with the receptionist. We asked her if we could pray for her specifically as well as for the senior center and her reaction was priceless. She had no idea of what to say and no desire for prayer and so she turned to the separation of church and state as well and said that she wasn't supposed allow solicitation in that building. We assured her that we weren't soliciting anything but that we just wanted to pray a blessing on her and this business. "well," she said, "you're welcome to pray in the building if you want, but I'm pretty busy and need to help Ruth. (another receptionist)" So we prayed in there and then left. Then we went to an Edward Jones financial office and talked to John. That was a positive experience. We told him what we wanted to do and he was more than excited to receive a blessing on him and his business. He was a believer. It was definitely and interesting morning. I was surprised and how people were so opposed to prayer. Also I was a bit uncomfortable with one of the Pastors tactics. He was very in-your-face talkative, if that makes sense? One of those types that tries really hard to force conversation on strangers. He definitely struck up a lot of conversations, but I could tell a lot of people were uncomfortable with it and maybe received a bad taste in their mouths from the interaction. I appreciate his heart, but I wonder if that's the best way to bring about believers. Christians already have enough bad stereotypes. It's great to be bold and zealous for Jesus, but it's also important to have a certain amount of tact and intuition when evangelizing. Body language is 90 percent of all communication and this pastor would do well to pay more attention to it. Although his style made me a bit uncomfortable, I could learn a thing a two from him. I tend to hold back and at times I wonder if that's because of a fear of man and looking stupid or freakish. With all that said, I still think it's possible to be bold in my faith and share the Gospel in a zealous way that is personable and nonabrasive. There is a time (usually within an established friendship or christian fellowship, not with strangers) to bluntly ask, "what can I pray for you about," and a time to sit down with a person over coffee and discuss the struggles that life is throwing their way. I think I'll take the coffee. People don't care what you know until they know how much you care. Having said that, walking up to a stranger, giving them your name, and then asking for their prayer requests seems a bit off base. A better route to the same end would be engaging in a conversation and steering the conversation gradually towards the eternal, maybe ending with a prayer using the information that you gathered via asking good questions. Different strokes for different folks I suppose. God works all things for good and those who do not oppose us are for us. So although this was not exactly my cup of tea, God can still use it, but like I said I'll take the coffee.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Basics?

This morning began like every other morning this week. Willie and I got up at about 7ish and headed to the coffee shop down the street. We sat around a table for a while, I had a coffee and a bagel, and chatted with one of the regulars named Jim. It was just casual conversation for about 30 minutes. Then Willie met his cousin and his fiance there to do some marital counseling. So while he was doing that I remained at the table with Jim and steered the conversation to a more spiritual focus. I questioned Jim about His faith and beliefs. Then ensued a hour and a half long conversation. Jim explained that he is part of this sweat lodge. He was adopted and raised by Native Americans. So over the years he has adopted what he calls "the basics". These basics he referred to I gathered to be his hodgepodge conglomeration of "truth" that he has selected from Native American religion, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I really challenged him and questioned how he managed to set the standard for what he could select from these religions to be truth. We talked, or rather he talked and I listened, at times poking holes in what he was saying and then allowing him to rebutle and essentially talk himself in circles. Never in my life have I ever felt such a wide variety of emotions from a single conversation. It was extremely frustrating because I couldn't straight out tell him he was wrong without ending the conversation. So I listened and question and got absolutely no where. It was humorous at times to see him respond to my questions and completely sway from one idea and then refute himself in the next. Most of all it was sad. As I sat there and listened to Jim I began to really connect with the sense of sorrow that Jesus shared at the end of Matthew 23. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." Jim was completely content with his beliefs. He believed in a "supreme being," but he said he wasn't willing to commit to anything more than that because "how can you really know?" Jim didn't want the truth because with that truth comes responsibility. If he really committed, even if not to Christianity he would have a responsibility to adhere to the teachings. At the end of our conversation he said, "you know I could be wrong and I guess that means I'm going to hell, and so what."

I realized more today than ever that it is not my job to save people. I had some great apologetics and asked some really solid leading questions that according to the books I've read should have lead this guy to the right answers. God is the only one who can save Jim and anyone else for that matter. God has to lift the veil, sometimes he might choose to use me to help and sometimes it's just planting seeds.

It really broke my heart to see the deception that Satan has seized Jim with. For instance He prayed to spirit guides (justified by Catholics praying to "saints" and his native american background) and believed that we have power within ourselves to bring about healing. There were all kinds of things that were complete lies from Satan that he latched on to. It was a tough conversation for me to hold my tongue in. I left that coffee shop with a new sense of awe and thankfulness for the grace that God has showed me that I may know his truth. I could just as easily have been sitting in Jim's shoes on the opposite side the the table if it were not for the Grace and Mercy of Jesus that I may know him.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Standing on Giants!

A wise man once said, "great men stand on the shoulders of giants." Don't ask me who that wise man was because I couldn't tell ya, but one of my good buddies at school shared this with me when I first got to Taylor as a young freshmen and it's really stuck with me ever since. I love this quote because I love to read and I really see the value in reading. It gives people the capability to walk in others' shoes and see many different perspectives. I've seen the truth in this quote lived out in guys' lives like Jay Kesler and the men of Crossroads. They are all very well read and what I would consider to be great men. It saddens me to read statistics like 80% of Americans last year neither bought nor read a book. No wonder our nation is in the state that it is in. Anyways that's my rant on reading. Thanks for listening. Tonight this quote took on a bit of a new meaning for me. I've always thought it was a reference to reading, but as I sat in on Willie's small group tonight I realized that it is also applicable to Christian fellowship. I met a woman named Jane tonight who was probably in her mid 40's. Jane has five children. One is a Doctor, one is a recovering meth addict who's done time in jail and recently relapsed, and another one (her youngest) had leukemia, part of her legs mowed off by a lawn mower and suffered seizures from a peach sized tumor in her brain. Jane is also divorced. Apparently her husband loved money more than her. At Jane's last church a woman told her that none of these things would be happening to her if she would just pray more. Remind ay of Job's friends? Anyways so Jane was sharing all of this with me and she finished by saying, "Dontcha know, Satan is out to seek, kill, and destroy, but I'm not going to let a few little problems like these get in between me and God because he is so good and faithful, and I wake up everyday so thankful for what the Lord has done for me and all that he has blessed me with." Wow! So now I'm on the verge of tears and astounded at this woman's faith. Jesus talked about the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains and I always thought He was referring to literal mountains, but as I listened to Jane I realized that she had, with her soy-bean-seed-sized faith, cleared her path to God by moving some serious mountains like a divorce, wayward children, and leukemia. I know that this internship was supposed to teach me the methodology of planting churches and I am learning a lot in that area, but more so than that God is helping me climb on giants' shoulders. My faith, trust, and confidence in Christ is growing stronger daily via Christian fellowship. C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, Thomas Kempis, A.W. Tozer and the other great authors and spiritual giants are no longer the only shoulders that I want to stand on. God has allowed me to come and see bits and pieces of His Kingdom being worked out and it's awesome. I commented a little bit of this to Willie and he said really that's all you need to plant churches, strong faith. Maybe God is preparing me for something like this?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Crazier than a bed bug!

And I’m off again! Well I was home for about 6 days. I had some time in the office to catch up with the guys, work on my sermon, sit in on some church plant stuff with Wes and help out a bit with a funeral. It was a good week. I got to see my friends and talk with Logan a little bit about his trip to Jamaica, which was great. It was so good to hear about the seeds that he and his team were able to plant over there and listen to the growth that he experienced in his faith. So my time at home was very relaxing.

Now I’m on the road again. I’m currently staying in a town that I can’t particularly remember the name of currently, but it’s right outside of Cannon Falls which is where one of the three church plants is that I’m going to be checking out while I’m up here. Mike Armbrust picked me up from the airport today in his stylish jeep wrangler with the top down. I rode with Mike back to his house and had lunch with him. While we were at lunch I asked him how he and his wife met. I’m kind of a romantic and so I always like to hear how people got hooked up. His story was very interesting and I think you all will enjoy it because it’s a bit unconventional. It may be one of the most odd and awesome stories that I’ve ever heard. Are you ready for me to tell it yet? Good! So Mike was doing campus ministry at the University of Minnesota where he and some of his friends decided to make a commitment that they were no longer going to date any girls. They would be friends with girls, but they kissed dating good bye. (like my cheesy Christian book reference?) They were fed up with the way America was doing dating and so they decided to place their trust in God. Later then, Mike was out in the woods praying and fasting and he said he heard a voice, apparently audibly but not with his ears (weird right? That’s what he thought), telling him that he was going to marry Debbie whom he said he knew as good as he knows me. So he thought that’s just like Satan to try and tempt me with this girl while I’m trying to pray. So he rebuked that thought in the name of Jesus, but the voice came back and said the same thing again. So he rebuked it a second time and then there it was again. Mike said that he knew that he had power over Satan and so it must not be him. He concluded that it must be God. Mike kept these thoughts to himself, but started to pray that if God truly wanted him to marry Debbie, He would bring it to pass. He then told his pastor about it and his pastor simply asked, “if God can talk to you don’t you think He can talk to Debbie as well?” So Mike started to pray that if it was God’s will He would tell Debbie (good move Mike!). He went on and said that one night while Debbie was studying for finals she kept thinking about marriage and finally she broke down and prayed that if God really wanted her to get married He would show her. Well right after that she, herself, audibly said “Mike Armbrust” again who she knew only very little. She then went to the Pastor’s wife and told her about it who then told Mike. So one night after church Mike asked Debbie if he could talk to her afterwards. She said yes and so they went for a walk and Mike asked her to marry him and she said yes, and they were married within 3 months!! They have been married for I think he said 20 some years and they have 3 kids. Crazy! I thought that was a very cool testament to God’s faithfulness and provision if only we are willing to place our trust in Him.

So I did lunch with Mike and then went back to his house where I met Bill Davis and his wife. Bill is an ex-bank robber who was sentenced to prison for 9 years. He lived in a cell next to Charles Manson! Anyways to make a long story short, he was converted and now he travels the world sharing his testimony and speaking to people. He and his wife live off of a little support from people, love offerings, and faith. Neat people! I hung out with them and Mike for awhile until Willy showed up. Bill described Willy as “crazier than a bed bug, but rock solid for Jesus.” (that gives you a little picture of what Bill was like as well as Willy.) Willy is one of the church planters who works with Mike. Willy picked me up from Mike’s and showed me around Cannon Falls where his church is and then we grabbed a bite at the local coffee shop and now I’m just chilling in his basement. He seems like a really great dude. It looks like I’m in for a treat up here in Minnesota as well. I’m not really sure what God has in store, but I’m excited. It’s going to be a great learning experience again and I get to meet a lot more sweet people. Good stuff!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Setting Sail

The past three days have been very good. Friday the Knowles and I went to Portland to Fort Williams on the coast where there is a light house and some other stuff. We walked around the coast for a while and the kids played on the beach. Then we went to we went to the mall because Pam needed to buy a dress for her piano recital that she is hosting. So we went to the mall and I helped her pick out something fashionable. Just kidding, although I am very fashionable, Tim and I decided it would be better to go play with the kids at a playground while Pam went in search of her dress. After that we headed back to South Paris, put the kids to bed, and soon afterwards I went to bed. I was downstairs in my room hanging out before Talia had gone to be and she came down special to give me a hug. It was precious.

On the church plant side of things, I asked Tim earlier that morning what the Organic Church should or would look like in 50 years (that was the last of the “twenty questions” that I had written up to inquire about). Tim said that it is hard to maintain this structure if the church body gets too large, but he said that the main thing is that you need to fight the desire to take control. Pastors often becoming managers and take over all the programming and what have you. Tim said that you need to fight the tendency to take those things over and force/encourage the lay people to step up and use their gifts. For instance, there was a lady here at Moss Brook who wanted to start a lady’s ministry. So she came to Tim and said, “Hey I really want to start a lady’s ministry.” Tim said that was great and that she should go ahead and do it. Well, a couple months later nothing had happened and this same lady went to Mike and said the same thing. Mike told her that was great and that she should go ahead and start it. Again, nothing happened. About six months after that this lady called a meeting with her and the pastors and complained about how she didn’t feel like they were supporting her. Tim told her that they had their full support, but that they weren’t going to put their energy into programming a lady’s ministry. He said that God had given her a passion for that not him. There still isn’t a lady’s ministry at Moss Brook and it would be really easy for Mike and Tim throw that on their to-do list, but they don’t. Tim explained that God gifts people for certain things and gives them passions for certain things. He believes that if God made that lady passionate about lady’s ministry she should be the one to put it in motion. This may sound harsh, but it puts responsibility for ministry back into the lay peoples’ hands. As far as what the church is going to look like in 50 years, Tim didn’t have a whole lot to say about that except that he thinks it’s important that we ask that question of every church system in place and not just this style. Although he did say that he thinks it’s possible to keep it this simple by being intentional and focusing on duplication instead of growing the congregation.

Saturday was very chill. Justin came down and woke me up at 8:20. He rode into my room on his big wheel trike and said, “Levi are you sleeping?” Haha! Kids. Anyways, so I helped Tim set up their pool and tried to avoid getting splashed by the munchkins. Then at noon the Knowles took me to a Tim Horton’s somewhere where we said good bye and they handed me off to Steve and Ann. We got to their house in Gardiner and then went on a bike ride down a scenic river trail. We had dinner and then I read some and talked with them about their kids, politics, and the church.
Today then we had church in Steve’s home. It was basically a bible study lead by Steve. There was a man named Joe who came and brought his family. Joe is a Christian but his wife is not. So that was interesting to have her here with us. She was very nice but didn’t say much when we were going through the passages. She seemed to be very comfortable though and I thought and Steve said she’s been coming for a little while with Joe and she’s starting to ask some good questions. After church then we had lunch and then went to Boothbay Harbor where we went sailing on a double masted schooner. Very cool! We sailed around the Atlantic for about 2 hours. There were many small islands and it was very scenic. Quite a way to conclude my time here in Maine.

As we were sailing the Captain explained that he had circumnavigated the world 2 times and that when you sail, you never go the same way twice because the wind depicts where you are going. Forgive me for the cheesy analogy, but I couldn’t help but relate that back to what I’ve witnessed up here. The Holy Spirit is blowing in a different direction than what I’m used to in relation to how church is being done, but the outcome remains unchanged; disciples are being made. It seems that a church planter and sailor are very similar in that the destination is always in view, but the wind is determining the path they take to get there.