currently, i am in louisville, kentucky at a youth minister's conference. never in my life have i seen so many old, balding men with go-t's (spelling?) run and jump around excited about ministry. it is so neat to see these men, women, and youth workers getting refreshed as they reflect on the ministry that the Lord has provided for them, but also for them to prepare to return with the wonderful things that the Lord has taught them. so encouraged.
the theme here this weekend is BREATHE. as i began to reflect on the meaning of this theme for myself, several things came to my mind: 1. breathing is a natural process that is done involuntarily 2. in life, sometimes we have to remind ourselves to breathe when difficult, frustrating, or uncertain circumstances come about 3. what happens when i fail to breathe?
now, let's break these apart.
1. breathing is a natural process.
as i look into scripture, the process of breathing has had a dramatic impact on the world. it has made a dramatic impact on us. Genesis 2:7 says, "then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." right here we see the creation of man. yes, a creature was made, but it had not been brought to life. it took the life giving power of God to jolt man to life. for man to breathe. God Himself took the life that was in Him and gave it to man. He was the only one who could provide that for mankind. but what impact does that breath have on us? as scripture continues on, we see the dramatic turn in man's life as he takes this breath, this life giving force, and complete abuses it. the life that was given to man is used to turn away from the very Source that gave it to him. so one may question, did God make the wrong decision in giving man life? why would God do something so beautiful to only bring about something so deadly? in my opinion and in my understanding of scripture, these two questions are answered in scripture. C.S. Lewis wrote it beautifully in his book Mere Christianity, "And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having." man had the choice to disobey God. yes, man abused the gift of life. Romans 5 even emphasizes that due to man's disobedience all of us have become sinners. but if you read further, we see that in this very same passage it also says that by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous. it is by this breath of life that we can freely choose to find the "love and goodness and joy worth having" that Lewis describes. if we want to find a deeper understanding of the breath Giver, we must pursue Him with every breath we take. it must become a natural process.
2. in life, sometimes we have to remind ourselves to breathe when difficult, frustrating, or uncertain circumstances come about
in the past few years since i've been in jackson, i have had to remind myself to do this on several occasions. when i catch my students cheating on class work, i have to breathe. when my bill payments are behind and i can't afford the simple things, i have to breathe. when someone so dear to me is diagnosed with lung, liver, and brain cancer, i have to breathe. life is full of circumstances. we know that. but i feel the way that we respond to these life circumstances is what really matters. our response should be how james puts it in his letter to his brothers and sisters in christ, and we should "count it all JOY my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds" (1:2). if you notice, this verse says trials. now our first inclination is to give this word a negative connotation. i believe, however, that all of life's trials are made to challenge us and to persevere through. thats why james wants us to consider it our JOY to struggle in life. when things are going well--have JOY. when things aren't going so well--have JOY. why? because when we pursue the Lord and make it through these trials we become more like Jesus. and Jesus is making us "perfect and complete," so we can be "lacking in nothing (v4)." when we take that time to breathe, we remember what Jesus is doing. we see how he is changing us. and if we don't immediately see it, we continue to take those deep breathes to pursue Him.
but what happens when we don't.....?
3. what happens when i fail to breathe?
i struggled with this when i first moved to mississippi. i wanted to pursue God; thats the reason why i moved there in the first place, but i was being so wrapped up in my trials that i forgot to remind myself to breathe. i didn't consider it my joy to face these trials, and it hurt me. i too fell into the same trap that adam and eve did all those years ago (Genesis 3). when we fail to take the time to breathe and seek God, then we will fail. and i failed. i found myself trapped in unhealthy relationships. i found myself on the brink of depression. i found myself trying to relieve my pain on my own terms. and that is not what we were made for. that is not how we were made to respond. but now i am so encouraged by the words of james in chapter 4 of his letter. in James 4:8 he encourages us to "draw near to God" and when we do so, He will draw near to us. i learned the difficult way in our necessity to breathe. life is one of the most brutal of teachers, but boy do we learn from it. in this stage of my life i learned what it looks like to forget how to breathe, to forget to draw near to God. but the beauty of that is i also learned how to breathe again. and i haven't stopped since.
last night was one of the most refreshing nights i have had in a while. shane and shane led worship and francis chan shared his heart. i found myself remembering how faithful the Lord is and has been to me. how His promise in Deuteronomy 31:6 ("it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.") has been played out in my life. He is constantly with me. He has been with me every step of the way. and even now, i'm tearing up just thinking about how His hand has always been with me. i am so unworthy of the love that has been bestowed on me by the Father, but i desire to want to be more like Him. such a beautiful reminder.
lastly, i would like to share something that francis chan said last night. he gave us a brief overview of his life when he was in high school. he shared that its was his youth minister who decided to pour out and invest into his life during the few years of his high school career. but it wasn't just him, rather several guys in his youth group. but as time went on, it slowly but surely turned into one boy pursuing a deeper relationship with the Father with his mentor: that kid being francis. but why did his youth minister do that? because he saw the potential that he had to make a different win someones life. he said that he was being prepared for something greater, something he didn't understand at first, but he knew that God was preparing him. but for what? i thought it was going to be some elaborate portrayal of how he needed to be a pastor and change the world through elaborate and unique messages. but it wasn't. he described that this greater thing was a heart for discipleship. now you would think that francis chan, a world renown speaker would have a heart for preaching, which I'm sure he does, but i feel that this has stemmed off of this heart for discipleship. and then i got to thinking. this is a lot like my story. i grew up in the church too and found myself being invested in by youth pastor. i was given the opportunities to serve and lead small groups. i didn't understand it at the time, but i too was being set up with a heart for discipleship. i found myself craving time to spend with God and then pour that back out onto others. and over and over again i found kids wanting that too; but then something very disheartening would happen, just as it did with francis, the kids i was pouring into slowly but surely started to step away from this pursuit of the Lord. they stopped meeting with me, they didn't "have the time", or they didn't want to commit themselves. and for me this hurt. but as this kept happening, even through college, i felt that God was wanting me to keep in desperate pursuit of this. and now i have come to present day. i am so glad that i continued to pursue this form of ministry because God has given me three wonderful opportunities to strengthen this heart of mine. these three are named Landon, John, and Addison.
these three boys challenge me on a daily basis, and in turn i get to challenge them. they get to verify the calling the Lord has placed on me, and in turn i get to verify the calling the Lord has placed on them. it is a reciprocal process that i am so blessed to have stayed with and trust the Lord with. i now understand how important it is for us to mentor/disciple young people as they walk through this life. i had it, and it prepared me for today. i have seen the fruit of the Lord in their lives as well as in mine. i wouldn't ask for anything different. i'm not going anywhere, and i don't see them going anywhere wither. they are committed, just as i am. my prayer now is that one day they too will be strengthened by a heart of discipleship and pursue relationships like francis chan has, like i have, and so many others have.
"You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." 2 Timothy 2:1-2
thats all for now. until next time....