Why Birding is Just Like Listening To God

Bee Eater
(This pic is of a Bee Eater…eating a Bee that Yolanda took on our trip to Nepal last year)

Yolanda and I went “birding” over the weekend. If you don’t know what “birding” is, it’s finding a place that birds hang out, getting a decent camera and/or binoculars, and walking around trying to see or take pictures of the rarest ones you can find. The key is to go out looking with the realization that you may not see anything or you may hit the jackpot and see a ton of them. Yolanda has gotten some amazing (and I mean AMAZING) pictures from all the places we have been. It is like every bird is just waiting for our car to pull up and then they have a little bird fight to see who gets to fly in front of her camera and get shot (in a good way).

When I go, I am mainly going to support her but I also feel like it is an intentional time of not talking about work (because you are supposed to be quiet and not talk) and for some exercise. I have to admit, I get just about as excited as she does to see an owl or another rare breed. But for me, it is more about just getting out and getting away from the grind of life.

When you are birding it is very important that you remember a simple recipe for success. No matter how far you walk or where you go looking for birds, you need to occasionally stop, look up and listen. You can be out walking around and a great bird can be in the tree next to you but if you don’t stop, look up and listen then you will probably miss a great opportunity.

It is the same with listening to God. I can get so busy in life with my “walk” with Jesus that I can forget sometimes in life to just “stop, look up and listen” for things that God may want to share with me. I am a firm believer that God is always speaking to us and willing to be found but we are the ones who need to learn to slow down in life sometimes and be willing to wait on God and his voice.

Sometimes I can intentionally “stop, look up and listen” with God and I don’t hear a peep (get it? Haha) If I am consistently stopping, looking, and listening for Him I raise my chances of hearing something from God AND I train myself to learn that it is not even always about the grand revelation that God would share with me. I think the peaceable life that God teaches about in the Bible is 20% Spiritual and 80% just learning to shut up and listen. Listening to others. Listening to those who love us and want to bring Godly correction or even God speaking himself to us.

I know that going birding has taught me more than just the importance of not talking, which I still fail at regularly. It has taught me that the world around me will let me “run” in life as fast as I want, even to the point of burnout. If I am not taking time out of life to just BE and not try and DO, I will allow the world to dictate the pace of my life and not God. When I intentionally put the brakes on and take time to enjoy nature AND use that time to listen to what God has to say, I take back control of my life and essentially put myself on God’s time.

I use birding to slow down my life and shut up. What do you use? When trouble hits in life the peace we find in those times of quietness and listening to God will be a foundation to help get you through. Think today about what you do to change pace and “stop, look up and listen.”

The Shack; Helpful or Hurtful?

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The Shack. Probably one of the most polarizing Christian movies to come out in a long time. I have read many blogs and opinion pieces based on the movie and wanted to check it out for myself to see what the hubbub was about. The primary reason was because of opinions from people I respect and admire on both sides of the issue. I had to find out who was “right” and who was “wrong”…right? Haha (By the way, there are a lot of spoilers in here so you if you have not read the book or seen the movie, just skip to the last “summary”paragraph of the blog).

All kidding aside, I truly enjoyed the movie but could see how people who are against the movie could interpret what they wanted with it. This blog, and my opinion for that matter, is only from my worldview, what I have experienced in life and how the movie affected me in my journey with God.

I have never read the book so I had no point of reference for what I was going to see only the opinion of my wife, who had read it a long time ago, and a gentleman who lived in our town home complex who had suggested I read it. He came from a very poor understanding of God’s love and forgiveness and had been abused in the church by a priest and was very far and distant from God. When he had read the book he said that it helped him reconcile with God and even work towards forgiving the man who abused him. I thought that was amazing since my interaction with him was when I was going through my eye situation and he was someone that God had laid on my heart many times. When I saw the movie was coming out I instantly thought of him and his journey with God and all the ups and downs.

I want to say something VERY important before I get into a couple of points about the book and my opinion on what I saw. If you are a follower of Christ and have people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus yet around you (if you don’t, then go find some) and think that ANY single movie is going to cause people to turn to Jesus then you are wrong. When Christian’s think of movies like this as a DESTINATION and not a part of the JOURNEY with God then they will get into error. What I mean is that you cannot build theology on a movie like this and neither can you throw out all the wonderful references to God and his redemptive, patient and overwhelming love for his creation. We cannot be LAZY in our discipleship of people who don’t know Jesus yet or who are just starting a walk with him. Movies like this can be an amazing PART of helping people walk through pain in life. To help them forgive themselves from their past, forgive others who have hurt them and help people see that bad things will happen all through life with no respecter of person.

Of course, everyone needs to evaluate the movie for himself or herself and I respect people on both sides. I will say this though, for those of you who do not support the movie, I pray you are finding ways to talk to people about forgiveness of themselves or hurt from the church or from God and recovering from devastating life events. This movie is not the only vehicle for that kind of thing but we should always be looking for ways to bridge the gap to where people exist in their pain. The main vehicle for me is also my book and why I titled it “Holy Crap” and not “Eye of the Storm” for example. It was intentional and probably cost me a lot of money from publishers that loved the book but not the title. It was more important for me to be edgy with the title than to be known as a famous published author.

There are a lot of points I could bring up but I wanted to address a couple of the big ones that people have brought up.

God as a woman
There is a very important line in the movie where God basically says to Mac, “From what you have been through, I didn’t think that you needed to have a man/father in your life right now.” Mac had poisoned his abusive father when he was a child and had a VERY twisted thought of men in authority. For me, I did not take that as a dig at removing the “man” or “father” aspect of God as much as it was God meeting Mac where he was. I remember when I was in my darkest days and wanting to end it all because I didn’t see value in life. God met me where I was whether it was through people interacting with me, praying for me or just doing what they could to love on me. That is the God I saw exhibited in this movie. The other proof that it was not a feminizing of God was that after Mac sees his dead father in the movie and gets some healing/closure, God shows up as a man. Disputing the idea that the movie was only trying to remove the masculinity from God and a greater emphasis put on God meeting us at the point of our need.

Mac and God talking about God’s wrath and God’s comment about sin being its own punishment
When I heard this in the movie I had to think about what it meant to me. Some have said that it was only telling “half the story” of God and his relationship to man but I want to bring up something else to think about. God’s righteous anger at man is not based on his hate for us but for the things we would do in life to not accept his love. That is different than saying that God punishes because we are “being bad” in life. God’s anger is based on disappointment not on hate. I know this sounds like I am splitting hairs here, but I think it is important that people who don’t know Jesus yet in life understand that God doesn’t come from a place of “do this or else because I inherently hate you” but from a place of “do this because it will be good for you, I love you and it will keep you from hell.” Those are very different aspects of judgment and it is not the place for a movie to educate people on things like that but OUR responsibility to share with people we are or SHOULD BE discipling. There is also a line in the movie when God appears to Mac as a man and asks him to forgive the man who murdered his daughter. He essentially says that every evil action has a consequence. That doesn’t sound like a God that says, “It’s ok to just live how you want and I will forgive you and you are guaranteed to make it to heaven.” Again, my opinion, but I think it was an appropriate balance to the former comment about sin being it’s own punishment.

There were three other important elements in the move that were great and need to be highlighted.

Even when life seems like a mess, it still has beauty and a grand design
There is a point where Mac is ready to walk away from the Shack and the Holy Spirit connects with him and asks for his help in the garden. As he is walking into the garden he says, “this looks like a mess” because there are plants, flowers, vines and leaves all over the place. The Holy Spirit asks Mac to help remove an area of the garden that eventually will be the place that he finally has closure with his dead daughter. The Holy Spirit tells Mac, “The ground needs to be dug up so that other things can grow.” The illustration is that the garden represents Mac’s life. As the camera pulls away from the garden, which looked like a mess from the ground, it has perfect symmetry and intentional beauty from God’s perspective. How many times in life do we not see the perfect work that God is doing in us when our lives just look and feel like a mess. God is always creating beauty from EVERYTHING we go through whether it is digging up weeds or planting new greenery.

Discipleship is important and so is church
The character played by Tim McGraw plays a simple yet important role in the life of Mac in the movie. He is a friend from church who lives across the street and is invested in his life. He mentions that he has history with Mac’s family and he does a good job, as an example, of giving Mac space and being there when Mac is ready to respond. This is probably one of the best examples I have seen in a movie like this with people going through a painful season of life, and someone wanting to help but not overwhelming people with lots of “religious talk” when all they need is for someone to be there to walk with them. I thought this was powerful and reminded me of many times people who I know and love were there at just the right time to lend just the right amount of support, Spiritual or otherwise.

I also liked how the movie depicted church as not just a place where everyone is a hypocrite but just people dealing with all kinds of things under the surface and human. I was reminded again of the fact that without the church and the support of other believers that were praying for me through my pain I would not be on this earth to help people. There was a scene where Mac is an older man in church with his family and was not able to worship or sing any songs and was distracted by the turmoil inside. Then at the end of the movie you see him in church again worshipping with his family and enjoying his mental and emotional freedom he found. I loved the illustration that the church was as much a part of his healing as it was a place he felt fear because of his father.

That pain from the past leaves a mark in people’s life when it is not dealt with
This is probably the most important lesson of the movie for me that unresolved pain in life will always catch up with you no matter how well you try to hide it. In the movie, you see Mac being able to cover the pain of the his past with his family and the guilt of poisoning his abusive dad fairly well until tragedy strikes and his daughter is kidnapped and killed. It is so much like life and the things that people deal with; it takes everything for people to cover up the pain from past scars but when they reach a tipping point it all comes out and no one is left untouched by the hurt. If there is a lesson to learn from the movie it is that God WANTS to take that pain of past hurts away but we need to be willing to GIVE those things to him. There is a line in the movie where Jesus says that he doesn’t want robots but people willing to follow him. Such a great reminder for us all that our free will is a powerful gift that we give to those we follow.

So what did I think about the movie? I thought it was very entertaining and an important reminder of the love of God and how deep and wide it goes in EVERYONE’S life. When we think of the love of God it is not just restricted to followers of Christ but EVERYONE. For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave Jesus. It helped me think about forgiveness issues in my own life and making sure that I am not harboring bitterness at God or others. Also that God is operating from a place of wanting me to win and not waiting to punish me for my failures. He is still sad that my choices bring consequences but is cheering me on to greatness.

Did the movie make me want to read my Bible more? Yes. Did it help reinforce my feelings that God saved me from wanting to kill myself because of his love for me? Absolutely. Is the movie a good building block for your theology? No, and I don’t think ANY movie is for that matter. I really believe that this movie is going to help a lot of people through some very difficult issues and it is going to start some GREAT conversations about who God is in people’s lives. So believers need to be ready to minister to people who watch the movie and want more information. What those people need is not for someone to try and help them understand hell. Those people are already on their way there if they don’t know Jesus so why not use an opportunity like this movie to help steer someone towards God?

All just my opinion, but I am always thinking of how to go get the obscure lost person who doesn’t know up from slant about God and will probably go see a movie like this with or without my approval. I really believe that even the people who are boycotting the film love Jesus and want the best for those who don’t know God and want them to operate and not be led astray. I also think it is important that we realize movies like this can be great opportunities for people to talk about who God is in their life and maybe make necessary changes that will determine their destiny with Christ. I can tell you that no one will be asking me about who God is to them if they go see Deadpool 2 when it comes out. But just maybe The Shack will give me an opportunity to be a part of a changed destiny.

 

The Power in Submission To God and His Will

Submission To God
This week I was thinking about the times I saw the most growth with God in my life and felt like I really learned important life lessons. There were all kinds of seasons and circumstances that surrounded times of growth for me but one thing was always constant with every single one of them and it was submission. Submitting of my will in accordance with God’s will or even leadership that I was under. Submission is, by definition, all about accepting and yielding to an opposing thought or position.

Let me give you an example of submission to leadership. I can remember when I first came on staff at Orchard Road with Pastor Sarah as my leader in the youth department. We were talking about her doing a review for me to help with my public speaking ability. I told her that I thought I was pretty good at public speaking and didn’t really need a review. She then asked me, “So you think how you speak now is as good as you will ever get?” I had to really evaluate what she was asking me, not realizing that she had her own experience earlier in life with an even higher profile pastor/leader who had asked her the exact same thing. I thought about it for a minute and decided that I wanted to get better as a public speaker and we began to do reviews for each other and it has become a very important element of my current role with television and helping people to excel at presenting to audiences. I am still not the best public speaker I know, but those moments of pushing have really helped shape me as a leader and speaker myself.

I shared that story to help illustrate my natural bend when it comes to correction and making changes in my life. I understand that growth, whatever area it is in, is important but it takes me having a revelation about it’s importance until I actually make a change.

Looking back now, I can see that my sickness with my eye brought a very important lesson to me about submitting to God’s will. Some people will read that comment and think that I considered what I went through in sickness with almost losing my eye as God’s will but it is MUCH bigger than that. I want to say something very important that you MUST get if and when pain hits in life. If we always think that God’s power in life is about keeping us OUT of painful situations instead of keeping us safe IN painful situations then we will be in a perpetual state of questioning based on outward circumstances instead of inward convictions.

Today, learn to submit QUICKLY to God and his will for your life. Reading the Bible is important as well as learning to just sit and LISTEN to what God is saying to you and not just TELLING him what you need. It will take you from a reactionary relationship with God to an inward conviction of power and strength that is stronger and will last longer than any painful season in this life we live on earth.

Don’t Be “Nearsighted” or “Farsighted” In Pain

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Below is a quick paragraph from my book, Holy Crap; Finding God’s Presence In Your Pain. You can click here for more information about how to pick up your own copy.

From Chapter 3: The Definition of C.R.A.P.
“We allow the devil victory in our lives when we let him keep us farsighted on the PAIN in life (making us think painful crap will never end) and nearsighted on the PLAN that God has for our lives (making us think God doesn’t have a plan to teach us something greater than the things we know at present).”

There were MANY times I thought that my pain, trouble and sickness would never end during the four years I was sick. Usually, the lowest times for me was when the doctor would have me try a new medication to pair with the prednisone I would be on and it would fail and I would have to be on up 120 mg doses of prednisone again. Those low points were coupled with a fact I had constructed in my mind that what I was going through could NOT be something beneficial for my development as a person and follower of Christ. These two firm impressions in life sent me on a downward spiral that affected my attitude, my focus in what I was going through and almost had me end my life.

I don’t say these things to make people feel bad for me or that what I dealt with was anything worse than anyone else but to bring up a very important point when dealing with any kind of pain; the determinations in your mind will direct your life.

1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 

A couple of things to point out that can help us and give us direction about dealing with the devil in painful situations. The very first sentence references a “sober mind” and then a definition of what the devil is always trying to relentlessly do; devour. Notice that it does not say, “Don’t worry about the devil because he knows he is defeated and won’t mess with you and try to take you out when you follow Christ. It is actually the opposite with a warning about the state of mind we need to be in at all times.

A sober mind leads to the last verse mentioning the importance of knowing that you are not the only one dealing with pain! Pain is very selfish and can make us think that no one else can even begin to understand what is happening which links itself to thinking that even God doesn’t understand or care for us. Just the opposite is true in God’s love and plan for us.

There will always be pain in life but how we handle it will be primarily based on our trust and belief in God’s greater plan for us. I cannot say why pain and sickness happen in life, but I can say that what you learn from those situations will either make you a better person or break you down. When you have a relationship with Jesus, you have the advantage of leaning on Him in those times of struggle and walking through the valleys of life.

God wants us to have perfect emotional and Spiritual “vision” as we go through life and focus that is not contingent on our circumstances but firmly rooted in his purposes and plan for our lives.

Praying for you tonight and have a great rest of the week!

The ONLY Reason Why I Didn’t Kill Myself

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Who would have thought that a simple kid from Montana, who grew up in church all his life and went to Bible College to became a pastor, would ever have thoughts of suicide and killing himself. Well, that was the situation I found myself in when I got sick with an eye disease that the doctors knew I had but could not find the root cause. I can say that there are not many things that I am afraid of in this life but blindness is certainly one of them. When I started to have vision problems my whole world shut down and I felt like I was drowning in my own skin. It was like I was suffocating from the inside and no matter where I went I was overwhelmed with grief and despair. This led to thoughts of suicide and wanting to end my life because I didn’t see a way out and was not willing to even consider a life shift like going blind.

I am now on the other side of my eye episode and I can say that I appreciate everything I learned emotionally from what I dealt with for over four years. All the people that God put in my life and the times of being at the end of myself when I would find hope in so many ways that I believe God provided for me.

I was listening to a song by Hillsong Young and Free called “Passion” last week and I just started to cry uncontrollably because I had a FULL realization of why I never went through with my thoughts to kill myself. It was Jesus. Him alone. Not positive thoughts from people, not kind words, or money people gave us so we would not lose our house. Even though ALL those things were great and had a part in me making it, without JESUS I would be dead. I am not trying to make people that only believe in positive thoughts mad, but I know that the good intentions and positive thoughts of others is not what brought me out of my cold, dark, lonely and suffocating spiral. I found God in a way that church could not encourage me to believe and school could not teach me to understand. In fact, for all the things that I learned in school and the love I feel even at church today, without a revelation of God’s passionate love for me, those things would be out of reach in my mind. Even listening to that song right now as I type this in a coffee shop in Denver I am tearing up because I FOUND Jesus. Here are the words to the song below. I typed them all because the whole song is such a great illustration.

Passion (Hillsong Young and Free – Youth Revival)
In the grove, when your cup seemed too much
With the worst yet to come
I was on your mind
On the cross, as the crowds cursed your name
Heaven’s eyes turned away
Still you thought of me

I know you love me so

Through it all, you were thinking of me
Even death couldn’t keep all your love for me
But you died, so that I could have life
There’s no greater love than this

I know you love me so [x2]

Your love is still the same
Beginning and forever
I sing of all your passion won for me
I sing of all your love first done in me

Your love will never change
Beginning and forever
I sing of all your passion won for me
I sing of all your love first done in me

I found you [x6]

You’re brighter than the sun
Risen from the shadows
Seated on the throne of majesty
Higher than the skies and all the sea

I found you [x6]
I love you [x6]

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/youth-revival-live/id1081955392

The devil wanted me to kill myself so I would not have a voice in people’s life of encouragement and joy. I am more determined now than ever to be the man of God I need to be for this hurt, lost and dying world.

I can tell you today that kind words, positive thoughts and “good vibrations” will not carry you through the darkest days of your life. I will NEVER apologize for my relationship to Jesus and KNOW that He is the only answer. If you cry out to him, he will hear you and answer you. If you need help, please message me and reach out. Love you all and pray that Jesus reveals himself to you today in a new way!

Don’t Quit. Don’t Stop. Don’t resist the love of Jesus.

For those who Say They Can’t have Faith in God, Never Update Any Mobile Device…EVER

applewatchupdate
I had an update pop up this am for my Apple Watch. I went through the normal ritual of accepting the update on my phone, which brought me to a screen that asks for my permission with micro writing that I KNOW no one even cares about and trusts blindly. I scrolled down to the bottom, as I do every time, and mindlessly clicked “agree” when I did not even read one word or warning.

Then it hit me.

I come in contact with people all the time who tell me that they just can’t have faith in God because they need to be able to see, know and understand everything He is doing and will do. Just like when Apple asks me to trust them with a device update that they feel will be necessary to help with security and new enhancements for my watch, when I trust God in my life I am doing the same thing. I trust he knows better than me because he is the “creator” of my life as Apple is the creator of my watch. I was not there when the watch or my body was put together, but I trust the update and God will do what is advertised and that it will enhance my life in some obvious way.

When we can see that we put our trust in all kinds of things each day without truly having complete knowledge of how they were put together and how they will work, it makes trusting God just a little bit easier. Updates for most devices are based on two things; security and enhancements. Putting your life in God’s hands and allowing him to guide and direct it, are based on very similar principles. God wants to enhance our life by giving us the security of knowing that no matter what happens to us, He will be right there with us and will never leave us.

In all reality, we do not have trust issues in this life. We have issues with who/what we put our trust IN. We need to consider heavenly trust in the same category as anything else in life and give trusting God a chance. The Bible says that if you seek Him you will find him.

I guess I just dared you to trust in God’s love, provision and help for your life.
Are you up for the “trust” challenge?

Is Pain from the Devil or From God? Excerpt from Holy Crap

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Below is a quick paragraph from Chapter 1 of my book about pain in life and where it comes from.

“Something important I want to make sure you understand before you continue reading is my perspective on the cause of sickness and on dealing with pain. I know there are at least two sides to why pain happens in life. There is a camp that believes sickness is purely a direct attack from satan that is not a part of the natural order of our existence on this earth, while others believe that God allows things to happen to teach us life lessons that we would never learn without them. This book is not to try to help you decide whether pain and sickness is directly a demonic attack or if it’s God allowing a necessary season of teaching.
The only fact I want you to realize, no matter what theological standpoint you come from, is that, if you don’t learn from the crap of life, it becomes purely a game of survival and not growth.”

When you are sick you don’t really care where it came from, you just want it to end.

Today, think of someone going through a struggle of some kind and reach out to them. Maybe say a prayer for them or just text them and let them know you are there. The other key is don’t get offended if they push you away or don’t respond at all. People going through pain react in all kinds of ways that may not make sense. Keep loving them and be available.