Common Grace.

From what I understand common grace is another way that God shows his love and a type of grace to everyone. 

Basically common grace is the idea that people can live seemingly decent, and seemingly moral lives, because of the way God has made things.

It allows people to experience good things, like technology, or medicine, or love, or whatever other things we can enjoy, without any level of devotion to God through Jesus.

Of course this is all simply because God loves all and wants humans to experience good things, even though we by ourselves might not be able to have create those good things on our own.  (i.e. the earth, humans, other things you didn’t create.)  So if you don’t think there is a God you probably don’t believe in common grace.  You can either humor me or stop reading.

This idea of common grace is at the core of American culture.  Work hard enough.  Buy yourself enough comfortable things.  Make sure your family has everything they need and most of what they want.  Try and live as comfortably as you can.  Experience as much as you can.

We Americans love us some common grace.  We want as much as we can possibly get.  For a lot of people that’s really the end goal.  Get as many good things (common grace, or things that seem good in our perception) in our lives as possible.

And we as followers of Jesus sometimes settle for common grace.  We are happy having enough money.  We are happy going to a church we like.  We are happy having all the friends we want.  We without saying it or thinking it, make our lives about having as much common grace as we can.  It doesn’t feel like we’re settling though.  It feels like everything is good and that is what life is truly about.

And if anything stops the possibility of our our life with all those good things, well then we need to fight against that, politically, socially, or however else we would.  Quite often the disruption of that common grace, the possibility that some person or instituion could take away things we really care about in this world, makes us deeply angry and frustrated.

But 

I know of a grace that is better than common grace.

It’s not quite as common.

It could be, but it’s not.

This grace when experienced and understood just a little makes us see all of those good things in a new light.  It makes those good things far more beautiful, but not as valuable as they once were.

The grace I am talking about is so valuable that everything in your life can be taken away, and still the most important thing to you is still there.

This grace cannot be earned.

The grace I am talking about is unmerited favor from God.  That’s favor based on nothing we do.  It’s based on who He is.  And the reason we even get to have it, is because Jesus took on a debt we owed to a just God.  Jesus made it possible for us to have a relationship with the one true living God, by His life, death, and resurrection.

Jesus lives and He offers the best grace around.

It’s better than a good earthly thing.

And we need to realize that.  We need God’s grace to us to fuel our lives, rather than the good things on this earth that we get to experience.  Because now by grace, we get to experience the only good thing that doesn’t end.  God Himself.

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So I grew up going to church.  Actually I grew up going to two churches.  My mom and dad became christians at different points in my life and got saved in different churches.

My mom went to a luthern church, and my dad a non-denominational, highly pentacostal church.  Two radically different worlds.

All these years later I go to church now too.  My whole family goes to the same church actually.  (Except one of my sisters who goes to a church in Tucson).  And the reason I go to church is not because this is my culture and what I have been taught.

For some reason I have always had a mind older than me.  And so growing up I even saw things about church I didn’t like.  The things I didn’t like were some relgiousness and falseness in it.  I say religious to mean that we do things to make God move.  We do things so that God is happy with us.  And I saw that a fair amount growing up.  My memory may exagerate that though.

Things as simple as my mom or dad telling me to stand up and sing during worship.

Something they didn’t realize is that despite me being around all that truth being spoken, my heart had not been changed.  It created a “Christian kid.” But it didn’t create someone with a new and reborn heart.

Following God was more about knowing the truth and doing what He wants you to do than anything else I think.  Maybe I remember it wrong, but that seemed to be what it was like.

But eventually after a lot of fighting with parents, more disillusion with the church, and actually going to a more healthy church God revealed himself to me in a way that I finally knew He loved me. And that’s when God did something in my heart.

Now when God changed me, it was because of something he did in my heart.  Not because of some awesome youth program. Or some awesome event.  He took someone that didn’t know me very well, and had them speak truth to my heart.  Specific things that my heart had been dealing with.  And that helped me realize all this truth I had been taught was true, but more so I felt loved by God.  And realzized this person was delivering a message of love to me specifically from God.

God was relentless in my life in spite of man trying to do what they thought was best for me.  But for some reason in all of man’s might and power, man could not change my heart.  My heart could not be trained to follow Jesus.  Not sincerely at least.

Call me old fashioned or Biblical, but I think that only God changes our hearts.  He may use people to even do that, it may even happen in the midst of some awesome event.

But

He is the one that changes it.

And now I am a youth pastor.  And I know that no event I put on, no way I do small group matters, unless it is somehow a place that cultivates God changing our heart.  Don’t get me wrong, I think God changes hearts in all sorts of ways.  But it needs to be lead by the Spirit rather than led by our events, or are ideas as to what pleases God.

This is what I want people to know, that God changes our heart.  We can’t be simply trained to follow Jesus or love Jesus or worship Jesus.  Even if we grew up in the church.

If that was possible, then my dad would have been able train me during  junior high and my freshman year to do all that.  But he couldn’t, my heart about God stayed nearly the same.

What my dad and mom did do, that changed my heart, was pray for it. They prayed that God would do something in my heart.   And God did.  I know he loves me, and that honestly makes me feel like nothing else matters but the fact the one living God loves me.

Who Owes Me?

September 17, 2011

So I struggle with anger.

I would have to say it’s an emotion that I don’t always do the best with.

Now some may be able to use their anger or frustration and turn it into good things.  Because not all anger is sinful.

I however seem to turn into a crochety old man.  And I think quite often I get angry about stuff that really doesnt matter.  And then sin with that anger in some way.

Recently I was listening to an Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast. It was talking about different enemies of a leaders heart.  And Andy was comparing these different enemies do debt.  And with Anger he says it is like you are saying to those you are angry with “You owe me.” (rather than I owe you)

That really resonated with me for some reason.

I think too often people in my life do something I view as dumb or stupid or whatever that causes me anger.  It’s because I think the world owes me intelligence.  Or really, the world of people I know owes me what I want.  It’s pretty dumb really.  A lot like a little spoiled kid who thinks he deserves everything, and whines and cries about it. 

No one owes me anything.  But for some reason my heart and mind convince me that someone does at times.

I don’t wanna live like that anymore.  Because someone has given me something I haven’t earned and wasn’t owed to me.  Check who and what out here.

Anyways anger is dumb.  God change my heart more please? 

I am on my Honeymoon.

Awesome I know.

And I felt the urge to write a blog.  Weird I know, because I am on my honeymoon.  But I stay up late and she goes to bed earlier than I do so quiet times are had by me.  And I think God is teaching me something in the past twenty four hours that I want to remember, so I am blogging it.

Last night me and my babydoll watched a new Basic Series: Teaching featuring Francis Chan.  Watch that here.

In it Francis talks about how there was this youth pastor that people had been impacted by, and that one thing that stood out to one particular person about this youth pastor, was that when they walked around together it was the closest thing to walking with Jesus that person had ever experienced.

Then tonight I was listening to this message from the Village Church Denton. And the pastor begins to talk about how he wants the elders (or pastors) in his church to be people that when followed around for a day, could show people how the Christian life is truly lived out.

I think God is speaking something to me.

That he wants to change me and mold me into that kind of person.

Jesus was a guy who sinners felt loved by.  Loved enough to eat with Him, in spite of other annoying religious leaders hatin on those sinners at the same time.  He was a guy who kids were drawn to.  He was a man who helped restore people’s lives  at that present.

Jesus was so full of love kids wanted to hang with Him, sinners feasted with Him.  All the while he was doing the work of Heaven on Earth.

I want to walk my daily life, the way Jesus would have walked it.  I want people to feel deeply loved by me (in the appropriate ways of course).

I want my small minute life, and the things I do with it, to be powerful enough to point them to Jesus.  Or to let them get a glimpse of Jesus in me.

When I hear the story of that youth pastor, who walks like Jesus did, something rises in me that knows God has that for me as well as anyone who seeks that.  The only things that will stop that, are my flesh wanting my glory instead of His glory, and my pride thinking I can be like Jesus without knowing or inviting His Spirit into my life.

It could be a powerful thing if walked around like Jesus did, full of the Spirit, knowing God is pleased with us, healing people, loving people, teaching people.

There is something I have been thinking out about lately. And it’s what motivates us in sharing the Gospel.  Or what motivates us in just telling people about Jesus or talking about Jesus.

The first motivation is this thing that happens to a lot of Christians where they feel extremely loved by God.  Where something happens in their life that they either just acknowledge the truth of God, or they experience God in some way, and from that point onward they feel extremely loved by God.  And even if they don’t feel that way it is easier for them to hold on to that truth no matter.

So when they share Christ with people it’s because of this great love they have for God and from God. Not that some of us have less love from God, but I think we can all admit that for some people it is easier for them to know that God loves them a ton for some reason.

And so when those people share under that motivation, its like they talk about the perfect father, or even a  perfect best friend, or perfect lover, and the people hearing see that the person feels deeply loved by God.

Those people are awesome.  My sister Bridget is a lot like that.  I am pretty sure God Himself delivered her from the womb, and was like Bridget I love you.  And so for as long as I have known her she has told so many about Christ, because she literally treasures Christ above all.  And her sharing overflows out of a deep preciousness she has for God.  My dad is like that too and probably all sorts of other people.

The second motivation is when there is this heart connection we have with God.  We (as Christians) find ourself amongst non-belivers and we can’t help but love them deeply.  Something happens in those belivers that God changed their heart, or melted or whatever, that helps them look at the prostitutes, the sinners, and outcasts, and say I love you.

This is the category I find myself falling into more often. God does this thing in me that gives me the heart He has for people. And I feel this overwhelming love or brokenness for people that I can’t help but want to share the Gospel with them.  And let them know how much God truly loves them.

When these people share, the hearers, come to see this non-religious Jesus that loves them deeply.  My sister Rosemary and I are a lot like that.

Both motivations are just ways that God works, I think any person can and hopefully will have both motivations in their life when sharing Christ.  Because having both motivations keeps a balance in their life.

For some reason God wires people certain ways so that you might be a person that leans more on one of those motivations.  And that’s okay.  That might just be the many parts one body type of a thing.

We should ask God for both these hearts though, a heart that breaks for those without Him, and a heart that melts because of His great love for us.  Pray for those things.

I will end with two quotes of people that are expressing both these motivations.

A heart adored:

If you were my friend on facebook, you would write on my wall every second as if we were in love. Because, well, we are.

 But you love me more.

You are love and my stregth and my song. You are everything my heart longs for deep down in that aching pit that needs….

YOU.    -Bridget Gee

And a heart connection:

“If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies.  And if they perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay.  If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” – Charles Spurgeon

Have you ever talked with Mormon missionaries?

Yeah it’s crazy.  I love mormons to be honest.  How can’t you? They seem to be great people, they are all super friendly.  Their mothers are lovely, and make some good food.

But they believe some weird stuff about Jesus.

One of my youth’s from youth group, has been meeting with them and talking with them.  Now this youth is really solid, I have nothing to worry about with her.  I gave her some stuff and scripture to show them.  And then I offered to be with her during one of these meet ups.

Now honestly I was pumped.  I was prepared with all the apologetical answers I could have.  I was going in with heavy ammo. These Mormons were going to denounce their faith.

As I brought up all my objections, none of them worked.  These guys weren’t having it.  Either they would have a different answer, or sidetrack me, or believe in some truths I believed in too. It was tricky.

I soon became dejected and sad.  Sad for them, sad for their total unwillingness to scrutinize anything they believe. (and I know some person reading this will say I am the same way, but the problem is I can’t help but scrutinize what I believe.  I have books and study Bibles, that help me for all the instances my brain argues with something that orthodox Christianity believes.) And I think there were some things I was about to realize about myself was what made me sad too.

So as I became dejected and sad, I think I prayed that God would use Annette to speak to these missionaries, because obviously the things I was saying were not reasonable in their minds.

And then Annette (the girl from youth) asked a question fundamental to the Gospel.  Little did she know it was a leading question, a question that explained the true Gospel, the one where it is not by works we are saved, and that we can’t work our way to perfection because once we accept Christ he sees us as perfect.

And that’s when I began to realize my wrongdoing.  I came into the night thinking my own knowledge and cleverness would convince these guys.

Annette has been meeting with them out of her love for them.

Annette has not been deceived in the least by them, because of  her love for God.

I realized that for some reason God wants us to be his witnesses.  But that he is going to be the one to change people’s hearts. I knew this already.  But I was reminded of it.

I was humbled.

I also realized the biggest idol I worship and cater to.  His name is me.

I have this idol of thinking how awesome I am.  I let that idea motivate me.  I let that idea think it can convert people in my own power.

And anytime that idol is shown to be a false god, a god that can’t serve me well at all, I get wrecked.

Basically my failures at times makes this idol come crashing down and me a sad and dejected person.  That’s also what happened to me last night.

My little failures have more power over me then they should, because I idolize myself and my supposed awesomeness more than I should.

I thank God he used last night to humble me. I thank Him that I realized how much I idolize myself, and how much I cater to feeding the idea of how awesome I am.

The only thing that will stump people is the Gospel.  This beautiful idea that God did and does everything we need to have a relationship with Him. The only thing that will change people’s hearts is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for showing me my huge idol of myself, and the implications of having that as an idol.   Help me to go into spiritual conversations wanting to share the Gospel out of love for God, or love for people.  And keep me from idolizing myself, and keep me worshipping you alone.

Next up, Gossip.

January 3, 2011

So. A while ago I started a blog series where I wanted to confess some of my more common sins.  Especially ones that hinder my relationships with others, which in turn probably hinder my relationship with God. So here goes more to that series.

I gossip man. (imagine me talking to you and that last sentence makes sense)

I realize that somehow I let this thing that is so intriguing for us all to do into my life.

For some reason when one is in close-knit communities it is very tempting to gossip.  And it’s hard to tell what gossip is.  But my old youth pastor, says its anything said about someone that could even possibly be considered negative behind their back.  It doesn’t matter if you would say it to their face or not.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and that might not be a totally accurate definition of gossip. But I think it’s a pretty good one.

I am particularly convicted about this because within the last year I have called out two people about their gossip.  And yet within the last few months I find myself gossiping.

It is a hard sin to drop.  One because honestly it is just fun to talk about other people in a light that makes ourselves feel like we have got it more together or something.

And two, when your friends are gossiping to you, it’s hard to stop them.  Either they blurt something out really fast, or it’s awkward to stop them mid-sentence and say “stop it you gossip.” Or what they’re saying sounds awesome to my ears for some reason.

I am trying however to stop my friends when I find them gossiping to me.  And I am also trying to apologize to people I gossip to when I find my self gossiping.  It might be more powerful if I started apologizing to the person I gossiped about though. That’s a scary idea.

God help me not to be like the chicks in clueless.

Love Always Hopes.

December 11, 2010

Alas, we have come to the end of the Love series. It has taken large amounts of time due to this blog not being my top priority.

I might have missed one or two, depending on how you divide up Paul’s love list.

Either way the last thing with love we will talk about is this;

1 Cor 13:7  [love] always hopes.

Love always hopes.

This blog is going to get personal fast. And for this blog to have its intended purpose, I have to go back a few months and tell you more about my life.

So this last May I was engaged. And by the middle of the summer, I was no longer engaged.

Due to some doubts, and fears, and other things, my fiance felt she needed to break up with me. And she felt led by God to do it. And I think she was.  Not that God would give doubts and fears, but what God wanted Jessica to do with those doubts and fears, became his leading.

So at first I was convinced I would never be in a relationship with her again.  People would even ask if I ever saw myself getting back together with her again, and I would say “Only if a homeless man walks up to me, says that he is a prophet and that I am supposed to marry Jessica Lee Stephenson.”

I was pretty sure about it.  Probably due to the hurt I was feeling.

One day though, one of my best friends, when hearing me say I was pretty sure of my no-Jessica-future said, “Anthony, you can’t know what God is going to do in your future, you can only know what he is telling you to do right now.” (modern day prophecy being the exception)

He was right.

What I was doing though was suppressing the fact that I still loved her.

I knew in principle that I had to cut the love from me, so I wouldn’t even let myself consider that I still loved her.

And when I did realize it, I was pretty wrecked.

And I began to ask God what he wanted me to do with those emotions. And I wasn’t really sure.  I prayed to God a lot about it.  I wrote him a lot of letters describing my hurt and hopeless feeling.

And then I don’t know what exactly happened, but I wanted to love Jessica no matter what.

So I thought about that idea. And then one night we randomly hung out.  And it was really fun and good.  And after I really wanted to go on a walk with her, but she had boundries of not hanging out with me too much.  And so as I realized that she wouldn’t go on a walk with me, I realized that I was desiring her love more than God’s love, and that was not okay.

I went on a walk with God instead.  I prayed and told God that I wanted to desire His love the most.  I repented for the sinful desire of Jessica’s love.  I told Him that I still wanted to love Jessica no matter what, as long as I was loving Him first and foremost, and desiring His love first foremost.

Through this time, I entered a waiting period.  Some of the boundries Jessica set up got stricter.  God was giving me the opportunity to really love Jessica no matter what, and to really pursue His love first. And during this time I would pray that God change my heart, or show me if I wasn’t to love Jessica how I was.

Through this time, I always had this stupid hope.  I call it stupid soley because having this hope didn’t make sense in view of the circumstances. It was hope that God would redeem my relationship with Jessica for His glory.

That’s what I think it means when it says that Love always hopes. This idea that if you truly love someone, that no matter what happens, you are filled with hope that your love and their love  is only going to get better.  Even if it doesn’t look that way.

And through this God began to heal Jessica’s heart from things, and God began to work on some things with me.  I began to learn to trust on and lean on God more than anyone more than I ever had.

Through God confirming things, using people, and His word,  I felt that he was leading me to one day be back in a relationship with Jessica.  But first he had a time of waiting for me.

During that time of waiting God sanctified me so much.  Even before I realized I was in that time of waiting, God was making me more holy.  The break up caused a speed up in my realizing its time to be a man process.  It helped me realize how I have learned to deal with conflict and communication.  The break up brought about far more good things in my life than bad things.  Clearly God was using it, and clearly God is the ultimate author.

And yesterday, Jessica asked me to be her boyfriend again.  And through this process there have been some clear realizations about some things in my relationship with Jessica that were not okay.  Ways she thought about me, or ways that I treated her.  And my friends have been very protective of me because of those things.  But every skeptical question, every thing I would need to hear, was told to me by God or Jessica.  Its really amazing and redemptive to see what God has done.  It is awesome and clearly can only come from God when a person goes from a place of thinking they can’t love you no matter what, to making the choice to love me no matter what, as well as asking God to help them to do it.

There is so much more to this story.  Just ask my roommates.  I am sure some people out there are skeptical.  But I don’t really care. I can see what God is and has been doing.

Love is not put to shame.  And I was not put to shame by hoping for the love that God had for both of us, whether He wanted us to love in the relationship, or out of it.  God is good. And redemptive. And awesome. And I thank Him so much for not only redeeming me once, but redeeming me daily.

There is another sin I wanna confess.

Before I confess, I have to tell you some background information about me.

Ever since I can remember I have had this deep sense of justice.

God has wired me in this way where I can see the right and wrong in a situation very easily at times.  I think we all have that to varying degrees.

However for me there is this need for justice when I see it lacking.  This would cause me as a child to argue in defense of my siblings to my parents at times.  (hopefully I ususally did it in a honoring way, but probably didn’t always do it that way).

Or to tell random people I don’t know not to mock some poor kid.

So I have this deep sense of justice. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Except when I use it to fight for myself.

That is my confession.  Too often I want to use this sense of justice to make me look better, to make me look right.

Or when I am told about how I am wronging someone, I try and convince that person they have wronged me worse.

And that is not okay.

I realized a few months back, that God has given me a deep sense of justice.  But that he has given me that to benefit others. Not myself.

God, thank you for this sense of justice. Help me to use it for others benefit and not my own, so that I can be a living sacrifice.  Forgive me for using it wrongly and selfishly at times to benefit myself, or make me look better when I am told about how I have sinned against someone.

Confessing My Sins Online

November 16, 2010

So I pretty much finished the love series. There is one more description of love I have to do. But I am going to save it. Maybe you know which one it is, and why I want to save it.

In the meantime I am going to start a new blog series.

Its going to be some blogs where I take some time to confess some of my daily sins that I struggle with.

I don’t know why else I want to do this other than the fact that it will be potentially healing for me, and potentially healing for others as we begin to look at our brokeness, and realize God’s forgiveness and ability to change those things over time.

So the first sin I want to confess is that I am too judgemental.

It’s really bad.

I judge so many people’s motives.

I often find myself thinking about people doing things, and convince myself they were doing it out of sinfulness.  Or people will choose to do things that aren’t sinful, but I will treat that non-sinful act as sin.  Like selling a textbook to a Christian friend rather than giving it away for free.

Do you see what I did there?

It is totally cool to sell your text books.  Nothing sinful about it.  No matter who you are selling your textbooks to.

This is a common phenomenon in our Christian culture though isn’t it?

We sit around and talk about how different Christians, ministries, or churches could do a better job at ________________.

I hate being part of those conversations.  Unless they are ministries that I am directly in and can affect, I don’t think I want to be part of those conversations.

I want to be part of conversations that talk about how we can strengthen the Christians around us.

How we can strengthen the ministries in our lives.

And how we can strengthen the Church. (people church not building church)

Let’s get into conversations like that.

Let’s judge less, and only when judging is what will edify the church.

Mostly though, I think for me, most of my judging is tearing down love God has put in my heart.  And I don’t want to tear down anything God has built.

Or it’s letting haughtyness rise in my heart. And I don’t want to grow or cultivate that.

God, forgive me for thinking I can judge everyone for all of their actions. Humble me.  Let me realize where I am judging wrongly.  Let me know and understand your forgiveness.  Let me judge only to edify.  Spirit fill me and empower me to do this.