What God’s Been Teaching Us

   A friend of ours came to us for help recently.  He was really struggling with circumstances and loneliness.  He said, “I feel like I’m flying a plane and flying in circles because I just need a co-pilot.”  He felt like there was a hole in his life that only a wife could fill and he was confused why God would allow him to struggle so much when he had worked so hard to live rightly.  I couldn’t help but think of the words of so many Psalms that wonder why the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer.  There was something else going on though as well.  When we “play by the rules,” we can start to think God owes us something.  I still remember the words of Cru president, Steve Douglass, during our New Staff Training 12 years ago: “What we deserve is Hell.  Anything else is sheer grace.”  We explained that God doesn’t promise an easy life, but promises to be with us during the hard times.

     Then, we took our friend through the “Satisfied!” booklet which walks through 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 and 3:1-2 along with other passages to explain the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives.  He is our true source of satisfaction, and my friend realized that trying to fill that need with anything or anyone else would only end up in more hurt.  He asked the Lord to take the throne of his life and fill him with the Holy Spirit.  He came back to the airplane analogy and said, “I shouldn’t be in the pilot seat. God’s the pilot and I’m a passenger.”  As he is filled to overflowing by God, I believe he will have more to give to a wife someday as well.

What God’s Been Teaching Us

   We call it “chasing away the snake,” and it’s the most important thing that I do.  Prayer has been an increasing practice in our family.  That may sound obvious since all believers are commanded to “pray continually” (1 Thes 5:17) and invited to “cast all your anxiety on Him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). However, it has always been hard for me (Jeff) to take time away from what seems like practical activity that leads to a predictable, strategic result.  Prayer has always seemed so intangible, but I am convinced that it is the most important thing we do in life.  As a husband and father, I am learning more about my specific role in prayer for our family.

As we have fellowshipped with many pastors and leaders from churches all over the country, praying together has been important.  But among them I have heard over and over again my personal responsibility to be the spiritual head of my house (Eph 5:23).  I must own my responsibility to cover my family in prayer regularly.

We have an enemy attacking our family unit.  He attacks individuals in that family and drives wedges between us.  He works in big, obvious attacks and slow, patient drifting.  With God’s help, I will not be idle or oblivious on my watch as Adam was.  Through continuous prayer I will chase away the snake and draw us near to God (James 4:6-8).  Please join me!  Here’s a devotional for a Praying Husband.

What God’s Been Teaching Us (summer ’17)

While there is more to unpack from the staff conference than I (Jeff) can write here, I’d like to highlight some of the things I am still processing.

As a Hispanic American with a rough past, Dr. Adam Saenz had beautiful experiences growing in Christ while on staff with Cru; but he also had some very painful experiences in a mostly white community that didn’t always get or accept his differences. He
has gone on to get more degrees than I can count and was asked to help us learn what it means to truly “ō heis” just as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:21).

Adam explained that people can go through different stages of community. In the first stage, “pseudo community,” we’re all smiles and talking about what we have in common (avoiding any parts of ourselves that might divide). It feels good, but it’s shallow and short-lived. Life happens, those differences come out and we fight
over who is right. We can’t stay there, so we either retreat back to pseudo community or move forward by surrendering our need to fix, convert and control. When we share our own brokenness, and accept each other’s with love, true community and healing happens… usually with lots of tears!

Pray for this to happen across the body of Christ!

What God’s been teaching us – His Bride throughout history

11th Century – the Church splits between East and West

Who knew doodling in class could be such a good idea?  Karen and I sat down in our seminary class on Church History this month, doubtful that our spotty memories could retain all the information from 20 centuries of names, dates and events.  Not to worry, though—our animated professor had a plan!

 

He taught us to memorize a letter (only consonants) to match each of the 10 numerical digits, then turn those letters into word-pictures.  For example, number one is represented by the letter “T” and 11 could be “ToT,” so he had us imagine two tots playing tug-of-war with the church to represent how the Catholic and Orthodox church split during the 11th century (over issues like beards and what bread to use in communion).  It sounds ridiculous even as I recount it, but I’ve got to tell you that those 20 centuries are all pretty clear in my head along with many of the significant people of the time.

But what did God teach us through all of this?  Beyond simply how to memorize things better, we learned so much about how God has been on the move since the days of Jesus, through (and sometimes in spite of) the dubious dedication of His children.  I can see where a lot of people with different backgrounds are coming from.  I have a greater desire to reach out to those who are different and get to know them.

It also gives me confidence about the future.  The Church has continually gone through lots of trouble from inside and out and, if it were up to people, it would have languished long ago…but the Holy Spirit keeps breathing new life on those who are willing, and He will continue to do so until Jesus returns!

Dialogue or Debate

I discovered a very interesting board game the other day, where each player takes part in a mock tavern brawl.  Your goal is simply to gather the most “reput
ation points” either by performing ridiculous stunts (swinging on chandeliers, showing off on the table) or by stealing reputation from your opponents (knocking them down with chairs, stabbing them in the back, etc).

As a game, it was a lot of chaotic fun, but the concept of “stealing reputation” got me to thinking about how we do that in real life.  When we engage people we disagree with about something, do we have a humble posture that says “lets both learn and grow, because neither of us has arrived” or do we make people feel like they have to defend themselves in order to “win the debate” or be counted as an equal.

We can’t afford to stop talking about the things that are most important just because we don’t agree, but let’s look for ways to show our own vulnerability and to honor the other as we journey along together…

That doesn’t mean I won’t take you down in that board game though :).

 

Celebrate

As part of an effort to partner with a network of churches in building a new gospel movement at Florida Gulf Coast University, I (Jeff) was blessed with the opportunity to attend a 2-day conference called DiscipleShift.  There were a lot of neat ideas shared, including how they use the powerful method of Bible Storying to unpack the week’s sermon in all their Life Groups.  What stood out to me most of all through the weekend, though, was the importance of celebration.  This is not something I’ve done very well.

The Bible says a lot about celebration, God even commands us to remember the good things in our life by throwing parties!  In my own strategic, always-looking-forward mind, I often forget to stop and make a big deal about people and what they & God have accomplished.  Let’s spend less time reaching for the next thing (which only God can accomplish anyway) and more time rejoicing in the people and blessings God has already given us!

  • Plan daily and special times of celebration
  • Dedicate everything to God and thank Him for it
  • Lead with joy (and maybe a gentle prank or two 🙂
  • Claim the promises of God (especially His promise to forgive)
  • Invest in God’s people

Watch this beautiful video on the art of celebration: youtu.be/VamJCsYMFBg

What God’s Been Teaching Us – “Pure and Simple”

At a recent conference we learned a very helpful analogy. Did you know that an elephant pregnancy lasts two years? So, in best cases, 2 elephants become 3 after two years. In the same amount of time, 2 rabbits become 1,369! This “conservative” estimate is based on the fact that they can have a new litter (of up to 14) every month. Not only that, but baby rabbits are ready to reproduce in only half a year!

What’s the point? Simpler things can multiply faster. Jesus kept it simple. He frequently sent people out to speak for Him who were no kind of biblical scholars (see His champions on the left)! In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 36 pairs of missionaries and in verse 2, He gives them this very simple instruction, “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out (violently shove) laborers into his harvest.”

On a personal note, we too can get bogged down by overcomplicating things. In fact, in 2 Cor 11:3 Paul is concerned that the devil would trick believers away from the “pure and simple” devotion to Christ. So, I’d like to challenge you to carry on that simple task. Would you commit to praying one sentence (Luke 10:2) every day—perhaps at 10:02 on the clock? 🙂 Perhaps pair up with someone like they did and see what God does!

What God’s Been Teaching Us

For about a year Jeff and I have been praying almost daily that God would “mold our hearts to be like Jesus, multiply our lives into others, and mobilize laborers for His rescue mission harvest.”  It is especially hard to pray that first part, because God has used a lot of very difficult times to mold our hearts.  But we will not stop praying it, because sometimes we are shown such a clear vision of what God is doing.  Sometimes the beauty of God’s bigger picture is better seen when we feel surrounded by ugliness.

For example, we mentioned last month that our air conditioner has been the source of a lot of trouble.  It was leaking and causing health concerns, so we made the very expensive decision to replace the AC system.  Things got worse as inspections revealed that the installers made mistakes and even created fire and safety hazards to the point that we had to replace the brand new unit with another new unit (through a new company!).  So many days of having people in our home looking at everything, so much paperwork to fill out, so many phone calls, so much time and energy. But God has been using it all for His glory!

A man named Jason from the new AC company was incredibly gracious and helpful, and by the end of our first meeting we had all shared our hearts a little and prayed together. (On another house call in 2008, Jason had been led to the Lord by Cru co-founder Vonette Bright, and his marriage and family were transformed!)  He was a huge blessing to us, but he won’t stop thanking us for praying for and encouraging him!  He and his wife have been having conversations about going deeper with God and now Jeff is discipling him 🙂

Next I got to pray with another Jason in the Philippines (from our credit card company, working to get our refund from the first AC company).  Picking up on a comment I made about my faith, he ended up really pouring his heart out and we prayed and cried together.  I told him how much God loved him and that every minute of frustration over the air conditioner was worth it to be able to encourage and pray with him.  God doesn’t waste a single thing!  Please keep praying!

What God’s been teaching us

Picture1“I don’t have time to do God’s work.”  We hear it a lot from students and friends.  You know, it’s true that this world is REALLY busy, too busy for our own good, but this idea of being too busy to serve God is a misunderstanding.  A good friend once recommended a book to us called “Get Real: Sharing Your Faith Everyday” and it explains really well how living for God isn’t about adding new, religious things to your schedule, but changing your perspective and rethinking how you do what already fills your day.

Karen and I got to go to a convention in town and take a few days away from the crazy schedule of family and ministry.  The prayer warrior she is, though, she is frequently praying over our surroundings and passersby, asking God for ministry opportunities.  With 1,500 people at this event, the Lord just MOVED in her heart to pray specifically for this one guy she saw at a nearby table (Last time that happened, we ended up selling our house to them; see here for THAT amazing story!).  So she prayed over the next couple days and asked God to bring him to her if she was supposed to talk to him about it.

It was the final day of the convention, after a church service, when God actually opened the door for us to meet and talk with this young man!  He was incredibly moved as Karen explained how God had singled him out.  He shared how he and his girlfriend have been dedicating their relationship to God and are focused on making sure they are following Him before taking the next steps of engagement and life after college.  Please pray for this sweet couple, Bobby and Jenn, and keep YOUR OWN eyes open for how God might use you every day!

What God’s Been Teaching Us

In a fallen world so full of unpredictable circumstances, it’s easy to get confused about what God is doing.  We feel like He wanPicture2ts us to head in one direction and then that door seems to be closed.  Sometimes I (Jeff) struggle to know how hard to try to make something happen and whether that would be operating under my own strength and plans instead of God’s.

In Acts 16, the apostle Paul encountered this too when he tried to go to spread the Word of God to Asia and to Bithynia, but both times God stopped him.  Later in the passage, Paul gets a vision of a man from Macedonia asking for help, and he and Silas conclude that this must be the Lord’s new leading.  But when they eventually do go to Macedonia, they are harassed for days and days by a demon-possessed girl and when they stop her, they are thrown in prison for it!  Do you think for at least a moment, Paul and Silas wondered, “what are you doing, God?  I thought you told us to come here.”  Of course God uses both the girl and the jailer as part of a greater story that grew a faith community in that city for generations!

Just like Paul, we are making sure to obey our fir
st calling (called to be His children) and trusting the Lord to complete the good works He calls us to and begins in us along the way.  Why not take a minute to ask God whether He wants something for you that isn’t what you had planned?