tragedy

Americans started off this past week with horrific news. Dozens upon dozens of people are dead and hundreds more are injured after a gunman opened fired at a Las Vegas music festival. This is being called the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. It is senseless. This attack hit close to home for Carson City residents remembering our own local tragedy that hit our city on September 6, 2011 when a gunman opened fired at IHOP killing four people. This is not the first time (or last time) our community has felt the sting of death and the pain of searing loss.

Our hearts break far too often because of the senseless rage of a lone gunman or because of the seemingly endless assault of terror, death and tragedy that plays out in lives, our community and in the world. Perhaps you have thought or prayed about living in a world in which friends could go to the movie theater, where athletes could run marathons, where our kids could go to the park or school, where people could attend concerts and where one could go to places like nightclubs and or even churches without the fear of violence.

The reality is that have to deal with events like natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and although those are devastating in their own right, it is the unexplainable and senseless acts of evil that is poured out on others that bring about a deep level of grief and pain. And often in those experiences, we are left asking: “Why?”

How do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy within our own lives? How do we answer the “why” question, or even more difficult yet, what do we say when the world asks us, “Why did God allow this to happen…?” Perhaps, there is no single response that can adequately address the complexity or these questions. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, nor is there any election result that can fix this once and for all. But, in the midst of the pain and confusion our God is big enough, great enough, powerful enough, and merciful enough to handle every single “Why?” In His divine nature and His role as Creator and Sustainer, He can and will reveal to those searching how He was and is present with us during the most painful, tragic, and senseless seasons in our lives.

God’s Word is very clear on how His people should respond when tragedy hits. Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Jesus taught that: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Psalm 42 is a beautiful prayer that encourages us as we read it, to rest in the Lord for His hope and wisdom during the toughest experiences in life. Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If you have ever been through a tragic event or experienced the death of a loved one, then you know that often that time of difficulty can be but a blur. Days may seem endless, sleep is fleeting, and the tears rise like flood waters. Yet, if you are blessed enough to be surrounded by a strong support system, this network is somehow getting you from place to place, it is present, and it is sustaining in the midst of the blur. The Lord is like that for us spiritually, but in a much deeper and much more profound way. In our time of need He will take care of us in ways we cannot fully explain or always comprehend. He is there and He is at work – just like the wind we may not be able to see it, but we can sure see its affects!

So how do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy? The church, our leaders and pastors, the neighbor, parent or student – we must respond, but how? We simply do. We do not stay silent and we do not stay at a distance. We go and be the church, the kind of church that Jesus had in mind all along. We should not stay silent and we should not sit back doing nothing. We pray. We stay humble. We serve. We laugh with and cry with those around us. We confess and repent of any wrong. We cling to Jesus and the Holy Word of God, and nothing else. We forgive, and love, and hope, and trust. We turn to the Lord for the strength we fear we might not have, for He has it. And, we point people back to the hope of knowing Jesus personally and the joy that is found in eternal security in Him.

We actually do have the things that can change this world: the hope of Jesus Christ and His ever present comfort to those in need. What you do in response to senseless tragedy matters more than ever. We are meant to be the conduit of God’s mercy and grace to a hurting and broken world. So, let us go and be the church, the church that boldly declares: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

Lord, as we have learned to do in all our experiences, we come to You now. We know that You love us, and that You can turn even the shadow of death into the light of morning. Help us now to wait before You for healing and hope as we grieve and mourn. Make this a time of opening our eyes and our understanding of Your comfort and of your love. I pray that you would bless those who feel this sorrow most deeply, and unify Your Bride, Your church, so that we may share with our friends and family our spiritual strength and faith in You which is ours through the love of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

(Adapted: Originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” which appeared on Oct. 7, 2017)

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learning through challenges

I am sure every person, in one way or another can relate to this illustration…

Every one of us faces challenges. Some are big and some are small. Challenges that I face, might not be as difficult for you to navigate. Setbacks you encounter might derail you, where with another person, they are more easily managed. Some of us are magnificently equipped to handle a variety of challenges while others of us have to continually seek out help and leverage what resources, skills or talents we currently possess.

The way in which we respond to the challenges we are faced with in life speak powerfully about our character and the values of our heart.

And we could easily turn to a quick fix, or perhaps a quick search…

One could read all the “how to” books and articles and still not experience that change of the heart and mind that is required of someone to endure the challenges of…school or work, parenthood, anger or fear, floods and earthquakes, annoying neighbors, obnoxious friends, a lack of employment and financiers, sickness, disease, or even death. You name the challenge and it will always require perseverance on our part.

The reality we probably have to embrace is that the way in which the world around us responds to challenges, well it might not be our best model to pursue.

In fact, I believe there is a better model…

Jesus, and only Jesus should be our example that we look to as we face challenges. And, God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment

And perhaps you do. Perhaps you cry out to Him in prayer. Perhaps you turn to the Word of God for direction and hope. Perhaps when faced with a challenge you have a whole network of physical and emotional support that you can mobilize.

But when you’ve done this, when you’ve grieved, confessed, prayed and sought help, what have you learned as a result? What has God taught you about His character and your identity being rooted in Him, regardless of the challenge and its outcome?

Often we see our challenges as hurdles or road blocks preventing us from living, from loving and from doing all that God has placed within our reach. As we face challenges we need to build into our spiritual problem solving methodology the ability to stop and ask the right question.

Jesus had twelve disciples who followed Him and learned from what He had to say. The word ‘disciple’ literally means ‘learner’. It is a passion of mine to be a Disciple of Christ who makes Disciples for Christ who can go and make Disciples of Christ. That means that we should be very focused on learning how to listen to God and to seek to learn what He’s telling us in every experience, in every challenge.

To help us with this, you can use a tool called the “Learning Circle.” I have been using this in my journey with the Lord and it has profoundly impacted my life.

The “Learning Circle” helps us, especially in challenging time and during set-backs or loss, it helps us during those experiences and challenges to identify when God is speaking to us through a “kairos moment” – a moment in which God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment.

We all face challenges and we all make mistakes. We can either learn from them, or ignore them and watch them happen again and again. Using the “Learning Circle” has helped me move from observation to action.
learningcircleI have learned that most effective way to start applying the “Learning Circle” to our lives is to learn it from somebody else. I believe in this tool and I’d love to partner with you in apply it to your life. But for now, the next time you have a kairos moment, why not share it with somebody you trust. Ask them, “can you help me take this around the circle?”

To help you more now, here is a simple outline of each step of the circle…

FIRST – OBSERVE: To change our lives, we need to observe where we are. This means taking note of our reactions, emotions and thoughts.

SECONDLY – REFLECT: This means asking ourselves why we reacted or felt the way we did. If a real change is to take place, we must be honest with our answers. 

THIRD – DISCUSS: Through discussion, and by sharing our thoughts with a group of trusted friends, we begin to discover more clearly what God is doing in our life. It can be hard to share your thoughts and struggles with someone else but it will help you grow and change the way God wants you to. 

FOURTH – PLAN: After reflecting and discussing, the next step is to plan. This always involves considering the Kingdom of God first. Pray, discuss, and consider the best move or action that will glorify God. 

FIFTH – ACCOUNTABILITY: If your plan is going to happen, there needs to be at least one person holding you accountable. Ask someone to pray with you and keep them up to date with how you’re going. And pick a person who is the “real-deal” as well – someone who won’t sugarcoat their responses but who care enough about your growth and success that they will be honest.  

AND SIXTH – ACTION: Once a plan has been established and shared, the next step to take should be is to act on it. Real faith is courageous. Real faith trusts in God and what He has said. Real faith always surfaces as action. Thoughts and intentions that remain within the mind and are not acted upon, however fruitful, is not faith.

You can learn more – and I would HIGHLY encourage you do just that – you can learn more about the “Learning Circle” by connecting with me directly, or by reading “Building a Discipling Culture” by Mike Breen, or by visiting the 3DM website directly. The “Learning Circle” image is from a shared resource.

When we face challenges we can learn from them and we can look to Jesus with complete confidence that He wants us to learn and grow through all of life’s challenges.

God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment. How will you respond? And He is faithful, He will not waste any of the pain we face. He is with us in every season, and through every experience, looking for us to become more like Him and experience more of His peace.

Be Unashamed

What truly matters to you?

What are you passionate about?

As followers of Christ, as fully devoted and fully committed disciples of Christ we are called to boldly proclaim the Good News about Jesus Christ.

3d3b44d7ab943d5f5e60bbacf4938c00Romans 1:16-17 says: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’”

The Apostle Paul was proclaiming a message about a Messiah who had reconciled humanity with the Lord through the cross – and this message, His allegiance, it was a scandalous offense to those around him. And even though the Jewish people of the day longed for the Messiah to come – they took offense with what He was proclaiming. The Jews, the Greeks and even the Romans had these things that truly mattered to them, items and people that they placed their hope and allegiance in for this is what they were devoted to. And all of it, was never a bold confession and devotion to the Lord. If any of them were to do what Paul did here in this truth, declaring that Jesus is Lord, it would be at the risk of their very lives and they could not comprehend that.

But Paul did – do you? As a disciple of Christ in our community, do you get what you are called to do with your life? And, are you actually doing it? If you believe you have been doing this – then what does the fruit of that work look like in your life? Paul boldly proclaims that he was not ashamed to declare that Jesus is Lord. He had been a leader to the Jews, an influencer in the world he was surrounded by and he even held Roman citizenship – but His journey as a disciple of Christ dramatically changed all of that and he radically, boldly and powerfully declared: I am not ashamed…!

Does a statement like this reflect your heart?

Does saying, believing and acting this out matter to you?

What Paul declared, also matched with what he was doing for God. This is very important for us to grasp. We must be fully surrendered to the Lord and fully devoted to doing God’s work. Stop thinking your busyness is the Lord’s work. If we are truly living as disciples of Christ, making more disciples of Christ then this community of believers we live among, it would be seeing more and more people coming to salvation in the Lord. We are called to be His disciples and to make more disciples for Christ and we do this when we are unashamed in what we proclaim about God and when we live out our faith in such an authentic way that it faithfully declares to those around us that we belong to God and that we long to see Him redeem and transform their lives.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ can hold its own against any challengers. Do not live in fear of what your friends or family might say or do when you boldly and faithfully live a Christ like life in this present moment. Clarence Bence said: “Although there are strategies for countering the criticisms of the skeptics, or compensating for the failures of less-than-perfect believers, or coping with spiritual adversaries, faith is the key to experiencing the good news of salvation in one’s life.”

Does your faith in the Lord reflect your belief and action as His beloved, as a truly devoted disciple of Christ?

Paul was fully committed to making sure that with the rest of his life, with all that he had, that those he encountered would know the Good News about Jesus Christ.

Does proclaiming this message, that Jesus saves, does it truly matter to you?

Are passionate about sharing with others God’s plan for Salvation – how God has saved you and how He has transformed your life? 

What has the impact of being unashamed for Christ’s on your life – on your family – your marriage or other relationships – what has that impact been and how has it changed you?

May you cultivate in your discipleship journey an overwhelming confidence in God’s power to redeem a lost and hurting world. May this motivate you to use every aspect of your life to share with others the gospel message that Jesus saves. And, may you be unashamed to proclaim, in your words and actions, that Jesus is Lord of your life and that you want others to surrender to His lordship for their lives!

confession time

I love my mom. And that’s not the confession I’m making…

Many years ago she started e-mailing us kids each day of the work week; she shared a verse and thought of the day from a devotional calendar that she has. And it has stuck – and now we get a little glimpse into whatever she is doing that day, etc. as well.

Today’s e-mail made my heart happy. Life over the past couple of years for my mom has been hard. She lost her sister and then almost a year later, we lost my brother. So things have been tough – but she has been faithful with her daily e-mails and faithful to encourage others. Today she shared this: “I had a chance to witness to Debbie, our apartment manager, yesterday. She is really close to the truth, and wants to understand the bible-please pray that the Holy Spirit will give me the right words. I invited her to church, and will invite her to go to Bible Study…”

I wrote her back and I told her I loved her and I loved her heart for others. She told me she has really grown and been stretched this last year. And its great to see her wanting to share with others about her faith in the Lord and the hope she has in God. And it is true – something has changed in her…

I’m also madly in love with my wife. And that’s no confession either – pretty much everyone knows how crazy I am about her…

My wife shared with me recently that she has a new desire to be more open to sharing about the love of God with people she is connecting with or new people she meets. If you know her, you know that she tends to be more a “behind the scenes” kind of person. But recently, God has been growing her and stretching her to look for opportunities each day, wherever she is at, to connect with people and to point them to Jesus. And guess what? Well, every park we’ve been to with the kids in the last couple of weeks the Lord puts on my wife’s heart to connect with a person she meets there. It’s incredible – this change in her, this desire and boldness…

My mom and my wife are inspiring me with their desire to share with others about their love for God. The Lord has used them to re-ignite within me an awareness of what He has already at work doing in the lives of people I encounter each day. Their example in my life has encouraged me to more bold with people I connect with. It’s led me to pray with strangers at the pet store and Wall-Greens. It’s led me to stop, connect and listen with people I normally pass by. And it’s given me opportunities to share with each of them, the hope that I have found in the Lord.

So my confession is this: I have not been good at sharing with others the hope that I have in the Lord. And to my family and friends who aren’t yet connected to God – I am sorry I haven’t been more courageous about sharing my faith with you. We know its there – for crying out loud, I’m a pastor. But I want that to change. I want you to see in me and my actions the hope that I profess in Jesus Christ. I don’t want to just pray for you, I want to, if you’ll let me, to pray with you. And, regardless of what you might think about the church, or the Lord – I want to, if you are willing, to have great conversations with you about God and His love for you. I love each of you and I want to spend eternity with you. I care about you, and about us, and I care too much to stay silent about this anymore.

So…who are you going to share going to share the Good News of God’s love with today? There are people all around you that need to know the Hope you have in the Lord – be bold, be courageous and point someone to Jesus today!

the things kids teach us

Recently I experienced something really great with my two girls. There was this moment, with each one of them, that God spoke to me powerfully through them…

A few nights prior to this, my wife and I gathered up our two girls for prayer before bed. We asked the girls what we could pray for them about. Our oldest shared this: I really want to see my friend. Pray that I see my friend soon. I really want to give her a hug. Now this particular friend of hers that she wanted us to pray for, well she doesn’t see very often. This friend that our daughter wanted to see is the grand-daughter of a friend of our girls grandma – so they only see their friend when their grandma does things with their friend’s grandma. But our oldest daughter wanted to see her and wanted us to pray that she sees her soon, because she missed her and wanted to give her a hug. So we prayed with her about this, and honestly, I didn’t think much more of her request…

Fast forward now a few days – we went to hear Francis Chan speak at another church. My anxiety level was pretty high as we drove there. We were late. I never took any opportunity to pause and gather myself that day. Just went from one thing, to the next. I was busy. Arriving late, waiting in a big line, trying to check our kids into the kid’s program. It was all too much for me to handle and I had a horrible attitude. I was a mean old grump for a few moments – to my wife, and to my kids. Not a moment I am proud of – as I hurt the feelings of the three most important people in my life. But rather than stopping, to say sorry, to share how I was feeling – I pressed on. Busy. Gotta go. Gotta get into church…(and oh the irony of that…)

Once into the church, we couldn’t find a seat, so we were sent to the overflow area, which was full. Then, we were sent to the video cafe. After the service we went to pick-up our girls and they had a great time. I had our younger daughter and Melanie had our older daughter. Getting through the crowds in the kid’s center was a bit hectic. I got outside and realized that Melanie and our older daughter were no longer behind us. So we waited. Finally they came out – and guess why they got delayed? Because God answered our oldest daughters prayer: she saw the friend she prayed for and was able to give her a hug.

The look on her face was amazing. She knew she prayed for something special. And God answered her prayers. Neither of our families goes to this church often, yet it was at this place that God answered her little prayer. Just because we get busy, and are surrounded by crowds, doesn’t mean that the Lord can’t still do amazing things. Through her, I saw God answer a prayer – one prayed in simple faith – but one that got my attention and said: stop, and trust in Lord – rest in Him – God is faithful.

As we drove to dinner, I prayed quietly to myself: Lord I’m sorry for my attitude today. I’m sorry for not spending time with you. I’m sorry God for speaking to my family in a harsh way tonight. I then looked at my wife and apologized to her and the girls. I was wrong. I made a choice earlier and it hurt her and it affected my kids. I was wrong and I was sorry.

We drove for a few more minutes, and here was a chance at redemption: my wife expressed now how she was feeling anxious about something. And how did I respond? Not like the forgiven Nick I should have. I responded, again – in such a negative way, and again, I spoke towards her in way that wasn’t loving or supportive. And again, after dinner, I was feeling pretty negative about my actions. I began to share, again, with my wife how I was sorry for how I had spoken to her. And again, I asked for her forgiveness.

Admitting you are wrong is tough – doing it twice in a row, is pretty hard. Learning from a mistake is so important. In that moment, I felt so crummy. I had such an “off” day. I had responded so poorly to so many things. It was embarrassing. I lacked so much joy and excitement. I was ashamed.

The car was pretty silent at that point. I was deep in thought, reflecting on everything. And from the back seat of the car, our youngest daughter told me she loved me. Sweet, right? It put a little smile on my face. But then something amazing happened. She started to sing. The words out of her mouth melted my heart and broke down my shame and embarrassment. She sang: God’s still working on me, to make me who He wants me to be…

God reminded me through the continued forgiveness of my wife what grace does to shame – it destroys it. God reminded me through the prayers of my daughter, a simple prayer of asking to see and hug her friend – that He is faithful and that I can truly trust in Him with every need and desire I have. And, the Lord spoke to me in this breakthrough moment of repentance through a little kids song, sung by my youngest daughter. It was as if the Lord Himself was right there, saying: Nick I love you and I am still at work in your life to make you who I want you to be.

I desire above else to be a great husband and great father. I want to encourage and lift-up my wife in all that we do together. And I want to be a loving and faithful example to my daughters. And seeing God at work through the prayer of one daughter and the song of another, it gives me tremendous joy – God’s desire to work in my life!

And, I hope what I learned about the Lord through my daughters encourages your heart and points you to the truth that God loves you too, and that He is at work in your life to make you who He longs for you to be. This is, what Brennan Manning says, is the furious longing of God that “the God I’ve come to know by sheer grace, the Jesus I met in the grounds of my own self, has furiously loved me regardless of my state – grace or disgrace. And why? For His love is never, never, never based on our performance, never conditioned by our moods – of elation or depression. The furious love of God knows no shadow or alteration or change. It is reliable. And always tender.” (The Furious Longing of God, Brennan Manning)

Through the tenderness of my children, God reminded me of the amazingness of His love. May you experience this life-changing, furious love of the Lord today…!

How Does One Know?

Do I need God’s permission, or His direction and/or revealed plan to do good to others? Yes, and no? Here is another question then: can I, in doing an act of goodness towards another, get in the way of God? I am a very logical person and yet I really try to allow God and His Word to direct me and the direction I take. Do I need God to always confirm for me to do good to others? This week through a few different situations I have found myself really wrestling with these questions.

Jesus gathers His disciples. Simon (also called Peter), then Andrew (Peter’s brother), James (son of Zebedee), John (James’s brother), Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew (the tax collector), James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot), and Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him). He sends these guys out. He commissions them. He gives them authority. They’ve been spending all this time following Christ, the Messiah, the Savior and in Matthew 10 Jesus calls them together and gives them His seal of approval to go & do…He gives them authority to cast out demons, to heal people, to raise people up from the dead…to give as freely as they have received.

Jesus Himself told His most loyal men to go and give as freely as they have received.

Has the Lord ever set me free from “demons”? Yes. Has the Lord ever healed me? Yes, physical hurts as well has heart-hurts. Has God raised me from a dead-end life? Yes, absolutely. I’ve received so much, and as a respond to what I have been given I am called to give as I have been given.

So, do I need to permission from God to go and do? And if I go and do, can I get in way of God’s plan?

Later in Matthew 10, Jesus says this: And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.

Jesus tells these men that regardless of what you do, just do something, in His name and for His glory and then, you can’t be wrong. See a need and respond.

But that doesn’t really answer the question I’ve posed and the question I have been wrestling with this week myself (about getting in His way) but I think Jesus answers that question when He says that He has called us to a large work. The Kingdom of God is near. And God is sovereign and He has promised that when we step out, regardless of getting His “green light” to go, that we, as His followers are going to come across the sick and the needy and that we have been given His authority to act on His behalf.

If we in our going, come across a need, we don’t have to worry that we are affecting the work of the Holy Spirit. Simply said, God is God and He has control. For when we act or speak in a way that God would, the Spirit of God is speaking through us and will use that act.

Jesus came and told his disciples, I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Go and do what God has called you to. More then likely, where you are when you see the need is exactly where He has lead you to be already. He has given us the authority to go and serve and to show the World God. He is with you. He believes in you. Just go…