Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Prayer, Fasting, and Intimacy with God

originally posted on

To close out the series "The Art of War", we invite everyone to fast and pray on Thursday 11/20. We will cap the day off with a time of prayer in the worship center between 6:30 and 7:30 pm. As excited as I am to fast with all of you, my brothers and sisters, I have to admit it has not always been that way. When I went to school for theology, one of the first books I was assigned to read was "The Spirit of the Disciplines" by Dallas Willard. I remember before that point I had fasted a few times, but really had no clue about what I was doing. I half expected God to impart on me some revelation about my life, as if fasting were some Christian version of peyote. I was excited to read a book about the disciples and get to the bottom of what fasting was about and how to do it right to get the results I wanted. I was sorely disappointed. I remember talking to another student about how unsatisfied I was: we were halfway through the book and it was all about why we should practice the disciplines and where our heart should be instead of how to practice the disciplines. My friend replied with "maybe the author is making a statement about what is really important." And he was so right. I think that is the number one thing to know about disciplines such as fasting and prayer. It is about the condition of your heart. Being closer to God is a process - prayer and fasting can aid us greatly in it. The purpose of fasting in particular is not to get what we want from God. It is to change us and train us to be closer to Him and more like Jesus. Jesus made it a point to fast before he began his ministry. Why? Not because it is some legalistic step he had to take to have a successful ministry, it is because it brought him closer to the Father. That is the first thing to know about disciplines such as fasting - they are about bringing you closer to God. 

Spiritual formation is a process, being more like Jesus is a process. They take practice and consistency over time. This is another reason to fast; it is like being an athlete. Being a great baseball player takes practice and hard work in preparation and training long before a game. Closeness to God is similar. My approach to prayer and fasting has changed over the years and I get so much more out of it now than I used to. Dallas Willard says this about fasting: "it teaches us a lot about ourselves very quickly. It will certainly prove humiliating to us, as it reveals to us how much our peace depends upon the pleasures of eating. ...fasting confirms our utter dependence upon God by finding in him a source of sustenance beyond food." In other words, by denying ourselves of what we want, but don't need, we practice self-denial - which is especially rare in this culture. Taking one day off from food, or technology, or whatever it may be that we fast from, shows us how much our bodies and desires drive us - and gives us an opportunity to practice denying those urges.

I have never experienced a time when fasting has been easy. But that is part of the beauty of it. Each time I feel hungry I pray. I pray to God to help me listen to Him rather than my stomach. I try to focus on God instead of myself. This is warfare, the enemy will try to distract you from the one in charge. This is why practicing prayer is so effective in concert with fasting. Food is the traditional item to fast from - but it does not have to be. For example, some people are so into video games that they forget to eat. For them, it would be much more effective to fast from video games for a day. We are asking everyone to fast from something on Thursday - be it technology, food, games, TV, music. Look at fasting in terms of self-denial. Things you think you need in life, but can actually give up for a day to focus on God. But also make sure it is something which you will miss. If you have a peanut allergy and choose to fast from peanuts, it probably won't make you rely on prayer so much. Nor will you have the opportunity to joyfully suffer.

Prayer is powerful, do not doubt that. God changes us through prayer. We can understand God better through prayer. We get closer to God through prayer. This is why we come together to pray Thursday. But don't spend the day telling God everything you want or need. Prayer is conversation. Spend the day asking God what He wants from you. Ask God how to rely on Him. Pray for discernment over the lies of the enemy. Then pray the same for your brothers and sisters in Christ. And the community. Please specifically pray for our governmental leaders. Pray that God will change them too. That God will give them discernment over the enemy. Pray for Liberia - that people will unite to aid them instead of run away in fear. Most of all, pray that all of us grow closer to Jesus, to learn to be like Jesus, and to align our lives with God's will.

Trying to follow,

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What is Love?

Recently I had the opportunity to really study the meaning and concept of the word love. So much of our lives are centered around and/or searching for love. We live in a culture today in which "love" is mainly an emotion or a feeling. "Falling in love" is not seen as a choice you make, but as something that happens to you. Like something which comes and goes as it pleases. 

But love like that, simply emotion, is not what the Bible says love is. There are three Greek words for love used in Scripture and all of them are less emotion and more choice - a way of life rather than a feeling one gets. Which is an especially important point when it comes to marriage. One of the most important parts of a marriage are the vows and promises. But promises cannot be made about feelings; feelings come and go, honestly, there are days when I may not be as emotionally attached to my wife because I am more focused on other things. No, nothing is wrong with our marriage. What I am trying to say is that love in the Bible, love in marriage, love in relationships, is based on actions. The choice to care for and be a blessing to each other even when we don't "feel" like it. Actions are things we can make promises about. (And so does God.) It may not always be what we want or expect, but that is our fault, not God's.

God built within each of us a natural tendency to love - and His desire is for us to show love to each other. In John 13:34-35 (NIV) Jesus flat out says it: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Wow, read that again. According to Jesus (who I like to try to listen to) the defining characteristic of His followers is how much we love. Not how often we go to church, or if we memorize Scripture (which are important, no doubt) but the primary desire of Jesus is that we love one another. There are times I have been struggling with this lately. I admit it, I get caught up in all the things I need to do for Sundays to go well. I let feelings and emotions get the best of me - and as a result, I am not acting out of love. I'm not saying I don't love, I am just saying that other things get the best of me and other things become my goal over love. And for those of you on the wrong end of that I apologize and hope you can forgive me.

I bring this up because right now we are starting a new series: "The Art of War" about Spiritual Warfare. There is no denying that Satan is attacking us constantly. This is a good thing - Satan wouldn't care if we were on the wrong track. But the best defense is a good offense, and in the case of Spiritual Warfare, a good offense is acting in love. This is how we get closer to God. This is how we understand Him best. 1 John 4:7-11 says "
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us." Think about that the next time you are upset at or annoyed with one of those people Jesus died for. I'm not saying don't get angry; Jesus got angry. What I am saying is, ask yourself where your actions are coming from. If the answer is anything other than a place of love, you might want to think about that some more. Choose love. Make it your way of life. Let people see that you are a follower of Christ by how much you love.

Trying to Follow,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Failure of Nerve

I have certain leadership principles which guide me in life, and in this one I failed. I had a failure of nerve. Let me explain; one the leadership books which guides me is A Failure of Nerve by Edwin H. Friedman. In the book, Friedman compares American society and its leadership to a dysfunctional family (he is a rabbi and family therapist.) Part of what he explains is how leaders have become primarily concerned with safety over adventure, satisfying complaints rather than leading from strength and vision, and looking to procedures and data rather than relationships to solve problems. This happens in families and is happening in society as well. Where I had the breakdown was in safety over adventure.

A few weeks ago my family went with some friends on a day trip to the tide pools near Monterrey. I was with my five year old daughter and my three year old son climbing over rocks and looking at the animals caught by the tide. It was a great opportunity to teach my kids how to be adventurous and let them gain confidence by climbing on the rocks. I told my hesitant daughter that the worst that could happen was to get wet. Then I watched as my daughter gained confidence and became more adventurous as she jumped from rock to rock. My friend and his son (about my daughter's age) did the same. It was this wonderful moment of bonding and adventure. We came to the end of the tide pools where there was a three foot jump over the water to a rock with only a small six inch ledge for the foothold on the other side. I looked and didn't think I could make it, especially not while helping my son. And there was definitely no way my daughter could make it. Then, without hesitation, my friend's son ignored the advice of the adults and took the leap... and made it to the other side. He was determined to make it to the top of a larger rock and this gap over the ocean was not going to stop him. My friend and I were shocked. My daughter immediately told me that she wanted to try it as well, and I said no. At the time I felt it was the correct decision, but on the way home I knew that I made a mistake. Was it really that big of a deal? Not really, but I am trying to help cultivate a spirit of adventure in my kids, so they aren't constantly held back by thoughts of safety. And not letting her at least try the jump was not the mindset I want her to have. Thankfully, my daughter quickly bounced back by telling us that she is going to start training to be an 
American Ninja Warrior.

Why do I think a sense of adventure is so important? Let me give you an example from Friedman's book: Christopher Columbus. If he were to sail into the unknown today, he would never get past OSHA or congress. Now, I am not saying that Columbus was some great guy with pure intentions. What I am saying is that he is not primarily concerned with safety, and it paid off in ways he did not imagine. We all need to take risks in our lives, and it is something which is cultivated in us.

Having the boldness and courage to take risks allows us to rely on God when our own certainty of the outcome is removed. We become more focused with ways to succeed rather than what could go wrong. We become centered on opportunity instead of avoidance of crisis. Evaluating risk is prudent, being smart instead of careless is good, but the desire for safety, the need for certainty, cannot be what drives our decisions.

One thing Friedman makes clear in his book, the solution to a failure of nerve is not to simply try harder. Rather it starts with internalization. In the case of my daughter jumping over the water the solution is not simply to try harder in seeking adventure, it is to prepare and cultivate within myself the spirit of adventure ahead of time. So when the opportunity comes, I am ready rather than defaulting to safety. What does that look like? In Acts 4 the disciples prayed for boldness after Peter and John were arrested. Jesus prayed at Gethsemane for God's will rather than his own. In my own prayer life I frequently pray for opportunity, but opportunity alone is nothing if it is not taken. What I am going to pray is that I have the boldness to jump at opportunity and that I am on the lookout for ways to cultivate that in my kids. Then I am going to go to the guys in my LTG to make sure they hold me accountable to it. 

Trying to Follow,

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Scandal of Grace

"Scandal of Grace" is a worship song by Hillsong that has been stuck in my head for the past few days and the title has got me thinking about how much the message of Jesus is unexpected. God's grace took the form of a scandal - a public disgrace that should have damaged His reputation. But just like so many other things in life, God took what man sees as negative and turned it in to a win. Everything about Jesus' message was and continues to be against conventional wisdom. In the eyes of man, when we commit a crime, we pay the price for it. But the message of Jesus says that we do the crime and He pays the price. His grace has set us free from our sin, not so we can continue to pursue a life of sin, but so we can take a part in His plan for this world.

The message of Jesus is so shocking, so unexpected, that we struggle to really accept it. When Jesus brought the message the Pharisees couldn't accept it. They were so focused on their sin and making it right with God that they couldn't move forward. They were stuck on sin. I think we often continue to do the same thing today with whatever guilt, shame, or scandal we have had in our own lives. Even with our sin conquered we choose let it hold us down. God's grace is so amazing that we can't accept it for ourselves. Even though we hear about it, we struggle to let go of our sin, accept the grace, and move forward with our lives. It happened to me. A few months ago I wrote a post called "Beyond Judgement" where I shared about how the church reacted after my divorce. I felt shame that I had let God down. I held onto that shame for a long time. I chose not to forgive my own role in the divorce. In fact, I think I looked down on myself more than anyone else did. Even though I knew that God forgave me, I still wanted to hold onto it. Think of the prodigal son coming home, practicing what he is going to say, still holding onto the shame of his sin. But the father didn't care, the father was just glad to have him back. In an act of scandalous grace the father showed him how to get past it. That is what it took for me as well. In the midst of my self-imposed shaming God gave me the most significant experience in my life: He called me to missions: I was listening to a sermon here at Crosswalk by a guest speaker and there were images on the screen of children in other countries dying of hunger. While looking at the pictures I felt an overwhelming urge to be there and help those children. Not just to visit, but to make it a part of my life. It was bigger than a simple desire to help people, I knew that in that moment God was reaching out to me and calling me to a specific part of His plan. I came up with every excuse I could and each was shot down. I felt I wasn't worthy to share the Good News with anyone if I was divorced. But, God was calling me to something so it was obvious He was looking past the divorce, why couldn't I? There is so much more to this story and now is not the time to share it. Suffice it to say that after that day my life was changed greatly. I am still waiting on God to show me the when and the where of my missions calling, but I am gaining experience and preparing in the meantime. Working at Crosswalk is a part of that preparation.

The prodigal son held onto his shame but the father's grace shocked and surprised him. I had a hard time letting go of my shame, but God surprised me with His grace. He wants you to move forward too. If there is some shame, guilt, or disgrace in your past that you are holding onto, let it go. God provided us with a scandal of grace so great that we are set free. Jesus died so that we don't have to. God has done something so amazing for us, forgives us, and wants us to be a part of His plan; why waste time holding ourselves back? There are plenty of other obstacles in life to overcome that restraining ourselves is useless. It may not happen right away, and it may take help, but that is one of the things the church is here for. Talk to your LTG, to your Life Group, to one of the pastors here. But take that step in letting it go and move forward. God has given you the strength to do amazing things in this life. Choose to accept it and respond in love towards others.

The day and its trouble shall come
I know that Your strength is enough 
The scandal of grace, You died in my place 
So my soul will live
 - Scandal of Grace by Hillsong
Trying to Follow,

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why Do I Even Try?

originally posted on

Sometimes people come by the office to talk and tell us about some of their theology. I recently had a discussion with a gentleman who held one Scripture verse higher than the rest. This was the lens through which he interpreted the rest of the Bible. It got me thinking about my own lens. All of us do this somehow, whether we know it or not. For some of us it may not be an actual verse, but more of a theological concept. But it is the primary lens and filter through which we see God, our relationship with Him, and the rest of Scripture.

Here is mine, it is called the Sh'ma: 

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." - Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Just reading it makes it clear how important it was for the Israelite people. But how could I take an Old Testament Scripture as the lens for my relationship with God? Surely Jesus felt there were more important concepts in the Bible right? Here's what He said: 

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” - Matthew 22:37-40

So often we hear people say that the Bible is an instruction manual for life and we should look to it to see what to do. And I feel like this so perfectly sums up the first and most important thing anyone who loves God should do. It is the basis for our relationship with God, and according to Jesus, our neighbor. Why is that? Because if our actions are not a reflection of love towards God they are empty.

Most of my examples of God's love and grace come from my kids, and it's not just because they wake me up at 2am. But think about this for a second; last Sunday was Father's Day - I heard my daughter get out of bed and immediately run to my bed, to jump on me and say "happy Father's Day Daddy!" It came from her heart, it was genuine, it was passionate, and it was one of the best feelings a father could ever experience. On the other hand, if my wife had to force my daughter to hug me and she only did it because she felt like she had to, it wouldn't mean nearly as much. 
(And yes, I am well aware that when she becomes a teenager there is a strong possibility that this will become reality...) I'd still accept her hug and appreciate it, but deep inside my desire would be for her to want to hug me, with all or her heart, all of her mind, and all of her strength.

Want Biblical examples? David is the perfect one. Look at his life, he messed up more often and more dramatically than any of us will ever do. And yet God had a special place for him. Why? Because he loved God passionately and let it show. And it guided much of what he did in life. Maybe not perfectly, but it was the starting point. God wants us to give Him our hearts. Look at the rich young ruler and where his heart was; I wrote about it last month, you can read it on the Crosswalk website.

How does it all match up? God reiterates that the most important thing about our relationship with Him is to love him. Not just a passive, "what have you done for me lately" love, but a passionate "I can't hold it back" love. At Crosswalk, our mission is to passionately demonstrate the love of Jesus. Read that again, to passionately demonstrate the love of Jesus. Not because we have to, but we because we want to. As a response to God's love for us. Passion can't be forced or faked and still be genuine. Which is why it begins with God, He is in love with us. He is in love with you. Think about that. The creator of the universe is in love with you. He is so in love with you that He sent His one and only Son to die for you. Respond to that. Love God with everything you are. Loving responses are not passive: They are passionate. They are bold. They are unrestrained. They are unrelenting. They aren't held back by a legalistic view of how things should be. Take a look at your relationship with God, do you love Him passionately? Is that the basis for your relationship with God? Surrender to it and give your heart to God completely.

Trying to follow,
Mark Juanes

PS, if you are having a barrier in your relationship with God, in loving Him with your whole heart, in being passionate; feel free to talk to us. That is what the church leadership is here for. We have a staff of pastors and our primary job is not to get things done, but to work with you in constantly building upon your relationship with God. 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Beyond Judgment

originally posted on

This week's message about judgement brought up some bad memories, and it also got me thinking. If you missed it, you can listen to it on Crosswalk's Website. One of the things that hit me was the video of people telling their stories of how they were hurt by the church - which you can watch on YouTube. I think like many of you, I could relate to a lot of what they shared and had my own experience. I loved it, but there is something I wish the video did share: what is going on with those people now? How has God healed them? And how did that come about? There are many things about the Church in general which needs to change, and it is good to be aware of it. But we can't simply focus on the negative. Pastor John spoke about how we can move forward in healing. That is what I want to focus on today, how we can build upon our strengths.

Here is where I am going to be very vulnerable to you today. Some of you may know this but I went through a divorce about ten years ago. I'm not proud of it and I was ashamed of it for a long time. But more than that, being in a failed marriage hurt me badly. I felt like I had failed God, failed in my commitment, and failed my community. The details were irrelevant. I fell into a depression for a while, but I also felt convicted to not give up on my relationship with God even though I felt like I had let Him down. I was attending Crosswalk the entire time; my Life Group knew I was going through struggles in my marriage and they were the first ones I contacted when it ended. Instead of condemning me, they embraced me. They were there for me. One couple just got engaged and yet they were more concerned with making sure I felt ok then of celebrating their engagement with the group. The staff felt horrible for me, counseled me, tried to help me reconcile, and never once did I feel like they were rejecting me. Church friends took me out to lunch to talk about it. Some of you might remember Bill Ray who was a longtime member. Well he was my next door neighbor and had been married for over 70 years. Of everyone, I was the most afraid of telling him about it. And I'll never forget as I sat down and told him, he just put his arm around my shoulder and prayed with me. He knew that going to God could do more than any condemning words could. He knew that my relationship with God was more important.

The problem with judgment is that we look at people's sins and, in our eyes, that is what defines them. So often in this Christian walk we hear about how we are all sinners. And how can we judge others to condemnation and really believe that? I wouldn't want to be defined by one particular part of my life. Not many do. We can't let one aspect of a person's life define who they are. This is a big part of why God healed me at Crosswalk ten years ago: people knew me deeper than a few hours on Sunday. They didn't let "divorced" become a big label on me, or let that become who they saw when they spoke with me. We now live in a postmodern world which values individuals. Getting to know people, building connections and trust with them is what we should be seeking. I wrote about some of my experiences with this on a previous e-mail.

When you build a relationship with someone, the results are twofold: First, you have genuine compassion and caring for them and any conversations about sin come from that place instead of a place of judgement. And second, they know that what you are saying is not in judgement but rather out of genuine love. Kinda like that Jesus guy. He recognized that all of us in general were sinful, and he ate dinner with the worst of the bunch. He got to know them better and didn't let their sins define who they were as individuals. Let's be known as the people who are like that. People who are more concerned with healing and compassion. People who spend the time to get to know others instead of making snap judgments about them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What Must I Do?

originally posted on

There are three things I often think about when I write these articles: listening, changing mindsets, and the Kingdom of God. Why? Well, look at the teachings of the prophets and the parables of Jesus and it is clear those are pretty important things. But they aren't just important to think about. They are important to cultivate and be changed. God doesn't want us to merely be convicted to do something, he wants us to change into people who do good things naturally. In other words, God doesn't want us to DO good things. He wants us to BE good people who do good things. He wants our hearts. 

It is so easy to get caught up in serving and all the things that we think we need to do. And those things are good, but we do them as a response and reflection of who we are as Children of God. Look at the rich young ruler in Luke 18. Along with Abraham, I see it as one of the best illustrations to show that God wants our hearts. When the man asks Him how to inherit eternal life, Jesus responds in a typical Jesus fashion. He mentions the Commandments. Notice how Jesus is not telling him what he needs to do? He just brings up the Commandments. The young man responds with legalism. He has done all these things. That is the way the Pharisees thought. He thinks he has done everything he needs "to do" to get into heaven. Jesus hits him with "sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor..." Is this what Jesus calls all of us to do? No, that would be a new legalism. That would just be saying that the Pharisees were following the wrong set of laws to gain their way to eternal life. The point is not to put those things before God. Following God is the priority. God wants our hearts. 

Look earlier in Luke 18. Luke frequently places stories together based on topic and to accentuate the common meaning. Here he places the "Rich Young Ruler" together with the parable of the "Pharisee and the Tax Collector." That's when the Pharisee brags about how righteous he is, how much he's done. Then the tax collector confesses that he is a sinner and that God is in charge. Which one was justified? Only the tax collector. Only the one who recognized that we are sinners, not law-keepers. The two stories go together. When we do good things, it's not with motives of getting into heaven, it's because we belong to God and that is what He wants. He wants our hearts. 

And here is the tough part. How do we respond? What does it look like when God has our hearts? It's in the Bible. Read Acts, it is my favorite book in the Bible because they were regular guys that God used. Just like you and I can be. God had their hearts. They pursued Him and His will. I'm not talking about a three year old saying she wants to give her heart to Jesus. I'm talking about on your knees bawling, life changing, never-be-the-same again, giving your heart to Jesus. Do you think the rich young ruler's response to Jesus was to say "I was really convicted by your message today, Jesus!" and then go on with his life? Do you think Jesus would have been satisfied with that? Jesus challenged him to give up what he wanted and pursue what God wanted. Because Jesus loved him. And he couldn't do it, and went away sad. He couldn't put God first. 

That is why when I read our vision, to passionately demonstrate the love of Jesus, I see the "choosing sacrifice" part and think "wow, that's tough." Choosing sacrifice is not about helping other people, at least not directly. It's about giving up what we want. Its about bringing it to God and letting God be the leader. It's about giving our hearts to God and not just doing the things He wants us to do. It's being the people He wants us to be, and doing those things because we want to.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Setting Your Roots

originally posted on

I think we all have a verse we often "go to" and find encouraging. Which do you find most encouraging? Mine is not the usual: Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. James 1:2-3 (NLT) I am drawn to this verse because it doesn't sugar-coat things. We are going to face trials in life. We are going to have struggles. We can't be sheltered, shelter our faith, or shelter our loved ones from trials in life. But there is good news, God gives us strength from our struggles.

You may have already heard the story of the trees in the Arizona Bio-dome. The Bio-dome was a project where scientists tried to produce an isolated and yet self-sustainable environment fully enclosed in a dome. There was a pond, fish, plants, and some trees. What they found however, was that after a few years some of the trees would mysteriously fall down. It turns out that inside the controlled bio-dome environment there was no wind, and without the wind to shake the trees, their roots did not dig in as deep or develop as well to help support the trees. The trees needed to be tested for their endurance to develop. The trees needed the wind to test them and push them to become stronger. The same is true of seeds planted indoors. Gardeners recommend that seeds planted in places where they are sheltered indoors be "hardened" before they are planted outside. Hardening involved placing the sprouting plants outside for an hour or two a day. As the plant is exposed to direct sunlight and wind, it grows stronger. Each day it is left outside for a longer period of time and after a week it will be strong enough to be planted outside.

When I think about some of the things I have gone through in my past I see how God formed me as well: my first job out of college was as a supervisor for a trucking company. I was a scared, shy, kid with little self confidence. Suddenly I was in a situation where I was in charge of 20 angry teamsters who wanted to argue and intimidate me because I was the one giving out job duties. It really challenged me and there were times when I didn't want to be there or dreaded going into work because I knew there was going to be complaining and arguing. But after time, I realized how God used it to make me stronger mentally and able to diffuse angry people.

According to James, this happens with our faith as well. He breaks it down in verses 9-15. Being poor is a blessing because it makes you stronger. Being rich is a blessing because it is an opportunity to test your humility. If you can come through temptation, you will be stronger. Not saying to throw yourself into the path of temptation or trials; James makes it clear that although it is an opportunity to be stronger, that does not mean it is from God. But think of it this way, if we shelter ourselves from trials, will our faith have the opportunity to truly grow? Sometimes holding yourself away may be victory, but sometimes you need to have the confidence to address trials and temptations. When you do, consider it a blessing knowing you will come away stronger.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Listen to Me for a Minute

originally posted on

Raising two small children and observing them has really helped me to differentiate some things that are human nature and others which are taught. Now that my kids are four and two, I feel qualified to say that listening is a learned skill because it certainly does not seem to be something which comes naturally. Or at least being a good listener. Which leads to the question, what is a good listener? It is not just someone who can sit there quietly and nod their head. It is not simply processing information. Good listening also involves knowing how to respond appropriately.

Listening is such a simple thing, yet why is it so tough to do? Let me give an example: Asking kids to wash their hands before dinner seems reasonable right? When I ask my kids to do that I expect them to listen to me and as a response, wash their hands. But how would you feel if you asked your kids to wash their hands and as a response they came back to you saying that they memorized what you said? That they did a word study and learned about the historical context of hand washing. That they can now say "go wash your hands" in Greek and Hebrew. Hey, those things are fantastic but I could care less if there was still dirt on their hands. What if they completely ignored you and pretended you weren't there? Or ran away to the other room? Or turned the TV up so they couldn't hear you? Or even said "yes I'll wash my hands" and then got distracted by toys on the way to the sink? Get where I am going with this? Unfortunately, these are all responses my kids sometimes give me when I ask them to do something simple like wash their hands. And for many people, this is their response when it comes to listening to God.

But there is good news, we can learn to be different. We can learn to be good listeners. My personal prayer life was revolutionized as I learned to listen to God instead of throwing everything I wanted at Him. There was nothing wrong with the things I wanted, it just wasn't what God wanted. Being a good listener, as easy as it sounds, isn't something which happens right away, I had to learn how to shut off my own junk. I had to learn how to listen when I prayed, listen when I read Scripture, and listen to counsel from brothers and sisters in Christ. And then, if it went along with the teachings of Jesus, I had to learn how to respond appropriately. Not to respond by saying "wow, that was powerful" or "I really feel convicted" and then do nothing. I responded by taking action. By following where God led me. My life is completely different than I would have predicted ten years ago because I let go of my own dreams and listened to what God desired for me. Listening in prayer frees us, it frees us from our own hopes and desires. It lets us get past the things that we want and get a perspective on the bigger picture of what God wants. Go and practice listening in your prayer, not asking God for something you want, asking God what HE wants.

It's that simple: listen, and if it is reflected in the teachings of Jesus, go do it.

Pastor Mark

Friday, January 24, 2014

Productive or Fruitful?

originally posted on

Do you have a garden in your backyard? My family started one this past year and we have had a great time with it. It has forced me to be more patient since no matter how hard I work I can't make the fruit grow any faster. I can see why so often in Scripture, the analogy is about farming, gardening, or growing. But for many of us, our lives are just the opposite. American life, especially in Silicon Valley, lends itself to a lifestyle of "production." The problem of course is that when we have a lifestyle geared towards production, we tend to view our spiritual life along those same terms: if I try harder and work harder i can be more successful spiritually. At my old job in the transportation industry, my success was measured in how productive I was. Even on the weekends when I wasn't working, it felt like the same mindset penetrated my day: a good Saturday was about how many of my tasks or chores I was able to check off my list. Spiritually, I wanted to get closer to God so I threw myself into everything I could: school, reading books, volunteering for everything I could. But in the end, it didn't really work out so well. I wasn't really fruitful because I was focused on what I needed to do.
In my experience, Spiritually works very differently. The goal, like in gardening, is to be fruitful, and there is only so much we can do to get that to happen. No matter how hard we try, we can't control the process. We can't force the Holy Spirit to work in us or through us. What we can do is cultivate an environment where we can listen to what God is saying. We can prepare ourselves by recognizing that God has control, not us. What God has in store for us is a mystery, we need to learn how to partner with that mystery. When I garden, I don't know when it will rain, or how the frost will hit my plants. What I need to do is to learn how to recognize and be in a situation where I can respond appropriately. How different is that from our Spiritual lives? We don't have control of what God is going to do or send our way. What we can do is put ourselves in a position where, when given the opportunity, we know how to respond and our response is automatic. A few months ago, Pastor John showed this video of a bus driver who noticed a woman on an overpass and stopped her from jumping. Noticing the situation and reacting appropriately are not traits which the bus driver "just has." It is a compassion that has been cultivated in him for a long time so that when opportunity arose his response was automatic and natural.
Cultivating such an environment means we are not waiting for the Holy Spirit to do it all for us. It does not mean that we take it all on ourselves. It means that we have an ongoing relationship with God so that we can listen to what He is saying and partner with Him. Such a partnership makes us stronger than we could ever be on our own. Our relationship with God, as with any relationship, grows and changes over time. We have to be intentional about cultivating an environment for the relationship to be healthy, we have set aside time to spend together in the relationship. We don't look for short term results but rather an overall healthy partnership for the long haul. That is what I want to encourage you to do today; to approach your relationship with God as you would in planting a garden: cultivate a healthy environment, realize that you have limited control, and remember that the goal is fruitfulness, not production.