Amos 5: “I can’t stand the stench of your solemn assemblies.”

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While I’m a little behind in my 5 Day Bible Reading Program, I continue plugging away. This morning, I came across these verses in the Book of Amos:

21 “I hate all your show and pretense—
    the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
22 I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
    I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
    an endless river of righteous living.

Amos 5:21-24 (NLT)

Or as another translation puts verse 21:

I hate, I despise, your feasts!
I can’t stand the stench
of your solemn assemblies.

Amos 5:21 (CSB)

Got me thinking about how we can come to a point, individually and as a Church, to where our worship of the Lord can become like a stench to Him caused by:

  • Habitual sin
  • Ongoing disobedience
  • A stinky/unrepentant heart

Not exactly a place I want to be.

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

What have you been reading, in the Bible, lately?

Prayer Is Not My Strong Suit

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Can I admit that prayer is not one of my strong suits? I can read the Bible all day. I can teach through the Bible with ease. When it comes to prayer though, prayer is something that I have to work at.

Chuck Lawless posted “8 Ways I Pray for My Wife“. #5, on his list, is what stood out to me:

That God would maximize Pam’s incredible gift of hospitality—and that I would be fully supportive. I add that latter phrase because I’m an introvert while Pam’s an extrovert. I love seeing Pam’s joy when she serves others. I just need to love it more….

Tabitha also has an incredible gift of hospitality. A gift that I too push against with my introvert nature. I need to work on being supportive when Tab wants to invite others over. Even when that invite pushes me out of my comfort zone.

God has been speaking to me a lot about prayer these past couple of days. A friend posted a quote, to Facebook, that I’ve been thinking on:

The things you pray about are the things you trust God to handle. The things you neglect to pray about are the things you trust you can handle on your own. – H.B. Charles Jr.

Got me thinking about:

  • How I’ll often talk more / write more on certain topics than pray over them.
  • How there are some prayers I don’t think God will ever answer–me being honest here–, so I quit praying over them due to lack of answer.
  • What type of spiritual legacy, I’m modeling, for my wife and son.
Photo by Peggy Paulson on Unsplash

Tabitha has always told me that God answers prayer in 3 ways:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not Yet

Reminds me of how long I prayed for my wife before we even knew one another. How I went through years of thinking I’d never find someone. Only to meet Tabitha when I was least expecting.

Reminds me of our current adoption process. How I find the silence and slowness of the process to be heart breaking. But I realize also that I need to pray more over the process as God says not yet.

Prayer is that unused tool, on my spiritual tool belt, that I need to actively use more. Not use in order to get what I want, per se, but use to communicate with my Heavenly Father and deepen my relationship with Him.

How about you, do you find the spiritual discipline of prayer to be easy?

No Silent Christians

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My pastor recently said something that grabbed my attention:

There is no such thing as a silent Christian.

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

I’ve often hid behind a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. Perhaps you know it?

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

My thoughts have been, that in my life and online presence, I would let my actions speak first. People should know that I follow Christ due to:

  • What I like
  • What I post
  • And what I say about the content I consume

But something about that quote, that is falsely attributed to St. Francis, has always rang hollow to me. A sort of free pass Christians give to one another for never sharing what Christ has done/is doing in their lives; for never sharing the Gospel.

Even on this blog, I have internally struggled and fought over how much is too much to post, when it comes to the topic of faith. For those that follow me for my video game angle, are my faith posts somehow pushing them away? I have struggled with these thoughts for years. “I’ll just let my actions do the talking”, I’ve reasoned. As a follower of Christ though, I think that not speaking is disingenuous. So, I wanted to share my faith journey below.

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

No Longer Silent

I grew up in a small town, in Southern California. My dad was a truck driver, while my mom stayed home and homeschooled us kids. My dad’s truck driving meant that he was home two days and gone three days. He worked hard to provide for our family. Looking back now, I can appreciate the sacrifice both of my parents made in raising my siblings and I. But in my dad’s absence, God filled that father-space, in my life, with many men. One such man was my Grandpa Ayers. Looking back, he taught me a lot about what it means to be a man.

I made a decision to follow Christ at the age of 5. My family was hosting a Vacation Bible School at our home. Even then, I understood that sin separated me from God.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

– Romans 3:23 (NIV)

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[a] Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 6:23 (NIV)

And that because God loves us so much, He sent His son to die for us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Romans 5:8 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

– John 3:16-17 (NIV)

All one has to do is accept this hope, this gift, and believe in Jesus Christ.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

– Romans 10:9-10 (NIV)

13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”[a]

– Romans 10:13

All of that at the age of 5, huh Bryan? Yup. I knew enough to make that decision. God has walked with me and helped me grow in the knowledge of Him ever since.

In junior high, I made the decision to be baptized. Baptism is an outward sign, to fellow believers, that you have made a decision to follow Christ. I was at a youth beach day, and I was baptized in the Pacific Ocean. Thankfully, no sharks tried to aid in that baptism.

At the age of sixty, my Grandpa Ayers unexpectedly died overnight. I was looking at going away to college at this point, after attending junior college for a few years. I felt lost losing him. But God used his death to spur me on.

I was reading a book when a single sentence mentioned LeTourneau University. So, I traveled from Southern California to East Texas for a preview event… and felt peace. I went home, packed up my stuff, and I made the drive across Texas. Where I ended up meeting my now wife, Tabitha, within a month of being at school. (I was 25 and had never dated beforehand. Ignoring the Beach Boys, I didn’t want a California girl apparently.)

Tabitha and I married in 2007. Two years later, we had our son Wyatt. Last year at a Life Action Conference, we felt God calling us to adoption, after years of infertility. We finished jumping through the adoption hoops last May (2019), and we are waiting to grow our family. In the meantime, God continues to grow us.

There is no such thing as a silent Christian.

I’m hoping that by sharing where God has brought me, I can push against the silence and use words to share my faith. I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ first and foremost. I am then a husband to Tabitha, and a father to Wyatt.

This blog is my attempt to engage the world for Christ. To share the life He is working through me. Thanks for reading and coming along for the journey.

Quick Thought: Walk Away

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As part of my devotional time this morning, I was reading through Luke 9. Verses 51-56 caught my eye:

51 When the days were coming to a close for him to be taken up, he determined[m] to journey to Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead of himself, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for him. 53 But they did not welcome him, because he determined to journey to Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” [n]

55 But he turned and rebuked them,[o] 56 and they went to another village.

Luke 9:51-56 (CSB)

What I noticed is that Jesus didn’t get upset over not being accepted. He didn’t take a moment to write a negative review on Yelp. Instead, he rebukes his disciples for wanting to destroy the town (Jesus didn’t come to destroy people’s lives but to save them) and then walks away. No nasty words, no insane tweet, Jesus and his disciples simply move on. Got me thinking about how we, how I, often need to do the same thing.

Photo by Jason Wong on Unsplash

My Church Is Not A Ministry Competitor

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I was recently listening to a podcast when the host presented a thought:

The Church is more concerned with getting people plugged into the organization’s ministries (children’s ministry, youth ministry, greeter ministry, etc.). And is far less concerned about equipping believers to minister in their everyday lives.

This thought of competing ministries, the Church versus the believer, floored me. Made me shake my head for a moment. You see, by serving within the local church, we have a safe place to learn how to minister to others. As we learn how to minister to others in the church, we can take that experience and apply it to our lives. Think of it as building spiritual service muscle memory. I then use this muscle memory as I go throughout my week.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Service has taught me a few things:

  • That no task, big or small, is beneath me.
  • To slow down and listen even when it feels inconvenient.

I do not see my church as a ministry competitor. I see my church as a partner, a group of people God is using to develop me. He uses situations that arise to challenge my ways of thinking. Situations that cause me to pray and ask discernment. God uses our churches to grow us in the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

What about you? Do you think that the Church is more concerned about itself versus helping/equipping believers? AND/OR What has God taught you about serving in the church that you then take into your daily life?

Controlling Devotional Time – You’re Doing It Wrong

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I am not sure why but talking about what one does for their devotional time can get weird. Have you ever noticed how a discussion can go from a simple conversation such as:

  • “For my personal time with God, I’ve been reading a few verses a day and then praying.”
  • “For my personal time, I’ve been reading through a devotional book.”
  • “For me, I’ve been reading through a read the Bible in a year plan.”

To more of:

  • “Dude, you should slow down, savor but a few verses a day.”
  • “You’re not reading enough. I read 15 chapters yesterday. Gold star for me.”
  • “Devotional books are for babies. Man up, read the Bible!”

We Christians can be a controlling lot. We love to tell fellow brothers and sisters in Christ what their devotional time with God should look like. Instead of pushing our own way, why can’t we practice encouragement instead?

So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NLT)

Adoption Update – Home Study Completed

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During our PRIDE Training, Tabitha and I were told that the interview/home study was going to be:

  • Thorough (expect 4 hours, at least)
  • Invasive (questions could/would be asked about things like frequency of marital relations, etc.)
  • Deep (we were warned that every one of our drawers could be opened/inspected)

Once we found out that our home study was going to be scheduled for this past Saturday, Tabitha and I kicked into cleaning overdrive… even though the house already looked great.

Saturday morning arrived blanketed with heat and humidity. Our Independent Home Screening Assessor pulled into the driveway 30 minutes early. Tabitha and I were nervous. We had no idea what to expect nor what questions were about to be asked of us.

Our interview ended up covering basics such as:

  • Upbringing
  • Discipline
  • Family
  • And what types of things Tab and I can and cannot handle when it comes to an adoptive child (the gamut ran from learning disabilities to types of abuse)

An hour later, we were finished with the interview. Our Home Screening Assessor took a few pictures, told us that we were great, and that she would text us when she turned in her report to our caseworker with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. And with that, we were done.

Not all monsters are cute.

I cannot stress enough how God showed up in this moment. I was sick to my stomach. And yet what I am learning, through this adoption process, is obedience. When God calls us to something, we have to be obedient and step out in faith. It is through that process of obedience that we see God work. Seeing Him fight our monsters, our giants, and stretch us in our faith.

I am excited to see what happens next. Our Home Study is due to CPS July 10. We should hear more soon! Will keep ya’ll posted.

Bryan

From Across the Net – “When They Call In The Night”

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God is such a better dad than I am, and I think that’s what Jesus’ point is. When his followers wanted to know how to pray, yes, he gave them a template they could follow, but he gave them something so much more. Instead of giving them the magic formula, the special incantation that will bring God out like a genie from a bottle—Jesus gave them something so much better. When asked about how to pray, Jesus gave them an example but then said, “I want to let you in on a secret—you want to know how to pray, but let me tell you about the one to whom you are praying.” Jesus was saying that when we call in the night, it’s good to know the character of our dad.

You can read more here

 

From Across the Net – “Technology and our anxious hearts”

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Working in an office, I have constant access to social media. All day, everyday, I keep up with the news as it unfolds around the world. Once the weekend hits, my access to social media declines. I take the weekends off from blogging. At home, I find that I check Facebook, Twitter, and email out of boredom/to fill time. What I have noticed though is that I feel much more at peace over the weekends minus the constant social media connection.

Reuben Bredenhof wrote a piece titled “Technology and our anxious hearts“.

The problem is that our sinful natures will always say that if we could just have our idols (whatever they are), eventually they’ll be able to satisfy us. That goes all the way back to Paradise. What more could Adam or Eve want than what God had given? But Satan said, “Escape your creature-hood. Define your own truth. Keep the glory for yourself. Why miss out on becoming like God with just one bite?”

You can read more here

Grasping at Something Tangible

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This is one of those days where I know I need to post because it is New Post Thursday; one of those days where I’m not sure what to share.

matthew-sleeper-124918-unsplash

Have been dealing with the thoughts and emotions of the new adventure my family is on. Trying to grasp what the unknown looks like. Wondering how it impacts my family and what life will be like afterwards. This is one of those deals where I have peace, deep down, over the “adventure”. But I think I’m trying to control all the details, trying to grasp at something tangible.

Little things, such as someone asking me to do something, feels overwhelming. I don’t like that.

I am grinding my teeth at night.

I am dreaming crazy dreams… when I can actually sleep.

 

God is teaching me that I have to push through being overwhelmed by that “one more thing” feeling. That I have to learn to deal with stress differently. He has also been reminding me of who I have been blessed with, my family, and what makes us unique.

 

I am thankful for how God prepares us for things; thankful that this new “adventure” will take time. His time.

How do you deal with stress?

Let me know in the comments below.

Someone, Please Save Us, Us College Kids

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During my junior college years, I listened to “College Kids”, by Relient K, on repeat:

Someone, please save us, us college kids!
What my parents told me is what I did
They said, “Go to school and be a college kid.”
But, in the end, I questioned why I did

I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I knew I wanted more than the part time restaurant job I was working. Surely there was more to life than general level college courses, commuting, and serving food/busing tables. Add on top of that friends moving away for school, girls/dating, and not being sure of who I was in the church (or the church having a clue of who I was)… this was a huge transitory time for me.

(Oh no!) Not for me, not for me
Call it torture, call it university
(No!) Arts and Crafts is all I need
I’ll take calligraphy and then I’ll make a fake degree

I am thankful for those that God stirred up and called into my life during that time. He is faithful. I just didn’t always see His faithfulness as I clearly do now in retrospect. Little did I know that He was preparing me for bigger things. Bigger things like:

  • Moving away from all that I ever knew (family, friends, etc.).
  • Texas. TEXAS. The shock of Southern/Bible Belt culture.
  • My wife. I met her within a month of moving/going to school.

For those in this period of transition, the church (as a whole) does little to help with the confusion. Once students leave the comfort and safety of the youth group, they are launched into church oblivion. This oblivion is somewhere between graduating high school and marriage. The church, inadvertently, preaches that marriage is the pinnacle; once married, growing a family becomes the next prize to be won. But where does that leave those in college? Forgotten.

Eighty grand later, I found out that all that I had learned
Is that you should show up to take your finals and your mid-terms
The party scene is kind of mean; I think it’s sick and twisted
The Navy showed up at my door and claimed that I enlisted

Some churches see the need and build college, young professional, and singles ministries (all of these are totally different ministries that should not be paired together) to bridge the gap till marriage. I am thankful for churches who see this need.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

College kids want to be recognized, listened to, and accepted in the church. They do not want to be treated as second-class citizens who serve as babysitters. Nor do they want to be treated as the “forgotten”, in-between singleness and marriage. We, as the Church, have to do more. We need to change the messages we are silently/subtly preaching through our actions. We also need to point to the stable foundation that is Scripture. College students are hungry for truth (scripture), faith that has depth, and delicious food. And maybe even a chance to come over, hang out, and wash their clothes.

We can do better. I’ve learned that Satan speaks into the silent places the church doesn’t. So let us speak and do.

New Adventures

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Fourteen years ago, at a college preview day for Azusa Pacific University, I was handed a brochure with the image of a rubber band ball.

Below the rubber band ball the brochure read: “Prepare to be stretched“. I had no clue how much stretching was about to occur…

But I can feel God beginning to stretch me and my family again. Preparing us for a new adventure.

God has been reminding me that being obedient to Him can be uncomfortable and exciting at the same time. Can’t wait to share more when I am at a point to do so.

Thank you, as always, for reading my blog and joining me and my family on this journey through life. Until next time.

– Bryan

From Across the Net – “Putting the “Service” Back in Worship Service”

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We want to be served… but Jesus calls us to more. I liked this piece from Chad Ashby, of 9Marks, titled “Putting the “Service” Back in Worship Service“.

How many of your Sundays look like this?

You show up, and parking lot attendants greet you. Faithful teachers instruct you. Ushers find a seat for you. A well-practiced worship band leads singing for you. Your pastor preaches a faithful, God-glorifying sermon to you. Childcare workers care for your children. And after all that, you pick up your kids and simply return home.

You can read more here

A Friday Confession

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I used to pray, God, use me however you want. I used to sing loudly, with tears in my eyes, God, where you lead, I will follow. (Tears because I didn’t want God to send me into the backwoods somewhere without air conditioning.) I prayed with a bigger picture in mind; I sang open to the will of God for my life. The subtle current of wanting adventure, thrills beyond the everyday life, thrummed beneath the surface of my prayers. As The Killers sing in their song “Read My Mind”:

I never really gave up on
Breakin’ out of this two-star town

What I was really praying was, God, I’m willing to follow you as long as it means new places, new people, and a lack of monotony. 

Photo by Camille Puche on Unsplash

When I graduated from college back in 2006, I thought I’d get married and leave Longview forever. My big plans were to go back to Southern California, get an amazing job OR start a video game ministry, and life would go on. But then economy imploded… and God has used those 12 years since graduation to shape and form me into something new. I’m not the same guy that I was, and I recognize that as being good.

Do you ever feel like Moses, living in the wilderness with his wife and father-in-law? Being prepared, by God, away from the limelight, in safety? Do you ever wonder if you are being taught to just focus on and impact those around you? I do. Our world is all about the big, the bold, the blaring Coldplay stadium anthems. Anthems that silently whisper to us that if you aren’t doing something big, in life or for God, then you are a failure.

Here is where I want to land: You are not a failure.

In the Bible, God consistently uses those the world does not know for His glory, purpose, and Kingdom. I think we have to pray that our hearts align more with Him and less with the overwhelming expectations the world and even Christian culture can put on us. You can make a difference for His Kingdom where you are, right now. You don’t even have to move. Even though Switchfoot might dare you to.

I’m happy that God allows you to consume “blank”

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Feeling like you have to defend your personal and even parenting choices, to fellow Christians, feels weird. You’d think that everyone would be on the same team. Brothers and sisters in Christ and all that, but nope.

Over the years, I’ve had many of these discussions. Whether I’m telling someone about how I don’t let Wyatt watch Marvel movies due to content OR how I dislike the sexual character designs in Fortnite, I still feel judged. Christians are a weird lot where freedom in Christ seems to mean do whatever feels good to you. Do the pleasurable thing, Jesus surely said, and don’t think too much about it.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is beneficial. – 1 Corinthians 10:23 (NLT)

A big part of our faith journey is dedicated to asking the questions:

  • Can I consume this?
  • Should I be consuming this?
  • What place does this thing have in my life?

We want those black and white answers where God simply says, “YES, YOU CAN PLAY GRAND THEFT AUTO: SINFUL EDITION.” But that’s not how the Christian walk works. The Christian walk is more about reading the Bible, listening to what God has to say, and engaging God AND the Holy Spirit in our decisions.

Have you ever noticed how when we don’t hear from God (He isn’t answering fast enough), we often turn to friends and even online communities for answers? Don’t get me wrong, community is a good thing. Being a part of several online communities, I have learned that what Christians are really looking for is justification for their media consumption.

We’ll say: “Andrew plays DOOM so why can’t I?”

The thing is, God may convict me over something completely different than you. I get that. It’s cool. But this judgement thing, making a fellow believer feel guilty over something God has convicted them over, is not cool. I’m happy that God allows you to consume _____________. I’m happy that you get to enjoy that freedom. I am. But please do not use your freedom to judge, and in effect, enslave me.

I Wanna Grow Old With You

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Saturday afternoon, Wyatt was dropped off to spend quality time with Tabitha’s parents. We spent the rest of the weekend celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary. Eating all the good foods (burgers in our case, we love them!), watching all the movies (Crazy Rich Asians), and just enjoying time alone together.

I love Tabitha. It’s amazing to look back and see how God has written our story:

  • How we met by bumping into each other, in the dark, at a “scare-em into Heaven” evangelistic haunted house (we were playing brother and sister in the play).
  • The extra year we spent dating, after Tabitha’s parents told me that they didn’t have peace in me marrying their daughter (the relationship I have now, with her parents, because I respected them, is amazing).
  • Wyatt arriving a month early and all that that entailed.
  • Buying a house. Escaping the duplex that was quickly growing too small for our family.
  • Tabitha retiring from 8 years of teaching public school to become a stay-at-home mom (something she had always wanted).
  • Our decision to homeschool Wyatt. This was a big one, a choice that came about due to our local public school failing him.

God has allowed us to do so many things and has blessed our family in many different ways. I’m thankful for a God who doesn’t always answer with a quick yes. He has taught me that being told no or even told to wait has led to some of the best outcomes (this continues to be a hard lesson).

A picture of Tab and I with the guys from my dorm floor.

If we were reminded of anything this weekend it’s that we NEED time alone together. Going to start working on that in 2019.

To my wife, I love you. Thank you for your guidance, support, and growing older with me. Our story is still being written, even when we don’t completely understand what the Author is doing (He is still in control and is good). I love you, baby. Here is to another 12 years. – Bryan

Don’t Drown

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Do you feel like you are drowning? That whatever you are dealing with is too big, overwhelming, and will never end?
Photo by Cristian Palmer on Unsplash
I was talking with a friend this past Wednesday night. His son had suffered from life threatening food allergies since birth. Food allergies that had once caused him to drive 110MPH to get to the hospital. Notice that I said that he had suffered from food allergies. Today, more than a decade later, his son is healthy and able to to eat a much broader range of foods. Food no longer equals death.
 
Got me thinking about how we encounter these huge life deals. Issues that we never think will ever pass. Obstacles such as:
 
  • A surgery
  • A medical issue
  • A car accident
  • A outstanding debt/bill
  • A baby not sleeping or that has issues eating
I want to encourage you today. If you feel overwhelmed by something, drowning in the present, you can do this. God is there to provide His strength. You don’t have to do this on your own. One day you’ll look back in the mirror and shake your head. You’ll wonder how something that had been so consuming could vanish into a past worry. And if it doesn’t go away (sometimes that happens), you’ll know that He is there with you, guiding you closer to Him.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
– Isaiah 40:29 (NLT)