Suffering for Christ

This blog was written by one of our members, Joel Jensen. You can follow him at http://www.savedfromsin.com

Suffering. We have all been there. It may be a place of frustration and doubt. Perhaps a period of loneliness or despair. Seemingly never ending, and at times, downright uncomfortable. In these circumstances we may feel pressed to question our walk with Him in the first place. It’s as if He is no longer to be found in the midst of it all. Where did He go? Did I do something wrong? Why won’t He do anything about this? I am here to suggest that these spiritual valleys are actually blessings in disguise and are used to create a stronger relationship with Christ.

As long as things were going good in my life I had no problem worshiping or giving thanks and praise to my Lord. Yet as soon as things turned south I suddenly started to lose gratitude and trust in Him. It was as if my faith was firmly grounded only when I was experiencing the joy and peace that comes from being completely focused on Him. My faith diminished once I was in an unpleasant spot and instead became focused on how to get out of the pain. I didn’t even consider that perhaps God had a purpose for allowing suffering to occur.

I believe this is where we go astray in dealing with suffering. We become so caught up in using our own self-will, discipline, and strength to escape the pain that we inevitably turn away from Christ and His strength. We forget that without Him, we of ourselves are nothing. We become indignant towards Him. We resent this perceived unfair treatment as not being part of God’s perfect will.

Yet doesn’t growth and prosperity always tend to be accompanied by pain and struggle? Doesn’t the butterfly only spread its wings and soar once it has endured the hardship of breaking free from the chrysalis? Isn’t a diamond only formed after a lump of carbon has been submitted to enormous amounts of heat and pressure? Aren’t muscles given strength only after being broken down and beaten?

Instead of being resentful towards these types of situations, we should be rejoicing in the fact that these low spots are actually producing growth and prosperity in us. In fact, I am reminded of when the Apostle Paul spoke about these certain trials.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” – Romans 5:3-4 NIV

Without our sufferings not only would we remain stagnant as people, but even more so our relationship with God would cease to grow. For isn’t it our shortcomings and repeated failure to produce good fruit on our own strength that which brought us back to the foot of Christ in the first place? Isn’t it the fact that we are able to witness Christ moving in our lives, through His provision and strength, that we are able to grow as followers?

No, I do not believe that the life Christ has called me to on this earth was meant to be one of unicorns and rainbows, a life of easygoing happiness. Just as it states in Philippians 1:29, we are not only called to believe in Him, but suffer for Him as well.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,…” – Philippians 1:29 NIV

Therefore, do not be alarmed when you are faced with trials of many kinds. Our season of suffering will come to pass and we will once again be placed onto the spiritual mountaintop that proceeds the valley. We will be lifted up higher than before, strengthened, and rooted firmly in knowing that without Him, we are just as lost sheep.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong,firm and steadfast.” -1 Peter 5:10 NIV

I am grateful for my trials and tribulations today, because that is exactly what diamonds are made of.

Freedom Rings

BellsThis last Sunday, our church gathered as one body under a tent in our front parking lot. It is probably the first time that the entire First United Methodist Church was together on a Sunday morning for a time of worship in decades. The entire morning was moving and more importantly, pleasing to God. I have no question that God was glorified in the events of the morning. From servants driving golf carts in the parking lot to people being baptized, from stewards serving communion to dozens of people professing their faith and joining the church, and from sixth graders greeting worshipers to the congregation singing praises, God was greatly glorified.

While everything was certainly honoring of God, there was one sweet moment where God responded powerfully to his people.

On Saturday morning, a number of us were busily setting up over 1,000 chairs and organizing everything that had to move into the tent for the service. All morning long, a gentle breeze blew and we stayed cool. On Sunday morning, no breeze was to be had. I was sitting on the stage praying for that breeze to kick up and cool us all down.

If you were there, you probably noticed that we carried in the bell banners from our chapel. They were sitting right behind me and the rest of the clergy.

During the time of the testimonies, as people stood to speak about how Jesus Christ had saved and transformed their lives, a strong breeze came blowing through the tent. The bell banners streamed out and all the bells began to ring! As soon as the testimonies ended, the breeze calmed and everything was again still.

God honors our confession, repentance, and declaration of his sovereignty in our lives. I believe with all my heart, the breath of God blew through our tent to revive us, even as so many of our members were testifying to his revival in their lives.

What is Mine?

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” Psalm 24:1

God has made us in His image and that is why we like to create as God has created and still is creating.  But there is a problem that comes with this blessed gift to create, it is the temptation to want to own.

1 Corinthians 10:26 says, “For the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.” Everything and everyone in this world belongs to God because without Him there would be nothing.  This is an easy concept to say, but a much harder one to fully comprehend.  It means that possessions that I have bought like my truck, my clothes, my library, my watch, and my wedding ring are not really mine.  It means that my degrees that I have worked so hard to earn are not really mine.  It means that my three beautiful children whom I have helped clothe, feed, and raise are not really mine.  It means everything that I have worked to achieve that I have called mine, is really not mine, but ultimately God’s!

God has given us the authority to be His stewards.  What an awesome privilege our creator has bestowed upon us!  That His beautiful creation in which He has called good is in our hands to be taken care of.  As I finished today’s challenge of putting sticky notes that say “God’s” on my belongings and pictures it really hit home the reality that I am not and never was the owner, but the steward of them all.  The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, my prayer is that I keep this ever in my mind and be the greatest steward I can be of God’s treasured possessions while I have breath in my lungs.

Ultimately the only thing that is mine is the blessed assurance that Jesus Christ has redeemed me and by grace I will spend eternal life worshiping in the glory of God.  In the end, that’s the only thing I really need to call mine.  Thanks be to God who makes all, and owns all, and redeems all who have faith in Jesus Christ!

Connections in Christ

When I agreed to lead a small group for the 30 Day Church Challenge, I must admit that I was a bit reticent. Did I really want to meet on Sunday evening after our usually “full” mornings? This would be another commitment, God! OK, God, I will do it! And what a blessing it has already been! In only two meetings, I see the group bonding, people beginning to be vulnerable and sharing their hurts and their needs. And then members of the group responding with love and compassion, with invitation to join one another in social events–our members are being the Body of Christ to each other! I look forward to Sunday evenings and to the ways the Spirit will work within our group. I pray your group is experiencing great things as well!

30 Day Church Challenge: Tuesday, Day 8

Today’s devotional reading in our 30 Day Church Challenge book was my favorite one so far. What a powerful message on the nature of the human heart and its relationship to the act of worship.

In the devotional, there were two quotes mentioned, one by Augustine, and one by C.S. Lewis. Both quotes are extremely impactful to read. The quote by C.S. Lewis comes from his commentary on the Psalms. Lewis wrestled for years in his unbelief because he hated that God demanded to be praised. He said in the years of his rebellion, God to him sounded like an old woman begging for compliments. After he had a change of heart about this demand from God, he wrote the quote below, a portion of which was in our reading.

“We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with… The Scotch Catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

When God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, He commanded Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, “that they may worship Me.” In the same way, we are delivered out of our slavery to sin, that we may worship Him. It is for His glory that we are freed, and it is for our freedom and perfect joy in Him that we are freed. These things are one and the same. When we think about the story of Mary and Martha in Luke chapter 10, we ought to realize that Mary’s enjoyment of God was not as different from Martha’s labors as Martha would have thought. In fact, Mary’s work was an even better work. In the story, Martha, who was busy with much serving for the guests at their house, approached her sister Mary who was sitting at Jesus feet. She said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Jesus answered, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” What Martha failed to understand was that Mary was actually doing a better job of serving. Though Martha was laboring with her hands, she was bitter in her heart. Mary, though only sitting at the feet of Jesus, was fully enjoying Him. I wonder how many of us today feel like Martha? Worn out from our laborers, but lacking joy. To those who feel this way, it is important to remember that the greatest work we can do for God is simply to enjoy Him. In the fulfilling of the deepest desires of our hearts, God is glorified.

Challenge Day 2

006Today is Day 2 of the 30 Day Church Challenge. Like all of you, I am reading the devotion, scriptures, praying the prayer, taking a simple step of discipleship, and making a few notes on the daily journal prompt.

Today’s journal prompt asked us to reflect on Acts 2.42-47 and jot down thoughts that most appealing to us.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Having reread these words describing life in the early church, I wrote down:

  • awe and wonder
  • added daily

I think many of us “expert” disciples have lost our sense of awe and wonder. We have somehow allowed the Devil to make us callous to the exhilarating experience of being the Church. We have forgotten that life is experienced to the fullest in community. Honestly, how many of us wake up on Sunday morning and race to the sanctuary because we KNOW that Jesus Christ will be present and working in miraculous ways? Yet, that is God’s plan for the church. He intends to meet with his people on a daily basis to work in supernatural ways to transform people’s lives. I wonder, how do we get back to that holy expectation that fills us with awe and wonder?

The second phrase that caught my attention was “added daily.” The church wasn’t waiting for Sunday to roll around to see who might visit for the first time. Rather, the people of God were actively engaged in sharing their faith on a daily basis. They were witnessing to the Word of God as they learned from the apostles, broke bread together, and gave generously of all their possessions. This devoted lifestyle had a DAILY effect on not only the disciples, but on non-believers as well. It was so compelling that every day new people turned their lives over to Christ and away from sin and hell. How do we add daily to the number being saved through the ministry of KFUMC’s disciples?

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A Mighty Movement

flyboy 30 day ccLast Sunday, over 900 people attended worship with us at KFUMC. There is little doubt that God is at work in our church, stirring the hearts and minds of his people. Today, the clergy team and I got the following texts from one of our long-time members. It said, “It’s been building for weeks and I can’t not speak it out for another moment. Do you guys FEEL it?! The Spirit is stirring! The horizon holds healing, a revelation of His power, and a mighty movement of His Spirit within His people. Praise the Lord!!! Isaiah 40:3-5: A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. ‘Let every valley be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the lord has spoken.

I responded: “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

Church, let’s reach our full potential in Jesus Christ. This Sunday we will officially launch our 30-Day Church Challenge. Over 500 people have already picked up their copy of the book and we will have even more available this week.

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Challenges

heroI am just competitive enough that I respond well to challenges. A goal placed just beyond my reach stirs my ambition and gives me a will to succeed. This is as true for me with spiritual challenges as it is with physical or intellectual ones. This coming Sunday, I will be daring us all to enter into a time of intentional, methodical discipleship. I think we can all admit that it doesn’t matter if we are brand new in our faith, or if we have a Master of Divinity degree, we can all grow in our faith. So what do you say, want to challenge yourself? Interested in growing deeper in your connection to God and to His church? If so, I hope to see you this Sunday (in person or on our broadcast) as we launch our 30-Day Church Challenge!

5 Ways God’s Grace is Seen in Kerrville, TX

Before moving to Kerrville in late June, my wife and I weren’t quite sure what to expect. We had spent a good amount of time here, but we really had no idea what it would be like to live here. We were very excited, but also a little nervous. After having been in Kerrville for a few months, here are 5 things (in no particular order) that I have noticed about this town that have stirred praise in my heart toward God.

  1. The kindness of the people.

I remember one of the first times I was driving around in Kerrville several years ago. Some friends of mine and I were in a rush to get to Mount Wesley Conference Center where we were councilors for a Methodist camp. We drove up behind someone who was going a little bit slower on a one lane street. The person moved over to the shoulder to let us pass. For you born and raised hill country folk, you may think nothing of this. I was shocked. In Austin, people don’t do considerate things on the road. It just doesn’t happen. You may think this is funny, but from that moment on I have noticed a particular kindness about the people in this town. From the workers at HEB to the people you meet on the street, this community is generally one that is very kind and gracious. This is a sign of God’s common grace to mankind. His common grace is given to all people, those who believe in Him, and those who do not. Through this common grace, all people are able to experience a taste of the joy that God created kindness to bring to the giver and the recipient.

2. The beauty of the Hill Country

To wake up in the morning, go out on the balcony of our third floor apartment and gaze out at the hills has been a true blessing. No matter which way you go on the road, you have a beautiful drive ahead of you. The new trail (which is right outside our door) has been a joy to explore, and the beauty of God’s hand in creation is amazing.

3. The testimonies of recovering addicts

It seems every week I meet someone new with a story of how they came to this town to recover from some addiction. I have heard numerous success stories, and praise God for the work He is doing to restore His creation here. What an opportunity for all of us as well; to be in a town where people flock to come find a new life, one of healing and wholeness. It is incredible to get to preach God’s gospel in a city where so many of these people are searching for exactly what He provides.

4. The hunger in the hearts of the people of KFUMC

Our church is one filled with people who want to know God more. There are many churches where people just want to come in, get there Sunday fill, and walk out. In this church, I have met many people who genuinely long to know and worship God in deeper ways. This is a mark of a people who will experience God, and be used by God in mighty ways.

5. The love of the people of KFUMC

The graciousness of this community of believers is outstanding. I have received so much love, comfort and encouragement upon coming here. There is a warmth about this people that comes from God, and a welcoming presence and atmosphere which has stirred much thanksgiving in my heart toward Him. I am thankful for the grace of our God in Christ Jesus which has been given to you, and I am exceedingly thankful to be in community and on mission with this amazing church.

Written By: Logan Talamas