yeast

During our monthly house church this last Sunday, I was pondering the power of yeast. Ryan was sharing out of Mark 8 where Jesus warned his disciples about the yeast, or leaven, of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod. Basically, a small amount of yeast can leaven an entire loaf of bread, just a touch can infect a much larger matter.

The yeast of Herod is that violent, overpowering political influence. You ever notice how someone will read one little online article or hear one thing in the news (that may or may not be accurate) and receive it into their psyche. All of a sudden they’re on a warpath with their political cause of choice and are taking out anyone and everyone that stands in their path? That’s the yeast of Herod. A small influence that has absolutely taken someone over and is now negatively affecting them and others around them. The political yeast of Herod doesn’t line up with one particular ideology either, those on the left and the right, however liberal or conservative, often allow this yeast in their lives.

The yeast of the pharisees is the overbearing, self-righteous religious influence. Jesus came into conflict with the religious elite more than any other group during his ministry. They used religion as means of oppressing others and maintaining their own status in society. For them, it wasn’t about honoring and loving God through His own directives in the Torah, it was about keeping their thumb on everyone else. In recent weeks, we’ve heard controversies from famous pastors that have established a level of control and influence, yet have clearly strayed from God’s word about truth, love and humility. You can be sure that the yeast of the Pharisees has had something to do with that.

As these things were running through my head concerning Jesus’ warning in Mark 8, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus words in Matthew 13:33 where He says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast which a woman takes and hides in the meal until the whole thing becomes leavened.

So yeast isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Small things can make a big difference a lot of the time. We open ourselves to all sorts of yeast in our lives, those small influences that change the entire meal for us. We often have our passions become a bit misdirected because of this. It doesn’t have to be the political tirades or the religious power plays (though it often is). It can be the things that are good, but have taken precedence over the real important things, or over the most important thing.

Get the good yeast going in your life. The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, just a small amount can profoundly change your entire life. Once your life is changed by the Kingdom of Heaven, there’s no telling the amount of good that’s going to flow through you from God.

Our ministry is on the precipice of expansion. We have five kids right now, but after we return from our upcoming baby furlough we’ll be adding more children into families. Melissa and I were discussing how that’s going to play out and I’d love for it to spread like wildfire if we can handle it, but if we just add one or two kids up front, I’m totally good with that. The reason is because one is a lot of people to receive the Kingdom of God. God does a whole lot through one person that is received by Him.

Just that small amount of one child among three million others in Tanzania, has the potential to do an immeasurable amount of good by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s the kind of yeast, however small, I want to be influencing that child, that family and this nation.

What’s influencing you? What kind of yeast are you allowing in your life? The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast, just a small amount will take over everything.

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Photo Cred: https://www.flickr.com/photos/subseasniper/
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the things we seek

Do you ever wonder what other people think of you? Yeah, so do I. For most of us our social media profiles, posts, blogs and all that often have a lot to do with what we want other people to see and hence think about us. The last couple days, I’ve been wondering how people perceive me just going off of what they see on Facebook and our email newsletter chain.

I like to think that my focus is on the Kingdom of God. I’m kind of obsessed with talking about the Kingdom of God or at least mentioning it. Our orphan care program is called Kingdom Families, I just renamed this blog “Build This Kingdom,” I want people to think of me that I’m someone seeking the Kingdom of God and yet, I personally am unconvinced myself.

There are a lot of things that I feel I’m seeking ahead of the Kingdom of God. Money, security, reputation, you know, stuff like that.

I’ve been in a little bit of a funk the last couple days and my wife has known it. I’m generally an even keel person, don’t get too high or too low. But a few circumstances that arose yesterday before church kind of brought me down a few notches. A few moments before I sat down to write this, I hugged Melissa and asked her “What are we seeking?” In my mind, she was going to encourage me by quoting Matthew 6:33, “Bran, we’re seeking first the Kingdom of God,” but instead she was honest and just said “I don’t know.”

Here’s what’s got me down and honestly I hate to talk about it. It’s actually my least favorite thing to talk about in the public arena. I’m down because of money. I know, I know, another missionary talking about money that they need, I apologize. I’m not going to make a plea for your money in this blog, I promise. Just sharing my convoluted thoughts on the matter.

Last week, I was talking with Ryan about our plane ticket situation and we really need to buy them, but we’ve been holding off so that we can get the round trip tickets and save money. He told me that I should do some short little video of Promise being cute and just tell people that we still need money to buy the plane tickets. Great idea.

So we did it. We shared it on all three of our blogs, each of four Facebook pages and an email shout-out. Promise was cute. She showed everyone how smart she was as we read the story Bible together, we kept it to 90 seconds and haven’t received a single donation since it was posted.

It kind of got me down and now I’m just wondering if that, coupled with putting our giving information in our newsletters and making a status update about giving on Facebook has people thinking that we’re seeking money. I guess we are seeking money.

Now, I just share all that because it’s on my mind and this is my blog where I share what’s on my mind. I’m sure that there are ways that you are also seeking money. Maybe just to pay the bills or maybe to get you to the next financial level in society. I would also like the security that I perceive that it brings. I want money so that I don’t have to worry about money.

I wish that I would come to a personal resolve on the matter. I don’t want to talk about money anymore and I really, really don’t want to ask for it anymore.

What about you? What are you seeking after first? Lately, for me it’s been money, security and reputation. That’s not good, I confess. When I worry about these things and seek them above God and His Kingdom, that’s sin. When I seek money first even for plane tickets, that’s sin. When I seek the security of my family first, that’s sin. When I seek after the praise and good reputation among other people first, that’s sin. Because even if those aren’t bad things I’m not seeking the Kingdom of God first.

“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” That’s our directive. That’s what we do. Anything short of that is missing the point. If there was no further promise in that scripture, it wouldn’t change our directive to seek His Kingdom first in our lives.

Yet there is a promise from our gracious God “…and all these things shall be added to you.” God knows our needs, Jesus only asks that we seek Him first of all and let Him worry about the other stuff.

I told my wife that I’m not going to be sad anymore. Melissa will deliver in California, we will spend the holidays with family and we will return to Tanzania at the start of 2015. My job isn’t to seek the things that secure that path. My job is to seek first the Kingdom of God.

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Found this cool piece of the verse here: http://artbybritt.blogspot.com/2011/07/matthew-633.html

 

The Calling of God is Stronger

I need to be careful when listening to Bethel Music while washing dishes. I start crying for no apparent reason.

Earlier in the day Melissa and I had received an email from a spiritual mother, Rita. Rita was our previous director when we were working at Treasures of Africa Children’s Home. She knew that we had just returned to life and ministry here in Moshi and wanted to welcome us back and give us her best for our new ministry. It was a very sweet letter and got me reminiscing back to to 2009 when she first approached me about coming on staff at TOA. I remember telling her and the orphanage director at the time that there was nowhere else in the world that I would rather work than at Treasures of Africa. 

As I stood at the sink soon that afternoon, I had the last five years running through my head all at once. I could be anywhere in the world right then and yet my God-ordained spot was in Moshi, in Shanty Town, in our friends’ home, at the sink, washing dishes. Only the Lord knows how such a path is directed; the partnership with Him as we walk the journey. I am no longer on staff at Treasures of Africa. The kids are doing great and so loved and taken care of by the staff there, but I’m no longer one such person. When Rita and the board offered me that position, I had every aspiration, hope and, dare I say, assurance that I would ‘run an orphanage’ under TOA’s heading. And yet I now stand in a new ministry, also involved in Kilimanjaro. We love the kids at TOA and will still be involved in there lives to some degree, but I’m not on staff anymore. Not coming in for devotions in the morning, not staying till the kids come from school to kick the ball around. 

Furthermore, Melissa, Promise and I just came out of a 20 month season of living in California. For much of that time I was on staff at a church on the central coast. My main job was overseeing the early stages of a church re-start in Morro Bay. As we were there the Lord was deepening my passion for discipleship and had placed me in an area where the gospel is desperately needed. I loved the opportunities to teach the word, lead worship and connect with other pastors and ministers in the area. When they began looking for a pastor, they made sure I knew that I could step into that role if I felt inclined. The church building is already there, financial backing from the mother church, an area where the gospel is needed, get to head up and pastor a church plant. To people that are passionate about ministry, this was a nearly perfect situation. And yet, I turned it down. 

What was once my dream job is now in the rear view mirror and what could have been a new dream job wasn’t even taken up. And here I am washing dishes while listening to worship music, somewhat asking myself how I got here. I have a million reasons not to be where I am today and yet here I stand.

On Father’s Day in 2007, God called me to care for orphans and live out my ministry in Africa. Nobody else heard His voice beckoning that day. It was just me. He was calling me. And that calling has proven to be stronger than any other circumstance, situation or trouble that I have encountered. Since that day almost seven years ago, I’ve finished college, lived in several cities, been on four continents, lived on two of them, gotten engaged, gotten married, had a baby and a million other things. And yet I’m standing as a minister of the Gospel in Africa and it’s only by God’s grace, His providence and the calling that He gave me. 

I walked away from the sink and approached Melissa in the living room. She could tell that I was emotional and I shared with her what was on my heart and we lifted up a prayer of thanksgiving to God.

There are days where I think to myself “Why am I here?” There are days that I’m profoundly frustrated with life and how certain things have played out. There are days that I want to take my ball and go home, not home to Shanty Town, home to California. There are days that I don’t want to minister to my family, days that are just too hard, days that I wonder if this is all worth it and if I’m actually making a difference. And yet here we are.

God’s calling is bigger than the ministries that I’m involved in, it’s stronger than any life situations that would oppose it, and it’s clearer than any other life choice could ever be. The calling of God is more beautiful, more meaningful, more difficult and more satisfying than any other option that can be presented in one’s life.

Here I am. Not because someone offered us a ministry position, not by happenstance, but by divine ordination and the strong calling of God on our life.

 

Praise the Lord, oh my soul, praise the Lord.

A Chimp with a Soda Bottle

Several months ago during a time of worship in Moshi, a friend of mine gave me a prophetic picture that he felt impressed upon him from the Lord. In my approximate recollection, he saw me holding a soda bottle that I kept shaking up in an attempt to have the contents calm. It was of course a futile attempt, being as shaking up a soda bottle doesn’t calm the drink, but rather only further inflames it. As he was giving me the somewhat odd message, I was envisioning myself within that picture as a perplexed chimpanzee, not understanding how it all works. After the time of music was over, he asked me if the picture resonated with me at all, as he said, he wanted to be accountable for any prophetic word that he shared with someone. Appreciative of his humble approach and realizing that there was indeed resonance there, I bashfully acknowledged my prophetic chimp-like behavior.

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Sometimes we try to fix ourselves and in so doing, only perpetuate poor behavior and poor outcomes. Over the last couple years, I feel as though I’ve lost my head, my creativity and my gifting in an overpowering celebrity culture. Yesterday I read a review on Scott Stapp’s new memoir, yeah as in the greasy haired dude from Creed. The review was surprisingly candid and applauded Stapp for his transparency on the rock star life and fame. Interestingly, the guy that wrote the review felt as though the take-home for him from the book was for ministry leaders to not fall into the trap of fame: self-idolatry or self-infatuation, which happens on even the smallest of scales. That actually really rang true with me.

Coincidentally as I was driving to the church this morning for work, Beth Moore came on with a snippet on the Christian radio station talking about how we’ve formed social media to conform to our personal celebrity-hood. We can choose what we see from people, as easily as we ‘friend’ people, we can ‘unfriend’ them should they do something we deem improper. On our blogs, Twitter and Instagram we have ‘followers’, who are, in our minds, people that are just as enthralled by our thoughts and actions as we are. We can all be mini-celebrities.

I have indeed fallen into that trap of believing myself to be a mini-celebrity. Its now been three years since I first moved to Tanzania. Several months in, after the glimmer of that romantic missionary life wore off, I realized that I was addicted to social media that revolved around me. I had become the center of my universe, even as I was doing the Lord’s work in ministry. My personal time in worship, prayer and devotional Bible reading didn’t give me as much energy as ‘comments’ and ‘likes’ on Facebook or my blog did. I had become the greasy haired lead singer of my own mind.

Since realizing this in November 2010 or so, I have tried different things at different times to kick out the voices in my head and re-claim my creativity and my sanity. Nothing’s really worked. Every feeble attempt of mine to fix myself has only led to me shaking up that soda bottle some more; left in utter bewilderment. The problem is of course that I can’t fix myself, I wasn’t designed to. Its not a matter of going underground and disconnecting from all media outlets (which I just finished doing in December). Its not a matter of being more selective in choosing which voices you listen to. Its not a matter of ignoring your blog stats or refraining from updating my Facebook status every ten minutes.

Its a matter of allowing God to be the center of the universe, no matter what.

I hope to be more creative in 2013. I hope to be able to engage culture more effectively without being overwhelmed by it. But the only resolution that I can really manage is putting him in His rightful place and praying that God would grant me the sound mind that is promised as a bearer of His Holy Spirit.

The Day After The Sky Fell

I don’t know why Marcus started playing that movie. It seemed so random. I’ve been staking out in his office in Los Osos for the last few weeks doing stuff for the church before settling into my own office in Morro Bay. I was just going about my own business with my headphones on when he returned to his computer. Next thing I know, I look up and there on the screen a movie is playing. “What are you watching, dude?”

That morning my wife and I had gone out to coffee to study the Bible together. I asked her if she had any passages that were particularly on her heart that morning. She didn’t. So I turned to Psalm 146. A couple verses there had been stuck in my head since the elections the previous night. “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish.”

The night before my Facebook feed had been buzzing as the re-election of President Obama flooded every media outlet known to man. It seemed to me that for every elated Facebook friend there were two that were outraged. The sky was falling and half the population was moving to Canada. I wondered what my life would look like, not only with Obama getting another four years, but with so many friends and family moving out of country.

So much doom was being spoken over this country in the form of status updates and tweets. I had to consciously decide if I would scroll through them and hear my friends bicker among themselves.

As I sat there over coffee with Melissa, I likened Psalm 146 to something like God’s political platform. He made heaven, the earth and the sea. He keeps the truth forever. Executes justice for the oppressed. Feeds the hungry. Frees prisoners. Heals the blind. Watches over strangers. Relieves the orphaned and widowed. Turns the wicked’s ways on their head.

Now that’s the truth. That’s hope I can believe in. I thought that was a good place to leave it as far as the political atmosphere goes. Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya.

But then Marcus put on that movie. ” Really? Who just randomly decides to watch The Passion of the Christ?” I thought to myself. I decided that I would only remain for a couple scenes, then relocate to the sanctuary with my laptop. As I watched Jesus being beaten, I decided that it would be wrong to leave during such a scene. As a Christian I ought to stay with Him through this painful scene. The only problem with that is, the whole movie is filled with Him being beat, scene after scene, it doesn’t let up. Just like it didn’t let up when it actually happened. I sat through the whole movie for the first time since it was in theaters.

If the story of Jesus being crucified doesn’t shake us to the core, I don’t know what will. Marcus and I just sat in silence after the movie ended. Our hearts afforded few words.

The cross ought to change our perspective about everything. Everything compared to the cross of Christ is trivial. All of history hinges around a three day period where Jesus died, was buried and resurrected. I don’t mean to make light of the election, other historical events or anything else going on, but in a way I do mean to make light of them, because it is infinitely less significant to what happened on Calvary. And for us to get so wrapped up in that which is trivial is sin. “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man.” Do not put your trust in Obama or Romney or any other person. Their plans will perish.

As I watched that movie yesterday, I had a new revelation of God’s love for us. A love that knows no limits. A love that will go to the gates of hell and back for each of us. As a new father, I couldn’t help but be moved by Mary, but even more by Jesus’ Father, who allowed that atrocious event to take place on His beloved Son. I always thought about if I would be able to follow Jesus in an actual crucifixion, but what struck me more during the movie was would I allow my daughter, Promise, to be beaten and crucified in order for any other person to come to know the Lord. That’s His love for us.

In light of that love, that unrelenting, sacrificial to the extreme kind of love, what on earth could we be worried about?

Whatever your views are on the election or whatever is going on in your life that has you disheartened or tired, know that the Father’s love for you is real and enormous and you have nothing to fear. Beyond that, know that Jesus has overcome everything. The price has been paid! The tomb is empty!

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If you’re like me and have had worries regarding the election, other world events or other personal events, or you have friends that have those worries, I’d encourage you with the love of God poured out for you and your friends. Share that with them, even share this post if you think it appropriate.

when the bread seems delayed…

The coffee shop is bustling as I walk in. The Mid-State Fair always brings people out into the streets of Paso. I take a quick glance around the place before taking my glasses off. Do I recognize anyone in here? Better question, does anyone in here recognize me? I think I’m clear. Oh, wait, I went to high school with one of the baristas. She looks the same, but I’ve got a beard now, not to mention she was more popular than me, I should be okay. I am a bit socially awkward and not crazy about running into people from high school when I come to town for a visit. I walk on eggshells in public places throughout Paso Robles.

Its probably insecurity that makes me feel this way. I care about people’s perception too much. Its not that I was particularly disliked in high school, I was just an average kind of guy. Its just that I went out from this place over seven years ago and I’ve experienced more things and changed because of where I’ve been. Yes four and half years in SoCal changed me, but far more the two and a half in Tanzania. I don’t know how to show that on my sleeve and I want to. I don’t want people to think of me as the kid I was at 19. Even Jesus wasn’t highly regarded in his hometown, who cares about feeling awkward when the townies are fixing to throw you off a cliff (Luke 4:16-30).

Its always tough to go back. To me, it doesn’t feel right most of the time. When I knew that we’d be coming back to California for a time surrounding our daughter’s birth, Melissa and I both wanted to be somewhere in Orange County or Long Beach, which hasn‘t exactly worked out. We have been wanting that because we see more of a community there that we can plug into, the area seems to thrive creatively and we were hoping to be a part of a particular church during this interim time in the states.

I suppose it helped that I wouldn’t have to seemingly rewind my life quite as far and Melissa could experience a new place and new friends.

Yet, we’re here right now. Up to this point, nothing’s come up as far as feasible work and home. God told us “I will fight for you, you only need to be still.” (Exodus 14:14) And it gets hard to follow that word and to hold our peace right now. We’re back in San Luis County, living with Melissa’s folks, borrowing a car that we’ll return soon, without a job and the baby will be here in a matter of weeks.

I feel like its taking more faith to be here right now than it did to be living off of support in Tanzania, not that long ago. I, in fact, would prefer to be in Tanzania right now. It’s funny how that works out. When I first moved to Tanzania, I longed to be who I was in Long Beach, I liked that, it was comfortable. Now, we’re back in California until sometime next year and I wish I was who I was back in Tanzania, it was more comfortable, believe it or not.

I know the Lord loves me. He is gracious enough to push guide His beloved children into spots where they’ll have to grow and sometimes it feels like sink or swim. That’s a bit where we’re at these days up on the central coast.

Tough spots like these are where the rubber hits the road in our faith. Do we still believe He provides even when we expected the bread would be here by now? Do we choose to love Him even when we don’t get what we want, when we want? Do we lean in, even when it hurts? Do we really trust He has our best interest in mind in every single situation?

 

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Quick Update on Us: The questions that I posed in this blog are on the table for our family right now. We could use your prayer. We had hoped to be settling in (or nesting really) into our temporary home by now with the baby coming in early September. While we will head back to Tanzania in, most likely, mid-2013, we have to allow ourselves to truly live in California for this time. This time is catalytic as we set our roots into God and one another as a family with our daughter nearly here. Our biggest needs right now are a cheap (or free) space of our own and a job for me (we’re on a break from receiving support from the organization in Tanzania). We are so grateful for the friends of ours that have been awesome in helping us out with financial gifts and gifts for the baby, it has helped more than you realize. Yet our biggest needs are to tap into consistent income (an interim job) and place for us to call home for now. As the head of my household its been hard to figure out what comes first the house or the job, your prayer for discernment and wisdom would be great. The Lord told us that He would fight for us, so we’re trying to figure out how we play our role in His plan for us.

the problem with religion and the reality of the angelic

You ever meet those people that you can tell they spend time a lot of time with the Lord? Like they’re really in love, they really pursue Him and just want to spend time with Him. They take whatever moment they can during the day to steal away and spend a few minutes talking with Him. You get around them and smell His fragrance on them. When they talk about Him, its as though they had just had coffee with Him that morning. I want to be like that.

My problem is religion. Lord help me, I get caught up. I know its wrong, its suffocating to my mind and toxic to my spirit. I recall previous times in my life where I would just spend so much time with the Lord, reading His word, praying, sitting silently, thinking freely and allowing Him to speak. I then say to myself, “yeah, I want that again.” So I set up a time and begrudgingly flip through the word and space out in prayer or fall back on rote repetitions. My heart isn’t where it ought to be.

Yesterday I was feeling a bit anxious throughout the day, for no real given reason. My soul was churning within me. It felt as though my skin was just one size too big and my very being was squirming within my existence. I had allowed my religiousness, including its facets of self-righteous cynicism and empty routine, to bind my spirit and soul. I had to get out of the house so I went for a walk around my in-laws property. My soul was longing to connect with the Creator, as deep cries out to deep.

Night was falling and I walked out of the house as my anxiety persisted. As I headed down the hill towards their flower nursery, I prayed. My spirit sought the Lord in tongues my mind doesn’t understand. I eventually reached the top of a hill that overlooked the nearby highway as well as much of the property. Awake my soul, Lord. I jumped up and down, cringed and confessed. Bring freedom, Jesus. I raised my hands and my voice. Help me, Spirit. I got distracted and had to re-focus. Deliver me, Father.

And then I got quiet.

Head bowed, hands in pocket. I suddenly become very aware of my own heartbeat, pounding in my chest. My mouth begins to water as though I were preparing to vomit. I feel an angelic presence behind me to the left. In the spirit, I sense him place his hand on my shoulder and pray for me. God cares for me, He walks with me and protects me. There is an angelic assignment for my life. Its not fairy tale, its not a children’s story, its not only biblical, its beyond that, its real, right here and now in my life. I raise my hands to receive from the Spirit that which He purposed for me in this time.

Just as I felt the pressure of the gray and all the different ways to look at all the facets of my problems, then critique them and in so doing, debilitate myself from healing, so God my Rescuer went after each different problem.

My cynicism is useless. It misses the point. The problem is sin and bondage in the spirit (Ephesians 6:12). All that physical stuff that I see and critique are only manifestations of the problem in the spirit.

I think God wants to use me in one way, but He wants to use me in many.

Don’t strive to produce or be a certain person, only abide in Christ.

May the Spirit of God stir in me that desire to sit with Him, abide in Him, allow Him to use me how He wants to. Lord, save me from the bondage of self-righteousness and empty religion. May I walk in the light of Your Word and the life of Your Spirit.