Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dealing With Discouragement

I never realized how difficult ministry was going to be. People always told me that it would be hard, and I thought I believed them, but I'm starting to realize what they were talking about. There are so many events to keep track of, so many people to call, so many meetings to attend, and on top of that, a social life to keep up on. I find my days quickly filling up, my free time become less free and coming home and being so exhausted that all I can do is collapse in bed. As difficult as this is, I know that God is refining me through it. He is teaching me that I need to learn to say no. The trouble is, I love everything that I am doing right now. So the question isn't, "which things do I WANT to continue filling my time with," but "which things SHOULD I continue to fill my time with." I made the decision last week to quit my second job at Starbucks. This was extremely difficult, because I can't adequately explain how much I love that job and my co-workers there, but getting up at 4:30 AM three days a week and working a full time job, plus not having free time on Saturdays is far too much for my frail 23-year-old body to handle. I am trying to teach myself to rest, and this was not helping. For the past two years, I was working four part time jobs, going to college full time, staying involved at church, and attempting to have a social life. To be frank, I did not know what rest was. 

Even when things seem hard, I have wonderful reminders of why
I do what I do through the wonderful youth I get to work with :)
A few months ago, my pastor was preaching a series on the ten commandments. It seems like the sermon that hit most people (including myself) the hardest was the fifth commandment: "Keep the Sabbath day holy." I had always brushed this one off and said, "I don't have time for a Sabbath." Thanks to the wisdom of my pastor and mentor, I now have a Sabbath and that day is sacred. I don't work, and I make sure to take time to read and meditate on God's word, to write my thoughts in the form of a blog, and to spend some time having fun.

This has been a major step for me. I am starting to understand the importance of rest, but unfortunately this does not remove the difficulty of ministry. It does make it easier, though. I have had a few moments of discouragement and I'm sure that this is just the start, but it is definitely worth it. I have been reading a book called "Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry" by Doug Fields. The chapter I'm on now is all about discouragement in ministry. On this topic, Doug says: 
"Discouragement is a reality in all ministry, not just youth ministry. Where people live, sin exists. Where sin exists, problems abound. Where problems abound, discouragement follows. Count on it! When you say yes to ministry, you also say yes to periods of discouragement" (45).
 To expand on this, discouragement is a reality in all of life. Whether you are in full time ministry, a banker, a teacher, a lawyer, etc., you are going to be discouraged at some point. This is normal. Don't let the fact that you are discouraged discourage you. 

Trust in the Lord and in His Word. In times of discouragement, I often find myself reading James. James faced his share of discouragement. John MacArthur describes James as "(...) the key leader in the Jerusalem church, being called one of the 'pillars' of that church, along with Peter and John. Also known as James the Just because of his devotion to righteousness, he was martyred ca. A.D. 62, according to the first century Jewish historian Josephus." To start with, being the key leader of the Jerusalem church would come along with enough discouragement to make most Christians throw in the towel. Jerusalem was the spiritual center for people of the Jewish faith. The Sanhedrin met there, the Jewish holy scriptures and documents were kept there, and the temple square was the 'Mall Of America' for Jewish people looking to buy sacrificial animals and other Jewish artifacts. Judging from these facts, it's pretty safe to say that James would have faced some serious opposition. He was leading a church that went completely against what Jews believed in the city that housed the 'White House' of the Jewish faith. To get a taste of how James encouraged other Jewish Christians who were going through this, let's look at James 5:7-8, 
"Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand."
 We are to be patient in times of trouble. He relates this to farming. Of all people, farmers have to be very patient people. They also have to have a lot of trust in something, whether it be God, mother nature, or their lucky water spigot. If the rain doesn't come, or too much rain comes, they have to have the trust that the money to feed their families and pay their bills will come from somewhere. The fact we have to face is, no matter how much faith we put in our lucky water spigot, it is going to fail us. Even if we do our rain dance every single day, mother nature is not looking out for us. The only one whom we can actually trust is Jesus Christ. Because He became one of us, He knows exactly what we are going through. If you feel discouraged, know that Jesus has been there too, and He is looking out for you. No matter how hopeless you feel, always remember that there is hope. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 12:12. It says, "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer" (NIV1984). Be joyful in the knowledge that through Jesus, you have hope. Because of this hope, you can be patient in your affliction or trouble because you know that everything will turn out alright. Be faithful in prayer, knowing that our sovereign God hears each of our prayers and will answer them in His timing and wisdom. If you are feeling discouraged, you are not alone. Rest in the grace and peace of Christ, which we do not deserve, yet He pours out on us richly because of His great love for us. As Paul says in 1 Timothy: 
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life."
Through Christ alone, we are worthy of God's grace. This is where our hope comes from. This is how we know that no matter how discouraged we feel, Christ has made a way for us and will be with us every step of the way.
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."
           John 16:33

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Authority of Scripture and Our Identity in Christ

Welcome back to my wonderful blog :) I am excited to write my second post on my blog and I pray that God might use it to encourage someone in some way. Enjoy!

So, last night in youth group, we talked about being the person that God made us to be. We started out by showing a clip from the movie Zelig, an American mockumentary directed by Woody Allen fresh out of 1983. It is a hilarious movie, filmed in the style of a 1920's newsreel, about a man who has taught himself to take on the appearance and personalities of the people around him. Through a series of tests by a team of doctors, he is shown to put on about a hundred pounds when placed in a room with two obese men, change the color of his skin when placed in a room with African American men, and develop Asian features when put in a room with Asian men. One of the doctors comes to the conclusion that this is happening because he just ate some bad Mexican food, while another says that he has a brain tumor and will be dead within a couple weeks. The one person who believes in him is a psychiatrist named Dr. Fletcher. She hypnotizes him and asks him why he becomes like the people he is around, to which he replies, "It's safe to act like the others. I want to be liked."

Watch the clip here (skip to 8:55-13:35)

Wow. How many of us feel like this occasionally? During our small group discussion, I shared that this was my life to a tee in high school. I didn't physically become like the people I was around (although I would change what I wore depending on who I was going to be with), but I acted differently around everybody. I wanted to be accepted and liked so much that I never really knew who I was. A few weeks ago, I showed the youth group a picture of myself from my freshman year (see below). This was from my surfer phase. I wanted so badly to have the cool hair that just swooped across your forehead and partially covered one of your eyes. Unfortunately, what I got was less of a swoop and more of a poof...

Not so surprisingly, they got a real kick out of this photo... This lasted all throughout high school, changing my personality and appearance in hopes that I would have more of a chance of fitting in. It wasn't until college that I finally started to get an idea of who I really was. Consequently, this is when my faith turned from less of a thing to check off of the list to something that goes down to the very core of my being. This was thanks to a few Godly men who saw potential in me, and taught me what it means to be a man after God's own heart. I started to discover the man that God made me to be and developed real relationships with people because I was no longer pretending to be someone else.

A few years later, I moved into an apartment with two men named Quinten and Chase. Thus, the Brosephines were born :) This was one of the most frustrating times of my life, as I was learning to live with two other people with different backgrounds and different living styles than me. We learned to work through these things, and Chase and Quinten became two of the best friends I have ever had. 

(The Brosephines on the morning Chase moved to Chicago)

Chase and Quinten introduced me to something that completely changed my faith and my entire life: Reformed Theology. The Protestant Reformation started when Martin Luther, frustrated with how the Roman Catholic church was treating the church like a business, wrote his ninety-five theses and nailed them to the church door at Wittenberg 496 years ago, to this very day. Two of Martin Luther's biggest points are the authority of scripture and the means of our salvation. He said that because Scripture is "breathed out by God" (2 Tim. 3:16), what God says through the Scriptures takes precedence over the traditions of the church and the opinions of people in the church. This teaching was ground-shaking at the time (and even today in many cases) because people were so entranced in their traditions that if anyone spoke out against them, they were usually punished in the form of a public burning. In Martin Luther's case, he was excommunicated from the catholic church. Luther did not preach that traditions were bad in themselves, but the problem is when the traditions become our focus rather than the Gospel. This teaching completely changed Christianity around the world. In fact, this is where all of Protestant Christianity sprouted from. 

Because of my personal study of Reformed Theology, I have developed a much higher view of God's Word. I have ceased to think of Christ as another thing to add to my life, and started to view Him as the very source of my being. I pray that through the moving of the Holy Spirit, I can help the teens at my church to view their faith in this way and spare them from the pain and dissatisfaction that I endured because of my low view of God's Word. Praise God for giving us His Word "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness," and for His promise to make us "competent, equipped for every good work."

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
-2 Timothy 3:16-17

 "We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.' For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."
-Romans 15:1-7

Soli Deo Gloria. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Beginnings, Big Dreams, and a Race!

Welcome to my new blog! I have been told that writing and maintaining a blog is absolutely necessary in ministry, so I decided to give it a try. I never really considered myself to be much of a writer. That is one of the reasons why I chose to study music in college: no papers! However, it seems as if God has turned the tables on me once again. After high school, I thought I would never have to write again! Now, I find myself being led to write this blog. Actually, I feel excited about this. I'll even venture to say that I kind of, maybe, half-way like writing now. I am excited to share this stage of life with you all and I hope that what I have to say is helpful, encouraging, or at least slightly comical if nothing else :)

This past May, I graduated from Culver-Stockton College with a B.A. in Music Performance, then married the love of my life, Joyce, three weeks later, and on August 27th, I started my first big kid job as the Youth Director/Worship Leader at Faith Presbyterian Church in Quincy, Illinois. Needless to say, it has been quite the season of new beginnings. Joyce and I had plans to move to Columbia, Missouri after our wedding, where she would finish her last two years at Central Christian College of the Bible while I worked at Starbucks. God had different plans. I ended up getting a job offer from the church where I had been an intern for the past two years. It was my dream job. I would be working with teenagers and leading a congregation in worship every week. When I told Joyce about it, her response was "It would be foolish not to take that job." So, we ditched our dreams in the bustling metropolis of Columbia and sat back and watched God's plan unfold in front of us. Joyce transferred to good old Culver-Stockton College and started her own major new beginning. It has been an exciting, busy, and very tiring season, and we couldn't be more happy to be where we're at.


This morning, I was scrolling through pictures on Tumblr of people in the mountains, sitting around a campfire with a log cabin and rolling hills in the background, and all kinds of other ideal picturesque scenes, just wishing my life could be more like that. So, I started working on a post talking about my frustrations with living in Illinois. As I was writing, I started to realize how stupid this was. I remembered how blessed I am to be in this very place at this time. I have always been a dreamer, always wanting to be somewhere else, wondering what life would be like if I was doing something different. Dreaming isn't a bad thing, but God is trying to teach me to be thankful for where He has placed me; not ignoring Him when He calls me to go, but allowing myself to be happy while I am here. Maybe one day, Joyce and I will end up in the mountains in a log cabin around a campfire with a bunch of friends, but that time is not now and I am okay with that. While I was writing this Tumblr post, I came across a passage in Hebrews that really spoke to my situation: 
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
I have been placed in an amazing Gospel-centered church with many strong believers around me, and I need to run in this race. With endurance! That's what I am going to do. I am going to take advantage of this cloud of witnesses around me, and use this time to be refined by Christ in every part of my life. Praise God for placing me in Quincy, Illinois where I have the opportunity to lead a group of teenagers into a relationship with Christ AND lead a local church body in worship every single week. There is no place I would rather be.

Praise. God.