Presence in the Present

Friday I walked into Starbucks to have coffee with my friend Seth Nenstiel, and this picture was on his laptop.

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© 2016 Seth Nenstiel — sethnenstiel.com

Seth is a seasoned artist who has added food photography to his services, so it didn’t surprise me at first. But as I looked closer, I discovered that he’d been inspired to write a blog post that was about the exact thing that God has been teaching me in my life (you can read his article here). He kindly offered the photo for my post as well.

As my wife and I enter the final eight weeks of her pregnancy, we find ourselves feeling that we’re waiting. Waiting for our son, but also on the Lord as the next chapter of our life is beginning to unfold. And I am reminded that God is all-knowing and outside of time, and that as I speculate and wonder about my son and the circumstances surrounding his birth and our new life, God’s already there.

But while I’m comforted to trust in the Father is in complete control, I still worry about the future. I still have concern for what could potentially go wrong.

And this is when God ministered to my spirit through a personal whisper, then a sermon, then a conversation. And through a coincidence with an old friend who I haven’t spoken to in quite some time.

A simple prayer.

“Lord, provide me one day’s measure of your grace and mercy.”

 

I am constantly faced with the challenge of knowing what it means to wait on the Lord and when I simply need to stand up and make it happen, using the brain, energy, and strength he’s already given me. And whenever I’ve deliberated in prayer with God about this, the answer generally comes back: “Well, what is the measure of your faith?”

Modern times may reward those who plan ahead and hedge those plans, but that doesn’t mean those self-made plans are worthy of our faith.

What unknown path lies ahead for you? It’s important to remember that tomorrow does in fact have enough worries of it’s own. God does not promise tomorrow, he does not promise next year. But he is our provider, and will see us through.

Christ in you can take on anything, for your strength will rise as you wait upon the Lord.

 

Overwhelming Peace

I’m in the middle of this snowstorm that’s sweeping the East Coast. I had vacation plans with my wife, but thankfully we decided to switch to plan B instead of traveling through the inclement weather.

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Snowstorms have this unique ability to cover our bustling lives with a big white sheet of silence. Schools and businesses close. Stores are empty. And people huddle in their homes with loved ones, waiting for life to come back online. Continue reading

Personal Update

 

Hello readers!

 

A few weeks ago, I announced on my 52nd post that due to life changes (fatherhood!), I will be scaling back my posting frequency. I’m going to break from updates until January, and then I’ll resume posting once or twice a month.

Thank you so much for reading my blog. I have learned a lot in one year of weekly updates, and I look forward to sharing new thoughts and reflections next year.

Have a wonderful holiday, and remember to make space for worship through all the festivities.

Sincerely,
Ryan

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The Power of Praise

We are constantly fighting a war with our lives. We make choices that send us down a path, and we have an enemy that wants to steer us toward destruction instead of toward the full life that God intends for us. That enemy wants to ruin us because of we remind him of his ultimate enemy, our Father God.

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The devil uses all sorts of tools he can use against us to pin us down. While he can’t harm us without the Father’s consent, he can lead us into confusion and chaos. All he needs to do is get us to make small choices that begin to separate us from the path that God intended for us to walk on. Often those choices are insignificant and don’t even seem to take us off track. But a 1,000 small steps later we are wondering how we got so far from God.

But we have access to incredible strength through Christ. He has placed within us the same power that raised Him from the dead. Because of that, we don’t have anything, or anyone, to fear.

When we worship God, we are lifting Him over every other thing in our hearts. This foils the plans of the enemy and exposes the cheap nature of every other god he tries to throw in our path. Praise draws us into the arms of the Father where nothing can harm or hurt us.

Worship is both testifying that we have accepted Christ, and identifying as the Father’s children. It is testifying, because singing and agreeing with a song is claiming it as true for our lives. When we sing “I have decided to follow Jesus” or “I’ve been set free” we are together declaring our salvation. And worship is identifying because we are drawing to our Father who is Lord over all. Without Christ, we are pretty weak against the dark forces in this world. But through Him we are powerful and able to overcome anything that comes against us.

Worship is warfare. Whether we sense it or not, there are all sorts of spiritual battles going on around us–great and small–that we can and should fight off. A simple song or lyric may not feel powerful, but as God is lifted higher in our hearts, everything else falls into its rightful place. We don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to worry. We don’t have to feel inadequate or incapable. Through Christ, we are children of the most powerful Being in the universe.

Church Fads

The Prayer of Jabez
Purpose Driven Life
The Daniel Plan

…just to name a few. Some of these are harmless, and others are helpful, but others can be destructive and misleading.

Let’s define a church fad as a set of thoughts or beliefs that snowballs in popularity across churches, denominations, and often even non-Christian arenas. In other words, it’s a book/idea/thought/buzzword that goes viral and appeals to a wide range of people as (seemingly) life-changing. A fad can seem revolutionary, when in reality it is often just a recycled and reorganized grouping of thoughts that already existed.

So should we ignore these fads? Should we embrace them one at a time as they come along?

An old mentor of mine gave me the language of “non-essentials”. The cross of Christ, the message of salvation, the supremacy of God, those things are essential to who we are and what we believe. But many other things are non-essential (to salvation) and many people will have differing views and opinions. These non-essentials come in all shapes, sizes, and complexities (i.e., is it wrong to _____? ~or~ what will heaven be like? ~or~ what does it mean to be in the favor of God?) These and other issues can be debated, but even scripture itself can seem to support different perspectives and arguments.

We need to stay informed, searching the scriptures for truth that resonates with our unique experiences and convictions. We need to remain humble, and find “trusted voices” that can help us understand scripture that exceeds our own understanding and . And we also need to respect others who have different opinions than our own.

This may seem an extreme way of dealing with something like a fad, but when something comes along like the prosperity gospel, we need to have this process available for mapping things out against the Word.

In my last post, I suggested why we need generations in the church. We need the younger generations to bring the latest thoughts of Christianity to keep our faith fresh and vibrant. But we also need the older generations to keep us in-line, inform our conscience, and develop our discernment.

The Christian life, in light of the gospel, should be the most real and relevant way to live. Unfortunately, if we reject new thoughts and ideas without testing them against the word, it quickly becomes a dated subculture that seems out of touch. Thankfully, Christ loves His church and has preserved it through the best and worst of times.

Conservers, Visionaries, and The Future

I am fortunate to be a part of a multi-generation church where anyone age 13+ will attend the same Sunday morning service. We do not cater toward the young or the old, but instead try our best to have a Sunday morning service that is inclusive to a wide-range of people. We value the generations gathering together for one service.

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So, a great task before us is the challenge of engaging each of those generations in a meaningful way that keeps them mentally, spiritually, and emotionally involved. If we swing too much into tradition, younger generations will unplug since the world around them has moved on. If we swing too young, the wisdom of the past will get lost and we will have a haphazard approach to the spiritual formation and development of those who are new in the faith.

To me, this is a beautiful tension that carries the weight of the church as an institution and simultaneously propels it into the future. Each generation is given unique set of years to steward God’s church. We are continually accepting it as the younger generation, adapting as the middle generation, and letting go as the older generation.

  1. The younger generation – the future
    You need to be bold! Explore new endeavors. What’s popular…what’s current…what’s fresh? Don’t fear commitment, but instead consider how you can begin to take up the mantle of leadership that the church needs you to accept. Don’t be afraid to mimic others as you figure out who you are and who you aren’t. Find YOUR voice. While some of your ideas might be rejected at first, don’t stop trying things. Someday you will have excellent ideas through the refining process of your maturing and the church’s growth. As things bother you in the church, follow that! Don’t bring dishonor to older generations, but pursue those irritations you find, because they will lead you to your passions.
  2. The current generation – the visionaries
    You’re carrying the weight. You are the generation who will get burnt out from ministry. Honor those who have gone before, and make way for those who are coming. It’s up to you to hold tightly onto the traditions of God, while carefully breaking the “traditions of men” so the church does not fall behind. Find ways to invite the next generation into your waters. Give them a platform to mess up a little bit, and cover them with grace. You are carrying the mantle, and the mantle can be heavy. But find ways to remain inspired and renew strength–the older generations can help with this.
  3. The past generation – the conservers
    Don’t be discouraged about the process of letting go. It is healthy. God preserves his church. The work that you’ve done was not at all in vain, and your work of ministry is never finished. Continually speak into the church and mentor the current generation. You have walked through more stories and culture. You have sharpened your wisdom beyond what younger generations can comprehend. Letting go is not giving up, instead it is channeling your wisdom in a way that keeps the church pointed in the right direction. Some of what you think is wisdom is just the way of the past, and that’s ok—that’s what needs to be let go. But if you can humbly sift through your experience, their are diamonds there that will always be treasured and remain part of God’s church.

God preserves His church and His people. He always has and always will. It will take on new faces, new ways of doing things, new endeavors. Older generations won’t always like where it’s going, and younger generations won’t always find it relevant. But it will always go on: big or small, loud or soft, passionate or reverent, morning or evening, contemporary or traditional, relevant or alternative.


This is post is #52 on this blog. At the end of November, I am going to be scaling back how often I post. I’m planning to post once or twice a month. Thank you so much for reading my thoughts as I grow and process worship leading, church ministry & leadership, and my personal relationship with Christ.

Cultivating the Private Life

The other day I was recalling internet abbreviations from years past when I used to chat with friends on AOL instant messenger.

Things like “ttyl” “gtg” “brb”

But then I realized that these acronyms probably get used very little anymore. With WiFi, 4G, and communication apps on devices of all sizes, communication doesn’t need to stop. There isn’t much of a need to say “be right back” through modern communication mediums when you have the opportunity to stay connected constantly.

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At LIQUID on Tuesday our topic was “private life” and many table discussions naturally gravitated toward social media. While most at my table agreed that social media is an excellent tool to stay connected and up-to-date, we also agreed that our moments that should be private sometimes end up getting publicized. And it can take some will-power to resist sharing one of those moments.

To view this from a different angle…I was once listening to a talk on worship songwriting that said “some songs are meant for the church, some for your small group, and others just for you and God.” I used to chuckle to myself when I would hear something like this because to me it meant “some songs are good, and others are so bad that no one should ever have to endure them.” And then it struck me that…

There can be epic, awesome, life-changing moments that are exclusively meant to stay between you and the Father.

Our temptation can be to share the moment, and often for very valid and positive reasons. It’s easy, free, makes us feel good, and gives us a chance to invite others into special moments in our life. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but we can be sure that God treasures the special moments that you keep between you and him.

Cultivate that private life with the Father. It’s healthy. It will cause you to become more like Christ. And those treasured moments in your heart will cause you to shine with beautiful authenticity.

Character through Community

How is character produced in a person? Generally we would think that tough times produce endurance and character. But the same hardships that produce a stronger person can also produce a cynical, weak, or bitter person. So what’s the difference? How can we be sure that a difficult situation will produce good fruit?

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This concept is slowly being revealed to me through my weekly small group of friends from church, teachings at LIQUID, and also a leadership class. These things are causing me to look back over my life at certain situations and notice a trend of character-building and the fact that character is not built in isolation, but rather it is built in a community of healthy relationships.

Bad situations come in many forms: a traumatic event, a continually difficult relationship or environment, or a bad habit we can’t kick. Each of things require processing to build character in us. But since most situations are also emotionally difficult, it can be challenging to process in a way that is not distorted or warped in some way. The lens that we look at these situations through is biased toward our own perspective.

As we allow others into our world, they can see things more objectively. They may or may not be able to understand every specific emotion, thought, or struggle that your situation causes. But what they can offer you is an outside perspective on things. If you make it known to them that you truly want healing and character, asking for the honest truth, they can certainly help you in a much more constructive way.

It’s been said that who you are is the sum of the five people that are closest to you. The type of friends we choose becomes extremely important when going through a difficult situation. The people that you look to for support are going to download a little bit of themselves into you. How they choose to help you will affect how you heal. For instance, in many difficult situations there is a choice between forgiveness or revenge. If you’re in isolation, or you have the wrong friends, it can be difficult to choose the higher road, because the low road often feels better in the short term.

Having good community will helps build good character. Friends can help you navigate clearly through hazy and difficult situations that might otherwise seem completely hopeless.

Building a Culture of Worship

I’ve had plenty of conversations with other people who long to start, or be a part of, passionate worship cultures. They want a real experience alongside brothers and sisters that is both pleasing to God and renewing of their personal spirits.

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So how do we build a culture of worship?

I am working to grow a culture in the small platform on which I’ve been given leadership. While I cannot take all the credit for building this (there is the moving of the Holy Spirit and plenty of work from those who have gone before me), I would like to share the things I am chasing to foster a culture of worship…

Pray for it. What we are ultimately looking for is revival. And that’s the signature work of the Holy Spirit, and no one person or group of people can transform lives the way that He can.

Come along side what is already happening. What is God already doing in the hearts of others that will make up the culture? What is he doing in other leaders of this community? Join what he’s already doing and see where you can help to push it forward. Forming a sub-culture or a side-culture will probably create division, which is not representative of the kingdom of God.

Talk to others who have built / are building the same thing. It might take on a different shape given the unique gifting and platform of leadership God’s given them. But we can learn from each other as we seek to build for the same kingdom.

Create safe environment. Push out cynicism and criticism. Seek purity of heart. Everyone should be free to be themselves without fear of judgment. We can still shepherd each other and point each other in the right direction, but it should be out of love and not with a critical spirit.

Build relationships. This is one I can neglect sometimes as an introvert / task-oriented person. But the better your relationships are with others in the same community, the better these other things will fall into place.

Empower others. Give a platform to others according to their abilities and talents. If it’s only a selected few, it could be a great recipe for burnout. Besides, that’s more like a regime than a culture. But if you can give others a platform in that culture (this is easiest if you create a safe environment) everyone will be lending their own.

Involve everyone. Sometimes it bothers me referring to a mass of people as “them” or “the people”. It should always be “we”. Yes, I am guilty of this. But if it could always be about “us” as children of God, then leaders become servants and the culture as a whole can thrive under the true guidance of the Holy Spirit and our Heavenly Father.