Aztec, Silence is Golden

tigers hurt

The oldest book in the Bible is the story of Job.

In this story, Job is terrorized by Satan and his forces who destroy Job’s property, kill his children, and take away his health.  Throughout this process, Job refuses to curse God.

As Job begins to grieve, he puts on sackcloth and sits in ashes, a sign of mourning, and his three closest friends come to visit Job in his time of sorrow.

They sat with Job and said nothing.

For seven days they sat with him in mourning, grieving for their friend who had lost so much.  There were no words of comfort.  There were no quirky phrases that do more harm than good.  There was only silence and companionship.

Aztec is hurting.  Our children are grieving.  Three families especially are beside themselves with loss and grief and uncertainty.

I have spoken with families relaying that their children are not wanting to talk.  Parents want to help, but they’re unsure of how to do so.  They recognize the health that comes through emoting and discussion, but so many young people can’t talk right now.  They’re hurting on a tremendously deep level.  And they’re scared.

Sometimes people need others to be patient and simply sit with them in silence.

In the movie, “The Horse Whisperer”, it was imperative that Robert Redford’s character spend copious amounts of time with the horse simply being near in order to gain the trust of the horse.  After a long while, the horse would know the goodness of the man, and then relationship could be fostered.

This scenario is similar.  Kids need to know that it’s OK that they’re hurting.  They need to know that they won’t lose anyone else at this time.  They need to know you’re there beside them in times of quiet and in times of the flood of emotion that is sure to come. They need you to just be there.

Sit with them.  If they don’t kick you out of their room, sit on their bed with them and hold them in silence.  Just love them where they are.  Pray for them as you hold them.

As they begin to talk, ask questions.  Statements right now aren’t the best help.  They need to be able to talk things through and explore this new world on this side of the tragedy.  They need to discover their own way and find their loved ones supportive and caring in this new way.

For many of the young people in Aztec High last Thursday, life will never be the same.  Trust and security have been shattered.  The small-town atmosphere has been violated now that the thing that “would never happen here” has occurred.

We all need love.  We all need prayers.  We all need people who care for us enough to simply sit next to us and not say a word, like Job’s three friends. May we be that for our young people in the weeks and months to come.

If you need a safe place to talk, pray, heal, or just need someone to sit with you, I’m here for you.  Call us at the Aztec church of Christ at 334-6626 for support.  We have been praying and will continue to pray for you.

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#AztecStrong

My heart is breaking.

We lost three young people yesterday in senseless violence. Two of them were unsuspecting innocents that never stood a chance. The other one was filled with distorted, evil thoughts that provoked him to evil behavior.

This was violence caused because of a heart issue.

This was tragic.

Our whole community is reeling in the wake of this ridiculous scenario. Yet, we will not give up on life. We will move on.

Tragedies like these and natural disasters and other such devastating circumstances do something paradoxically wonderful to a community. It feel wrong to say it out loud, but while the killings were horrible (and I cannot imagine the grief of the families involved today and in the coming days) they did something wonderful within our community.

It is a shame it takes a tragedy to remind the people in a community to band together in unity. But time and time again across this nation, we see just such a pattern of events play out. Right now, in California, communities are banding together in support of the victims of the fires. The whole nation came together in support of the flooding victims in Texas. When 9-11 happened, the nation rallied together in unity.

I’ve been in communities hit hard by natural disasters and violent acts of terror, and in both situations, I have seen good come out of tragedy and evil.

Yesterday, the community of Aztec began to rally together in support for the families of those whose children lost their lives, and they continue to reach out and show support today, and they will continue to do so in the future.

But not long from now, we will forget what this feels like. This unity. We will forget to stay unified and go back to the routineness of our lives. It’s a sad statement, but it is true. I’ve seen it over and over again.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can keep reaching out and spending time with our neighbors. In fact, that’s what we should have been doing all along. We have been called by Jesus to love our neighbors. We have been called to carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (which is to love). We have been called to shine the light of Christ though His Spirit at work in us.

We, Christians, have been called to perpetuate this sense of unity and camaraderie in our communities.

Yesterday, I sat in a room full of pastors from various churches and experienced unity and humility as we sought to work together to help the community through the grieving process by hosting a vigil. There was no power struggle. There were no attitudes of superiority. There was humility and unity, and it felt great.

I’m proud of the way our community has come together in the midst of this horrible event. I’m proud of the way our churches have shown love. Let us not go back to the way things were. Let us not allow the deaths of these young people to be wasted by selfishness and division. Let us all remember that we are one community, and we need each other.


Aztec church of Christ

In 2012, my family and I were looking for where God was calling us to next. We searched all across the nation to find a church where I could preach, and we could live as a part of a family of Christ. In October, we came to interview at the Aztec Church of Christ. I’ll be honest. Google maps was discouraging me from being excited to move to a church with 17 families (that was the number of parking spots on the asphalt).

What I didn’t think of is all the gravel available for parking.

When we showed up, we were shown love and acceptance, and even our children felt this was the right move for us.

We had another interview across the country the following weekend, but after visiting that church, we were certain that Aztec was the place for us. On December 1, my son and I pulled in to Aztec to begin working here (my wife and our daughter would join us in a couple weeks). This weekend marks five years of living and working in the Aztec area, and preaching for the Aztec church.

Since that time, we have loved living in this area. It has not always been easy, but we can’t imagine living anywhere else.

The church is full of great people who genuinely love one another. We may not always agree, but even in our disagreements, we seek resolution and reconciliation because of our driving desire to love. This is what the greatest commands are all about. Love.

So why am I telling you all this? First of all, it’s because I’m excited for this milestone of five years. But I also want to talk about what I notice about the Aztec Church of Christ.

  • I’m not blowing smoke about the love of this congregation. Long suffering was how the preacher selection committee described the church when we came to interview, and this description has proven absolutely true.
  • I’m not the easiest person to work with due to my driving personality and constant desire to change. Yet, the leadership of this church has continually striven to work with me, and I have grown tremendously over these past five years.
  • You, my church family in Aztec, have become my friends. I don’t just feel like a hireling, for the church doesn’t treat me as such. This is important to every preacher, for they do not see themselves as separate from the congregation, but it is common for them to be constantly treated as outsiders or the hired help. My family and I are members of the Aztec Church of Christ, and I happen to also do the preaching.
  • This church has grown in many ways over these past five years. I’m not just talking about all the new members; the people in the church have shown and expressed growth as we journeyed together these past few years.
  • The fickle nature of the oilfield has brought new people and taken several families away, but the church continues to be a welcoming place of encouragement and acceptance to all who come, and she celebrates with those who have found new opportunities elsewhere, though we miss them.
  • The Aztec Church of Christ is a place where questions can be asked without fear, and topics can be discussed in genuine camaraderie. This is important as we all seek growth in our understandings and understanding in our ignorance. This is what fuels true growth as disciples. Where questions are not welcome, control governs.

There are many more things I’ve noticed about the Aztec Church of Christ, but these bring me joy and remind me why I’m glad to work in Northwest New Mexico. I hope and pray that we will have many more years of working in the Kingdom together. Thanks for these great five years!


Practicing Perspective

What’s the difference between a happy person and a miserable one?

Have you ever noticed some people are always happy? They seem to find the best possible outcome of every situation. When you speak to them, you leave feeling better about yourself and the world around you.

Then there are also people who are always down. Talking with them sucks the life out of you. Nothing seems to go right for them. The world is out to get them.

What’s the difference?

Perspective.

There are people all over the world who scrape by to make ends meet. They aren’t sure where their next meal is going to come from, yet they share with others. They laugh heartily. They sing and smile. They have joy. For many people, to be in such dire circumstances would be more than they could bear, yet for these people, what they do not have is insignificant to what they do.

They have a different perspective on life.

Tragedy seems to come in threes. It may present with more or fewer troubling circumstances, but three seems to be the common, magic number. When problems begin to stack on one another, it is harder to breathe. It’s like stones are being stacked on our chest, and all we can think about are those stones crushing and suffocating the life out of us. We are absolutely sure the stones will kill us. But they don’t. They haven’t yet. And they don’t have to in the future.

Nothing is permanent in this life. Things are temporal. Pleasure is temporal. Life is temporal. Even your personality can be changed (and likely has already). Change is the only constant in this life.

That should bring hope to everyone. The storm you’re in is temporary.

What we tend to do, however, is focus on our storms.

When you’re dealing with tragedy in your life, all you can concentrate on is the tragedy. You eat, sleep, and breathe this tragedy, and when you do, it crushes you. Those who have that contagious joy don’t have fewer tragedies; they simply see through the tragedy to hope.

When you’re in a relationship that is struggling, it is easy to see all the negative in the relationship, and especially in the other person. So how do people find joy in relationships? Are they somehow blessed with fewer struggles? NO! They choose to see the good in the relationship and the other person in spite of the current struggle. When that happens, they resolve conflict more quickly and feel happier in the relationship.

So how do we gain this new perspective that breathes life?

1. We remember that this life is fleeting, and we have been given hope of resurrection, forgiveness, and inheritance through Jesus Christ. If you’ve been saved in Jesus, you have this hope. It needs to drive your life. This life and its troubles is not all there is. And Jesus promised to be with us, so we are never alone in our troubles.

2. We look for the good going on around us and in other people even in the storm. This will take practice. We, in our consumeristic, selfish culture, are used to seeing the problems more than the solutions in ourselves, others, and the situations we find ourselves in. It is discipleship to hope for good through love (1 Corinthians 13; Philippians 2:14).

3. Once we find the good (in self, others, situations, etc.), we focus on that. Satan will try to tempt us back into focusing on the negative and being consumed by darkness, but we don’t have to give in. When we focus on the good in our spouses, we fight less. When we focus on the good in even the worst situation, we find hope faster. When we focus on the good in us, we fight depression.

These steps aren’t easy, but they’re necessary. They take practice, especially if you’re used to seeing the negative. May we all find perspective that breathes joy in this world in spite of this world.


Four Reasons

Sometimes I wonder why things are the way they are. I question why people do the things they do in the ways they do them. This questioning has led me to a great understanding of many things in my life as I don’t take things merely at face value. But what about Christianity?

What makes Christianity so great? Here are four things I see as invaluable about Christianity.

1. Eternal Life

This week a good friend of mine died. It was hard to watch him go, and now that he is gone, I miss him. Yet, to watch him while he lived, and to listen to him, was inspiring. He couldn’t wait to be with the Lord in heaven – face-to-face with Jesus. He couldn’t wait to see the Garden of Eden. He couldn’t wait to be healed of his cancer.

Eternal life is a central belief of Christianity. We believe that when we are saved, we are granted eternal life. This life allows us to have direct access to the Creator of the universe who above all things and in all things. We believe that through Jesus there is no longer separation between God and man necessitating a human mediator like a priest, for we are all priests, through Jesus, who have direct access to God.

This access begins when we are saved. At that time, the Holy Spirit is given to us (Acts 2:38) – God’s Spirit living inside us – and that Spirit is the deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance in heaven (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14). This promise of heaven gives us hope beyond this life. It is a hope for something more than simply becoming dust again to a purposeless end.

This hope allows for a perspective shift among Christians. This world is not all there is, so everything is temporary.

2. Family

When you receive salvation, you are granted entry into not only the presence of God but also his family. He created all of us, but we chose to live our own way like runaway children. Through Jesus, he invites us back into the family along with other believers. What this means for us each day is this: we don’t have to live this life alone. When we try to live life alone, it is very easy for temptations to overcome us, and we walk away from God again and again. But when we are doing life together with other people who are trying to live the ways of Jesus in their everyday life, it becomes easier to stay on the narrow path ourselves. Some people claim they don’t need the church to be a Christian. This is totally in contrast to what the Bible says (Hebrews 10:25). The greatest commands are these: Love God, and Love Others (all others – even your enemies). In fact, in 1 John 4, John says that we love God BY loving others. The Bible also says we are to do good (read: love) to all people, especially to our Christian brothers and sisters (Galatians 6:10). I know that some churches are filled with Jerks. But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. At times everyone can be mean – even you and me. The church is full of broken sinners in need of the grace of God through Jesus. Hurt people hurt people. Latch onto the good people. Do life with them. Let God sort out the bad, but don’t cut yourself off from the family because of one or two. And in today’s culture, if you are in a church that isn’t loving, you can probably find one that is loving just down the road, or maybe across town.

3. Purpose and Direction

Of the things I have mentioned so far, this may be the one not understood the most by well-meaning Christians. When you give your life to Christ, you are pledging devotion to be His follower, His disciple. That means you are pledging to live according to His teachings. You don’t have to live life haphazardly. Through the teaching of Jesus, there is a direction for your life – a code by which you should live. This code gives a standard. It allows us to evaluate our lives to see whether we are doing good or bad. In atheism, there is no standard of good or bad – those ideas are subjective to the person. In Christianity there is a standard (2 Timothy 3:16).But this direction isn’t just a set of rules to govern our lives. It is meant to help us live out our purpose as well. What is that purpose?We are called to help the kingdom grow through evangelism (Matthew 28:12-20). Every. Single. Christian. Is. An. Evangelist. Or at least they should be. Here is where Christianity is falling by the wayside. The majority of Christians don’t live out their purpose. We are supposed to love other people, and through that love, we show them the way TO Jesus and the way OF Jesus. When you don’t understand your direction and purpose, it is easy to become the kind of Christian people run away from rather than toward.

4. It’s free

So many religions around the world expect you to do certain things to achieve relationship with their deity of choice. Christianity is not this way. The purpose and direction of Christianity are there to help you live a better life and enjoy life more. They are meant to help this world become a better place. They are not meant to help you achieve some sort of status before God.

We are all sinners. We have all walked away from God and His ways. We have all broken his commands to love. So what can we do to undo what we’ve done?

Nothing.

We can’t undo wrong by doing right. The merit system doesn’t work that way. In order to undo our wrong, there has to be a substitution for our life. This is where Jesus comes into play. He lived perfectly, and at his death and resurrection, his perfect life was exchanged for broken, sinful one if we would receive it.

We can’t live good enough to deserve to be in the presence of God, but through Jesus, we are granted entrance into God’s Kingdom and into his family in spite of our wrongs (Romans 5:6-8).

Christianity is the only religion where salvation is given freely. All these blessings listed above are free. You don’t have to earn them (Galatians 5:1).

The way to connect with the blessings of God is to be connected to the Cross of Jesus (Romans 6:1-4). That’s it. We ask God to cleanse our consciences (1 Peter 3:21), and we trust that He has saved us. We cannot save ourselves.

I’m glad to be a Christian. There’s so much hope here. I hope you will consider joining the family too.


R.E.M. Was Right

“It’s the end of the world a we know it…” But I don’t feel fine.

Our world seems to be crumbling all around us. Media shows us atrocities daily stemming from numerous causes. As we watch these things happen, and experience these horrors either firsthand, or through a loved one, we can’t help but feel somewhat hopeless.

But why are all these things happening?

Some want to blame this, that, and the other. Others want to avoid the question altogether. But few are really speaking into the reason for the tragedies we are witnessing daily.

Our world wants nothing to do with God and the hope He offers.

FORGETTING THE PAST

60 years ago, Christianity was thriving. Churches were growing, but it was the beginning of the era of decline for the church. As people began experimenting with the New Age movement during the Hippy Era, and some traded religion for science, skepticism set into our culture, and the church did nothing.

It was easy for the church to do so. She had been the primary influencer in nearly all of society for ages. This understanding allowed people to believe that culture would convert their friends and family. In the USA, Christianity had been a primary influence even in government.

So, when times changed, instead of renewing the vigor for evangelism, the church simply watched. It wasn’t everyone in the church, but it was the majority, and that was enough to begin the decline.

IGNORING THE PROBLEM

Instead of reaching out to the lost with love and grace, the church fought against one another, striving to declare each sect the “right” sect – forgetting that sectarianism (division) is expressly condemned by the scriptures. The church was busy blaming one another as the masses began to leave. Fed up with the hypocrisy of “I’m right, and you’re wrong”, the world turned against the church. And, in turn, it turned against God.

However, instead of identifying the lack of God and His principles in society, everyone continued to blame one another or blame things. We blame God, Satan, video games, guns, science, illegal immigrants, other denominations, other religions, other races, politicians, and many more. The list goes on and on. But we don’t blame free will. We don’t dare take any of the responsibility, either. That would mean we would have to change – if we were the problem.

In the age of the apathy of the church, she began to atrophy.

No longer is the average Christian evangelistic. This has been the case for a long while. Shortly after the church was established, the church allowed the government to be the great evangelist through a partnership of the church with the state. As time went by, we assumed people inherently believed in God because of the cultural influence of the church, so we waited for the preachers to do the evangelism. All the while, we got fat with teaching from those same preachers.

When you eat and eat and eat, but you never exercise, you become fat through your laziness. This is the nature of the church. She, her members, want the preachers to preach and teach and evangelize; all the while the masses in her ranks can feel comfort and connection with God through education and emotional experiences once a week (three times if you’re “devout”). Where is all the action of the church like we read about in the book of Acts?!

FACING THE FUTURE

If the church (THAT MEANS YOU) doesn’t return to her calling according to Jesus in the scriptures, she will die. Sure, God can keep a remnant, like He has done for thousands of years, but should we really hope for that?

Shouldn’t we rather get out of our doors? Shouldn’t we discover how to use this wealth of knowledge that is imparted to us every week? Shouldn’t we return to the mission of the first church – the Kingdom of God and it’s expansion through love?

How many people have you brought to Christ? I’m not talking about inviting people to church. I’m talking about actually sharing the good news of Jesus with someone.

SEEKING HELP

You know what? If you went to your preacher, or some other evangelistic leader in your church, and asked them how to share the gospel with your friends, I think you would find them more than willing to spend one-on-one time training you in the ways of evangelism. But that’s going to require you to do uncomfortable things and spend valuable time on others. Is that any less than what Jesus has already done for you?

Do you want to change the direction of this world? This change begins with you finding one person who is willing to listen to how love, through Christ, can change their heart.

Immorality is a choice made from free-will. It is sin. It is not the will of God, and it doesn’t have to rule us or our friends. But until someone is given the choice, how can they begin anew?

Romans 10:14-15
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Discipleship Marathon

I hate running.

Even as I type those words, I’m not sure they’re strong enough to express the emotions I associate with that self-inflicted “sport” (read: torture).

Yet, I know that running is good for me.

So, in order for me to run – to do that which is good for me – I need motivation. For some people, good health is motivation enough, but I’m too stubborn for logic. I love to eat sumptuous food, and I love to be busy with other things, and I love to be comfortable. None of that will help me achieve the healthy body I need for high quality of life. So I need motivation.

When I have a goal set before me, I run. I’ve done a marathon, a Tough Mudder, and numerous other runs including, most recently, a long journey through the Grand Canyon. I trained for each of these events, and the training served me well each time. The upcoming events motivated me to do that which was uncomfortable in order to achieve success in an endeavor I had yet not attempted.

But when the race or hike or journey was over, I went back to laziness. Because it’s easier.

We all have areas in our lives where laziness, a lack of motivation, keeps us from training for upcoming journeys, whether physical or mental.

So many Christians live lazy Christian lives. There is little knowledge of the book they claim to live by. They aren’t exercising their evangelistic muscles. Their faith is weakened by their trust in their finances. It seems there is no motivation to step out and do the uncomfortable to achieve a greater reward.

In our grace-desiring Christian culture, we want God to give us grace, and we relish in that grace, so we reason that the grace we’ve been given entitles us to a lackadaisical approach to our Christian lives. Grace is good, but we are called to not only receive grace but also train ourselves to live “worthy of our calling” (Ephesians 4:1-2). We are called to continually train in the ways of Jesus to achieve the prize of salvation (1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:14).

Does this mean we don’t have salvation if we aren’t working? We like to say we don’t earn our salvation by what we do, but James, the brother of Jesus, tries to clarify that concept. He expresses, in his treatise on faith, that it is impossible to have faith without deeds (James 2:14-19). Faith without action is dead (James 2:17).

We are called to train daily. It’s like living in an apprenticeship. We are trying to be like our Rabbi, Jesus. We can’t do that on our couches and hidden away in our church buildings. We can’t do that in ignorance of the scriptures and without talking to the Father. We can’t do that alone.

So we need to fellowship with the body of Christ (Hebrews 10:25). We call that “going to church”. Yes, it’s required.

We need to study the word of God, for that is where we will learn who God is and how we should live as His children (Matthew 22:31; 2 Timothy 3:16). That requires reading.

We need to tell others about the goodness of Jesus and the Kingdom of God the way Jesus did (Matthew 28:18-20). That requires engagement. Introversion is not an excuse.

We need to spend time with the Father the way Jesus did (John 5:19; 10:30; 15:5). Prayer is essential.

We need to give generously, trusting in the Father for sustenance (Mark 12:44). He wants to provide more, the more we trust Him.

So will you train? It will mean reading. It will mean time spent. It will mean giving financially in order to learn faith in the Father. It will mean uncomfortable situations and conversations. This is discipleship. It’s what you signed up for when you were baptized. Are you in? The prize is much bigger than a medal at the end of a marathon – it’s eternal life.


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