The Names of God

I was reading through the Old Testament this past week and I found a Scripture that caught my eye. I was gearing up for Christmas, so I had sought out some old favorite Scriptures in the Old Testament that, I believe, point forward to the coming of Christ. Isaiah has a lot to say about Christ, and so naturally that book was the first one that I turned to. In Isaiah 9:6, it reads:

“For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given,
And the government will be on His shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

This verse is usually used to connect the Old Testament to the New through Christ. I made a mental note of this and almost turned away when the names of God at the end of the verse caught my attention. These four names are given to Christ, and yet I had only ever acknowledged them – I had never consciously thought about what they meant.

As Wonderful Counselor, Christ offers guidance and direction to our lives. He is ready and willing to show us His plan and how to prosper, if we will only seek Him. His advice is extraordinary, it is astounding, and it is full of Him. When we need it, He simply listens to our cries. He is our Wonderful Counselor.

As Mighty God, Christ saves us from disaster and fends off our enemies. He is all-powerful and guards us on all sides. He will protect you from the things that seek to destroy you and He will lift you up when times are hard. He hears your crying during times of trouble and sweeps in like a mighty wave to save you. He is our Mighty god.

As Everlasting Father, Christ is always with us. Even when we cannot feel Him, He is still by our side. He never leaves, He never falters, He never fails. He is faithful, and is always ready for us. He existed before us and promises to take us into forever with Him. He is our Everlasting Father.

Finally, as Prince of Peace, Christ calms our hearts and minds. When our minds are tossed by the busy-ness of the world, He brings us rest. When our hearts are torn and mangled by the ones we love, He grants us healing. In the stormiest of days, He whispers peace into our souls. He is our Prince of Peace.

As Christmas approaches, remember who Christ is. Remember who He is to you now, and all that He can, and wants, to be. He came into this world to save you. And you can call Him Marvelous Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

With You

This past weekend as my girlfriend and I were leaving church for the 45 minute drive to Monmouth, a warning came over the radio. There were tornado watches in our county as well as all of the counties surrounding ours. She asked if we should turn back. Looking out the window, however, I noticed a rainbow in a blue sky. “Let’s keep going, but take a moment to remember God’s promise.” We continued.

Before long we heard another radio broadcast, this time informing us that there had been a tornado touchdown leaving massive destruction in its wake. After hearing this, we decided to pray for those affected by the damage. Yet before we could even finish our prayers the clouds opened and we found ourselves driving through blinding rain, hail, lightning, and winds. A semi was forced off the road. The car was only moving 20mph in a 65mph zone. We rounded a corner and found a truck completely engulfed in flames. My girlfriend started praying frantically for God to get us to Monmouth safely. The radio had no reception. We didn’t know what weather was still coming. We didn’t know how safe we were. The rainbow we had seen, the proof of God’s promise, seemed like the farthest thing away at that moment.

And then, for just a moment, the radio broke through. Love & the Outcome’s song “He Is With Us” come flowing through the speakers, but only long enough to get a few lines through. But for those few seconds the radio blasted the lyrics, “He is with us, He is with us – Always, Always, He is with us, He is with us, Our God is with us.” And then I started laughing.

I wasn’t laughing because I had finally snapped. The storm had not made me crack up in a fearful panic. I was laughing for joy – joy that our God was with us. He had heard our prayers. Though we were frightened and unsure about the future, God came down and whispered through the radio, “I Am with you.”

In the darkest, scariest moments of life, God is there. He does not leave when the road is tough or the path is hard to see. When the rain comes, and calamity strikes, God remains steadfast. Though the winds blow against you, and destruction looms on every side, God stands by your side. Do not get so caught up in the chaos of the moment that you forget about the peace that God offers.

It can be hard to find it. The wind and rain did not make it easy to hear past the radio static. The lightning and fire did not make it simple to stay calm. But when you put your hope in God’s hands and trust Him, He will rush in to deliver you. And, true to His promise, He will be with you until the end of the age.

Read it for yourself: Matthew 28:16-20, Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 139

There I Am

This past weekend the students from Ignite Monmouth attended an Encounter Retreat in the hopes of encountering God. There were speaking sessions focused on the fact that God is enough for our lives. There was a prayer workshop to train students how to pray publicly. There were nights full of all-out worship that left us with sore throats the next morning. And there were encounters with God.

Normally on these retreats, students experience God in several ways. They might feel His presence during worship, and find the strength to raise their hands to the heavens. Others might experience the power of God through the communal prayer they experience. Still more might hear the gentle whispers of God during the time of silence on Saturday. But this time, God manifested in a new way.

On this retreat, God made Himself known through us. Students began to open up about past hurts and addictions, and when they did, their chains were broken. Students who had been dealing with depression suddenly found themselves with a renewed desire for Christ. Others who had been stuck in addictions for months found support amongst friends. Even more found that with the support of the group, the chains that bound them to past pains were broken, and forgiveness was able to rush in. Truly this was how God appeared this weekend.

For Jesus told us that, “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” That was never truer than on this retreat. For where Jesus is, there is healing for the hurting, and forgiveness finally became a possibility for many. When Jesus shows up, there is freedom for the captives, and addictions that have plagued some for years suddenly paled in comparison to the freedom that Christ offers. In the presence of Jesus, there is strength for the weak, and students who were on the brink of giving up found themselves clinging to God for hope.

If you keep your struggles, your sins, and your pains to yourself, you will never find peace. If you keep those things in the dark, they will grow. But if you can find a support system to open up to, you can shed light on the once dark places and begin to heal. For where two or three gather in the name of Christ, He will bring healing. Do not keep your pain a secret any longer, for the path to freedom begins by opening up to others.

Do Miracles Still Happen?

People have often asked me, “Why is it that God does not perform miracles like He did in the Old Testament and with the disciples?” They look at the world around them and see suffering and disbelief and wonder where the acts of God that left people awestruck are absent in a world that needs them so badly. They question whether God cares enough to step in for His people. If He does, they wonder if maybe He is not strong enough to do something. Why IS it that He will not step in to help us?

I struggled to find an answer myself. I struggled to find examples of God intervening from around the world in order to satisfy the desire for a miracle. Unfortunately, the only things I could find seemed sketchy and questionable. No matter how hard I looked, I could not find evidence of God stepping in to help the hurting like He did in the past.

I was looking for the wrong thing.

When God’s people asked for signs and miracles in the desert, they were asking God show them that He was still relevant. They needed to know that He was able to handle their problems. And so He brought water from the rocks and sent food from the heavens.

When Jesus was asked to demonstrate His power, He was being asked to prove that He was the Messiah. His followers needed to know that He WAS the Son of God and that He could actually deliver on what He offered. So He healed their sick and forgave their sins on the cross, but He did not call angels down to destroy the Romans.

Despite the years since the cross, people still need to know that God can handle their problems. The difference is that now, humans do not need God to bring water from stones or angelic deliverance from opposing armies. They are looking for a God that can help them cope with their lives. Why would someone care for a God that can rip open the sky if He cannot prove He can help with a break-up?

Instead of signs and wonders in the sky, God has focused His miracle-working power onto our hearts, transforming them and making them into something beautiful that showcases His glory. God is working miracles that prove He is still relevant and capable of handling the troubles of today, and these miracles are seen through people’s personal stories. Your walk with God is the miracle someone needs to see in order to believe God can help.

Miracles no longer happen in the sky. They happen within people.
So next time someone asks you for a miracle, tell them what God has done for you.

Why Me?

Back in January, I was at a retreat for my Seminary education, and I was in the valley. I had realized that my relationship with God, despite being six years in the making, had become superficial and stale. I had gone through the motion of being a Christian, including prayer, preaching, and learning about God, all without building up my relationship with Him. I felt hopeless and lost. For years I had thought that I was growing towards God, and suddenly I realized that I had missed the point all along. I was at a rock-bottom place spiritually.

So I did the only thing that I could think of to do. I prayed to God. I asked Him to show me where I had gone wrong, where I needed to be, and how I could get there. I asked Him for a sign that He had not abandoned me in my superficial faith. And then I waited.

For two days I waited without a single notice from God. I was desperate, and was looking for any kind of indication that God was still hearing me. I knew that I was loved by God – the Bible had told me so, and I had read about it countless times, but that was not enough anymore. God HAD to love me – after all, He was God. But why me? Why had God decided that I personally was valuable enough to send His Son to die? What about me had attracted God to me before I was ever created?

I had to know, so I asked. I asked God to tell me why He had been drawn to me. I knew why I had been drawn to God – Revelation and fear of judgment had evolved, at one point, into a love for my Creator. But I did not know what made me special to God. So again I waited.

Finally, I received my answer. God told me why He loved ME. Thus began my slow climb back out of the valley.

Have you ever asked God why He loves you in particular? Do you know what it is about you that makes you so special to God that He was willing to send His son? There is something, and God wants to tell you what it is. He loves you dearly – enough to come and die for you. Because He loves you, He is not going to stay silent forever. Just ask.

“Why me?”

He is just waiting for you to ask.

God Cheated

God and Satan have been playing a game against each other for a very long time. The game has been close, and every time one has tried to get ahead, the other has managed to frustrate the plan. Suddenly, Satan thinks he finally has what it takes to win. The last pieces of his game plan fall into place, and God plays right into his hands.

Satan has won the game

But God does not concede defeat. Instead, He declares that, in fact, Satan has NOT won, because it’s GOD’S game. God insists that because it is His game, all will play by His rules.

He. Wins.

If something like this happened to one of us, we would instantly accuse the other person of cheating. We would feel lied to, manipulated, and cheated. An argument would most certainly erupt.

And yet this exact scenario played out millennia ago when God sent His Son for our sins. God had made numerous promises to the Israelites, and Satan had tried relentlessly to ruin each one.

Abraham would become a great nation – but the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt.
Saul would be a king for God – but jealousy turned him into a tyrant.
Israel would be God’s chosen nation – but Assyria, Babylon, and Rome conquered them.

Then Jesus came.

This was Satan’s golden opportunity. He knew the Scriptures – if He could cause Jesus to sin or snuff out His mission, God would fail. e would successfully have corrupted The Almighty. None of his past failures to ruin God would matter, because if he could conquer Jesus, He would conquer God.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Satan put so much effort into killing Jesus.

He turned the Romans against Him.
He turned the Jews against Him.
He even turned one of His closest friends against Him.

Jesus was tortured, and Jesus died. Hell rejoiced. Satan had conquered God.

Imagine Satan’s surprise when three days later Heaven was rejoicing. In the ultimate show of His power and majesty, God raised Christ from the dead for the salvation of all humanity. In this one act, God both showed His infinite love for us while also showing to Satan and the entire world that no matter what, the plans of God will always prevail.

Satan probably walked away that day thinking one thing:
God cheated.

The world around us might seem like it is against us. We can’t seem to save money. Our relationships fall apart. Life just gets in the way. Yet God has a plan for each of us, and He wants nothing more than to fulfill that plan for us. He is strong enough to do it, and He is more than willing to do it. He broke the rules of a cosmic game for us once. He’s not going to let you fall apart.

Small Dot. Massive Impact.

Katie Rose was a member of our Czech 2013 Mission Team. Below she shares how the trip with Ignite impacted her life. You can read more about the trip here.

When making the decision to go over to the Czech Republic, I knew God was going to rock the world. But as months grew closer, my relationship with God was more on the rocks than seeing Him rock lives. I still had faith that God was going to move and change, but I don’t think I realized how much it was going to change me.

Once arriving in Czech, you see, taste, and smell so many different things at once. You are experiencing a whole new culture, a new way of living, and you are thrown into it. I still had no clue what was coming for me. I felt lost and confused and questioned my purpose in even being there.

Upon settling in, starting to build relationships and experience the lives of each person we came into contact with, I was so blessed to speak and pray into students lives through the weeks. I got a glimpse into who they are, and who God has made them to be. I saw how God was working through them to do great and powerful things. I was just sent as an encouragement, as someone to come along side of them for just a short time, and speak into their lives. While even though at times I felt like I was just a small dot on this great scale of wondrous acts of God, I knew I was a key influential piece to our group. Every team needs a short person to be the butt of all the jokes, clearly that is why I was there.

Looking back on why I went – aas it worth me going? Did I made the right decision in being a part of this trip? The answer is so simple: YES. I built relationships with a group of people that have affected my life forever. They spoke into me. They became more than just people I met over seas, they became my friends. I went into surgery a couple weeks after returning to the States. While I did not have many visitors in the hospital, or friends from home sending me messages, what I did have was messages from the people in the Czech Republic. They had heard that I was in the hospital, and wanted to send me messages of encouragement and let me know that they were praying for me. What?! I had people across the world who cared enough to stop and pray for me, when I did not even have people in my home town.

This trip impacted me more than words can ever express. I am so blessed and thankful that I was able to go, and be a part of the community and the lives of people whom I met. I saw God change and mold my heart. He made it start beating for him, louder and stronger.

Image of a Lion

One blog post can’t convey all God did during our time at Kristfest.

I had the privilege of speaking the first night of the camp about how revival is a commitment, not a church service, feeling, or a moment full of the Holy Spirit goosebumps. I challenged young people from around the country to make a commitment to see God move long after the week was over. About 3/4 of the youth in attendance stood up to make that commitment.

I was able to lead two two-day sessions on prayer and the prophetic – training young people how to hear from God and speak encouragement over each other. I was told at the end of the week that many young people heard God for the first time in those workshops.

I also headed up two one-hour sessions titled The Effect of the Father, where I talked about how our relationships with our earthly fathers affects how we relate to our Heavenly Father. The first time I did that session, roughly 125 young people (about half the camp) attended – even though they had three other sessions to choose from at the same time. I discovered later that many young people in Czech grow up in broken homes.

I prayed for people, spoke into their lives, spent time drinking tea with them, and encouraged them that God wanted to move in and through their lives.

It was a powerful week.

But what stood out to me the most wasn’t the prayer and prophetic workshops. It wasn’t seeing multiple young people stand up and make a commitment to see revival in their country. It wasn’t speaking into the hurts endured from earthly fathers.

The most powerful moment for me came at the end of the week.

Minutes before my team was about to leave the camp and head to Prague, the national youth leader gave me a gift as a way to thank us for our work that week.

It was a glass vase with a lion’s head in the center and dirt inside.
You can see it in the picture above.

The gift didn’t mean much until he explained why he chose that gift.

This man, who has been the national youth leader for that denomination for years, said he saw me as a lion – I seem tame on the outside, but when it comes to the things of God, and to speaking into the lives of young people, I am a lion. I don’t back down. I don’t quit. I believe firmly that God can and will bring revival to the Czech Republic, even if it is right now the most atheistic country in the world.

And he said that with Jesus, the real Lion, I am helping to bring revival to his country.

The dirt in the vase is actual dirt from Czech – so I could bring home a piece of the country I love and am committed to so much.

His gift made me cry.

My desire over the last nine trips I’ve taken to Czech has been to see a generation raised up who would bring true revival to their country.

And I’m slowly starting to see it.

Kristfest was an amazing time of ministry.
But it was also a confirmation that God has been using my faithfulness in that country to bring real change.

Thank you all for your prayers for our Czech trip. God did some amazing things in the lives of the people we encountered…and in those of us who went. Your faithfulness to pray and support us financially opened the door for God to move so powerfully.

The Power of Tea

The above picture is one of my favorites from our trip to Czech.

There’s nothing really all that special about it. The picture is kind of grainy. It’s dark. It doesn’t have the right angle to make it artistic (it’s all about the angles, guys). It isn’t even all that interesting. I mean, two guys drinking from cups – it’s not going to win me any photography awards.

But the quality isn’t why I like this picture so much.
It’s what it represents.

During our time at Kristfest, a nation-wide youth camp, God connected me with three young men I had never met before.

These young men were the first to the front during times of worship.
They took part in a number of workshops.
They grew in their gifts and talents.
And displayed a hunger for God I have yet to see in the States.

I had the privilege of praying with these guys and speaking into their lives multiple times.

After my first time praying over them, I was asking God to give me an opportunity to get to know them more. It’s not easy building relationship with people who don’t share your language. Or culture. Or weird sense of humor.

He answered that prayer on Thursday night.

It was my team’s last time spending the night at Kristfest and, rather than going to bed after a late service, we went to the Tea Tent – a large tent set up for people in drink tea, talk, and get to know one another.

We went in with some of our friends from Cesky Tesin – and these three young men came in and sat next to us.

Filip, the young man in the picture, challenged me to a Pakistani tea drinking contest.

I drank 6 cups. He drank 11.
And I paid for it that night with a complete lack of sleep.

But it was a price I was willing to pay – because these young men were worth missing a night of sleep.

Building relationship with people isn’t easy. It’s not always convenient. It won’t always fit into your schedule and rarely into your comfort zone. It will push you, challenge you, and cause you to step out in ways you might not otherwise do.

But it’s worth it.
Because people are worth it.

Drinking six cups of tea at 11:30 at night wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t normal. I knew after the second cup that I probably wouldn’t sleep well that night.

But it provided a way for me to get to know these three young men even more.
And that made the lack of sleep worth it.

The Guys: Jakub Šimek, Filip Šiška, Me, and Petr Fiurášek

The Guys: Jakub Šimek, Filip Šiška, Me, and Petr Fiurášek

How have you stepped out of your comfort zone to build relationship with others?

Righteousness of God

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:21

We are new creations.
Who we used to be, what we used to struggle with, is no longer part of our identity.

It’s not an easy concept to live out.

Sure, we’ll say we are new creations.
We’ll even tell others we are new.
But when it comes to messing up, when it comes to sinning yet again, we don’t always understand our newness.

We still feel like the same, old people.

In his letter to the Corinthian believers, Paul makes an astounding statement:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The readers of Paul’s letter would have found this idea revolutionary.

The Jews in Jesus’ time believed their righteousness came from what they did. They had roughly 660 laws in the Old Testament they had to keep, and their righteousness, or right standing with God, was based on how well they kept the law.

Those who followed the law closely were considered to be in right-standing with God.

Those who broke they law were considered unrighteousness, and were required to bring a sacrifice at least once a year to pay for their unrighteousness and push back the unleashing of God’s wrath one more year.

But Christ changed all that.
He not only paid for our sins, but He gave us a new identity of being righteous.

Paul used covenant language in the verse above, something the original readers would have picked up on. Whenever someone in that time created covenant with another person, a series of rituals were performed to make the agreement lifelong.

The covenant partners would exchange belts, symbolizing a sharing of each other’s strengths.
They would exchange weapon, symbolizing their enemies would become each other’s enemies.
They pronounced blessings and curses over each other, should they keep or break the covenant, respectively.

But the very first ritual was the exchange of robes.

In that day, your robe was your identity. It’s how someone would know who was coming down the road. It showed them what class of citizen you found yourself in. It portrayed whether you were rich or poor, favored or an outcast, respected or despised.

Exchanging your robes meant you exchanged identities, and carried with you the good and bad of the person with which you came into covenant.

Jesus wore a robe a righteousness.
We wear robes of sin.

When He went to the cross for our sin, He put on our identity of sin and gave us His identity of righteousness.

Now when God looks at us, He doesn’t define us by our sin, our shame, or our mistakes.
He defines us by the righteousness of His son.
And doesn’t hold our sin against us any longer.

So, my brothers and sisters, as you wrestle with your shortcomings, may you remember you are no longer defined by your sin. May you see yourself the way God sees you: as righteous. And may you, as you learn to fully embrace the new creation that you are, find your identity being formed by who Christ is and what He has done, not on what you’ve done.

How can you begin living out the truth that your identity is righteous, even when you sin?