Life’s Story

23 06 2009

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a FLAME of FIRE out of the midst of a bush.  [Moses] looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was NOT CONSUMED.

Exodus: 3:2 (ESV)

But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the FIRE, adn they are NOT hurt, and the appearance of the fourth is like a SON OF the GOD’s

Daniel 3:25 (ESV)

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  And sudenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divded tongues as of FIRE appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filed with the HOLY SPIRIT, and beagn to speak in other tongues as the SPIRIT gave then utterance.

Acts 2: 1-4

We all have a story.  In fact I would bet we all have a perfect story.  We have this imaginary life that if we could live it would be perfect imperfection.  It is perfect imperfection because we are imperfect, that is until God comes and makes our broken lives a beautiful, perfect mosaic.  Anyways, we have this life that we picture.  The life that we dream of living.  A life where we have conquered sin, we have been matched with and by God, and we are living in reckless abandon.  A life that if the world would look at it, would be entirely perplexed, maybe even inwardly jealous as they mock, because they are able to look at this true freedom, and wish for it in their own life.  This life is considered to be a barbarian way by some, a life led by the heart, and an irresistible revolution to others.  We all have this life.  For guys we want to be the William Wallace.  My guess is that girls would want to be Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, women who lived out this barbarian way creating massive change in the world around them.  Not settling for second best.

So we have this perfect story.  This ideal thought of life that we wish, we hope, we dream, would become the ideal reality.  Yet for some reason we hold on to this present life.  This life that falls well short of our perfect imperfection, dreaming of the day to be free.  What would life be if we could separate from this old life?  What life be like if we could finally conquer that one recurring sin that keeps forcing us back?  What would happen if we would abandon to passionately follow our God given heart desires?  How would life be different if we could rescue the danzel in distress, the orphan, the widow, the poor because we were sent by and through God to do so?  What if the day were here?  Is the day here?  Are you like me, having a story, wondering can it come?  Is God finally calling us, allowing us, lifting us to our perfect imperfection, our story that only Him and us know?

Let’s us digress, real quick let us return to the opening verses.  Where does fire come into all of this?  Well fire is the very beginning.  The all consuming fire that refined my sight.  The fire that said to me Matt go.  This fire brought me to it by it’s brightness.  It is refinining me through it’s holy heat.  This fire lit me on fire, and is saying Matt you are burning, but you are not consumed.  The fire is asking me am I ready?  Matt, your perfect imperfection lies just ahead.  Your story, it is right around the corner, and I, the fire, the Spirit, am going to guide you there today.

My story is unknown.  I am not entirely sure where it is taking me, but I know that I have arrived at the narrow path.  The path less traveled.  Only traveled by the brave men and women who have said I must have my perfect imperfection, I cannot simply live imperfection any further.  However, I know I am not the only one who has at this paths beginning.  I am only part of a much larger generation is embarking on this path.  So, are we ready?  Let us reach, grab a hold, live out our perfect imperfection, our mosaic.  Let us be on fire!  Let us be refined, barbaric, and revolutionary.

It will not be easy, but then the most exciting stories never were.  William Wallace died for his love and quest for freedom.  Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.  Mother Teresa lived a life in darkness searching for her Savior while she was saving those in Calcutta.  And Jesus went to the cross to show us this way.  This holy, perfect, loving, reckless way.  A way that is characterized by utter obedience, illogical submission, and pure indwelling.

For me tonight begins my story, my new life.  I am leaving the old, predictable life behind, so that I can live out my perfect imperfection.  My prayer and hope is that others are being called to this perfect imperfection and that more will come with me, so we may walk, carry, and guide each other, and the cool thing about that prayer is that I know it is already answered.

Right now I have so much uncertainity, but so much freedom.  Amongst the fog I have peace, because now I am in God’s hands and I know I will not fall.  I am an unquenched beautiful flame, being refined, setting the world on fire, and SO ARE YOU!!!  Perfect imperfection.  God’s beautiful mosaic.  His church.  His fire.

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Immigration

17 05 2008

A few Sundays ago I was at a meeting called Coffee and Christ, which is a get together every other Sunday morning for the men at our church, First Baptist Church of Massillon.  Every meeting we usually have a really good discussion about God, theology, etc.  It is definitely a time when iron sharpens iron because there are so many different perspectives and view points that you are being presented that you are challenged to reevaluate yours so that you understand what you believe.  Anyways, as our discussion was moving this particular week we soon got on to the topic of immigration and illegal immigrants.

       I sat there for a few minutes and listened to what the others guys were saying.  Some of them were upset that illegal immigrants were here because our government was providing them and their children with money that could be used to help other American citizens.  They did not feel it was right to help out illegal immigrants when they should not be here in the first place.  Others were just simply mad because they were illegal.  They did not have any problem with them getting government aid.  There presence just upset them because they were illegal and should not be here.  These were the two main arguments or disputes.  Some were upset because they were stealing good American jobs to make money to send home to their families that they had left to come to America.

       Anyways, as I was listening I could not come to identify with them.  This is not abnormal for me.  A lot of what I view is different from the grain of society, but as I read scriptures I just cannot come to a mindset that thinks that these illegal immigrants are a huge problem to be dealt with.  First of all we are called to love our neighbors as ourself (Matthew 22: 39).  Regardless of how far these illegal immigrants come from we are called to love them.  So, what does this entail?  Well first of all I do not think it entails deporting them.  In my opinion, in Christ’s kingdom they have just as much a right to be here as we do, even with out a green card or American citizenship, which will be discussed.  Anyway, deporting them is definitely not loving them.  I think our call to love them is also a call to build relationship with them.  We are called to talk to them, to discover their heart, and to walk with them.  This opinion usually brings up the comment, “I would but they do not even speak our language.  If they are going to be here they should at least speak English.” First, God empowers his people to do amazing things.  It is not out of God’s reach and power to empower his people to overcome language barriers (Acts 2: 8-12).  Not speaking their language and them not speaking ours is not a reason for us to not try and love them by building relationship.  By building relationship with these men and women created and loved by God we are acknowledging that God’s kingdom is universal, as indeed it is (Galatians 3:28).  Secondly, by developing relationship we are following the example of Christ who loved everybody regardless of their nationality and race (John 4).  I admit the Samaritan woman was in Samaria in this story, but do you really think the story would be different if the Samaritan woman was in Jerusalem or in some other foreign setting?  Do you think Christ reaction to her would have changed?  The illegal immigrants that we are trying to kick out and thus building walls between them and us are our brothers and sisters in Christ.  How dare we not try to love with all our heart.

         Instead we are worried that they are here illegally, receiving aid from our government “that could be used to help American citizens.”  First of all, in my opinion, the crime is not that they are here illegally the crime to humanity is the fact that their presence here is illegal.  The walls we are building by being identified as an American, Mexican, Iraqi, Asian, etc. has to break God’s heart.  For God there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free (Galatians 3:28), American nor Mexican.  We are ALL God’s people, fearfully and wonderfully made, and loved by Him.  If God loves them then so should we, and we should not have laws that form barriers between God’s people, and that is exactly what these immigration laws do.  We should not be fighting the immigrants we should be fighting the system that labels them illegal. We should be fighting the system that when capable of providing for both illegal immigrants and it is citizens does not.  We should be fighting what is truly unjust.  We are only to follow man made rule and their laws as long as they do not violate the laws of God’s Kingdom.  As long as they do not betray love.  Immigration laws destroy love and produce hatred and anger, and have no place in heaven because in Heaven we are all one.  As Christians we need to stand up and love “illegal immigrants” providing them food, shelter, clothing, and sanctuary (Matthew 25: 31-46) because that is what Christ calls us to do.  Furthermore, not only should we love these illegal immigrants instead of forming resentment towards them, but we should also be advocating them by fighting the very system that tries to deport them, and by doing so we will be breaking down walls that are forming between our brothers and sisters in Christ.

       I admit that some immigrants that are here, are here and cause problems and hurt people and steal jobs for the wrong reasons, but there are Americans that do that to, so where should we send them.  If we would take time to get to know these people.  We would find out that many of them have a huge heart and are loving, caring people trying to provide a better life for their families they left back home.  Maybe the loving thing to do is not to try and send them back home, but to try and bring their families here and help them build a home in America where they know they have someone who loves them like Christ and will help them.  Maybe the loving thing to do is to stand with these people, walking with them, sharing all of their struggles and joys, because that is what Christ does for us.  Maybe the loving thing to do is become a Christian first and an American second.  Maybe the loving thing to do is to stop competing with them and invite them over for dinner.  Or maybe just take the first step towards relationship by choosing to break down the language barrier and shake their hand and tell them you name.  Maybe as Christians we should affirm their worth by simply saying hi because Christ affirmed our worth by doing something much, much more.

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Letting Go…My Spiritual Journey

14 05 2008

I went out to eat with my pastor today, which is something I wish he and I could do on a more regular basis because I just do, it is a good time.  Anyways, the past 36 hours or so have been really rough and we were talking about the situation/relationship.  These 36 hours have been tough because I am trying to protect and sustain my relationship with the woman I adore amongst a time of immense uncertainty.  It has been a spiritual journey where God has been telling me to let go.  In this particular situation, He is telling me to let go of not only my heart but hers because I am crushing them.  I am trying so hard to keep the relationship together that I am destroying the relationship because I am so concerned about making the relationship comfortable and secure.  But what matters most in the relationship is not comfort and security but the hearts of those involved.  What matters is that the hearts grow, and the the relationship flourishes.  What matters is that you take risk and you enjoy every second that you spend with that person because you know it could be your last.  That means that you stop worrying about the little things so much because all that matters is the person that you are spending time with.  It means you stop worrying about comfort and security, and you love that other person so much that it hurts and with such a stubborn heart that you refuse to give up on that person.  It means that you never let the relationship destroy your friendship because your friendship is what made you fall in love with that other person.  It means that no matter how dark the skies and how rainy it is that you know you care for that other person even if you don’t know why, because It is ok, to just know.  It means it is ok to let go and just let Love be in control.  So, today I let go, not because I am giving up but because I stubborn and I am going to do whatever it takes to be with her.  I let go because I cannot be in control, because if I am it will fall apart.  Today, right now, I let go of everything I cannot control, so that I can enjoy what matters most.  I let go so that I can love.  And I pray that there is still life in our relationship.  I pray that God will breathe life into us, so that we can just enjoy each other again.  Today, I am letting go so that we can live.

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The Precious Gift

19 02 2008

      Lately I have found myself reading a lot of news articles during class, and two recent articles really hit home for me these past weeks.  The first story was when Richard Zednik from the Florida Panthers had his carotid artery severed during a hockey game, losing 5 unit of blood and nearly his life on the ice, doing what he loved.  The other story being the Northern Illinois school shooting, where one man killed 5, wounded 15, and then took his own life.  You hear these stories of life being put into danger and lives being taken, while people are going through their every day lives that seem so harmless, and when events like this happen we are shown how fragile and precious life really is.  Richard Zednik was skating, playing hockey, and then teammate was checked and then  he felt his throat cut, and in an instant he went from playing a sport he had a passion for to fighting for his life.  Those student were studying, learning in an environment they felt safe in and trusted, and in an instant they were fighting for their lives and some were taken.  This life is so precious and so fragile!

     So many times we wait to truly live.  Tomorrow I will quit.  Tomorrow I will start working.  Tomorrow I will get rid of whatever is keeping in slavery.  Tomorrow I will be free.  Tomorrow I will do the wash.  Tomorrow I will show them how much I care, by waking up and making them breakfast.  Tomorrow I will pop the question.  Tomorrow I will tell them that I love them.  Tomorrow I will truly live.  And we wait.  And we wait.  Wasting today because tomorrow we will be ready.  And in an instant tomorrow is no longer on earth but in front of our Creator in heaven.  We cannot wait on tomorrow to live and waste the precious gift that God gave us.  We cannot keep wasting our life waiting, because we do not know that tomorrow will ever come.  James tells us that, he tells us that our life is merely a vapor that could be gone tomorrow (James 4: 13-15).  We need to let let tomorrow take care of itself and only be concerned about how to make the most of life now (Matthew 6:34).  Once we see how precious life really is and how fragile it can be waiting for tomorrow could be the very thing that kills us, if we want to live we need to live now, taking risks, loving, caring, walking together.

     I think because life is so fragile that there is no time for the glass to be half empty.  There is a certain someone in my life right now who has showed me this more than anyone.  We have only been together for about 2 months but she has shown me that life always has it’s positives.  She always shows me the brighter picture and the silver lining because God has shown her how precious life is.  Think, about what a gift life is, and how much we have to be thankful for.  Everyday we live we are given life, a gift of endless possibilities, possibilities to take risk, possibilities to love, possibilities to give someone life, possibilities to be free and to make choices, possibilities to be happy and see the glass half full.  But how often do we take for granted the very breath we have and the life we live, and all we see are the possibilities to be hurt, the possibilities of being killed, the possibilities of being sad, the possibilities of hating, and the possibility of being a slave, and we miss the most precious gift that God gave us and we waste our life being a slave to negativity when we probably thought we were protecting our freedom.  Life is a gift.  The question is, how are you going to use it?  Are you going to wake up every day taking it for granted just walking along and when life gets hard looking at the glass half empty?   Or are you going to see life as the most precious gift God gave us, allowing that to motivate you, thanking him for each breath, so when life gets hard you can say at least I am alive and today the glass is half full?  Telling yourself today I will quit that addiction.  Today I will start working.  Today I will be free. Today I will do the wash.  Today I will show them how much I care by waking up and making them breakfast.  Today I will tell them I love them.  Today I will pop the question. Today I will truly live.  Today I will choose to love.  I will live today because today I have the gift of life and let tomorrow worry about itself because today there are people to love and life to be thankful for.  Life is fragile!  It can be challenged by a skate and taken on the way to class or home from work. Do not waste it!  Be thankful and LIVE!!!!

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Wells…

31 01 2008

    So as of lately I have been reading from the journals of Jim Elliot…And a particular journal entry from him really stuck out for me.  Jim Elliot was writing on Genesis 26.  In this particular story Isaac is told to stay at the wells that were dug by his father, even though there seemed to be a more promising outcome if he would go to Egypt by the Nile.  The wells kept being filled in and dried up, and then when he would find certain ones the surrounding people would try and start conflicts with him and his people.  So logically, it makes sense for him to go to Egypt, because then he would have full and ready access to the Nile River and an endless supply of water.  At least that is what it promises.
    However, God had a different plan in mind he tells Isaac to stay by the wells and to trust and obey him.  Even though the odds were not in his favor and it seemed somewhat ludicrous to stay where he was at, he stayed.  How many times do we approach this same problem in our lives?  We see an alternative to what we are currently doing that seems so promising, but God instead tells us to stay and intends to provide and give us even greater rewards than we would achieve by leaving, but the key is we have to have faith that God will provide for us.  So many times we have the grass will be greener on the other side outlook when the truth of the matter is the other side cannot uphold to its promise.  Instead of being greener we find out that really we have lost everything we sought for because we did not obey God and stay close to the wells.
    What brought this up was a conversation that I had with my grandmother before I read this particular entry in Jim Elliot’s journal.  I was talking to my grandma about some of the financial problems that I was having and I told her how I saw why pastors give into temptation and start to live and preach for the money, like the salvation that Christ offers can be given away at a price that makes them rich, meanwhile it destroys the church and their very being.  And she told me, do not sell in, keep fighting no matter how hard it seems, and the look of concern towards me just plastered her face.  She was God’s voice in my life at that moment telling me do not go to the Nile, stay here by the well, so God can give you the riches of His Kingdom.
    So many times God is telling us that but we foolishly believe the promise of the Nile.  Sin promises us so many things that it cannot come through with.  It promises us fulfillment, wholeness, love, when actually those are the very things it takes away.  Sin knows what we desperately desire and want and tries to make us think that it can give those to us because it knows that if we knew the truth about sin there would be no temptation at all.  However, the very things we seek in sin can never be found in sin.  When we sin all that happens is we become empty, broken, and incomplete, and the things we are searching for only go farther away from us.  If we ever hope to be whole the only way it is possible is to cling to the Giver of Life the One who makes us whole and stay by the well, knowing that Nile will not give us what we are truly desiring, but what we desire comes from the wells that God has given us.  Are you clinging to the well or are you journeying towards the Nile and a life of emptiness and restlessness?  Only one life is worth living and will reward you!

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Thailand Trip Support Raising Update

21 01 2008

Hey Everybody,

The beginning of raising funds for my trip is underway, and it is exciting but at the same time scary and cumbersome. Right now, the amount that needs to be raised seems like a mountain, close to $5,000, and I need to have $1,600 raised by February 15th in order to book my ticket to Thailand with the rest of the team. As the days go by this amount looks and seems like a lot, but deep down in my heart I know that God will provide, and that is the exciting part, having the faith and knowing that God will be there helping you along, providing what you need, when you need it. It is at times like these where I am completely helpless and vulnerable that I see God’s provision in such a way that I could never see anywhere else, which makes raising support for these trips such a blessing because it tests me, and stretches me, and make me just have faith. So, that is where I am at in the middle of raising support having faith that God will reward my earnest efforts seek and serve him (Hebrews 11:6).

So for all those who were wondering there is the update, and if anyone can help support me right now with the plane ticket that would be such a God-send, especially because I need to turn in 250 dollars by Thursday and have no idea where that money is going to come from, but with a little work and a lot of faith I am sure God will come through. Thank you all and God Bless!!! And as always please keep me, my family, and the team in your prayers as we prepare for this exciting journey!!!!

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Support

15 01 2008

Dear Family and Friends,

As must of you know God seems to give me exciting journeys to go on every summer, and this summer is no exception. The past two summers God has led me to San Diego with Campus Crusade and this past summer I worked with A Christian Ministry in the National Park working in Grant Village at Yellowstone National Park. This upcoming summer God has given me the unique opportunity to be a part of the Xtreme Team, which will be going to Thailand. If you have any questions hopefully I will answer them in this letter, however if I do not answer them please feel free to call me (330-754-7878) or send me an e-mail at matt@curtisryanmiller.com.

This past year at Malone has been very exciting. I enjoy all of my classes and I recently added on a minor in Missions and Cross-Cultural Studies, which I am really pumped to start taking classes for.  I moved on to campus as well and have probably the sweetest roommate you could ask for. God has really blessed me with all of the guys I have met in the dorms, so school has been going really well.  At the beginning of the year, I started interning at my church working with the Young Adults, so I am really excited to see where God leads me in that.  I still work at Bravo as a server and I have a prayer house that is in the beginning steps that I am trying to get up and running, but that will probably wait until I get back home from Thailand this summer. 

Enough about me, let’s talk a little bit about the trip that I am going on this summer.  I am going with a team called the Xtreme Team, which is through American Baptist Churches, which is the national church of First Baptist Church of Massillon, my home church.  They actually have a very cool website that you can all go too to get more information and even check up on us with when the team is in Thailand, http://www.xtremeteamonline.org.

To be honest, there are not too many things that I know that you do not.  All I know is that we will be going to Thailand.  We leave on June 12 for a week-long orientation in St. Paul Minnesota, where I will meet the rest of the team, for the first time.  At the orientation we will learn about each other and a little about the people and culture of Thailand.  After our orientation in St. Paul we will leave for Thailand together, a team of people who have known each other for only a week.  Upon arriving in Thailand the team will be informed of their itinerary and tasks on a day-by-day basis through clues that are called X-files.  During the trip we will experience the extremes of Thai culture and we will meet and love as many people as we can along the way doing our best to share the love of Christ with them.  The goal is to get us submersed into a culture to help educate us about missionary work and to encounter Christ in an entirely new way that comes from being completely vulnerable, requiring us to completely rely on him.  After our time in Thailand we will return home to St. Paul, Minnesota for debriefing, and then as a team will be going the World Mission Conference in Medford, Oregon to take part in the conference, and it would be exciting to see you at the conference seeing as how I will just have arrived back in the states a few days before.  Besides for this I am not sure all of what we will be doing there or even who the team consists of.

The entire trip will last from June 12th to July 21st.   The cost of the trip is $2,600 plus airfare and immunizations.  The estimated cost of the airfare for domestic and international travel is $2,200 dollars and immunizations will be another $400 dollars.  So, the trip in its entirety will be around $5,200, which I know is a lot of money, but the experience that I will have will be priceless.  God will be able to touch me through this experience like he never has before because I will be completely vulnerable requiring me to rely on him and extend my faith in ways I never have had to before, and hopefully God will use me to touch to lives of the people I come into contact with in Thailand for his kingdom as well.  Not to mention this will help me see if mission work is really where God is calling me.  This trip will indeed be a life changing experience for me.

You can help me in so many ways.  First, through prayer, praying for me and the team needs to begin immediately.  I honestly believe for this trip to be successful it needs to be soaked in prayer by as many people as possible.  Through our prayers we will be able to show God our dedication to his kingdom and his work, and he will be absolutely faithful to our prayers for this trip.  So, prayer is the biggest thing you can do, praying for me and the team concerning financial matters, our spiritual, mental, and physical health as we prepare and go on the trip, and last but not least for you all, prayer for our friends and families is absolutely essential as well.

You can also help me financially.  However, if you decided to support me in this way please make this decision through prayer and the guidance of God.  Also, any amount helps!  Whatever God leads you to donate to the cause is perfect and more than enough.  If you decide to support me on this trip financially the best way to do it is make a check out to International Ministries with “Xtreme Team-Matt Woods” in the memo, and then mail that to:

    First Baptist Church of Massillon
    20 6th Street SE
    Massillon, OH 44646

Other ways to support me are through encouraging e-mails, donating frequent flyer miles, helping me learn about Thailand, etc.  You are as much a part of this trip now as I am, your prayers and efforts to help me on this trip are just as essential as me going.  Thank you so much for your time and support for my trip to Thailand with the Xtreme Team!

Your Brother in Christ,

Matt Woods

Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, so we speak not to please man, but to God who tests our hearts…so being affectionately desirous of you we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
                                                                2 Thessalonians 2: 4,8

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