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Living Into your New Identity in Christ

Mark Junkans

The writer Paul says “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17 ESV)

Your old self is who you used to be, it is your former identity. It is defined by all your weaknesses, your mistakes and what has happened to you.

Your old self is defined by your failures and successes, by the place you were born, the family you were born into, your preferences, your education and your occupation. The old you relies on all these things for its self-worth.

The writer Paul says “Be careful not to let anyone rob you of this faith through a shallow and misleading philosophy. Such a person follows human traditions and the world’s way of doing things rather than following Christ.” (Col. 2:8)

Your new self isn’t defined by any of these things, and yet it incorporates them into your identity. You have become one with Christ, the creator of the universe, and His identity merges with yours.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book Here and Now, “Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity and power is a false identity- an illusion! Loudly and clearly he says: ‘You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.”

All the things that have happened to you, all your bad habits and everything that once defined you is no longer who you are entirely. You are a new person and a new creation. Your friends and family should be able to see it reflected in your attitude, your words and your actions.

Instead of falling into your old patterns, you are learning to circumvent them and be who you truly are now.

Does this mean that you have lost your unique personality? Of course not. Have the difficult experiences in your life been erased and forgotten? No, they haven’t. The difference is that now, you have overcome them through the power of Jesus living inside you. It's a process of becoming.

Your past doesn’t go away, but you are able to rise above, to acknowledge and use it to make you better, stronger. He has taken who you are and He is doing something beautiful with it.

So why do you fall back into old patterns of thinking? Because you have forgotten to remind yourself who you really are, and because you are human. The difference is, you are no longer limited by by your old habits or thought patterns. You are free in Christ.

Repeat this to yourself every day. “I am a new creation. My life is different because Jesus lives in me.”

I Want My Faith Back

Mark Junkans

The day I started doubting that anything I possible is the day that my child-like faith died. Before that, with God on my side, I could accomplish anything, almost without trying. And, if I failed, then God would always be there to back me up - to catch me from falling too hard. My dreams were limitless, my vision had no horizon. No risk was considered, no calculation or planning necessary because whatever necessary would just happen. I believed so much.

Now I have a thinking faith. A "maybe" faith. A “what if it’s not possible” kind of faith.

My faith sometimes isn’t faith at all. It’s a “look at me God - bless what I want to do, I’m not doing that because it doesn’t make sense” kind of faith. I ask God for my heart’s desire, when all He requires is that I desire Him.

Faith is letting go, holding on, striving and relaxing all at the same time and I somehow lost that faith, the faith that doesn’t require answers or constant assurances. I now have a faith that struggles, that doubts, that has been to the mountaintop and yet still doubts whether it’s even possible to reach it.

I want my faith back. I want to be able to do anything again, to be able to jump without a crippling fear of falling. I want faith to take my hand again and lead me through the dark places. I want to be able to say “yes” when called, no matter where-to or when. I need to let go- of my all-important self-importance and my less than selfless good deeds.

I want my faith back, the kind of faith that drives me with purpose and desire. I want my all consuming, all trusting confidence in the Creator of all, for whom there is no limit.

But maybe the kind of faith I yearn for is the inmature kind, the nostalgia of an adolescent ignorance. Maybe this new faith is somehow more authentic and real because it does struggle with uncertainty. It takes more for me to act, which in reality requires even more faith than before.

Yes, I want my faith back, but not the easy answer kind - I could never go back to that. I want a faith that wrestles with God and is willing to be injured in the process, that willingly places my own desires upon the altar without expecting a ram in the bush.

What I really want is to know that when God calls, I will still answer without hesitation, no matter how "wise" I have become. That the faith I want back.

Transcending Our Modern Idolatries

Mark Junkans

Success, power, pleasure and consumption.

What do we idolize in our modern culture? Success, power, pleasure and consumption. In fact, this has always been the case for the world’s rich and powerful throughout history. The wealthy, not limited by resources, have always tended toward the hedonistic. Their “god is their belly” as the apostle Paul writes.

The rest of society, the majority of the population, has always had to live within their meager and modest means. Scarcity is the norm for the world’s masses. Because of poverty, faith in the majority of the world focuses on the daily pursuit of food, health, clothing and shelter. "I trust God to provide me with food today, or heal my sick child?" It also focuses more on the eternal things that give purpose and meaning to a person or community that feels helplessly trapped. Freedom to do and posess whatever just isn't a reality for most of the world throughout history.

In our modern Western society, however, material possessions are abundantly accessible to almost everyone; and personal freedom to do whatever, whenever is the expected norm.

This has changed how we see the eternal truths of God, always through a materialistic lens, always through the “how does this get me more of what I want” lens. Deep spiritual truths from the East (Christianity was first a middle-eastern religion) have been watered down and made into our own image.

We have co-joined religion and state, faith and consumerism, God and nationalism, spiritual and economic growth. There seems to be no way of undoing it in mainstream religion and faith. This is not just an American problem, but because we are such an affluent society, it is more pronounced.

Prosperity preachers have co-opted the message of Jesus and turned it into a plan for making themselves rich. Conservative "Evangelicals" in America have conflated the teachings of Jesus with their "freedom" to have anything we want, whenever we want, at whatever quantity we want, and no matter how we treat others and harm the world around us.

Jesus was not interested in helping people accumulate massive wealth for themselves, period. In fact, he warned the rich on multiple occasions about their love for money (Mark 4:19, Mark 10:25, Luke 6:24.) He came to restore the relationship between the material and the spiritual, between the eternal and the physical. His ministry and message transcends, redeems and unites all things.

How do we escape the trappings of a modern consumerist religion and work toward a faith that is focused on the priorities of God's Kingdom?

Do you desire things as much as you desire God? Why don't you test yourself?

Indulge me on this, because it's basically the same challenge that Jesus gave a rich young man who asked him what he must to do be saved.

A Simple Spiritual Exercise: Select one thing that you desire for yourself, and... let it go, take it off your wish list. Tell God that you need Him more than you need "it."

How does that feel? Did you feel a sense of loss? Are you secretly hoping that God will give it to you anyway since you've now passed some sort of test? Here's the clincher, you have given it up, period. If you have started saving up to buy it, you can now use that money for something else, preferably to help someone in need. You can stop dropping hints to a loved one that you want it.

This is getting more difficult now, isn't it?

Now what? Will you suddenly now become more spiritual and content? No, but as we learn to practice this simple spiritual act in our lives, our souls slowly become less consumed with self-indulgence and more concerned about the things of God, about His mission.

Every thing we say no to opens up space in our hearts to say yes to God's will.

Say a simple prayer and thank God for His grace, and pray that He will use you to focus on the needs of others, and on the eternal Creator of all things.

Pray: God, you care more about me than I could ever imagine. You know the desires of my heart, both the good and the selfish ones. I pray that you would make me one with yourself, help my will be yours. Replace my idolatry of material things with true devotion. I give you what I have, knowing you will provide. Amen

Asking for Mountains

Mark Junkans

I believe that as humans, we are wired for challenge, and that something inside us dies slowly over time when we just settle for what is easy. That may be overstating it, but I've seen it happen time after time in people, ministries and organizations. I admit, I tend to lean toward attempting challenges that are beyond my abilities. This doesn't apply to every part of my life, in fact there are situations that I run from because they're not comfortable. However, I always pray that I will never limit what God wants to do through me because I preferred only to do what's easy.

I just watched The Evolution of "The Speedgoat" telling the story of professional trail running legend Karl Meltzer, his dedication to the sport, and the sacrifices he has made to do what he is made to do. He has won more 100 mile races in his career than anyone, and also holds the speed record for the Apalachian Trail. Truly an inspiration for me as a runner and as the leader of an organization attemping audacious things for the Kingdom of God.

Three things converged this morning:

  1. I read the devotion below which was for today entitled "Asking For Mountains."
  2. The Karl Meltzer video popped up on my FB feed.
  3. I am in the midst of following God's call to expand our ministry presence around the world and one project that I've been praying for and investing energy and resources into is now set to take off.

God, I hear You. I won't settle for the safe and easy path. When faced with a challenge, I will trust in your power and strength and not my own.

“You heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the Lord said.” Joshua 14:12

Caleb’s faith in God never wavered, though everyone around him doubted. God convinced Caleb that the children of Israel should enter the Promised Land, but the people were intimidated by giants and fortified cities (Num. 13:28-33). Their disbelief forced Caleb to wait forty years in the wilderness before he finally entered the Promised Land. Even after all those years, Caleb was as confident as ever in God’s power.

When God was dividing the land among the Israelites, the people were asking for the lush valleys and grassy plains. Caleb asked for a mountain. The Israelites had driven their enemies into the mountains, where they had built fortresses. This did not intimidate Caleb—he asked for a challenge! He did not trust in his own strength but in God’s presence. Caleb longed to see God work in power, and he knew he would be less likely to rely on God if he dwelt in the easy places. He chose a situation in which he would have to trust in God. Caleb knew his inheritance from God was on the mountain. He refused to allow the difficulty of gaining it to stop him from enjoying all that God had promised him.

If you always choose the easy way, asking for the peaceful valleys, you will never see God’s power displayed to enable you to take a mountain. Seek out the mountains, and you will witness God doing things through your life that can be explained only by His mighty presence.

Excerpt from Experiencing God Day by Day

2 simple habits

Mark Junkans

Increasing My dependance on God.

Living life in the modern world makes it difficult to depend on God. I start to believe that I have everything I need, and I rarely have to pray for God to provide my daily bread. This is not the case in other places around the world for people are truly concerned for their next meal.

What are we supposed to do to increase our dependence on God? I know that this may sound simple, but here are two things I am trying to do more of.

  1. Make Scripture reading a daily habit.

I know this should be a given, but even I sometimes fall out of the daily habit of reading scripture. Yes I read devotionals, books and look at spiritual memes on social media, but this is no substitute for digging into the Scriptures on a daily basis.

Without hearing from God its easy to forget him. Without digging through the Scriptures to find internal truth, it's easy to Think that I have everything figured out. When I read the word of God, I understand that many people throughout history have been in the same situation as I, but still had a deep dependence on God. I can learn from them in their example. I'm also reminded that Life is tenuous, and that without Christ my future is insecure. Only his death on the cross and his atoning sacrifice for me can give me any security. Everything can be taken away tomorrow, but Jesus will never leave me. This is what reading the Scriptures reminds me of among other things.

  1. Practice prayer and meditation.

In any relationship, when you stop talking or communicating with someone, then you begin to lose your deep connection to them and thus stop depending on that relationship for anything significant. The same happens in our relationship with God. Whenever we stop talking to him, bringing our cares and burdens to him, meditating on his word and confessing our sins, our dependance on him begins to weaken. Spending time meditating on His word and truth not only helps free our mind from the lies that we tell ourselves, but also helps center our thoughts and actions on the things that really matter. The less we do this, the more independent we become. The more we practice this daily spiritual discipline, the more God becomes a necessary part of our life.

Yes, this is elementary. But just doing these two things daily will grow your faith and help you to depend more on God and less on yourself.

Seek The Lord - Thoughts on Isaiah 55:6

Mark Junkans

Is. 55:6 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near."

I take for granted that God will always be there when I need him. Sometimes he appears to distance himself from me just like a parent does for their child when wanting them to grow and mature.

It also seems sometimes that things just to go well while at other times they don't. A worldly phrase maybe, "get it while the getting's good." But is more than just getting what we want. This is the very presence of God, his present help in our time of need.

Sometimes I look back on my life and it seems that God was very directly involved in what I did. I had a real sense that he was with me, guiding me and I can say without a doubt that he was near. Other times, I'm not so sure that I could say the same, even though I know he never left me.

Why does God seem to be involved more directly in some circumstances and less in others? Is it just my perception or is God really more distant at times?

“Seek the Lord." If I could just remember to do this, to truly seek Him, then I would be much closer to him and he would seem much closer to me.

You need more adventure in your life.

Mark Junkans

Our modern lives have become a little boring haven’t they? The most excitement most of us have during the week happens on our commute to work and on our Facebook feed. Like a homebound senior citizen, we end up living our lives vicariously through media and through our conversations with others.

Here’s the thing, I believe that we are hard-wired for adventure.

Humans have always longed for adventure, it’s in our nature. Without adventure, our world becomes incredibly small and our lives are reduced to mere existence.

Life is either a great adventure or nothing. —Helen Keller


See - 8 SIGNS YOU’VE LOST YOUR SENSE OF ADVENTURE

But, how exactly does one begin to add more adventure into life?

1. Sign up to do something you’ve never done before

This doesn’t have to be something extreme like an ultra marathon (although I would personally recommend it), or some exotic trip that costs a fortune. It could be something as simple as eating a new type of food or going camping. If you don’t like it, at least you have a good story to share about how bad it was. That’s the thing. Living a life of adventure isn’t about being comfortable all the time. In fact, the most memorable adventures are usually the ones that take far outside our comfort zones.

2. Don’t be afraid of discomfort

In fact, adventure and discomfort are often inseparable. So are Joy and Pain, Sunshine and Rain (‘cause this is how the Rob Base feels.)

Think about the best adventure story you’ve heard from someone. Did they only recount the wonderful things they experienced? Didn’t they also tell you about the challenges, obstacles and discomforts?

That’s the point! Adventure opens us up to a whole new realm of possibilities, both good and bad. It forces us to face our discomforts, our dislikes, our fears and our limitations. A REALLY good adventure stretches us beyond what we previously thought possible.

Stretching yourself hurts, but it’s the only way to grow.

I could tell you dozens of stories about how miserable or uncomfortable I felt when I tried something or went somewhere new. And while sharks will never have a week dedicated to me, I would also tell you that I’m a much more interesting and well-rounded person because of those situations.

Want to be more interesting? Have more adventures! In fact, risk having more adventures that could potentially turn out horribly bad.

3. Bring someone else along for the ride

While it may be easier and more efficient to go on your own little adventures, the adventure becomes bigger when others join you. Different people experience things differently. That means that their recalling of the story will ad nuances and layers that you alone can’t. Whatever happens, it will be multiplied (literally) when others are part of it.

“Remember the time we almost ran out of gas in the middle of a lonely desert in Mexico?”

For example, I could tell you about a wonderful trail run I took that ended at the most beautiful high mountain lake scene I’ve ever seen. I could even show you a picture of it, except I forgot to take my camera along. This was a great adventure for me, but I’m the only one who can truly know and express what it was like.

Adventure is a lot more fun when exciting when someone else is living it…

The trails I hiked with my family, however, were even more memorable. That’s because I experienced the whole situation differently than they did. I was totally in my comfort zone and enjoying the sites, while my daughters were probably thinking more about the miserable temperatures and endless walking. I also had the added burden of caring for their well-being (and survival) as we walked along cliffs and risked potential dehydration. It was an adventure for all of us, one that we still refer to.

Note: Adventure makes you more valuable to others

I love this story about Jephthah from the Bible in Judges 11. He didn’t come from a “normal” family. His mother was a prostitute, he was cut off from his family inheritance, and he fled to a new land. He was forced into a life of adventure. Then, “a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.”

But here's the kicker. When the Israelites needed help, they went to Jephthah and asked HIM to be their commander.

Judg. 11:4 Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”

Some people will never allow themselves to be stretched, and in so, they will never have great adventures. Because of this, they also won’t have honed the skills necessary to do great things or to face bigger challenges. That’s where someone is needed who has those skills that have been honed by experience, hardship and adventure.

As a person of adventure, you now bring stories and experience, and frankly, make things more interesting. People will begin to live vicariously through you, and will come to depend on you for advice when attempting to do new things.

I believe that our lives should be in service to others. I also believe that having more adventure in your life actually gives you the ability to better serve others. It opens up new opportunities, grows your base of skills and gives you more courage to face challenges.

Why not plan (or just improvise) your next adventure today?

It could possibly be both the best and the most uncomfortable thing you could possibly do today.

Courage

Mark Junkans

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. 1Cor. 16:13

I don’t see myself as a very courageous person, even though some may say otherwise. Yes, I tend to jump into new challenges with both feet, often not considering the potential consequences. This may be interpreted by some as courage, but I would sometimes disagree.

If I would know ahead of time how truly difficult something might be, I may or may not have the courage to attempt it. Is seeing challenges through rose-colored glasses the same as courage? I don’t think so.

True courage is knowing the pain and struggle required, but still making a commitment to act. Courage is putting yourself on the line and staying put when others bail. Courage is something that doesn’t come naturally to most people, but must be rallied either from within or externally.

Many people allow their fear to keep them from even attempting something. Fear of failure, pain, loss and embarrassment is often at the root of the roadblock. But, courage is not the opposite of fear. Courage is feeling fear and still choosing to act.

Courage is being realistic about the potential for failure and still choosing to act.

Courage is knowing that you may totally embarrass yourself and still taking a chance at accomplishing something great.

Here are four ways that I can think of to gain courage:

  1. Look for an example of courage in someone else.
  2. Imagine the payoff or end goal.
  3. Concentrate on the reason you are doing it in the first place.
  4. Surround yourself with encouragers.
  5. Just don't think about the consequences of failure (my personal favorite and probably not the best).

Where do you find courage when you need it?

For me personally, it's looking to Jesus when things get scary. He is my rock.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Matt. 14:27

Making small changes to your daily habits

Mark Junkans

I have to admit that I talk a lot about things I'm “going to do,” but never get around to actually doing. There are things that I do, that while small and seemingly insignificant, either lead me toward fulfilling my purpose or lead me away from it.

Ultimately, who you become is influenced by what you are currently doing. The small habits, the daily routines, the little things that you do each day all add up to become the whole of what you are.

1 Pet 1:13 says “therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled.” Many people allow their actions, or lack of, to sabotage their lives. Every positive action you take is something to build on, while every negative action tears away at your foundation. Being self-controlled is difficult, but in the then, is what makes the difference.

“Prepare you mind for action” means to think through what you are going to do. The context of this verse is about avoiding doing evil and doing what God wants. This simple step by step process is something I’m trying to get better at doing with regards to doing what is right.

  1. Read God’s word and ask Him what He wants for you.
  2. Pray and seek God’s will for your actions today.
  3. Stop doing the things that go against God’s will for your life.
  4. Begin doing the things that glorify Him and accomplish what He desires to do through you.

This is easier said than done, because our sinful nature rebels against God’s will. Only through the Holy Spirit’s power can we do what we are supposed to. Pray for His power and guidance.

Why is Criticism So Easy?

Mark Junkans

“I wouldn’t have done it that way.”

“What are they wearing?”

"What they are doing sucks."

As a pathetically self-absorbed human, I continually find myself criticizing other people based on what they’re wearing, doing, saying, singing, etc.  This comes in the form of thoughts, jokes, quips and judgment statements.  Why is this a natural weakness for me, and why does it matter how someone else has chosen to do something?  In a nutshell, because I’m human, and because criticizing someone else is easier that actually doing something myself.

We humans are continually asking ourselves the “who am I” question. As social beings, this most often becomes “Who am I in comparison to that person?”  It’s like an automatic process that happens in our brains, because the whole world revolves around “me.”

My question for all the criticizers out there, including myself, is “But what are you actually doing yourself?”  It is really easy to sit back and talk about someone else, and very difficult sometimes to actually do something of value.

Go ahead, put yourself out there and do something that you believe will make a difference in the world, not just something that makes you look good to others or that simply gives you pleasure.

You may find that when you become totally absorbed in serving others, you stop needing to compare yourself to the rest of humanity.  Sure, others may criticize what you are doing, but if you are truly doing something meaningful, then it doesn’t really matter does it?

The next time I begin to make fun of someone or criticize them in my head, I WILL stop myself.  Unless, of course, they aren’t doing it how I think they should. :)

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
— Jesus from Matthew 7:3-5

Victoria's Confirmation

Mark Junkans

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Victoria sitting on the far left along with her confirmation class.Yesterday, my daughter Victoria celebrated her confirmation.  It was a very proud moment for Natalia and I to see her take a vow to stand firm in her faith, even in the faith of persecution.  As her class was questioned about their faith, I was reminded of the twists and turns that my own faith journey has taken.  I was given the verse Romans 16 by my dad as my confirmation verse.  "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes."  

There have been times in my life when I didn't live out this faith, and lived like I was ashamed of the Gospel.  Other times, I have been extremely passionate about Jesus and His message.  The beautiful thing is that the Holy Spirit has kept my faith alive, and has used me for His purposes in spite of my weaknesses.  I pray the same for my daughter Victoria who is just beginning her journey to adulthood.  

The faith that she was given through baptism continues to grow, and the vows that she made today will be tested in the coming decades.  My only prayer is that she would remain open to God's leading, and that He would use her to bring others into a relationship with Him.

Confirmation Prayer

May the faith you confirm today

Be your key

To open the doors to....

HOPE, when all seems lost, 

JOY, when despair consumes you, 

LOVE, when hatred afflicts you, and

PEACE, when turmoil surrounds you.

Guard it well

And keep it close, 

This precious key, 

For when it is lost

All is lost.

But when it is found, 

It will set you free

And always guide you

HOME. 

Annabel Cruz - Havanna Cuba

Mercy Without Justice

Mark Junkans

Few people would argue with the need to help those who can’t help themselves. You may have a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality or you may believe that not everyone has the same opportunities to be successful and should be supported through various means until they can support themselves. Regardless of your viewpoint, there is a difference in showing mercy to someone and working for justice.

As a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to show compassion to those who are suffering and hurting. It really doesn’t matter if their suffering comes from their own actions or from someone else’s. Jesus showed compassion to sinners even though they weren’t worthy to receive it. So many times, we look for someone who we feel is worthy of our help because it makes us feel better. We want to know their story and know that our aid went to someone who really deserved or needed it.

Micah 6:8 says that we should “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God.” The issue of showing mercy without mentioning justice is a really sore spot for me. Basically, it’s like helping people out of a pit, and then leaving that pit open so that they falling into it again. There are reasons for poverty and suffering that go beyond one’s personal ambition or responsibility. There are social norms, laws and systems that make it nearly impossible for some to get out of their bad situation. In some communities, those forces working against the individual are so pervasive that when they take one step forward, they get knocked back three steps. Poverty, health, crime and low-quality education and lack of opportunity all add up to stack the deck against whole communities.

As people of faith, when we either fail to recognize these issues or refuse to address them, are we really showing mercy? It is uncomfortable when we begin to realize that the very social system that we benefit from actually harms others. What action are we supposed to take when our eyes are opened to this reality?

Doing justice is not only doing what is right, but also working to make things right. We can’t solve every problem and issue, but there are things collectively that we can do that will make a difference for the underprivileged in our society.

Mercy is good, but not enough. God also loves justice. Do we?

Thy Kingdom Come

Mark Junkans

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21
Growing up, when I prayed the petition "Thy Kingdom Come" in the Lord's Prayer, I thought I was praying for Jesus to come back to earth.  Jesus said in Luke 17, "The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation."  In other words, you don't have to look around to find it, nor do you have to be a specialist in Biblical interpretation to know the secret signs to look for.
We don't simply wait around for God's Kingdom to come.  Jesus tells us that "The Kingdom of God is within you."  Simply put, Jesus' Kingdom resides in the hearts of those who believe in Him.  Wherever you go as a believer, the Kingdom of God is there.  When you pray "Thy Kingdom come" you are actually praying that God would send YOU into new places and relationships so that His Kingdom can pass from you to someone else.
God's Kingdom comes to any place that we go.  The real question is, "Will his Kingdom stay there when you leave?"
We need to keep praying this petition, but realize what it means for us as followers of Jesus.  Our life will radically change if we allow Jesus to use it as a conduit for his Kingdom.

 

Here's where it gets interesting

Mark Junkans

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Falling in love - Beginning a new adventure - Starging a new hobby.  These can all cause excitement, nervousness and happiness.  As with most new things, there is newfound joy in beginning the journey.  But what do you do when the journey gets boring, or is no longer interesting to you?

My wife and I were traveling from Nigeria back to Houston and planned a stop in Paris for a couple of days.  We had left our two daughters with family and really had a good trip.  After two days of wandering around Paris, I felt like staying another day and asked my wife if she wanted to as well.  However, the more we talked about it, it didn't seem that exciting anymore.  We both just wanted to get back home, the adventure had worn off after two weeks of being away.

Many followers of Jesus begin to feel the same way about their faith.  They start to grow complacent and even become bored.  Like anything, when the newness wears off, it sometimes gets less exciting.  This is natural, but could also point to a deeper issue.  That is, if following Jesus has become boring to you, maybe you're not really following Him. Maybe you're just going through the motions, or maybe you're just following your own ideas.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that you don't have faith anymore.  It may be that you are no longer willing to follow Jesus into new places.

When I was in my early twenties, I was willing to do just about anything without giving it a second thought.  To say I was adventurous is an understatement.  When God called me back to Him, He used that adventurous spirit for His purpose.  I moved into an infamous east-end neighborhood where I was the minority and began to work as a missionary.  Every new situation that "normal" people might consider dangerous was an exciting adventure for me.  Sometimes I find myself driving through the same communities and don't get excited anymore.  I have to remind myself that God's mission doesn't change or lose it's urgency just because I'm "maturing."

What about you?  Are you losing your excitement for the things of God?  Are you still passionate about the mission that God has given you, or are you constantly looking for some new adventure so that your faith can be reignited again?  If God has placed you somewhere for His purpose, ask Him to help you go deeper.  Ask Jesus to lead you into places and relationships of adventure where you can, once again, recognize how He is using you for His mission.  Maybe what you need is to follow Jesus' leading again instead of your own "mature" logic.  While our faith is comforting, it's not meant to make us comfortable.  Following Jesus is an adventure, that is, if we are willing to follow.

1Cor. 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.

Gal. 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Joining God in Mission

Mark Junkans

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Growing up, I always remember missions as being something that we supported.  Missionaries would come and tell there stories about their work, and we would give them an offering so they could go back out and continue doing it.  There is still a need for missionary support, but we also have to remember that we are individually called to mission as well.  It may not be practical or even possible for you to go do mission work overseas.  Your mission field is the place right around you.  Your neighborhood, your workplace, your community or your club.  Your primary mission field is comprised of the relationships that you have in your life who don't yet know Jesus as Savior.

How do you move from being a passive believer to actually living on mission?  Here are a few things you can do.

1. Pray - As you pray that God would raise up workers for the harvest field, ask him boldly that you would be included among them. 

2. Look - around you there is a mission field.  Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see who He has placed around you. Listen to conversations and watch the patterns that emerge in people's lives.  See people as made in God's image who He loves and wants to redeem to Himself. 

3. Build - quality relationships with the people around you.  You may be insecure or shy, but occasionally inviting someone to eat with you or even just spending a couple minutes listening to them can build trust over time.  Only by building trust, do you earn the right to speak into their lives.

4. Speak - into the lives of those around you.  Listen to their stories and learn who they really are and what they struggles are.  Weave the story of Jesus into the conversation, but don't try to push them.  Be respectful, but don't fail to speak the Gospel in a way that touches their place of need.

Is it possible that God is calling you into a deeper experience of faith?  Your faith grows when you begin to follow Jesus wherever he leads you.  Some of my greatest mountain top experiences in faith haven't been when I received a personal blessing from God for myself, but when I was able to see Christ work through me to reach someone else.  Consider taking the next step today in your faith journey. What are you waiting for?

Busyness

Mark Junkans

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With so many things going on, I fall into the trap of thinking that busier is better.  Sometimes busy is necessary, but most of the time I'm just inventing new things to occupy my time.  At times, I need to concentrate on slowing my self down so I can think, plan, pray and just be.  I've read this piece often since I began in ministry as a reminder that busy isn't always better.  It's interesting that the author wrote this in 1945, talking about the pace of ministry.  What about today?  Oops, gotta run to a meeting.

Never was there a ministry so bustled and rushed and perspiring as ours is now.  If things stick, we devise yet another type of meeting, and when this additional wheel is spinning round with all the rest of the complex machinery, and a wind is blowing in our hot faces, we feel better, and have a comfortable sense that something is going on; are tired and stick, but happy engineers.

- Arthur John Gissup - Experience Worketh Hope (New Yord: Scribner's, 1945), pp 58

Here's a link to another article entitled "Busyness, Is The New Spirituality"

Confession

Mark Junkans

Almighty and most merciful God, I acknowledge and confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed; that I have not loved you with all my heart and soul, with all my mind and strength; and that I have not loved my neighbor as myself.

I beseech you, oh God, to be forgiving to what I have been, to help me to amend what I am, and of your mercy to direct what I shall be, so that the love of goodness may ever be first in my heart, that I may always walk in your commandments and ordinances blameless, and follow unto my life's end in the footsteps of Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

- Adapted from the Minister's Prayer Book, 1986 Fortress Press

Daily Adventures in Compassion

Mark Junkans

Have you ever started out on an "adventure" only to find that it wasn't all that enjoyable?  I have, in my short lifetime, done many things that were adventurous.  My surprise is that, when I tell the stories to people, they seem to focus more on the the hardship or the danger that was involved.  When I remember those things, I don't remember the danger, only the excitement of venturing into the unknown.

Ironically, some of my greatest adventures have come, not through extreme activities, but rather through responding to the needs of people I meet and being a channel of God's love and mercy.  Ok, I can tell that I've just lost you with that one.  Boring you might say?  As one easily bored, I can tell you that it's not.  Whether it be someone I run into on the street who needs help or some group of people, I have found that to follow Jesus' example is to experience new adventures every day.  How you might ask?

For example, imagine you are going about your day and pass by people on the street or in the store. The adventure starts when you begin to notice the person's needs and respond to them.  It could be as simple as helping a mother of small children carry bags to her car and it could be as courageous as giving someone a ride to where they have to go.  Being closed up in your own world all day might be the normal thing to do, but how adventurous is that?

The adventurous Christian life isn't about thrill seeking, but rather it's about persevering in doing God's will.  James 5:11 says "As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy."

Being adventurous in your faith isn't about seeking extreme spiritual experiences, or going on mission trips to exotic places.  True and long-lasting adventure is asking the Holy Spirit to keep your eyes open to opportunities to show mercy and compassion and to share your faith.  Don't wait for opportunity to come to you, seek it out.  Jesus went from town to town proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is near.  Your adventure begins when you do the same wherever you go.  Proclaim loudly that "The Kingdom of God is near" with your words, your character, your actions and your good deeds for people.  Be adventurous in the way you show love and compassion to those that you meet.