Click above to listen to my and Laura's opening talk at Fan Into Flame 2017, on February 3rd.
Scroll below to read my notes (not exactly the same as the real speech).
A few years ago I was in California and I was very frustrated with God.
It's a complicated story why, but basically, things weren't going the way I wanted them to, and I felt like because of everything that was happening, God was just against me the whole way.
And so I decided to go and be alone and go on a hike on a nearby path. I had hiked on it before and I knew that there was this fairly steep uphill climb, and then it was a long, flat path after the hill.
I was really frustrated, to the point that I began to doubt the validity of God's authority. I had been trying to hear his voice and obey, but it felt like he wasn't answering and that he had just left me to figure it out on my own.
So I got to the bottom of the trail and I said, "Alright God" - you ever have one of those moments when you're like, "alright God?" - it's like, "alright God now you listen to me" - that's how I was.
And so I said, "Alright God, I am going to run up this hill. If I make it to the top without stopping, I win. I get to live my life the way that I want. But if I stop, if I can't make it up without stopping, then you win. I'll surrender to you, and keep trying to obey you."
Now, keep in mind, I had hiked this hill before, and I knew that running up to the top actually very physically plausible. And I wasn't out of shape either - I had been running an average about a mile or two a week. And so I was actually kind of scared, I was like, "Oh my goodness what have I done, I just put God to the test he's totally gonna strike me down with lightning even though it's midday and sunny outside."
But then all the frustration came back and I was like, "No, I will make it to the top of this hill, and he better stop me."
So I start running, and just a few seconds in, immediately I'm like, "Woah, my legs feel heavy." It felt like I had just run a mile. And I was also like, "Woah, this hill is steeper than I remembered." But it wasn't enough to stop me and so I keep trudging forward for a good while and I start like, yelling at God in my head you know, and I was so frustrated at how pathetic I was, I was barely running - I'm about 2 minutes in and my feet aren't even passing each other. Each step was moving me a few inches forward at a time and I hadn't even gone half way. Someone could have walked passed me I was making so little progress. And I'm beyond panting at this point I was roaring for breath like, "UHHHHH huhhhhh HUUUUHHHH huhhh .... God I am so weak! How do you expect me to follow you when I don't even know where you want me to go? I can't do this anymore! I just can't do this without you--"
And I stopped... dead in my tracks. It was like a ton of bricks fell from the sky. My heart took a nose dive as it sank into my stomach, as I realized, not for the first time in my life, that I could do nothing without God. I could do nothing without God. The very fact that I had made it that far on that hill was because God allowed me to!
How do I explain this - look at your lungs, can you see them? Are they doing okay? Yeah, I hope so, but I can't really tell for sure. In fact, I really have no power over their wellbeing. At any moment they could cease to function, while I'm awake, while I'm asleep, while I'm up here on this stage...
...every breath is a second chance.
So I had stopped there, and I was devastated, because I had lost from the start.
And then I said, "God, please help me get up this hill."
And I began to trudge forward again. It wasn't any easier physically except for the fact that I had a newfound hope that I would make it to the top. As I'm running I'm pouring my heart out, asking for forgiveness and seeking to surrender.
I round the bend and get to the final stretch, the steepest climb. It was at something of a 45 degree angle with big gravelly rocks and I was sinking slightly backwards every time I stepped forwards.
As I'm going up ya know, "HUUUUHHHHH huuuhhhhhh HUHHHHHH" this old guy is walking down from the top and he's like, "You're almost there kid," and I'm like, "Thaaahhhhnks...thanks Jesus!" Finally I reached the top, having utterly lost, yet humbled to be a part of God's victory.
God was pursuing me.
Even though I was on the fence or even turning away from him, trying to justify my own rule over my life, God was pursuing me. He looked past my pathetic challenge of his authority and saw my broken heart and he told me that I wasn't alone!
When I look back at my entire walk with God I can see how he has been pursuing me.
Psalm 139 -
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
If I settle on the far side of the sea,
Even there your hand will guide me,
Your right hand will hold me fast.
God is pursuing you. God is pursuing me. Wait wait wait, God is pursuing me? You mean to tell me that this isn't something that just happened 2,000 years ago - THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE is pursuing me right here and now? You mean there is redemption, healing, love, power - right here, tonight? Tomorrow? Every day?
Being a follower of Jesus involves more than just believing that he was God and died for men and more than just doing god works and following his moral teaching. It means entering into a personal relationship with Christ.
Okay, so relationship with Christ, what does that mean?
Well, for starters, when God created everything, before we sinned we - being Adam and Eve - were living our lives in direct communication and interaction with God on earth. After we disobeyed God - basically trying to be the rulers of our own lives - we were immediately separated from him.
Imagine this metaphor with me if you will. Every one of us has a glass of pure water. But when we sin, it is like a drop of black dye - that one drop spreads throughout the entire glass of water and we are no longer pure. Now, God's cup is pure - before the fall, we could be with God because we each had pure cups and, for the sake of this analogy, we could pour our water into God's cup to be with Him. But now that we are no longer pure, we cannot be with God because by definition God is pure and he absolutely cannot be with sin.
So we are separated.
It doesn't matter if you lied to your mom about whether or not you brushed your teeth or murdered someone - one drop is all it takes to become impure. And everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God - Romans 3. And no matter how much we add more water - more good deeds - we still remain separated, because of even one drop, because God is 100% pure.
As it says later in Romans, "For the wages of sin is death." And I couldn't die for you, and you couldn't die for me, because both of us had to atone for ourselves!
Yet despite all that, God still wants to be with us.
Fast forward to the perfect moment in history where philosophy has bloomed and Romans roads are connecting the entire world together.
God's son, Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God someone to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness - Philippians 2.
So, Jesus is born and raised on earth but instead of becoming the warrior king to overthrow Rome that everyone was expecting, he healed the sick, he raised the dead, and spoke to the hearts of everyone he interacted with.
He loved so much that even after he returned to heaven, his closest friends committed their lives to him and died in his name.
Can you imagine having a friend like that? And he continues to love to this day!
So going back to the analogy with the water and the cups, Jesus lived a life in such a way that he was able to keep his cup pure. He then takes each of our cups into one, and he's looking at this cup so full of this thick, black, oozing mud of sin and selfishness and hate and pain, and in a moment of human relatability he says, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."
So he drinks it, and for the first time in his life he experiences separation from his father as he cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Now, the temple of the Lord was segmented into different rooms - the Holiest of Holies is where God's presence dwelled - only once a year could the high priest go inside. But when Jesus died, there was a great earthquake and this thick, massive veil that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world was torn in two from top to bottom, signifying that we now have full access to God - no more separation.
And then 3 days later he is raised back to life again, having conquered death. And this is precisely why this event that happened 2,000 years ago is still relevant to us today. The same Jesus that humbled himself for us, healed us and forgave us and met us right where we were at is still alive today!
He is alive!
And he offers us new life - his pure cup so that we can pour into the ocean of the mercy and grace of God's very being. And I should add that, Jesus' resurrection legitimizes the promise of an eternal life in the presence of God. He is alive, and he is active.
That's why Jesus was there for me when I tried to run up that hill. Even though I was turning away from God and had no chance of succeeding on my own, Jesus' mercy allowed me to surrender my life and finish the race with the full support of my number one life coach.
All I had to do was surrender, and reaccept Jesus as Lord of my life. Which, wasn't really doing anything, but rather, recognizing that I could do nothing.
And it's funny too, speaking of how God is active in our everyday lives, I've actually had a really rough time writing this speech because I originally had all these thoughts and I wanted to put them in, and just this past Monday God was like, "Nah, scrap it." And I was like, "But I wanna" and God was like, "Son, we've been here before." And I was like, "You right."
Every day, God is speaking to you. This is a journey, and God wants to be with you every step of the way. Just lean in.
I want to welcome up Laura, who has an awesome testimony that I really want you all to hear. Take us home Laura.
(You may listen to Laura's talk on the podcast).