What shall I do Lord?

 ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.  ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ (Acts 22:10 NIV)

At this point in Acts, Paul was explaining his story to an angry, rioting mob in Jerusalem. They wanted to kill him because he wanted to set them free from the law. Wait…what? They liked life under the law!? That’s a whole ‘nother story. Aaaanyways. (Nacho Libre) While on Damascus road, Paul explains that he spoke with Jesus. The fact that Paul heard the audible sound of Jesus’ voice is astounding, we could marvel at that and I could stop typing. Jesus is real, He talks to us, how cool!!

I did, however, find this other bit interesting. (maybe comforting is more appropriate)  I myself have never heard God’s audible voice.  Whenever I hear from Him it’s usually through His word, or during prayer or worship. So I have to admit, if I was Paul and I had the chance to talk to Jesus, I would be sort of ticked with how it ended. “Wait.. go to Damascus? I’m right here, YOU are right here… Just tell me what I am assigned to do now and let’s save everyone some time!”

I’m learning that God will do this. I can’t think of an example where He lays out, start to finish, all the details He has for how He will make His plans work. It sort of similar to how we tell a kid “We are going to the zoo.” We don’t say, “Since daddy worked 40 hours this week, he received money from his boss. Now that we have that money, we are going to go to the ATM. That involves getting in the car. Which by the way, we got this car by…” We don’t give all the details! The child accepts it, goes to the zoo and has a blast. The child doesn’t sit and stress about all the details.

So next time we are frustrated about an uncertain future, we can remember that even when Jesus audibly speaks to people, He doesn’t give away the whole plan. Even when Jesus speaks to a ‘spiritual giant’* He doesn’t give away the whole plan.  Paul gives us the perfect example of the right thing to do: simply ask “What shall I do Lord?” then do it!

*- James sort of puts an end to the whole spiritual giant thing anyways, they were guys “just like us”, they just decided to say yes. (James 5:17)

Posted in Life

Chasing Perfection / John 15

Perfection.  Most of us desire perfection somewhere in our lives. Some of us fine tune our bodies to their max potential in a specific sport. Others spend hours each day tweaking their motorcycle so it will run perfectly. Maybe, hopefully, there are some of us who try to reach our max potential as Christians. This is all good and well, it is our human nature to strive for perfection. Maybe that is why we find God so interesting, because He is perfect and we know we will never be perfect. God himself is perfect but it goes further, Jesus says that God is always trying to perfect “His vine” by clearing out the dead branches and pruning back the fruitful branches so that they might be even more fruitful. That vine is us, we are mini-side branches on God’s vine and God wants us to reach our max potential–our full maturity. But why? Is it to attain our salvation? No, that isn’t why and don’t listen to those who try to guilt you into “being a good Christian so you can make it into heaven.”  If we do good deeds, God is pumped. If we fail, however, God’s grace is more than enough.

This passage about “God’s vine,” goes on to explain why He trims the vine. God trims the vine, it says, so He can “show who He is” and so “His joy might become your joy and your joy wholly mature.”  I find that interesting and scary. God shows the world who He is through us. As the old saying goes, “We might be the only version of Jesus people ever meet.  So how should we represent God you ask?  Well Jesus says we should come across as love, “make yourselves at home in my love, so that you can love.”  So is that it? No,  Jesus goes on to explain that as humans, we reach our fully maturity by loving others or as Jesus puts it, “I tell you these things that your joy may be complete.”

Here is a message to myself every time I start to get selfish: LIFE IS BETTER WHEN IT IS SPENT SERVING & LOVING OTHERS. This is how the human machine was built. God built it so it would operate at it’s peak level when it is loving others. Selflessness = peak operating level.  Our joy is complete when we are showing the world who God is by passing on His love to others.

Dang bigs.  What do you guys think? Is it scary to think God uses us like this?  Is it ridiculous to think that we were designed to operate this way?

Feel free to e-mail any and all comments or feedback to brandoncarleton@gmail.com or you can contact me through twitter: @bcthegeek

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Posted in Life

Don’t ruin your future, man.

I’m a man… and a pretty stereotypical man at that.  My wife is a “crier” (cryer?) and I am cool with it.  As long as she is okay with me rarely crying, we will be alright. Cryer or non-cryer distinction aside, the general practice of handling/identifying/reflecting emotions is a mark of a spiritually mature believer.  Typically, the easiest red flag to spot in a young believer is their emotional instability. Also, even mature Christians are likely to be harboring some old emotional pains, which maybe are unknowingly effecting their lives.

Here is what i’ve realized: Past emotional pain distorts our actions and decision making.  If we aren’t careful, our past pain can lead us into future pain. The dangers of unaddressed emotional pains are many, but I would like to touch on two dangers, that really are two sides of the same coin. Two foggy lenses, that cloud our vision both internally and externally.

On one side of the coin we have internal issues: self-doubt, insecurities, self-image issues, etc.  Usually these issues manifest themselves in two ways: being withdrawn or being overly dependent on the opposite sex’s approval. The other side of the coin is just as common and it involves your external view on life.  (Whereas the first one is classified as an “insecurity” I like to call this one an “out-security.” it has no deep meaning, just a fun thing to do.) These issues usually take the form of being “guarded” or “closed off.” Basically, it results in always thinking you are right and everyone is wrong–there is no trust factor. You won’t see something that is positive and helpful, all you will see is a potential to get hurt again.

Listen, I am not a counselor nor a psychiatrist. I am writing this and giving examples to hopefully help someone identify with one of the issues. My hope is, if you do relate, you can be healed of this emotional pain. Psalm 23 says “the Lord restores my soul.”  Who wants to go through life bitter, jaded and angry? For the sake of your future relationships, ask God to point out any past emotional pains you might be holding on to and then take the step towards being healed. They say time heals all wounds, but that is only true if the person wants to be healed. Do you want to be?

Feel free to e-mail any and all comments or feedback to brandoncarleton@gmail.com or you can contact me through twitter: @bcthegeek

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Posted in Life

At Last.

I love the story of the prodigal son.  I assume you do too.  If you are reading this and have no clue what it¹ is, it is a story found in the Bible.  Here is a link. Read up, then come back and join us.

If you are anything like me, you love the idea of the prodigal son but maybe you can’t totally relate.  How many of us have had our father give us riches, which we in turn squandered?  How many of us have blown our inheritance and slept with pigs?  I know I haven’t.  That is until I recently realized something: I do it. Every. Single. Day.  Seriously, I do it every day.  Every day God gives me my inheritance of riches(His grace²) and every day I squander it and sleep with the pigs(my sin.) The imagery conjured up in Luke is beautiful and moving.  The son: nervous, ashamed, hurt, crying, filled with self-hatred. The father: open arms, crying, running to his long lost son.

Maybe you haven’t prayed in a week, a month, or a year.  Maybe you haven’t been to church in a while.  Maybe you have prayed and been to church but you haven’t spent any time in quiet with your Father.  Maybe you have a porn addiction that has replaced God in your life. Maybe you are nervous, ashamed, hurt, crying and filled with self-hatred.  If so, please understand this much: God doesn’t care.³  No matter what you have been up to, when you say, “God, I want to come back,” God is pumped.  He has his arms open wide, He is running out to meet you with a gigantic smile on His face.

The moment I grow in my understanding of God’s grace a new question arises: Are my arms open wide to my offenders?  I challenge you to ask yourself that question if you have come to terms with God’s grace.  Until then, swallow your pride, turn around and run back to God’s open arms.  He is waiting, not mad, but thinking, “At last.

Feel free to e-mail any and all comments or feedback to brandoncarleton@gmail.com or you can contact me through twitter: @bcthegeek

1. By story I don’t mean fiction.  Don’t get it twisted. The Bible is 100 percent valid and historically accurate.  This is Jesus teaching by using a story.

2. His mercies are new everyday. (Lam. 3:22

3. of course God isn’t cool with sin, hurt, self-hatred etc.  But He is pumped that you are turning away from it.  He casts our sin into a “sea of forgetfulness”. (Micah 7:9, Hebrews 8:12, Psalm 103:12)

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In music news, check out this album by the Oh Hellos. Especially the song “Like the Dawn.” Beautiful.

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Posted in Life

Horse & Buggy

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Charles Spurgeon once told a story about a massive hill in the town where he grew up.  On this hill was one of the main roads that took you out of town.  He recalls one day hearing a loud scream coming from the steep hill.  It turned out it was the sound of a horse and buggy accident.  You see, the buggy gained too much speed and trampled the horse that was pulling it.  This horse had taken loads down this hill many times in the past, but on this particular day the horse was overcome by the buggy.

We see this same situation in our own lives.  We have a load we are carrying; a certain vice, maybe a web of lies or a sin we ‘have in check.’  “It was just a small lie,” we might say, “It’s only a little gossip.”, or “I don’t commit that sin very often.”  We go day to day, making the same trip down the same hill and the secret sin in our lives seems to stay under control.   Until one day, that sin, for whatever reason, comes up to overtake us and tramples us.   The weight of a secret sin coming to light is a heavy burden to bear.  In the past, I have been foolish enough to think that my sin could stay between myself & God, but it always has a way of coming out.  

We must make a habit of opening ourselves up, wholly vulnerable to the Holy Spirit.  We must ask God to inspect our lives for any hidden sins.  We must have people in our lives who can be honest with us, who know the right questions to ask and which areas to probe.  Ultimately, it is our pride that makes us believe we can sin and keep it a secret.  This of course is a good instance to remember that pride comes before the fall.  Having humility allows us to be okay with failure.  It allows us to know that we definitely have sin in our lives, sin that needs to be given over to God.  

Do you have any sins you are trying to keep secret? I encourage you to bring them to light, for it will be much easier to bear than when they bring themselves to light.

Feel free to e-mail any and all comments or feedback to brandoncarleton@gmail.com or you can contact me through twitter: @bcthegeek

‘Just’,’little’ and ‘often’, in the second paragraph, are in bold for a reason.  As I was writing I recalled an A.J. Swoboda tweet, as he quoted Steven King saying, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I wanted to give credit where credit is due. So Mr. Sowboda & Mr King, you don’t know me and probably won’t read this, but thanks for the insight!

Posted in Uncategorized

Potluck Time!

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:12-14

(Okay, quick side note, how awesome is it that the NIV uses the word “luncheon?”.  I checked the Message version and sadly it doesn’t employ the use of “potluck” in place of luncheon.)

Lately, God has been challenging me to see people the way He sees them.  How does He see them? God sees everyone as equal, all covered by His grace.  He loves the devoted pastor who spends hours each day praying as much as He loves the worst, seemingly unpardonable sinner.  God is not and cannot be inconsistent, so His love cannot be inconsistent.  If His love has no beginning, then His love cannot have an end.

I used to make the mistake of seeing people through a lens of what they could do for me personally. Can they make my life easier? Do they give my ego a boost?  Can they do me a favor?  This would cause me to treat people differently.  I need to start seeing people through a lens of God’s love for them instead.  God calls us to love people no matter what, even if they can’t do anything for us.  Better yet, according to Luke 14, we are to love people especially if they can’t do anything for us.  This has really been putting my attitude and behavior towards others in a new perspective.

Ask yourself: Do I play favorites?  Do I go out of my way for people who can offer me nothing in return? Do I love people as God loves them?

On a DIY side note, I recently made these bird feeders as a Mother’s Day present and they turned out great… I think. :)

A DIY Mother's Day gift

A DIY Mother’s Day gift

Feel free to e-mail any and all comments or feedback to brandoncarleton@gmail.com or you can contact me through twitter: @bcthegeek

Posted in Life

Critic or Participator?

At an early age, most of us went to a “kids program” on Sunday mornings.  Next we would proceed through the Jr. High, Sr. High and College programs.  All of which were geared specifically towards our age range.  These programs are important and necessary.  Especially when you consider the statistics showing how we are losing most students around the time of their high school/college transition. (David Barna’s books UnChristian and You Lost Me are both great reads on this.) We need to cater to the individuals we don’t want to lose or in some cases have already lost and are trying to get back.

The problem arises when those individuals coast through all of the catered programs and then are cast into a pool of people of all different ages.  All of a sudden, the service isn’t catered soley to their lifestyle anymore.  This creates a pretty ironic double-standard.  The younger crowd wants a service geared towards them, saying the older members need to adapt to changes.  When really, its the younger crowd that needs to adapt to the general consensus.

This is where we need to teach our high school and college students and bring them to a level of spiritual maturity where they understand how this works.  It is hard to learn that the church doesn’t exist to serve you, but you exist to serve the church. I think we lose young adults when they don’t properly understand this idea.  They become frustrated on Sunday mornings when the service isn’t “hip” enough and they leave for a different church down the road.  The danger in doing that, is you limit the ways God can speak to you. We begin to think that God can’t speak to us through a song written in 1990.  If you show up Sunday morning as a critic and not a supporting participator, you have things backwards!

This post is about young adults making a healthy transition, but in reality it’s a question that people of all ages need to answer for themselves: Do I believe in a self-serving church or a church with an others first mentality?

Feel free to e-mail any and all comments or feedback to brandoncarleton@gmail.com or you can contact me through twitter: @bcthegeek

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