The Spiritual Cheeseburger

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By Nate Champneys

In the story of the woman at the well, the disciples leave Jesus sitting at a well in Samaria as they go off to buy food. Now, most attention and study usually goes to the Samaritan woman and not to the dialogue Jesus has with the disciples after she leaves. If you read the story too fast, you might miss an important lesson.

The disciples return with the food and try to give it to Jesus, and He gives them a most peculiar reply: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

The disciples are confused! They ask each other, “Who could have brought him food?” Then Jesus says, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work He started.” Huh?

Jesus implies here that He receives something from serving God. Isn’t that the opposite of what we generally assume? As a full-time pastor, I have seen many people go through difficult seasons of life: The loss of a job. The death of a loved one. Struggles in their marriage. People often make the decision to withdraw from the areas that they are serving in, in order to focus on “getting their lives in order.” They say, “I just need to take a break.” “I just need to focus on me for a little bit.”

So often, this is the beginning of the end. I see them withdraw from the community of faith. They stop being involved in a community group. Their attendance on Sunday mornings wanes. They stop serving in whatever ministries they have been serving in.

Now, I am not saying that there are not seasons of life to step out of a ministry you have been serving in, but many times when life is difficult this is actually the last thing you should do!

It’s a dangerous trap we can fall into, when we stop asking the question, “How can I serve God and others?” and start asking the question, “What about me? What about my needs?!?!” Then we become inwardly-focused instead of outwardly-focused. Are you feeling disconnected from your faith community? Are you depressed? Are you feeling like nobody cares about you? Perhaps what you need is not for your church to “feed you better,” but for you to “eat the food” God has placed in front of you — by serving others!

It’s an interesting paradox God has made. The ways of God always seem backwards. In His Kingdom, we receive by giving. This is not generally what any of us want to hear when we are feeling this way; but consider that perhaps it is exactly what we need to hear.

For example, the times in my marriage when I am the least happy and the least pleased with my wife are those times when I fall into the trap of the “What about me?” question. When I take my eyes off serving my wife and focus on how she is not meeting my needs, I am always left unhappy. No matter how good my wife is at serving me, when I am focused on what she isn’t doing, I will always find something wrong and will always be left wanting.

This idea is exactly the opposite of our normal, logical thinking, but over and over it proves true. The less I focus on myself and the more I focus on serving others, the more fulfilled I am. The more I focus on how my needs are not being met, the less happy I am, and the more I continue to look for even more ways that I am not being fulfilled.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something 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. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

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The Most Valuable Thing My Minivan Taught Me

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By Nate Champneys

When your minivan has 265,000 miles on it, you can be grateful for anything that works!My minivan has 265,000 miles on it and, as you would expect, it has many things wrong with it. One thing that I have taken for granted for years and that has stopped working in the last year or so is the heat controls. The heat controls are digital, and the control panel has completely stopped working, so the only thing I can control now is the fan speed. But intermittently the control will come back to life. Most of the time we get into our car and we just expect things to work and we forget the blessing that a simple thing like heat can be until it’s gone. But when my heat control works in my car occasionally, it is a cause for celebration and thanksgiving.

I have lived with my heat control the way it is for about a year, but this past summer, when the weather turned hot, it was not fun to live without A/C. Here is a crazy story—on the first day of the summer heat, I turned on my car and, lo and behold, everything worked, and I had some relief from the heat. My A/C continued to work all summer long, until the days turned cool and then, just as it had come to life, all the lights went dark, and I was back to only having fan control. But let me tell you, every day through the summer when I turned on my car and had wonderful cool air came out the vents, I thanked God for the gift of A/C. In the same way now that winter has come, although my heat control is not working, the system is “stuck” on heat. So, I can turn on the fan and have heat. It’s funny, now, every time I turn on my car and the heat comes on I thank God for the heat in my car.

It’s funny how such a stupid little thing, when taken a way and then restored, can be such a cause for thanksgiving. I began to think, why wait until something is taken away and then returned before thanking God for it? This has caused me to look around my life the last few months for the many little gifts God gives to me every day that I take for granted. When we look around at our lives through the lens of looking for the thousands of blessings God has given us, it really changes our perspective when we complain or worry about the things that we don’t have. God has given us a thousand and one gifts every day that we don’t even thank Him for.

In this Christmas season of giving, we give gifts because of the amazing gift God gave us through His Son, Jesus. But do we take time to recognize all the other gifts he is giving us right now? The clothes you are wearing right now. The laundry soap and water you used to wash them. The dresser you keep them in. The computer or smartphone you are reading this blog post on. The roof over your head right now. The light on the ceiling with electricity making it turn on. The heater that is heating the room where you currently sit. We are not owed any of these things, yet He has provided all of them to us while many people across the world do not have any of these things.

The Christmas season for many is a time of worrying about what gift to get for each person we care about and how we are going to pay for it. I encourage us all to take a moment and look around for the gifts that He is giving to you as you go throughout your day.

James 1:17—“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

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What Kind of Horse Are You?

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donkey3By Nate Champneys

The election is over! We now have a new President-Elect. As I sat back and watched social media during and following the election, one thing became very clear: No matter what side of the political spectrum people are on, everyone is tired of the way things are, and there is a lot of fear and unrest about the future. I totally get it. If you are feeling anxious or fearful, let me make it all better. Allow me to share one of the most used, sometimes misused, dare I say cliché verses with you. 🙂

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

We love to quote this verse. I think we especially love to focus on the “rest” part and the “easy and light” part. We love anything that makes our life easier. I was reading this passage the other day and it occurred to me, “Wow, Jesus is basically asking us to be His horse.” This got me thinking about horses. Horses are magnificent animals, aren’t they? When I think of a wild stallion running free across the plains, it gives me a good feeling, like watching an old John Wayne movie. But as I thought more about this passage, I don’t think that this wild stallion picture is what Jesus is saying brings rest. He says, “take my yoke upon you.” What is a yoke? A yoke is what connects the workhorse to the load that it is pulling. It holds the horse in place.

Now, I don’t know about you, but sometimes in the past I have read that passage and thought, “Man, Jesus’s yoke is neither easy nor light, and it is anything but restful!” This passage didn’t seem very true to me at all. Here’s the thing: if we believe the Bible is the Word of God, (which I am assuming you do) and we believe it is absolutely true without any error (which I also assume you do), then we can assume that it is true when Jesus says His yoke is easy and His burden is not a heavy one we have to carry. Logically, we can assume that when His yoke doesn’t seem easy or light and we don’t feel rest, then maybe it says more about us as the horse than it does about His yoke. Are you with me? When we feel like His yoke is actually difficult, scary, or painful, perhaps we have actually not taken His yoke upon us at all, or maybe we are under His yoke but fighting for control. Maybe it is us who have not learned (to quote the movie Shrek) to be a “faithful steed.”

Do you know what a horse’s job is, when it is yoked to a load? It’s actually very simple: to walk when the master says walk. To run when the master says run, to turn left when the master says turn left, and to turn right when the master says turn right. Basically, to do whatever the master says. It is the master’s job to know where they are going, to be aware of all the obstacles, and to carefully guide the horse to the destination in the best way possible. But it is literally the job of the master to provide for the horse’s needs, to protect the horse from danger, and to look out for the good of the horse. Presuming that the master of a horse is a good master and doesn’t push the horse too hard or overload the horse, the only time a horse experiences “a heavy burden” under the care of a good master is when it is fighting for control or not trusting its master. When a horse has a good master, it never has to worry about the destination; its job is literally to just put one foot (or hoof) in front of the other and obey the master. Then, and only then, is the yoke easy and the burden light. On the flip side, a wild stallion, though free to do what it wants, roams the prairies unprotected. It sacrifices the security, rest, and provision of being under a master for the freedom to be its own master.

I love this horse-and-master metaphor Jesus uses for our relationship with Him. God is a good, good master. The problem is that because of our sin, from the moment we are born, we have a deep-rooted desire to be our own masters. We tend to either run free and control our own lives as wild stallions or take on His yoke and fight it. What it means to be a disciple of Jesus is to make Him Lord and Master over us and every part of our lives. It’s on Him to direct us to the destination, to provide for our needs, and to protect us. All we are responsible for is to walk in obedience and put one foot in front of the other as He leads and directs. If you are having anxiety and turmoil in your life, it is most likely rooted in the fact that you are trying to be your own master. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Here he was referring to money, but this can be applied to anything, including ourselves. Either Jesus is our master, or we are. Almost every trouble we face in our lives can generally be traced to us, putting ourselves in the place of the master. It doesn’t mean that difficult things won’t happen in our lives. The apostle Paul faced many difficult things, but because Jesus was his master, he was able to say, “I rejoice in my suffering.” Even when things around him were in utter chaos, he found rest and peace, because he was under the yoke of a good Master.

As you look at every moment of your life right now, ask yourself these questions: Where are the areas I feel turmoil? Am I being the “faithful steed” and trusting and following the Master, or am I seeking my own way, trying to be my own master?

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Jesus Had Something to Learn and so do You!

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By Nate Champneys

I had been meeting with my mentor, Jim, for over two years. Every Thursday at 10 a.m. we would meet at Denny’s, and every week God was faithful to speak through him. For the most part we never knew what we were going to talk about each week, but still, we never had a hard time finding things to talk about!

Sadly, God has asked Jim to move to Arizona, and he drove out last week with his whole life in a moving van and headed down to Tucson. I’m not gonna lie: it was really hard for me when he left! For two days I felt the weight of the loss of my mentor being regularly in my life. I was irritable to my family and I was moved to tears multiple times through those two days. I couldn’t understand why I was feeling this way. I told myself, Nate, Jim isn’t dead. He is going to be back in Washington for a month every summer. You can Skype with him regularly. You can call him on the phone whenever you want.

Telling yourself why you shouldn’t feel something rarely works to make you stop feeling the way you feel. But my feelings told me something. They told me just how much I valued my time with Jim. Jim had really become a father to me. I had grown more over the last two years as a result of Jim’s mentorship than I had the rest of my adult life.

But what makes Jim an amazing mentor? Jim is a man who is more rooted in his identity as a son of God than anyone I have ever met. In our times together he never felt he needed to put forth an agenda, because he trusted God to say what needed to be said. Jim actually never told me what to do. He would just ask lots of questions and by the end of his questions, I would know what to do.

I wanted to share this with all of you for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to honor my friend for the love and selflessness that he showed me each week. Second, I wanted to encourage you. If you are a believer, it is God’s design for you to walk with others. Being a Christian is a personal relationship with Jesus, but it is also an interpersonal relationship with His bride. How long have you been a Christian? If the answer is more than just a few years, my question is, who are you pouring into? Do you realize that if everyone in the Church across the world never passed their faith on to the next generation, the Church would cease to exist in a generation!

“But Nate, I don’t feel qualified to speak into someone’s life.” The question is, is your God big enough to speak through you, and maybe to even work in spite of you? I think he is.

On the other side of the coin, who is walking through life with you that you allow to speak wisdom into your life? Luke 2:52 says that, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” If the Son of God had something to learn, so do you! I have been meeting with a mentor regularly for the past 8 years. Not to my own credit, but do you know how much I have grown, and how many difficult painful things I have been able to avoid because I gave someone the right to speak into my life? What are you waiting for? What is holding you back from seeking wise counsel and sharing the wisdom you have learned?  Proverbs 12:15 “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”

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Eating Plastic Fruit

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By Nate Champneys

FullSizeRender (3)As a father with young children, I spend a lot of time “fake eating” things. My youngest, who is three, will bring me a plate of plastic fruit and an empty cup with pretend tea in it and offer it to me. So I take it and play along. I begin to act like I am consuming her gourmet cooking and say, “MMMM!!! This is so good!” and give her a big smile. She will then take my plate and go and “make more food.” But, as much as I act like I am enjoying eating my plastic food, it’s not real. It’s nothing like a real banana! 🙂

Did you ever stop and think about the fact that, with all our inventions, mankind can’t even come close to manufacturing a real piece of fruit? We can get pretty close to making a fake banana look like a banana on the outside, but, at closer examination, we immediately know it’s a fake. There is no substitute for the soft, creamy middle of a good banana.

The New Testament mentions fruit as a spiritual analogy 44 times, 27 of which are from Jesus Himself. I have realized that, as human beings, we can spend a lot of time manufacturing fake spiritual fruit. And we work so hard at making it look just like the real thing. What do I mean? Let me explain. Many of us say to ourselves, “I need to be more loving,” “I need to be more kind,” or “I need to be more patient.” Then we try harder to do those things. We think that is going to help us grow spiritually. But, in a sense, what we are doing is taking plastic, tasteless fruit and hanging it on our branch and hoping this will make the branch grow stronger; if it doesn’t make the branch stronger, at least it will look better.

Galatians 5 says that the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our lives. He produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in us. HE PRODUCES IT. It is not attained by trying harder to do these things. I spent so much my Christian life striving so hard to be better. I tried so hard, and sometimes I could muster some of those things for a little while. But, inside, my heart was still hard. On the outside, I was the “good Christian kid” raised in a “good Christian home.” I was really good at making my tree look fruitful, but, if you closely examined my life, you would find that my fruit was plastic.

In Matthew 7, Jesus talks about knowing a tree by its fruit and says that you can identify people by their actions in the same way as identifying trees by their fruit. But, in the verses following, He mentions people who spent their whole lives “faking it.” People who spent their lives manufacturing fruit and hanging it on their tree. He says these people will cry, “Lord, didn’t we do these amazing things in your name?!” but will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus says in verse 23, “But I will reply, “I never KNEW you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.”

At the cross, Jesus paid the ultimate price to take the barrier of our sin out of the way between us and the Father. Then He gave us His Spirit. When we join together with His Spirit and allow Him to heal our hearts and work through us while in close relationship with Him, He causes us to bear much fruit! The pressure is not on us to work hard to “be better.” Instead, we get the privilege of being able to unashamedly walk with our Father in complete acceptance as He works in us and through us to bear much fruit! The focus is not on the fruit, but on abiding with our Father.

Are you getting tired of striving to be better? Are you ready to stop painting wooden fruit and hanging it on your branch? Are you willing to forget about the fruit and focus on being a branch that is tied into the Vine?

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

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Are You Healthily Sick?

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By Nate Champneys

FullSizeRender

Are you healthily sick?

“What do you mean?,” you might ask. “How can you be sick in a healthy way?” As human beings who live in a world that is soaking in the depravity of sin, the effect of the Fall is all around us and within us. I used to think that eventually I would “arrive” and I would be completely healthy at some point. I would look at certain people in my life, where everything looked good in their lives and I would think, “Maybe someday I will be able to be like them.”

However, the longer I live, the more I realize that even the people who came from “good” childhoods and seem like they have it all together are broken. Every single one of us has fractures in our heart as a result of own sin and being sinned against by others. So every one of us is “sick.”

The good news is that we have a God who can and does bring healing to our broken hearts, but, until we get to Heaven, we will always have fractures in our hearts that need God’s healing. Is there a healthy way to deal with our brokenness? What does it look like to be healthy in the midst of our sickness? I would like to share four principles of being healthily sick.

Let me be clear. These four characteristics are not “Nathan Champneys’s four steps to spiritual success.” They really aren’t steps, but they are all simultaneously part of the healing process. In my own life, I feel like I am constantly going deeper into all of these. None of us ever “arrives.” So life becomes a process of working through these items. Don’t read these steps and try to place yourself into one or another. You will focus on these in different measures as you go deeper and deeper into allowing God to heal your heart. As we embrace these four principles, even though we are still “sick” because of our sin nature, we are living in a healthy way as Jesus continually brings healing to our hearts.

  1. Embrace the truth that you are accepted and loved exactly the way you are. God is not surprised by the fractures in your heart. He loves you right now, even with all your problems. There is nothing you can do to change that fact. This is such a hard truth to internalize, and it’s one that we have to keep relearning. I find it helpful to verbalize the truth to myself in prayer. I pray, “God, I thank You for being a good Father and completely accepting me. I thank You for loving me in my brokenness.”
  2. Own your brokenness. It has been said that the first step toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem. This really isn’t the first step; it’s the second. Until we understand how loved we are by God, we tend to feel insecure about our weaknesses and thus feel a need to live in denial about them. You are broken. You are a piece of work. But you are okay! You are loved!
  3. Intentionally discover your brokenness. The next part of being healthy in your brokenness is intentionally seeking out the areas that need healing. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You.” David asks God to point out the offensive areas of his heart. David is not afraid to acknowledge his faults. Instead, he is actively working with God to discover the broken areas.
  4. Ask God to heal you. David ends Psalm 139 with this line, “Lead me along the path of everlasting life.” David was asking God to help him thrive in his relationship. The reality about our God is that He is a really, really good Father. The only way that real relationship can truly happen is for there to be freedom for both people in the relationship to have free will to participate. Therefore, God will never violate our free will. To do so would make us robots and make any relationship with us fake. If we don’t invite God into the process of healing our hearts, He doesn’t force it on us. But he has promised that as we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us and “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” As we choose to bring our sickness to Him, He is more than willing to bring healing to us.
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