The Day I Said, “Prove It” to Jesus

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By Nate Champneys

moneyLately, I have had an “epiphany” of sorts that I would like to share with you. As I have been reading the words of Jesus, the thought has continued to occur to me, “What if Jesus actually meant these things He is saying?” I wrote about one of those moments in my last blog about loving others, but I had another one of these moments as I was reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. I think the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most important statements Jesus ever made as to how we are supposed to live our lives. But I think sometimes we read it like it is poetry, as opposed to hearing it as literal instructions in how we should live. There is so much there, and sometimes we almost seem to think, “Those words sound nice and fluffy and I’m not sure I get it, but I’m just going to keep on reading.”

About every week I take an hour or so and I go to my secret place in the woods at Clark’s Creek Park in Puyallup. It’s just a log up on the mountainside where I spend time sitting, hanging out with Jesus. I ask Him questions. I listen for answers. I write songs. I read the Bible. He always shows up. Every time I go, it’s different, but it’s always good. I was reading in Matthew 6 because I am working on a set of songs based on “The Lord’s Prayer.” So I began to read the Lord’s Prayer, but then continued to the end of the chapter.

Beginning in verse 19, Jesus begins to address the topic of money and possessions. Now, as people who live in the wealthiest nation to ever exist on the face of planet earth, if anyone ever needed to hear what the Son of God has to say about money and possessions, it’s probably us. If I am honest with you, money is probably the thing that my wife and I have had the most conflict over in our marriage. And on this particular morning as I read this passage I felt frustrated. It seemed like lately, money talk had dominated our recent conversations. Jesus talks about the idea of not storing up treasures here on earth and that whatever our treasure is, that this is where our heart will be. Our hearts are tied to what we most value, and because of this inseparable connection between what we treasure and our heart, Jesus says: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money” (Matthew 6:24). I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Is this me? Is money more important to me and my wife than You, Jesus?”

Now one of the chief reasons I think that we become enslaved to money is that we worry about life and whether there will be enough to take care of our needs. In fear, we want to control our situation. This is why Jesus follows up His words about money enslaving us by talking about worry, and He literally says, “THAT IS WHY I TELL YOU, not to worry about everyday life- whether you have enough food and drink or enough clothes to wear.” “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly father feeds them. And aren’t you more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (vv. 25-27)

We have all heard this verse about the birds. I just don’t know if we really believe it. I tend to think, “Well, birds don’t eat as much as the family of six in my house!” 🙂 But Jesus draws this message to a close with this statement: “Your heavenly Father ALREADY knows all your needs. Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Wait a minute: What if Jesus actually meant this? He already knows everything we need and we don’t need to worry?! Our job is to seek our Father first, “above all else,” and He has promised that He will give us what we need.

So sitting there on that log I said, “Jesus, will You prove it? Will You prove this to me?” Now I am not recommending we put God to the test, but honestly, this is where I was at that day. So then I continued to sit on the log and enjoy my time there.

After a few minutes, a little bird came and landed a few feet in front of me, and sat there, looking at me. It then hopped up on the log next to me, picked at something, then flew off. I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s cool. That bird got really close.” I continued to sit and read.

Now in the park there are lots of people around, and so you hear interesting sounds from time to time. I started to hear a sound up in the woods behind me, like somebody striking rocks together. I continued to read, but after a few minutes of listening to this, I stopped and said to myself, “What the heck are they doing up there?!”

Curiosity finally got the better of me and I started to walk up the trail toward the sound. As I approached the sound I realized it was actually up above me, and I looked up to see a beautiful woodpecker with bright red feathers on his head! He was clinging to the side of an old tree and picking at it.

Every time I see wildlife when I am at my spot in the woods I always feel like Jesus put it there for me to enjoy, so I said, “Thanks for this, Jesus! This is really cool!”  I stood there and enjoyed it for a few minutes. As I looked up into the tree, the thought occurred to me, “Man, it is amazing that the woodpecker knows where to find bugs in the trees. How do they know that …” and I stopped short. A light went on in my head: “Look at the birds of the air … they do not store food in barns …” I prayed, “Jesus, are you proving it to me right now?” And He said, “Yep.” So I replied, with a smile, “Well, it’s not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s pretty cool.”

How do you view your money? Do you find yourself constantly worrying about whether or not you will have enough? God accepts you in the middle of your worry, but He loves you too much to let you stay there. Even in my worry and distrust, He is so gentle and so full of grace, while still teaching me as I listen to Him.

As I walked down the mountainside to my car, I came across another bird that stood in the middle of the trail, then flew off. Then another. And another. As I approached my car, I couldn’t help but smile and feel completely loved and taken care of by my Father.

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What if Jesus Really Meant This?

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By Nate Champneys

IMG_5735As someone who has lived in the Northwest my whole life, I have grown very accustomed to the sight of Mt. Rainier. Don’t get me wrong, some days when “the mountain is out,” I am overwhelmed by the majestic sight of the mountain as the sun rises, but I have to admit that there are some days when I see it and take it for granted. It becomes ordinary. When my wife’s family come into town, who were all born and raised in the Midwest, it’s fun to watch them as they are blown away by the mountain any time it’s in view, because they’re not used to it.

I have been spending a lot of time in the Gospel of John lately. If I had to put a theme on the whole book of John, it would be this: JESUS IS AMAZING! From start to finish, John paints this beautiful picture of the glory of Jesus. But as I have continued to read it, I’ve been struck by some of the things that Jesus says. They are things I have heard my whole life, things I’ve gotten so used to hearing that I don’t think about. They have become ordinary. But I’ve been asking the question, “What if Jesus really meant what He said … literally?

I have been drawn to the words of Jesus during and just after the Last Supper. This is the last time that Jesus is with His disciples before going to the cross. It stands to reason that these chapters warrant careful attention as His parting words. If you read chapters 13 through 15, you’ll notice something. Over and over He says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” He also says, “Those who do not love me, will not keep my commandments.” That seems pretty simple. If you really love Jesus, you do what He says. Period. So just what are Jesus’ commandments? Well, He says clearly to the disciples what His commandment is. In John 13:34 He says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” In 15:12-13 he says, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” And finally, in verse 17, again He says, “This is my command: Love each other.”

Are you seeing what I am seeing? Jesus says we should love people the same way He loved us. How did He love us? He literally laid down His life for us. What if Jesus meant what He said? What if He is actually calling His Church to REALLY love the way He loved? We tend to want to reduce love to a feeling. We tend to want to only love when it makes us feel good and is convenient for us. What would the world look like if we as the Bride of Christ actually took Christ at His word and laid down our lives for each other? Imagine what would happen if the Church stepped up and took in the orphans of the world. Imagine what would happen if we began to help others in need, not just when it was convenient for us. Imagine what would happen if the people of God gave of their time and money, not just when it was comfortable and easy?

What does it look like to really love like Jesus? This is His commandment to us: “Love one another the way I love you. Give yourself up the way I gave Myself up for you.” Are these just nice words that sound good to read but don’t really mean anything, or are we missing something huge?

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)

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Lego Lessons

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By Nate Champneys

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I bought my son Legos for Christmas this year. He really loves Legos, but I think I was actually more excited to give them to him than he was to receive them. While he absolutely loves to build Legos with me, he is a little boy, so in the past I have pretty much had to tell him where to put every piece. We started building the new set together the day after Christmas, and it was a funny interaction. Kaelen would look at the picture of the truck on the outside of the box and get ahead of himself. He would start putting the “big” pieces on, such as the wheels, before we built the rest of the set.

“Kaelen, look at the directions. Those go on last,” I said.

Later, he said, “Daddy, I can’t find this piece,” pointing to a particular piece referenced in the directions.

“Did you look in the pile?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“I don’t think you looked very hard, buddy, because I can see it over there. Look at the directions. What color is that piece?”

“Blue.”

“Did you look at all the blue pieces?”

He’d look in the pile and, sure enough, he’d find it.

God often uses the experiences I have with my kids to paint a picture of how He feels about me and my relationship with Him. I had the privilege of preaching the week after Christmas, and as I was doing my sermon prep I couldn’t help but think about my time building Legos with my son. As I prepared my sermon, God and I had a sweet time together. I would ask Him questions and He would answer. Sometimes I would hear Him speak to my heart, other times he would direct me to a particular passage. I felt like, in the same way that I had built a Lego set with my son, my sermon was kind of like a Lego set I was building with my Father in Heaven, only I didn’t know what the final product would look like. God gently coached me through the instructions and helped me get to the end. When it was done, I felt total security in my sermon because, even if nobody liked it, it didn’t matter — it was something I built with my Father.

Our life is kind of like a Lego set, and the reality is that, no matter what we are doing, our God desires do it with us. We can try to build it ourselves, but that generally doesn’t go very well. God’s desire is for us to do this thing called life with Him. He wants to teach us about Himself and walk with us. We have to remember that, much like a Lego set is planned out with instructions to follow, God knows everything about us, down to the number of days and hours we are going to live. We don’t have to worry about anything; it’s already been written. But God really wants to build this “Lego set” that is our lives with Him.

Like my son wanting to put the wheels on the truck before the rest of the set was built, so many times we think we know the big picture and we get ahead of ourselves. But God is there, gently bringing us back to the plan. Our job is to be patient and walk step-by-step with our Father, even though we don’t know what the final product is going to look like. We can trust that we have a good, good Father who loves us deeply. He knows the plan, he knows the final result, and life is about being with Him, being loved by Him, as we work through His plans for us.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

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Gumballs and Other Gifts

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By Nate Champneys

Gift

As a father of three young children (ages 6, 4, and 2), God often teaches me and parents me through the experiences with my own children. I wanted to share a recent lesson with you.

I try to take my children on regular “daddy dates.” On daddy dates, I get alone time with each of my kids and get to focus on connecting with just them. Sometimes we go to the park and play on the playground; other times we go to a restaurant. One time we went down to the creek and made paper boats and sailed them down the creek.

But their favorite place is the dollar store. Once in a while I take them there and let them pick one item.

If you want to test your patience, try taking a 4-year-old little girl to the dollar store and tell her to pick just one thing! It generally takes about 20 minutes, and it usually ends with us standing in the checkout line … then her deciding that, after 20 minutes of going back and forth, she would rather have the item right there in the checkout line. It’s funny; I often have to coach her past certain items or even tell her “No” when she chooses an item, because I know that, even though it is what she wants at this moment, it will break quickly, or she will not enjoy it as much as another thing. Sometimes she might say, “But, Daddy, I really want a gumball from the machine!” So I’ll reply, “I know, honey, but look over here — instead of getting just one gumball, you could get a whole bag of gumballs!”

The last time this happened, it occurred to me: “I wonder if this is how God feels, as He listens to us pray?” We beg Him for something that He knows will not be good for us, or He has something better that He wants to give to us instead. We can get so upset because we are not getting the thing that we think that we want, when the reality is that our Father in heaven knows exactly what we need and is also a Father who loves to give His children good gifts.

Is there something that you keep asking God for that He has not yet given you? Perhaps you are asking for a gumball, when He knows that, at the back of the store, there is a whole bag of gumballs He would like to give you!

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

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Worship and the Best Fruit Salad

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By Nate Champneys

If you ask 10 different people the question, “What makes a good fruit salad?” you will undoubtedly get 10 different answers. “Oh, I love banana in mine!” “No, I hate bananas! You have to have blueberries!” “You have to have Miracle Whip in it!” “No, I can’t stand Miracle Whip!” And so on.

I know, because I asked this question at the last extended-family dinner we had together. But, in order for you to have a good time with your family during a meal, must everyone agree on the contents of the fruit salad? Probably not.

I like to compare worship to a fruit salad. What is “good worship” to you? What are the circumstances under which you are able to most easily connect with God? The answer to this question may be very different, depending on who you ask.

I recently was privileged to represent Elim at the Evangelical Free Church of America worship leaders’ gathering at EFCA headquarters in Minneapolis. It was such an amazing time for so many reasons, but one of my favorite things was being able to worship together with other worship leaders from across the country. It could have been my least favorite part, if God hadn’t helped me get out of my own way in connecting with Him.

As we started the gathering, there were about 30 of us in the room, with a group of musicians and singers up front leading. They handed us a booklet containing a liturgy of readings and songs. Sadly, an attitude of disappointment began to form within me. At Elim, we tend to not do a lot of traditional, liturgical things in our worship, so it’s something that I’m not used to. Thus, when they handed me the book, I was skeptical.

The guy who was leading the worship time began to play and sing, and I immediately began thinking critical thoughts. It can be very hard for me when I am at another church or at a concert to focus on anything other than the tech they are using or what chords they are playing, because I deal with all those things on a daily basis.

But at that moment it was as if God said to me, “Nathan, will you stop? Stop critiquing. Stop focusing on all the instruments. Stop focusing on the everything but Me, and just be with Me in this time. Just be with Me!” And at that moment I let go of all the analysis and the critique and merely began to simply be.

What followed was one of the sweetest times of worship I have ever experienced in my life. The funny thing is, the ambience of the room was still not ideal. The flourescent lights were very bright. The sound wasn’t perfect. The instrumentalists made a few mistakes here and there. The songs were not even all songs I knew, nor were they particularly my favorites … BUT, it didn’t matter. Because I was with Jesus!

I have been asking the question, “What is worship and what are we really doing here?” God has continued to break out of the box that I’ve put Him in. I have realized that the biggest barrier between us and a close, intimate time with God is not the lighting, the music, the strength of the vocalists, or the volume level. Instead, it is what I see when I look in the mirror. Me! I have heard the phrase, “We should be able to worship God no matter what the music is like.” It’s a simple thing to say, but it’s much more difficult to follow. I have said it myself. But I don’t think I really believed it.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul talks about the heart we are to have. He says, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

We will never have the same passions or the same preferences, but we can have one mind, as Paul says. We can have a mindset of selflessness and the heart of a servant. We may not agree on what is the best style of music or what color the lights should be, or even what songs to sing, but we do agree that Jesus is worthy of praise, that He is the object of our praise and that He modeled humility and selflessness to us and has asked us to follow Him.

So I challenge you, the next time you’re in a corporate worship time and you find yourself thinking negatively about the songs, the music, or the lighting, ask Jesus, “Lord will You help me to just be with You, worship You, and let my heart honor You during this time?”

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature of 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.” (Philippians 2:5-7)

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Good Sufferings

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By Nate Champneys

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). If you spend any time around the Church, you will hear this verse often quoted. Honestly, it has always been one of my personal favorites; however, I often think we take it and make it into something that it’s not.

As human beings, our emphasis is almost always on doing. One of the first things we ask someone when we meet them is, “What do you do for a living?” We evaluate others by what they do. We tend to find our worth as a person by what we ourselves do or don’t do. So with a verse like Romans 8:28, we hear it and we immediately want to go apply this to our “doings.” We want to say, This means that whatever I am doing in my life, God is for me and is going to help me accomplish it. God will make all my “doings” prosper.

Then the trials come. We fail at the project we are working on. Our car breaks down. We lose our house. A loved one falls deathly ill. How do we reconcile the trials in our lives with Romans 8:28? “I thought God was for me. He must not care. He must not even be there. He must not exist.” Yet Romans 8:28 was spoken by the apostle Paul, a man who was very familiar with suffering. How is suffering good?

When you look at chapter 8 as a whole, though, this verse starts to become clear. In chapter 8 the focus is on our identity as God’s children, and as His children we have been given right standing with God. We have a Daddy who loves us. Let’s read one verse further, into verse 29. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Ahhhh! That is the good. Here Paul clarifies what he means. The “good” that he speaks about is not that everything in our lives is going to go perfectly. The good is that through it all we can trust that it is part of the process of Him conforming us into the image of Christ.

So God may not make all your “doings” prosper. Your project may fail. Your car may break down. You may lose your house. Your loved one may die. But in all these things and more, you can take the promise to the bank that your Father in Heaven is using those very difficult things to conform you into the image of His Son.

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