We Are Becoming Toxic

toxicDo you remember the TV show “Captain Planet”? I sure do. This show came on right after I woke up every weekday morning. It was the show I watched after I had gotten ready for school and I waited to go out to the bus stop. If you have never seen this show, I invite you to grab a DVD (or VHS) of the various episodes from your local library. The premise of the show centered around a group of friends who were each given a magical ring by Mother Earth (Gaia) that had a certain unique power. The rings had the power of wind, water, fire, earth, and heart (or love). The kids who possessed these rings had the ability to battle against enemies who desired to destroy the world through pollution. When these powers were combined, they created a powerful nature-conscience superhero called “Captain Planet”. As kids, we knew that this show was really a commercial for “living green”, but whatever the agenda of the show, it was definitely entertaining.

In this show, the most powerful foe that Captain Planet faced was the supervillian “Captain Pollution”. This villian was created through the combination of powers from evil rings called the “rings of pollution” that were created to be the antitheses of the good rings possessed by these children mentioned above. The powers included smog, toxins, radiation, deforestation, and hate. Got it? Ok…I am done with your nerdy superhero history lesson…let’s move on.

Besides the obvious themes of recycling and protecting nature, I think this show can give us an illustration of the way, I believe, humanity tends to lean in regards to the gifts God has given us. Our gracious Heavenly Father has gifted us with so many great things in life, and for some reason, we have  tendency to distort them to their antithesis. Those things that were intended for good; humanity has always found a way to pervert.

When we look at things like sex, stewardship, love, loyalty, joy, and even worship, for example, we can see the “rings of pollution” that were created by us in response. These responses, such as immorality, greed, selfishness, control, worry, and legalism, were all created when God had been abandoned out of insecurity. Think about it, even death was created from our disobedience and rejection of life.

In the Old Testament, when Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to speak with God, the people who were left at the base of the mountain, were encouraged to worship and trust in God while they waited for their leader to return. By the time Moses had returned they already had fashioned a golden idol to worship. Their insecurity drove them to the antithesis of what they were called to do. They had taken the golden gifts they were given and melted them down to create something they could control, but nothing that could help them.

Christians are not exempt from this concept. I know, for me, there have been many times in which I have felt as if God were far away. When I have reflected on these instances, I have found that a large reason why I felt this way was because, at some point, I began to rely on my own resources or power to get me through a situation. With great intentions, I fashioned an idol that looked strikingly similar to my own reflection. Worship became about me.

I think we need to repent. We need to repent of the gifts that we have “melted down” for the purpose of turning them into idols. The gifts that God gives are always God. Keep God at the center and we can access His power through the gratitude we give Him for these gifts.

Operate out of love and trust today.

-Landon DeCrastos

7 Ways to Feed Joy

joyThis month, I have been leading my church through the book of Philippians. In this book, Paul encourages the Philippian Christians in many ways, and talks to them about having joy despite what their circumstances may present. This letter presented joy in a different way than we see it in our culture. Often, we look at the list of good things that have happened to us, or cite the number of affirmations that people have conveyed. When asked about our level of joy, if we are having a bad day, we may laugh it off and deny that it is there.

We know what joy is though… It usually comes on a Friday at 4:30, or when your favorite song comes on the radio. When joy is looked at in this way, I think we completely miss the point. We begin to think that joy fluctuates depending on our mood or what is happening around us. The fact is, joy is more of a decision along with a set of intentional habits. Even more than this, it is a biproduct of a life lived in a healthy and spiritually growing way. God gives us joy when we choose to obey, and follow Him. So, in a way it is a spiritual gift straight from God. I do think, however, there are ways that we can positively feed the joy we have been given.

Among many other ways…I think there are 7 ways we can feed our joy.

1. Collect secret places– This week, our family went on a hike at a new park. It had a main trail around a small pond, and it also had narrower trails that split off into different parts of the woods. We decided to take some of these trails to where they lead and a few of them led to a beautiful river. It was so calming and it almost felt like we were the first ones to ever discover this location. It was so quiet and peaceful. I can imagine myself, one day, going to this place to speak with God, and reflect. I think it is important to collect these type of secret places…places that you can escape to for the sole purpose of connecting with God.

2. Give generously– I heard a very wise person once say that giving things away give them true value. Giving feeds our joy, because we are acting in a way that we were designed to act. Whether it be money, possessions, time, or anything else for that matter…sacrifice always gives what we have meaning. God does not bless us to become a hoarder…but to become disciples. Let God use you in this way. Giving will give you joy like you have never experienced.

3. Become addicted to forgiveness– Wait…what? Addicted? Yes. But, what if they misuse my forgiveness, and go on doing wrong. Well…I suppose that is none of your business. You are called to forgive as Christ forgave you. How insulting would it be for us to reject the most precious gift in the universe, because we are trying to prove a point. Granted, there are times that someone hurt us very deeply, and I certainly do not want to diminish this concept, but God’s power, if accepted can give us healing. Forgiveness is an important step in allowing ourselves to be healed.

4.  Make a fool of yourself– Sometimes, you just need to have a tea party with your daughter or sing a silly song at the top of your lungs. You spend way too much time trying to network and market your accomplishments…Spend time getting the wiggles out. I think the life we were intended to live in the Garden of Eden was supposed to be this way. We are never too old to play.

5. Lighten up– I have said this so many times to my congregation, and I know they are getting tired of hearing it. “If you are a Christian, filled with joy, don’t forget to tell your face”. It is true. Far too many Christ-followers have the worst attitude and are always pooping on everyone’s parade. It really gets exhausting when you think about it. Why would anyone want to follow a Jesus that makes everyone grumpy? Don’t take yourself so seriously. You only get one life, and you are not doing it better than everyone else. Release yourself of the obligation of needing to be serious all the time.

6. Listen during prayer– God is not a vending machine and your prayer life is not a radio show with God as the audience. Stop it. Take a breath and let Him talk. Many times, when we complain about the fact that God is distant, God is really facepalming Himself because He has been trying to talk to you, but being the gentleman that He is, patiently waits to speak.

7. Expect miracles– Often we pray, but don’t expect anything. This is like ordering a delicious meal from a restaurant and leaving the place before you get your drinks. Why ask if you are not ready to receive? God can do anything, and the answer you need is included. He loves you so much. Let Him work.

Much of the world searches for joy around every corner, and neglect the things that feed it the most. Don’t starve your spirit. Walk up to the buffet and dig in!

-Landon DeCrastos

What I have learned from being a Pastor….

I remember when God called me to pastoral ministry. I was excited to jump in and preach to thousands of people. I could close my eyes and picture myself standing behind a pulpit and bringing messages that compelled people to cry out to God for transformation. He gave me ideas of different kinds of messages and new ways to look at scripture. The world was at my finger tips and I was set to be a pastor that many would revere and follow! Don’t laugh….I am really being honest here.

Then, I entered formal ministry. I began to dive into the workload, conflict, and set backs that accompany anyone in the same role. I thought I knew what ministry was going to be like….preaching, teaching, and mentoring people on a regular basis.

As I talked to more and more pastors, I learned about the horror stories. The stories about that one lady in the church that thinks she owns the kitchen, the couples dividing churches because of infidelity, and the tales of midnight domestic violence calls. I was afraid when God called me to start a new church.

I had gone to church all my life and had seen great leadership examples. I knew what “church” was supposed to look like (music, preaching, children’s ministry, youth, bake sales, etc). I didn’t, however, know what God really wanted from me.

I was excited to lead a church some day, and I thought I had a pretty good grasp of what I was supposed to do. I thought I was supposed to create an exciting atmosphere where people could come and enjoy themselves while they sang songs and hopefully enjoyed the preaching. I went to school to hone my craft and learn more so I could “wow”people with my advanced Biblical knowledge.

Well, guess what…..God has rocked me lately and has brought me to humility like I have never seen before. In the last 6 months, I have preached a full message approximately 8 times. This is because, for the last 6 months, we have seen services full of testimonies that have been spurred on by the Holy Spirit.

We are a small church…we don’t do anything flashy or attractional (nothing at all wrong with this) but we are seeing new people regularly, barely paying our bills, and getting excited about Jesus. The children are also showing us wht devotion looks like.

Why am I telling you all about this? I am saying this because I have experienced a glimpse of what church is supposed to be like. Church is supposed to be a reflection of the “business of heaven” as C.S. Lewis would say (joy is that business). We laugh together, cry together, and are real and open about our struggles. I hope to never look back and allow God to continue to bring people searching for hope.

Well, I know I don’t normally talk about my church, but I thought this needed to be said. God wants us to move out of the way and struggle together.

The Truth About My Church (and others)

churchCurrently, the church I pastor is seeing more and more new people each week in our worship service. On a personal note, I have been incredibly encouraged concerning the growth I am seeing and the excitement on a weekly basis. Some people have approached me after a short time of attending and have sought to become more involved in the church. This is also great!

As I have reflected on this in the last few days, I have felt the need to tell people what they should expect when joining my church. The following are the 7 things that you should expect when taking the step to become a leader or generally involved in this worship community….these things are universal and can be applied to any other church.

1. Someone will eventually hurt your feelings….Someone is going to say something to you, or step on your toes, or even blurt something out randomly that will offend you.

2. You will encounter hypocrites. Churches are full of them and many are leaving the church for this reason…..grocery stores, civic groups, concerts, political groups, bus stops, restaurants, parking lots, hospitals, call centers, parties, and family reunions are also full of hypocrites….good luck avoiding those too.

3. Someone in my church will annoy you. Fact: everyone has an annoying side.

4. My message will not make sense to you on occasion. That’s okay…perhaps God will use it in your life later.

5. The music may not connect with you this Sunday. That’s okay….perhaps God will use it in your life later.

6. There will be discouraging times in our church. You can bet on this…..we are a church full of people with problems and regular discouragements. It just makes sense that a group of people would reflect this….

7.  Church will be boring at times. ….umm……..I got nothing. Sorry.

Overall, the church is not only a family but it is a redemptive and purpose-oriented community. Due to the fact that it is filled with people, not everything is going to be perfect. When we are interacting with people with wounds, hang ups, and brokenness we have to understand that grace is not just something for people on the outside but we are the prototype before distribution.

Redemptive communities require imperfection to participate.

-Landon DeCrastos

Psalm 139

Psalm 139

It is a curious and exciting thing to know that God knows us so well. David makes this claim in this passage and finds comfort in his time of need. The world was against him, he did not know who his friends were.

My mind works like this: “How have I felt like this in the past?” Everytime I question whether the God of the infinite universe could possibly “do business” with someone as finite as I, it causes me to feel as if I have a backstage pass, or I am friends with someone famous. “Where can I go from your Spirit?” asks David “when I make my bed in the valley you are there”. He was comforted to know that God was still with him even in the midst of this persecution. Even after David got angry at God for his present situation. He was consistent, loving, and persistent.

An Early Revival

flame“…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  2 Chronicles 7:14

In this passage we find Solomon in the midst of an Old Testament revival. Solomon had just finished praying, and the spirit of the Lord poured out on the land, and filled the Temple to the point that there was no physical room for the priests to enter the facility. People were giving praises, spontaneous sacrifices were being made, song and dance broke out, and people were taken further in their relationship with God than ever before. All because one man wanted to do things the right way….

After building the Temple, Solomon thought it would be only fitting to invite the Lord once again into the Holiest place. Perhaps he thought that it would have been a waste of brick , mortar,and time  if God would not have been a part of the process. We see here that fervent prayer was the instigator for this amazing celebration. God had promised Solomon that, if he were to pray, then his people would benefit.

So, do we pray only to receive blessings? Is God a spiritual vending machine, ready to grant our every wish. No….but He desires to communicate with us on an intimate level. He wants to guide us to restoration, and heal our land. He must, however, be invited…

-Landon DeCrastos

Fruit Filling

In the last 7 days I have lost 5.5 pounds. You may want to congratulate me, but it has not been a fun experience. Have I been sick? No…actually I have been feeling very well. Have I discovered a creative new weight loss method? Nope. This result has come to me because somewhat of a change in my thought process.

You see I have been struggling with my weight my entire life. This fact used to be associated with a lot of hang ups and insecurities, but God has taken me through a great healing. A few years ago, I asked God to deliver me from this life of sin and addiction. Food is my vice.

I could justify it pretty easily. My grandparents, when they were alive, would make all of their meals from scratch and had a giant bar in their dining room in which they would lay out copious amounts of food. We would stuff ourselves until we couldn’t move. Until a few years ago, I considered that to be the main reason why I was in this battle. I have since realized that wasn’t the reason I was at war with myself, but it was only another battleground.

I have lost weight in the last week because I have made an effort not to eat things like cake, cereal, cookies, pie, or any other sweets before bed time. I have also decided not to over eat during meals. That’s it. No magic formula. It does, however, require self control (which I hate).

The interesting thing about this is… if someone would have told me that this was the answer then I would have sighed and asked them for a better answer. I am a representative of our society and we stand united in saying that there needs to be a more convenient, fast, and user friendly way of finding these sorts of blessings. Self control has become a villainous word in our culture especially when it comes to subjects such as food sex, or even money. Isn’t there a better way other than to hold myself accountable and enter into this battle for life? To be honest…there isn’t. Luckily there is a God who wants to continually equip us with the ability to say no to excess.

Self control is a fruit of the spirit… This means that out Christian live is proven by the fruitful behavior we are displaying. I want to be filled with type of fruit

Fruit….Ok now I am craving a pie filled with fruit filling…wait…SNAP OUT OF IT LANDON!

-Landon DeCrastos

My Church is a Zoo!

To many people, saying that their church is like a zoo would be an insult. In all actuality, general traits that are found in the animal kingdom can be related to personalities found in every church. In order for our churches to run smoothly we must be willing to realize the personality differences among the Family of God for the purposes of plugging people into the right areas of ministry. This would be comparable to Spiritual gift assessments.

In my observation, I have noticed 7 personality traits that are found in every church.

1. Penguin- Many people know the penguin as the animal that always wears a tuxedo. It could be helpful, however to look at one particular trait of this animal to illustrate a common situation that rises in the church setting.  After a penguin egg is hatched, the male penguin sits on the egg for months during the gestation period. He does this so the egg will be safe and have the full opportunity to grow in a controlled environment. If any other penguins attempt to move in on the egg….violence ensues. One could easily see this in the daily happenings 0f ministry. Every church has that one person who has possession of a particular ministry. He/she may refer to the ministry as “my ministry” (i.e. my kitchen ministry, my mentoring ministry, etc) If anyone attempts to approach that function…violence ensues. In some ways, this can be helpful. One could take on a ministry that no one else is willing to lead, and grow it in a healthy way.

2. Lions- This correlation is self explanatory. Lions are loud members of the animal kingdom, and often rely on their roar to scare away potential predators. Ultimately, they are wanting full control of the food source. In the church we see this as well. Lions are people who try to be the loudest voice to get what they want. Often they want to be the center of church business, and perhaps even try to scare others away from things that they are not comfortable with.  Powers used for good…lions can be healthy advocates for the pastoral ministry staff. We need more of those :)

3. Beavers- Beavers are industrial and willing to rebuild whatever has been damaged by calamity. They are the first ones to get to work when their structure is in trouble. Beavers in the church are the same way…they are peacemakers, and are just wanting the best for the church. Also, beavers can be great craftsman/ artists, and often these two go hand and hand. They want to help in both the physical structure of the church building  and the relationships found within.

4. Giraffes– These animals were built to reach high places and consume the fruit that is found seemingly out of reach. In the church, we can consider giraffes “dreamers” but perhaps they are also people that are willing to reach higher than most. Sometimes, however, this can be the problem if the real food is down at a place where everyone can reach, and the giraffe is too busy with their “head in the clouds”.

5. Koala- Koala’s are the shy creatures of the animal kingdom. They are known for taking their time, and sensibly consuming the fruit and leaves of a tree that they have found to be to their liking. We see people like this everyday. They don’t want to get in anyone’s way, and they are faithful to where they get fed regularly.

6. Lemurs-  Lemurs are energetic animals and are known for hopping from tree to tree to sample small amounts of fruit. We could consider these church hoppers. Sampling the nutrients from a variety of sources, but never committing loyalty to one place.

7. Sea Turtles– As many people know; sea turtles lay eggs on the beachfront, and spend most of their life in the water. Most only return twice a year. I think you know there this is going….Christmas and Easter.

So, where are you in this zoo? Perhaps you have a few animals in you. God wants us to use our talents, gifts, and personalities for the glory of His kingdom.  Ultimately, if everyone in the church is in the area of ministry that they are designed to be in, this “zoo” is a pleasant place to visit. We wouldn’t want lions in the penguin den. Would we?

Granted, the church isn’t really a place in which we are all caged up in captivity. Quite the opposite in fact. Hopefully we can find it to be a place of retreat, safety, and freedom.

Pray about where God wants you today…

-Landon DeCrastos

Dry

ImageWe are seeing reports on the news for the past several weeks about the weather. If you live in the Midwest especially, the concept of rain is something you remember reading about in a textbook. At this point, many of us are longing for a catastrophic flood as described in the story of Noah. Lawns are drying out, swimming holes are being closed, and kids are staying inside due to the heat. It has been a very dry summer to say the least.

If we were to evaluate the spiritual condition of many Christians, summer seems to affect our souls in a similar way. The sun makes us somewhat lethargic and we feel as if God is temporarily on vacation. The dryness we see reflected in our local climate is mirrored within our hearts. It can be a discouraging time. Passion seems to be a memory.

In the 37th chapter of Ezekiel, a beautiful story is told about an intimate conversation between God and Ezekiel. Ezekiel was experiencing intense discouragement because of his lack of resources and feelings of inadequacy (in a nutshell). God, however, used this time as a teaching moment for all who may feel the same way.

In this story, God uses a valley of dry bones as an illustration about how only HE has the power to animate that which is lifeless. At the end of this depiction we see an energetic army ready to their next command….Every soldier brought up from dry bones. Imagine experiencing each tendon coming together, and each patch of flesh connecting….The awesome power would have been overwhelming.

In the times of our intense dryness, we must remember that God has the power to give us life and passion once again. We must also remember that God can use these dry times as teachable moments for not only us, but others we share our testimony with. I challenge you to find a way to reflect on God’s work during these times so that the process can be recorded. Later you will read the narrative as the story of God’s faithfulness and a reminder of His power.

The God that can create from nothing can bring you out of the dryness you are in. Trust Him.

-Landon DeCrastos