About Me

I'm somewhat introverted, I'm a voracious reader, and I love a good conversation. My interests and activities can be found on the right side of the page. My life goal is to use the gifts and talents God has bestowed on me to glorify Him and benefit others.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Circumstances, Opportunities, and the Choice Between Them

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." -1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Man do I wish I'd kept this verse in mind in the last week and a half. Influenza had struck and kept me in bed and out of school for four days straight. Surrounded by mountains of Kleenex, too exhausted to even get out of bed except when absolutely necessary, I moped. All the issues that had been in the back of my mind for the past week rushed in and hung over me like a dark, ominous cloud threatening rain. I’d been trying to press into God for the past week and felt nothing. As I focused more and more on my circumstances I felt the willingness to endure slowly drain out of me. I found myself making a subtle agreement mentally: God’s not home right now. I guess life is up to me. I felt something inside me give way when I did that. It seemed that as I made the agreement my spirit of endurance died.

I’m always continually amazed at my mood swings towards God. On a day like today, when I’m healthy and it’s a gorgeous day out, not too hot and not too cold, I feel great and want to praise God. But insert a day with crummy weather or sickness or somehow disturb the equilibrium of my perfect little life, and I immediately assume that all is lost. I’m struck by how much my circumstances affect my mood and how I go about my day.

Yesterday, my pastor here at school gave a message on not hardening our hearts. My mind flashed back to the agreement that I made, and I repented, reminding myself to not let my circumstances dictate my response to life. Along these lines, my pastor back home routinely emphasizes taking our eyes off of our circumstances and putting them on Jesus. Recently he gave a message talking about being in covenant with God, and having reverence for Him. I’ve been meditating on both of these ideas a lot lately.

I seem to have this ridiculous expectation that everything has to be just so. Any deviation from that ideal and I assume my world is falling apart. I mope and complain and beg God to tell me what he’s up to.

One of many great lines in John Eldredge’s Walking with God goes like this, “It’s not what he isn’t giving but what He is giving.” Though this line may seem somewhat corny, it’s so true! I’m not trying to convey some sugarcoated, everything-is-dandelions-and-lollipops approach to life. Life definitely sucks sometimes. But, in those times we have a choice to either be a victim or a victor. We can either take it as an opportunity for growth and improvement and learning, or we can simply pout and mope and feel sorry for ourselves.

Bruce Lee once said, “To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities.” Here was a man who did pushups on two fingers and trained rigorously because he had fully devoted himself to the discipline of learning and improving the martial arts. His refusal to focus on his circumstances and his willingness to see every event as a learning experience put him head and shoulders above his peers in the martial arts world and earned him legendary status and recognition.

As Christians, we live for far more than temporal recognition. We serve a God whose purposes are eternal and enduring. We should approach life with the realization that God is continually conforming us to His image (Romans 8:29) and is working in our lives to help us realize our full potential as his followers (Philippians 1:6). With this in mind, let’s start to see the events that come our way, whether good or bad, convenient or inconvenient, as opportunities to learn more about and become more like our Savior.

In Christian circles we’ve somehow fallen prey to the idea that God owes us a perfect little life with no problems or hardships. However, Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

We must beware of trying to do this in our own strength. Rising above our circumstances and choosing to see both the good and the bad as learning experiences doesn’t come simply by buckling down and striving as hard as we can. Instead, success in doing this comes through a realignment of our priorities. We must make a conscious effort to substitute Christ’s attributes for our own. How do we do this? We spend regular time in His presence (for the purpose of imitating Him and learning more about His character), pray to Him and meditate on His word, and surround ourselves with other people that sincerely follow Him.

Consider Solomon’s words: “When times are good, rejoice, but when times are bad, consider; God has made the one as well as the other.”

I want to leave you my readers with one last quote: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” -Winston Churchill

God Bless you as, with God’s help, you take your eyes off your circumstances and fix them on Jesus, and begin to see every event that comes your way as an opportunity for learning.

Shane Latham

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Love God. Love People. Period.

"Love God. Love people. Period."

This is the motto of the Vineyard Church in Duluth, Minnesota that I visited from August 5th through the 9th, for Cause Conference 2009. It was life-changing. My girlfriend Vanessa and I made the 8 hour trip with strangers from another Vineyard church, who turned out to be really cool people. We realized we were going to be early to the conference but had no place to stay, so we called ahead to inform the church. They said it wouldn't be a problem. We arrived at midnight, and one of the staff members was waiting to open the doors for us. That's service! Upon entering the church, we came into a large room dotted with several black leather couches, and also equipped with several small tables and chairs, plus a fireplace. The sanctuary, used for worship and teaching, was beyond. Soon all of us guys were sprawled out on a leather couch of our choosing, fast asleep.

I woke up early, as is my custom, and was rewarded with a beautiful, cool Minnesota morning. Stepping outside the church, I got to see the awesome scenery that had been shrouded in darkness the night before. Thick conifers greeted me on every side, their thick trunks thrust into the lightening sky like spears. Down the long paved driveway I saw a large boulder. "Perfect place for an early-morning Bible study," I decided. Out in the cool Minnesota air, without distracting peers or rigid schedules, I felt closer to God than I had in a while. It was a morning of refreshment, revitalization, and rejuvenation as I sought the Lord and his purposes for me.

Later in the day I entered the church, and observed several people fellowshipping and chatting over coffee at the small tables scattered throughout the room. It all seemed so everyday. And then it hit me: "That's why it's so different; it's just everyday people fellowshipping and swapping stories of God's grace, mercy, and power in an ordinary, everyday environment." I realized that what I was seeing was a fleshing out of Acts 2:42-true Christian community. No church masks or fake smiles displayed by plastic people living a fairy tale in an environment sterilized from the harsh reality of life. Strangers could (and did) stroll in and feel welcomed, while being loved on and presented with the gospel, in a comfortable atmosphere similar to Starbucks or Borders. The simplicity yet also the depth of fellowship and sharing that went on was truly awesome to behold.

I made myself comfortable on one of the black leather couches set off to the side, against the wall.
("Observation without interaction," I thought ;-)- For a few hours I really dug into my newly purchased copy of Power Evangelism (a truly inspiring and challenging book on evangelism by the founder of the Vineyard Church, John Wimber). It intrigued me, as it delved deep into the topic of evangelism through church history, but mainly dealt with what John Wimber dubbed Power Evangelism. (There is not enough time or space for me to explain it here; but I highly recommend the book) It gave me a solid understanding of evangelism that I craved.

In addition to the fellowship, we were also given the opportunity to do some kayaking, hiking, and sightseeing. One of the church members graciously took us out to breakfast and showed us some incredible sights we no doubt would have missed had we explored on our own. We got to see the breathtaking panoramic view of the city from the top of Enger Tower, for example. Again, a profound spirit of servitude was exemplified.

We also went Frisbee golfing. It was my first time ever. My disc went almost everywhere except where I wanted it to go, but it was still a blast. ;-)-

One of the nights the church decided to do an open-mic night, where those with musical talent performed their favorite songs for us. Vanessa actually got up there and sang "You and Me" by Lifehouse, one of my favorite songs by one of my top three favorite bands, and dedicated it to me. ;-)- That was really sweet of her. I took pictures with my phone. ;-)-

After a few days devoid of any agenda, devoted to relaxation and fun out in the beautiful Minnesota wilderness, the conference began in earnest. Christy Wimber, the daughter in law of Vineyard founder John Wimber, was the main speaker featured. I was totally blown away by the depth and power in her teaching. The first main session, she focused on the life of David. She began her sermon with Acts 13:21, which reads, "I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I have asked him to do." (God speaking) She then jumped to Samuel 16:7, which tells the story of Samuel anointing David king over Israel to replace Saul, and it also explains that God looks at our heart rather than any outer qualities we possess. David's family didn't even believe in him, but God did. And then, skipping down to verse 19, Christy highlighted something I had never considered before. In this verse Saul asks David's father Jesse, "Send me your son David, who is with the sheep." Wait a minute! Back in verse 7 of the same chapter, David was anointed by Samuel. This indicated that God looked on David with favor and had ordained him as King over Israel. But now, we learn that David is back where Samuel found him-tending his father's sheep! Did I miss something? Tell me if I'm wrong, but doesn't kingship entail a crown, a position of authority, rule over a kingdom, perks of being royalty? Why then, after being told of this fantastic destiny that God had ordained for him, is David stuck in such a lowly, dead-end position?

Christy went on to explain that “David was just anointed to be king, and then he is sent back to the field. Afterwards, he is sent to the palace to fulfill that anointing. It is a PROCESS that God wants to take us through. We have to yield to the process and see the big picture.”

Ouch. This hit me like a ton of theological bricks. I realized how lately my attitude had been one of restlessness. I was chomping at the bit, begging and pleading God to show me what he wanted me to do. There is nothing wrong with seeking out God’s will for your life; but I was not yielding to His timetable.

She continued. “Something had to be worked out in David so that he could carry the responsibility of his anointing.” She went on to describe David’s attitude of servitude before Saul. This got me thinking of how alien and foreign this attitude of David is to us, especially when examined through the lens of our Western mindset of a dog-eat-dog world where we seek to elevate ourselves above everyone else. Think about it. David has just entered into the service of the king. I don’t think many of us would be surprised if he did all he could to consolidate power, stage a coup, usurp the throne, depose Saul and take his rightful place as king. Especially considering his ascension into the spotlight after killing Goliath, it was clear that he had won the hearts of the people. And after all, God had ordained his kingship, right? So why not capitalize on this and speed up the process a little?

Instead, we see David selflessly serving Saul. The thought of prematurely accelerating his rise to power doesn’t even cross his mind. David clearly understands the Law of Process, and has willingly placed his destiny in God’s capable hands. Even much later, when Saul is hunting David down to kill him and David is presented with the opportunity to terminate Saul and neutralize the threat to his life, he doesn’t take it. He even pays homage to Saul and calls him his lord and king. All these instances paint the portrait of a deeply humble leader secure in God’s ability to raise him up at the proper time. Rather than getting bitter and rendering himself useless in service to God, David blooms where he’s planted.
In chapter 18 of 1 Samuel we’re told that, “Whatever Saul sent him to do, David did it so successfully that Saul gave him a high rank in the army. This pleased all the people and Saul’s officers as well.” David didn’t mope around lamenting the fact that he hadn’t achieved the pinnacle of his career yet. Instead, he developed his influence with the people around him and cultivated his potential as a leader. Saul’s officers and the people must have seen strong leadership, diligence, and humility flowing out of David’s close relationship with and dependence on God. He honored what came before him, and honor came to him.

As Christy said, “there are no shortcuts to maturity and character. David had to kill the lion and the bear before he could kill Goliath; we have to have private victories before we have public victories.”

David’s dependence on God was radical and unwavering. Even in the one time where he trusts in the strength of numbers over the strength of God and is disciplined for it, he says, “Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great.” Even in times of punishment, David stayed close to God because he knew Him and trusted in Him:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation-whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life-of whom shall I be afraid?
When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besieges me, my heart will not fear, though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.”

-Psalm 27:1-3

Several verses later David pleads:

“Teach me your way, O Lord; lead me in a straight path.”

Psalm 27:11

All this points to a humble leader who continually looked to God for strength, and strove to do the best job he possibly could no matter if he found himself in the field, the palace, or the throne.

Another pertinent point Christy made:

“Man cannot stop what God initiates. We serve a big God who does big things, who is just waiting for someone who will let Him do whatever he wants. When you let God do whatever he wants, you change the world.”

So, in closing, my questions to you are: Where do you find yourself today? How you can you maximize your effectiveness and develop your influence for God’s kingdom in that place while yielding to the Law of Process? It is truly an amazing thing when we relinquish control of our lives to God and let him do with them what He wishes. I encourage you, as I did, to change your prayer focus from restlessness to relinquishment.
Adopt David’s attitude of servitude and see what happens. May God Bless you as you seek to represent his Kingdom and depend on him, wherever you are. God Bless.


P.S. I would really like to get some feedback/discussion on this.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Numbness is Emotional Insulation

So, in case anyone out there is wondering what I've been up to, let me lay it out for you.

1) I'm taking a summer statistics class. It's very challenging, because 1) math is not my strongpoint and 2) the rapid pace of the course makes it difficult to remember and truly study all the concepts.

2) I'm living by myself. My Dad has moved out, which means I have the house to myself. It is relaxing, freeing, and lonely simultaneously.

3) I'm out of a job until August.

4) I'm writing again...I added a small amount to my novel-in-progress, but right now I'm leaning more towards poetry. My latest work combines outdoor metaphors with themes of rebellion, spiritual growth and God's everlasting love.

5) I am feeling dead...somewhat exhausted physically but more emotionally dead than anything else. With my Dad's recent marriage yet another life-changing transition has occured at what seems to be regular intervals. I could handle the divorce and my brother moving out and everything else up to this. This was the straw that broke the camel's back, the event that broke through my resilience and is leading me to believe that change is inevitable and should not be resented or fought. Problem is, I am now replacing that previous resilience with a deadening numbness designed to insulate me from any pain inflicted by future changes. I'm guessing it is a psychological defense mechanism, but I don't know how to confront it. I don't want to be numb-I doubt anyone really does. But neither do I want to be vulnerable to the pain caused by these changes.

I've prayed about it, but I haven't heard an answer yet. I don't know what my next move should be. I know I need to be content where I am at and open myself to the ministering opportunities God has for me here in my hometown and the surrounding area, but my mind can't help but be two months ahead at Illinois State University. I want so badly to enter my first semester there with a heart for the people and a strong connection with God that will enable me to endure the first difficult month, but also, more importantly, to reach out and minister to my classmates there. I want to get heavily involved in the campus life and make a difference for God. There is also an Aikido school that I am very interested in joining.

I guess being here in Harvard without a job and a lot of opportunities for impacting people is grinding my gears a little bit. I'm tapping my foot and looking at the clock and chomping at the bit-I can't wait to get out of this little town and go somewhere where I can be more involved and make a greater impact.

I suppose the moral of the story is patience. I have a feeling god is trying to teach me how to "learn the secret of being content in every situation," like the apostle Paul. Please pray that I can conquer this emotional deadness and have a revived, revitalized, and rejuvenated relationship with God and others. God Bless and keep cool!


Saturday, June 6, 2009

Nothing Surprises Me Anymore...

So, my Dad got married today...I kid you not. At this point, nothing could surprise me anymore. I suppose if I do end up with a career in counseling, it'll be helpful because people can tell me the craziest stuff and I will not be shocked. Lol.

He married the woman who he first dated after the divorce. They had a bad break-up, and I never thought that they would get back together. I hope and pray that they fully commit themselves to God and that He will lead them to serve Him and each other.

As for me, I am currently up at my mother's house in Milwaukee, using her laptop right now as a matter of fact. We browsed through several rummage sales earlier before the rain hit: I got a lamp for three dollars, a box of silverware and other kitchen utensils for a dollar, and a large CD holder for a dollar as well (the ones I currently have are almost completely full-me likey the good tunes. ;-)- Looking for a couch and some odds and ends to furnish the apartment that Joel and I will be sharing this August. I'm turning into a garage sale freak, lol.

So, my Dad's marriage is the biggest development in my life right now. Otherwise, life continues as usual. Oh, I'm slowly plodding through The Brothers Karamazov. Great book.

When I'm away at college I plan to post an entry in this blog at least once a month, to keep all of you updated. I discovered how to export this to my e-mail and facebook. Now, whenever I write a post a copy is automatically delivered to everyone in my e-mail address book and posted on my facebook profile. This pleased me very much; it's very fast and easy compared to sending individual e-mails or facebook messages to everyone. Enjoy this day in spite of the weather and be blessed!

Thoughts to meditate on:

"What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toil-this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Quick Updates

This post will stray from the serious topics discussed in my last couple writings, and instead will just be a quick update concerning the happenins in my life.

#1: I am now jobless for the summer! (Well, mostly anyway) My pastor has a neighbor who I have been able to assist in yardwork, and make a little money on the side. MCC was unable to keep me on for the summer, so I will now turn to finding odd jobs to make some spending money in preparation for my first semester at ISU, which begins in August.

#2: I am currently in an Intro to Film class, which is interesting. I never knew that so many technical intricacies went into the making of a film, and I definitely had no idea how to analyze them. I'm learning both now. My reason for taking the course is because it is required for my AS degree. In less than two weeks, this class will end and my summer statistics course will begin (turns out not having a steady summer job is a blessing in disguise-I'll need time to study!!!)

#3: I am going to concentrate on a couple of practical skills in preparation for life on campus, such as cooking (which Vanessa has graciously offered to help me with, she's so awesome!), and taking better care of my finances, among other things.

#4: I picked up a number of interesting books from the library that I should finally have time to read, such as: Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Henry James' The Turn Of The Screw, and Ayn Rand's Fountainhead, among others. Should keep me occupied for the next three weeks, that's for sure! Definitely not your typical light reading, but I view it as a fun challenge. ;-)-

#5: In my personal spiritual journey, I'm focusing on the disciplines of rest and contentment. It's difficult! Trying to learn from the apostle Paul's example.

Otherwise things are pretty uneventful right now. God Bless and have a great day!


Erasmus' Twenty-two Principles

I found the following list interesting. Though it was originally written for Christian knights of old, I think many of its precepts are worth reading and would greatly benefit us as a society.

Erasmus' Twenty-two Principles on How to Be Strong While Remaining Virtuous in a Dangerous World

(taken from the Enchridion Militis Christiani: A Guide for the Righteous Protector, by Erasmus)
First Rule: INCREASE YOUR FAITH (even if the entire world appears mad)
Second Rule: ACT UPON YOUR FAITH (even if you must undergo the loss of everything)
Third Rule: ANALYZE YOUR FEARS (you will find that things are not bad as they appear)
(dedicate all your enthusiasm, all your effort, your leisure as well as your business)
(if you are greatly concerned with money you will be weak of spirit)
(let your rule of government be determined by the common good)
(we are not perfect-this only means we should try harder)
(begin to worry when you do not have temptation, for that is a sure sign that you cannot distinguish good from evil)
(careful generals set guards even in times of peace)
(keep a stirring quotation with you for encouragement)
(After you have performed some worthy task, give all the credit to someone else)
(if you are inclined to be selfish, make a deliberate effort to be giving)
(and you will finish, in the end, victorious!)
(the enemy you ignore the most is the one who conquers you)
(the wrong way will often seem easier than the right way)
(the good soldier's painful wounds spur him to gather his strength)
(so when the time comes for battle, you will know what to do)
(we often worry and scheme about trifling matters of little importance)
(if I do what I am considering, would I want my family to know about it?)
(once a person has it, they would not exchange it for anything)
(since we do not know when death will come, act honorably every day)
Twenty-second Rule: REPENT YOUR WRONGS
(those who do not admit their faults have the most to fear)

"The Prison"

This is a poem God blessed me with very early in the morning on May 8th, 2009. It concerns our vices and personal demons, and our tendency as Christians to, often willingly, succumb to the Devil's schemes and deceptions. Yet it ends redemptively, demonstrating God's total omnipotence and authority over evil, while simultaneously showcasing his loving willingness to come to our rescue. It is born out of my own personal struggle, yet I believe it's still universally applicable, and so I include it
here. I hope it comforts you in the trials you endure.
Shane Latham
"The Prison"
By Shane Latham
It's early morning, I'm still tossing and turning
I've re-entered my mental prison, against my will I'm returning
I see the chains on the walls and the blood on the floor
Everything left just as it was before
I pick up the chains, snap them on with a click
Though part of Me's healthy, part of Me's sick
I bare my back for the whip, prepared for the torture
Though it feels just, it's wrong I'm sure
The accuser of my soul stands momentarily victorious
His demons screech triumphantly, "He actually believed us!"
My enemy draws back the whip, his glare full of hate
I hang my head, resigned to my fate
The lash whistles through the air
I fear the scar I'll bear
I scream to God, "Take this pain from me!"
The faithful prayers of his saints rise around me
With a thunderous cry, with an earsplitting boom
The glorious Lord enters the room
With a single blow He crushes Satan in his glee
As my chains fall to the floor I realize I'm free
With Satan conquered I see his deception
How I let him infiltrate my mind and form the perception
That I needed the counterfeit joys and the lies that he gave
Instead of taking that thought captive, I became its slave
But now I see the Deceiver with new eyes
With God next to me, I have no need for his lies
I fall down before Jesus, and with eyes full of tears
I confess past sins, longings, and fears
With an outstretched arm He lifts me from the dirt where I lay
As I look into His compassionate gaze He wipes my tears away
Afraid of straying again, I cry "O Lord, what must I do?"
He replies, "Remember I am with you always.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you."

Of Armor and Bubblewrap

God gave this to me early on Valentine's Day. I hope it edifies and challenges you.

"We were never told 'Put on the full bubblewrap of God, so that you can sit in a Christian box off to the side and never be jostled or disturbed by anything.' No, instead we are commanded, 'Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the Devil's schemes.' The wearing of armor implies that we are to be in a battle, not against flesh and blood, but against 'the powers of this dark world and the against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:11-12).' So, clothed with divine protection, let us not hesitate to charge into the fight and take what God would have us claim, the territory our enemy has occupied for far too long."