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My story starts like a lot of other people’s story. I went to a Christian elementary and middle school and was raised in a Christian household. I was drilled on all the facts and what I was supposed to believe. I accepted Jesus into my heart at a young age and always knew what I believed, but didn’t really walk the walk. I went through public high school pretty much unscathed by the big bad world, mostly due to the fact that I was so afraid of getting in trouble with my parents and hurting my relationship with them. Once I went off to college, my world was flipped upside down. It was the loneliest year of my life. I literally didn’t have any friends, regardless of my attempts to meet new people. I thought something was wrong with me. I was lonelier that I had ever felt and for the first time my mind was consumed with thoughts of how to fit in.
It wasn’t until the end of my freshman year that I reconnected with an old friend from high school. He invited me to his apartment where I met his roommates. It wasn’t 10 minutes into my visit that I was smoking weed, getting high for my first time.
I ended up moving in with those guys, taking over my friend’s rent when he moved out of the apartment, and lived there for the next two years. It was all downhill from there. I found out real quick that I was not a drinker. It really just made me feel gross. This was really hard because both of my roommates drank to get drunk almost every night of the week and were constantly trying to pressure me into drinking. I felt like I needed to find my way to fit in; and I did this by smoking. I started out smoking weed here and there whenever someone offered it to me; but then it turned into me spending my own money on it. Fast-forward almost 2 years of living this sin. My parents literally didn’t have a clue I smoked; and I was confident that I would never get caught. For some reason (the Lord), at the end of my junior year, I felt like I wanted to tell my parents I smoked. I struggled with this thought for a few months until one late night while talking to my mom, I just told her. I was tired of living the lie. This was the start of a battle between me, the Lord, and the Devil.
I was completely brain washed. I believed that weed was all natural and therefore okay. I looked everywhere to find an answer that told me it was okay. I even went to the bible for an answer. This is where the Devil was really trying to get me. I read verses like,
Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth. And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:29-31
I thought, “Yes! I have justification that this is okay for me to do.” Unfortunately, there was a verse I found that I could not shake. It was,
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
This got me thinking; but not enough to make me want to quit.
My mom had told me to watch these videos on IRON and FIRE’s blog. I told her I would, with no intention of actually watching them. The next day I’m scrolling down my newsfeed on Facebook and there is Andrew Collins’ video. I watch his video, then the next, and before I know it, I had watched all six videos. After watching all the videos, I realized all the lies I was telling myself were not true. I was so brainwashed that I believed that everyone was doing it so that made it okay for me to do it. I felt like I was the only one out there that was trying to quit doing something that I really didn’t want to quit doing in the first place. It wasn’t until I decided to meet with Jeff that he totally opened my eyes to the sin that I was living within. He then invited me to be a part of IRON and FIRE.
Here I got to meet tons of guys. Some older and some younger, but we all had one thing in common. We were trying to make each other better by having fellowship together, spending time in the word, and praying together. IRON and FIRE has helped me to meet new friends that are Christians. When I first stopped smoking, one of my biggest fears was that I was going to be lonely again and boy was I wrong. In fact it was the complete opposite. I met new friends that were there to build me up and encourage me. I had really never experienced this type of friendship. This type of friend is called a brother.
The more time I put between that time of my life and now, the clearer it becomes of how I slipped into that life style. My biggest encouragement to someone reading this is: You need to have a reason to quit doing what you’re doing. Like I stated earlier, I didn’t really want to quit because I didn’t see the harm in it. I didn’t see how this was harming my relationship with the Lord and killing my potential to be all that I can be. It numbed my brain and helped me feel like I was “fitting in.” The first few weeks after quitting was the hardest because I had to quit using pure will power, instead of relying on the knowledge that it was sin. Once I believed that it was truly a sin and hindering my relationship with the Lord, I was able to lose the desire to smoke.
All in all, IRON and FIRE has been the biggest life-changer for me. It has helped me see who I really want to be and has refocused my life to the Lord. Now I’m not saying I’m perfect by any means, but I now have accountability and fellowship to help me work through my daily struggles and draw closer to the Lord.
“The past couple months or so, I have noticed my relationship with God growing more and more distant. Between constantly staying busy with activities such as school, work, Jiu jitsu, and competitive shooting, I found my self spending very little time with God. Whether that was church, reading my bible, or praying, it all got placed on the back burner. I found myself gravitating towards worldly desires to solve my problems in life.
Over the past week, I got back in touch with an ex-girlfriend; I often convince myself that I’m still in love with her, no matter how unhealthy that might be. The combination of being constantly busy and being disappointed and all these other factors put me into a very sad place. I questioned myself. Why am I in school? Why do I even try anymore? Why do I feel so broken? I realized I had been depending upon worldly things to make me happy.
I was sitting in bed one evening when I had that realization. I looked over at my Bible, which literally had dust on it. I picked it up and the first verse that I noticed was Isaiah 40:29, ‘He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.’ This verse really inspired me as I realized I was, in fact, weary and weak. That was exactly how I felt; I was weak without God; and I knew nothing but my faith in God was going to rescue me from that. I pray that I will not falter again. I know The Lord will give me strength no matter how weary, sad or beaten I might feel.
To my fellow brothers, I want to remind you that your strength comes from God. My all time favorite verse is Philippians 4:13. It is a great reminder that God always has your back. So when you’re feeling down or sad, pick up that Bible; call a brother; get back in church. Do whatever it takes to get your life back on track with God.”
In Luke 11:9, Jesus says,
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 reads,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.”
My original interpretation of these verses led me to believe that knowing Jesus was as simple as knocking on His door. When He opens I would be fully assured of the Holy Spirit in my life and in that moment I would forever be changed. In other words, meeting God is a one-time thing. Yet, very recently, my interpretation of these verses has changed.
For many people in my life, their first encounter with Jesus was sensational. For a long time, it seemed as if they all had one “aha moment” where they were overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and fully aware of God’s love, grace, mercy, etc.; however, my experience with meeting Christ was very different. My experience was not centered around one specific moment, rather many little experiences over the course of a few weeks. These experiences allowed me to see, for the first time in my life, that God was not only real, but also showing himself to me on a personal level. My life was altered forever from that point on, yet I certainly did not feel fully assured of whom I was in Christ.
My hunger to figure it out was intense; but after many months of being away from brotherhood and community, my hunger and focus on discovering what it meant to be in Christ waned along with my time in the Word and prayer. I began to question if what I had experienced was real or if it was just behavior modification that I had somehow tricked myself into. I began to question if I had really met Christ. When I compared my experience to many others’ in my life, I was worried because mine did not have the central sensational moment.
Growing up in Church I had prayed THE prayer many times yet I didn’t really experience anything different until I was a senior in high school. This is when I became consumed with the idea of sensationalism. I thought that I needed to experience something sensational to experience Jesus for real and to really be assured that I was in Him. So every time I prayed I began telling God to do something remarkable or to let me see a miracle. Something, anything to give me assurance! I needed to know that he was walking with me because I so deeply feared that He wasn’t and that I was missing something. I needed the “aha moment!” I would spend time in the Word aimlessly, yet my prayer and focus was on asking God to just reveal himself to me.
My prayers were never answered. Throughout this period I didn’t experience anything that blew my mind or was an undeniable miracle. Because of this, I became certain that I really was missing something. So I went back to square one. I began asking the big questions about God, even questioning his existence, as if to start over because I had missed something along the way the first time.
Going back and looking at my experiences was extremely beneficial to me, yet not in the way I thought it would be. Originally I thought going back and investigating my walk with God would lead me to the area I needed to fix, or perhaps lead me to the Jesus I never really knew; but what I found was that searching for what I was missing was actually the cause of why I was missing out. My motivation for knowing God was solely focused on MY security, MY needs, and MY joy. But what I have realized is that joy in Christ comes from breakthroughs in our walk with Him. Paul says that we are restricted by our affections. When Jesus says knock, he isn’t saying, “Come in and you will be safe,” he is saying, “Come in and experience me!”
Although meeting Jesus may be a one-time experience, knowing him is not. Jesus wants me to keep knocking, keep seeking, keeping asking questions and desire to know him better, and experience the Holy Spirit in new ways. I am no longer in question as to where I stand with Jesus; and I am certain that the Holy Spirit is in me. I still have doubts and I will always question myself; but what I have come to understand is that I cannot be preoccupied with what I am not; I must be preoccupied with who He is.
The reason I decided to blog about this is because I know I am not the only person who questions where they stand with God. This probably happens at different times for different people; but for me, it’s when I have been away from Church or community or if I have been allowing a certain sin to take over. It leads me to pray things like, “Lord be with me today,” or “Jesus, walk with me.” What a ludicrous thing to ask! He is always with me; He says he will never forsake me; He says he will finish the work he has started; there is nothing that can separate us from God!
We pray for God to do things that he has already done! For Christians like me, closed heavens are between the ears. They exist in the thought-life that empowers darkness to do exactly what the believer has believed. Somehow we convince ourselves that we can distance ourselves from Him. We believe this because the Holy Spirit is within all of us but does not rest upon all of us. The only person who fully remained in the Spirit all the time was Jesus! But we have the capacity to host that same Spirit. Look at Peter; he healed people with just his shadow! I don’t think Peter was in question as to whether or not he was walking with Jesus. Peter was preoccupied with making himself a host for Jesus’ spirit.
Through all of this I hope to communicate the fact that the Holy Spirit is within all of us who believe. We can’t be ignorant of the things that God has done in our lives. Praying for these things gets us nowhere and leaves our prayer lives boring and routine. Instead, we must pray for things that require us to step beyond our boundaries. Ask God to show us miracles, not because we need to see them, because we want to see God move in our lives. Ask him to place people in our lives into which we can pour out love.
Most importantly, we must ask to be better hosts of the Holy Spirit so that we can be better ambassadors of Jesus in our world. Bill Johnson says, “The breakthrough of prayer is supposed to be our ongoing source and flow of joy from God.” Instead of asking Jesus to walk with me, now I ask him to do something in me that will allow me to impart His presence.
“Where does brotherhood come from and what does it mean?
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, Brotherhood is defined as:
1 the relationship between brothers.
• the feeling of kinship with and closeness to a group of people or all people: a gesture of solidarity and brotherhood.
2 an association, society, or community of people linked by a common interest, religion, or trade: a religious brotherhood.
• a labor union.
The word brotherhood has two parts, brother, and the suffix, hood. The word brother is defined as a male numbered among the same kinship group, nationality, race, profession, etc., as another; an associate; a fellow member, fellow countryman, fellow man. The suffix, hood, is added onto words to denote a state, character, condition, nature, etc. or a body of persons of a particular character or class. When put together the two mean a group of men joined together in a group.
So why have brotherhood? As humans, we are social by nature; we desire to be with other people. Brotherhood among Christians is a close connection with other Christian men. It’s a way for Christian men to help each other through life, face the hardships of life together, and sharpen each other through it. Proverbs 27:17 ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’ This is the verse of our brotherhood; we are iron sharpening one another.
As Jeff has often said to us, the process of forging iron is a hard one. The iron must be heated and hammered, sparks fly, and the metal bends under the force of each blow. At the end of the painful process, a beautiful work of craftsmanship is completed. That is what we do in the brotherhood of IRON and FIRE. We are there for each other in the tough times; but we also sharpen each other, holding each other accountable and saying things that sometimes hurt, in order to become the fine pieces of craftsmanship that God intends for us to be.
For me, the journey of brotherhood began my freshman year when I first started in a small group with Jeff. We started with six brothers, adding a seventh my sophomore year. This band of brothers helped me through many tough times in my life: struggles in faith, relationship issues, poor decisions, and many more. I can’t imagine how different my life would be without this group of brothers. It wasn’t easy at times; as I said before, it can be a hard process. It hurt when they pointed out my flaws and when they called me out on my wrongs; but that’s not all they did, they were healing as well. They were there to pick me up and say, ‘You screwed up big time brother. I love you; now let me help you heal.’ These guys were there for me when it counted. The journey of life is tough. You need people around you to help keep you strong and keep you on track; those are your brothers. This is brotherhood.”
“In the summer of 2011, my pastor Randy Pope did a teaching on “The Ultimate” which he defined as the act of servitude. Months before I heard him speak on this, I always thought of the word “serve” as maybe, helping my mom take out the trash when she told me to, or giving some money to a homeless man so that God will be happy with me; but I soon discovered that I was looking at it in the wrong way.
It started with a trip to Bulgaria with an old man. I had always wanted to travel the world and this man gave me the opportunity of a lifetime to go to Bulgaria and help him get around and play a little music with him while he preached to a community of a very small church. I thought, “Hey! How hard could it be just to move a few bags around and watch over this guy for two weeks?” Well, it was really hard.
Not only did I have to move bags, but I had to push him through the entire airport in a wheel chair, while making sure that I did not lose his or my passports or belongings, buy him food, deal with him getting angry at the security checkpoints, because he didn’t like having to take off his belt or shoes, which seemed to take about 30 minutes every time, and put some gross stuff on the bottom of his feet, just to name a few of the tasks asked of me. And yet, through all of the ups and downs of that trip, I learned that God was teaching me something great.
I got back from Bulgaria and at first I was just glad to be away from that man; but then I noticed how incredibly blessed I was to be living in such a great country with so many things that I did not deserve. In fact, with so many people serving me in so many ways, I almost felt ashamed at how I was acting. I should have been happy to serve that old man and help him spread the name of Jesus, even if it was uncomfortable for me. Weeks after that, I heard Randy Pope’s teaching and finally understood. I am here to reflect my savior Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate servant; and I must strive to be like Him every day of my life.”
“He must become greater, and I must become less.”
– John 3:30
“I have never really felt like I’ve been great at being manly. That is not to say that I am not manly; it’s just, often when I think of manly activities, I think of lumberjacks chopping down trees, building projects with your own two hands, benching 400 lbs, fixing cars, etc.. Yes, I do realize that my idea of manliness is extremely one-sided; but so is yours; and these are the first things that I (and maybe even you) associate with being a man.
Manliness has been incredibly skewed by our sinful nature; and as a result, we have created an army of physically strong, dominating, uncompassionate little boys who think they are acting like men. This is one of the trends that IRON and FIRE is trying to buck; but cultivating true manliness is hard because it goes against the flow of common culture.
This is why Jeff is devoting all of his time to molding young men to be more like Christ. Many think that being like Christ is not manly at all; but they could not be more wrong. He is kind and compassionate; but he is also strong in power. He shows spiritual strength and loves unconditionally.
The reason I have been thinking about these things recently, is because I just got engaged, and this is where the rubber meets the road. This is the time that I must take all that I have learned, in terms of being a man, and apply it to being a husband and eventually a father. This is why people like Jeff are so important in young men’s lives. He has shown me, through Christ, aspects of what it is to truly be manly. He has shown me that strength not only comes in the form of physicality, but that a true man also has strength in terms of intellect, integrity and most importantly spirituality.
Although Jeff has played has played an important role in molding my idea of manliness, the person that has most shaped this idea, like most other young men, is my dad. My dad is kind, funny, strong in character, gracious, and loving. He has shown me that manliness must be shaped around the characteristics of Christ and Christ alone. He has shown me that a household that is centered on the Gospel is one that stands strong on a steady foundation. Does he fail in being a father? Of course he does. He isn’t perfect; but he goes to the one who is perfect so that Christ may be exalted. This is true manliness.
Young men, adapt the characteristics that exemplify Christ, which you have seen in those who pour into you. They can be hard to spot sometimes under the layers of faults; but, if you strive to know Christ, they will be evident. Mentors and fathers, you will fail your sons and those who you mentor. It is only how you react to those failures that will show whether your character and identity is in Christ. And if you find your character and identity in Christ, that is when you can give the greatest gift you can give to a young man; a picture of Christ, a picture of true manliness.”