Thursday, July 19, 2012

Home at last

Don't worry. I may have appeared to have fallen off the face of the earth since my last post, but that is far from the truth. In fact, there are many, many exciting things I would like to chronicle here on what God has been up to and what he is currently doing in Northern Utah. It's a comprehensive connection of my journey in Australia to this moment in Utah and I think you'll enjoy it immensely, for it gives glory to God for the amazing ways he is laying a foundation and building his home in Northern Utah. Coming home from Australia was a tough move. I had the privilege of being a member of one of the (if not the) biggest and healthiest churches in the world: Hillsong Church. As far as heavenly movement and getting it done for the kingdom, Hillsong's got it going on. And so when I felt that God wanted me to pack up and get ready to go back to Utah, I was a little more than disappointed. There were several things pointing the way of home, though. Closed doors with health, finances, and finally, just a still small voice that let me know it was time reassured me that I was indeed on the right track. But before I left, I sense God wanted to do something big. Inviting my parents to Hillsong conference 2010 was one of the best decisions I've ever made. It was at one of the "break out" sessions for the worship stream that my parents were discovered by Hillsong staff to have served in worship ministry for over thirty-six years. And so, in true grand Hillsong fashion, they surprised my parents by inviting them up on the stage in front of some 12,000 people to honor them for their commitment. When asked to share about their ministry, my parents did, saying God was on the move in Utah but that they needed prayer for their home church as they were going through much transition for God's will and vision for the future. And so with that request made, 12,000 members of God's church representing seventy-seven nations from around the world, bowed their heads in prayer as they interceded on the behalf of Utah and for God's will to be done there as it was in heaven. Truly, the conference's theme of "Holy Momentum" would prove to be more than just a catchy title as we would soon see back home. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Arriving back in Utah in August of 2010, there was only about a two-month window of preparation and rest from a long season abroad before kingdom activity kicked into gear. My home church, Maranatha Baptist, was down to forty members and on the verge of closing its doors. A drawn out and strained search for a pastoral candidate left the church grasping for direction and vision. At that time when it looked like Maranatha might cease to exist, a church from Ogden invited Maranatha of being adopted into their church family. Alpine church, a multi-cite non-denomenational church focused on bringing the gospel and the reality of God's grace to the people of Utah, was offering to adopt us, a small baptist church. I know God works in mysterious ways, but this was a little beyond me. I couldn't believe our good fortune and the possibility of getting to join a church that was part of a healthy kingdom movement. Although there was much stirring initially as this would make for much change, the vote to be adopted by Alpine went through and Alpine Logan began it's transformation as God skillfully went to work at beginning the renovation of this house. -------------------------------------------------- Fast forward to July 2012. God has done great things! From a church of forty, we are now seeing a regular Sunday attendance upwards of 350 people. And it's summertime--the season when most people travel and are away. And so by the fall, there will be new challenges to face but they are good ones. What will happen when our college student population ventures back to USU for fall semester and the general populous returns from their summer vacations? This is something we as a church are seeking guidance to for our next step as we strive to reach the most people possible in a limited facility of 100 years. Like I said earlier in this blog, God has been speaking to me a great deal lately about foundations. In the Bible, I see a lot of imagery of buildings and walls, of foundations and of destruction, construction, and renovation. Alpine Logan has just finished a massive season of renovation, and it has been to the glory of God as we look back and see what God has done during this time. And just as Nehemiah ventured back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls and help usher in the restoration of the nation of Israel, so too do I feel that God is asking us to look ahead and examine how we, too, might continue to build our foundations as a church and continue to seek the restoration of the church--his body--in Utah. I'm reminded that Nehemiah had a sword in one hand and a building tool in the other as Sanballot tried desperately to call him down from building the wall and to sabotage their project--to humiliate, discourage, denigrate them and destroy the efforts to rebuild the wall. "Foundations" is a critical element of church life at Alpine as we seek to help people pursue God by taking three basic steps that will help lay the foundation for their lives in a successful pursuit of God and his will for their lives. And now I believe God has been impressing me with the question: "How will we continue to build the foundations of God's kingdom in Utah? What is the next move?" And that is where Alpine Logan currently waits. We are waiting on God's direction, his timing, his plans for the future. The harvest is plentiful (and we are in a harvest season) but the workers are few. As we strive to find out what pleases God and do it and avoid the distracting and discouraging voice of the enemy to stop "building the wall," how will we please him with advancing his kingdom next? We are running out of space at Alpine Logan with the people that keep visiting in order to build the foundations of their lives (a great problem to have!) and as the fall approaches this does become more of a concern. However, we know that God knows what's next, even if we are still waiting on his direction in the matter and he's even more committed to his church's success than we are. I think Ephesians 2:19-22 sums up beautifully God's desire for his house to grow and it's foundations to be established on earth and for us, in Utah: "That's plain enough, isn't it? You're no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He's using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home." -- The Message It is in this hope that we as a local church, here in Cache Valley, continue to seek God's direction as he continues to lay our foundations as the body of Christ and build his home and to welcome the lost to his heart--the place where they are home at last. (If you are interested in this topic and God's kingdom movement during this time in history on a world-wide scale, you can check out more in this awesome video produced by Hillsong:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Unexpected snapshots

I thoroughly wish I had written more entries in my blog this year. You know, to catch up on life, to document the journey since being back in Utah post Australia, all the learnings and all of the growth pains. However, I think just one snapshot from today tells well what I have been experiencing the past six months or so and thought to quickly share it.

I had just finished with my small group meeting this evening and as I said my goodbyes and watched my friends leave through front door, I turned back to the kitchen and glanced at my cell phone. As I clicked a button, a new picture flashed to life on the screen and at first I wasn't aware of how it had been taken or even what it was. On second glance, it appeared to be one of those blooper shots. You know, your camera's shoved deep in your pocket and then, unexpectedly, snaps a picture and what you end up with is this blurry black backdrop with a bit of gray fuzz in the corner. That's what kind of picture this was, except at least I could distinguish some of the kitchen floor and counter in it.

As I began to think about where my other picture had disappeared to in my phone, I thought about trying out something new. I scrolled through the cell phone menu and came across another shot I had taken a month back, one I had totally forgotten. My previous phone "wallpaper" was from when my family had visited New Zealand--a very special memory. But the new photo I was now looking at was of a simple yet stunning sunset in my home state of Utah, right in Cache Valley where I was born. "Beautiful." I said, smiling to myself and selecting it as the new wallpaper.

What about other snapshots... either those past or present that I'm holding onto that's taking up the screen of my vision and direction?

I know that in the recent past, I have felt like old dreams have been kind of stolen away. Vision fades, seasons change, life happens, and we're left wondering, "How did my direction get lost along the way?"

It is such a blessing and welcome surprise to say that new adventures have come my way--adventures that I did not even see coming. They say it's when you're not looking for something that it finds you. It may be more accurate to see life through the lens of this principle: wait on the Lord and he will renew your strength. In other words, he will give you new passion, purpose, and direction for pursuing him when the time is right. The key here, I have found, is in realizing that God's timing happens to be different from ours, for He is infinite while we are merely finite.

I think this season of new surprises was an outworking of the principle of waiting on the Lord. Just when things were feeling aimless, random, and discouraging, I began stepping out in faith for something I believed in: God's kingdom moving forward in Utah. And I do believe waiting is an active process, much like athletes have a season of "active recovery." The training doesn't stop just because its a season of recovery. If that were so, the athlete would lose all the ground gained through training up to that point.

So as I began to actively wait, and just when it felt like it was getting too late for things to "come together" in my journey, God met me there.

Now I find new opportunities here which I could have only dreamed about. God had something so much more than what I could have plotted and planned on my own. He was letting time and a season of waiting do its work in me for me to realize this, to embrace it. And there is a realization that has helped me immensely in this process: it's not about me. As soon as I readjusted my own adventures to align them with the work God was already doing where I was at, I found myself part of a larger story--involved in something in which I got to play a crucial role. And I think that's what we all long for... a crucial role in a story larger than us.

We are living in God's story, wherever we are at, and as we accept his invitation to step into it, acknowledging we are participants and guests, we soon find a place in which we could have only dreamed of living. We are now living the fulfilled life, pervaded by the one who is life.

This is a new snapshot I am adopting for the wallpaper of my life--one worth keeping.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The One with the Inside Scoop

I was thinking about ipods the other day. More specifically, I was reflecting on my first eighty gig classic ipod purchase and how everything for several days seemed to revolve around how I could organize my entire music library perfectly for this new gadget. After days of tireless laboring, I had a fully furnished and elaborately categorized itunes library. Several years down the road with this ipod and it seemed that I hadn’t even engaged in the project.

You see, my ipod has a lot of space. It’s not the newest model and doesn’t even boast the best features of the currents apple gizmos. However, its eighty gigabyte storage capacity is quite sufficient to stash my music: I have all of my tunes within a pocket's reach and unlimited access to all the music I have owned since Jars of Clay came out with their self-titled album in middleschool. Really, that’s just it: I likely haven’t used ninety percent of what’s available on there. How sad to have access to all of that and not be able to use it all, even if I wanted to!

Then it occurred to me that much of my life has been lived this way in the past. I go out and gather all my information, my resources, my materials, and then I horde them into a massive pile of information, much like a squirrel gathers nuts for the winter. Then when I’ve successfully accomplished all this, I am ready to move on with life--to tackle all that life throws at me. However, it’s not so easy to move on when I am lugging a hibernation-size pile of preparation in my knapsack. I don’t know if you’re similar in this but I’ve always sighed with relief when I feel that I am prepared. However, I’ve been finding lately that I have quite a bit more than I need to adequately face the challenges of life. And therein lies the problem.

I’m reminded of Jesus telling the disciples to go out and not take anything extra with them. Everything was to be provided along the way. What excitement there must have been (if not a little anticipation) to not know where your next meal was coming from or if you’d have enough money to cover your expenses to live! However, there was always enough. God always provided. Remember the feeding of the five thousand with just a couple of fish and a few loaves?

And so I’m reminded of my own journey. How often do I form an extensive itinerary of what I think needs to be done in order to ensure survival? Do I really need to spend days on my itunes library of life, something for which I won’t even access the majority of in the future? Or do I trust the great counsellor to tell me what I need to (or what not to) pack for the journey?

I know that since coming home from Australia in July, things have looked different for my journey than I expected. I really didn't foresee coming home that soon. However, I felt God was leading me home, and therefore the path was good. How I would have prepared differently if I had known this change and move would come so suddenly! I'm convinced that living "lighter" and less attached to the stuff of life during that season in Australia would have made the transition smoother and the time there even more rewarding. You know, all the "to-do" lists, the jobs, the events, the various extras that get chucked into the mix and tend to complicate things. But with God's hand upon this change and an extra seasoning of grace, I'm in a new and beautiful season, one offering new perspectives and insights on the journey thus far.

And so in this new season, I am reminded that perhaps the holy spirit can see what I need a bit better than I can. In trusting him with my schedule, day, and priorities first, he will tell me what is truly important for that day, month, year. Then when I need to access the itunes library of preparation, I will have just what I need when I need it, for I have packed according to what my all-knowing guide has prescribed for the journey.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

We are heroes

I've been thinking about stories lately. Stories inspire, they quicken, they connect, and perhaps most of all, they allow for reflection.
I wonder if we realize that we, too, are in stories of our own? Something I've been reflecting upon lately is how much I've been relating with epic movies and more particularly, with the stories within those movies. I just recently saw Clash of the Titans and afterward I was thinking, "Wow-- I really relate to Perseus's struggle with all of these seemingly impossible obstacles." Similarly, my recent experience is one of trial and I have found that trial births a warrior spirit--something which one finds in tales like this. And if we do not yet relate to such a tale, it is at least the starting point for how we can come to long for a story like this.
What I have been continually reminded of is that we live in a world that is at spiritual war. And we are all cast as the main character in each of our stories, whether we want the part or not. However, it is up to us whether we act upon that or not. In The Lord of the Rings, when Frodo complains that he wishes the ring had never come to him at all and that none of his journey turned out the way it had, Gandalf replies, "Such things are not for you to decide. All that we can do is decide what we will do with the time that is given to us." Simply ignoring the fact that we play a crucial role in our story or choosing to believe that the world is not at spiritual war does not excuse us from the battle nor does it land us an excuse for an "escape from jail free" card. No, it is very important to realize what is going on around us and see things as they really are, as John Eldredge relates in his book, Waking the Dead. Similarly, it is crucial we learn how to fight in this war.
I relate to the characters in these stories because they have all gone through a test which has brought them out transformed on the other side. This is one such thing I have been learning in this season. I have found that we all have giants to slay and that not one person is left without them in their journey. Some might not fully realize what those giants may be, but they are there, no doubt, and they need to be slain! The enemy wants us to think they cannot be defeated. They can and will. Let us not forget David and Goliath.
An element that recurs throughout stories such as Gladiator, Clash of the Titans, and Avitar, is that the main characters have been transformed by their trial into being the hero they now are. No place of honor comes without a price tag, and this is exactly who we are meant to be in this spiritual battle: honored warriors.
After a season of trials and giants to be overcome and conquer, I found myself smiling with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment as I realized why I could relate to these heros in these movies--these stories. God was actually using those very challenges and circumstances in my life to fashion me into the weapon that he would use to destroy the enemy seeking to devour me. Although I still face and will continue to face many more giants, I take confident assurance in knowing that God alone is my strength and rock, the lifter of my head and that it is he who trains my hands for war (Psalm 144:1).
If we find that we cannot relate to the characters of these tales of great exploits and triumphant victories and the slaying of great giants and foes, let us examine at the very core of our being why this is so and then move away from simply desiring to have a similar story and step with courageous faith into the deep waters of trust and obedience as we seek to leave the biggest place in our lives for God. As we do this with self-abandonment, we find that the giants take greater notice of us and march our way. But we also find that we have armour, sword, and shield, and the one who forged it walks with us in the midst of the fight. In this preparation and confidence, let us run into the battle!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A summary of finishing seasons and new beginnings

Much time has passed since my last post, and its about time that I gave an update. In the whirlwind of October and November, I suddenly found myself walking across the stage for graduation from my first year of Bible College. Shortly after graduation, I moved into my new flat with a handful of amazing Christian young men. There are six of us total and what a group--every one of us represents a different nation!

A week after moving, I boarded a plane to Auckland, New Zealand--my mission to get a new visa. This would allow me to work in order to save up for another year of College. After making my financial needs known to friends and family and asking for their support in prayer, I felt that getting a working and holiday visa was the best option to continue into the new year, and that it would allow me to take ownership in supporting my dream. However, just days before I boarded the plane, I received news that family friends from back home had supported me with enough finance to pay for my first semester's fees and tuition! After praying and seeking counsel for my next year with this new development, I decided it would be best to continue along my original plan to save finance for the span of the whole year, and therefore put this gift into savings. What a blessing this was as were the other financial gifts that began to appear. It appeared that God was reminding me of his favor over this season and assuring me that he was with me during a time when it was easy to lose sight of the goal and get tossed around in the often frequent storms. How grateful I am to these family members in Christ who have valiantly and boldly offered their support in prayers and finance for this kingdom-building journey in which I find myself!

And so returning from New Zealand's North Island to Sydney, Australia, I have begun to work full-time at an Organic Health Food Cafe. My goal is to save enough finance in the next five months to be able to pay for the second semester of college and, God-willing, squeeze in a visit home to family and friends. This latest move has been a step of faith, and I love my job, although working full-time has proved challenging with health that has been shaky, at best, with adjusting to a new and full schedule. However, God has used this time to really cause me to rely on him once again, yet in new ways.

Through this season of transition, perhaps one of the greatest lessons that stands out to me is found in Proverbs 19:21... "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." I have found that during this time, I have made all these arrangements and created options and formed plans for the future just so that everything will work out for the dream I feel God has called me to. However, it is through all these plans that I have found myself striving to make them work out and sadly, this has disguisedly become more about me than even about intimacy with the Father.

Suddenly, I feel more stranded than I have in this desert of self-effort and more lonely than I can recall in a long time. The rain pours from the heavens, bursting in great drops on the ground below my twelve-story apartment, serving to remind me that as I surrender to the grace of the father and recognize my own limitation in weakness, his grace and strength become manifest in my life. And so tonight I come back to center, back to home base and repent of my own striving and give my efforts back to God and in his timing alone. And do you know what? For the first time in months, I feel refreshed. All of the things that have tried to take the place of God like fun, friends, relaxation, education, ambitions, plans, and even dreams, have now come under the proper order, and as a result, peace arises.

So this reminds me to continually go to our refueling source--the Father--for the world does not know Him nor of the life that He brings. But he is our Father and when we neglect his place in our lives, we foolishly run in circles and clutter our lives with noise--noise which is both uneccessary and harmful. And its not that its bad to make decisions and step out in faith. I believe that this is very necessary in our journeys to maturity in Christ. But stepping out must always be preempted by an absolute abandonement of self to Christ in complete humility and surrender. And so, as these are a few of the things I have been learning and reflecing on, it's my hope that they might be of some encouragement to you in you journey as well.

Every blessing!

Ian Ashton

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Strengthened by remembrance

As I woke up today and thought more about yesterday's entry, I deeply felt there was more to write. Both my mind and heart hovered over the meditation brought up in chapel by our school principal.

Just as in Luke chapter five, when Peter is learning what it means to trust Jesus fully, only Jesus knew what would soon happen when Peter would deny him not once, but three times. I believe that Jesus also knew that Peter's trust in him was at the root of this and would play out in his denial of his Lord in the coming hours. What Jesus says next is disturbing, to say the least, for he tells Peter that Satan has demanded to have him, that he might sift him like wheat.

However, even though Jesus knew that Peter would deny him and struggle as Satan brought trial against him in this time of failure, Jesus states, "And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." It says "when" you have turned, not "if." Jesus looked beyond Peter's failing to his future triumph as he would establish the foundation of the church in the Lord's grace for its future expansion . Jesus knew what Peter was capable of and who he actually was as God's son. As our school principal stated in chapel, "Jesus is not surprised at our screw-ups. Jesus has prayed for us that our faith won't fail. He looks past our failure to being fast in our walk with him atfterward, being strengthened and not quitting in faith."

And so this brings us back to Peter in the boat, straining and striving to catch fish all night. What Peter learned here, I think, is that self-effort is no effort at all--that it is ultimately failing. However, the same grace that lifted Peter out of his circumstances when he failed to fill his nets with fish was the same grace which looked beyond Peter's failure when denying Jesus to his death. But Jesus himself prayed on Peter's behalf and he prays on ours as well, interceding for us that we might not fail.

I certainly have had my bout of victories as well as trials while on this journey at Bible College in Australia. I believe that because the enemy knows what fruit is coming out of this season, he is trying his best to sift me and throw me off course. However, I can take confidence knowing that Jesus is interceding for me even right now, just as he did for Peter, that my faith might not fail. It is the same for every one of us. I am convinced that oftentimes when we step into a place where the Lord wants us most, we meet the greatest amount of opposition. But we will not fail, as Jesus is himself interceding for us.

Our school prinicpal relayed that when the enemy came to sift us during our journey at Bible College, one of our greatest weapons with which to fight him is to remember all of the ways the Lord has revealed Himself to us--how he has shown his faithfulness to us in times past.

The Israelites, who we learn much from, seemed to unfortunately lack the abilitiy to do this. In Psalm 106, it notes how God delivered his people out of the hands of the Egyptians, bringing them across the read sea, then miraculously providing for their every need in the desert. However, this provision was not enough for them and they began to mumble and groan in their spirit. This was an act of mistrust and doubt. Verse seven illustrates this well: "Our fathers in Egypt understood not nor appreciated Your miracles; they did not [earnestly] remember the multitude of Your mercies nor imprint Your loving-kindness [on their hearts], but they were rebellious and provoked the Lord at the sea, even at the Red Sea." Even though they doubted all along the way, the Lord continued to show his faithfulness to his people. Verse thirteen goes on to reveal more of the tragedy of it all: "But they hastily forgot His works; they did not [earnestly] wait for His plans [to devlop] regarding them..." (Amplified Bible)

As I begin to reflect on this, I am ashamed to even admit my doubt and lack of trust while facing questions of the Lord's provision during this current chapter. The Lord has taken care of me all during this year in every single realm, health, finance, friendship, community... the list goes on. And all of these provisions have been through the body of Christ--God's family. Why would he stop his provision now?

I must remind myself that Jesus is wooing me to himself to bring me to a place of complete trust as I become more aware of my own lack of resources, just like Peter's lack of resources in his midnight fishing fiasco. It is in this place of dire need where the Lord chooses to fill our net to the greatest extent we have yet known--full to bursting! It is in this moment that he works a miracle.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

An unexpected catch

Hello again! I have been meaning to write for the past two and a half weeks.

Life has been a little hectic as of late, but I'm blessed in it all, nonetheless. Maybe I'll just recap a little of what's been going on at the Hillsong International Leadership College...

I have been blessed to receive a job just five minutes away from where I live in Sydney. I have also been able to start leading a venue team for Hillsong College. Aside from this, I have been attending a full-time school and ministry schedule and still managing to find time to sleep and get my daily routine of excersise in. I am also being reminded of the importance of making time for relationships in the midst of busy schedules. As my friend who is a pastor at Hillsong says: "People, after all, are the only thing you get to take to heaven with you."

It's also been interesting trying to fit work in, for I've had a resurgance of health issues as I've tried to take on this new role during an already full-time school and ministry load. As a quick recap, I have battled on an off with the symptoms of chronic fatigue since arriving in Australia. Although getting a job has been a great blessing, it has also tested the limits of my energy and strength while in this season of recovery. I have been recovering so well with my health in the past couple of months that, to be honest, it scared me a bit when I had a setback after starting my job. As I'm now in my last bit of savings for school and needing to work to continue but not knowing how I'll actually hold up in the process, I'm starting to ask the question, "Lord, how is this all going to work out?" I think what I'm really asking is, "Are you going to take care of me Lord?"

I'm reminded now of my school Principal's message to the students the other day in chapel. She was reading from Luke five where the disciples have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. Jesus then asks them to try the fishing net on the other side of the boat. Of course, the disciples have been doing this all of their lives and so for them to comply is definitley an act of humble submission. They are shocked to find that out of their own lack they find provision when they obey Jesus' direction. As the disciples knew, and what I am discovering, is that trust leads to obedience.

Daniel was one such example who I read about this morning. Even when Daniel was persecuted and tried by his enemies who were trying to frame and defame him, Daniel's one response was to seek the Lord more fervently. He was thrown, however, into the lion's den because of it. But Daniel never stopped trusting the Lord; because of this, the Lord showed his faithfulness to Daniel by shutting the mouths of the lions.

And so, in all of this, I have begun to ask myself the question: "How am I showing God that I trust him? Do I really believe what He has promised in his Word? Do I have the integrity to 'go to the lions den' because of my devotion to the Lord in complete faith?" As Jesus relates in John 15, if we really love him, we will obey his commands. One such command which speaks to me is found in Matthew 6: "Do not worry." When our trust comes out of a revelation of God's nature and who he really is, then obedience flows naturally.

Although I don't know exactly how everything will pan out in this season, I do know that he who began a good work in me will carry it out to completion. Although there are questions regarding jobs, finances, health, and even how I might pay for a second year of college (I am feeling more and more called to stay) I do know the one who has already accomplished it all on the cross and secured my eternal future. And so, why do I find myself worrying? I think because God has assure my eternal destination, then providing for health/finance/fill in the blank... shouldn't really pose a problem. God is ready to fill our fishing nets beyond capacity when we simply follow him in trust and obedience--a lesson I'm apt to apply and re-apply every day.

Jesus truly is the best fisherman of all and wants to fill our nets when our own resources have failed. I think that Jesus actually wants us to reach this point of realizing we have nothing left to offer or give, nowhere else to turn but Him, so that his power in our lives may be realized to the fullest potential possible for our human understanding. I am finding that striving and straining must go and that trusting and obedience must flourish. I want to avoid all-nighters fishing when I can rest in my God, knowing that he has the biggest catch of all for those who trust in him.