by Jason Mann on December 5th, 2016

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NIV

  Last week our little family went to a live Christmas diorama at a local church in our neighborhood entitled Follow the Star. It was very well done and really put us in the Christmas spirit, but what struck me most is that the production showed scenes from the entire life of Christ, including His death, burial, and resurrection.  It was such a wonderful reminder that the virgin birth is only the beginning of the story. 

  You may have heard it said that Jesus is the reason for the season. Although this saying can easily become a trite and quippy platitude, there is deep meaning behind it. The true miracle of Christmas is that BE CAME. “I AM”, the pre-existent Christ, the eternal second member of the Holy Trinity, left his place in heaven, humbled himself, and became a man. The God-man Jesus experienced every trial and temptation we can and will ever face, and yet He was without sin. He suffered at the hands of cruel men and paid our sin debt when we never possibly could have. 
 
  Often on our trips, I will tell our participants that Jesus is their ultimate trail guide. He is not an authority figure similar to a traffic cop that only motions and barks orders to passing motorists. He doesn’t just hand us the trail map at the base of the mountain and say, “Have a nice trip; I’ll be down here sipping a latte.” He made the journey before us. He knows the trials and dangers ahead, and His offer is to expertly guide us through them providing abiding comfort and joy all along the way.

   This Christmas may we be thankful that Jesus is the reason for the season, but may we also rest deeply in the realization that there is so much more to the story. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us that He might also dwell in us. If we will follow Him, He will not abandon us but will lead us moment by moment as we continually grow in His grace and truth.  
 

 


Posted on October 28th, 2016

​20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’  Joshua 4:20-22 NIV

   On a recent climbing trip in North Africa my partner and I had a very long day. We had just climbed a 1000ft plus mountain trad route and descended to the base as the sun dipped below the horizon. We hurriedly made our way through the underbrush in the dark by headlamp following the steep climber's trail the 2 or so miles downhill back to our vehicle.  In many places the faint and seldom used path was crisscrossed by goat trails used by herders. At one point we completely lost the trail and spent about half an hour bushwhacking our way through dense snarls and thickets before we were able to find  the trail once again. Once we discerned the correct path we set a Cairn for future travelers, and made our way back to our vehicle. It only took a few more minutes to get out once we were on the right trail.

  For thousands of years people have been setting up cairns, (simply piles of stone), to mark the way. Often on a wilderness journey the welcome sight of one of these simple way-points will ease the mind of a weary sojourner. A cairn is almost always a positive sign and means you are most likely headed the right direction.

  In the book of Joshua, the great Hebrew leader instructs his people to make a Cairn of sorts. They were to pile 12 stones from the Jordan river as a visual reminder that God had split the waters by His mighty power to bring the 12 tribes into the promised land. For many years this monument must have been a moving sight to generations that followed. It was here that God fulfilled His promises and Israel truly became a nation.

  ​In the chapter on study in Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster refers to the great Christian works in much the same way. He says, “Many others have traveled the same path and have left markers. Remember that the key to the Discipline of study is not reading many books but experiencing what we do read.” When I read biographies of saints who have gone before me, or great works like Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God, or even more contemporary classics like C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, I am moved by how the authors experienced the love and faithfulness of God in their day and time. Scripture itself is the greatest repository of wisdom and experience by those who have walked the path before us. The unwritten words of faithful elder saints who God has put in my life have also served as an incredible guide and beacon of hope on my journey. 

  As you travel the rugged pathway of life, keep your eye out for cairns erected by those who have gone before you.  Let them remind you of God’s goodness and faithfulness. In time you may indeed place some of your own. 
 




Posted on October 14th, 2016

​1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. PS 23:1-3 KJV

   Listening to a recent podcast by John Eldredge, I was struck by the difference between relief and restoration.  Eldredge says that relief characterizes the things that we run to for comfort when our soul is distressed, fatigued and worn. Food, sleep, recreation, sex, substances; all these things seem to offer some consolation to our weary souls, but in the end they bring no real lasting peace in and of themselves. Only union with our Creator can bring true restoration to our souls.

  In the 23rd Psalm, David expresses his pressing need for the restoration of his soul. The Psalmist recognizes that often the Good Shepherd must make his stubborn sheep to lie down in green pastures. He leads them to the still waters often against their own bleatings of resistance.  

  Soul care is such a neglected discipline in our society today. We tend to burn the candle at both ends and then run to the things of this world for relief, as our souls slowly waste away to wisps and vapors. Often we are preoccupied with many good things while neglecting the best thing. Our souls desperately need the restoration that only the Good Shepherd can provide.
  Nature also can be something we simply run to for relief, and has no true restorative power in and of itself. It is noteworthy however that throughout scripture God uses wilderness as a major tool of soul restoration.  There is something about nature that puts the human soul in a place for a restorative encounter with the living God.

  How is your soul doing? Are you running to things for comfort, or are you allowing Jesus to restore your soul? May you find some time in creation to allow the words of your Creator to breathe new life into your inner being.
 

 

 

Posted on September 16th, 2016

​5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Prov 3:5-6 NIV
 

Recently I was climbing a route on the Greenbelt that I have done before, but it had been awhile. It just seemed harder than it should have. I pumped out near the top and lowered down before I finished. My climbing partner gave me one look, and I already knew what he was going to say; “You’re over-gripping.”  Yep.

   In climbing it’s important to keep the right amount of tension at all times. If you grip too hard you overwork your forearms and fingers, and the dreaded pump tends to hit sooner than it should.  Hold on too lightly and you’ll slip right off. When on a difficult route you’re unfamiliar with, it’s easy to forget this and just try to hang on for dear life.

    The same is true with life. I for one struggle with control.  I tend to want to be in control of everything, and if I feel like things are getting out of control I usually want to just grasp more and more tightly. God has to remind me time and time again that He is the one in control and I just need to loosen my grip and trust Him. 

  The call of Christ is a call to completely and unequivocally trust Him.   The human tendency is to lean on our own understanding, pull ourselves up by our own boot straps, and only rely on God when everything seems to be falling apart. But Jesus wants us to trust Him first, to completely abandon ourselves in the pursuit of Him. We must loosen our grip on this world so that we can cling desperately to Him. Only then do we realize that control was an illusion all along and that He is lovingly holding us up with His mighty arm. 

   May you find the confidence in Jesus to stop over-gripping and truly trust Him fully. May you rest in the knowledge that come what may, if you are in Christ, His grace covers and protects you to very core. You are free to loosen your grip and climb to the heights unafraid and unashamed.

 

 


Posted on August 15th, 2016

​ 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matt 28:19-20 NIV

  One of the things I love most about Ascend is that we are a disciple making ministry. So often in the evangelical church we make the Gospel far too small. We tend to minimize the Great Commission and turn it into an orchestrated act instead of a life to be lived. We  water it down to a call to make converts, not disciples. The call of Christ is the call to be a disciple who makes disciples. This process certainly includes sharing the Gospel message, but does not begin and end there. 

  Over the past twelve years of discipling college students and young adults, I have learned just how messy making disciples can be. Being a disciple maker means getting your hands dirty. It means getting involved in someone’s life and often asking the hard questions. It means loving someone too much to let them stay the way they are. Discipleship takes time, lots of time. It takes life on life investment, much more than just a casual bump and run on Sunday morning or Wednesday night. 

  This summer we got to see some incredible discipleship moments, both with our staff and our participants. There is something about spending a week in the mountains with a group of men that just leads to life transformation. We saw three men follow Christ in the baptismal waters of the mighty Rio Grande, and a student trust Christ and get baptized at my church shortly after camp. I saw a close friend who has been working with Ascend on and off for the past three years respond to the call of  Christ to full time ministry with Ascend!

   Through Ascend we are raising up the next generation of disciple makers in the Church. One of the things we get to help young men and women learn is that they are missionaries and ambassadors for Christ wherever he places them. In the Church we have created a sacred/secular divide that often leads church members to see evangelism/discipleship/mission as the job of the clergy or hired holy man. One of my greatest joys is helping young people realize that they are better equipped to reach their peers than I am! God has placed them in their classes, jobs, and friendship circles to be a witness to Himself and help people grow in a relationship with Him. 

   If you are a follower of Jesus, wherever He has placed you, remember you are His Ambassador, His missionary. May you find deep abiding joy as you live out the call of Christ to make disciples of all nations!


 





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