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Chris Russo's Blog

Rethinking our habits

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My favorite spiritual discipline

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Letting go of the future

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Learning to let go

Surrendering with White Flag

If I could pinpoint a single theme that is present every day of my life, it would be the theme of surrender. In every situation and in every struggle, in every high and every low, I sense God calling me to surrender to him…to relinquish my will to him. There is this constant sense that he is saying…

“Chris, trust me. I’ve got you. I won’t fail you. Let it go and don’t worry. I know you don’t have all the answers, but I’m not calling you to. I’m simply calling you to surrender.”

It’s so simple and yet, so difficult. Why is it so difficult? The basic, but hard truth is that I struggle when it comes to trusting God. There is this deep feeling that if I surrender, everything is going to fall apart. Surrender is really difficult, especially in the areas that matter the most to us.

In my mind, one of the greatest moments of surrender in all of human history was in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before Jesus was arrested. Jesus knew what was about to happen and agonized in the presence of his heavenly Father. In Luke 22:42 Jesus said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” He made known his will to God, but he still surrendered.

Not my will, but yours be done. That is the heart of surrender. That is the heart of trust. That is what this life boils down to. C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

This is, of course, a spectrum. On the one side, you have the person who is completely shut off to the things of God. On the other side, you have someone who is completely and utterly surrendered. I don’t think anyone ever gets to complete and total surrender in this life, but I’m sure you understand the point. Where do you fall on the spectrum? How do you move a little closer to surrender today? It might be as simple as a phone call you need to make or a person you need to forgive. It might mean praying for the first time in a while or deciding to go back to church after a long time away. It might mean surrendering your life to Christ for the very first time. By the way, that is how you receive the salvation that Jesus paid for with his life. Whatever it looks like for you, my hope is that we would all take that step today.

If it is helpful to you, here is a simple prayer of surrender you can pray.

God, thank you for all that you’ve done for me. I surrender my life to you. Jesus, thank you that you died on the cross for me and rose from the grave. I believe that you are the Son of God and that you are the way, the truth and the life. I surrender all that I am to you. Have your way in and through me. Lord, whatever you want…my life is yours. Amen. 

The Mission

nations

In Matthew 28, verses 19-20, Jesus gives what is known as the Great Commission. He has his eleven disciples with him and gives them a charge with the mission he has for them.

He says, 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.”

I love the simplicity, here. Jesus envisioned a world where more and more people were following him and he entrusted this process to his disciples. Now, for anyone who claims to be a Christ-follower, the same mission is presented to us. The baton has now been passed to us to go out and make disciples.

I went through a book called, Start With Why by Simon Sinek. One of the things Sinek makes clear is that without a clear and compelling why, all the how’s and what’s don’t matter all that much. For Christians, this is our mission. This is what we are called to do. He didn’t say, “Therefore go and make churches.” He didn’t say, “Therefore, go and make compelling outreach programs.” He said, “Therefore go and make disciples…”

A disciple is someone whose 24/7/365 focus is following Christ. They know they’re not perfect, but they’ve parted ways with who they used to be and are in hot pursuit of Jesus. They want to know him, follow him and represent him to the world.

So, a couple clarifying questions for consideration:

  1. Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ? How do you know?
  2. Are you actively engaging with his mission to go out and make disciples? How do you know?

What Jesus said just before he left this planet was massively important. If you were about to leave your close friends for a long time, you would want to condense things and make sure you communicated clearly. Jesus told them, 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.”

Every follower of Christ would do well to meditate on these words and consider what they mean for us today. I think the implications are life-altering.

 

16 years ago

anchor

Many of you know this already, but on December 12, 2000, everything changed for me. I was a freshman at the College of Charleston and I was living a very empty life. I thought  life was all about me and what I could get from others. I had no sense of higher purpose and didn’t have any kind of beliefs to speak of. I had a deep, internal sense that there had to be more to life than what meets the eye, but that was about it.

That night, I had a dream that would forever alter the trajectory of my existence. In the dream, I was a dark soul descending into a dark chasm. In front me was an expanse of light more brilliant and brighter than I could possibly put into words. Ascending into that light were huge, glorious faces looking down at me as I descended away from them into the blackness. One of the glorious faces was my friend and roommate Ashwin, who was a Christian. I woke up from the dream knowing that if I died in that moment, I was not going to heaven. I went into Ashwin’s room at about midnight and communicated to him that I knew I wasn’t straight with God. He proceeded to lead me in a prayer where I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. I asked him to come into my heart to be my Lord and Savior. I was immediately filled with a presence that I had not known before and I knew that life would never be the same again. Ashwin let me read his Bible that night and I read it for about 3 hours. The words seemed to be on fire and felt intensely personal. I woke up that next morning and could still feel the glow I had felt the night before. A new journey had just begun.

As of yesterday, it’s been 16 years since that night and journey is definitely the right word for it. I’m not going to even attempt to encapsulate all that I have experienced and learned in a single blog post, but I do want to share a couple of the insights I’ve gained that may be helpful to you.

  1. We are 3 part beings

We have a spirit, a soul (the mind, will and emotions) and a body. Why is this relevant? Because it’s possible for something to change in your spirit and for your soul and body to not catch up right away. The night of December 12th, I believe my spirit was renewed and that cannot change. That was permanent. In Romans chapter 8, verse 10, the apostle Paul said,  “But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.” When someone unites their life to Christ, a permanent change takes place and that is what is meant when someone is “born again.” That being said, we still have the mind, the will and the emotions to contend with. Those remained largely unaltered in me and the process of sanctification began. That is the process I will be in until I’m room temperature. The process by which believers partner with God in the constant renewal of the soul into the image of Christ.

This process is far more arduous and difficult than I could ever have imagined. There are deep, unalterable truths that I believe to the core of my being and yet, I often find my mind and will fighting against the very beliefs I would die to defend. There is no question about it, a spiritual war takes place all around us and in us. To the dismay of many, ignorance and/or disregard of this war does not profit anyone in the least…it only makes us more vulnerable.

2. Jesus is the constant anchor of my soul

In reference to Jesus, the author of Hebrews says in verse 19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain…” When I can lean on my own understanding, I do. I like to break things down into neat little boxes and generally have life figured out. But how many of you know that you only need to be alive for a day to realize that life cannot be figured out? The ups and downs I’ve had over the years are beyond my ability to comprehend and put into words. The trials have been, at times, next to unbearable. What those trials have taught me however, is that there is a presence in me that is greater than this world. The night of December 12th, 2000, I asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart. I realize there are many different views as to who Jesus is, but I firmly believe that he is the Son of God and the only path to salvation. I believe he lived a sinless life, was crucified and raised from the dead on the 3rd day. I believe he overcame death, hell and all the powers of darkness. His presence in the human soul brings resurrection. It’s because of his presence in my heart that I’ve been able to stand my ground. I’m all about determination and willpower, but human beings were not meant to do life apart from their Creator. That is why Jesus came. He came to reconcile man to God because of the presence of sin and his great love for us. It is only as we unite our lives with Jesus that we experience the union with God that he came to usher into the human race.

The journey has been hard and rewarding…simple, but profoundly complicated….difficult and yet, triumphant. I have no idea what the future holds and I know it may sound cliche, but I know who holds the future. I still have plenty of rough edges and my quest for truth is certainly not over. I encounter situations, circumstances and dilemmas daily that continue to lead me back to the overwhelming conclusion that I don’t have things figured out. The one constant for me that has not and will not change however, is that Jesus is my Savior. He is my rock, my source, my supply, my peace, my anchor, my light and my everything. I look to him to lead me in ways that I can’t lead myself. He gets my anger, my fears, my worries and insecurities and he’s using them to weave together a tapestry that will bring honor to his name and light to others. My hope for you? That you would discover in Jesus what I’ve discovered. That he is the God-sent messenger to reconcile humanity to God.

God bless,

Chris

 

3 years in.

church

About 3 years ago, the announcement was made that I was the new Columbia campus pastor. I cannot believe it’s been 3 years, already. I cannot begin to condense and distill all that I’ve learned in this 3 year period. It has been harder and better than I ever could have imagined.

I could not have possibly conceived of all that I had to learn and all the ways I would need to stretch to walk in this new season. My wife and I have gotten to pastor and learn from some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. This season has meant so much to my family and I. We left the comfort and support of a great church family in Charleston to walk into the unknown and to open the next chapter of the adventure that God had in store for us.

Because we’re still learning and growing, it’s hard for me to look back and see what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown, but I do want to share a couple of key lessons.

  1. Leadership is about trusting God

At the end of the day, I’ve learned that in and of myself, I don’t have a lot for people. In the past 3 years, I’ve done a ton of counseling with people in all different walks of life. I’ve sat with couples in some of their darkest moments and given comfort to people in the places of their deepest pain. I’ve learned that I’m not smart enough to take care of the issues and problems of those around me. I used to entertain delusions that I could save people or fix them or both, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Leading and pastoring people means praying a lot and allowing God to use you to make a difference in their lives. I’m a vessel and a conduit, but I certainly don’t have anywhere close to all the answers. To quote a poet I listen to, I’m a crooked stick that God sometimes uses to draw straight lines.

2. Following God means embracing uncertainty and risk

On paper, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense for Abbi and I to leave the familiarity and comfort of our season in Charleston. We were around great people…I was working in vocational ministry….we had a house, 2 kids and a dog….life was going pretty good! Columbia wasn’t a part of some master plan that Abbi and I concocted to realize some grander goal or aspiration. On the contrary, the opportunity opened up…it seemed like it was from God….and we went for it. We didn’t know the people and we didn’t know what this season would bring. All we felt certain of is that God had more for us and that “more” meant moving to Columbia, SC. God has continued to affirm to us, in many different ways, that we made the right decision.

3. New seasons of leadership mean new seasons of growth

I knew that I was moving up in my position of leadership, but I didn’t realize the internal growth that would need to accompany my new ministry role. I knew that I’d be leading at a higher level. I knew that leading a staff would have it’s own new set of challenges. I knew that being the leader of a campus would require me to grow in areas that I hadn’t grown in before, but I definitely underestimated the character development I was in for. I have encountered situation after situation that has clearly required me to become a better man, a better pastor and a better leader. I don’t know who I’ll be if and when God calls us to a new season, but I know I’ll be much better off than when I first came to Columbia.

I guess the biggest thing I want to say is, “Thank you.” First, thank you to God who continues to lead and guide me and often times, in spite of me. Thank you to my wife who continues to support me and follow me even though I have a tendency to say, “Ready, fire, aim!” Thank you to my leadership at Seacoast Church. Thank you for continuing to believe in me and support me even at times when I doubt myself and the plans God has for me. Thank you to all our friends and family in Charleston. Your continued support for Abbi, myself and the kids has made this season so much easier and smoother than it ever would have been without you. Last, but certainly not least, thank you to the Columbia campus! Thank you to all of our elders, our friends, our phenomenal staff and great volunteers. You are a special group of people and you have done nothing but embrace Abbi and I, which has meant more to me than I could ever say.

I just turned 34 years old and I have no idea what God has for my future. I’m not kidding. I tend to be a control freak and it continues to frustrate me that God is not in the habit of tipping his hand when it comes to the future. That being said, if this season in Columbia is any indication, I can only imagine that the future will be jam-packed with blessing, opportunity and trials that will continue to stretch us and grow us for God’s glory, our good and the benefit of others.

columbia

 

 

 

Puzzling reflections

puzzled

You know, in this life we only get to see a little bit. In 1 Cor. 13 verse 12 Paul says,  “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

I’m so glad that I don’t know everything! When I think about my past, my present and all that I see around me in the world, things are confusing. I can’t put the pieces together. When I make the mistake of putting too much stock in my own opinion and perspective, things get out of whack real quick. I start to get very stressed out because the conclusions I come to, which are based on my imperfect understanding, are awfully grim. There are things I see in the world and things that have happened in my life that I just don’t get. When I try to understand them, I just get more confused.

This verse is very freeing to me. It means there’s room for mystery. It means there’s room for, “I don’t know.” It means there’s room for, “I guess I’ll find out on the other side.” That takes a lot of pressure off of me. No matter how much I read, no matter how many podcasts I listen to, no matter how much scripture I memorize, I simply will never figure out all the complexities of this life. It’s just not gonna happen. God will continue to teach me and reveal things to me, but I’m just not gonna know the whole thing on this side of heaven. I’m ok with that. I think the reason that’s the case is because God wants us to trust him. He wants us to trust his heart and his character. You don’t need a whole lotta trust or faith when you know everything.

So, what about you? Are you living by faith or by sight? If you live by sight, you’re gonna hurt yourself and others. You’ll think you see it all and you may even feel confident of that, but you’ll be wrong. In your confidence in your own sight, you’ll make colossal mistakes that you don’t need to make. When you live by faith, there’s room to breathe. There’s room to say, “God, I just don’t know about this one, but I’m gonna trust you and see what happens.” My prayer is that you’ll choose the latter…that we’ll all choose the latter.

God, I love you and I trust you. I recognize that there’s a ton of stuff that I don’t understand and won’t understand this side of heaven. Help me to walk by faith and not by sight. Help me to posture myself as a child that is in constant need of his Dad for guidance.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we live by faith, not by sight.”

Election Day

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