worthiness.

i’ve written similar things to this before, i know it – there’s a phrase that reverberates through my head from time to time, and it goes like this:

 

“when will i (she/he/they) get what i (she/he/they) deserve(s)?”

 

perhaps the most harsh sentiment in my theology is that we deserve absolutely nothing – cause we really aren’t that good. and i stand by that theology, but i think Jesus lived it out/demonstrated this truth in a much subtler way.

in Luke chapter 7, you can find the story of a Roman centurion who had a sick and dying servant. the centurion sends some of his people to go find Jesus and bring Him to the house to heal the servant, presumably because he caught wind of what Jesus is capable of. his representatives make the case for why Jesus should heal the servant – they appeal to his merit. they tell Jesus, “he is worthy to have you do this for him. he (a Roman) loves our (the Jews) nation and he even built our synagogue.” so Jesus heads off to the centurion’s house, and then as He’s approaching, the centurion sends more people out to say, “actually, i’m not really worthy to have You come inside, and i know that You can just say the word and he’ll be healed.” Jesus is amazed by this guy’s faith, and then when the centurion’s people come back to the house, they find the servant healed.

now, i know that there’s other stuff here that could be taken apart – i think that a lot of folks when they read this focus on what this passage says about Jesus’ authority, and i think there’s some wondering that could be done about whether or not the centurion is avoiding having Jesus in his house or why Jesus didn’t go anyway. but for the time being, what i find arresting about this passage is the way people think about worthiness.

see, the Jews that the centurion sent were appealing to Jesus’ love for Israel and for Judaism. they told Jesus that the reason He should help the centurion is because he treated the Jews well – in other words, “throw this guy a bone, Jesus. he’s not one of us, but he likes us okay, so he deserves something from you.” and at first, it might look like that’s why Jesus came to him. but then he (the centurion) has some second thoughts and says, “actually, i don’t deserve You. You’re the son of God and i don’t deserve You in my house – i know You can help me and if You say the word, it’ll happen – so i’m okay with it if You just say the word.”

i wonder if that’s the faith that Jesus was astonished at – not that the centurion was confident in what Jesus could do, but that the centurion knew who he was and knew who Jesus was.

a few verses later, we read about Jesus healing a woman’s dead son, all because He had compassion on her. now, i don’t have a whole lot to say today, but i think that those stories in that sequence say a lot about Jesus’ motivations toward us. God doesn’t do much for us based on merit. why do you think that is?

i wonder if it’s because “merit” is such a human term – and we use such human parameters to determine is. are you more deserving if you’ve worked hard and you’re rich, or if you’ve worked hard and can’t catch a break and you’re poor? does God help those who help themselves or does God help those who can’t help themselves? does God move on our behalf when we do what we can to lay the groundwork, or does God work miracles on our behalf when we do nothing but step out in faith? what exactly does God reward?

meritology (to coin a new phrase) is hard if not impossible to break down. and it’s hard because we have to look at the position of the heart and that’s really, really hard for us to do. the story of the woman tithing two gold coins comes to mind, for whatever reason. i think this gives us great insight into the way Jesus thinks. if you don’t recall, there is a story of Jesus in Luke 21 in which He points out that a widow, who only gave two coins to the temple treasury, gave more than all the rich people who were dropping in coins by the hundreds. why? because she gave out of her poverty, Jesus said – while everyone else was giving out of their riches. in other words, she gave more (i interpret with trepidation) because she gave until it hurt. she gave all she had. now, i think that we still have to be careful in how we read this, because i think there’s something to be said for godly people being wealthy. i think money is a tool in this world, and who better to have that tool than God’s people? there’s a lot of theology to unpack about money (and such has been the plate off of which i’m eating lately) but i don’t want to get into the situations of others, but i’ll tell you a story i’ve experienced.

in the last two weeks, i’ve been blessed with a new (to me) car. it’s still over ten years old, but all the repairs are up to date, it’ll get me around for a few years, and it’s such an upgrade on my old car. my old car has a laundry list of cosmetic damage, it was functional but not necessarily reliable, and i drove around town every day hoping that wasn’t the day that the brake fluid was going to leak again. this new car has already afforded me two trips outside of Lexington (something i was getting used to not happening) and has been nothing but a joy to drive.

i have paid $0 for it, and to my knowledge, i will only pay $0 for it. it was a gift.

now, let me tell you what i’m tempted to think. i’m really tempted to think that this is God rewarding a new way of thinking. i’m tempted to think that because i buckled down on saving well and spending well, that God is smiling on my efforts and honoring that. i’m tempted to think that God’s throwing me a bone because of something i did – because of serving the church or something like that. i really, really want to think i did something to deserve this car.

but i realize – and this realization is a mercy, not a credit to me – that the second i start thinking like that, my theology will be off center and simply wrong. i cannot afford to have a meritocratic theology, because that will be my doom and undoing. because just as soon as i get into bad habits or make a mistake, i would then deserve something bad, no? if i did or do anything to warrant God’s blessing, then i can do or undo things to un-warrant it.

that’s why grace is beautiful.

and i’m not just talking about material stuff here – a regret i have about this blog is that it’s had a lot to do with money and materials lately – i’m talking grace in general. i’m talking God’s very acceptance of us and desire to move on our behalf, beginning with the cross. to go back to an earlier point, Jesus healed the woman’s dead son because He had compassion on her. and He does this multiple times throughout the gospel – He has compassion, and He acts. the most famous verse in the Bible – John 3:16 – shows this too. God so loved that He gave. if you take nothing else away, take this:

 

God decides, so He does.

 

you don’t do so that God does for you. God doesn’t respond to our actions or our inactions. it is dangerous to interpret God’s action on our behalf as a reward for an action, a new habit, or a new way of thinking. (i will add, as a quick aside, that sometimes changes in habits or lines of thinking result in a healthier life, and this is a good thing, but it is still dangerous to conflate natural consequence with God’s blessing.)

 

God makes up His own mind. we can’t manipulate Him or convince Him into or out of anything. Jesus’ compassion on you is your merit. it’s His own choice and His own action, and there’s nothing we can do about it save to just take it in and be grateful.

masculinity matters.

a few weeks ago, on Father’s Day of all days, a man came up on stage to do the announcements for church and in the process of talking about Father’s Day, he mentioned that his wife had been gone all week and he had been alone with his kids all week and how all three of them (he and his two kids) were so relieved to have his wife back because she was the better parent of the two and everyone’s lives were made easier by having her around.

now, i get appreciating your wife. i like to think that one day when i’m married, i’ll give a lot of credit and praise to my wife and that we’ll be partners in taking care of the kids, but for now there’s something cringe-worthy of hearing a man, on father’s day, make cliche quips about how women are better parents than men, and not a single mention for the praise-worthy characteristics of men. on Father’s Day.

it comes as a surprise to people (sometimes, anyway) when they find out i’m a little right-leaning in my political/sociocultural views. (i guess it’s because i’m nice, because i’m not rich, because i’m respectful, because i make efforts to learn Spanish and have been to a couple of countries outside the US to do missions and i don’t hate non-white people, which i guess is un-conservative.) i listen to a lot of the Ben Shapiro show, which is helpful in shaping my opinions on what’s happening in the world. one of the reasons i love (and hate) his show is that he will bring up articles written by major ‘news’ publications and rip them a new one, and while i am a little tribal in rooting for him while he dismantles their arguments, i also find myself incredibly sad at the things that go through people’s minds.

recently there was an article published in the Washington Post called why can’t we hate men?  (yes, that’s a real title) and its conclusion basically suggests that if you’re actually a good man, you’re only going to vote for feminist political candidates, you’re going to step away from positions of power and influence, you’re going to sit down, shut up, and play for Team Feminist. i guess that men are supposed to be some sort of Brian Scalabrine, keeping the bench warm and being on the team but literally having no influence whatsoever. and it’s not just the one article. theres this one, about how women have the right to hate men; or this one, about how she used to not hate men, but now she decided it’s what “intelligent women” do and how she will patronizingly tolerate some individual men, but hates the class of men altogether.

first of all, i’m a little bit sorry for delving into this on my blog, since i try to stay largely introspective and not do a whole lot of political or social or cultural commentary. but this one’s been burning in my bones for a while, so i’m not actually that sorry.

i just have to say that this is how you get more sexism. sexism breeds sexism which breeds sexism. so if there’s a system which oppresses women (which i’m willing to believe is true, despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary) then i agree that we need to figure a way to disarm that system. but we have to recognize that disarming that system is a lot like disarming a bomb – cut the right wires in the right sequence and you’ll successfully disarm it without incident, but if you cut the wrong one, you blow the whole thing up – including yourself.

i think that my greatest pet peeve about the cultural conversation around gender at the moment (amidst a flurry of peeves) is how we talk about men, but we don’t talk about manhood. we really need to define manhood, because it’s my belief that we have a totally misguided idea of what manhood is, and therefore we talk about men in the wrong light.

i think the greatest perpetuator of incorrect ideas of manhood is a lack of male role models and male figures to look up to. i think that fatherlessness is a social epidemic, and you can explore some statistics on the phenomenon here, but just to throw out a few: children raised in a single-mother home are more likely to display aggressive behavior than in a two-parent home; individuals from a fatherless home are 279% more likely to carry weapons and deal drugs than a two-parent home; poverty rates are four times higher in single-mother homes than a two-parent homes…

i have more to say but let me start with this:

men, you matter.

seriously. you matter so much. you matter.

i wish someone else were out there saying this more, because i am convinced that the first thing the world is going to try to take away is that you matter at all, that you have an influence at all. i know that i’ve entertained the line of thinking that a woman just needs a man to inseminate her so she can get pregnant, and she can take it from there. you know what? that’s kind of true – women are strong and incredible and it’s amazing the fact that a woman’s body is capable of growing and feeding and sustaining a human life. but i’m here to tell you that the child’s life will be better and the mother’s life will be better if you – a good man – are around to be helpful and supportive and constructive.

but let me say this: you just being around isn’t enough. that is – you cannot be passive. you don’t just exist to pay the bills, to be a warm body at night, to be someone to play catch with. men and women should be helping each other – it’s not a one-way street of women being supportive and doting and being at home for their man to get off of work; nor is it a one-way street of the woman doing all of the parenting because it “comes more naturally” or because she’s “better at it.”

nope.

men, you matter.

women, you matter too.

equally.

let me guard against something really quick – i’ve heard it said that if equality feels like oppression, it means you’re accustomed to privilege, so let me do my best at being open-handed and saying that i’m not trying to push back against women or feminists, i’m not trying to claim any sort of male victimhood. if anything, i feel (in my own spirit) more like i’m bracing for a wave, and i’m willing to crash into it, but not willing to be swept away by it. i’m not willing to sit around and listen to men get trashed and thrown away as unnecessary. that’s a load of crap.

now, that said, i think there is something to properly channeling masculinity. i think masculinity is a good thing when it’s used and held properly, and i think it’s an awful thing when it’s not. (again, i would submit that male role models in life are incredibly important in understanding how to properly channel masculinity.)

i think there are some basic traits to masculinity: pride, strength, passion, ambition, desire. there’s a lot more, but i’ll go with those for now. i think there’s a roaring in the spirit of every man. i think when you don’t channel those traits, you wind up with some ugly stuff. i think rape – to use one gross example – is misguided pride (pride of what you can “conquer,”) misguided strength (strength used for gain instead of strength used to help,) misguided passion (instead of loving a woman, you love her body only,) misguided ambition (same idea – you have the ambition for sex but not the ambition for love) and misguided desire (same idea as passion, you have the desire for a body, but not for a soul.)

i think that war is – or can be – misguided pride.

i think bullying is misguided “strength” and “pride.”

i think that careerism – the dog-eat-dog of the working world – is misguided pride and ambition and strength.

but good God, i think there’s a whole hell of a lot of good that masculinity can do and does regularly.

i think masculinity writes some astounding works of literature (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a wonderful piece on the dynamism of the human man, i think that’s well-guided passion and strength to explore the topic.)

i think masculinity creates some astounding pieces of architecture (desire and ambition channeled properly.)

masculinity creates some great businesses.

teaches the next generation of scholars.

raises some amazing children.

loves some amazing wives.

contributes to amazing mission and relief work across the world.

leaves legacies that can’t be unwritten.

(before you say that women can do all of those things too, let me get ahead of you – i agree with you! women can and do do all of those things. that’s exactly my point…that men and women both accomplish great things.)

masculinity matters. it’s important. it’s deeply, deeply important. as much as the world wants you to think it’s not, wants you to think that a man’s only value is to provide sperm for a baby (except our culture loves abortion, too – so even that isn’t valuable to them) i want to swing the ideological pendulum back to the other side and say – shout, even – that being a man is deeply important, deeply valuable, and deeply good. i want to say that as men in the world we should aspire to raise good sons who will be good fathers to good sons, who will be good, ethical, fair businessmen, who will be good husbands to wives, who will not sleep around in college and demean women’s bodies, who will channel all of their creative energies to write, to create, to build, and to dream, and who (perhaps most importantly) will not apologize for being a man. manhood is not superior to femininity, but it sure as hell isn’t inferior either.

so men, go be a man. go be passionate. be ambitious. desire things. dream big. don’t step on anyone while you do it – but don’t let yourself be stepped on, either.

go.

be.

a.

man.

the world needs you.

thoughtlife.

what’s the busiest place you’ve ever been? have you ever been in a place so crowded or so loud that you can’t think, can’t focus, can’t get everything out of that place that you had planned to or wanted to?

this is the part of the blog where i make a quip about how you’re about to enter the busiest place on earth: MY BRAIN.

i am indeed joking, but let me say this: i am learning that it is our job to keep our thoughtlives managed and under control. because sometimes i feel like my brain is the busiest place that i’ve ever been to. i have one busy, busy brain. perhaps you can relate to this, reader.

let me begin by saying that over the course of the last twelve to sixteen months, i have begun to take things on – in my life as well as in my ministry – and not all of them have been the most wise. where i have let myself down the most is in knowing the danger/potential i have for burnout and exhaustion and choosing to take things on anyway. or, sometimes, it has just been luck-of-the-draw. for example of the former, i decided to try and organize a bible study around the turn of the year. we began it knowing we’d only meet once a month at best, and we met exactly one time. but what’s ironic (and feeding into my larger point, which i will get to) is that although we only met once, that is, it only took up one calendar night, it occupied considerable thoughtspace. i spent time trying to think of how i could alter my schedule to make it work, of everything i could work around, of how many people would feel let down if i just admitted, “hey, sorry guys – i overestimated how much time i’d have for this as well as everything else i have going on right now. would someone else be interested in leading?” (fun fact: this group is still in limbo, and i am still trying to figure out how to make it meet, although it seems that everyone has taken on a lot in their lives.) for an example of the latter, i’d send you to an old post i wrote back in October, when – commitments being made at differing times – it turned out that i had to drive to Columbus, OH for training and arrive the night before heading down to Harlan, KY for a retreat i was leading worship at. i’d committed to retreat first, and then it just so happened that i had to travel for work that same week. not ideal, not for me, but i learned from it.

if you’ve read my blogs lately, it will not come as a surprise to you if i tell you that i have felt tired lately. i say this less as complaint and more as objective fact: my life seems to be – at times – a series of things to react to. (or, you could say, a series of choices to make…since our reactions are a choice.) and/or, a series of things to keep track of. depending on how far back you want to go…i began three new jobs around August/September (with trainings, weekly commitments, and three schedules to keep track of,) moved into a new house in August, began a relationship in October (the decisions made in that would take up their own blog,) took on a new ministry opportunity in January, quit one of those jobs in January, went almost-full-time at one job starting in February, got knocked back down to part time two weeks ago, have had a car with various issues and have been a few hours away from taking out a loan to get a new one (there’s a choice i’m glad i didn’t make,) and am considering the implications of the impending end of the lease i’m currently in.

i left a lot out. but i’m really not writing for sympathy – i promise you. after a lot of prayer and consideration, i’ve contented myself with the idea that this is just a season, and it’s a season i’m learning from. a season of absolute madness which i wouldn’t recommend to anyone, even my worst enemy.

a season which has rendered each and every decision tedious, laborious, and heart-wrenching. forgive my melodramatics – but i’m actually kind of serious. i’ve long joked/lamented how having a day off is such a blessing but also brings a difficult set of choices to make. do you use that day off to catch up on your life? laundry, groceries, cooking, cleaning, etc? pay your bills and run your errands? use it to catch up with a friend? get out of town and do something for yourself? spend time with your significant other? sleep in? get up early and redeem the morning? read a book? watch a film? go for a run? a bike ride? rest your weary body? listen to podcasts? think as little as possible? be with people? be by yourself?

in some ways, i hope you can relate to this, reader – in others, i hope you never have to. (if i’m honest, i’m flattering myself to assume i’m alone – i know others go through this, too.) either way, unlike in my posts from the last year or so, i’m not here to write for spiritual consolation or venting or release or anything like that – actually, i’m kind of coming at it from a standpoint of spiritual tactical analysis.

a while ago – and i can’t recall if this is something i’ve covered in my blog or not – i was thinking about being sick and why the heck it would be that Jesus is so concerned with healing our bodies. among other reasons, it occurred to make that when you’re sick, the only thing that’s easy to think about is how sick you are. right? you think about your pain, what you need to do to get better, how long it’ll be until you get better, etc – it just takes up so much of your thoughtspace. that’s part of why i think Jesus likes us to be well – again, among many other reasons – so that our thoughts can be more easily fixated on Him, and on others. i think i’m finding this to be true about our thought life, too.

burnout is a real problem. there are countless books about it, i’m sure there are blogs about it (i don’t usually do a lot of research for my posts, lest i would give them to you) but it is very, very real. and i think burnout is an end-goal of the enemy of our soul, and it’s for a specific purpose: to take our minds away from God.

Think about it: all affection must begin in the brain before it can go to the heart. think about a flower – you don’t see a flower with your heart. you don’t smell a flower with your heart. you don’t make the “mmmmmm” sound after smelling said flower with your heart. no – we actually process all of our emotional experiences first through our heads. your brain processes the visual stimulus and categorizes it as “beautiful.” your brain processes the olfactory information and categorizes it as “pleasant.” your brain then responds to that olfactory information by sending it to your speech center, which asks for a response: “mmmm, what a beautiful looking and smelling rose.”

So the brain takes the first step of affection. and it aids along the way in the process of affection. i’m not necessarily going to get into all of that here and now, except to say that when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind(Matthew 22:37)

Let me say this: God is not (or, is not meant to be) peripheral. i’ll tell you how i got there – if you’re anything like me (and i – with deep regret and no self-flattery whatsoever – consider myself above-average in my thought activity) you think a lot. the sheer number of thoughts going through your head is astonishing. you think about a lot of things, and then you think about what you’re thinking about. no thought is an island – there always seems to be a connecting thought. no issue is stand-alone. right? thinking about summer vacation is also thinking about how much money you have saved up, it’s thinking about how much time you have, it’s thinking about when you need to plan on getting back, it’s tons of planning what to do while you’re there, it’s thinking of who you should invite, thinking of whether you should drive or fly, when you’re going to look at airfare, when you should take the car in for the oil change, calculating prices and costs, etc. it’s a lot of thinking. we put in a lot of work thinking to do a lot of not-thinking (which is ironic in and of itself.)

so, you think a lot. i think a lot. i think of this issue of God’s non-periphery like trying to capture a photograph. your thoughts are like that – a picture. and there’s a lot you want to get into that picture – maybe it’s relationships or ministry or trips or books or your hobbies or movies or food or vacation or responsibilities or what have you. and God is there in the middle. what we tend to try to do is take a bunch of little snapshots – we categorize our lives (i do it too) and each shot we take has a little bit of God in it but you never quite see Him fully. and each shot is disappointing and not quite what we thought it was going to be. still a nice shot, but not quite what it ought to be.

let me suggest that in the picture that is our lives, God provides the perfect subject: the perfect central object that brings everything else into perfect balance – all the colors and contrasting things seem to work together somehow, everything is the size it’s supposed to be, everything is in proportion as it’s supposed to be. i wonder if that’s the suggestion of the very first of the ten commandments – because after all, God wrote them for the good of His people – that your life and your plans just won’t work right without God in the center. it’s actually for you that God wants to be in the center.

i’ll give you some anecdotal evidence of this. at present, among my biggest desires is to be full-time at one job, and be able to quit the other part-time job. i have a clear, obvious, logical leaning as to which one i’d prefer. i have a lot of thoughts on why it’d be great to be full-time: better pay, more vacation time, less competition in my schedule, i’ve practically already worked full-time at it, it looks great on a resume, a chance to network, etc. if i were currently full-time at this job, it would save me some stress in my relationship, as it would empower me to be more financially prepared for a trip, which is something near and dear to my girlfriend, who is near and dear to me. (it would also give me a more preferable answer to her family when they’ve asked me what i do for a living, but that’s beside the point.) so, the process of becoming full-time is something i want, and i think about a lot. the one small problem with this is that it’s not something i can do until i’ve hit a year, and that year comes in mid-September.

NEWS FLASH: thinking harder doesn’t speed up time.

this hit me the other day in my prayer time, when i realized how much stress i give to this thing i can’t control yet. i realize how much energy is taken up by me worrying about whether or not September will get here next week. there’s literally nothing i can do about it.

and this, i believe, is where the battle lies and everything connects: if our affection for God begins in the mind, then the enemy’s tactic is to cut off our supply lines. in other words, the enemy gets us thinking about everything else so we have no room to think about God. the enemy wants me wasting time thinking September closer, instead of putting my mind on the God who invented and lives outside of time. to return to the analogy of the photograph, i have snapped this from every single angle up close and haven’t gotten any of it right. it’s not in focus, the colors don’t look right, the subject is bad.

worship begins in the mind. it is incumbent upon us to make sure that our thoughts are proportionately set. that is, the things we can’t control should (and i say should knowing how easy it is for them to not be) be a small percentage of what we think about. the things we have a choice in should be a little bigger. and ultimately, God should be in the center of what we think about. remember what Jesus said: seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (provisions) will be added to you.

additionally, Paul talks about the mind multiple times throughout his epistles. two specific instances come to mind: Paul tells the Colossian church to set their minds on things above, where Christ is; and Paul tells the Philippian church that whatever is pure, noble, and lovely, we should think on those things.

i’m just going to wrap up by saying that there is a mental, thinking element to worship. and i’ve experienced first-hand the number of thoughts that can run through one’s brain. thoughts of the future, of the past, of planning for something, of responding to something, anticipating something, wanting something – all of that goes through our mind. do not be surprised when your mind is ambushed and flooded, but i would encourage you to seek God in how best to manage those thoughts. all of those thoughts are important, but they have a time and a place, and “right now and everywhere” is not the answer – i can tell you that much. take care of your brain. God loves it and you need it to love God.

gazing.

as a writer – or, perhaps more accurately, as a human – i find myself to be very self-critical. actually, yeah – it’s just a human thing. anyway, my writing in the last year or so seems to be about one thing consistently – it seems to be about progress, about satisfaction, about comparison. (i know what you’re thinking – ‘jeff, you just listed three things!’) i see them all as being rather intertwined…because we tend to compare our progress or otherwise our station or position in life to other people, and we base our satisfaction on how we’re doing compared to the curve. we always want to be in the 90th percentile of success, and it seems to me that the key issue is that we redefine success.

in a world with money and things and experiences and stuff, there are always going to be winners and losers. there is going to be a bell curve of “success,” if that’s how you want to define it. not everyone can be rich, not everyone is going to be poor, not everyone is going to get everything they want. not everyone gets their dream job that lines up with their major and their interests and skill set. not everyone gets the dream car with the right financing (or no financing at all.) it just doesn’t seem to work like that. and as communal creatures, it can be intensely frustrating to live with people for whom things do go right – or so it ostensibly appears. there people i know for whom “success” comes naturally, easily, and without any effort. the deck just seems stacked in their favor at every turn, and if it’s not, then they won’t let on that it’s not (and a part of me, at this juncture, wonders if it’s not that their life is perfect, but that they refuse to let the imperfections bog them down, a convicting thought for me.)

friends, i will be honest with you – and with myself – i feel that in my life lately, i have been all-too-focused on getting what i want. it’s something that my gracious girlfriend has hashed out with me, and within our own relationships we’ve had hard conversations about what it looks like to make each other happy as a couple but also to make sure that we’re getting the things we want/need as individuals.

and i keep coming back to this same roadblock in every juncture of my life —

 

there’s never enough.

 

seriously. there’s never enough of something. there’s never enough time, there’s never enough money, people’s schedules don’t line up with mine, there’s not enough freedom or flexibility, there’s not enough interest, or the weather doesn’t cooperate with plans i make. i’ve become really cynical about the idea of a perfect day anymore.

it’s at this point that i find myself convicted and re-convicted that there is true, deep, abiding joy to be found nevertheless, and that it all comes down to where our focus lies. but don’t worry, i’ve found ways to screw that line of thinking up, too. check this out.

so, there’s a verse i really like in 1 Corinthians 2 (i’m currently hammocking and i’m on a roll with writing so i’m not going to look it up) where Paul says that he claimed to know nothing among the Corinthians but Christ and Him crucified. There’s a verse in Philippians where Paul talks about knowing how to be abased and how to abound. there’s a verse in 1 Timothy (6:8 if i recall) that says that if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. i’ve found that in my quest for justice and vindication – because i have not yet been bestowed with one consistent, stable, well-paying full-time job – i use these verses as a club to try and beat other people down to my level. i martyr myself by wailing about how little i live with (or try to) and then shame – either out loud or in my head – the people who have better-paying jobs than i do about their lifestyles. i remember hearing a sermon once that mentioned that people who look at money as a god or as a devil (in relative terms) are equally idolatrous to their approach to money. color me guilty.

let’s revisit the earlier thought about the bell curve. the bell curve exists – at least off the top of my head – because of a capitalist society/economy we live in. there are high-paying jobs, and there are low-paying jobs, and not all jobs can be high-paying, nor can they all be low-paying. economics 101 can tell you that. so this is an instance in which God’s people are in the world but not of the world. and/but we are even distributed, as God’s people, among that bell curve. some of God’s people – Christians – are poor and don’t make much money. they’re still God’s people. some of God’s people are rich and make a lot. they’re still God’s people, too.

the impasse (well, it’s not really an impasse, which is what i’m about to say) that we have to navigate (maybe a road-block is a better term?) is how we operate in a Kingdom that says that we aren’t our socioeconomic status when the world says we are. Paul writes in Galatians that there isn’t Jew or Greek, slave or free, or male or female in the Kingdom. that is, you don’t identify in your sub-culture in the Kingdom of God – you’re a citizen of that Kingdom and the labels that the world puts on you/encourages you to put on yourself don’t matter.

so how do we do that? let me start by saying that i began this blog violating that idea. heck, i’ve lived in violation of that idea for a while. the idea of treating myself and everyone else as simply Kingdom people instead of rich people or poor people or republican people or democrat people or men or women doesn’t come naturally to me. i’m pretty bad at it. i’ve been worst at it in the area of money, which you gracious readers have heard me plop through for the last six months or so. it’s like when i was a kid and i had brussels sprouts – i don’t want them to be on my plate anymore but i also don’t really want to eat them – so it is with me and socioeconomics in the Kingdom of God. i’m trying to finish it up, and each bite is nasty but brings me a step closer to being done with it, and it’s been a slow, slow process which has taken up a lot of my thoughtlife.

that said, my big question for God lately has been, how can we push that out of my thoughtlife? as i ponder (and ponder, and ponder, and ponder) i’m reminded that Jesus is a great leveler. For the Christian, Christ stands ready to be the anthesis of whatever we think we are. Jesus is the riches of the poor man, and the poverty of the rich man; He is the consolation for the weary and the anxious, and the stirrer/challenger of the complacent or lazy; He is the freedom for the enslaved, and the taming Master of the untamable; He is confidence for the insecure, and He is humility for the proud; and perhaps most importantly, He is the leveler who will always prove us wrong if we ever claim, “i could never be/will never be that.”

i believe that pride is at the root of every comparative thought. i think pride is the real issue i deal with, and i think Jesus finds it repulsing. i think pride is so anti-Jesus, and that seems to be the one thing that every human being has in common. we tend to be proud about something, unless we make an active effort to bring pride to the altar every day and crucify it before God. (if you have any tips on how to do that, let me know.) we like to glory, we like to boast. if not in what we have, then in what we don’t have. if not in what we are, then in what we aren’t. if not in what we’ve experienced, then in what we haven’t experienced. pride is self-defense. and i don’t see self-defense in Jesus, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

i have no solution here, other than to gaze. i believe that for the things i deal with the most, the only solution is to intensify the light that is Jesus Christ – to have Him take up more of my thoughtlife and my attention, to have Him invade my lines of thinking, to have Him be my line of thinking. because, to follow up on an earlier thought – while there isn’t enough of what i want – whether it’s time or money or freedom or what have you – but there is always enough of Jesus. the blood of Jesus testifies even now, the Spirit of God fills even now, the love of God the Father keeps extending itself even now, even after 27 years of just my own mistakes (and God knows how many millions of years of the sins of others) and it goes on and on and on and on and it never runs out, it never runs dry (to quote a modern tune.) and there’s an old song prays, “be Thou my vision, o Lord of my heart, naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou, my best thought by day or by night, waking or sleeping – Thy presence my light.”

 

so let it be in me.

satisfaction.

i’m not sure if i ever read the psalms all the way through, but it’s been fun to do so this year, because little gems stick out. recently, this one caught my eye….

 

when the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul.

-Psalm 94:19

 

it’s just hanging out there, in the middle of the ninety-fourth psalm, not oft-quoted, not famous, not well-known. i mean, i sure as heck hadn’t heard it before.

 

but ever since the day i saw it, it’s been swimming around in my mind. i think that sometimes there are things we say in hopes of them being true…that is, we know them to be true, and are waiting for it to be true. for my part, i feel a whole heck of a lot of things. and in writing blogs in the last few months, that’s more obvious than ever – in a new job and a new relationship and with new roommates, it feels like i never run out of things to respond to. in fact, that’s something i’ve felt myself lamenting in my journals and my conversations – i always have something to react to.

so, the cares of my heart are indeed many.

the cares of my heart include but are not limited to (and in one capacity or another, some good, some bad) – credit card debt, building savings, my job at the bank, my job at the church, my family, my friends, having free time to do things outside like run and hike, having time to spend by myself reading books and journaling, my wonderful girlfriend, and my mentee. i have no shortage of them. i meet the criteria for having my soul consoled and cheered.

i think what i am slowly but surely realizing – and my head is catching up to this faster than my heart is – is the form of those consolations. it is natural and normal to assume that God will cheer and console us by addressing the actual issues we face. i’ll use myself as an example. debt is a concern of mine. not a huge concern, thankfully – but an annoying, irritating, niggling concern – one i’d really like to have off of my plate. it makes saving for the future slower, it makes immediate resources for immediate activities a little short. i think my soul will feel consoled and comforted on the day that i get down to a final zero. i will celebrate, i will go out for dinner, i will have the satisfaction that i have lived a life that i’ve paid for and earned and worked for, and i am very excited for that day.

 

but i am convinced that God doesn’t want me to wait that long to feel at peace.

 

bear with me because this is hard for me to get my head around, and my assumption is that you have something similar to this.

but the Kingdom truth is this: satisfaction in God always, invariably precedes satisfaction in life’s circumstances. it absolutely has to work that way. if Jesus is the Bridegroom and we are the bride, then we have to think of it like this: He is our groom for richer or poorer (as is my circumstance,) in sickness or in health, til death bring us together. in a marriage, you don’t assume your happiness and your joy only comes from whether or not the on-paper of your life is good; you draw your joy and happiness from your spouse, and you use that to get through your circumstances together.

so it is – or so it is meant to be – with God.

churning.

oh, friends – i have so many thoughts to share with you, and no idea how to get them all across to you. so i will take this hour i have and get as many of them to you as i possibly can.

it has been a hot minute – approximately a month and a week – since i last wrote a post. this seems to be a season in which i am not writing much, and i do not know if i have made a post about it or not, because i feel as though i’ve gone to write it a number of times and each time i’ve been interrupted. the stories we pen seem to go in seasons, and if there’s one thing i’m learning, it’s that not everything stays the same forever, some things are seasonal, and some things are annual. what i mean by that is that some chunks of life go as they go and fade out forever. for example – i believe that my time of spending Sunday afternoons watching football with my dad or with my friends from church are over. i haven’t spent an afternoon watching football probably since college. my interests on Sunday afternoons are different, now – i work my job at the church during the school year, and if i’m not working, then i have a girlfriend and a group of friends who enjoy being outdoors and hiking. football would be, for present purposes, seasonal. i also used to organize Sunday evening get-togethers at the local outdoor cafe, where people would socialize, write, and/or read. that’s annual – it happens during a certain time of year every year, but it’s not year-round.

i have a lot of frustration with this concept, to be honest. perhaps my biggest struggle over the last couple of years is the sheer number of things i want to do, and the various factors that compete with it – not least of which being my own mood. i’m a moody doer – something can sound appealing in theory, but when the rubber meets the road, if i’m not up for it, i’m not up for it and i won’t do it. and sometimes the opposite is true, sometimes i’m in the mood for something, and other factors won’t allow for it. perhaps my desire is to (like this morning) take a salubrious bike ride in the early spring sun, but it’s a little cold and my morning is better suited reading and having coffee and processing some thoughts. perhaps my desire is to socialize with people, but it’s a night on which i’m busy or my friends are busy, and it doesn’t pan out. i have this blessed problem in which i like everything i get to do – i enjoy my job at the bank, i enjoy my job at church, i enjoy my friends, i enjoy my girlfriend, i enjoy being outside, i enjoy reading, i enjoy playing video games, i enjoy watching movies, i enjoy cooking and having a clean house, but time seems to work in my head like a zero-sum game: something always has to lose in order for me to win. in other words, i always lose because i’m always skipping out on something. (i know i’ve written about this before.)

the last six or seven months of my life have looked something like this: i feel like i have done more than i’ve ever been doing before – working two nights a week at the church, working anywhere from two to six days a week at the bank, writing content for a group i get to be a part of, going to meetings regarding all of the three (church has retreats and auditions and supervisor calls, the bank has branch dinners, and TND has a monthly Saturday meeting) meeting up with my mentee, spending a few evenings/days a week with my girlfriend, etc – and presently i will stop because regardless of whether i’ve actually published these thoughts before because i have written them so many times either in my blog or in my journal that the ideas begin to feel tired, expired, and more like excuses.

the main reason i bring it up is to comment on how i feel about all of it – i don’t much care for being busy. i don’t much care for feeling like i always have somewhere else to be, something else to do, because i’m a fella who likes to operate in large swaths of time and space. i like to feel like i have a whole chunk of time to concentrate on a task – like writing content or a blog or reading a book – and this is a season of life which hasn’t afforded me many of those. (and, admittedly, i’ve done a splendid job wasting a few of them.)

to be honest, it’s easy for me to feel like i’ve been treading water. i feel like i haven’t been making much progress. i feel sometimes like i work two jobs not so much for the love of both of them but for the necessity of the finances (see: the last post about get-to-have-to, i could use it as a note to self) i feel sometimes like i say yes to things because i don’t want to let people down, not because i genuinely want to do them, and/or i say yes thinking that it’d be a good fit with my skill set and my schedule but it turns out to only work for one, the other, or neither of them. it’s easy for me to feel, in relational terms, like i’m treading water with my current relationship because while – and this is a separate conversation entirely – i am extremely satisfied in it, and it is the most serious relationship i’ve ever been in and ever hope to be in, it is also easy for me to think about all the people i see whose relationships are moving faster, who are meeting parents more quickly and discussing marriage more quickly and buying rings and popping the question more quickly, and in doing so, for me to doubt myself and the validity, valiance, and verity of the progress i am making in my own relationship.

it is easy for me to doubt myself as a twenty-seven year old who is paying off credit card debt instead of making payments on a house or a car, who is eating at home six days and five nights a week instead of taking international trips and adding zeroes to my savings account.

in short, it is easy for me to doubt myself.

here is a thought that i have tripped over, however, for months now (and i just checked to see if i’ve written about this before, and i have, just three posts ago.) :

We judge ourselves for things God doesn’t judge us for.

friends, the Kingdom isn’t a meritocracy, and hallelujah for that. (maybe i need to keep writing it over and over until i get it more regularly.) maybe it’s not just the Kingdom, either – maybe in life in general, we are better served by not comparing ourselves to the people around us, their achievements and accomplishments. perhaps the only person you should compare yourself to is you: are you doing better than you were a week ago? a month ago? a year ago?

i realized this about myself the other day – (and readers, i apologize that my life is so self-focused as to only use myself as a reference point. i am hoping it is a trend that will end soon, as i enjoy writing more outwardly and sharing the stories of others instead of just my own) – this past summer, i was living paycheck-to-paycheck. like, real-deal paycheck-to-paycheck, probably even still-going-further-into-debt-paycheck-to-paycheck. i argued with God on several summer mornings about how and when He’d come through with provision, and He always did and i always lamented that it took getting the paycheck for me to feel at peace. since then, i’ve not exactly felt differently – and probably for good reason which i’ll get to in a second – i’ve still felt like i’m paycheck-to-paycheck. i pay all my bills and i get to eat food and honestly, i still get to do fun things like see movies and enjoy a subscription on Apple music and put gas in my car, and i tend to do that with a checking account balance that hovers around the double digits. but i’ll tell you what else: i have been able to put new oil in my car, been able to change necessary tires and do routine upkeep on it (and i’ve even been able to fix a couple of little cosmetic things which has been a huge blessing) i’ve been able to take a trip with my friends to a fun city and do fun things, i was able to organize a big ole friends outing to see the local baseball team and front the cost with relative comfort, and since the turn of the year, i’ve been doing it all with an IRA that’s only going up, a savings account that’s only going up and a credit card balance that’s only going down. i’m beginning to wonder if that’s actually what you could call paycheck-to-paycheck. i say this definitely not to brag, but to keep myself thankful and grateful that God figures out a way to provide – God sees us – and also to encourage myself that sometimes we’re like ducks…we may be churning our feet under the surface and we may be tired and discouraged, but rest assured that we’re moving forward.

i write about myself a lot lately, friends – largely because i’ve not felt like i have a whole lot to give for others so when i do share it invariably contains an element of self-reference, but i so deeply and desperately hope that you find encouragement in it, that it inspires you to examine your own progress and realize that

 

you’re doing just fine.

get-to/have-to.

there’s a band i listen to from time to time, and their fan base is just a little obsessive. one of the band’s taglines is actually, “yes, this is a cult.” a few years ago, i was watching one of their music videos, and in the middle of the song, it cuts to videos their fans sent in talking about music and how important it is to them – how music saves their life and how they’d be lost without music or how music is the reason they don’t feel alone in life. i’ve never quite understood that obsession with music…but i do have a context in which i love music.

i like listening to music when i’m doing chores or cooking.

i know, i know what you’re thinking – who doesn’t? but really – music has this power to change chores into the most magical time of the day, if i incorporate it into said chores. chores are actually, all of a sudden, something i want to do, something i want to do because i’m not actually even doing chores, i’m listening to music.

i have a new main task.

the chores become the background, they’re no longer all i think about. it’s as though i deceive myself into productivity. cooking a meal, folding laundry, sweeping the floor and scrubbing the toilet are suddenly a set of adventures full of guitar solos, great beats, and high notes and harmonies i try to hit myself. and then next thing i know, my house is also clean.

i don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who don’t like chores. maybe that’s something i need to sort out. or maybe – i tell myself – that’s something they need to sort out. now, i like to think i have a semblance of humility in this blog and don’t pretend to have everything figured out, but i won’t lie: sometimes i don’t understand why people do things they don’t want to do.

(before i proceed, allow me to point out some hypocrisy: a few posts ago, i wrote about how i spend time doing things i don’t really want to do. do what you like with that.)

complaining is among my least favorite things in the world. again, hypocrite here, but seriously – it’s hard for me to sympathize with people who don’t like their job, who don’t like the town they live in, who don’t like something they feel like they have to wear (see: women with high heels) – people who have a chance and a choice to choose joy and refuse to. now, don’t get me wrong, i recognize that situations are delicate and it’s not always as easy as quitting your job or moving your life. but in those instances, i’m an advocate for choosing a little joy. hate your job? okay. why did you get into it in the first place? what drew you there? even if it was the paycheck – then let that drive you if nothing else will. are you good at any or all of it? then shoot – let yourself enjoy how good you are at it. is it in customer service? then think of the people. is it a skill? then think of the process. hate your city? then why are you there? or, again – what is something you like about it? what’s keeping you there? what joy is there to scrape off the bones? i guarantee you there is a modicum there to be found.

but this especially confounds me with the people of God. around this time of year, i am always reminded of something that someone once wrote, and i cannot for the life of me recall who (though surely a simple google search would suffice?) – that we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. That is, we are people who know the rest of the story – that Jesus resurrected and He sits at the Father’s right hand and intercedes for us, that death isn’t our inheritance, etc and yet we live in this world in which there is pain, suffering, death, disease, frustration, etc. our challenge – our calling – is to live out the reality that we know, not just the one that we see. in the same way – on a micro level – i would submit that we are a get-to people in a have-to world. that we have to do certain things – we have to pay the bills, we have to work, we have to take care of our houses and our cars and our relationships, and that it is difficult at times, but we are called to find the joy in the process.

Consider what the Bible says about Jesus – that He endured the cross for the joy set before Him. i recognize that this is different from what i was saying earlier about chores and music – i do not believe that Jesus smiled as the nails made their way through His wrists – but i recognize that Jesus had a higher motivation for the things that He did, that He didn’t even have to do, but willingly chose for us. He does not lord this great salvation and sacrifice over us, but offers it freely and rejoices when we choose it.

i wonder what kind of people that should transform us into.

cares.

oh, how sweet the sound – i know it saved, but is it changing a wretch like me? 

and oh, my God, how sweet is the sound – i once was blind but now i just look away

 

Jesus, You wrote us through Peter that we can (and should, and i reckon – in reading the text – are commanded to) cast all of our cares on You because You care for us. i think that, as i become older, i learn that there are more things to care about than i ever expected. i care about my schedule and the various commitments i’ve made; i care about whether or not i’m letting people down; i care about relaxing; i care about learning; i care about working; i care about spending time with my friends; i care about being able to use my gifts in ministry; i care about my family; i care about my financial situation; i care about my car; i care about my house; i care how much sleep i get; i care how much free time i get. i care about a lot – and sometimes i can’t tell if that’s just my personality or just the season of life i i am in. 

God, i care about a lot of things. 

i don’t understand what it looks like sometimes to trust You more. i feel like i’m in this constant battle for control – and i always lose but i keep fighting it, because i don’t know how to quit. i don’t know how to not care. i don’t know how to let go of this stuff most of the time. i don’t know how to go-go-go and keep my heart full of energy and compassion when i see the things i’m missing out on, when my schedule seems to throw me to and fro. i don’t know how to rest hard and disengage from the rest of the world when there’s always something to react to. whether it’s a news story or an event in my personal life, or an event in a close friend’s life, or an obligation — this habit of constantly responding is tiring me. 

and, Father – i know that these things are cyclical. i know that for every period of a month and a half when i am uncontrollably busy, i have a few months where it all calms down. i find myself frustrated with that cycle and its inherent imbalance. i find myself frustrated with how my fickle, imperfect, human, emotional heart responds to all the crazy. i find myself frustrated that – even after over a decade of following You – i still turn to old habits and ways of dealing with stress, instead of doing that thing you told me to do – cast it on You

so, Lord – i don’t know what it’ll look like for me to do that, to trust You that much, but i sure as sand want to. i want to give it all over to You – on one hand, because i see the mess that i make when i take matters into my own hands (i tend to get angry, selfish, frustrated and just create a disaster) but on the other hand, i want to give it to You because i trust in the beauty You’ll create out of it – the good that You’ll accomplish in me, through me, and to me.

help me trust. whatever that takes. however much dying that requires. 

pressure.

there are, it seems (as there always seem to be) two types of people in the world: people who apologize for everything and people who apologize for nothing, and/or seem unaware that there’s anything to apologize for. the difference is that the latter group don’t realize their lack of humility until it smacks them in the face, and the former, well – the former feel like everything slaps them in the face.

all joking aside, it does seem like some folks in the world let everything bother them, while some let nothing bother them. i think both approaches are problematic, but i can only write about my experience in the former category.

this post is brought to you by a gauntlet schedule. i would love to tell you that it hasn’t phased me, that it hasn’t put a lot of strain on my body, my mind, my spirit, my relationships, etc – but it has. i’d love to tell you that in my busy brain, one thought doesn’t lead to another, but it always does – and it boils and builds and culminates in a day like today, when i am forced to take a few personal hours from work, come home, and write, because writing has always been the best way for me to process.

here’s the truth: almost every day in the year 2018, my schedule has been made for me, to some extent or another. i went on a family cruise in January, came home and have worked almost every single day since then. when i wasn’t working, i’ve had something to go to – a meeting, volunteering to help someone move, keeping up with other commitments i’ve signed up for – and i haven’t had a lot of time to relax a whole lot. i’ve barely read a book, i’ve barely written a blog. Bob Goff talks about quitting something every Thursday, and i see why now: if you start committing to a lot of things, your schedule will fill up, and it will fill up quicker than you would like it to, and you won’t have time to do the things you really like to do.

then, things start feeling like obligations. the joy gets sucked out of it (at least, if you’re not vigilant) as it becomes something you have to do and not something you like to do. and then you start spinning your wheels, just keeping up with the things you’ve committed to, and then you get to this point, where i admittedly find myself today:

why am i doing what i’m doing if it’s not getting me anywhere? 

i’ve asked myself this because, if you didn’t already know this about me, i’ve had quite a year — i quit my job of three and a half years back in June of 2017, and my life has started down another course. and lately, i’ve felt myself wondering if i know what that course really is. in the last two days especially, i’ve felt at a bit of a crossroads — thankfully, i’m down to two jobs, but when i begin to think about the future (which is a thing i do a lot) i begin to wonder which one will become a career. one is a feasible career, a standard, steady 9-5 type job in customer service, it pays well, and i know it’d take care of me in terms of benefits, compensation, etc. it’d be stressful some days but i’d be helping people and that’d be super. the other is a less feasible but more appealing career. my other job is at a church, and i’ve always wanted to work at a church. i feel called to be in ministry, but have always wondered if i’d be able to do that as a method of paying the bills. to me, that’d be the most incredible thing: to be able to do what i love and what i care deeply about, and for it to be a way for God to provide for my needs.

but that path is the one that feels like it has more road blocks.

it feels like a puzzle right now. it feels full of questions: when? will it be at this church, or at another one? what area of ministry can i get a job in? do i start attending the church and ingratiate myself, or just get hired on cold? where will this be geographically? would i be good enough? would the schedule be appealing? am i doing things now to prepare myself for it? 

this roadblock makes me feel one thing above all else:

pressure.

i’ll tell you what kind of pressure: it’s the you’re-twenty-seven-and-you-don’t-have-a-full-time-job-or-clear-career-path? kind of pressure. it’s the i can’t believe you don’t have health insurance kind of pressure. the how dumb were you to crawl into credit card debt? pressure. the how ready are you for marriage? kind of pressure.

it makes me look at my life and question myself a lot, it makes me doubt myself a lot. it makes me think all the way back to high school at times and ask myself if i should have looked more seriously at colleges instead of taking a gap year. it makes me wonder if i lingered too long at the wrong job. makes me wonder if i’m lingering at the wrong job now. makes me ask how i use my time. tries to make me regret old relationships more than i already do. tries to make me regret in general.

tries to make me lament the story i’m living, and dread the story i’ll live in the future.

it is oh, so easy to compare, especially at age 27, the course of your life. especially when you come in close proximity with someone. (i’ve told my girlfriend i was going to cite her, so thankfully i’m allowed to use this to help make my point.) so, my girlfriend is all kinds of wonderful – she’s smart, wise, clever, kind, big-hearted. her life has followed a fairly logical pattern in that she is doing what she went to school for. she has a full-time job which provides benefits, good pay, a stable position, and a reliable schedule. (oh, and she’s a teacher, so she gets summers off.) i won’t lie to you, friends – it requires a lot of vigilance on my part to shut off thoughts of comparison. actually – i don’t really shut them off, but i don’t let them deter me like they did in the past. a few years ago, i dated a girl who was about the age i am now, and it really tore me to shreds on a daily basis that she worked full-time for a plastics company and i worked part time for a coffee shop. i put myself down a whole lot for that, and find traces of that thinking still seeping into my thoughtlife today.

thankfully for me, Ayla isn’t petty or shallow. thankfully for me, she’s got a big heart and is more concerned with my character than my checkbook. thankfully for me, she loves me a lot like God loves me, which has led me onto this realization:

we very often judge ourselves for things that God isn’t judging us for.

By that, i don’t just mean that we crucify ourselves for things Jesus was crucified for (which we do) but i am referring to how we view ourselves and others in terms of how put-together our lives are (or aren’t.)

it’s a lot like God tells Samuel when Samuel is looking for Israel’s king: man looks at what’s on the outside, but I look at what’s inside. 

reader, i hope that whoever you are and wherever you are, you can use that as salve on your heart when you need it. i hope that, if you’re like me and you feel a little disassembled, you feel full of questions and devoid of direction, you’re able to remember that God doesn’t care if your car is the newest model, or if your bank account has one or two or three or more zeroes, or what neighborhood you live in. (if you’re not like me, i apologize, because i do not feel currently equipped to describe how you may need to use that scriptural salve. i only hope that you do.)

let us not project onto God our own standards for success. let us instead adapt our definition to His: bearing fruit is what matters. being transformed into the image of Jesus is what matters. loving people is what matters.

seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (provisions like food, clothing, shelter) will be added to you.

stretch.

this post is brought to you by (and on) the morning of what was supposed to be a day off – my first true, bona fide day off in weeks – but within two hours of waking up turned into a half work day with an errand or two to run before going in to work.

i’ll be the first to admit, i’m the worst at plans changing last minute. it always seems to hit me like a ton of bricks and my head can process it but my heart – that is, my emotional response – takes a while to follow. logic tells me that this is the chance for a few extra hours at work. that its a few extra bucks to go towards a trip my friends and i have been planning. that it’s a chance to be a team player and get more experience with my job. that it’s only a few hours and i still get the rest of my day to relax. logic continues with the truth that i finally got my registration renewed this morning, and that i still have an hour and a half before i have to go into work.

but my heart, oh, my heart – it is still pulsating like it got punched, because i was looking forward to relaxing, to not getting out of my PJs for a bit, to another cup of coffee, to camping out at a library for a couple of hours. silly, right?

i’ve always been like that with my time – or at least, i have been for a while. i think i’ve blogged about it a few times. changes in plans are hard for me because i never know when i’ll be able to get to what i had been looking forward to. my girlfriend and i have had this come up — i may have been looking forward to whatever we had planned (even if it was routine and simple and something we do often) and then when an alternate set of plans comes up (say, we get invited to something) then i am prone to feeling disappointed that whatever it was i was looking forward to isn’t happening – even if our new plans are good.

it harkens me back to this old idea of living open-handed…of not trying to control all of my circumstances, not making everything go my own way, but being able to roll with the punches and go with the flow. that’s a hard thing to do…especially when we live in a society in which so many things have to fit just right. i can’t tell if it’s a result of getting older, or if it’s cultural from living in another town to the one i lived in when i was growing up — but when i was younger, it seemed like if you couldn’t make plans on one night, you could bet that within two days, you’d have another available time. whether that’s coffee in the morning with a friend or going to see a movie or grabbing supper with someone – you’d be able to coordinate before long. but lately, it seems like everything has to be threaded like a needle into a schedule (i know i have written about this before.)

anyway – i’ve been circling in my head to determine what exactly this has to do with anything and while i hate to admit it, i think this is the part where i just reflect openly. i don’t necessarily have a point to make with this post. (dear reader: at some point in every post, i fight with myself as to whether or not the post exists to make a point, or to be an accessible thing to people, a well from which folks can drink if they need to, if it helps. i suppose this one is the latter.)

my life has been really interesting in the last 9-12 months. it was around this time last year when i felt this deep, deep desire to shake everything up – maybe like a game of boggle: some of the same words may exist, a lot of the same letters would surely show up, just maybe in a different spot or with different letters around them. at first i was considering moving out of state, even out of country. but the thing is, i like where i lived. i just needed a change in routine.

so, i quit my job. i went to Haiti for a week, i came back and was unemployed for a couple of months and spent a lot of time doing a podcast, reading books, riding my bike, writing, watching a ton of movies (and learning a new appreciation for the medium which remains to this day,) listening to podcasts, dogsitting, house-sitting, helping do landscaping, hanging out at the arboretum, playing tennis with a wonderful i now get to date, etc.

in the summer, i breathed. a lot. my life was so, so good. every day was an adventure. i felt free. when i talked to people, i felt a verve and a vigor for life – i was always asking people what was exciting about their life, and telling them what was exciting about mine. i did Good News Tuesday posts to really good effect, and lots of people told me they liked them. my therapist calls this my “summer of respite.” she’s right. it was perfect. i realize now that it was a unique opportunity that not a lot of people get, and i treasure it.

then i started working again. i took not one, but three positions – a cashier at a grocery store, a teller at a bank, and a worship leader for student ministries (i get paid to sing and play guitar and hang out with students. that’s ridiculous and amazing.) my life got pretty busy, and i won’t lie – my life got kind of…

 

bland.

i hate using that word, but it’s kind of true. my summer was like an exotic meal with all kinds of flavors, and with every bite, i noticed something different. my life in the fall became meat-and-potatoes – functional and tasty, but not all that…you know…exciting. i mean, i had plenty to do – within a month, i had two conferences/retreats i played at, i had training for one of my new jobs, and i was playing worship music every Wednesday and most Sundays. i started dating my girlfriend and time with her is absolutely superb.

and my life became routine…mostly, the routine i had hoped for.

but like a lot of things, it turns out that once i got it, it wasn’t exactly what i’d wanted it to be…it didn’t feel how i wanted it to feel. it’s taken me a long time and a couple sessions with my therapist to accept that — to accept that my life won’t be like it was in the summer again.

my life got busy.

three jobs – which isn’t the hardest thing in the world but also isn’t easy – a girlfriend, a mentee, a social group, a few hobbies that are impossible to multi-task (i’m thinking running, reading, writing, and movie-watching here) and before you know it, time just got sucked up, and i felt myself going with it.

i actually did begin to feel a little less like myself.

friends, family, readership – i was so stretched, have been so stretched, still feel a little stretched. it is not easy to fit everything in. to fit everyone in. there are people i go weeks without seeing, and it kills me just a little bit. it’s still not easy.

but, i can tell that things are coming around. Bob Goff tells us to quit something every Thursday. why Thursday? i can’t remember. can’t even remember the context of the quote. it’s just something my friends (who read Bob Goff) and i throw around to each other from time to time, rejoicing when we find something to quit.

so i rejoiced when i stepped down from one of my Sunday morning commitments, so that i could attend church like a normal person for a while and since i usually serve on Sunday nights for students.

i rejoiced when i quit one of my three jobs – the grocery store at which i worked the hardest and felt least supported and easily got paid the least (and liked the least, to be honest.) i rejoiced because now i am available to cover a shift here and there at the bank if needed, and if not needed, then i have a little more time to breathe, to meet folks for coffee, to write and read and enjoy time at home. i rejoice because i may have a day here and there when i’m not running somewhere every two hours.

i’ve rejoiced this weekend, when on Friday and Sunday nights, i got to be in someone’s house with a lot of people that i love a lot in them. i rejoiced last weekend when i got to play music for 682 middle schoolers and help create an atmosphere in which they could encounter God, just like i benefitted from when i was their age.

i’m rejoicing today because, even though i have to work for a couple hours, i still have the option of camping at Panera, biting into a cinnamon roll, and filling that cup of coffee over and over again, and camping out at my house to enjoy a movie.

i’m rejoicing because God always seems to provide, and while quitting a job was a bit of a financial risk, it provides a much-needed emotional release and respite, and allows me to focus more on the jobs that i enjoy the most, and give me a chance to see which one is more likely to be a career.

 

God is good. all of the time. even when He stretches us, like runners, to where it hurts a little but gets us ready to run the race.