indulgence v death.

There’s a tattoo on my left arm as of about a month ago. It says “nevertheless.”

The idea behind it is twofold – first of all, it’s a reference to Jesus in the garden of Gesthemane – He knows what’s coming: He’ll be beaten, whipped, pierced, striped, nailed to a cross, He’ll suffer for every breath, and He’ll die innocently in the place of billions of sinners. He begs the Father: “If there’s any other way, let this cup pass from Me. But nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done. He subsequently goes to the cross and all of the former happens.

The other half of the coin is this: it’s a model for Christian discipleship. Jesus guaranteed suffering, and because of His sacrifice, we are to approach suffering and, realistically, any circumstance with this mindset. Nevertheless, Lord – even if my finances are failing, I’ll follow You. Nevertheless, Lord – even if my life is threatened, I’ll follow You. Nevertheless, Lord – even though You ask me to die to myself daily, I’ll follow You. May there be no circumstance under which I choose to stop following You and chasing You with everything in my being.

Oh, wait.

I didn’t really think about that last one. See, I’m almost convinced that external persecution is the easy part. If someone wants to imprison me for my faith, or punish my body, that’s all well and good. But I’m increasingly convinced that the hardest part about following Jesus is dying to my desires for convenience versus inconvenience, solitude vs community, service vs indulgence, and generosity vs selfishness.

this is when I have the hardest time following Jesus: when I’ve been at work for 12 hours and someone needs something from me. When I’m at home and all I want to do is relax as opposed to being out and involved with people. When my work requires me to stay a few minutes to an hour longer to take care of some much-needed stuff, especially when there’s a soccer game on my DVR that I really want to watch. Following Jesus is hard for me when it requires having conversations with people about their biggest struggles in life and I have to think about issues I don’t deal with. When I realize that Jesus demands that I carry other people’s burdens instead of just my own.

And the less I follow Jesus in those situations, the more the vicious cycle repeats itself, because here’s what I hate the most about disobedience: it results in self-consciousness. The more I disobey, the more I feel like a bad Christian. The more I feel like a bad Christian, the more I feel like I need consoling and reaffirmation. The more I feel like I need consoling and reaffirmation, the more I think about myself (the affirmed) and not Jesus (the Affirmer.)

And that’s just the problem – I forget just Who it is who affirms me. I forget that Jesus is full of grace and truth (John 1:14.) Not only does He correct my sin, but He also tells me who I am – I am not my failure.

I’m convinced that there is something about the real love of Jesus that not only drags us out of our mire but spurs us on to good works. I read this this morning and it has me sure of this: in Philippians, Paul says that if there is any encouragement in Christ, the fruit of that is looking not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:1 supplementing Phil. 2:4 in context.) Somehow being loved and comforted by Jesus causes me to get my eyes off of my self and onto others – His love spurs me on…

…which makes me think my perspective hasn’t been wide enough. I’m so focused at times on feeling good myself that I don’t go beyond feeling loved by God, and then I wonder why I’m not bearing any fruit: it’s because I’m not considering all of the implications of what it means to be loved by God. To be loved by God means to subsequently love others. They’re inseparable realities.

So here’s where I’m at: I’m frustrated with myself. I’m frustrated because I’ve been so selfish – not just in my actions, but because my actions stem from a limited perspective of the love of Jesus. I’m too caught up in being loved to love, which makes no logical sense.

In Ephesians 3, Paul states that he prays for the Ephesian church, that they may have strength to comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth of the love of God, that they may be filled with all the fullness of God. And what is the fullness of God? It’s who He is! It’s selfless love and service to others. That’s what I want. That’s what I seek to grasp. And I know that the first step must be to die to myself and to give up my desires when it’s necessary.

Lord, I’m tired of being selfish with the resources You’ve entrusted me with: money, time, food, space, even what little knowledge I have. Teach me to be less selfish. Teach me that affirmation leads to loving others. I am starting to see that I can’t just sit there and be loved by You and not go on to love others myself. Help me with this: it’s my biggest hindrance right now. I know I’ll never be perfect, and I may have to learn this lesson time and time again, but let’s start now because I’m not doing You, me, or anyone else any good by having such a limited perspective of what Your love is for. Thanks for always teaching and correcting and loving me and Your whole church. I need You and I love You.

The gas station, the hungry man, and a lesson in provision and generosity.

One of the marks of a good book (in my humble opinion) is its ability to set up a filter or a lens. From that point on, it changes not necessarily your entire worldview but perhaps how you view certain events or situations.

Over the last couple of weeks I read Timothy Keller’s Generous Justice, and it’s done just that.

The day before I finished the book, the following happened:
I was strapped for cash, gas, everything – I had to do a mobile transfer just to put ten bucks worth of gas into my car so I could get to Berea the next day. I had two dollars in cash – a one dollar bill and four quarters – and I wanted to have a Pepsi, so I was going to go into the store afterwards to get a Pepsi.
As I went to pump gas, a man approached me. He was tall, skinny, he had tattoos, and his face looked a bit long. He told me the typical story – he didn’t have a home, he lost his wife (I can’t remember if he said she left or if something bad happened to her) and he just needed a hot meal.

I remember the gears turning hard in my head – harder than they ever had before. This guy could be out to get money for drugs. He could be lying. Damn it, I’ve had a long day, and I want a Pepsi. But man, it’s my job to take care of people. There has to be a reason God has entrusted me with a certain amount of money. You can do without a Pepsi, can’t you?

I made a choice.

I’m just disappointed at which one I made.

“Sorry man, I’m afraid I don’t have any cash.”

I lied to his face.

Then an emotion or a thought came over me that hadn’t ever before. It was lighter than guilt but heavier than “you’re wrong.” It’s difficult to describe but it feels a lot like simply missing the heart of God in a situation. I knew I wasn’t suddenly condemned. I knew I was still a Christian – I just didn’t think I was acting like one. I went home marinating in this emotion until I popped open my journal and wrote a choice few words for myself and how I felt.

Admittedly, however, part of the entry stemmed from being angry and frustrated financially.

Earlier in the week, I had to go get my tires replaced – first because I had popped a big hole in one of them, but also because it was about time I did so, and after that I was out $170 (it was only two tires.)

$170.

But that’s my utility bill and my phone bill combined. Like, the exact same amount. [insert unseemly word.]

So I’ve spent the last week walking on financial eggshells, but in the meantime, God has used this time to bring some perspective to who He is as provider.

See, I still see myself as my own source of provision sometimes. I still worry that somehow I have to make it all show up at once. In the middle of this, God said two things to me.

First, what do I think it means if I have to dip into emergency funds to make ends meet? I think that ever since I blew a whole lot of my savings by being frivolous in high school and college (we’re talking several thousand dollars,) I’ve thought it was some sort of idiocy on my part or an indication that I can’t manage money if I dip into savings/my emergency fund. But is that not perhaps a source of His provision – to give me the foresight to save some money for when things get really tight? That sounds like wisdom, and wisdom sounds like an attribute of God to me. Maybe it’s really practical provision.

Second, He shared this with me. At my job, I get the pleasure of doing the orders and establishing pars for the shop. I have a degree of control over what comes in and what doesn’t. And sometimes I like to keep things really close to the vest – sometimes I don’t order completely up to par in order to save space and money. Sometimes that means that through the week, it looks like we might run out of something. Maybe a bottle of syrup is running really low, or it looks like we’ll use the last of our ice before I get a chance to go to the grocery store. But 9 times out of 10, we get the thing we need just when we need it or we have a way of supplementing a need.

Maybe that’s how it is with God – maybe He lets us get to the point where it looks like it’s not going to be able to work, maybe it doesn’t look like bills are gonna get paid or such like, but God in His wisdom and timing has a way of making it come together [and, I realize, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve been blessed that God always seems to take care of the bills at some point or another – whether through the generosity of someone else or through timely paychecks. I don’t know how to explain when it doesn’t line up as we’d like without sounding cliché and perhaps callous.]

But those are connected because I let myself believe that I had to take care of myself in the moment when the man approached me. It was a very atheistic view of stewardship in which I held what money was on my person with a clenched fist instead of being generous. I was so caught up in what I wanted that I didn’t help someone who had a legitimate need. After all, a bottle of Pepsi is in no way a need. Who the heck did I think I was to put my wants before another human’s needs?
So I was not only not trusting God to meet my needs (as I was stressed and frustrated about upcoming bills) but also choosing to be frivolous (even if a bottle of pop is only 1.79 and that won’t make a big difference to my utility bill.)

I sinned. I think I missed the heart of God by a mile.

But I also know I’m still a son, and I know that God isn’t going to beat me over the head with this, and it’s a learning experience. A lesson in provision and a lesson in generosity. And, I’d venture, a lesson in being generous even when provision seems like it’s not coming.

After all, God has the storehouses of heaven at His disposal. And God didn’t withhold generosity from me when I needed it most – when Jesus died in my place and for my sin. He knew I’d abuse the gift that was – heck, in that moment with the man at Speedway I abused His grace. But He gave anyway.

I hope I continue to learn that so deeply that it changes how I pay bills, save money, bless my friends and bless total strangers who don’t even know who God is.

Jesus, keep changing me.

obedience? direction? [a post about stuff i don’t know how to summarize in a title.]

I’ve been thinking a lot lately – reflecting on what all has happened in the last four months since I made the move to Lexington. What I find interesting is the emotions that are conjured by being in the cities that used to be home. After all, I’m in Berea once a week (at least) for church, and I usually end up in Richmond at some point, and I find my memories of them – or at least how my brain categorizes them – to be sort of odd.

Especially Berea. Man, Berea. I grew up there, lived with my parents for a long time there (21 years!) and made a lot of friends and a lot of memories there. I still enjoy my trips there a lot, because in some ways, it still is home…that is, I have so many connections there that it feels like a go-to if, heaven forbid, everything goes wrong in Lexington.

But Richmond just feels like a black hole sometimes.

If you’ll remember, the week I moved up to Lexington was the week that my then-girlfriend and I broke up. For the longest time, every trip back to Richmond felt like a trip to hell, and let me explain…

At that point in life, I was pretty isolated. I wrote a blog about it then – I was stretched between Lexington, Berea, and Richmond; I was working a ton, and led a life group once a week in Berea; and most of my friends lived in Lexington. So this odd dynamic formed to where I was basically doing church in Berea, socializing in Lexington, and sleeping in Richmond. But when I say socializing, it was odd because my friends were there, but they were friends I didn’t really do life with. I talked to people in the shop but I found myself just going home after work a lot instead of staying in Lexington to socialize with people.
I was really alone.

Those few months I spent working in Lexington and living in Richmond were realistically some of the best and worst months of my life. On one hand, I had a job I loved (and still love) and I was making friends and I was head over heels for the girl I was with. But on the other, I was lonely, tired, confused, my relationship ended up going to hell, and I was really directionless.

I felt stuck.

I felt like I had no idea where I was going – fresh out of college at a job that at times made it difficult to make any sort of financial progress, had no friends in the city where I lived, I spent my days and nights eating donuts and playing FIFA sitting Indian-style in front of the television in my brother’s apartment.
I played soccer when I had nothing else to do, I took naps and went to the local coffee shop in Richmond, went to the library sometimes, took a run…

But I wasn’t going anywhere. Man, I was clueless. I still don’t know how I made it through those months.

There was something in me that thought I was supposed to be in Lexington. Now, hear me here…I’ve never been the type to think that God is going to drag us kicking and screaming in whatever geographic location He wants in. I don’t think that the fate of humankind (or even an individual’s fate) hinges on whether we live in one city or another.

But maybe I do just a little bit.

I think eventually life could have made sense if I’d stayed in Richmond or even Berea.

But here’s what happened when I moved to Lexington: I had to meet with a landlord for the first time ever to view a house. I had to sign a lease for the first time ever. I had to talk to a gas company about activating gas so we could have heat for the first time ever. I had to go to the utility company to get utilities. I had to create a system for keeping up with bills. I had (well, chose) to get cable connected and hooked up for the first time. I started learning about deadlines with bills and learning what it meant to cut certain costs so that I could pay them. I started getting used to living with other people and learning how their experiences shaped how they live with people and how that differs from my own experience.

I had a hard breakup that forced me to face my own selfishness and insecurity in a whole new way.

Then I got a promotion at work and I had to start making phone calls or writing emails or meeting people that previously would have made me shrink in fear. I had to start making choices that affected more people than I’m used to affecting. I got to experience frustration and triumph in a whole new way in the context of work.

And I started talking to people face-to-face. Man, let me tell you something – I’m so out of practice with that! I’ve had two or three lunches/dinners/drinks with friends in the last week or so and I’ve realized that socializing isn’t as forced as I used to think it was.

I’ve probably lost a million events in the process of writing this, but basically, what it boils down to is that I think God has used my move to Lexington for sanctification.

Before I moved here, I was plagued by what I call Youngest Syndrome, which is basically failing to take any initiative and make any decisions because there’s always someone – parents or older siblings – to make them for me. But fortunately I’m learning some life skills and experiences, and learning that the things I used to think were scary or intimidating aren’t so bad. It’s like I’ve had automatic confidence pumped into me because of some of my circumstances.
So the settling process has birthed a ton of confidence in me, which is good…but now I think the next step is to move forward. If Richmond was a directionless place, Lexington is the complete opposite. I know part of why I moved here – I think God wants me to plant a church. That’s the direction I’m heading in. And I think I wrote about this lately – how when you’re 23, at some point you have to come to a point at which you stop wandering and realize that every step is a destination. That’s right now for me.

So I’ve been pondering this question: Jesus, what does obedience look like right now? What do You want me to do, and how do you want me to move toward that?
Here’s what I believe the answer is –

A few months ago, I was in church and Jesus stopped me and told me to write in the back of my Bible (you know, where they throw in all those extra blank pages…thanks, ESV!) and here’s what He said…
Open your life to others – your home and your time.
Open your bible with others.
Offer your life for others.

That’s the command. Here we go. Every step a destination.