submission.

I’m going to tell you something about myself (at least lately) at risk of sounding like A. I’m begging for attention or B. I’m self-diagnosing.

Alas, I would rather keep this on the down-low, but I feel it’s better to be as completely open and honest as possible with as many people as possible for the sake of our mental, spiritual, and emotional health.

That said, here’s what I’ve been going through lately, and something I’m trying to learn to submit.

Saturday morning, I awoke to come into work, where I spent all of two hours. I didn’t really have much of a plan for the work I was going to get done (I wasn’t a barista that day) and two hours later, I ended up leaving from work. I remember talking to one of my co-workers, telling her that I was just having a really hard time getting into anything.
Fast forward 24 hours. It’s Sunday afternoon, right after I got out of church. I’m waiting on a friend to go get lunch (he was tearing down from the church service we were just out.) I decided to, while I was killing time, drop by the coffee shop and hang out for a few minutes. Turns out the coffee shop was packed, and I had tried to converse with a friend of mine, but for some reason, nothing was clicking in my head. I had no idea where to take the conversation, I couldn’t pay attention, etc. I spent the rest of the day at home, doing little to nothing else, trying to take it easy.
Monday morning I woke up with a little bit of leftover fog, but nothing too bad, I suppose. I went about my normal Monday morning work as usual, and ended up being really energetic and excited for my Monday night shift – which was a total turnaround from how I’d spent the weekend. I was hopeful that maybe I’d gotten over the fog and overall weirdness and sadness of the weekend. But Tuesday, a lot of the same stuff just kept perpetuating. Aaaaaaaaand again on Wednesday afternoon.

Sadness, a lack of clarity. A lack of focus. No energy. No ability to concentrate, to engage, to converse meaningfully.

What was wrong with me?

Here’s where I’m risking self-diagnosis (and probably a disservice to a massive community of people…) but, I’m starting to believe I’m staving off a really mild bout of depression.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have it that badly. I can still get out of bed, I can eat (trust me, I can) and it’s not a lack of focus that makes me think I have any sort of attention deficit disorder. But I don’t know how else to explain it – feeling so foggy and so mentally blocked; feeling so sad for no particular reason (trust me, if I could figure out why, I’d change it.)

I guess that to a certain extent, I feel it’s more useful to name it than to sit around wondering what’s wrong with me. I could be totally wrong as to what it is, but I definitely know what the symptoms are. I have no use to be sad, it doesn’t help me to be disengaged from my work and from people (I’m an extrovert!) So I want to name it so that I can deal with it.

In that vein of thought, it’s my goal to give this to God. I’m not embracing whatever mental instability this is – I don’t want it, and it’s not welcome. But I’m realistic enough to know that sometimes a fallen brain can be hit with things that mess with it – in particular, chemical imbalances that lead to swings in mood one way or another. I can buy that.

But for me, it’s just like with anything else – just like when I ask for healing when I’m sick with the flu, just like I ask for healing with a damaged limb – I aim to take whatever is going on in my brain to the Lord, to help me deal with it. Because as much as I buy that my brain can be imbalanced, I also buy that the cross is mighty, and Jesus is Lord over all of the earth, including my messed-up brain.

So that’s my prayer: that Jesus would rule it. That all my mood – and all my mood swings – would come under the rule and Lordship of Jesus. That somehow, He would use it to His glory, heal me of it, and be Lord over it. That I don’t let anything I struggle with define me, but let Him define me and let everything else sort itself out.

Lord, I give this to You.

P.S. I don’t mean this as any sort of start to a series about a “battle” with depression. Honestly, it may never come back. I’m willing to admit I could be entirely misguided, and this may just be an outlier – but the psychology major in me thinks it’s something more than that. So, I don’t write this as some sob story to keep falling back on – quite the opposite. I intend not to write about this again. And thank you for letting me be honest, stupid, and wrong with you.

on church growth and preaching (un)accordingly.

when I made the decision to leave my home church, I knew that the number one thing I’d struggle to find comparable to where I’d grown up was good preaching.

Since I’ve visited churches, I’ve had a similar thought everywhere I go, because I keep hearing the same thing everywhere I go.

Here’s what I hear: we want the church to grow, people to grow, and the mission to go out!

Here’s what I think: then why don’t you preach Jesus?

I don’t mean to be a preaching snob, but I find it curious that churches want people to come to church and start attending regularly. And yet the “sermons” you hear aren’t conducive to that!

Let’s say that I’ve never been to church before, and I’ve never heard the gospel. I walk into church, hear people singing, say hi to some people, and then I sit down for a “sermon” in which the preacher tells me

-you need to be patient and/or
-you need to love your neighbor and/or
-you need to die to your flesh and/or
-this is what a godly marriage looks like and/or
-this is how God wants you to manage your money and/or
-you need to feed the hungry and/or
-this is why Christianity is true and/or

ANYTHING ELSE.

It’s a major pet peeve of mine (maybe I am a preaching snob) but I just don’t understand the point of making Sunday mornings your discipleship time, and not actually preaching the gospel.

Most churches nowadays have connect groups/life groups/cell groups (whatever you choose to call it) and that, I opine, is where you should learn all of the who, what, where, why, when, and how of Christian discipleship (like a bunch of the stuff I listed above.) Yes, it’s true – Christians do need to bear the fruit of the spirit; we do need to die to our flesh; love our neighbor; feed the hungry, clothe the naked; it is important to have a defence for Christianity, but that’s not what Sunday morning is for. If you’re so adamant about growing your church, then Sunday morning should be the time when you, if you’ve never heard the gospel before, can hear the gospel. You can’t assume that everyone knows it. If I don’t know the gospel, it’s not going to make sense why I should help people (from a Christian standpoint anyway.) I don’t know all of the vernacular like flesh, dying to yourself, etc. I don’t understand that love Jesus shows us motivates us to do the stuff, because I don’t even understand that Jesus loves me!

And while you’re at it, leave people time to respond to the gospel, and give some practical action items. Give a space to kneel and pray. Give practical response instead of leaving it up to them.

Just a few thoughts…

kingdom struggles – when the ‘struggle’ is not real.

disclosure: my thinking is not entirely swung in this direction, but this is a call to a more balanced approach to mission and sanctification. such will be the aim of this particular entry.

I may have mentioned this before, but I have a belief that 21st Century America is the hardest place in the world to be a Christian. Not because we are challenged or under threat of death, but because we aren’t – I never go to church wondering if I’ll leave alive. I never have to fear talking about my faith or my biblically-inspired tattoo because I know that the chances are really good people will just smile and nod, not assault me.

But does that make Christianity easier?

No, in fact, I think it’s harder as a result.

I’ll touch on this in a later post, but for now, I want to focus on something else. For now, I want to talk about the idea of struggling.

“struggle” is a word that is annoyingly prominent in the modern American vernacular, and the modern American Christian vernacular.

“Stuck in traffic. Why’d I go downtown during rush hour? #thestruggleisreal” I made that up, but if I told you it was a real Facebook status, I’ll bet you’d believe me, because we’ve changed the meaning of “struggle.” And talking to people my age within the Christian community, we’ll use the word “struggle” to describe our relationships with sin – I ‘struggle’ with masturbation, I ‘struggle’ with anger, people ‘struggle’ with financial management, etc.

But as I, internally, review the things we ‘struggle’ with, I wonder how many of them are kingdom struggles? That is, which of these are things that stand in the way of the Kingdom of God advancing?

In relation to my initial comment, I don’t believe that it’s good for us to just let sin have its way – I think it’s good to fight with masturbation, lust, pornography, anger, a lack of responsibility, laziness, fear, etc. Fight it hard. That’s a good thing.

But I think those are primarily internal struggles, and I don’t see them as the most fruitful types of struggles. I think it’s good for us to undergo sanctification – making us more like Jesus – but I think that sanctification comes second to the kingdom advancing. Can the two go hand in hand? Sure. But I think the Kingdom advancing is the most important thing.

So my new perspective is this: if the biggest ‘struggle’ we have in our walks with Jesus are internal things, it’s hardly a struggle at all. Instead, I’d rather view a struggle in a more outward manner. I’d rather see my friend who doesn’t know Jesus as a struggle – someone I pray for, someone I fast for, someone I talk to, someone I love, someone I think about, someone I contend for spiritually until they come to know His saving knowledge – that should be a struggle.

Changing the culture of a workplace from a culture of domineering, discouragement, and unrest to a culture of grace, encouragement, and helpfulness – that should be a struggle.

Changing the way you use your finances from using them for your own personal gain and security – which can be rooted in idolatry – that should be a struggle AND that goes hand in hand with sanctification!

I entirely believe that sanctification is an important thing, but it is not the only thing nor is it the ultimate thing – it is part of the massive plan that is bringing God’s Kingdom to earth.
That’s the ultimate thing.

dream big, walk small. but walk.

ready for a big revelation?

you can dream all you want – you can come up with as many good ideas as you want…but at some point, the rubber has to meet the road and you have to work to start materializing your dreams, even if it’s a little work at a time.

If you have a gargantuan goal, a baby step is better than none.

Here’s what I’m working on right now:

 

I want a house.

I want to have my own place to live – as in a place I own and that is in my name. I don’t want to become a perpetual renter who spends as much in ten years as it would cost to buy a house.

So, I’m going to start saving for a house.
NewHouse

It won’t be much, because I don’t earn a whole lot, and I don’t earn much quickly.

But I’m also well aware that a dollar a week is significantly more than I currently save towards it.

How many times – and for how many things! – do we disqualify ourselves on the grounds that it would take too long to accomplish the things we want to accomplish?

And how often do we want something that we’re unwilling to position ourselves for? You may want a relationship, but are infinitely selfish, and that is a detractor of a relationship. To be in a relationship, you must practice selflessness before you’re in one so that it’s a habit once you’re in one.
You may want to travel, but you have to save money, and go get a passport.

You may want a new job, but you have to apply, assert yourself, fail a few interviews, and keep at it.

Want something? Go get it.

Dream big. Walk small – or big if you can…but walk.

post-church generation.

I’m in an exciting time in my life, the more I think about it.

Heck, we all are.

But personally, I’m in a time when I’ve left the church I called home for 9 and a half years, and I’m in the process of finding a new church in the city I live in now. I get the pleasure of trying out a bunch of different churches – something I’ve never done. So far, I’ve only tried a really small, young Cavalry Chapel church plant and a slightly older church plant (I believe they’re Baptist) called Center Point.
It’s cool because I’ve never experienced a lot in church – I’ve been to a few churches a kid, but then when I was 15, I settled on the church I would be in for the majority of my church-going life. So my experience is largely somewhat Pentecostal – I’m spoiled by the preaching, by the worship, by the small groups; my experience is with a small building, a small church, a reasonably small budget, a small town, a certain demographic of people, etc.

I’m enjoying this process – I’m about to go to a Methodist church, a Presbyterian church, I may visit a liturgical Episcopalian service…

…and I realize that the process I now enjoy is hell for a lot of people.

I’ve done a little bit of reading and a little bit of thinking about this idea that we’re in a post-church society now. I think about the majority of my friends now – ones who have made their decision (for now) about Jesus, who’ve been to church, who’ve been burned, who think that Christianity is full of crap in that it lacks a lot of intellectual impetus and relevancy, who accuse the Church of long-term, systemic racism, sexism, and classism – and realize that we’re in a really interesting spot, just from the circle of people I know.

And I’m excited.

Hot dog, I’m excited.

Here’s why:

Let’s start with a premise from Jesus Himself: in Matthew 16, Jesus is conversing with His disciples about His identity. He asks, “who do people say I am?” The disciples give their answer, and then Jesus asks, “but who do you say that I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Christ.” Jesus responds by saying, “on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:13-20.)

[note: I skipped a portion. Jesus said that Simon Bar-Jonah was Peter, and I’ve heard some say that the rock Jesus was referring to was Peter, but I opine that Jesus is talking about the rock of the revelation that Peter received from God that Jesus was the Christ.]

I’m excited because Jesus guaranteed the survival of the church, and we’ve seen this so far. Think about it: the church could have fallen apart after the crusades, which are – to this day – possibly the church’s biggest stain. Surely people who have such a grave misunderstanding of the purpose of their faith and such a sick desire to be “right” misrepresent Jesus and His mission, and lots of people use that as a big reason to not believe in Jesus.
But: the crusades (historically) are over, and the church of Jesus Christ still stands.

The church could have fallen apart with the advances of science and technology, which so many thought would be its undoing, since people of faith don’t think enough. We discovered the earth revolves around the sun; we found out the earth is round, not flat; we discovered all of the elements; we discovered atoms and cell structure; we discovered vaccines, etc. etc.
But science is flourishing and so is the church of Jesus Christ.

The church could have fallen apart after every major moral failure of every high-profile Christian – Jimmy Swaggart sleeping with prostitutes, Mark Driscoll spiritually abusing people in his church, Tim Lambesis (a Christian vocalist in a Christian band) hiring a hitman to kill his wife, countless other scandals and inconsistencies…
And the church still stands.

There are surely more and more failures of human beings and the church as an institution that I don’t even know about, and yet one thing is sure: the church still stands.

And it’s only getting “worse” in that we have a generation who are leaving the church more quickly than ever, who are less willing to get involved than ever, who see through Christianese and traditions, etc.

I’m excited because I think that this means God is going to show His sovereignty in a way that we haven’t seen before. Jesus said that His church wouldn’t be overcome – that the gates of hell (which, again, we could get into this more deeply, but I’ll go shorthand and say that He’s talking about every effort of the enemy to keep people from communing together and pursuing God together) won’t prevail against His church.

So we have a culture, a generation of young people who don’t want church as it is institutionally established – but who, I believe, want church more than ever. I think God is trimming a bunch of fat – the fat of production, the fat of big budgets, the fat of weak preaching, the fat of surface-level community, the fat of lazy thinking, the fat of cheap excuses, etc.

I think we’re coming to a time when the church addresses the deepest lying questions of humanity, and gets to the heart of the matter:
-why do we need a savior?
-where does morality come from?
-how’d the world come into existence?
-is evolution a thing?
-how can we say God is sovereign when evil exists?
-Am I not a “good” person?

And all of the other questions we have, all the reservations we hold towards Christianity. I don’t think it’s strictly intellectual or scientific, but I think there’s a lot of progress to be made there within the church.

Somehow, God is going to show His sovereignty over all of these things. I heard an interview with an ex-Christian-now-pastor who said, “I just thought, ‘if God is sovereign, He’s big enough for my questions.'” Well – that’s true. He is!

The flip side of that, however, is that we have to accept His answers. If we reject His answers, then that doesn’t automatically mean that He isn’t real or true – it means we have seen and heard His reality and chosen to reject it.

As the church, I believe it is our responsibility to deal with the messiness of life – pain, suffering, sin, hurt, hypocrisy, death, confusion, etc – all the while upholding the sovereignty of God. And I think we’re getting better at it. I’m excited about that.

But mostly I’m excited that I live in a generation that’s craving genuineness, truth, and reality – all of which I am confident God is, and He will be seen as genuine, true, and real if we uphold His goodness and His sovereignty in the way we preach, relate, and conduct our lives.

you don’t have to agree. just obey.

remember when you were a kid and your parents told you to do something? Usually, it was to do something we didn’t want to do, or to stop doing something we like: don’t eat your boogers! buckle your seatbelt! stop kicking my chair! be quiet! don’t play video games right now! do your homework!

As children, we’re inclined (I opine) to respond to these commands with “why?”

Now, there’s usually a good reason (that’s gross; it’s safer; I don’t want you to; you’re being too loud; you’ve played too many video games; you need to make good grades) but often times a parent (at least mine) could silence my questions with one statement:

 

Because I said so.

The other day, I found myself sharing an article which I totally agreed with – the heart of the article was that, of all the causes we could fight for in our society today, of all of the things we could put our energy towards, we choose to fight battles about things like our sexual freedom, how much skin is acceptable to show off, who (and what gender) we’re allowed to sleep with, etc. Society wants to shame people who shame others (if I tell you that I think you’re in the wrong for sleeping with your girlfriend when you’re not married, then I’m shaming you, and I should therefore be ashamed of myself.) In trying to eliminate shame, we create another space for it.

Anyway, that article isn’t exactly what I’m writing about. I’m writing because I almost didn’t share it – I didn’t really want to deal with the repercussions of the people who disagreed with it. I didn’t want to get in an argument over something that agreed with my convictions almost 100%.

But – and this is where this gets tough in our permissive society – when did we start caring who agrees? Forgive me if I come across as a little absolutist (which I am,) a little fundamentalist (which I sort of am,) and in that, a little arrogant (which I probably am) here, but when did that start to matter?

So at risk of sounding like I’m trying to point out specks, let me start by telling you things I don’t like about the Bible.

-I don’t like that Jesus says if I look at a woman with lust in my heart, it’s the same as adultery. (Matthew 5:28) When I’m feeling really prideful, I like to think I can “look but not touch.” But according to Jesus’ standards, looking is touching.

-I HATE the idea that other people watch my actions, and I can be a stumbling block, therefore I should watch what I say and what I do (read Romans 14.) That drives me NUTS.

-I don’t like how heavily evangelism weighs on my heart. I wish that Christianity was just me living a normal life, never thinking, “who, if anyone, am I making a disciple?”

-I don’t like the Biblical mandate to bear one another’s burdens. It flies in the face of my capitalist mindset that says, “you have your problems and I have mine, I have enough to worry about without worrying about you.” (Galatians 6:2.)

I could find more, I’m sure – but you get the point (at least I hope.)

I think that God – through the Gospel – reveals things about Himself and about us that are difficult to swallow. We do a disservice to ourselves and to others if we pretend like the Gospel is palatable, marketable, and attractive.

It’s not.

It’s anything but. It tells me I’m wretched, it tells me that I’m not perfect, it tells me that my wisdom and intelligence is infinitely short of God’s. It tells me I’m sinful, and it tells me that I’ll never measure up to what God’s standards are.

But that’s where this whole thing gets really amazing – I don’t have to.

if I’m willing to believe all of this – that I’m wicked, that I’m full of it, that I mess up, that God is so much greater than I am, etc. then there’s this other wonderful reality: Jesus died in my place, because my sin was so offensive and it did so much to separate me from God that I deserved death (because we don’t ignorantly disobey, consider that) that either I was going to die and live eternally separated from the very God who lovingly crafted me and created me, to use me for His own glory, or someone else had to step in – Jesus.

Jesus took on the punishment I deserved, drank the cup of wrath I deserved, died the death I deserved all to give me the holiness, righteousness, life, and sonship that He deserves.

That’s the agreeable part.

The disagreeable stuff is the hard stuff – the fact that God now asks things of us. He asks of us our lives, He asks for my obedience, for my death to my own desires. That’s what I hate. That’s the hard part of Christianity. Sometimes it’s more overt and seems more obvious and less tempting – like don’t steal money from your friends or your workplace, don’t kill people, don’t break the law. Easy enough.
But then there’s stuff that’s more covert and harder to accept: like God’s design for sex and marriage (one man, one woman, sex is to take place within marriage,) going the extra mile at your job when it seems like nobody else takes it very seriously, respecting leaders that you think are messing up, watching your actions around people who are more susceptible to certain types of sin, honoring the convictions of people whose convictions you do not share, etc.

But the thing is, I don’t think that God necessarily asks us to agree with Him. I think that God – if anyone! – has the right to say, “because I said so.”

If (or, I would rather say, since) God is real, it makes sense that He is so good, so holy, so other, so beyond comprehension, that His design for the world is to be respected and implemented to the best of our flawed, human, ability, because a perfect creator has a perfect design, and it deserves our respect and submission, especially since, as flawed people, even our interpretations of morality are skewed.

As one of my favorite songs says, “I think our god isn’t God if it fits inside our heads.”

I think part of what makes faith faith is that we have to accept some things we don’t understand, that maybe we don’t agree with.
I think this is a big issue facing our society today, our society that wants to do whatever the hell it wants to do – like who you like, act on your attractions no matter what they are, do you want, no matter how bad it is for you (you may not see that part at first) damning any and all traditions (which, might I add, are in place for what may be a very good reason.)

I don’t want to pretend I’m a prophet, but I’m of the mind that God might be saying more and more loudly to the church today: “you don’t have to agree with everything I say, but you do have to obey it.”

let’s see what that looks like.

on rejection, incapability, and worth.

I seem to be some sort of glutton for moral punishment. I have a wretched habit of holding on to any thought or event which proves my worth or lack thereof.

lately, I’ve found myself telling and re-telling the story of my breakup last April. In a few ways, it was the most hellish event of my life, and it’s aftermath has been bad, too. I’ve chosen to believe, afterwards, that I’m worth nothing. That I spent everything I had to give anyone in one relationship, and that person took all I had, stomped on it, spit on it, and told me how worthless it was. Told me that it wasn’t enough. Told me that despite the fact that I apologized for being selfish, insecure, and petty, I was insufferable and not worth their time or their effort. Worse still is the fact that this person disqualified themselves and chose to withdraw their love from me on the grounds that they weren’t meeting my needs, even though I didn’t say that.

I resolved myself to save my relationship at whatever cost, and I did everything I knew to do that, and it failed.

Failure.

That word – that damn word – has perpetuated itself in my life since that day. Forget dating relationships, I have a hard enough time trusting my friends. It’s easier to believe that I’m getting on someone’s nerves than that I’m a joy to be around.

So I create a vicious cycle of longing for a friend, savoring a little bit of time with them, and then disqualifying myself after that. After all, I’m insufferable, right? After all, some of the people I’ve told are my best friends in moments of extreme vulnerability and weakness have responded by saying, “you’re getting there.” After all, I have nothing to give, and everything I give isn’t enough for the people I love most.

Damn tired of thinking that way.

 

Here’s the thing: I never realized how much weight I give to the past.

I never realized how deeply April’s events cut me. I was pissed at the time, but now I see that the door was opened for a bunch of lies, and I’ve gobbled them up.

I’ve kept myself from expressing who my friends really are, for fear that they won’t reciprocate that. Today, I’ve decided I don’t have time for that. If someone means a lot to me, then by Jove, I need to tell them and let them know it, whether they feel that way towards me or not.
And, I have to learn to trust the people who call me a friend – that they really mean it and they’re not puffing me up for no good reason. I can’t afford to keep tiptoeing around emotions, trying to interpret everything at something other than face value. That’s exhausting and unsustainable.

I’m done with that. If I tell you I love you and I appreciate you, then I love and appreciate you. If you tell me that, I’m taking you at your word and it’s on you to live up to it.

#rantblogover

up-to-date obedience.

[disclaimer: you’re getting a little bit of freehand Jeff today. no particular end in mind with this post.]

I’m not usually one to sleep very late – typically, I find myself waking by about 7:30 at the latest – even when I have the time and desire to sleep in.

As a result, I’ve become a bit of a planner (increasingly moreso) because otherwise I’ll awake with no idea what to do, and I typically resort to killing time on my cell phone. I made time on Sunday night to plot out my whole week – what I’m doing every day, when I’m doing it, and how long I have to do it.

So imagine my horror when I looked at the clock to discover I had woken up at 8:57 this morning. Well, there goes waking up at 6:30, working out, there goes the 45 minutes I allotted to read the Bible, the 30 minutes I gave myself to read another book, the time I planned to clean, etc. etc. (the good news is that my friend offered to cover the front end of my shift, so I’m not on as much of a time crunch today.)

I spent a few seconds looking at the schedule, mourning it. There it went. There was no way I could go back and change it – so what now?

I checked my email (as I typically do in the morning) and had a message from my boss with some excel sheets to look over, and a list of things we needed to start planning and thinking about.

Instantly my mind went to full-on work mode. Even as I tried to read a book, it was all I could do to shut out the noise in my brain of, “you need to get to the shop and start working on stuff. No time for books. You have a million other things to do.”

I stopped for a second, trying to reorient myself and let myself enjoy the book for a little while, all the while knowing that the unforeseen circumstances would probably end up having me at the shop a lot sooner than expected, and I came to terms with that.

Why do I tell this story? Not to say I’m a workaholic – I actually really enjoy my job, especially as I come into my own with the off-the-floor portions of it. I’m not sad because work called a little early today.

I guess I share this with you because I’m thinking about this idea of what to do when the plan falls apart a little bit. I know that plans tend to need a little bit of wiggle room because usually unforeseen things come up – I think that in the past I’ve used that as an excuse not to plan, because after all, what’s the point of making a plan if you won’t be able to stick to it?

On a micro level, that manifests itself in mornings like this, where little things fall apart. But on a macro level, I’m experiencing that a lot lately.

the two biggest examples:

-What do you do when the job you expected to only have for about 3-4 months turns into a career?
-What happens when the church, the people, and the city you called home become (in a crude way of saying it) secondary? That is, when all signs point to relocating your church community and with that, your primary set of friends and support group?

I’ve had this question on my mind for the last few months, and I’m starting to see the culmination of it: God, what does it look like for me to obey You right now?

You could say that I’m getting my perspective changed on it a little – I had been on a path of ministry for a while. I thought it was going to be the thing I was going to do – I was supposed to plant a church, and if I didn’t do that, at least I was supposed to lead a small group, lead worship (or at least be on the worship team,) etc. But what now – now that I’m spending a few months walking through church doors in which I’m a relative stranger? What now that I’ve left a place of influence and authority to a place where I have to learn to sit and listen to teaching, and eventually bed myself in with a new set of people before I even start to think of how I can be in ministry again?

A big answer to that question has been my job. I’m really fortunate in that I’ve found a job I’m in love with – it has its times when it’s exhausting, occasionally I feel overpowered and overshadowed by it (in that I feel it’s easy to be “the guy from the shop” instead of Jeff) – but ultimately, I adore it. I love serving it, I love serving customers, and I love serving baristas. I know that I’m well short of how good I should be at my job, but I enjoy it so much. And for reasons I can’t shake, I keep sensing that the answer to the question, “God, how do I obey You right now?” is simply, “do your job and do it well.” The point of worry for me there is that I either become a workaholic or otherwise settle for that as the only way I do ministry (that is, not get involved at another church) but in this instance, I suppose that I have to trust the guidance and deposit of the Holy Spirit.

This is the beautiful thing about life (and perhaps my favorite and most pervasive lesson of late) – that God will accomplish His plan one way or another. That whether I’m a pastor of a church or the buyer at a coffee shop, God’s ultimate plan for His Kingdom and His glory goes unhindered. That – irrespective even of whether or not I choose to obey Him – He’ll do everything He’s set out to accomplish.

And yet He chooses us: He is unshaken by the changes in our own plans; He uses us in any and every circumstance as we incline our ear to Him and posture ourselves to obey; and that He does the work of obedience in us.

Happy Wednesday to you, friend.

looking ahead – intentionality.

I have a really good friend – an increasingly good friend – and we sat down the other day talking about New Years, resolutions, etc. I loved my conversation with her, and we both seemed to be in agreement with the fact that a new year should come with new intentions – things you want to strive toward, but realizing you have to give yourself some space for failure. Things you want to achieve by a certain time, not necessarily things you’ll nail right off the bat.

I’m also a big believer in public accountability and having a reference to go back to. Therefore, I’m writing this today to outline some of the things I want to achieve/change over the next year – habits to form, habits to change, things to practice, etc. Join me!

Be mindful of physical fitness.
I know, I know. Who’s not aiming for this at New Years? But for me, here’s what this looks like. First of all, I’m not terribly unhappy with my body as it is right now. I’m luckily pretty thin – but the reality is that I won’t stay that way if I continue on my current path. My exercise comes only in the form of walks to the bank and indoor soccer. I have no regular routine of working out and training my body, and I’m getting to the point where I realize that my metabolism will slow down in the next five years. When that happens, I want to be ready with habits already in place that will allow me to retain the level of physical strength and fitness that I currently possess. I’m not terribly concerned with being stronger and faster (though I wouldn’t mind that) – I want to stay strong and stay fast.
So there are things I can do more of: casual runs, push-ups, stretching and breathing exercises, eating fruits and vegetables, drinking water consistently.
And things I can do less of: eating late at night, having days where I don’t exercise or exert myself at all, eating in excess, eating the wrong things at the wrong times, pushing myself in short spurts without normal practice (like I do with soccer right now.)
I’d like to create a habit of physical fitness – we’ll see how this pans out.

Keeping a grip on my schedule – ruling it and not letting it rule me.
This has been a tough one since I got a salaried position – it’s easy to let work rule the schedule and feel like a slave to work. And to a degree, it’s a good thing to be committed to the job – after all, I’m getting paid every hour of every day (depending on how you choose to look at it.) in 2014, I found myself feeling deflated when work was over, having no plan of what to do with my spare time, and ultimately wasting it. Instead, I’d like to create a habit of planning – not letting work get ahead of me, and not letting myself slack when I get spare time to do things that make me who I am – my interests, hobbies, and passions outside of work.

Making plans and keeping them.
Ironically, I work best off of a schedule, and yet I don’t usually plan time to plan. My best days are the ones when I have an idea of what it is that I want to do every hour of the day. I’m not married to the schedule, but it helps me to stay committed to the idea. I’m a believer in unplugging and looking ahead to a new week, new month, new day, etc. The hope is that with my Sundays being freer (since I’m no longer commuting to Berea for church) I’ll have a day to plan the upcoming week – perhaps hour-by-hour but perhaps from a to-do standpoint, plan meals, shop for groceries, etc. I think this will help me de-stress.

Minimalism/utilitarianism.
Lately, I’ve been making a lot of fruitless trips to stores that used to take all of my money – so I think I have some mentalities and habits in place to serve this goal. And I don’t want to be a minimalist for minimalism’s sake, but for a bigger picture.
I’m 24. I own my own car, but it’s in increasing disrepair and I need to think about a new one. I’m settling down in a new city that I love – maybe I should start thinking about buying my own home instead of being a lifetime renter. I have TONS of stuff – I keep trying to get rid of more and more but I still have so much more than I need – I have loads of movies, books, CDs, plenty of clothes, and other crap that just gets in my way. That said, I have no need for new stuff! I find myself getting sick at the idea of buying more music or movies (I have a soft spot for books, though…) because I know that over the last 5 years, I’ve cycled through so much stuff that I just end up getting rid of. To what degree do I own stuff for the sake of owning stuff? I have more clothes than I need, more media than I need – if anything, I need to get things that are more practical and helpful: more tools, more storage space, focus on meeting basic needs, etc.

Transparency.
I covered this a lot in a blog around my birthday – but I’ll reiterate. I think lying is a waste of time. I think not being completely honest is a waste of time. Yes, lots of times it’s awkward – two of my friends though I was asking them on dates last year when I wasn’t – but it’s always best to be honest sooner than later. That’s a goal I’d like to continue to establish.

Answering the question: do I want to marry?
Speaking of dating…this question has come up for me. I wonder if it’s too early to decide this, because the hard thing is that there’s no certain time by which it’ll happen. Some of my friends haven’t gotten married until their 30s, some got married by the time they were 21. But I genuinely wonder about this, because honestly, I find relationships so exhausting. I hate hurting and being hurt. I hate that I get socially awkward every time I’ve gone from having a “friend” to having a “girlfriend.” I hate navigating the areas I find myself in – that the girls I’m most keen to date are also my best friends and I’m so worried about losing a friend that I don’t want to worry about dating. And honestly, I’m happy being single. I’d like to see what happens in this arena in the next year – maybe my perspective will change.

Read!
This habit has come on strong in the last month or so – I blazed through a few more books before 2014 ended, and now I find myself in love with books again. I finally have put away all of the books I’ve already read, so unread books are staring me down on my bookshelves, inviting me to read them. I’m very keen! I’d like to eventually read my entire collection.
Also, I’ve come a long way in making Bible reading a habit – getting over my hyper-spirituality as to which book to read and just choosing; getting over my its-too-early-to-concentrate-on-the-Bible mentality (a lot of my Bible study happens at 4:30 AM anymore.)
I ended 2014 with a book in my hand, and I’d like to end 2015 the same way. Forget big parties and crazy nights – I’m finally content at home with a book in my hands.

Fixing my eyes on Jesus.
This is a massive change in seasons for me. The last Sunday of 2014 was my last Sunday at a church I’ve called home for 9 years, and I anticipate that the greatest challenge over the next few months will be remembering how much I need Jesus. Even over the course of writing this, my paranoia has kicked in and I find myself worrying (even a little bit) that I’m trying to change by myself. I find myself worrying that I’m not changing in a good way. I find myself worrying that I’ll get comfortable outside of ministry, as a lay-person in a church. But I also trust God that He’s put a deposit in me, to where I can’t be content sitting around and doing nothing in a church. I trust Him that when I turn away from Him, He’ll call me back – that when I do my own thing with my own poor judgment, He’ll slow me down.

Realistically, the power of Jesus is the only power by which I can change. And the only reason I change is for His glory. I know that, but I also know that I have to remember that. Here goes a new year, and with it, new power for change with Jesus, for Jesus’ glory.