Let the dead bury their own dead.

Last time out, I spilled my guts in a way I feel I haven’t in a long time.

This time, I’m going to do it some more.

For me, the writing process has potential to be very healing. I say potential because in a lot of cases, I hit a ceiling with it and nothing happens. I can’t promise that writing through my issues will solve them. In this instance, I tend to think that it may do, but there is no such thing as a sure thing in this field.

Last time, I wrote about the gospel – how at one point it was my main passion, my main desire, and the reason I did everything I did for a long time, and how nowadays it seems that isn’t case. I wrote about what may have gone wrong.

Well, here’s the truth that hit me like a ton of bricks, and the truth that may just have set me free (although, like a prisoner chained for a long time, I may be so used to chains that I can’t tell they’re gone…)

I make excuses. Regularly.

Excuses from following Jesus. Excuses from giving everything I have to Him. Excuses from loving Him with my whole heart, mind, and strength.

Excuses like:

I’m busy with my job!
I want to be a normal person with hobbies – so I want to spend time listening to podcasts about whatever, reading books about whatever, and playing video games in my spare time.
I have a girlfriend now!
I have a little dog to take care of.
I’m so busy with the move.
I’m still busy unpacking the new apartment.
I haven’t found a church yet!
I haven’t figured out what I want to do!
Who knows my future?

All of those I’ve used to justify my lack of pursuing Jesus, and none of them are legitimate. I say that for several reasons. First, because all of those things have potential to be, instead of distractions, opportunities.

A hobby can glorify God.
A relationship can glorify God.
Being faithful in the midst of a chaotic season (of work and moving, etc) can glorify God.
Finding a church and letting my gifts show can glorify God.
The future – albeit uncertain – can glorify God.

Second, everyone has struggles. It’s not as though my life is suddenly more chaotic than it ever has been – it is chaotic, but it’s been here before. I’ve been in relationships. I’ve moved before. I’ve had a lot going on before. It’s not an excuse to stop following Jesus.

So this is me publically calling myself out.

This is me confessing to you, reader, that I’ve made choices to stop following Jesus – even if they were unknowingly made – Who is, I remain convinced, my most faithful Friend, my Savior, my Redeemer, and a very real person who has a very real presence inside of me, even though I’ve chosen to suppress it of late.

This is me confessing that in the last few months, I have (as I have done before in my walk with Jesus) striven endlessly to grasp truths with my head that must also be grasped in the heart by the power of the Holy Spirit.

One of those truths I found in Matthew 8:22.

“Let the dead bury their own dead.”

The context is this: Jesus is telling a couple of disciples about the cost of following Him – after one says, “I will follow You wherever You go,” He tells him, “birds have nests and foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Another disciple says, “I will follow You – but first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus replies, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

Suddenly, that came alive to me. To paraphrase it or put myself in the context, Jesus is saying that our problems aren’t in the equation of the decision to follow Him. Our problems don’t come first, our issues don’t take precedent, our life happenings are irrelevant in the magnitude of what it is to follow Him. There’s no time to “get it together.” There’s no time to take a break from discipleship. There’s no, “I’ll do it in a second.”

Why?

Because, I’d venture, of a moment in a garden.

A moment when Jesus examined the road ahead of Him – the path of suffering, the fate of the cross, the reality of the thorns and the nails in His hands – and He factored all of it in when He made this decision:

“Father, if there is any way, let this cup pass from me. But nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done.”

[Luke 22:42, Matthew 26:39]

There was a commitment in that moment – an eternal commitment, an incomparable commitment to the will of the Father. Something I can hardly grasp.

And you know what’s crazy? I have that tattooed on my left arm, and I forgot the scope of it. See, I believe that Jesus set the standard for discipleship with the word “nevertheless.”

I’ve heard it said that when you say “but” in a sentence, you negate everything before it. Jesus played out in His head the whole scenario and said (in not so many words,) “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be beaten. I don’t want to die. I don’t want them to pick out My beard. I don’t want them to tear My skin from My bones. I don’t want nails in My hands or My feet.”

But then He said, “Nevertheless.”

And He wiped away every excuse, every reason not to follow the will of God. He willingly did so. He took the initiative to do that. Jesus is the epitome of following in spite of burdens – He, in a bruised and broken vessel, carried a heavy cross, which only exacerbated the pain and further opened the wounds.

That makes my excuses pale in comparison.

Surely I have no reason to stop following the King of all kings; the Lord of lords, the author of Love, the author of Salvation, the Redeemer of mankind. Surely nothing can be too heavy to bear while I take up my cross and follow Jesus.

i want to want You: chronicling circumstance of the last few months

The following story you may have already read on this blog. I apologize if that’s the case, but the consequences of this story I am still working out.
This time last year, I was pretty sure of myself and my direction in life. I had just moved to Lexington, and the path in front of me (so I thought) was very clear, especially given the reasons I had for moving up: the girl I dated was in Lexington, and I knew that at my home church we had talked about planting a church in Lexington, and I was keen on that. I was reading books about ministry and church planting, trying to talk myself into being ready for it.
And I was in the mixer with ministry – I’d been serving on the worship team for years, leading worship and otherwise just being in the band; I’d been in children’s ministry; I’d led small groups, I was on the church council, and I was the back-up preacher, the guy they called when our pastor was out of town and someone needed to preach. The best thing? I enjoyed all of that. A lot, actually. I felt so much fulfillment being a part of ministry, and giving myself to something week in and week out. I loved sermon prep – the studying, the writing, the doubting (yourself, of course) and the revision. I loved preaching – there was no greater thrill for me than to get up and proclaim the truth to people in a way that was (I hope) understandable and relevant. I took a lot of pride in taking a chunk of scripture – New Testament or Old – and turning it back to Jesus all of the time. There’s nothing I’ve ever enjoyed more, I’d venture.
So in a lot of ways, I was pretty well groomed for church planting. It made a lot of sense for me to do it, but for some reason (or reasons,) I couldn’t bring myself to get ready for it. For starters, I was completely unmotivated to undergo the licensing process, which could have been down to a couple of things – I was pretty busy and preoccupied with a new position I got at my job, which took a lot of my time (couple that with the fact that I’m not a terribly driven personality and I don’t necessarily use my free time for anything productive,) and I wasn’t terribly convinced by the movement we were a part of. It’s not that I doubted or disagreed with Foursquare, it’s that when I thought about planting a church, I didn’t think, “this place needs a Foursquare church.” I also had some doubts because I felt (at the time) like I was the only person – besides our pastor – at the church who was thinking about planting a church. I was starting to feel like it was a one-man job.
After weighing all of that, I made a couple of decisions. I sat down with my pastor (who, by the way, is also one of my best friends, a spiritual father, and whose wisdom and counsel I still cherish to this day, just so you know…) and talked to him about all of this. I told him that I felt a church plant was going nowhere, and that if a church plant was going nowhere, then there wasn’t a big point in me staying (because, I told myself, it’s hard to be in community with people who are 40 miles away, as my church was. It’s hard to keep up with the day-to-day stuff when you can’t come down day-to-day. It was easier to be more involved when I lived in Berea [where my church was] or Richmond [same county.] But Lexington got hard – you have to get all the way to the interstate and then take it about 30 miles to get to Berea. Not something I can do every day.) I also told myself that I was so exhausted from running around with my job all week that the last thing I wanted to do was to make a trip on Sundays to another county and stay there for a big chunk of the day. I barely got a day off all week, and Sunday felt like another work day most of the time, so I didn’t want to do that to myself.
So here I was – a kid in a new city, with a new job, leaving the one thing left that was really stable. At the end of the year, I left.

Am I happier for it?
No, not yet.
Am I better for it?
Jury’s out, but for now – no.
Will I be okay?
Yeah, probably, we’ll see. I’m thinking so.

Let’s have a quick word on me and my weakness, and then on God and His sovereignty.

See, sometimes I come home to my apartment and I feel absolutely empty. I feel at times that I have no reference point, no starting point, nothing I can hold on to. When I open my Bible in the mornings, I feel lost again. Not so much lost as in I think I’m going to hell or that I’m not saved, I mean lost as in disoriented, directionless, unsure of where to go or what to do. I mean that sometimes my spiritual life feels like it’s without theme or reinforcement – until I get to a point at which I’m consistently in community with people again, growing with people together, studying the Bible together, then I don’t think I will feel like there’s theme or reinforcement.

I feel weak lately. Very weak. I feel that I’ve made decisions that aren’t necessarily Gospel-informed. I feel unable to find my feet and keep my balance. I think the solution is community, and yet I find myself uncommitted to community, which is ironic because it is the one thing I believe is the cure for the weakness that comes with being isolated. I’ve tried to overcome this weakness with more sermon podcasts, more worship music, more Christian books, and none of them work. I’ve even gone to church every Sunday for the last month (a record streak for me since I left my home church) and I still don’t feel better. I still feel confused, I still feel misguided, I still feel somewhat blinded.

And I notice that the common strand is that every time an opportunity for community comes up, I turn it down for something else. Every Sunday night at my new church, Turning Point, there’s a group for newer members that helps you get plugged in and connect. The last two weeks (since I really decided to start going) I’ve made other plans on Sunday nights. I’ve chosen against it. And that’s on me.
The dichotomy I find at work (and it’s such a Kingdom dichotomy) is this: you are ultimately responsible for your own spiritual growth, but you can’t grow without other people. That is, I can’t sit here and blame outside factors for the reason I’ve let myself get where I am – I can’t blame geography, I can’t blame the numerous distractions I have at the moment, I can’t blame my job, I can’t blame my friends. I can only blame myself – the pattern of choices that I’ve made to keep myself isolated and out of community. Community is there to be had if I commit myself to it – but I need to be proactive about it. I can’t wait to be invited to everything, I can’t sit and lament that nobody calls or texts me. I have to go get it. Because I’m convinced you can’t grow alone. God uses the church to tell the world about Himself, and that includes the church. What I mean is – God uses the church to tell the church about Himself. I can’t tell myself forever, because I’m prone to doubt. We’re all prone to doubt. We need each other.

But God.

There may be no more powerful words in any form of communication – but God.

See – yes, I have problems. Yes, I’ve changed. Yes, I’ve made choices.

But God is true, and God is constant. I take comfort in the thought that the God I preached so confidently not even a year ago is still ruling and reigning, and He’s every bit as powerful, loving, gracious, true, just, wise, and sovereign as He was then. (I say these things as a preacher as a reminder to myself, as a reference point.)

God hasn’t changed.

God isn’t sitting there saying, “Oh, no! Jeff moved to Lexington and he left River of Life! My eternal plan is ruined!” God doesn’t look at each choice I make and lament how I’m unraveling the intricately woven threads of human history.

God, I believe, is sitting as He always has – ruling and reigning, willing to give guidance when I ask, not imposing Himself when I don’t. And, as usual, He wants what’s best in terms of spiritual growth for me – I believe there are choices I make that He smiles at and choices I make that make Him grimace, but none of them change His sovereign love, His sovereign grace, or His sovereign plan.

It holds true that God created the heavens and the earth.

It holds true that God had (and still has) a perfect plan for humanity, and a design for it.

It holds true that we deviated from our design and invited sin into the picture.

It holds true that we are broken as a result.

It holds true that we were separated from God as a result.

It holds true that if we were ever to be reunited with Him, He would have to do something.

It holds true that He did.

It holds true that Jesus came into the world, He lived a sinless life, He preached, He worked miracles, He told of the Father, He broke expectations and He broke chains, and He was arrested and sentenced to death despite being innocent.

It holds true that He was beaten, His clothes were torn from His body, and they drove a crown of thorns into His head.

It holds true that He dragged a cross on the road to Calvary on His back that was already wounded beyond recognition, every pound of the heavy cross forcing more and more blood and pressure on the wound.
It holds true that they drove nails through His hands and His feet, and hung Him high for everyone to see, and He died on that cross.

It holds true that three days later, after being buried in a tomb, the disciples found the tomb empty, and Jesus appeared to them again. That is, it holds true that He’s alive.

It holds true that He ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He sits (as in, He doesn’t have to work anymore) and it still holds true that the universe exists through Him and for Him.

It holds true that the Church carries His message to the world – far and wide.

It holds true that the Church exists to proclaim the manifest wisdom of God – that is, the Gospel – to the entirety of the cosmos.

It holds true that Jesus will come again to rule and reign on this earth – which will be redeemed and made new – and we will live forever with Him.

None of that has ever changed, and none of it ever will. God is sovereign. He isn’t confined geographically, He isn’t confined circumstantially. He isn’t confined by any amount of human wisdom or understanding, by any advancement of technology and science, or any other human invention.

So what does change?

[this is the part where I spin back to myself and get a little introspective – try to get to the bottom of what’s going on.]

I change.

That has to be the only explanation for the way I’ve been feeling, for the ways I’ve acted, and for the situation I find myself in. Somewhere along the line, I changed. See, there was a time – not even that long ago – when I found all of my purpose in the Gospel. Giving myself to the church and to ministry was all that I wanted to do. Proclaiming that story (see: every sentence that starts with “it holds true” above) was everything to me. It was my favorite thing to do, it was my hobby, my job, my short-term and my long-term goal.

Somehow that changed. Somewhere along the line, I made a choice that the Gospel wasn’t my ultimate focus anymore. I’m not even really sure when or where. Was it the first Sunday in January when I decided that I could stay home instead of go to church and hear the Gospel? Was it when I got a promotion at work? Was it when I got this new apartment? Was it when I moved to Lexington in the first place? Was it when I started listening to a certain podcast? Was it someone I met whose friendship I valued more than the Gospel?

When was it? The answer probably is, all of these and none of these.

I am, to be entirely honest, deeply discontent. I have a lot of things going for me, and a lot of them I believe would uphold, but this one thing has me unsettled and unsatisfied at the deepest, most foundational level.

I love the Gospel. I love to hear the story, I love to tell the story. I believe the story.
But does it give me purpose for me like it did? Does it rule every thought, every decision, every wish, and every desire? I fear the answer is no, but I want so badly for the answer to be yes! And I feel that the only thing standing in my way is myself – I need only to die more and more, to give more of myself up, to sacrifice more of my desires, to give up more of my will to Jesus.

I desperately desire for my most desperate desire to be more and more of Jesus. And I hope that’s a good place to be in.

My last note (added well after writing this) I’m convinced that one day God and I will laugh about this. I worry and I fret, but He’s sovereign. There’s a man I know I am, and a man I am now, and they’re not the same, but I believe they one day will be. More on that in the next post…

On dignity and contentment.

Slow down. Stop for a second.

You don’t have to be completely mature already. That is, there are immaturities in you, and that’s okay. Don’t rush the process. It’s okay to be imperfect, we all are.

I have to stop and take a deep breath, because I want to pretend that I have it all figured out. And if I don’t, I want to pretend that I’m in a mad dash to figure out, and I’ll have it figured out before you know it, promise.

But I don’t have to.

So this isn’t a solutions blog. This is a hash-it-out blog. This is an I-have-a-long-way-to-go blog.

It occurred to me the other day that I struggle with comparison to a crazy degree. The following situation may or may not be fabricated, and it may or may not be reasonable.

Situation: at a bar with some friends.

Friend 1: I’m going to New York this fall!
Friend 2: Oh, awesome! I’ve been to New York. It’s so fun! You should visit the lower east side. There’s this sweet little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with the most amazing food. Oh, and there’s this coffee shop…I might be taking a trip this fall, too. I’m probably going to go to Florida.
Friend 1: Nice! Where?
Friend 2: Probably Miami. It’ll be so cool to check out the nightlife.
Jeff: [sits quietly as friends banter on about travel and the like, and the conversation moves on to other things like music, the latest vinyl they bought at the store, why vinyl is awesome, their favorite records, etc. As the conversation moves on, Jeff feels more and more detached and feels smaller and smaller, because Jeff listens to the same bands, hardly ever gives things a try, doesn’t travel much, and doesn’t have too much intention to.]

Perhaps I didn’t make my situation clear, so I’ll abandon the whole story tactic in the future.

What I mean is this: I find that I don’t want anything until I find out that someone else has it. It’s been a lot of things – it’s been travel, it’s been music and even how people listen to it, it’s been hobbies and skills, it’s been a job, etc. Once I hear that someone else has done something, I start to feel behind or unvaluable because of the fact that I haven’t done or otherwise experienced that very thing.

If I discover someone’s been to the Kentucky Derby, I suddenly want to go to the Kentucky Derby.
If I find out that someone took a train from one city to another, I suddenly want to.
If I’m told that a certain city is awesome, I suddenly want to go, and I feel boring until I do.

It’s one big, nasty case of experiential jealousy, coupled with experiential comparison.

The word that keeps coming up the more I think about this issue is dignity.

I suspect that because I haven’t done certain things, or haven’t been certain places, then my life doesn’t have dignity. All of a sudden, none of my experiences hold up their significance (or relevance or value to me,) none of my hobbies are worthwhile, and none of my interests are interesting.

In other words, I disqualify myself.

In other words, I idolize other people and I esteem their lives a lot higher than I esteem my own.

In other words, I stop believing my life has dignity.

And it’s funny, because if other people think their life is boring, or if they feel discontentment with where they’ve been or what they’ve done, I don’t judge it for a second. I’m really bad about feeling invalidated by people who have a lot of experience, but I don’t feel especially validated or justified by the people who don’t.

Here’s what I’m finding to be true, and what I want to be able to believe on the regular:

You do what you want, and the best thing is to want what you do. The best thing you can do for yourself and for the world is to be happy with who you are and where you’ve been (I mean none of this in theological senses, strictly cognitive and practical.) You help neither yourself nor the rest of the world by feeling as though your life is less; you do no favors for anyone if you fall at their feet and worship them for the places they’ve seen, the Instagram pictures they have at the beach (or beside Big Ben, or the Eiffel Tower, or in the Rockies, etc. etc.) and sulk and wallow in your own self-insufficiency. It’s not helpful.

Instead, it’s better to own what you do, what you’ve done, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. If you spend your afternoons in a house with no tv and you read books, own that. If your hobby is to write lyrics and you only occasionally do anything with them (as in write songs,) own that. If you work a job where you make less than minimum wage and work 40-50 hours a week, own that. If you only get out of the state once every quarter or even once a year, own that.
Contentment is a good, good thing.

I’d like to learn that more permanently.

update: strength in community and passion.

Whirlwind: over. I think. I really hope, anyway.

I just got done moving into a new apartment (still living in Lexington, same job, etc, so nothing major in that sense) and I have never had such a chaotic move – it was a weird one, because my landlord said if I wanted to move in Mid-March, I could have that month rent-free. So naturally I did, but it left a really weird pair of weeks for which I was living alone in a two-bedroom apartment, going from living with two other people to living with none. I wasn’t completely moved in yet (bits and pieces of my stuff were left at the house) and I was working a couple of the busiest weeks I’ve had at work in a while, so early mornings and late nights, plus normal errands plus a move plus a new relationship equals absolute chaos. I’ve barely seen my family in the last month, had to say no to a bunch of social opportunities, and I’ve felt the overall unsettledness of being between places. It’s my first ever in-city move, and I didn’t really feel any pressure of time (because I had a whole month to live for free while the lease at my house was still in effect.)

But as of Tuesday night, we are 100% out of the old house. Now it’s just a matter of switching over the last of the utilities, cutting a check for deposit and first month’s rent, oh, and the small matter of paying outstanding bills from the old house (while me and both of my previous roommates are entirely broke, not to mention the fact that I won’t see one of them for a while so who knows if he’ll even pay? That’s another topic, though…)

Anyway, I finally feel a little peace. I finally feel rested. In fact, I finally get a day off from work. I’m about to get in my car and head to Richmond (I haven’t been to Richmond in at least a month) and see my old pastor, my spiritual father, Tim.

I’ve realized over the course of the last month how vital community is. I say that because I’ve realized how much I need someone to talk to – how, if left to my own devices and left alone and isolated, I will either implode and have an emotional breakdown (which has happened) as life’s stresses pile up, or I will explode and have someone else bear the brunt of everything that’s going on in my life. I’ve “puked” (my phrase for venting) to multiple people on the topics of girls, roommates, money, church, work, sleep and the lack thereof, etc. and I don’t ever feel completely relieved from it.

I think that’s because I haven’t been settled. Not to beat the dead horse of finding a church, but I still haven’t. It’s been a whole three months since I left River of Life, and I feel that. Every time I talk to people there, I feel so at ease, so welcomed. I remember the community I had, and I remember that I was (and indeed still am) very, very loved. It’s not a perfect church, but it was my church. It was the church that I gave my heart and soul to. I gave my time, my energy, money, resources, etc. to that church. And now I don’t have the an avenue or object to pour all of those things into. I have a job that keeps me busy (and therefore sane) but nothing is the same as ministry.

Slowly but surely, though, I think I’m inching towards the church I want to get involved with. And it’s scratching an itch I’ve had for a long, long time. I’m antsy to get back into ministry. Antsy to be in a small group again. Antsy to give a certain night of the week to a group of people, and give every Sunday morning to the same group. Antsy to know people with a presupposition that we’re all following Jesus and doing so wholeheartedly.

In the meantime, there are a lot of people I’m grateful to for their time, for their ears, for their understanding, and for fulfilling the biblical mandate of bearing one another’s burdens – Lord knows I’ve thrown a few on the shoulders of others!

There’s strength in community. And there’s strength in finding the thing to give your time, energy, and passion to. And I can’t wait to be poured out in that sense once again.

[side note to my faithful readers:] this blog, like many others, has been cut short due to time constraints. I’ve noticed I’ve become a much more concise writer in the last year or so, perhaps due to the fact that my job is so much numbers that I’ve lost my touch with words. Whatever! I hope you still enjoy and I appreciate your readership.