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.

imago dei.

I’ve gotten a little stagnant in my prayer life lately – perhaps its because my life hasn’t changed up a whole lot and I’ve still been fighting the same battles – my prayers all look and sound something like this:

Father, thank You for this day. Thanks for putting breath in my lungs, thanks for waking me up this morning. You are good and merciful, and You let me speak to You even when I don’t deserve it. Help me be a good co-worker today; help me to serve people the way that Jesus would serve people; help me to be a good steward of the things You have given me; help me to respond to my surroundings and circumstances with grace and with peace. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Now – there are probably 100 different ways people would criticize that prayer: maybe I didn’t spend enough time in adoration, maybe I didn’t pray scripture, maybe I didn’t root my requests in the right things, maybe I should have been more supplicatory, maybe I could have been more intercessory. (I just read Tim Keller’s prayer, so the concepts, types,  and elements of prayer are fresh in my mind.) Anyone who gave any of those criticisms would be, at least in part, correct.

The thing I’ve become all too aware of, however, is how weak my reasoning is to ask to be changed, and that’s my main motivation for writing today.

Let me take you under the hood of my theology and worldview for a quick second. I’m of the mind that God created the world with a very specific design in mind. A design for time, a design for money, a design for sex, a design for our diet/nutrition/health, a design for relationships, a design for work – you name it, chances are I could at least theorize on how God designed it to be done.

So, often times when I’m rethinking something in my life, I’m trying to contrast my current state with what I believe the God-designed world looks like, and then making adjustments to move my current state to that God-state. But in my approach, it has less to do with the fact that God made it, and more to do with the fact that I believe it’s the best system, the best setup that will give me the best outcome. For example:

If I indulge less, then I will save money.

If I save money, then I will be financially free and financially comfortable and have financial autonomy.

If I abstain from sex, then I will be emotionally, mentally, and physically at peace.

If I keep a cool head at work, then I will be less stressed outside of work and remembered well by co-workers.

If I treat my body well by eating well and working out, then I will have a less painful, longer life (at least in theory.)

See, all of those “ifs” are good things to do, and the outcomes aren’t half bad, either – but I’m not choosing to do any of them because it’s the God-designed way of living my life. Instead, I’m more or less using the God-designed way of living life (which speaks to the brilliance of God, I believe, that His plan for life is in some cases simply common wisdom,) to get the best thing for me.

And again – that’s part of the mercy of God, that even if we don’t know that it’s His design for our lives, we still get to reap the benefits of it. That’s called common grace.

Still, however, this approach is misinformed. Seeking our own good – as followers of Jesus – isn’t the point of our lives. It isn’t our job. Jesus made it crystal clear when He said to seek first the kingdom of God and these things (provisions) will be added unto us (Matthew 6:33.) So the benefits still come, but they shouldn’t inform what we do or why we do it.

Perhaps our approach to change should involve three questions: what am I being transformed into? How am I being transformed? Why am I being transformed? I think the theological answers are these: into His image, by beholding Him, and for His glory.

If you extract any of those three answers, the whole thing crashes.

If you seek to be transformed into anything but His image – perhaps someone you admire, or a vision you have of your “ideal” self – then beholding Him becomes unnecessary (as He is not your standard of what to become) and there is no glory to be given to Him (as it is not Him you are seeking to reflect.)

If you seek to be transformed into His image, but do so by any means other than beholding Him (see: 2 Corinthians 3,) then – even if you were successful in your endeavor – He gets no glory, because it is not Him who is doing the transforming, it is you.

If you seek to be transformed into His image, do so by beholding Him, but don’t do it for His glory, then your change is misinformed – simply because the point of being changed into His image is to reflect Him to the rest of the world and in so doing, point back to his glory time and time again.

 

But how glorious it is when the three things are fused together. Consider it –

 

we are given a gift, a chance, to be transformed into the image of God: the God who is good, the God who is kind, the God who is just, the God who is love, the God who is beautiful, the God who is creative, the God who is righteous, the God who is wise. we are heirs of such an image.

we are given a standard and a reference point to behold – Jesus Christ – who embodied every bit of that: He humbled Himself to come to earth, He spent His time with others, He healed the sick, He gave sight to the blind, He humbled the rich and exalted the poor, He preached good news, He told truths both harsh and comforting, He never defended Himself in the face of false accusation, and He ultimately gave Himself up – an innocent – to die in the place of guilty sinners such as you and me so that we’d have His inheritance, and ended up rising from the dead three days later, having liberated us after taking the keys to death, hell, and the grave.

and we are given the opportunistic mandate to reflect that glory: that any change you or I are able to make – whether that’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control – is a chance to love and glorify the Father who gives us good things, no gift greater than the gift of Himself.

amen (isn’t goodbye.)

Jesus is a good teacher.

I’m not always a good learner.

Often times, I have to repeat the thing that I’ve learned over and over in my head until it becomes either routine to say it, or until I get so used to that reality that I live it out. Even more often, however, I don’t even repeat what it is I’m learning, and I forget it until He graciously teaches it to me again later.

My Bible is littered with notes – things that the Holy Spirit says when I’m reading or says via a preacher that I write down so I don’t forget it, and/or in hopes that when I read that passage again, it’ll light up and that truth will sink a little deeper into my heart.

You could say that I’m not the most proficient in hiding His word in my heart, that I might not sin against Him (see: Psalm 119:11; and see all of Psalm 119 if you’d like reinforcement of the importance of the Word of God.)

But here is a truth I’m finding – something I’m not moving on from until I get it, something so profound that it has changed my very constitution and the way I respond to things:

God doesn’t part with us.

I know, I know – “I shall never leave you nor forsake you; I’ll be with you until the end of the age; there is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother,” etc. etc. I should know that by now. I should know, after ten years as a Christian, that God doesn’t say, “bye!” to us.

But when I got to thinking about my prayer habits, my reading habits, and my habitual habits, I came to realize that I didn’t know that at all. You act upon the things you know, right?

I prayed like God was a friend I met for coffee or for a meal once in a while. I prayed like God was the spouse I would argue with in the car, and not speak with for a while. I prayed like God was a celebrity (or like I was one.) I prayed like God was a guest Who was coming into town for a few days before returning home. In short, I prayed like “amen” meant “goodbye.”

But “amen” ≠ “goodbye.”

Amen doesn’t mean you and God get in your respective cars and each go home, regardless of whether it was a good prayer or a bad prayer.

Amen doesn’t mean that God leaves your side until you call Him up again and say, “let’s hang out,” or, “I need to talk.”

Don’t get me wrong – we often don’t pray. I often don’t pray. It’s a practice I hope to do more. And God, in His patience and forbearance, will wait for us to approach Him again, He’ll answer when we call, and He’ll wait when we think we’ve got it all under control.

But God doesn’t leave.

Think about that.

Prayer, while it is an incredible gift and a remarkable practice, isn’t the only time when we access (or can access) the presence of God. God is always around. That changes everything. That means the comfort you feel in prayer can be carried with you outside of prayer, because the Comforter walks with you, He lives in you. The radical holiness we encounter comes with us after “amen,” because the Holy One sticks with us always. The wisdom we discover; the conviction we feel; the love that embraces us; all of that comes with you after prayer. At least, it can. And long may it!

 

Where shall I go from Your spirit? or where shall I flee from Your presence? 

if I ascend to heaven, You are there! if i make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

(Psalm 139:7-8)

[12.29.16]

familiar setting: my favorite Starbucks for writing. Winchester Road, just off the interstate. happy memories here – of getting peppermint mochas with my little sister on the way to do our Black Friday at Half Price Books; a pleasant date; paying off a credit card; having an honest conversation with a man who really pulled me out of a lot of stuff.

this morning I woke up real early to go bake at work. got there and discovered that someone had baked yesterday, so I got to go home, take a quick ‘nap,’ finish my book, and write a blog. lucky you, huh?

over time, my blog seems to have become a public journal of sorts – something I’m very okay with. I think I’m ok with it for a lot of reasons: i get a lot of positive feedback about things I write resonating with people; I get to be reeeeeeally darn honest; I get to process things externally (which is my modus operandi, anyway;) it gives me an easily accessible archive of things I’ve gone through, done, thought, felt, etc. I don’t know if it makes me self-indulgent to read my own blog – but I get a kick out of it. I do, however, wish that I had other spiritually-inclined, open, honest blogs to read, ones that can get me connected to more of the blogging community – so if you know any, please send them my way!

just over a week ago, I wrote my last post about sufficiency. in the aftermath of that, I took all of the social media off of my phone. I don’t think that’s a cure-all, and I don’t think it’s necessarily the “right” thing for everyone to do; but I noticed quickly that the less I saturated myself in the day-to-day, instagrammable parts of everyone’s lives, the happier I was with mine. upon reflection, lots of things in life are worth sharing – going to an event with your friends, eating a yummy meal at a nice restaurant, seeing a good sunrise, playing with a cute dog, ordering a gorgeous latte at a coffee shop, your seats at a basketball/football/baseball game, etc. and that’s all fine and well and good.

but lately, I’ve realized how much of my life isn’t instagrammable – especially the really good parts. For example: writing letters to people I’ve wronged or mistreated and asking their forgiveness, then hearing back and knowing I’m forgiven; talking to my dad about the ways I wished I’d been a different son and he wishes he’d been a different dad (or explained why we each behaved the ways we did,) working outside in below-freezing weather (through numbed hands) so that I can buy Christmas presents and pay my rent; paying off a credit card and lifting part of the burden of debt; spending too much money on flea treatment for my dog so that he doesn’t wake me up at 4AM anymore with his incessant scratching; and answering that little, quiet voice in my head that says, “this is a good time to pray.”

How do you instagram that stuff? I’m sure some expert out there could do it – but at the same time, so much of this is private (but worth sharing in this context, I suspect;) but this is the stuff that makes my life good. this is the stuff i feel the deepest joy in, the most satisfaction. no perfect pour of a cappuccino or front-row basketball ticket can make up for the absolution of knowing people you hurt forgive you, for being on the same page with your dad, for being debt-free (or a bit closer,) etc. So, I guess you could say that that’s what I’m keeping my eye out for now: the stuff that feeds my soul, not just my eyes.

On that, I’m learning to pray a little more. and, dear reader, don’t mistake me – my faith is far from perfect (or perhaps it is perfect in its imperfection.) I’m learning that constant awareness of the presence of God is so key to living a joyful life – for it is in the awareness of His presence that we are able to seek His counsel for those little things that, if they go unchecked, can cause us the most trouble. It is only He Who can stay my tongue from saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time; it is only the joy of His satisfaction that can keep my ego in check; it is only knowing that He suffered injustice in my place that makes me able to deal with the things I find least fair in life. And I’m learning that there’s no magical prayer to pray or scripture to memorize to remember this…instead, I suggest only this: when you pray, don’t assume that “amen” means “see you later, God!” “Amen” only means, “alright, let’s do this. together.”

 

enough.

A rare occurrence has come about this week-end…I’m off of work for an entire weekend. That’s right – Friday, Saturday, Sunday. No shifts, only one obligation; but even that’s a Christmas party that should be loads of fun. I love having time off of work, because it’s nice to be able to re-approach my job with a fresh energy and attitude. Even if I do other things or other types of work over a break in work, it’s helpful to just get away from it for a bit.

I do, however, struggle to be off of work sometimes. Once I start doing things, eating meals, driving around, etc I start to worry a little bit. And I’m afraid I’m not alone in this. I think it’s the fear that I don’t have enough. It’s rooted in the idea that I’m spending time not making money and I’m definitely spending it. It’s this fear I’ve had for years that I may make a few bad choices and struggle to pay rent. My battle with money at the moment is that I have a pile of debt that I’d like to pay off and that I have things I’m saving for, so almost anything I spend money on comes with a lot of stress. But, you know – it’s not just money that I struggle with, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this battle with sufficiency.

I worry that I don’t have enough time.

I worry that I don’t have enough interests (you know, to be an “interesting” person.)

I worry that I don’t have enough answers.

I worry that I don’t have enough knowledge.

I worry that I don’t have enough discipline.

I worry that I don’t have enough friends.

I worry that I don’t have enough opportunities.

I worry that I don’t have enough accomplishments.

I worry that I don’t have enough ideas.

 

Do you ever feel that? It’s just constant pressure – pressure to listen to more podcasts; to write more blogs; to exercise more and have a better body; to read more; to hang out more; to go to more events; to see more movies; to travel more; to meet more people; to apply for more jobs; to find more opportunities; to have more things; to make more money; to know more; to think more; to create more; to talk more; to listen more.

 

I think sometimes this pressure can exist in a good space and capacity, but often times it doesn’t. I know that in my life, right here and now, it doesn’t. It breeds stress and the desire to accomplish; not the actual desire to do and enjoy and partake.

 

It’s something our society seems to breed and encourage, especially in an age when so much knowledge and so many opportunities are at our fingertips, and especially in an age when everyone can make themselves look so good on social media. When we’re expected to put our best self forward in our Instagram and Twitter bios, we end up feeling pressure to make them true. When I say, “blogger, poet, singer, believer;” I instantly create pressure for myself to write blogs, to write poems, to sing more songs, and to spend more time sharpening my faith.

Now, are any of these things inherently bad? No! (Especially not that last one.) And, I’m not saying that social media is the sole producer of these kinds of pressures. But I think there’s more joy to be had in our lives if we do things because we want to/we like to than if we do things just because they’re expected of us.

I can’t help but wonder how content we’d be if we weren’t trying to please anyone or maintain some sort of image. I can’t help but wonder if we (or maybe I just mean I) already do the things we (I) love but we’re (I’m) not content with it just because it’s not the same thing we (I) see other people doing.

 

Maybe it’s time to say enough is indeed enough – that is, being content with who we are, where we are, what we’re good at, and what we’re blessed to do, is actually enough. Contentment is greater than comparison.

rummaging (a journal entry.)

Lately I’ve been pretty pierced with emotions. It hit me yesterday when I was doing dishes at work – a memory of something I did once, something I said once, a way I responded once. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but suddenly, out of nowhere, it hit me like a body-shot right in the gut. Guilt I hadn’t felt in ages. The sentiment of being an immature, heartbroken young man who lashed out in anger at an Instagram post made by an ex. The scent was familiar but foreign – because I knew that was me, but the person I am is miles away from the young man I was then. Still, it hits hard. It’s a device of the enemy to make us feel like we are somehow still that person – that we never learned from those countless mistakes. 

I remember what it was like to hide when she came to get coffee in the mornings, even though we’d broken up. I remember the dryness in my throat, the heartbeat skipped over not by infatuation, but by frustration; I remember trying to vindicate myself by telling my co-workers the story of how we broke up and just how unfair it was – and I wasn’t blind to the sequence of events, rather, I was some sort of color-blind. I still think of her because I go to her old church (then again, she may still attend.) I think of her because I’ve worried that I may never find a woman who is as upstanding in her faith and as good of a person as she is. I’m afraid I don’t deserve a “good Christian girl” anymore. Not after the way I treated her. 

Not after the kinds of tricks I’ve tried to pull off.

Not after trying to manipulate relationships by trying to justify my occasional flying-off-the-handle by being overly sweet at other times. I remember the moment when I realized that there was a simple formula in my head: if you make a girl upset by losing your temper in some capacity (for me, it’s usually over-sentiment and emotionalism) then she’ll forgive you if you bring her flowers and some chocolate. I remember the temper tantrum I threw when I picked up my then-girlfriend who was supposed to stay the night with me and I asked her why she didn’t have her stuff with her. She said she’d changed her mind but didn’t tell me about it before picking her up. I lost my temper (because you can guess what I wanted to happen that night.) I have never physically hurt a girl, but man, have I messed with their hearts. I messed with them because I led them to believe I was a kind, sweet, gentle man, but the second things didn’t go my way, I snapped and became a control freak. I bent and snapped them until they fit my mold and what I wanted from them emotionally. and by God, I hate that there has been so much pain caused – to me but mostly to them – I have repented more times than I can count. and I’ve thought about writing them letters, because in some cases, I’m only now seeing how messed up I was. How scared I was; how approval-hungry I was; how manipulative I was; how foolish I was.

i’m not entirely sure why i decided to write this. i’m not sharing it on Facebook like i normally do – i’m not scared of it (or else i wouldn’t have posted it) but for the same reason you don’t put the dirty laundry in the living room when you have guests over. if they want to know, they can know. i guess on some level, i hope this is read by someone i hurt and i can reach a little closure. on another level, it alleviates some of the weight i’ve felt of mistakes i’ve made. i’m trying to figure out how the heck to reflect Jesus in my relationships – the romantic kind – because to this point i’ve been, quite frankly, unable to make that happen. usually i’m not mature enough to make it happen. sometimes i’ve dragged them (whoever i date) down, other times i’ve been unable to raise us both out of a quagmire of immaturity and selfishness and we both hurt each other in our attempts to protect ourselves. i’m trying to figure out what God has to do with it. 

 

mostly i’m writing because it’s not who i am anymore. i’m not my mistakes, and i know that. and i hope that somewhere out there, this sticks with someone else who’s dealt with this, too.

 

waiting for Sunday.

Each week, it’s something a little different that does it. Sometimes, it’s dealing with a difficult person or two; sometimes it’s a few too many late nights and early mornings; sometimes it’s working too much; other times it’s being too bored and not working enough; sometimes it’s traveling; some times it’s big plans that make it hard to come back down to earth.

 

Regardless, there comes a point every week when I start to count down to Sunday. Now, don’t think too highly of me – I only wish that this were some deep, deep love for going to church that was purely for the pleasure of it and not for necessity. But indeed, as things stand, I look forward to Sunday because I need it – badly.

 

This week it was a long Wednesday followed by a somewhat uneventful Thursday and a far-too-philosophical Friday morning when I woke to go shopping on Black Friday and began to ponder how materialistic of a person I am. Then it was waking up on Saturday morning after a restless sleep because my throat was sore, my nose was congested, and all I wanted to do all night was spit into a cup and get it all out.

 

These things take my eye off the ball. I wish it weren’t true – I wish that my resolve were stronger, I wish that my mind was clearer in my purpose and I wish I didn’t second-guess myself. I wish I didn’t get tired, I wish I could focus more when I only have a half an hour in the morning to have quiet time instead of having the whole morning. I wish that I woke up every day with a song in my heart, that song sung at the same decibel level and with the same amount of conviction as the day before.

 

I wish every day was Sunday.

 

I love Sunday because Sunday is a gathering of God’s people to go see Him, worship Him, and hear from Him. When done right, church can be pretty accurately compared to a sporting event (or else this is just my experience at sporting events) – where it’s not necessarily about who you’re with (important) or how many times you’ve been there or how used to the event you are – you’re there to see the team play, and that’s the most important thing. We go to church to be with God – and that has to be our top reason.

And the God we serve is not a God who is too concerned with pointing out our mistakes from the past week – no, God is interested in establishing us. God is interested in helping us wrestle our flesh – square inch by square inch – into submission to Him; not because God is an obsessive egomaniac who needs everyone on His team, but because He designed the world to work a certain way and He designed people to behave a certain way and the way He designed it is the optimum way of living. a life in God’s kingdom is a life of deepest joy, satisfaction, honesty, trust, peace, love, truth, and so much else. God’s kingdom leaves us room for work, for play, for entertainment, for pleasure, for intellectualism, for inquiry and for rest.

It is for these reasons that I believe God makes us aware of our deepest inadequacies and weaknesses – it’s not because He wants us to feel bad about them or He wants to pound our heads with our own failures, but instead He wants to bring them to light. The sooner you and I recognize the things that distract us from seeing Him, from hearing His voice, and from obeying Him, the sooner we can present them to God and ask for His help and grace as the week goes on to move past them, to move through them, and to ultimately get to the true Reward – God Himself.

#26.

forgive me, readers – my hands are shaking and my mind is kind of racing because I just capped off my 25th year in style by paying off a nagging credit card in its entirety.

I’m actually sitting in the same Starbucks where I once was on a date with a wonderful girl, with whom a relationship proved to be unsustainable, and I’ve got failure and success on my mind.

We didn’t split up in this shop, but when I think of that date, the sting of failure presses a little further than normal.

But hitting “submit” on that final payment will be memorable for a while to come.

Failure. Success.

It may not come as a surprise to any readers that I recently had the worst year of my life (age 24) and 25 was a big, big rebound year. 25 started off at the lowest point I’ve ever been at – fresh from a breakup, in a financial quagmire, isolated and not surrounded by godly friends in the least, in an apartment I hated, in a job I felt overwhelmed by, with a dog living at my parents house that I got whimsically and had been found incapable of taking care of, uncommitted to a church, alone.

And 25 was entirely uphill. 25 couldn’t have gotten any worse (because I couldn’t have gotten any dumber) and it proved to be a memorable, memorable year.

 

There was the part where I started blogging seriously enough to pay for my own domain.

There was the part where I got out of that gosh-danged apartment.

There was the part where I got my dog back.

There was the part where I got the chance to go to Honduras.

There was the part where I met and got involved with a bunch of new friends my age and in my boat.

There was the part where we hired on a bunch of new people at the shop and they’ve become of my best friends.

There was the part where my boss gracefully let me step down from my administrative position with a view to spend more time writing, (eventually) traveling, maybe being in a play, and spending time investing myself in a local church.

There was the part where I became interested and mentally/financially invested in our political process at the federal and state levels.

There was the part where I sent off for papers to apply to run for State Representative (still waiting on them.)

There was the part where I got to go to the first service at my old church’s new building (back home in Berea.)

There was the part where they invited me to play music and the band literally got back together for the first time in two years.

There was the part where my friends generously picked me up a Chelsea kit with my freaking name on the back while they were in London.

There was the part where I got to drive up to Port Huron, visit my dear friend Travis, and sail a little bit on Lake Huron. I still feel small when I think about that.

There was the time my friends Britt and Hayley got married out in beautiful Lancaster, Kentucky and it was the most joyful wedding I’ve ever seen in my life (and there was the time they came to Kentucky a few months later after moving to Texas and we got to visit again.)

There was the time I started writing a book (if you want to know how that’s going, it’s got the words “chapter 1” written at the top of a page – that’s it for now.)

There was the time when I read all 18 books I was planning to this year.

There was the time I spontaneously whipped and nae-naed with one of my friends in the lobby of the shop.

Oh, and there was Leap Day.

There were the countless tacos and burritos I made myself at home, and

THERE WAS CHIPTOPIA (33 burritos at chipotle in 90 days, to earn free catering for 20)

There were a few musical and pizza nights with Jessie Grace, my adopted little sister.

There was the 5k I ran with my pal and co-worker Evan.

There was the time we got to see my dear friend Lee (D) off with a big celebration of his year in Lexington.

There was the time that Lee (D,) Sean, Kara, Jeff, Alice, Allison and I played Bananagrams in Sean’s dining room.

There was the time I met Senator Rand Paul.

There was the time I met Congressman Andy Barr.

There was the time that Joey, Selena, and I ate ice cream outside on the tables at Kroger because the line at Graeter’s was entirely too long.

There was the hike that TJ (adopted little brother) and I took back in September and connected for the first time in a while, and my heart felt renewed.

There was the time that Lee (B) and I started thinking on Tuesday about getting waffles on friday night and pairing it with a beer at West Sixth and we did exactly that and it was everything we’d anticipated and more.

There was the time I’ve learned almost the entire first half of Hamilton.

There was the time I got to vote and say who I wanted the next POTUS to be.

There was the time Madelyn, Stephanie, Zach, and I saw THE FREAKING 1975 and it was everything I’ve wanted in my life.

There was the time I paid off my credit card.

There was the day when I realized that nothing in my life at the moment could be much better – that my job is swell, my friends are amazing, my family is supportive, my church is fantastic, and my life is so, so (please forgive the cliche) blessed.

 

I think if I’ve taken anything away from this year, it’s this: love big. Love more than you think you can. Make memories but make sure you’re doing it with people, because we have nothing if we don’t have each other. Compliment too heavily, use too many superlatives, get too excited about what’s happening in someone else’s life. Document the highlights of your year on instagram if that’ll help you remember, or make a note in your phone and write down every bit of good news you hear. Compliment someone’s jacket. Tell them they’re the best cook/waiter/barista/architect/banker/realtor/lawyer/manager/cashier you know. Be genuine AND be way too positive for comfort. Make everyone who runs into you feel like a million bucks. Don’t waste an interaction with someone.

On our birthdays, we live in a little bubble of happiness and joy and belovedness, and it feels sometimes like it’s only gonna last for a little while, but by God (and I mean by God) we can make other people live in that bubble if we:

  1. choose to live every day with an outward perspective – instead of focusing on our own struggles, we can choose to ask people questions about what’s happening in their life and how we can alleviate that struggle
  2. choose to realize every day that we have everything we need to live a godly life – that the affirmation and significance that we so desperately crave are already given to us by Jesus.

 

I’m wondering if this next one might just be the best year of my life.