power.

before i got tattoos, there was one particular tattoo that i judged hard (however ironically.) i always thought a little less of people who had “only God can judge me” on their arms, because it made me assume that they live a questionable life and that nobody but God was allowed to judge them. i mean, true enough…

it’s a good phrase, though. it’s a good phrase if we know how to use it. it’s a phrase the verity of which can secure us in the comfort and love of the Father if we let it, and i think we’d do well to let it. follow my brain, here…

 

in John 5, Jesus says a few quick words that, when you use logic to elaborate on them, sets up a really quick picture of what the Christian’s ambitions and expectations should be. He is talking to some Pharisees about who bears witness about Him, and how, if they’d read the scripture, they’d see that He was coming all along, but they look for hope in the scripture, instead of in Jesus. then He says, “So not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope.” (John 5:45.)

 

if your mind isn’t blown yet…well…stick with it, because i think Jesus wants to make that happen. Basically, Jesus is saying, “you know, if you’d read the scriptures correctly, you’d see that they were telling you about Me this whole time, but you’re focusing on all the wrong stuff. you’re putting your hope in the stuff you’ve learned, in the laws you keep, in the traditions you hold (i’m suggesting that when Jesus says “Moses,” He’s referring to the law of Moses.) but that’s okay, i’m not going to accuse you to the Father for that…i’ll let Moses accuse you.”

the initial, immediate takeaway is what we read later on in Romans – that the Law is a teacher, and it exists to show us of our need for Christ. So, we’re condemned by the Law, by our inability to keep it.

but there’s something else here that i think we simply cannot afford to miss. Jesus says, “there’s one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have placed your hope.”

Here’s the Kingdom paradigm: what you expect to save you is what you can expect to condemn you.

i can only begin to cover the vast array of things that we, as people, expect to save us. i know that i expect time to save me, money to save me, success to save me, creativity to save me, and achievements to save me. but the second that we give it power to save, we give it power to accuse, to damn, to condemn. in past posts, i’ve written about what i call the “paycheck squirm,” wherein i do mental gymnastics all week to feel good about myself until i get paid, and can feel comforted by money being in the bank. but you know what happens? i get that money, i feel good for two seconds, and then i pay my bills and then i feel like crap again.

that’s how i see this pattern played out in my life. i expect money to save me, then it comes and i have to use it (which, its job is to be used, not to save anyway) and suddenly, i’m condemned by the number in my bank account.

this is how it works. if you give something power to save you, you give it power to condemn you. we can’t afford to give conditions to God on our joy – that’s not the kind of God He is. we can’t say, “God, i will delight in You as long as i am in good health. i will delight in You so long as i have money. God, i will delight in You when You help me meet my future spouse. God, i will delight in You as long as i get to live in this place or travel to these places.”

i think God wants our no-matter-what. God wants our nevertheless. but i don’t think it’s because He’s egomaniacal, i think it’s because He knows that He is the only one who can provide steadfastness – in a volatile world in which everything changes, He’s pretty constant. He’s made Himself known through a Word (the Bible) that hasn’t changed. He’s made His intentions clear through Jesus, who came, did His thing, died in our place and for our sin, and is only coming back to establish His Kingdom. Have you noticed that God hasn’t had to do any maintenance on what He did on earth? Jesus was once-for-all. God didn’t change His mind about what He did. He’s not asking for us to do anything more than believe.

there’s joy in that. there’s life in that. there’s salvation in that.

i think Paul might have had these words of Jesus in mind when he wrote stuff like this: “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31.) “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (8:34.) in other words, if we put our hope in Jesus, like the Pharisees did with Moses, then we cannot possibly be let down, because the One we’re giving power to save and condemn us is interceding for us daily at the right hand of the Father.

hope is only found in Christ. and what a steady, sure hope that is.

John. [ch. 1-4.]

recently, one of my favorite preachers of late (who happens to be a co-worker of mine and preaches every other week at my church) invited our entire church (which is comprised of four different campuses in four different cities and thousands and thousands of people) to read through the book of John together as a church. the sermon he preached dealt with how we can hear from God, and the primary way we can hear God’s voice is by reading God’s word. so, we’re reading.

 

this morning i was talking with Ayla about how i often underline and write little notes, but i can’t always remember how i got to those thoughts, so they’re often undercooked and aren’t necessarily helpful later, and the margins of my bible aren’t necessarily enough to hash out whatever thought i have that day.

 

so what i’m gonna do is write a brief blurb with every chapter that i read, and it’s for my own sake so i can chronicle what i’ve thought about, but if you get something out of it, that’s great and just dandy.

 

John 1 – for this chapter, i’m going to cheat just a little…last year, i went through a study of John with some friends, and the more we read, the more we realized that the first chapter is a bit of a thesis statement – at least the first 18 verses. almost everything you read in the rest of John will fulfill something he says here. for the rest of John, you’ll read about how life is in Jesus, how Jesus shines like a light, how darkness didn’t/doesn’t/can’t overcome Him, how the world that He made didn’t receive or recognize Him, how He made disciples (children of God,) how He became flesh and dwelt with people, how He’s full of grace and full of truth, how people receive grace upon grace from Him. Overall, there is this unknownness and unrecognizability about Jesus that bears itself out in the gospel – and you’ll see it time and time again.

i’ve studied this chapter a little before, and my favorite verse is verse 16 – because the phrase “grace upon grace” can be translated to “grace in place of grace.” so, we receive grace from Jesus, and any time we squander or sully or try to stain that grace (ie. times we repent and receive forgiveness for something we just end up doing again) we just get grace in place of it. it’s as though God’s grace is like a hydra (to borrow a mythological reference) – anytime you try to cut it off, it just comes back stronger and with more than there was before.

John 2 – i’ve never understood – and still may not – why exactly the miracle of turning water to wine was included. i have this pious thought that it doesn’t help anyone and didn’t really do anything for anyone, so why did it get tucked into the gospel, aside from the fact that it’s Jesus’ first recorded miracle? on one hand, i think that’s the only reason, but this time around i’m stretching myself to believe there’s a little spiritual significance to it…the master of the house says to the bridegroom, “people normally use the good stuff first and then bring out the bad wine once everyone’s already drunk! but you kept the good wine!” i wonder if it’s a metaphor for the arrival of Jesus. i wonder if someone reading this might think that, before Jesus, God served wine – that is, God intervened, He acted, and He spoke – but Jesus is the actual manifestation of God on earth. God saved, He forgave – but He kept His best – Jesus Christ – for last. Jesus is the ultimate intervention. He is God’s hand ultimately at work. He is God’s voice ultimately made known. He is God’s face ultimately seen. He is God’s mind and will ultimately revealed.

John 3 – of course, everyone knows John 3:16, but i couldn’t help but think about how the first half of John 3 sits with the thesis statement when it says, “He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him.” this is an example of Jesus showing God’s other-ness…putting out a statement so absurd and inconceivable that grown men, teachers of the law, can’t understand it. now, i don’t want to pretend that i fault Nicodemus – i wouldn’t know what Jesus was talking about if i were in his shoes. of course, now, because we have Jesus’ teachings, the idea of being born again and being born in the Spirit make sense, but that probably sounded looney at the time. Jesus is saying that a man can’t see the kingdom of God if he isn’t born again – and his dig at Nicodemus seems to be implying that the law should make man’s need for change obvious. (again, we know this because of Paul’s discourse on the law and repentance, but this would have been a new concept at the time.) Nicodemus might have seen the law as a set of rules to follow, as something done by willpower – as many of us even do today. Nicodemus might not have understood that the power to do the will of God might come from God Himself – but that’s what Jesus is saying in essence when He says that anyone who believes in Him can have eternal life. the broad takeaway is that mankind needs a change of mind (i believe, through reading scripture, that we also need a change of heart, but Jesus’ big point here seems to be about the mind – what you know.)

John 4 – as i read this chapter, i notice two themes: satisfaction, and what the real thing is. first off, Jesus touches on how whoever drinks the water He gives will never be thirsty again. this reminds me of the Psalm that says, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” the idea being that when we taste of God’s goodness – when we drink the Living Water, there’ll never be anything like that again. we have an insatiable (other than by His own presence) desire for His presence and His goodness. then He also says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” Jesus was (and the hope is that we will also be) unsatisfied by anything else – but to do the will of the Father. i hope i find satisfaction and nutrition in that, too. finally, as He’s talking to the Samaritan woman, He says that a time is coming when the worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth. i wondered what that meant for so long and i’ still not sure i know exactly, but i suspect it has something to do with seeing the real thing and worshipping the real thing – how until that point, people had to extrapolate God from scripture and from the various acts they saw Him perform (and assume it was indeed Him) – but now they see Him with their very eyes in the form of Jesus. as Jesus would later say, “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” we worship sincerely when we have seen and tasted and experienced God.

i will continue to update this as i continue reading, and link thoughts that seem to overlap from various chapters.

worthiness.

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

that’s why grace is beautiful.

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

 

God decides, so He does.

 

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

 

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

satisfaction.

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

 

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

-Psalm 94:19

 

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

 

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

so, the cares of my heart are indeed many.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

churning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

you’re doing just fine.

get-to/have-to.

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

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

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

i have a new main task.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cares.

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

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

 

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

God, i care about a lot of things. 

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

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

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

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

pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this roadblock makes me feel one thing above all else:

pressure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

stretch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

bland.

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

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

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

my life got busy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

ending.

January has come and gone, and this is the only entry i’m getting in this month.

worries me, but only a little.

i haven’t written very much over the last couple of months, and the worry in that for me is that i’m just being a busybody, that i’m just running from one thing to the next and not spending any time doing any good thinking. i haven’t sat at a coffee shop in a while. haven’t hashed out any good thoughts.

i don’t like the whole busybody thing…i’ve been giving a lot of thought to how darn quickly time can fill up, and how easy it is to fill it with…nothing at all. it’s not even like the summer when i was at least watching a lot of movies, reading a lot of books, and hanging out with a lot of people.

but i’m rooting for it to just be seasonal. this month has been vacation and retreat and small groups, and the last few months have been holidays and all kinds of crazy.

i recently quit one of my jobs, so i’m down to being a two-job man (perhaps i’ll write about this more in an entry soon?) and i’m hoping to see that bring about some ease and free up some time. hallelujah.