Late Night Thoughts: Advance

I heard it said once that writers “have to write.” It’s a burden within their souls. As if something tugs and pulls and exhausts until something gives way and one is jolted into action. I feel like that tonight.

Allie went to bed a couple hours ago and I finished watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine – what a fun, goofy, comical show about detectives. Andy Sandberg found his golden role. I’m a major fan as it’s quickly climbed into the ranks of some of my favorites like The Office and Parks & Rec.

When Allie went to bed, she said, “Don’t stay up until 2am this time and then hate yourself because you spend the day off in bed until 10am and then half the day is over.” And while she’s right – I will hate myself tomorrow for being awake this late. Here I am. Awake and writing, and relishing in the moments to myself with Harvey asleep and unable to interrupt my train of thought with his demands for attention.

Why is it so difficult to kill off the old flesh and give way to the new, disciplined one? Why can I not always be the perfect husband, able and willing to go to bed early for the sake of being upstairs with her rather than down here by myself? Why must we toil at work in vein somedays? Why must we constantly pray for direction while continuing to feel directionless?

More importantly, why did no one ever tell me that marriage would be the most complexly beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced? While simultaneously requiring the most heart. I always thought myself to be a hearty, swoon-worthy gentleman but there are days where I can’t believe Allie loves me. I’m hot and sweaty from work, exhausted from pulling a 10 or 12 hour shift, my charm and humor spent on customers during the day, and all that’s left of my candor is the leftover scraps of my personality.

And there she is, stoked to see me, ready to cook dinner.

I didn’t know it’d be the simple things. Like her cooking dinner or the fact that when we both cry and break down after a day of holding in our emotions, all the burdens suddenly give way to fresh love and remembrance that we’re only human and are by golly going to need the grace of God and Jesus along the way. While the promise of a “sexy” life after marriage flaunted its way through my youth and had me obsessed with the idea of one day being in union with a woman – it’s the friendship that’s brought the most benefits.

Her ability to laugh at my jokes and to make the jokester laugh even when he’s seemingly all out of jokes. The way she’s not afraid to dig herself into the trenches with me, only to help pull me out. Flirtatiously reminding me that negative self-talk is no way to talk to myself at all – because I’m handsome and strong and capable. One thing is certain – I’m smart, because I married her.

And so tonight, I had to write. I had to write to share that sometimes I can’t sleep and I feel weird for having to stay up and watch a show or two in order to sleep. I had to write because I was compelled to do so. And I had to write because it somehow felt necessary to share with those of you that may be newly married or about to be married and I just want to say that sometimes it’s not going to be all rose-fields and fun and games. Sometimes, it’s going to take a lot of work and sometimes you’ll be so worn out that while you know you’re in love and you have 1,000% confidence in the other person, somehow you’ll still feel numb. Chalk it up to fatigue, but it is what it is – you’re just not feeling it today. And that’s okay. Because love is a choice and the value of your relationship will shine through when it matters most.

The trust is built when you make that same choice again and again, without hesitation. “I’m choosing you over me.” Words help, but actions solidify.

So never give up. Never, ever give up. There’s no retreating here. You must advance.

I’ve found myself in the Word again lately and reading Ruth, as well as 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy so prepare for some future posts as to what I’m learning. Perhaps I’ll take a slight break from the marriage material for a spell. But really – guys and girls – marriage is awesome. I recommend it. Put the bachelor life to rest as soon as God calls you.

Thoughts On Boundaries

A few days ago I started reading Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, “Boundaries.” As an external processor, I figured it’d be beneficial to share what I’m learning and thinking about in regards to boundaries in an open blog post. Plus, I’m sure it could spark some good conversations as well so feel free to comment with your thoughts and feelings on the issue.

Growing up in a rigidly conservative home, I was surprised at the “freedom” I found while in school. There was a whole new world of (mostly sinful) possibilities out there and now I had to make the right-or-wrong decisions for myself. My faith could no longer be my parents and my decisions could no longer be made just because they said so. There’s a lot of things that college didn’t teach me, but one thing it teaches everyone is to think for themselves.

Using my own brain and learning by trial-and-many-errors, I’ve discovered there is a REASON there are “rules” and/or boundaries listed in Scripture. As I’ve shared many times before, there is no escaping the Kingdom Economy of reaping what you sow. Sow good and reap good. Sow bad and reap bad. It’s humorous how we are often surprised when we go to harvest the crop of our hearts and find so many weeds – but then when looking back realize we spent no times in the fields pulling those weeds. We didn’t do the hard work to ensure we had a good harvest.

One of the topics discussed thus far in the book is word boundaries. The concept of letting your yes be yes and your no be no – biblical, Christian, and logically sound, it’s perplexing that this seems to be such a difficult concept for us to grasp. We often find ways to displace the responsibility of our decisions onto others – “He told me to do it,” or “If I hadn’t, then I would have lost their friendship.” So we “passively comply, but inwardly resent” – doing something for the sake of “serving someone” but not actually having a desire to serve, or at least not serve in that certain capacity. And all it would have taken is a simple, “No.” Saying “no” would have set the boundary that you were not willing to accept that certain responsibility – it would not make you a bad person, and for emotionally healthy individuals, should not terminate the friendship.

Another concept from the book that I’ve found particularly encouraging is that we can’t always make ourselves responsible for the well-being of others. The book gives the example of a drug-addicted son who, over time, has managed to get kicked out of a number schools. The parents come to see Dr. Cloud and ask him what they should do about their problem-child. “We’ve spent lots of money and do everything we can to get him into a better school but nothing ever changes. Dr. Cloud’s response catches them by surprise. “What if he’s not the problem and you are?” By continually making his problems yours, he’s never had to actually learned from his mistakes – because he’s never had to suffer the consequences. Setting the boundary that his results are his to own frees the parents from the burden of “making their kid succeed” – leaving them free to play the role of friend and counselor, without the heavy baggage of taking on their son’s problem as if it were their own burden to bear.

It’s hard, though. To separate others burdens from your own to and to know when to let others in and when to keep them out – when to say yes and when to say no. When to set boundaries and when to rewrite the provinces and territories of our hearts.

Marriage has placed me in a position to sort of rewrite my boundaries. I get to decide what I do and do not do, whose advice I consider and who’s I disregard, and at the end of the day, who I am is the sum of my decisions and their consequences up to that point. I cannot escape the reality of my own heart, nor can you.

Now for the fun part – what are your thoughts on boundaries? What have you learned by setting certain limits and property-lines in your life and hearts? Any takeaways you care to share? Feel free to do so – I enjoy learning alongside you.

boundaries

#NoFilter – Love Yourself

Let’s talk about filters. I can’t remember the last time I posted a picture on Instagram or Snapchat or any form of social-media that didn’t have a filter. I thought about this as Allie and I were having a good time with different filters on Snapchat in Starbucks. It was all innocent fun, but I had this thought about filters just then. It’s interesting that we don’t necessarily want to see the #NoFilter version of ourselves. Not that we don’t. But just that we don’t necessarily want to face it, if that makes sense?

I think we do similar forms of filtering on Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps we tweet about that jerk-face that cut us off in traffic on Twitter haphazardly and then find ourselves deleting it later and replacing it with a Bible verse about unconditional love later that afternoon. Because we don’t want to be seen as an angry person. So we post on Facebook when we graduate from college or get that next promotion, but (unless you’re me) avoid being publicly downcast. Or perhaps on more relatable terms – we become recluses from society when we’ve gained that extra five pounds or are wrestling with depression. We’d rather people just saw us during the triumphs.

But what would the #NoFilter version of ourselves look like? Let’s take body-image out of the equation. You look the way you dream of yourself looking. You’re now officially Ryan Gosling or Rachel McAdams. What would the #NoFilter version of our hearts look like? Our personalities? Our personas? Our internal conversations and dialogue?

“Don’t play yourself,” DJ Khaled says all the time on his Snapchat. I don’t think DJ Khaled is any sort of life-advice guru per se – I just find his posts to be hilarious. But he’s got a point here. I think we play ourselves too much. We filter ourselves to the point that we’re not even sure who we are.

Who are we really?

So you’re the partier on Saturday, the worshiper on Sunday morning, in debauchery on Sunday night, in F-This mode on Monday, and an overcoming go-getter on Tuesday. So, which one is it? Who are you really?

Isn’t that what everyone wants to know? Isn’t it irritating when people are one thing one moment and another the next? Don’t you sort of want to punch the mirror when you’re that person? (Everyone’s been there, too. Don’t say, “That’s not me.”)

I hate the back-and-forth, figuring-ourselves-out, wondering-what-to-do version of ourselves. I’m a perfectionist. I want the “this is it” finished product, right here, right now, yesterday.

But what if we took the filters off? And we faced the mirror of our minds? What if we took the time to write down our emotions and feelings and endure them? You see – I like to run. Not really. I hate physically running. But metaphorically, I love to run. It’s easier to run and keep moving and go onto the next thing than to focus on the now.

#NoFilter – It’s easier to run from God than it is to sit there and listen to him. You know those moments where it’s suddenly too quiet? You’re sitting there in your bedroom, or conversation with your loved ones has died down, and suddenly you can feel the Spirit (or your conscious – whatever you want to call it) speaking to you. It’s saying gentle things. Little reminders. “Hey man, maybe you shouldn’t have brushed your sister’s request off like it was nothing.” “Yeah, yeah, okay Jesus, I get it.” And then you just move on. It’d be an interesting world to start listening to that voice. An even more interesting world to not run from it. Miraculous, if we invited it in.

Typically, I start feeling those gentle nudges. My brain and soul kicking into a highly engaged state, and it scares me. Crap – what’s God going to ask of me this time? I’d rather not find out. I reach for my headphones, play some Ben Rector, and immediately surf the nothingness of Facebook-Land trying to find a distraction from the obvious call. “Sorry God, I don’t have any reception here tonight. Maybe another time.” And then I place my phone on Do Not Disturb and go to sleep.

So, what would happen if we listened?

#NoFilter – I find faith to be hard to find sometimes. It’s not always easily accessible. But I feel hopeless without it. God has to be real. There has to be power in prayer. I’ve seen people healed, abundant provision occur, spirits overcome, darkness turned to light. But when you’re coming from a place of hurt and skepticism it’s incredibly difficult to step back out there into that circle of trust, to be in relationship with Jesus again.

To wrap things up – let’s drop the filters. And for the love of God, the Church, His people, and others – let’s love ourselves a little bit more. Grace is not just for others. Grace is for you and me. And sometimes, we have to extend it to ourselves. You may have failed, but you are not a failure. You may have fallen, but you are not incapable of getting back up. You may have been angry, but you are not “just an angry person.”

Love God. Love Others. And for the benefit of everyone involved, Love Yourself.

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The Call to Follow: Revisited

You can’t live for Jesus, until you stop living for you.follow me

I think that’s the hardest aspect of the call to follow Christ. It’s the hardest lesson you learn as you “grow up”, too. In marriage, someday, I can’t be married to simply serve the needs of myself – it’s not about that – it’s about giving of myself. That’s the opposite of modern-day culture. “Take for yourself” – “store up for yourself” – are the messages you see.

You will rarely be given the advice to “die to yourself,” or to “focus more on others”, instead. Because we’ve made it all about us. And guys, I want it to be all about me. It’s so hard to say, “Okay Jesus, you can really have it all.”

And I think once we discontinue making being a Christian within The Church such a trivial, lackluster, mundane, sit-in-a-pew-and-pretend-I have-it-all-together thing, we can finally begin to grapple with the reality of our hearts, and to admit our desperate need for Jesus. Our need for Jesus to open our eyes, heal our hearts, and empower us to overcome all of that aforementioned fleshly desire and the darkness that presently rules the world.

Let’s be honest, people. Really honest. Stop pretending. Some days, you and I want to be on the throne, but let’s remember – remember the emptiness of that ‘power’ – of rebellion – and a misconstrued idea of ‘freedom’. We were not free then. We were imprisoned. Our desires and controlled and manipulated us. They took up all of our free time and twisted God-given gifts and talents into new ways of deceiving others into the same darkness.

So the next time you want to be king, remember why it is you first gave your life to The King. Then, let’s do the world a favor, the church a favor, and ourselves a favor, and live like it. Let’s live for Jesus. Let’s die to ourselves.

Instead of worrying about who’s following you on Twitter, or liking your posts on Facebook (and trust me – I’m guilty as charged and preaching so much to myself right now), let’s focus more on who we’re following. If you’re following Jesus, then it’s not about you anymore. It’s not about me. It’s all about Him. And that’s a very, very good thing.

Awestruck Adventure

Consider me an observer. I watch the world around me, take it in, and ponder the reality of its’ existence. The stars proclaim majesty! Each sunset is a fresh, new, unbelievable painting. Flowers in all of their shades of color scream beauty from the dirty soil that they sprout up from; something beautiful from dirt, something seen as messy and inconvenient (by my mother anyways). Have you ever been near the edge of a forest during a sunrise? The bright, radiant, streaks of light that beam through the woods with the beginnings of a new day, calling one forth to embark upon its’ journey, to wonder a little farther into the woods to see what lies ahead? And what about the brilliance of snow; unique, pure-white, snow-flakes falling by the millions upon the ground to allow children (and myself) the joy of packing snowballs and throwing them at their friends (or parental figures). If I had to choose just a few words to describe the world that we walk, live, and breathe in each day, I would choose, “awestruck adventure.”

Why is it then that much of modern-day life seems so mundane, contrite, tiresome, and void?

Have you ever asked yourself the question as to why the great action-packed movies of adventure and triumph, such as The Dark Knight, Inception, Braveheart, Lord of The Rings, etc. has such a powerful draw and allure to draw you and your friends in for hours of movie-marathons and late-night screenings that beg to question your sanity?

I believe the reason that you and I are so drawn in by the concepts found within the aforementioned movies and many other exciting books, TV shows, etc. is because they are chalk-full of adventure and our lives are simply lacking it.

But why? Why would our lives lack adventure if the world around us is shouting “awestruck adventure” at the top of its’ lungs?

I believe it is because we are scared. Courage is not seen as a healthy characteristic these days, as its’ nearest connotation is foolishness and the disregard for safety and security, our modern-day idols. Yes, safety and security can become idols, especially if we are willing to place our safety and security above the Gospel. Consider this, if I am unwilling to walk into a neighborhood known for its’ gang-activity in order to minister to people in need there, then I am guilty of deeming self-preservation, and my own safety, as more important than reaching my fellow men and women with the truth they need to hear and be actively touched by via loving actions, etc. And to be honest, I’ve been guilty of this many times.

Did Jesus and His disciples run when the Roman soldiers came to arrest them? Nope. Peter took his sword and was ready to fight; actually cutting the ear off of one of the people attempting to take Jesus, whose words were, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11) Awestruck adventure. Talk about an action-packed lifestyle, one of living fearlessly for a King worth dying for.

Up until now, I have never been a Lord of the Rings fan, but upon viewing The Hobbit, I have a new appreciation for the epic tails of adventure. My fascination with it lies within the life of Bilbo Baggins, “The Hobbit”. His constant desire at the beginning of the movie is to be within the warm comforts of the shire. The shire is where generations of his beings have grown up in the safety of beautiful meadows and plentiful surroundings. I would potentially equate the shire to the safety of home, such of my growing up in the comfortable suburban area of Johnson County. But Bilbo does not become a hero, with a tale worth being told, until he is willing to lay safety and security aside, and to follow Gandolf out into the broken world to seek justice! (What do ya know? It’s Biblical!)

The danger is real and the fear that follows is there as expected. But courage is born when just action takes place despite fear being present, extinguishing fear’s ‘power’.

We are surrounded by a world that is broken. There is no ignoring the fact that there is evil present in the world and that the world is certainly a dangerous place. But what do we do? Shall we lie in wait for the fearful world to break down our doors and to take our life and our freedom? Shall we remain a people paralyzed by fear, as the enemies of God so greatly desire; rendering us as ineffective witnesses? I certainly hope not.

Now, I have never been one to be described as brave. I am terrified of snakes, spiders, and anything creepy-crawly. I am not a huge fan of the dark, even as a young-adult. And yet, I know that living in fear is simply not an option. It can’t be. It’s not really living. It’s accepting death; a life without life.

I believe it is time for us to take after Baggins’ heroic decision to leave the safety of familiarity and to embrace a lifestyle worth living; one of total and complete surrender to the will of God, whatever that may be for our individual existence. Have we forgotten the God that we serve? The one that said to Joshua, after the death of Moses, as he took over the leadership of Israel, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Life often boils down to a choice between two things; ourselves or God. Worship the safety and security of ourselves, or worship God? Live fearfully, or find boldness in The King? Sin or Righteousness? Death or Life?

The choice is yours. You can live the life that most will; one void of excitement and surrounded by comfort, or you can lay it all aside, choosing courageous action for the Gospel. You can become part of the fraternity of men and women that have chosen to live life as the “awestruck adventure” that it is meant to be.

Grace: The Real Deal

Christmas is rapidly approaching! Now, I’ll be honest, I’m one of those scrooges that prefers people would save all of their jolly music for AFTER Thanksgiving and the other fall holidays have been granted their adequate time of appreciation and festivity, however Christmas is certainly my favorite time of year! There is so much…joy. What a beautiful thing joy is. First off, we get to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth! The Savior has come! Then, we return from our family church-services and witness the bright-eyed delight that is associated with children (and young adults of course, if you count me) ripping open the gifts their parents give them…I mean…Santa (whoops!). What is it that makes gifts so special? Well, for one, we’re unwrapping something that we’ve wanted! Perhaps the latest gadget from Apple, or if you’re me, then you’ll likely be receiving Starbucks gift-cards and book gift-cards, because I’m a nerd and love reading, and because coffee goes great with reading, right? (Yeah, yeah, okay, I’m addicted…haha) Secondly, the reason that we’re so excited is that we literally had to do NOTHING in order to receive the gift. It was simply GIVEN to us.

Christmas gifts are certainly undeserved blessings. However, today I find myself reflective of a far more gracious gift. The “real deal” of grace, so to speak. Jesus Christ of Nazareth was willing to bleed upon a splintery, wooden, cross so that we may be washed clean by His blood and clothed in HIS righteousness. We, undeserving sinners, the ones that had Him nailed to the cross in the first place, are given HIS righteousness.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel…” (Colossians 1:21-23)

Do you realize the gravity of this passage? The grace that Christ offered us at Calvary is the greatest, most loving, most powerful, thing that has ever been done! God, coming down and taking the form of man, walking the earth, living without sin, suffering a brutal and sacrificial death, then, by His own raw power, rising from the grave three days later! All of this done to simply redeem His children. And yet, we like to think that we’re not loved…Well, we need to take those thoughts captive and send them straight back to hell where they came from, because you, [insert your name here], are ridiculously loved!

In conclusion, God’s unadulterated grace is the real deal. You and I have literally done and will never do ANYTHING that warrants such a gift! The sooner we come to this humbling realization, the sooner God will be able to work in our lives. Want to see the LORD truly work? Get on your knees, humble yourselves, confess your lack of faith, and admit your desperate need for His saving grace! You’ll be absolutely awestruck at what God is capable of doing with a humbled heart that is ready to LISTEN. Then, led by the Spirit and the clothed in the Son’s righteousness, we can carry out, with confidence, the work that the Father has set before us. Then, and only then, will we begin to see what God is truly capable of within His Church.

Here’s what I sent out as a text to the house-church that I’m a part of:

“Here’s what [God says] to us: Confess. Repent. Live Renewed. His Words bring LIFE. If life is found in His Word, then living obediently, under His Lordship, should and will bring about life to the fullest, where we can bear much fruit! Rejoice, for God knows the plans that He has for us!”

Confess. Repent. Live Renewed.

I share this with you, because I believe this same message is to be spoken over each of you that read this. Quite simply, if we will humble ourselves before the LORD, ask for His redeeming love, and admit that we cannot go on without Him; all of this stemming from an authentic heart, of course; God will surely begin to work wonders before us. I’ll let 1 Peter 2:23-25 do the rest of the talking…be blessed, dear reader. I’m praying for you. 

“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”