So What’s Next

So What’s Next

There have been many times in my life where I thought that I heard from God, did what I thought I was supposed to do, and then watched it go up in flames. Let me tell you a couple of stories.

About 3-4 years ago, my wife and I were intensely focused on buying a house. We had gone through a credit rehabilitation ordeal and our scores were right where they were supposed to be in order to realize a long-held dream of ours. Our broker told us to go out and start looking at homes, and so we did. We looked at many homes, but specifically, homes that were close to our church, because our lives centered, and in many ways still center, around our church lives. We found this house in a subdivision that was just being built up. It was a gorgeous area with a park within walking distance. A friend of ours showed us this house, and as soon as we walked in, we knew that this was “the one”. I remember with such clarity one day looking at the house again, for the 4th time, and as we drove away from it, I so strongly felt the presence of God that I wept. Deep, chest-racking sobs that I could not explain. They were happy tears. My wife had the same reaction. We both felt like God had set this house aside for us. And we were grateful. As often as we could, we would go to the property and sit in the parking lot and pray, and imagine all of the things that we wanted to do with that house. Imagine our deep despair when not only did our broker tell us that we couldn’t get a loan after he had told us that we were a shoo-in, and that same day the house sold. Driving there and seeing the FOR SALE sign gone, that was a very low moment for us. What we struggled to understand was how we could have felt God so strongly there, and both had the assurance that this was God’s will, only to have to watch it burn to the ground before our eyes. it felt unnecessarily cruel. And as much as I questioned God on it, I never received any response that I could decipher to dispell my grief. I still think about that to this day. Why would God allow us to get our hopes up, and engage our faith to such a degree, and then things work out differently, or not at all?

A couple of weeks ago, I applied for a different job in the same school district. I love my present building, but this open job was one that had come open a few times before, and I had always psyched myself out of applying because I didn’t think that I had the stones to be successful there. This time, I thought about all of the times that I have pushed my wife, children, and students to press past their fears and go after what they desire. To have belief in themselves. I decided to take my own advice, and after praying, I felt really great about my chances. I knew that I would see old students and I was excited about the prospect of having another chance to pour into their lives. I hurried and put in my application before I lost my nerve. I had a great interview, and walking around the building, I felt really good about making the move, while I knew that I would really miss my current building and coworkers. But I felt peace about the process. On Friday, I got the news that they had chosen to go in a different direction. I wavered between anger and confusion. Over the course of the weekend, I thought that I had worked through my disappointment, but as I saw students and they asked me if I was moving into their building, I could feel the anger coming back. At graduation, a couple of people actually congratulated me on getting the job until I had to tell them that I hadn’t. Yeah..fun times. As Monday approached, I felt my anger returning, so I did the only thing that I could do. I talked to God about it. I asked him WHY? Why did He give me peace about applying, and even peace about making the move, and not finish the process? It hurt. And as I poured my heart out to God, I felt no better at all. I couldn’t figure out whether I had failed somewhere in the process. Or if my faith hadn’t been great enough. or if I hadn’t waited patiently. My comfort came in knowing that I still had my building, which I love. And coworkers that I absolutely adore.

So what comes next? What happens when we think that we are following the will of God, and success is assured, only to find failure? Is it really a failure? See, that is where I struggle. Part of me knows that the success is in engaging my faith and daring to believe. The other part of me almost feels like God let me down, which I know is not Biblical. God never fails. So the failure must have been on my part, right? But see, that still doesn’t jive with my spirit. I took a step out of the boat. I tried to walk on water.

Yesterday, my wife sent me an email that basically told me that when we say yes to God, we aren’t saying yes to a particular outcome. We are saying YES to His process and His plan. No matter how individual circumstances turn out, the YES still holds. The faith still holds. His plans still hold. We can’t be short-sighted about the individual outcome and not look at the long-term plan. Yes, feeling the anger and confusion is normal, but we can not allow ourselves to be distracted from the long-term plan, which we often can not see, because of short-term disappointment.

That is hard truth. But the truth, nonetheless, and there is peace in it.  I’m often guilty of focusing on the immediate and not thinking about the eternal. Lord, fix my sight. These pit stops hurt. They really hurt, but I trust that God is working a greater plan, and I have to be able to really engage my faith in the eternal plan.

And so do you. I hope that this really helped someone else this morning. If it does, share it! Thank you.

Be blessed, fam.

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The Metaphor of Kintsugi

The Metaphor of Kintsugi

In our culture, we seem to have such a poor viewpoint of brokenness. We hide it, often suffering in complete silence. We view our brokenness as a mark of shame, and so we walk through life putting on fake smiles to mask the pieces of us that we leave scattered everywhere that we have been. Also, we do poor patch jobs. We try to fill our broken spots with slathers of glue, not realizing that the broken parts never quite fit back into place. That’s a problem.

I was reading about the Japanese art of Kintsugi yesterday. In the Japanese culture, instead of using glue to repair broken vases, etc, they use a mix of gold and silver to fill in the cracks. They don’t look to hide the cracks. Rather, they look to embellish them. They look to show them off. They find beauty in the broken places.  I mean, do these look ugly to you?

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They add character to art that might have otherwise been unusable. They add depth to what would have been trash. They show beauty where once might have been ugliness.

They don’t hide the cracks. They embellish them. They bring beauty to them.

What if, in our society, we didn’t hide our broken places? What if we revealed them? What if we found people we trusted, and allowed God to scrape away the messy glue that we have tried for so long to use to fix ourselves, and replace that glue which doesn’t hide our cracks, but presents them as beautiful reminders of his strength, healing,  and power?

What if we could then live our lives talking about the cracks, not in a way that gives them power over our lives, but in a way that shows others that there is life after brokenness? That we can be put back together and be even more beautiful now than we were before? That being broken is not bad.

It’s beautiful.

Imagine that…we can be beautiful, as broken as we are. We can be healed…as sick as we are.

I want you to know this morning, that it doesn’t matter if you have been shattered into a million pieces. God has not left you. Your story has not ended. The writing has not stopped. Nor have the dreams. Nor have the plans and purposes. Your life is not over. And God wants to use your broken places to add character to your life and as a way of helping others become Kintsugi too.

Be blessed today!

No Matter What

No Matter What

I was fortunate, a couple weekends ago, to attend the Stronger Men Conference in Springfield, MO. It was, in a word, PHENOMENAL!!! Craig Groeschel, Louie Giglio, and John Gray all under one roof? Smokes! It was so incredibly good that it has taken me almost 2 weeks to even begin looking at the volume of notes that I took over that 24 hour period. On the blog that i am a contributor on, thewriteaddiction.wordpress.com, I also blogged about a portion of Craig Groeschel’s message. In this space, I want to focus on John Gray’s message. To say it was dynamic would be understating it. Dude is CRAZY gifted!

Anyway, I want to focus more on the message that he gave, specifically one portion.

“No matter who I am, and what I came in with, God has already made up His mind about me.”

This statement didn’t get a raucous noise when he said it, but it definitely hit me pretty hard. This is a truth that is life- changing. It could be course-altering. Consider the implications:

We live in a world where people make snap judgments all of the time. They look at our clothes, or how we walk. They look at the food that we eat, or how we behave in public. We all do it. I’m guilty of it. It is at the basis of people-watching! We look at people and makeup in our minds who they are, before we even get a chance to know them. Most times, we never get to see beyond the superficial of their outward actions. But what if we could see their hearts? Their sin? Then how would we feel about them? We throw our misperceptions of people on them all of the time. It’s racial, gender bias, social conceptions. Stereotypes and stupidity. I wonder how many people are walking around with the wet blankets of our judgments on their shoulders in our churches? People we never stop to say hello to but decide that they aren’t worth our time. People who come into our church looking for rescue, but they don’t look like us, so we judge them unworthy of our fellowship. But consider this..

God knows who we are, yet his mind is already made up about us.

He knows our sins and addictions. He knows our biases and generalizations. He knows that we don’t really love our neighbors. He knows that we don’t read our Bibles. he knows that we would rather turn to alcohol or pornography rather than turn to Him. He knows how we lie, cheat, murder, and steal. He sees down tot he deepest, darkest parts of who we are, and YET He still has already made up His mind about us.

So we don’t have to hide.

Wait…so I don’t have to hide…I can just….come?

YES!!! God has had his mind made up about you since before you were born, Justin! And in His mind, you’re a beautiful, wonderful creation! In His mind, you are worthy of love and acceptance. In His mind, you are a masterpiece, the apple of His eye, and the jewel of His crown. In His mind, you are His son or His daughter! When he looks are you, He sees Jesus! He sees us perfected! He sees us doing what He has purposed us to do. He sees us walking in His presence, living in His favor, and building His kingdom. So no.

No more hiding, because nothing that you do will ever change His opinion of you! It is this kind of unwavering love and faith in who He created us to be that frees us to live life in the light of His love! It frees us from the shackles of the darkness of our sins. It heals us from the disease of shame…all because I can now just come. And not hide.

Listen, I don’t know who you are, reader, but there is nothing too dark for God. There is no sin that Jesus did not die to cleanse you from. And there is nothing hidden. He sees it. And the effects of it grieve His heart, but it does not change His mind about you.

YOU ARE LOVED!!!

And there is nothing that you can do about it. God has already made up His mind, and His decision will stand for all eternity. So just come.

Just come.

Be blessed today!

The Metaphor of Pants and Legs

The Metaphor of Pants and Legs

Do you ever have those moments where doing a mundane thing takes on a greater significance than you ever realized?

I was getting my son dressed this morning while he was still asleep. As I was sliding his pants on him, somehow his feet ended up in the same leg and I couldn’t do anything. Of course, the simple fix was just to readjust his feet and make sure that each leg was in it’s on part of the pants. Hmm. The realization of this didn’t hit me until a few minutes later, but when it hit me, OHHH BOYYY did it hit me.

Many of you readers, if you’ve been with me for awhile, know that I have problems with comparison. They have gotten so much better over the years, especially the last 3 years, but it is something that I know I have to diligently work on. So for me, this metaphor was especially powerful. Here’s the thing, our lives are like those pants. Doesn’t matter what kind of pants they are. Jeans, shorts, twill pants, floral patterns, whatever you want your pants to look like is your business. The legs going into those pants represents us. People.

Pants have 2 legs. If they didn’t, we’d have to jump around on two feet, which is just inefficient! Think about each leg of pants as a pathway. Our lives were designed to go down a specific path and accomplish the things that go along with that path. Sometimes that path is really wide, like bell-bottoms or flared pants. Other times, the path is narrower, like slim-fit jeans. Either way, the path is ours. In terms of our bodies, each one of our legs fits down a specific side of the pants. Either right or left. That’s what we have to choose from. The course of our lives is to be spent pursuing the purpose that God created us for. It is specifically for us, and as long as we are sliding our leg down the right pants leg, everything works. The problem comes when we try to place our legs down the wrong pants leg, or we try to force our legs to fit where someone else’s leg already is. Then the path gets clogged and we can no longer move. We get stuck. Now we have a purpose that is not being fulfilled, a pants leg that is completely empty. Or, consider what happens when our pants are put on backward. It means that we have gotten our legs crossed and they are on the wrong path. Then the pants can’t function the way that they are supposed to. The fit is off, and it just looks weird. (Unless you’re a fan of Kriss Kross).

The power of this metaphor is simple. Don’t worry about the leg beside you. Slide down your own path. Live it out the best that you can, because when you are in your path, you allow the person beside you to be in theirs too. It’s like Mariann Williamson says, “When we allow our light to shine, we, by default, free others to do the same.” When that happens, we can accomplish so much together, because then we are moving the way that God intended us to; many legs in many paths working together to bring the dreams of God to life.

So, everytime that you put on your pants, remember to walk in your path! And if any of this made sense to you, share it with someone you think needs to hear it today.

Dear Old Friend

Dear Old Friend

The day we stop dreaming is the day we start dying. When imagination is sacrificed on the altar of logic, God is robbed of the glory that rightfully belongs to Him. In fact, the death of a dream is often a subtle form of idolatry. We lose faith in the God who gave us the big dream and settle for a small dream that we can accomplish without His help. We go after dreams that don’t require divine intervention. We go after dreams that don’t require prayer. And the God who is able to do immeasurably more than all our right brain can imagine is supplanted by a god- lowercase g- who fits within the logical constraints we have left for him to inhabit.”- Pastor Mark Batterson from The Circle Maker

Dear Dreams and Imagination,

It’s been awhile since we’ve spoken. Like really spoken. We’ve had casual conversations over the years, but the last time that I really listened to you? I can’t remember when. It’s just that I’m so busy, you know? Now we have 5 kids and we have gone through struggles and this adulting thing is just so hard! If you didn’t know, I’m in school now…again! Trying to become a school administrator. Yep! It’s hard trying to balance that with family life with work life with church work life, but in order for us to get anywhere close to where we need to be, I have to keep pressing for higher positions. 5 kids aren’t gonna feed themselves.

What’s that you say? Joy? In what I do, you mean? Yeah, I love what I get to do. The students are all amazing, even if they can’t see it yet. I have the usual jerks and turds in my classes, but nothing that keeps me down for long. In my schooling, I’m learning to much about school leadership that it is causing me to look at my own building leaders differently. The things that we do at church are good things. I just wish we had more time to devote to it all. And I love my family. You know that intimately. I never imagined a family like this, but I always did imagine that I would have a family to love and call my own.

Do you remember, Imagination, all of those dreams that we used to have about music? Like, before all of this? Where I would major in music and move to Nashville and become this big music sensation? Or even the dreams of trying out for the Voice or American Idol or America’s Got Talent? Man, I can still feel the lights and hear the crowd getting into the music that we created together! Or what about the dreams where I owned a white tiger and lived in a big house and had no worries at all, except for what we were gonna do that day? Those were good times. Oh! How about the dreams where I was a young pastor, and my wife and I were doing so many great things in our church that it grew because people felt loved and accepted?

You know? Sometimes, some of those dreams haunt me. Like, I can see them so clearly in my head that I wonder what I’m actually doing with my life. Sometimes I feel so sad when I think about them. It’s like I let you down. Like I let me down. I don’t know, man. I mean, now I want to write music that gets performed in churches. I don’t have to make millions off of them, but, dude, I KNOW that I can write some good, important music that can lift God higher. And while that’s a shift to a dream that we had together, I think the impact of it goes much deeper than the type of songs that I wanted to sing in my youth. Maybe I should have listened to you, though. But I listened to the fear. Yeah, the same fear that has been my companion since the time I discovered you. And yeah, I’ve quit writing music so many times over my life, because I’ve been so frustrated with lack of opportunities to use it, or get it heard. I’ve thought, who cares?

But now I know God cares. You care. And so I care.

And now, I think you’re talking to me again. Something about writing books? You’ve spoken to a few people for me about this very thing. God must speak to you, and then you speak to me. Is that how it works? But man, I don’t know even what to write a book about! Now I have this desire. I won’t doubt it. I’ll just go along with it and believe in it. That will make God happy. That will make you happy. And generally, when I follow after where you two lead me, I end up pretty happy as well.

I guess what I’m trying to say to you is that I’m sorry. I’m 37 years old and I’ve watched life pass me by. I haven’t yet gone after anything that we have discussed in life. I don’t know how to even begin, but I promise you that I will find a way to start. Don’t quit talking to me this time. I promise to listen because I’m learning that when I don’t trust what God tells you to tell me, I rob Him of the opportunity to be God and do God-sized things.

And I desperately need to see God-sized things in my life. I crave it. And sometimes I feel I’m so close to them. And GOSH, I want the kind of things that scare me, but not in the fear-sense. I want things to big that looking at them drives me to my knees out of total reliance on God to accomplish them. That is the stuff worth living for! Can we get there?

It’s been good talking to you again, my old friend. Now, let’s get some things done. I love you, bro.

Sincerely,

J

 

…….Through

…….Through

Through – moving into one side and out of the other.

“Stop praying for it and start praising for it. True faith doesn’t just celebrate after the miracle has already happened; true faith celebrates BEFORE the miracle happens as if the miracle has already happened because you know that you know that God is going to deliver on His promise.”

“After you pray through, you need to praise through. You need to quit asking God to do something and start praising Him for what He has already done. Prayer and praise are both expressions of faith, but praise is a higher dimension of faith. Prayer is asking God to do something, future tense, but praise is believing that God has already done it, past tense.”

-Both excerpts from The Circle Maker by Pastor Mark Batterson (embellishments my own)

Praying through. In the book, Mark is talking about how many of us never see the miracles that we are believing for because we stop short. We pray right up to the finish line instead of through it. For example, those who run track are always told not to pull up as they cross the finish line. They are told to run through the line so that the effort is there. It is a horrible thing to watch a race and see the frontrunner let up just as they are almost about to cross the line, only to watch someone else take the win that should have been theirs. Or, I think of the Super Bowl when the Cowboys were playing against the Bills. Leon Lett had recovered a fumble and was rumbling (football speak for a big guy running with the ball) toward a certain touchdown. He would have easily scores, but before he crossed the goal line, he started celebrating and held the ball out. Someone came up behind him and knocked the ball away. Now, that didn’t impact the final result of the game, but it did cause him to miss out on an opportunity to score a defensive touchdown in the Super Bowl.

How many of us stop short? We spend so much time praying and believing for God to do something, only to stop because we don’t see any forward motion; not knowing that in the spiritual realm, we are right at the end? What if the Israelites had walked around the walls of Jericho only 6 days and took the 7th off because they were tired? Or what if on the 7th time around they did not yell, but only mumbled? They would not have received the victory the way that God had provided.

We have to learn to pray through!

And praise through.

We hear this so much, that we have to praise God before we see the manifestation of what we are believing for. Check this out:

“Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I HAVE DELIVERED Jericho into your hands.”

This engages my imagination to an intense degree. I can imagine the Israelites walking around the walls of Jericho in silence for six days. Everyday knowing that they had already received the victory. Did they get tired? Probably. Was it boring? I honestly don’t know how it could have been. How could they remain so quiet when they knew what God had already done? Every time around, were they thinking about what life would be like after this victory? How they would tell their children about this day? Every day closer to that seventh day, I know that they could hardly stand it; the excitement building and crescendoing to a fevered pitch, so much that on the 7th day, they probably needed no encouragement to scream. They’d had 6 days to reflect on what God had done, even while they hadn’t seen it yet. By FAITH, they had prayed through, and now their walking around Jericho had become moments of praising through, and they had been forced to contain themselves until God said “LOOSE THE PRAISE!”

And what they loosed on that day was 6 days worth of pent up private praise. One voice joined another voice, which joined a group of voices, until a cacophony of noise registered high enough on the decibel meter to reduce a fortified, awe-inducing wall to dust!

Talk about a holy moment!!!

I bet the air was supercharged, and their spirits were at an all-time high! They received the promise before they saw the promise, and so they praised through the promise like they had already seen it with their own eyes!

What about you? I know personally, I sometimes pull up before crossing the line. Sometimes I pray and pray, but never praise. But I’m convinced now of the following equation:

Praying Through + Praising Through= BreakTHROUGH

It’s time to circle your Jericho in the faith of what God has already done in your life, and what you’ve been praying about that has already been done by God. Receive it that promise! Praise God now for it! Then watch as the walls surrounding that promise fall and are disintegrated!

And no…this isn’t name it, claim it. This is built on standing on the promises of God, which are never null and never void. They are powerful and true, and they work! Every time!!!

Be Blessed, fam!!

 

Caution: Truth Bomb

“We lose sight of our God-ordained goals. Our eternal priorities get subjugated by our temporal responsibilities.”- Pastor Mark Batterson, National Community Church, from the book The Circle Maker

Who does this apply to?

(raises hand)

Gosh! This is tough. I was talking with a friend of mine who has been helping me walk through some issues that I have with goal-setting. She’s a life coach, and really, when we talk on the phone, she listens as I talk, and then she throws things out there that gets me to talk more. Yesterday she hit me with something that just totally blew me out of the water. She asked,

“So let’s say you’re getting an award, a major award like a Grammy or Oscar, and they are introducing you. What would you want them to say?”

Now, I’m usually pretty quick with responses to questions like that, but I had to pause for a moment because it messed me up. What would I want them to say about me? When I die, what would I want them to say about me? What about my kids and wife? What would I say about me?

See, this is a heavy subject for me, because I’m in a season of something different. I don’t know what that is and how it will manifest, but I certainly can feel God stirring the waters of my life. There’s not a discontent, but a restlessness. An expectation. Yet, for what? I have no idea, because I don’t know what I want. See, I discovered yesterday that I don’t know what anyone would say about me because I don’t know where the guy is who used to build entire worlds out of Legos and narrate entire storylines. I lost that child in all of the adulting that I do on a daily basis. That child represents the big dreams and goals that I had for my life.

Temporal responsibilities. Hmm.

I read this quote yesterday as I’ve restarted reading Mark Batterson’s best-selling book, The Circle Maker.

See, I think what has happened to me is the same thing that happens to so many adults. I was actually talking with my wife about this yesterday. We become so busy trying to raise our kids to be amazing and believe that they are special that we tend to often times forget that the end of our existence is not simply just to raise our kids and to be a good husband or wife. It’s not simply just to work a vocation, or even Pastor a church, or whatever. Just as we spend our lives trying to help our children become who they are meant to be, God is trying to do that with us as well. So there has to be a balance!!

Eternal priorities. What is God trying to grow me toward that has eternal implications?

What are the dreams of God for me that will live on after I am dead and gone? What are the dreams of others that are living within me right now?

In our pursuit to be great for others, have we lost the desire to be great for God? And see, I don’t see this as a selfish pursuit. I’m a husband and a father, a teacher and KidMin Pastor, but that’s not all.

I’m Justin. The kid who had an imagination so vast that he would don a towel and wrap it around his neck, and then run around the neighborhood with a sword looking to vanquish evildoers. That kid wanted to take on the world. That kid dreamed HUGE dreams.

That kid….is who I’m trying to find again. There are things that God has for that kid. Eternal things.

I tell my wife all of the time that she needs something that is hers. She is having a hard time with that statement. But, I believe that something is God’s dream for her life…apart from His goals for our family, God desires that both of us, individually and collectively, achieve the dreams that he has for us.

Music, Books, and one more thing. Those are the dreams of my heart that I believe God put there. Maybe this great stirring I feel is a call back to the dreaming kid who believed that nothing was impossible. He’s still there, lost among the bills to pay and kids to pick up from school, and students to instruct, and degrees to earn…he’s in there.

His purposes are eternal.

As are mine.

As are yours.

Before I close out this morning, in our session yesterday, I said something that had to be God, because I had never said it before, nor had I ever thought it. It is simply this,

“Faith is living as though dreams do come true, not living as though they might possibly come true.”

Be blessed today, fam!