Ministry: It's Not What I Thought

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…
— Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV

Too many frustrated conversations to count. 

Conversations with people who felt called to ministry but were disillusioned when it wasn’t happening the way they had imagined.

Photo Credit: Ales Krivec

Photo Credit: Ales Krivec

They believed what I believed - that for people who were passionate about Jesus, ministry would be the acceptable way to achieve success, maybe even their own version of fame. 

I’m ashamed to admit that for the majority of my life I thought ministry was about the person who was standing on the platform with a microphone in their hand. 

It was about being known by your own little world and being admired. 

I want this to be clear; there is never a moment where I feel more like I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do than when I’m communicating the Truth that the world needs to hear so badly. But in the last five years or so, by the grace of God, I’ve also come to wholeheartedly believe this: no one needs to know my name. 

If you’ve followed WeAreTheVigilant for any period of time, you’ve seen me hash out this internal struggle over and over. You probably didn’t notice it, but the battle that went on inside me is woven into everything I’ve ever written.

Ministry is not about being known.

I am ALREADY known.

You are ALREADY known.

We are known by the only One who matters.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.      
— 1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV

This begs the question: What is ministry?

  • Ministry is admitting your brokenness, your need for a Savior to a broken world that also needs a Savior.
  • Ministry is acknowledging God’s incredible mercy and receiving His grace.
  • Ministry is asking for forgiveness, not pretending like it didn't happen.
  • Ministry is yielding to the deep work of the Holy Spirit.
  • Ministry is the willingness to be uncomfortable.
  • It is the divine cooperation between you and a Holy God that happens for the good of everyone that comes into contact with someone who has experienced redemption.

God has given us gifts and He has called us for one reason: to bring glory to Himself so that people would turn to Him. The idea that we would have any part of that makes me want to get on my face and weep out of gratitude.

Have you ever wanted to say, “If I can’t do this the right way then I won’t do it at all”?

Me too.

And if God rolls His eyes, I’m the most worthy recipient of said eye roll.

We take a pre-emptive strike on the call because deep down we really think that somehow this is still all about us.

A divine commission either is or it isn’t. Within the context of Jesus’ command to make disciples is there ever a moment that you shouldn't endeavor to make that command a reality? Even if it’s not in the way that you imagined?

If there is a glimmer of a chance that your participation in the great commission would draw even one person closer to the heart of God is that not a risk worth taking? Whether the context is behind a pulpit, faithfully serving your community, leading a small group, adopting a child, or late night conversations on the phone with a struggling friend, it’s all ministry.

If He gave you a specific talent or ability He has every intention of using those gifts to draw people to Himself. Where we so often get tied up is the desire to be recognized for the gifts we have merely received.  

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
— 1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV

Sometimes we find ourselves at a standstill because we know that in order to move forward we have to lose all semblance of control. I don’t care who you are, that’s scary. But ultimately, I think the biggest lesson we need to learn is how to get out of our own way because “when Christ calls a man he bids him come and die"*.

As disciples, the call is dying to self.

As ministers, we must lead the way in this death. Only on the other side does a truly abundant life exist and we cannot show others the way when we have not yet been there ourselves.

 

 

*Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

 

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Treading the Waters of Transition

Transition can be a tricky thing.

If you’re not careful, you can flow from one season to the next wondering if you’re right on target or just some random driftwood caught in the tide.

So, how do you manage the waters of transition like a pro?

Photo Credit: Tim Marshall

Photo Credit: Tim Marshall

1.)    Holding on to Purpose –

For the better part of my life I’ve been passionate about 3 things: Jesus, people, and the arts. Since college, I’ve made a living as either an artist, a teacher, or a pastor. Some days there was nothing sexy about the work because it was work.

People say “Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.” But they fail to mention the amount of work you’ll do as you move toward doing what you love.

There will be times where you’re facing transition and the best thing you can do is fall back on what you know while you contend for the direction God is leading you.

There’s nothing wrong in doing honest work. Maybe you’re not in your dream job, but at least you’re in a sustainable place where you can quiet your heart before God. This step is so practical, many people miss it (Proverbs 24:27).

2.)    Dig into Discipline –

God uses seasons of preparation to grow you into where you’re going. Even where you are right now, He’s crafting a certain skill, relationship, or element of your character that will play a vital role in where you’re headed next. Today’s triumph is tomorrow’s stepping stone. Don’t let the baggage of “right now” weigh you down. Don’t let the temporary things override what is eternal (Philippians 3:17-21).

Let your motivation and discipline for today be persuaded by an eternal mindset.

3.)    Never Underestimate the Power of Common Sense –

There are some things you just know to do...

  • It’s nearing bedtime, I should brush my teeth.
  • My car is acting weird, maybe you should get that checked out.
  • This decision doesn’t feel right. I don’t think I should do this.

You’ve been given a conscience for a reason. Listen to it. Don’t spiritualize that which is easily understood. Make good, consistent decisions and don’t overthink where you are. Please listen…if you don’t have something to hold down the bills, forget about the dream, cause you’re already drowning.

Passion can’t be the sole source of your direction. What should guide you is the call upon your life.

Where is God telling you to go? Get ready. Prepare. Find firm ground, then launch out as you discover where God is leading you (Habakkuk 2:1-3; Phillipians 3:14).

4.)    Stay Hungry –

As seasons build, you’ll find that like layers of a sandwich, there are defining moments that stack up to create who you are. Don’t let one or even four bad experiences define who you are. Don’t give power to circumstances beyond your control or to things lingering in your past. Fight for the joy that is Jesus in your life. Stay hungry for your relationship with Him (John 6:35).

Let your walk with Christ be the guidepost through each transition. This way you’ll keep your focus on what matters the most.

5.)    Find Community –

The love of Jesus is wholly fulfilled in the presence of His people (Hebrews 10:24-25). Whatever purpose your called to, if it’s truly of God, then it’s so much bigger than you that you’re going to need others to:

- Fulfill It.

- Help You Grow Through It.

- Serve Alongside You.

Community will keep you from stagnating. God will use other people to push and provoke you further into the purpose He has prepared for you.

 

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Feeling the Weight

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
— C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses
Photo Credit: Matthias Heil

Photo Credit: Matthias Heil

About 2 months ago, God started asking me to think about what it truly meant to use the unique resources He has given me to reach a hurting world. I would let myself feel the weight of His invitation for a day or a few hours but no longer. I knew that if I accepted this it would change my life. It would require more of me than I was willing to give at the time.

I was holding Him at arms length. 

How?

I would let apathy wrap me up like a heavy blanket - not just heavy enough to slow me down, but also comfortable enough to help me forget to care. 

There were times I’d try to shake myself awake. But I still made allowances for things I knew were holding me back all in the name of “balance”. But balance always turned into excess. Isn’t it funny how that happens? 

Here’s a thought:

If there’s a disparity between our day-to-day experience and who we know God is calling us to be, then somewhere, deep down, we are believing a lie - a lie that we’ve embraced so thoroughly, it’s impacting our everyday behavior.

The irritating thing about lies is their subtlety. They slip under the radar so easily and before you know it, you’ve bought into them hook, line, and sinker.

 

The lie I think I most often believe is “It’s okay. You can start tomorrow.” 

 

But God, in His infinite grace, has been reassuring me of the following: 

  • LOVING people is what matters. No, not winning people over or impressing them, but LOVING people. When we love sacrificially we love like Jesus. And when we serve one another we show people Jesus. We preach the gospel everywhere we go.

Galatians 5:13

  • Not everyone is going to feel things as deeply as I do or in the same way I do. God gives each of us a unique perspective and a unique way of expressing that perspective. The majority of us are so sedated by the idols of our own choosing that God is unable to develop that unique perspective into anything impactful.

1 Peter 4:11

  • This is going to take time. I can’t help but think that I have so much further to come. That’s why I wrote a list of “Daily Expectations”. These are the things God is calling me to be faithful in right now as He has been reassuring me He’s going to take care of the rest. What would a list of daily expectations look like for you?

Luke 16:10

  • In order to feel the weight of the call you have to throw off the weight of lesser things...things that at face-value don’t look all that harmful. These things take up valuable “bandwidth”. You can’t have both. 

Hebrews 12:1-2

 

You’ve been given an assignment. Your assignment is to live a grace-filled, gospel-driven, justice-loving life.

 

You weren't created to just work a nine-to-five job and retire one day. You were created for good things that God, in His foresight, prepared for you ahead of time (Ephesians 2:10).

You’ve been uniquely resourced to complete that assignment knowing that if God has called you to it, then He’s more invested than even you are. Everything you need is found in Him. You don’t have to worry about how, and you don’t have to worry about when. All you need to do is say, "yes". Say, "yes" when He tells you to put down your phone. Say, "yes" when He moves you to prayer. Say, "yes" when He asks you to go.

Don't give yourself a chance to hesitate. If you've been holding Him at arms length, if you've been half-heartedly embracing the Gospel I pray that the Holy Spirit deals with you like He did with me. I pray that you become utterly dissatisfied with life as you know it.

Go ahead, feel the weight. 

 

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A Decade of Lessons (Pt. II)

In celebration of 10 years of marriage, we are sharing the 10 most valuable lessons learned over the last 10 years. If you missed part one, you can read up on it here

August 11, 2007

August 11, 2007

6. Sex is a consummation of desire, not a cure for lust. 

I was foolish to think that when my wife and I could make love, I would no longer struggle with lust. I was wrong. It would take years before I could say that I was free and it would cost me dearly. Bottom line, who you are before you're married is who you are when you get married. Just because you have an outlet to express your physical desires doesn't mean you can have sex at any moment, all of the time. It's not a cure all for lust. Marriage doesn't solve your problems, it exposes them. When you commit to doing life together, there's suddenly this another person who sees you at your best and at your worst. 

Which brings me to my next point...

7. How you handle disagreements, fights, and squabbles reveals the health of your marriage.

You will disagree. You will argue. If you're shaking your head "No" right now, then you're delusional. This person will see you as you've never been seen, and you have to be comfortable with this. How you handle these moments speaks deeply about the quality of your marriage and says even more about your character. How you treat your spouse is the truest reflection of who you are and a measuring test for how you will engage with the rest of the human race.

(And on a side note, when you do disagree, sex is great grounds for making up. Admit you're wrong, say "I'm sorry," and take it to the bedroom. **Cue that "Boyz II Men." **)

8. You will never fully understand her...love her anyway. 

There are moments where my wife is emotional on a level that I DO NOT understand. Ten years of marriage and I still don't get it. I have NO IDEA why she's crying. As a man, it's moments like these where I feel obligated to "fix" something. The dude in me says, "How can I make this right?" but experience tells me to listen. This is my wife. She is precious. Just because I don't understand doesn't mean I can't do my best to try. People (spouses included) are not just problems to be solved. So often, she just wants to be heard. She doesn't need my repair skills, she needs me to be present and to love her in light of my limited understanding.  

9. Don't stop delivering. 

Now, that you're married you've got to keep it going. If you want to stay married, date nights are a must. By "must" I mean they're non-optional, necessary moments that you have to put on the calendar otherwise your marriage will suck. Be creative. Be romantic. Be together. And have some freakin' fun!! This is your marriage, so make it an adventure. Spice it up. Chase after your spouse now, as you did then. 

10. You are the prophetic vision of the Christ you want your family to see. 

When she sees you, does she see Jesus? If you claim to represent God's love, but your life does not show it, then where is your love walk falling short? As the leader of your family, you are the representation of what Christ is to the church. He loves her and willingly laid down His life for her (John 10:11). Would you do the same? Let me very clear on this point. What I mean to say is that the manner in which you conduct yourself, the example you live out in front of your family, says everything about who you believe Jesus is and who you want them to become. You're the husband. You're their dad. As Christ is in you, so will He be in them.

 

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A Decade of Lessons (Pt. I)

Moving into August, my husband and I will celebrate 10 years of marriage. In honor of our decade of marriage we wanted to share 10 of the most important lessons we’ve learned since we’ve been married. Here are the first five: 

A quick capture from our wedding day. 

1. Marriage is precious.

Matt recently wrote about some things that have been going on in our little family over the past 5 years. When, materially, we were at our weakest point, our marriage thrived. Why? Because we decided that the important thing wasn’t regaining all that we had lost, but maintaining a healthy relationship with each other. I remember times when we would look at each other knowing that we had like two dollars but we were incredibly rich for two reasons: Jesus and each other. We’d kind of shrug as if to say, “We don’t have any money but at least we can have sex.” #kiddingnotkidding 

2. My husband’s purity is not my responsibility but it is my priority.

I have to ask the hard questions sometimes. I have to encourage him to reach out to brothers in Christ because the odds are not stacked in his favor. If they’re not stacked in his favor, then they’re not stacked in mine. I refuse to turn a blind eye and not have the conversation about how he’s doing even though the answer might break my heart. We've set up healthy boundaries to safeguard both of our hearts. In the end, I care more about him and our marriage than I do about my comfort. 

3. We look at each other through eyes of potential.

When I look at that man and I see who he’s becoming I’m amazed. He constantly encourages the gifts inside me and I encourage the gifts in him. The weight of our calling is too much to carry on our own, so we help carry it for each other. Our callings are irrevocably intertwined. 

4. We realize that some things aren’t going to change.

I am going to leave towels on the floor. When I walk through the door the uncomfortable clothes are coming off and the sweat pants are going on. He recognizes and appreciates my love for food, especially tacos. He knows that I’m either making plans to eat or I’m actually eating or telling someone about something that I just ate. He will always take the biggest bites ever taken by a human being. When we leave the house, he is going to find at least one reason to go back inside before we can leave. He is also one of the most particular and meticulous men I have ever met and I…well, I am not. At all. 

5. He will never fully understand me.

He will certainly come closer than any human being ever will. But I have a desire to be fully known that cannot be fulfilled through my husband. It is a desire that was put there by God. In the past, I withheld my heart from my husband because I felt misunderstood by him. I thought that if he really wanted to understand me then we wouldn’t have this problem. But I had the problem. I wanted something from him that he was unable to give. When you want something from your spouse that you were designed to get from God you will only find a breeding ground for dissatisfaction and eventually you’ll start looking somewhere else for the satisfaction that only an all-knowing God can give. (So staahhhppp.) 

Well, there you have it. Five things I’ve learned in 10 years of marriage...although, the lessons have been more than I can count. Matt will be back next week with 5 lessons of his own and they’ll be way more interesting lessons than mine. 

 

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Better than Before

Some years ago we lost…well, materially, just about everything.

A series of tough breaks and the decision to transition my career had us on the ropes. 

We went from having two cars down one. Despite our best efforts, our home was foreclosed on. In every expression of the word, it was awful. 

Photo Credit: Bryan Minear

Photo Credit: Bryan Minear

My wife and I found ourselves donating plasma so we could buy groceries. We had to pick and choose which bills to pay and what not to pay. We had to trust God around every corner for day to day things. There were moments where we had no idea where provision would come from, except that it would sometimes show up in our mailbox. The stress of that time was incredible, but the faithfulness of God had never been more real.

Life was hard. 

I transitioned from ministry and back into teaching. As a man, wanting to provide for his family, this season spread me thin. It was immensely humbling.

I was recovering from some of the gravest disappointment I had ever faced in the local church. I felt wronged, mismanaged, and sorely misunderstood.

I made the move, but it was not easy. 

I went to church, a different church, but it all hurt. Not in a surface way, but in a super, subcutaneous way – under the skin, in the heart.

I knew where I was. Not that I had wanted to be in this predicament. For a good amount of time, I struggled to see beyond the emotional weight of the situation. I was angry and broken.

My wife had taken to quoting “Pride and Prejudice” to me when we’d talk about experiences of the past, “That savors strongly of bitterness, my dear.”

It came down to this: I was unable to reconcile my experience with my convictions.

To help you understand, ministry has long been both my occupation and my calling. As a pastor, leading the church is not just what you do, it's very much a part of who you are. “Church Hurt” is a specific kind of hurt. The wound is never surface; it cuts to the quick. It invokes a spiritual ache that is hard to describe.

I knew this road to recovery would take some time, but I had no idea it would test me so much.

There I was, teaching art again. Something I had done right after college. But I taught in the toughest school in the city. I’m talking hard-nosed kids from the streets. The school was (and still is) in an incredibly impoverished and struggling area. Art has been a love of mine for many years, but I didn't like it this time. And it wasn't because I hated the school or the students. I just couldn’t see past my circumstances.

For a solid year, my wife endured my poor attitude, as we welcomed our 2nd little girl into the world. 

I was delighted to have another beautiful, baby girl. When the school year came to a close, I was approaching the two-year mark in my time away from ministry. Time gave way to relief and I was longing to lead in the local church again. I agreed to take a position somewhere new. 

The next 18 months went by quickly. While the church we were at had been struggling, God began to turn things around. We served faithfully and saw the church nearly double in size. Then, at the turn of this year (2017), we were blindsided by a family emergency. The course of action was obvious and, albeit hard, but necessary, my family and I chose to move back to Tulsa, OK to be closer to my parents.

In the midst of our move, however, we were still on the road to financial recovery. While traveling over the holidays through the beautiful state of Kentucky, the transmission suddenly gave out in our car…while barreling down the road at 65mph. And so, without a car to call our own, we packed our things, said goodbye to the people we loved, and moved back to the Midwest.

We had no assurances. 

No jobs.

No vehicles. 

No house. 

But what we lacked for in natural things, we knew God could and would provide. 

After speaking with some incredible friends, they agreed that we could live with them (and their two kids), until things panned out. (Thank God for selfless friends who live and love sacrificially!)

Within 3 weeks of our arrival, my wife landed a job. Not just any job, she was hired on at a church we love and now call home. 

Then, along came the means to purchase car. No, it wasn't a sexy, speed wagon, but we found it and in 3 hours’ time, it was ours. At this stage in the year, we, a family of four, had effectively survived for 3 months without a car!!! (For the record, I don't suggest this. We opted not to finance a car because we did not want to go into debt. So, we held out until the timing was right.)

Our living situation was good, but having a house filled with 8 people, four under the age of six, can test you as an adult. There was this nudge in our hearts to look for a house to rent. This was major. It had been 4 years since we had owned a home, and this was a sore spot for me.

Am I the only one who finds house hunting to be a full-time job? We looked and looked, but everything either slipped through our fingers or cost more than we could manage. So, we prayed. I prayed that God would grant us just the right place. My wife, a highly motivated (and pretty) woman, came upon a lovely place in a part of town well beyond our current means. But as it happened, 2 weeks after discovering it, things worked out, and we moved in.

At this rate, we were almost 3 months into our move. While my wife was employed, I was not. I had been furiously looking for work since our arrival to Tulsa. I wanted to work as an artist. After all, I had gone to school for it. Be it art making, design, museum curation, etc., I was chasing every lead I could find, yet nothing seemed to pan out.

So, I watched my girls. Me, a grown, 35-year-old male, watched my 2 daughters, ages 2 and 5, while my wife got up each day and went to work. It was a humbling and precious time that allowed me to understand the role my wife had been playing in our lives for the past few years. Stay-at-home parenting is a full-on gig, not for the faint of heart.

This routine carried on for a near 3 months, and then, I got a job. But not just any job, I scored a position as an artist and designer at a local agency. And while I was so grateful to begin work, this opportunity meant my wife and I would have to travel in opposite directions every morning to get to work. As you might have guessed, this meant I would need my own car to get there. A car we didn’t have.

God’s faithfulness was revealed yet again, when someone gave us a a car. Please understand, that up until the last few weeks, I’ve been Uber-ing rides and renting cars to make my way to work. My dad even graciously stepped in to help me for a few weeks until it all came together.

If you’re reading this, I want you to know that the last four years have tested me more than I ever thought they would. And now, in a matter of five months, God has provided my family and I with work, vehicles, and a home, where there were previously none.

But more than the things He has restored, is the man He has restored. My passion to serve my family and others is stronger than it has ever been. This is, perhaps, the greatest miracle of all: the joy I have found in trying times. I still have days where I struggle, but they do not define me, God does. His declaration over my life is final.

Some seasons are really hard, but the difficulty you face does not negate the goodness of God. 

Trials may endure, but so does His faithfulness. 

In the times where life seems to suck, no hard season can overshadow His magnificence. There’s not a moment where any circumstance or emotion will outlast the enduring, constant goodness of God. 

This realization, the understanding of this His inherent goodness, will set you free. In the end, nothing ever has or will ever defeat Him. He is unmatched in every way. 

Looking back, I can see how unmoved God has been by any apparent crisis of mine. By comparison, all that has happened is so much smaller than His capacity to meet my need.

He’s not standing outside of your present circumstance, He’s in it with you. Jesus is not waiting to meet you on the other side of whatever you’re going through. No, He’s by your side, walking with you at this very moment. He is more than able to meet your need (Phillippians 4:19-20; Romans 8:28). He is gracious, considerate, and able.

If you would acknowledge His presence, and turn to Him, He will restore you.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
— Hebrews 11:6
 

Dear Reader, 

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If this has somehow encouraged you, then I would ask that you please take a moment to share it with someone else. 


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Fragile

Since you have purified your souls by obedience to the truth, so that you have a genuine love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from a pure heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flowers of the field;the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.”

And this is the word that was proclaimed to you.
— 1 Peter 1:22-25
unnamed.jpg

It hits me like a wave. That feeling of weightiness that goes something like this: 

This is your life. Don’t waste it. 

Your life on this earth has a beginning and it has an end and if you’re reading this right now you’re right smack in the middle of it. 

There was a point this week where I felt like I was somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. Not because I was breaking any rules or using stealthy ninja skills that we all know I don’t have. But because I, in and of myself, did not feel like I deserved it.

It was one of those moments that was bigger than me. Has that ever happened to you? Where you find yourself in the middle of a situation you know only the grace of God achieved. I just keep thinking, "Why, God? Why?" 

Why would He do this for me? Why would He choose me for this? And then, why would He choose me for what's to come? Because if this moment is blowing me away I can't even fathom what He's got up His sleeve for me next. 

There are always two things I feel in moments like those: fragility and gratitude. 

Fragility because life is a vapor and sometimes we get glimpses of how exposed we really are. 

Gratitude because I know that I am fragile but I am also deeply and intimately cared for by a sovereign Father God who holds me together by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).

The same eternal word that stands forever is the same word that holds together my fragile life. 

Why am I sharing this with you? Because I want to encourage you to do things that feel risky for a cause that is bigger than you. You know why you can? Because you are loved. You are completely loved by the Creator of the Universe. Everything that’s of worth is found in Him and guess where we, as Christ followers, reside? In Him. (Colossians 2:10

I don’t fully understand the nuances of this union. What I know is that it is so, and it is beautiful. And realizing that we belong to Him releases within us a freedom to feel the weight of our fragility and the immense gratitude that comes along with it. 

Our only other option is fear.

But ultimately, aren't most of our fears just our excuses? Let’s just admit that when we say we're afraid what we're really saying is we value whatever we’re afraid of losing over whatever God has called us to do. Be it status, title, or material possessions, if our identity is not secure in who we are loved by and found in, then our identity will be wrapped up in lesser, more fallible things. 

My prayer lately has been, “Let my life have a far greater impact for your glory than it ever could by living on my own terms”. 

God can exponentially increase the impact of our lives for His Kingdom. But we can’t do it ruled by fear. 

We are complete and secure in Him and we have to live from that place, because then and only then will we experience the freedom to LOVE with authenticity and SERVE with sincerity - not preoccupied by who sees us or what anyone thinks of us. 

That’s the kind of thing that draws people to Jesus. And that's why we're here. 

 

 

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Let's Try Honesty

Honesty. Let’s try honesty. 

I’m lazy. 

Actually, no. I struggle with laziness. And yes, there is a difference. 

I get up and read my Bible every morning, but even still, look for excuses to look at my phone. I’m just making my coffee. I’ll look at my phone. 

Gah, I’m still not quite awake. I’ll look at my phone. 

KC Window

I can sense Him coming if I know what to look for. I hear the leaves rustling, I feel the breeze, and He calls. I see the sun rise and the colors change and He draws. 

I don’t deserve it. His patience or His mercy and yet, because it is who He is, I will always find Him faithful. Even when I am not. 

Doesn’t He know every thought in my head? How sometimes I go down roads I know I shouldn’t? Secret paths, dimly lit and forgotten. He does, and He waits. 

He waits until I take those thoughts captive because He’s given me the responsibility and authority to do so. He waits until I’m ready to listen, but He’s not One to be manipulated. And when I’m ready to listen He speaks truth–love-soaked truth that cuts me to the quick and exposes my need for Him. 

And yet there are times that I persist like a belligerent child who insists that she knows best and she knows what she wants right now but cannot conceive of more and can’t imagine better. 

Pride is ugly. It doesn’t look good on anyone. And it comes in secret forms. Forms we don’t recognize at first. 

Pride looks like my frustration when things aren’t going my way. It looks like when I’ve worked all day, dinner still has to be made, children still have to be cared for, and I feel the load resting on my shoulders rather than letting Him carry it. It looks like when I choose anger over love and I don’t invite Him in. 

There is a kind of death that must happen for us to move forward. A death to that old self. You know, the one with all the demands. Can you see it? Demanding that I reach for the phone. Demanding that I think those thoughts. Demanding that I speak my mind or hold a grudge when things don’t go my way. Demanding that I carry the load.

Why does it take so long to decide we are no longer slaves to who we once were? 

Because it’s a choice. A choice that I will have to make time and time again. I will have to tell that old part of me, the part that is selfish, lazy, insecure and unloving to get back in the grave. And with every ounce of grace at my disposal I’ll let her know, “You’re not welcome here anymore."

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
— Colossians 3:3-10 ESV 
 

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State of Mind: Managing the Madness in Your Head

"In the beginning God created..."

It's a familiar story. But what I want to know is if there was no one else around to hear God as He was creating the Earth, then who was He talking to?

My best, educated guess is that He was talking to Himself. The way I see it, if God can talk to Himself then you and I can too. 

State of Mind - Image Post.jpg

I'll be the first to admit, I talk to myself all of the time. In the car, in the shower, when I'm working, mowing the lawn, etc. I live a healthy portion of every day in my head. And as someone who has struggled with social anxieties and even depression, I can tell you that learning to manage the madness in your head is a skill worth mastering. 

Chances are, you talk to yourself too. Come on, now...you know it's true. I'm willing to bet that your brain is always turning. And there's a few of you reading this who never stop. The conversations in your head are constant. 

(Alright, before we get weird on each other, let's dig a little deeper.)

It's a healthy personal practice to make declarations over yourself. I'd venture to say that you, like most people, have an "inner coach" who is constantly scanning, reasoning, encouraging, and criticizing what you do. 

But at what point do you draw the line on your internal dialogue? 

Can you take it too far? And if so, how can you make your way back?


Let's not beat around the bush, there's a point where you can fixate over your issues so much that eventually, you are all you care about. 

When you glorify your condition to the degree of leaving God out along with anyone else it turns into idolatry (and by idolatry, we're talking "self worship").

But before things drift to this extreme, there's a few ways you can safeguard your heart in hopes to maintain a healthier internal dialogue. 

 

1.) Me-Against-the-World

Remember those moments where you looked at yourself and thought, "It's just me. I'm the only one. No one else feels this way and no one else has ever been here before." 

Feeling separated and isolated is hard to combat. Culture advocates for self sufficiency. We pride ourselves in doing it on our own. But is this really a good thing? 

You're wired to be social. As you're reading this, I guarantee you have at least 1-3 social media accounts. Your need for others is inherent. It's built in; designed by God. 

When you isolate yourself, you are pulling away from the fabric of love and encouragement meant to be found through others. The conduit for God's love is people. People are part of His design in how He chooses to express His love.  

Community is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.     [ <– Read that again, bruh. ]

You need other people in your life to remain emotionally, mentally, & spiritually stable. God has given the local church to build this familial element into your life. (Small groups are great too, as they provide community on even a more intimate scale).  

The closeness is good. It helps to vent and to stay transparent and honest with yourself. But most importantly, it will help you to give and receive love.

A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.
— King Solomon [Proverrbs 18:1]

Action Step 1 -

Don't divide or separate yourself. Instead, plug in. Meet with friends. Invite people over. Join a small group (if possible) or grab friends for coffee. You need people and people need you. Whatever you choose, commit to making these connections on a weekly basis. 

 

 

2.) No Good for Nuthin'

Your internal boss is all over you. You're critical of yourself in a way that you should not be. 

When you reach this state of mind, it’s time to pull the plug. You need to fire your internal boss and restructure how you speak to yourself. 

Self-speak is a very real thing. If you’re not speaking to yourself in the manner like God’s word does, then your words are out of place. 

So, how should you talk to yourself? 

 Here’s what God’s Word says about you... 

God Says You are:

 

[Side Note: Yes, more than encourage, God also corrects. In His word, God makes many declarations about the state of man to correct his steps and ultimately lead those living in a fallen, sinful state back to Him (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23; John 14:6, Romans 10:8-10). But please understand, that even when God rebukes, it's because His desire to correct is charged by His love. Even in discipline, God shows us mercy and grace.]

 

Action Step 2 -

Be extra vigilant to re-calibrate your heart each and every day. Time alone with God is crucial. Use His word to declare His value over your life. Scripture is good medicine (Proverbs 16:24), for all moments, not just in the down times.  Dig into the scriptures when and before you feel yourself starting to drift. 

 

 

3.) The Bleak Numbness

It’s not that you feel too much, but that you don’t feel anything at all. 

The numbness has set in and you’re not sure what to feel. Apathy is a sure sign that you’re overwhelmed. Too much stimuli or maybe it’s been a lack of intentionally pursuing the relationships in your life. Either way, you have to battle back. As hard as it is to admit, this is a place that I have been far too familiar with. I can tell you first hand that If you choose to live here, then you're going down with the ship. 

It's sad to see people in this state because it quickly becomes such a lonely place. There's no room for anyone else here. Your friends, spouse, kids...no one else can stay here because it's all about you. You're stuck in an emotionally-pressed state. The challenge with emotions is that they are quickly subject to change, so while they can enhance an experience, you should never allow them to become the framework for making decisions. Emotions will stop your motion if you let them. 

 

Action Step 3 -

Stop what you're doing (even this very moment). Pray. Repent. And run as hard as you can in the opposite direction. Mentally and emotionally, look to insert yourself right back into the last place where you had peace and were able to hear God's voice clearly (Isaiah 26:3). When you reconnect with that state-of-mind, start moving forward. But as you push forward, keep your focus on the needs around you rather than your own. The purpose here is to build healthy habits over poor ones. Instead of fixating on self, focus on serving others. The more intently you focus on meeting the needs of others, the less you will be consumed with your own (Hebrews 10:24). 

 

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Within and Without

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
— Philippians 2:12 & 13

I could tell I was stuck. I’ve been here before. I know you’ve been there too. It’s a part of our humanity and it sneaks up on us. The realization that we’re not living abundantly, I mean. 

I know myself enough to know that in order to thrive it requires some form of self-expression. And I know that means communicating something, to someone, somewhere. Maybe that’s the part I’ve been avoiding. Or maybe it’s just blatantly disobeying. 

We’ve all been given gifts. Some of us know good and well what those gifts are and that God wants to use them to serve others. But because we’re afraid, or even lazy, we don’t. What we often don’t realize is that those gifts are an expression of God’s incredible grace given through the sacrifice of Jesus. When we neglect to operate in God given abilities we deny people the opportunity to experience a facet of God’s grace in our lives (1 Peter 4:10 & 11).

Disobedience makes you sad. It makes me sad. Please hear me, there is power in that realization. There’s freedom in finally admitting it to ourselves.

(I do feel the need to add that not all sadness is a result of disobedience. There could be so many other factors involved, I’m merely using a fairly recent example from my own life.)

Too many of us are just surviving, not willing to face that something isn’t quite right. But if there is something wrong let’s not ignore it any longer. Let’s not gloss it over and pretend like it isn’t there. Maybe, you’re even covering it with busyness…maybe you’re even telling yourself it’s for the sake of the Gospel.

If you want to stay in that sad place for a while, sometimes the easiest thing to do, when you feel the Holy Spirit calling you out of your slumber, is to immediately turn it inward, taking the proverbial stethoscope from the doctor and insisting you can give yourself a more accurate diagnosis.

How did I end up here again? How can I get myself out? Why does it take me so long to figure it out? Why am I such a failure? And then, finally the resolution: I’ll always be a failure. So why change?

Grace is grace because sin is sin.

And you will not know grace until you understand why you need it so desperately.

It took me far too long to come to terms with the fact that I heard the Holy Spirit and yet, I was trying to do the work. And then, I told my husband something was wrong, which is almost always the hardest part because I don’t know how he’s going to react and, for Pete’s sake, I want to fix this on my own. Rarely, does he ever react wrongly to the freight train of my emotions barreling towards him. He usually handles it well.

But can I put words to my vulnerability? Can I take this first timid step into the light?

When I initially tried talking to him the words wouldn’t come. Blah blah blah. Still sad.

Then he came in the room and said, “Don’t grow weary in well-doing, babe” (Galatians 6:9).

You know? He’s the best. And he made an assumption about me that was so sweet, but not true-that I was “well-doing”. And I wasn’t. At least not in this area. The reality was that I was “not doing” anything except looking at Instagram and watching "The Office." Self-medicating at it’s finest. 

No, it wasn’t that I was supposed to keep going. It was that I was supposed to pick up where I left off. I had left my plow in the field (Luke 9:62). I had looked back and decided it looked safer and more comfortable at home. I was not fit for the Kingdom. Oh, how I wish I could conjure it on my own. But the Holy Spirit in His grace whispers, “Pick up your plow, Casey. Pick up your plow.”

And I am utterly wrecked. Because while He’s working in me, it’s my responsibility to submit to that work and pick up my stinkin’ plow.

There is a sweetness that follows obedience. A confidence. A rest. A sigh.

He wants better for us. He wants so much more. And we keep taking. Taking for ourselves what He knows will only bring us harm. "Don't you want me to enjoy myself?" we say, accusingly. Because at the heart of our begrudging is a fundamental lack of trust. And we take one more... one more bite, one more look, one more. And in that moment, we succumb to less. No abundance for us. We already took what we wanted, we accepted the lie and made the exchange: more for less.

But if you’re reading this, it’s because I’ve decided to pick up the plow.

There is an extraordinary joy waiting for me in calloused hands.

When left to my own devices, I choose comfort. I choose safety. I am willingly deceived. We all are.

I’m so thankful that He began the work in me and He has promised to complete it. He hasn’t left me. Why? Why does He always promise to be there? Time and time again in scripture, He says He’ll be there. He won’t leave. The promise of His presence must be enough. He won’t leave when I’m numb. He won’t leave when I’m disobedient. He won’t leave when I’ve made the exchange of more for less. He has decided He loves me and He’s going to stay.

And He’s with you now. Wherever you are, reading this. And He whispers, “Pick up the plow. We’ve got work to do. I work within, you work without.”

For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that He powerfully works within me.
— Colossians 1:29
 

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