Learning to Live Open Handed

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
— Psalm 86:11 
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in Your ways.
— Psalm 119:37

Sticky notes with these two verses and one that says: “Give me singular focus,” sat on my desk for months. I needed the constant reminder.

Photo by Sabine van Straaten

Photo by Sabine van Straaten

God has been slowly untethering my soul from things that I’ve held too tightly. By my actions, I would protest (at times I still do), “Can’t I have both?” And I knew the answer was no. But “no” came with a promise of a life that I could not, in my short-sightedness, conceive of. At the turn of the year, I made a resolution that I intended to keep. 

The resolution was to be more yielded to the Spirit of God than I have ever been. 

This was not something to try. There was only yielding, dying and somehow living. It required constantly acknowledging my propensity to want to go my own way. And I’ve realized this year that this process, this steady constant returning, this well-worn path of repentance, is a gift. Every time I open my hands to Him in surrender He takes the thing that threatens my worship and replaces it with affection for Him. 

I have to remind myself that there is no merit to me finally acknowledging how lost, wounded, and broken I am, when God is the one who has revealed my need. What merit is it to me to lay every hope and dream out on the table and to say, “God, do with this what you will” knowing that He alone can make my life worth living? 

God has been showing me areas of self-deception and ways I’ve been short-changing my life from lasting character formation. One of those areas has been social media. 

A couple of weeks ago, I came home from a meeting grieved over my own sin and the struggle I suspect many of us are facing. I wrote the following thoughts.

I’m sharing this because maybe, just maybe, it will speak to a work that He’s already begun in you too. 

***

Oh Jesus, have we forgotten? Or did we ever really know that our lives are not our own? We know all the right words and we feel this deep ache. We ask ourselves why and then we fill ourselves up with doing. Doing makes us feel better. Slowing down just makes us realize we’re deeply dissatisfied and the doing will never really fix it. So, we fill the still moments up with other people’s doing. At the heart of it, we know there’s a daily dying that we can’t quite bring ourselves to embrace. What will our lives mean if we can’t show and tell people what we should mean to them?

What if? It’s the question that haunts all those being drawn deeper.

What if I stopped caring? What if they misunderstand?

What if they don’t care?

What if I slip through the cracks and I’m never really seen, never really known?

At times we begin to see shafts of light breaking through the clouds because God is pursuing us. But then we try to capture this unfinished business in moments that are fleeting. “I have to share this with the world, this is what everyone needs”. We tell ourselves that it’s for their good, but really it’s so that we can prove we have something to say. Something real. Something tangible. Something that, if we truly embraced it, would change our lives forever. But we don’t think about it too hard because laying everything out on the table feels a little too risky. We let Jesus close enough to make us appealing but not effective. I think Jesus wants to build His church by building our character. But the things that could really make all the difference in us we peddle for praise. So, rather than becoming who we know deep down God is calling us to become, we settle for the version of ourselves that will fool everyone, even us.

***

Friends, He wants so much more for us than we want for ourselves. 

Christ is all, 

Casey

 

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Let It Happen

Comfortable people don’t need Jesus, desperate people do.
— Bob Goff

I’ve been hearing this question lately, “Why do you keep watering it down?”

“Watering what down?” I ask.

The Holy Spirit whispers, “Your passion. Your longings. That voice that keeps telling you that you were meant for more. You turn to lesser things for comfort when you’re called to feel the discomfort of “not yet” or “not quite”. It’s worth the investment right now.”

Let It Happen.JPG

The lesser things just deaden the voice a little bit; they take away the edge. Rather than requiring me to trust God, I make it manageable by making it quieter.

Not too close. Not too hard. Not too much.
That’s how it feels. Like it’s just too much. Deep down I don’t know if I can handle being fully alive so I self-medicate.

I want to protect myself from the pain of disappointment because the dreams are bigger than anything I could do on my own. You know the saying, “If your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough”? Well, they scare me, so I shut them away and act like I don’t care. If it happens it happens, but while I’m waiting I’ll be over here watching Netflix.

There’s a song that goes, “Your full of life now, full of passion, that’s how He made you. Just let it happen.” I just got it. I just realized I wasn’t letting it happen. I was letting the voices of others in my head influence me. I was letting my own desire for comfort influence me. I was avoiding the pain that I know comes with “letting it happen”. Because it is painful. There’s another song with a line that says, “coming alive feels a lot like dying”. And it does. I’ve been comfortable. Not satisfied. Comfortable. I work for a church, I serve, I lead a small group...but I’m comfortable.

We require the right problem to expose our need for Jesus. What’s my problem? Laying my head on the pillow every night knowing that I might not be ready for an opportunity that could present itself tomorrow because my desire for comfort won. Isn’t it interesting how pain reminds us that we’re alive? We find ourselves stuck in the cycle of settling for lesser things until we wake up to the conviction that each day is a day we won’t get back. Because God is merciful He allows me to feel the pain of “what if” and then I wake up.

Sinking deep into who God created you to be can be scary because you’re not sure who can come with you to that place. But if God is calling you there, then it’s because you’re supposed to lead the way for others. The longer you put it off, the more frustrated you’ll become over the time that you’ve lost. But know this: God is the redeemer and He can redeem the time if you hand it over to Him. There is a facet of who God is that we will miss out on if we don’t trust Him with the opportunities we believe we’ve lost.

Watering down your calling is just a temporary solution for an eternal problem. It will never lead to the satisfaction and true rest that we all long for. At the end of the day, I know that if I don’t trust Him with this I’ve denied myself abundant life. Jesus said that’s what He came to bring us, and just as He challenged the rich young ruler, He also challenges us to leave our comfort behind.

What He’s placed inside us isn’t just for us. God’s purposes will be accomplished with or without us. Are you okay with that? I don’t think so. Although, my actions make me feel as if I am betraying myself, since they seem so contrary to who I know I am—to who I’m called to be.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
— Colossians 1:28-29

When Paul says, “for this I toil, struggling,” he's saying that he's exhausting himself for the sake of the call, for the good fight of faith. He acknowledges the powerful work of the Spirit within and responds accordingly. Know this: Paul is not working for the sake of achievement or earning recognition. He is working and toiling in response to the reality of a dying world and the corresponding power of the Holy Spirit within; the same power that raised Christ from the dead.

When we water down the call we relegate the powerful work of the Holy Spirit to the sidelines of our lives. The power that raised Christ is the same power that is available for you to spend yourself completely on the gospel (beyond what you thought possible). And in the very midst, the Holy Spirit invites us to rest in His sovereign care. He wants us to know that if we pour out our lives, abundant life awaits us.

You may be asking the same question I’ve used as an excuse many times to keep from being “all in." How is it possible to give beyond what you imagined and then to rest? Both are the result of utter dependence and yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit. You can’t have one without the other. You can’t work in submission to the Holy Spirit and not rest AND you can’t rest in submission to the Holy Spirit and not work.

When we try to preserve our comfort we deny ourselves true rest.

But Jesus invites us into a “glorious ‘yes.' " A yes that requires every part of us and gives us abundant life in return.

So give it all.

Give it everything you’ve got.

Do it scared if you have to.

Because it will be worth it.

It always is.

You’re full of life now, full of passion. That’s how He made you. Just let it happen.
— United Pursuit
 

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Treasure

    Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid: and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
    — Matthew 13:44
    Photo Credit:  Simon Wilkes

    Photo Credit: Simon Wilkes

    Growing up I read the Bible to find out what I needed to do and how I needed to act rather than to know God. Although, I had a love for scripture (that I now understand is by no merit of my own, but a God-given gift) I didn’t see the grand narrative of redemption because I didn’t know to look for it. I didn’t know God’s redemptive plan was woven in from Genesis to Revelation and parables like this one, rather than being instruction for me, were actually revealing something intrinsic to the nature of God and the way He interacts with us. 

    Since I was always reading to find the application I assumed the main character talked about in this short parable, stuffed in the middle of Jesus’ discourse on the kingdom of heaven, was me or you. Obviously, what we’re supposed do is give up everything we have because we’re so happy we’ve finally found the kingdom, right? That’s the application. Count the cost to get the kingdom. 

    But here’s the catch, we have nothing to offer. And why am I buying a field? Every word Jesus spoke was intentional. We can’t just ignore the details we can’t explain. If I sold everything to purchase the field that the treasure was buried in, as it pertains to the Gospel (which means "good news"), that doesn’t make much sense. Why would I buy the whole field when I can freely accept the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin?  If you’re still hung up on this, let me put it this way, there is nothing you or I have that could ever purchase our redemption. But when we receive the good news everything we once held of value will pale in comparison to the riches of Christ. What a convicting thought! But the idea of us being the main character just doesn't fit within the context of the parable.

    Rather, this story shows the incredibly intentional nature of our redeeming God and the man in this parable undeniably represents Jesus. 

    If that man is Jesus and the field is the world (vs. 38), then him selling everything and purchasing the entire field because of the treasure he finds there makes sense. Jesus has something to offer: His deity and His life.

    In the parable, this man is overwhelmed with joy when He finds the kingdom of heaven. But He can’t just take it. That’s not how it works. Because God is just, it has to be done the right way. So, the man hides the treasure right in the middle of the ordinary place he found it so that he can go sell everything he owns to buy something that only he understands the immense value of.

    But if the man represents Jesus why would the King of kings and the King of heaven need to sell everything to buy the kingdom of heaven? What is the “kingdom of heaven”? It’s not talking about what we typically envision when we think of a kingdom. I don’t know about you, but I generally think castles and princesses and dragons because I’m kind of a nerd and I like stuff like that. But what the phrase, “kingdom of heaven,” is talking about here is the rule and reign of heaven, God’s rule and reign. So basically, Jesus is bringing God’s way of doing things in heaven to earth. 

    Due to man’s rebellion, the rule and reign of heaven on earth and in the hearts of men had to be purchased back. The price tag on this process would cost God everything. Much like the man who expresses so much joy at discovering the treasure, we see Jesus “who for the JOY that was set before Him endured the cross”. 

    Jesus went on the greatest rescue mission imaginable; He gave up the comfort of heaven to bring the kingdom of heaven to us. He gave up everything He had to buy back a broken world, so that the kingdom of heaven would come to it’s fullest expression in the redemption of man. And that is a really, really good story. It’s a story about how much God values us. It’s a story about how treasured we are.

    Of what great value is the treasure hidden in the field! If we only understood what a treasure we are to the One who has found us! 

     

    Your kingdom come,

    Your will be done, 

    On earth, as it is in heaven!


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    An Open Letter to the One Considering Giving Up

    To the one who is considering giving up, 

    Maybe you’re wondering where God was when you needed Him most. When no one else understood and when the pain was too much, God was supposed to be there. He was supposed to fix it. Isn’t that what He does? Make it better? 

    I know you’re tired. I know you feel stuck and that you’d do anything to feel unstuck — even going as far as to do something you know you’d regret. At the end of the day, don’t you just want to remember what this life is for? 

    Maybe you don’t talk to God anymore, at least, not like you used to. It’s not that you’re being dishonest with Him. You know He knows. It’s just not up for discussion, since you decided you already know what He’d say. He would be disappointed, right? He would say, “You knew better”…right? 

    Maybe that’s what you tell yourself and now you feel like you have all the reasons you need to hold Him at arms length. 

    But you can’t keep Him at a safe distance forever. 

    You can do your best to put it off; to deny His existence and live in a kind of willful deception, but there will be a day when you can no longer hide (I know, because I couldn’t hide either).

    What will it be?

    Will it be the realization that you were and still are deeply loved? 

    Will you suddenly have to admit to yourself that you refused God’s love -– the same love that He wanted to lavish upon you, but you didn’t trust Him enough to give you what you needed most? 

    Will it be a humble plea? “I can’t do this anymore.”

    Will you yield to the breaking and the mending?

    He will meet you. 

    Maybe not in the way that you prefer and maybe not in the way that you expect, but at the point when you feel like there’s none of yourself left, He comes in with grace and fills every part.

    Here I am pleading, “Don’t give up hope.”

    But please, give up. Stop fighting God. Maybe after giving it some thought you realize you’re actually trying to punish yourself. You know you don’t deserve His love, so you’ve decided you’re not going to receive it.

    But refusing Him doesn’t make Him sacrificing the life of His Son for your life untrue. Blaming Him for the failures of others and the pain of this fallen world doesn’t mean that the blood of Jesus wasn’t shed on your behalf. 

    I want you to know one thing: He was there when you needed Him most. 

    Your idea of when you needed Him and His omniscient understanding of when you needed Him are two different things. He was there when you were dead in your sins, even when you could do nothing for yourself and had NO HOPE. 

    God came for broken people. He came for people who don’t know how to love or how to forgive. He came for people who are ungrateful and selfish. He came for us. We could never earn His love, so when all is said and done mercy, grace and beauty flow from the cracks of our broken lives. 

    You see, this isn’t just about you. You’re not the only victim of your refusal. Your life relinquished to His care testifies to others of His immense mercy and the unsearchable riches of His multi-faceted grace. 

    He’s there. He wants to heal you. In fact, your healing was purchased at the point when you needed Him most. When the penalty for your sin, and mine, was satisfied on the cross. 

     

    Love, 

    A fellow sinner saved by grace

     

    “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

    Romans 5:6

     

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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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    Considerations of: A Turd with a Veil on It

    Considerations of: A Turd with a Veil on It

    This pastor, he dresses too hipster, so I don’t like him. His priorities are whack.

    This other pastor thinks that God will provide for all his needs. Doesn’t he know it’s wrong to ask God for a car? Especially a nice car?

    And then there’s this guy who has more than 10,000 people in his church and mega churches, they're just gross. 

    Read More

    7 Signs Your Insecure Leader is Showing

    7 Signs Your Insecure Leader is Showing

    Have you ever met an insecure leader?

    Well, have we ever met? 

    Unfortunately, I fit the bill sometimes. 

    But I think anyone who's a leader and a human being is going to struggle with insecurity in some shape or form. 

    Meet LIL.

    LIL is short for "Little Insecure Leader."

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    If We Truly Are Vigilant...

    If We Truly Are Vigilant...

    Here we are. All of us together.

    We have come to a point in history where we find that our desire to do good is thwarted by an acute case of self-obsession.

    We are in slavery, our taskmaster, comfort. We dare not make way to the promised land knowing full well that between us and that place lies wilderness, lies difficulty, lies hardship.

    Who am I to say such things?

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    Meet Brother Arnold

    Meet Brother Arnold

    In 2007, I was asked to preach at a small church in Leavenworth, KS. It was the beginning of an encounter with a collective of people that I now know and love.

    Upon my arrival, I was introduced to this jazz drummer who my girlfriend at the time (now my wife) referred to as “Cool Guy.”

    “Cool Guy,” was a lighter skinned, elderly, black man. His body was slightly hunched and swayed to one side, bearing most of his weight upon a favored foot. Observing his stance, I noticed that the rest of his weight was held up by a long black cane. Through a quiet voice with a slight rasp, he extended his hand to mine and spoke,

    “How ya doin’ there? I’m Brother Arnold.”

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    The Minister's Manifesto

    The Minister's Manifesto

    I don’t know how to be something I’m not. 

    Most of us don’t.

    Since I can remember I’ve loved 2 things: ministry & art. 

    In the same way you like unique foods and your own manner of doing things, I can’t imagine not having a passion for these pursuits. 

    For me, it’s a peculiar combination. 

    Most of my life I’ve felt too “Christian” for the art world and too “artsy” for the local church. 

    And so, finding a space to call my own has been a pursuit of discovery.

    Its also been an intentional pursuit to carve out more space for others like myself...maybe for someone like you too.

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    The Best Thing to Believe

    The Best Thing to Believe

    Right now, my eyes are heavy and sweet sleep is calling my name.

    I am writing this on a borrowed laptop, as we camp out in a nine year old's room while he sleeps on the couch.

    This is life on the road for the Shirleys. 

    The past couples weeks have been filled with incredible experiences, really good food and even better company. 

    But as our time passes Matt and I find ourselves praying about the future and endeavoring to hold all things loosely. 

    This time is conjuring in me a belief that grows more firm with each passing day. 

    Jesus is enough. He is sufficient.

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    Kill the Clutter. Reclaim Your Life.

    Kill the Clutter. Reclaim Your Life.

    I really thought adulthood would be a certain cure to procrastination.

    I thought I would arrive to a place where I could inherently muster myself to a place of responsibility, never to leave any of my work undone again.

    I was wrong.

    It's delusional to think that things will organize themselves.

    Have you ever thought this?

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    How Do You Know When It’s Time to Go?

    How Do You Know When It’s Time to Go?

    Many of our friends and family already know this, but we wanted to share it here too.

    We’re moving.

    You know it’s God when your husband comes home and says, “I think we should move in with your mom”.

    That’s exactly what happened a few months ago.

    Immediately we both knew it was what we were supposed to do.

    Read More