Begin Here: Simply Listen

There have been so many times where I have allowed myself to be sidelined by worry. It’s not a point of pride, that’s for certain. As a minister of over 20 years, one who has taught and told and discipled so many people to walk by faith and not by sight, who has repeatedly looked to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 where He expressly tells us not to worry, and where we are reminded that worry is a lack of faith in so many other places where He has these daily interactions with His disciples. I shouldn’t have any doubt in my mind in regards to the struggle that worry creates, and of the handiwork of the enemy that can be found in those faithless places…I should know better. I should be more aware. I should be stronger…right?

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As a pastor, I sometimes put that pedestal underneath of myself and have expectations for myself that can be unfair, ill-advised (seeking my own counsel) and all in all, not God-honoring.
And so I repent, and I repent again later. I’ll likely have to do it again.

So much of worry comes from the lies I tell myself and the lies I listen to from the world and from the enemy. These are all old tricks, old means and they are well worn pathways for so many of us. We let ourselves walk down them without thinking. It’s like navigating our own house in the dark of night. We know where the sofa is, we are aware of the coffee table, and we can walk through without so much as stubbing a toe.

And we fall right back into the pit in the living room floor. We knew it was there. We’ve known it was there. We’ve fallen into it before. And we let it happen again.

Why? Why do we do this? Paul voices this struggle well in Romans 7. It’s something that is deeply familiar to all of us. We know this struggle, and we have the scars from the struggle.

And when we finally look up and open our eyes, our ears begin to listen and we hear the voice of our great God singing over us. An unbroken tune, rich in love, deep with mercy, overwhelming with compassion, rhythmic with grace, peace and a shelter only He can provide. Here we rest. Here we are reminded. Here we begin to listen again, the harsh, broken, sickly-sweet croaking of the enemy is drowned out by the everlasting love of YHWH G_d.

It’s so simple we often forget it, but it’s always there.
Begin here: simply listen.

Passages to help with worry – BibleStudyTools.com 
33 Verses on Anxiety from Debbie McDaniel
Keys to Overcoming Fear – Bible in One Year

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What a Good Memory

What’s your favorite memory?
Do have a place or time that you enjoy thinking about, mentally revisiting? What is the first Christmas you remember? What’s the earliest birthday party that you can recall the in detail? Who has moved away or passed on and you find comfort in revisiting memories from your time with them? What memories bring you the deepest joy or stir your heart the most? Whether it’s your wedding day, the day you child was born, or the day you discovered the grace that God has for you, there are so many good memories that God has provided for us.

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Listen to David, stirred to remember the goodness of God, and put yourself in his shoes. Let your heart remember with his.

Psalm 105
1Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
    make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
    tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
    let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
    children of Jacob, his chosen ones!

God is good all the time. Remember that, okay? Whatever happened today, whoever gave you that sideways ‘complement’ the other day, whoever let you down…no matter what came about, God is good. That never changes. People can make dumb choices, have bad attitudes or completely forgot that they promised you they would do something…and that doesn’t change the fact that God has you, loves you and is providing for your tomorrow.

Human circumstances have nothing to do with how good God is, how consistent He is, how loving He is or how awesome He is…and He loves you.

Saying Goodbye, part 1

Okay, so this is hard.

It’s one thing to have the idea to leave. It’s another to begin the process of separating by looking for what’s next. When it comes to saying goodbye, that is where the rubber hits the road. And we had to do it twice in one transition. I know pastors don’t normally get to publicly speak into these things. If you’re a pastor, please, read through. If you’re not a pastor, hopefully this will help you see we’re just as human as you are. There’s some unwritten rule not to talk about this, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why. The faith of the church isn’t in me or in any other pastor. It’s supposed to be in Jesus. He’s perfect, and He’s working on me.

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When I made the decision to leave my previous position in the August before I left. I was making a painful decision that I had previously been determined not to take. When I have seen some ministers leave in the past, I have been tempted (not knowing everything) to think that they weren’t giving God enough credit or authority because they had some idea that they couldn’t see something through. It was a sign of weakness to me. It was a lack of faith, and it upset me.

And then I was the one in the hot seat. Funny how things happen to change when you know all the details, when you’ve experienced all the emotions. Things look different when you’re the one who feels neglected or beat down or doubted or whatever else bad stuff you might feel. Personally, again transparency here, I was feeling pretty worthless and ineffective. People were leaving and I found myself jealous of their freedom to go. That’s not a good place to be when you’re supposed to be the one leading and pastoring them. They saw the leadership stall out, they saw my attitude shifting. I accept my part.

I wanted to go to the big church down the street. I wanted to just worship and have no responsibilities. I was worn out. I had faith. I felt it, but I was dealing deeply with disappointment and rejection. When fear on our part stalls out the things that God wants to do, it’s hard to reconcile. When you’re energized and ready to go and your teammates in leadership are the ones dealing with trepidation, it can be incredibly frustrating. It creates friction. It can make things volatile. It can hurt.

You need a release. You need a God-honoring pressure valve, and looking back, I wish someone had pressed me into a place where I would have reached out even more. But so often, frustration can drive us deeper and deeper within ourselves. It cripples us, slaps blinders on our heart and eyes, and keeps us from seeing options that might be right in front of us. When you’re an introvert who can pretend to be an extrovert 2-3 times a week, retreating into quiet becomes a very attractive and comfortable place.

When your counselors press you to step away, to move out from toxicity, it makes anything and everything else look good. Again, this is not a good place for a pastor to be. I should have taken a vacation, gone on a retreat, sought out an extended coaching time. But since I was planning on leaving, it was more about being in survival mode rather than being effective with the time I had left. Again, just pointing this out, my attitude was not in the right place. The pressure and need for revitalization within the church was a constant pressure and I felt very alone.

But hindsight is often 20/20, and those blinders we wear in frustration can be really, really effective. There’s danger in the echo chamber they create, and I walked into my goodbye from within this echo chamber.

So, December rolled around and the pressure was building. It was the first Christmas season, the first Advent, I have celebrated where I just wanted it to be over. The careful approach to anticipation was gone. The reverent remembering was relegated to ‘maybe next year’ status. So, after Christmas wrapped up, we had an elder’s meeting, we had a very frank conversation and I resigned my position.

Have you ever seen one of those scenes in a movie when an EMP goes off and there’s a pulse of energy that presses out from the device? That’s what happened with my stress, my frustration, and my withheld tension.

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The elder sitting next to me said, “Did you feel that?” Seriously, he felt it physically come off from me. Don’t tell me that there wasn’t an unseen spiritual component at work here during this. He asked again, “Really, did you feel that?” he was amazed and concerned. I told him that’s what I had been carrying for months and months. I told them I was sad there wasn’t some attempt to walk through the hardship together. After all, this wasn’t their first time we’d had tough conversations. We had talked through this, or attempted to,  many times. I said a few other things from that, they let me vent a little, and I expressed my hope for what might still come there. Some of the guys in the room started crying, some apologized. One sat stoic, unmoved by my departure.

We wrapped up quickly at that point. They committed to providing for my family for the next 90 days, which was amazing, and I promised them that I would continue to operate with complete integrity and without drama. They didn’t ask me to do that, that promise was mine. They reassured me they weren’t worried about me in that regard (which was nice to hear, they at least knew my integrity mattered to me), we prayed and parted ways.

When I got to the car, I called my wife, told her I was coming home and then called my parents and played everything out from the evening to them as I drove. The mixture of relief, sorrow, confusion and hurt washed over me through the following days. I told the staff, one by one, I kept it quiet until the following Sunday. I wasn’t going to drag this out.

I jump into the cold pool. I rip off the band aid. I don’t stretch out unpleasant circumstances. I wasn’t going to drag the church through this with some prolonged leaving. I once saw a minster take six months to leave and it was painful. I was determined to let everyone move on as quickly as possible…but that’s for the next post.

I have to tell the couple of hundred people that I had served and served alongside of for almost a decade. That was going to be the hardest part, and the next post.

Resources:

Sifted & Strengthened

Father, thank You for understanding our weaknesses & loving us enough to expose them to us. Thank You for revealing the depths of our need for You & uncovering our insecurities. Your love for us is infinite & Your mercies are new every morning. Jesus, You have been our Advocate in a way that no one else ever could be. Our flesh is weak, but Holy Spirit, You bring strength to our bones & stamina to our hearts. Please embolden us for today & sustain us until tomorrow within Your peace. We lack nothing with You & remain impoverished without You. We praise You for Your great grace, O God. Carry us through our season of need & be glorified in the process. We are Yours.
This we acknowledge in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Luke 22:31-38
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

I think we all know what it feels like to be sifted. Shaken & tossed, who we are at the core is exposed & we feel like we have been left bare to the world. Any covering we may have had is removed & we are left open & we feel vulnerable. I’m sure Peter felt exposed when Jesus spoke about this, his own fears & weaknesses laid bare before his friends. It probably hurt, I guarantee it did. I imagine that Peter’s face went ashen when Jesus spoke to him about this & even when he tried to defend his love for Christ, Jesus revealed how quickly his denial would come.

We all have aspirations for ourselves within our faith.We have an image of our own devotion & strength for Jesus, & this ‘best case scenario’ of our faith-life is rarely reality when the pressure is one & it’s time to speak up or take steps of real faith. We tell ourselves stories, we are creative in justifying what we do & how we live. But when it comes down to it, we will deny, just like Peter did, that we have the capacity for such a quick falling away. But the proof is in the pudding, & belief is tested by pressure. We revert quickly to who we actually are when those moments come & Jesus wanted Peter to be prepared & to hear a word of grace before it came for him.

No one want to be left feeling inadequate, especially for the One who conquered death & sin & saved us from facing the wrath of God. But it wasn’t our strength that sent Jesus through His Passion & it wasn’t our righteousness that allowed Him to serve as our perfect sacrifice. We brought nothing to the table in this regard, we were continue to be inadequate when it comes to strength & saving ourselves. But Jesus is sufficient. Jesus is more than enough for us all. So when Peter was told about his coming failure & when you & I see our own moments of stumbling coming along, we can be reminded that it ids Jesus who brought grace & it is God’s Holy Spirit that fills us with the grace we need & provides us with strength for every obstacle.

Satan will always be our accuser, until the day he is defeated with a word & God’s judgment comes for all of us. He desires to ruin us & break God’s heart in the process. Jesus said it best, that he comes to steal, kill & destroy. But Jesus came so that we might have life & have it abundantly. When the enemy tries to attack or to remind us of past failures, we need to remember that Jesus has already opened the doorway to forgiveness with His own blood & that the devil holds no authority over us & his accusations fall flat. When we receive Jesus as Savior & Lord, our names are covered by His Name. Our identities are found in Him, not in our past, not in our mistakes & not in our weaknesses.

All glory & honor & praise go to Him for His great grace & love. He calls us to walk daily in those rhythms, not the old discord that used to define us, but in new rhythms of His grace & His love. We may still stumble, but He has already stooped to serve & help us stand again. May we be bold for Him & trust in the depths of His strength & His awesome forgiveness. He alone is worthy & makes us worthy in Himself. Thank God for that today.

Wonderful Wednesday is Coming…

Father, Creator of light & life, guide our pathway in Your wisdom.Help us to see. Your ways are higher than our own, Your intentions more secure than the heavens themselves. What we call wisdom is utter foolishness compared to Your truth, wisdom & knowledge. Give us eyes to see & ears to hear. Give us faith where ours falls short. Help us to see Your handiwork all around us, & prepare our hearts for today & the days yet to come. Give us strength to stand, so that we might endure & give glory to Your Name.
It’s through Jesus I come to You & make my requests known. Amen.

Luke 21:29-38
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.

We had this great day every spring when we went to Milligan College & I am very glad to say the practice still continues. Depending on the day of the week when it occurs, it will have a different name, but it is affectionately referred to as “Wonderful Wednesday.” As an alumnus, I still get an itch for Wonderful Wednesday every spring. When the weather starts to turn, & when the world starts to wake up again, I still long for a “Wonderful Wednesday.” So, very kindly, the president of the college will at least acknowledge that desire with us all & periodically sends out an “excuse note” that we can playfully offer to our employers & supervisors if we so desire. Here is last year’s note:

Wonderful Wednesday Note

There are signs all around us that Wonderful Wednesday is somewhere on the near & coming horizon. Our anticipation grows & we begin to look for it every single day. We wake up, waiting for the notice that was slid under our door in the middle of the night, by surprise, letting us know that classes have been cancelled for the day & that we want to wear something we don’t mind getting really wet, dirty or even ruining. And we will eat very well, too. It’s a great day!

Jesus has been talking about the coming of The End here in Luke 21 & He has been very clear & open with the fact that there will be things that happen to tip us off to its proximity. He also lets us know that there will be other things that occur, other events that will feel an awful lot like the end, but they’re just a part of the stage being set for the final act.

However you slice it, though, Jesus is giving us an assurance that the day of Judgment is indeed coming & that we ought to be prepared for it. And since we don’t know when that day or hour will occur, we need to be ready for it every. single. day. Just like Wonderful Wednesday, we need to wake up with anticipation growing in our bones. We need to look for the signs of its coming & we need to talk about it with people, sharing it with people who don’t know about it. Wonderful Wednesday, as an alumnus, is a teaching tool for people who didn’t attend Milligan. It’s an opportunity for us to wax nostalgic & brag on our school. We want to talk about Wonderful Wednesday because we enjoyed it so much.

Jesus knows that we all live in anticipation of The End, & so we must choose our attitude towards it. We can either use it as a point of fear or a point of triumph. If you view it from a point of fear, you are less likely to talk about it, less likely to address it personally & more likely to pretend that it doesn’t exist. But if you are looking forward to it, if you anticipate it with joy, then you’re going to get yourself psyched up for it, & being excited about it you naturally engage other people with its coming.

So it takes strength to make it to that day, because this life is difficult & full of distractions. There are worries & concerns that drag us down & pull us away from our focus in Christ. So He encourages us to stay awake, to pray & to look forward to the end with an eternal perspective that will help to propel beyond the hard days & into the joy that is to come.

No one knows when that divine note will slide under the doorway of our reality, & when Jesus will crash through letting us know that classes are permanently cancelled. But until that Marvelous Monday, or Terrific Tuesday (or whatever it is) rolls around, we need to live in joyful anticipation of the return of our Lord & Master, our Savior & King Jesus. And we do this by walking in the rhythms of His grace, every day, sharing the joy we have found in Him.

Listening to Faith

Father, You call us each to things that must be done for Your glory, to tasks that are both big and small, the seemingly mundane and the very public. Thank You for making us fit to serve You and bring You glory in a variety of ways every day. Please give us the strength to serve You in strength today and to echo this great crowd of witnesses that have done the same before us. May we sacrifice self and comfort in order to follow Your will. Amen.

Read the words of author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, slowly today.

Look and listen to the examples of faith and what each has given, in its wholeness, and prayerfully consider what God calls you to do for His sake.

Do not quickly dismiss these times of listening, rushing through them, but prayerfully seek His will above your own.We are all part of something more through Christ, our work of love and thanksgiving is brief, but we work for His eternal glory.

Just like these below, we focus on a reality that already is, and that we must also work and wait for in this season.

We are not alone in this walk, in this rhythm of grace.

Hebrews 11:1-22
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

Father, You call us each to things that must be done for Your glory, to tasks that are both big and small, the seemingly mundane and the very public. Thank You for making us fit to serve You and bring You glory in a variety of ways every day. Please give us the strength to serve You in strength today and to echo this great crowd of witnesses that have done the same before us. May we sacrifice self and comfort in order to follow Your will. Amen.

 

In Step. In Unity. In Boldness.

Father of lights, Lord of Creation, Author of my life, Sovereign over me,
Please grant us the strength today to stand in service of You. Purify us from all the filth that clings to this sin-drenched, mortal life. By the blood of Jesus, poured out over us, cleanse us from human brokenness & chart a pathway through the wilderness of our hearts that they might become springs of life by the power of Your Holy Spirit at work in us. Remember our sins no more, as You have promised, and grant us confidence in Christ, united together, to step boldly into the day You have created and lay at our feet. We pray this in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.

Hebrews 10:11-25
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Paul reminds Timothy (2 Timothy 1:7) that God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but a spirit of power through Jesus Christ. There is boldness that should inherently come from being made pure by the blood of Christ, and by the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. There is a confidence (not an arrogance) that should come from knowing whose we are and what it is that we are up against. There is  a strength of character that comes from walking with Jesus, as He works His will in us day after day after day that should exhibit that handiwork and the Master Craftsman behind it.

If Jesus grants us the confidence to enter the holy places by His blood, how much more so those places where He already holds victory over the enemy? Why should we cower in fear? Why should we worry? If we have been washed with pure water, why would we not walk in that newness of life, throwing off the faithlessness that used to bind us, but that binds us no more?

This is one of the reasons why the author of Hebrews is encouraging us to continue gathering together. This is just one reason why it is good that we look other Christians in the eye, shake their hands and give them hugs. We need to be in the presence of other people who have seen victory at work in their own lives. We need to see people whose faces have been lifted up to heaven, whose eyes have looked upon the cross and we need to stand in boldness with them as we unite in Christ, our Great High Priest, and stand in bold assurance against the schemes of the enemy.

Standing alone is wrong & dangerous. God did not design us or example to us this stand-alone mentality. Instead, we are gathered together with our people to receive this encouragement: God has the victory. He is in charge. He loves us dearly. He has paid the price. He will bring change about in us. He will see change happen in the lives of others through the work He is doing in us today. We are meant to be together, walking in the rhythms of grace together. Praise God for that.

Father of lights, Lord of Creation, Author of my life, Sovereign over me,
Please grant us the strength today to stand in service of You. Purify us from all the filth that clings to this sin-drenched, mortal life. By the blood of Jesus, poured out over us, cleanse us from human brokenness & chart a pathway through the wilderness of our hearts that they might become springs of life by the power of Your Holy Spirit at work in us. Remember our sins no more, as You have promised, and grant us confidence in Christ, united together, to step boldly into the day You have created and lay at our feet. We pray this in Jesus’ precious Name. Amen.