Frankly, My Dear …..

Frankly, My Dear …..

As part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), I am taking part in a daily blog post challenge through the BlogHer website. Today’s prompt:

If you could be completely honest with no regrets, what would you say and to whom?


As a Christ follower, I do not believe in the concept of no regrets. Regrets are essential to keep us grounded and connected to all human beings with whom we interact. In the same way our nervous system protects our bodies (the feeling of heat helps keep us from being burned), I believe the ability to feel regret mirrors that function for our souls. Regret requires us to be critical and thoughtful with our actions and decision making so as to not hurt others or even ourselves.

All that being said, I am torn at the question in today’s prompt. I immediately think about the darkest time in my life, and how I would react then versus how I would react now if given the opportunity to confront face the person whom I hold held responsible.

Bobby Cox
Thinking of you *used* to make me want to go full-on Bobby Cox.

Being eleven years removed from my personal rock-bottom, and having lived a wonderful, God-restored life since then, I’ve been able to both grant and receive forgiveness and, for the most part, not look back. Still, there is something healthy – in a cathartic kinda’ way – to go through the motions in my mind of lashing out at those who’ve hurt me.

Still, in the end, His instructions as dictated by His word always ring true. As a result, I think my exercise for this prompt goes something like this.


“I’ve been waiting a long time to tell you this to your face. I haven’t seen you since you hurt me, and now it’s my turn to do the same!”

Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. – Luke 6:28

“You looked me in the eyes and told me time and time again that you would be there for me. And when push came to shove, you weren’t.”

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:13

“I gave up everything for you. I changed my whole life for you. I made you my priority above everything else.”

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. – Matthew 6:33

“We were perfect together and you ruined everything!”

The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:6

“You left me there, all alone and by myself. You left me there shattered, and you didn’t even look back.”

Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. – Psalms 30:2


The moral of the story is clear. For every angry, hate-filled, vitriolic, driven-by-revenge tongue lashing the devil urges us to deliver, God has already provided His response to us via Scripture.

We pick and choose what we say and what we reveal to whom according to our human sensibilities, but because God sees all and God knows all, we have no choice but to be completely honest with Him. When we surrender our pain to God and allow ourselves to operate in forgiveness of others, we can rest assured we’re on the path of truly living a life with no regrets.

revenge


nablopomo

Raise the Bar

No, this is not a blog about tearing down the local watering hole. (think about it)…..

Rather, this is a spur-of-the-moment, “the Holy Spirit nudged me and told me to write” kinda post.

I just wrapped up my last class of my first semester at Trinity College in Florida. The class was Biblical Ethics, and to conclude the course, we were tasked to write a term paper and make a presentation of the Executive Summary of the paper.

I think most of my classmates did not read the proverbial fine print in the syllabus because what they ended up doing was presenting their paper to the class. As you can imagine, it was quite the mind-numbing experience. Presenter after presenter talking about such ethics class standards as abortion, same sex marriage, and divorce.

Yawn!

To be fair, there were a couple of individuals who were captivating in their presentations, and held my attention from start to finish. Their presentations were authentic and heartfelt. But for most of the three hour session, it was an exercise in, “please, God, please let them wrap up soon” praying.

Kill Me Know

Now, I know this may come across as a humble-brag type of post, but I am really proud of what I presented and the manner in which I presented. As God would have it, my turn to present – as determined randomly by my professor – came towards the end of class.

I launched my PowerPoint presentation, followed the points laid out in my Executive Summary, and added additional comments as they came to me during my presentation. It was succinct. It was informative. I like to think it was engaging. Based on the louder than average applause from my classmates, I think it was well received.

To be fair to everyone else in my class, I’ve worked in IT pretty much since I graduated from college in 1994. I’ve been with my current employer going on nineteen years now. I am well versed in putting together presentations. Speaking in front of others is easy for me. Tonight’s assignment was very much in my wheelhouse (although I can’t tell you what a wheelhouse is).

My hope is not that others were impressed by me or my presentation. My hope is that they are motivated or challenged to apply the techniques I used in their next presentation. My prayer is they seek a sense of betterment as a student going forward because the were presented with an example of a what clear, concise, and effective presentation looks like. (see aforementioned humble brag)

I would say approximately 80%-90% of what I’ve learned in life I’ve learned by watching others. Observation is our greatest teacher (other than Jesus, of course), and it is in observing others that we learn what to do … and not to do … in certain situations. We see others reset what ‘possible’ means, and we are driven to do better or be better as a result.

Bar

The greatest imperative we have as Christ followers is to continuously raise the bar in terms of what it means to be generous, forgiving, understanding, and loving. Being a Christian does not necessarily mean we have the Bible memorized, nor does it mean the Bible always makes sense to us. I think being a Christian means looking at the life Jesus lived, recognizing His is the ultimate example to follow, and understanding no matter how hard we try we’ll never reach that standard.

Still ….. despite our flaws, despite our sinful nature, and despite our inability to be perfect the way Jesus was, we try anyway. We strive towards the standard He set because in doing so, we exercise love, we foster fellowship with others, and we create betterment in our lives.

And I firmly believe it is the pursuit of this betterment, inching closer to God today than we were yesterday, that makes us good and faithful servants in the eyes of the Lord.

“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!'” Matthew 25:21

Something Crazy?

Ever have one of those moments after doing something that leaves you questioning your sanity?

I’ve been on the fence about taking a next step in my faith journey, a step that would mean a significant time and financial commitment. For several months now I’ve been wrestling with the idea, going back and forth as to why I should or shouldn’t do it. Today, it all came to a head. I felt God nudge shove me and say, “Just do it already!” So I did.

This evening, I submitted an application for the TrinityQuest program at Trinity College. My goal is to learn more about God’s Word and, along the way, earn a degree I can use to transition out of corporate life and into a vocation of ministry.

In the application process, I was asked to submit a brief biography explaining how I came to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and why I want to attend Trinity. 750 words can be considered brief, right?

Below is a copy of the essay I submitted.

Hello. My name is child of the one true King.

Yes, I know that is a blatant rip-off of a Matthew West song, but it also happens to be true.

Over forty years ago, I, as an infant, was baptized by my God-parents and welcomed into the Catholic Church. I was raised in an “attend church every so often” household, one where God was present but not necessarily made a priority.

I attended Catholic school from Kindergarten through high school, doing my Catholic duty along the way. Altar boy, lector, Eucharistic minister, peer minister, Christian leader: I was happy to fill my extra-curricular time with work and activities related to my Catholic upbringing.

As teens tend to do, I drifted away from church in college. The pace and workload of university life, coupled with giving into the indulgences of living in New Orleans – I attended Tulane university – lead me to exclude God from my life. I became a stereotypical Christmas and Easter Catholic, and that is where I stayed for the better part of 15 years.

During that decade and a half, I was married, had two children, eventually failed as a husband, and saw my marriage come to an end. I faced the darkest moments of my life, moments that found me chasing comfort at the bottom of a bottle and in the beds of strangers. Yet although I felt alone, I knew in my heart I was not alone. I knew through it all, God was calling me to course correct. He was calling me back into His love, His grace, and His protection.

One Sunday morning, I felt His voice stronger than ever. “Go to Mass. I need you there.” I randomly and reluctantly attended Mass at the nearest Catholic Church, and on that day I was introduced to the new Youth Minister that had just been hired. She convinced me to step up and volunteer in the youth ministry program, and it was that experience that started me on a path of redemption.

I would meet someone new, a woman who would challenge me to be a better person and a man of God. This woman would end up becoming my wife, and we would struggle at first to celebrate our faith together, she having been raised Baptist and I having been raised Catholic. Through God’s will, we were introduced to Relevant Church in Tampa. I would say through coincidence, but I’ve come to learn that coincidence is just God showing off.

For the two of us, we were not facing a crisis of faith so much as a crisis of church. At Relevant, we found the spiritual home we’d been seeking, and it’s been truly transformational for the both of us. We’ve taken part in growth groups that have allowed us to do life with others in our church community, and to truly grow our understanding of His Word. We’ve volunteered on our First Impressions team, happily greeting on Sunday mornings, and welcoming experienced and first time visitors alike with warm smiles and firm handshakes. And in the spring of 2013, my wife and I renewed our commitment to God by being baptized as adults.

It was during one of our growth groups, at a time when we were studying the book Greater by Pastor Steven Furtick, that I felt God compel me to move. I felt His calling in a way I hadn’t before, and I knew God was telling me to move in a direction of ministry. God blessed me with the talent of writing, and rather than continue to bury that talent out of fear, I’ve chosen to invest that talent in His Word by ministering to others through both my actions and my blog.

I know I still have a long way to go in my faith journey, but it’s a walk I take with a new found yearning to learn more about the loving direction God provides us through Scripture. It is for this reason I would like to attend Trinity College. I want to continue to grow in Christ and move on the path God has called me to take.

I am a child of the one true King, and I want to learn, grow, and Kingdom-build here on earth for His love and His glory.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Beacon

I’ve been with my employer for over seventeen years now. I interviewed for my first job with them back in 1997 (I started out as a contractor in ’96), and have since moved on to different positions in different departments. What is interesting is that as I moved from group to group, I never interviewed for the positions in those groups. Rather, through varying circumstances and specifics, I was selected to move into new positions along the way.

The one position in which I learned and grew the most – managing production database administrators for almost ten years – came about because of a hallway conversation. I was with a peer of mine walking the hallways on our way back from lunch. Her friend (my eventual boss) was walking in the opposite direction and stopped to talk to her. I kept going to my desk, and my coworker joined me there about ten minutes later.

“Gary is going to be calling you to see if you’re interested in a position on his team.”

“Who?”

“Gary. The man I was speaking to in the hall.”

“Why is he going to call me? How does he even know who I am?”

“He says he’s been in a couple of proposal meetings with you, and he likes what he’s seen, and thinks you’d be a good fit for his team.”

Long story short, Gary ended up adding me to his team. After some time working for him, I asked him about that fateful afternoon. He summarized it this way. “Although you may not realize it, you’re always interviewing for your next job.”

***

Lee and I started a new small group this morning at our church. The group meets at 6:00 AM, but that’s not the crazy part. What is really eye-opening, to me at least, is the group is entitled, “30 Days to Understanding the Bible.” Lee and I have done many small groups before, but they’ve always focused around a book we’d all read and discuss together. It was more book club and very much less Bible study. The group we’re in this semester, however, is full-on Bible study.

As we dove into the the book (written by Max Anders), one phrase caught my attention. “We are not sinners because we sin, rather we sin because we are sinners.” That’s a powerful statement, and one that paints a picture, to me at least, of everyone in the water trying not to drown. Some are able to tread water better than others, their faith and obedience support them and help keep them better afloat. Others drown under the weight of their sinful nature. Still others struggle, often finding calm, often finding panic, always in need of life line.

Lifeline

And that is what Jesus is for us, the life line. He is the ultimate life saver. We need to remember that no one is in the boat. No matter how holy, spiritual, or religious a person may be, we’re all sinners in need of the Lord’s redemptive salvation. But the experience that is a faith journey does not end once we catch the ring that will keep us from drowning. Instead, that moment is one in which we’re called – better yet, compelled – to turn around and cast that life saver to someone else who needs it.

As Christ followers, we are all called to be ministers of His love and grace. I used to think ministry was about being extremely well versed in the Bible. I used to believe I needed higher education or time in a seminary in order to move in a direction of ministry. Instead I’ve learned that through our actions to and for others, as well as our witnessing to others about our faith, we are ministering. Oftentimes, we’re better suited to evangelize His word as individuals with titles like Analyst or Banker or Program Manager than we are if we had the title of Pastor or Deacon or Priest, simply because others may be more inclined to listen to what we have to say, as opposed to immediately putting up a defensive front to the “religious person.”

And you never know whose life you will impact with your words and actions. You never know who may have an “a ha” moment with regards to giving their life to Christ simply because you chose to share your story with them. We are called to be beacons of light to those who are living in darkness. We are called to take our drowning neighbor’s hand and help them grasp the life line. We are called to give to others what God has so graciously given to us.

And although you may not know it, you’re always ministering to the next follower.

Beacon of Light

“But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.” – 2 Timothy 4:5

The Principal and the Preacher

A week ago I attended the graduation of my wife’s nephew. Headland High School (Alabama) honored the graduating class of 2014, and it was an excellent ceremony.

HH

There were speeches by the salutatorian and both co-valedictorians. All were filled with hopeful, encouraging words as well as their fair share of Bible verses. It was very refreshing to see all three young men so well rooted in their faith, and not at all embarrassed to proclaim to their classmates their love for Christ. As a Christian, it was inspiring.

The assistant principal of the school also addressed the body of graduates. His address, by comparison, left me scratching my head for a couple of reasons. I’ll start with the secular one.

The AP mentioned to the graduates, “Some of you are leaders and some of you are followers.” He proceeded to spell out the qualities of leaders and followers, and their respective roles in our society. What bothered me about his message is that, in my opinion, it further promoted a problem that is rampant in our nation as a whole. Class-ism.

We live and operate in an environment in which the gap between the haves and the have-nots is ever increasing. The phrase ‘class warfare’ is thrown around flippantly and over used, but there is truth to the concept. You against him. Us versus them. It’s a zero-sum game and you better get yours. That is the sad environment so many of us experience on a daily basis, and it’s not the message we should be communicating to our graduates given they’re the ones best positioned to fix the problem. The reality is we all possess leadership qualities. We all possess the ability – and need – to be followers as well. Times and circumstances dictate when we flex our active muscles versus those when we’re better suited being a bit passive.

What needed to be communicated to the hundred plus young adults receiving their diploma last week is they all have the ability to succeed and excel. They are all capable of reaching their proverbial mountain top. Sometimes it will require them to lead the way. Other times it will mean following someone else’s example. Most importantly, if they approached it from a perspective of collaboration – working together as peers, as a community, as brothers and sisters – instead of a point of view based on competition, the end result could indeed be world changing.

But that’s not what left me wincing in discomfort.

I mentioned earlier how proud I was to hear the young graduates fold a message of faith into their respective speeches. By comparison, I recoiled when I heard the assistant principal reference God in his. He mentioned how the graduates were called to live good Christian lives (I’m paraphrasing), and he threw in a couple of Bible verses himself.

I graduated from a Catholic high school, so seeing faculty reference scripture in an address to students was my norm. But to see a staff member of a public high school, an employee of the county, intertwine his personal religious beliefs into a school function – in a venue called The Civic Center, no less – was appalling.

Now, I understand the address was made in the heart of the Bible belt. I understand why the parents and other relatives in the audience applauded the speech. Personally, I thought the message itself was inspiring. Nevertheless, it was still grossly inappropriate, and here’s why. At the risk of being overly-hyperbolic, I would say torches and pitchforks would have been wielded had the assistant principal of Headland High School began his speech with the words, “As it says in the Qur’an…” Imagine if halfway through his address, he would have exclaimed, “Praise Allah!”

….or Buddha

….or Para-Brahman

….or Jobu

Jobu

My point is, there’s no room for an individual’s religious beliefs when he or she is acting as an agent or representative of the government. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment not only provides us all freedom of religion, but it also guarantees us as individuals freedom from religion in the context of government representatives. This point has been argued ad nauseam, most recently in relation to Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney.

I am not sure many Christians, myself included, would be very comfortable if the assistant principle of our kids’ school referenced a deity other than our own. We owe the same courtesy and respect to all audiences of public events.

We all have vastly differing faiths and beliefs, but in the end, we are one society.

Thank You from God

There’s no end to how God continues to show his awesomeness in my life. I am a firm believer that God gets a kick out of showing off how cool He is. I picture Him shouting out to the angels in Heaven. “Guys. Guys. Come over here. Check this out. I am about to totally blow Gil’s mind right now.” And just like that, He opens my eyes to his incredible power and grace, and I am left humbled and feeling an incredible sense that can only be described as “Wow!”

Today was one of those days.

It started off casual and non-descript. On Friday, my daughter made the soccer team at her middle school (fifty four girls tried out and only eighteen made the squad). We didn’t really do anything on Friday evening to celebrate, so I wanted to take her out on Saturday to congratulate her for making the team.

Given Lee and I had plans with our church for Saturday afternoon, the logistics of taking Natalie to brunch got a little complicated and timelines got a little tight. This led to unintended tension between Lee and me, and by the time we got to our church commitment, we were full-on not talking to each other.

The church commitment was to serve as chaperones to an event called Winter Jam, a Christian music event held at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in downtown Tampa. I really didn’t want to go, but Lee had a particular interest in seeing one of the performers, and so I agreed to go. It was important to Lee, so thus it was important to me.

We arrived at our church at the designated time only to find out the coordinators of the event for our church were stuck in really bad traffic on the highway. Fortunately, given my experiences as a volunteer, I knew how to open the church, and I was able to let the parents and kids that were there into the building (as opposed to all of us standing out in the cold afternoon air).

Our coordinator arrived and we all made our way to the arena. The concert was good, but I will admit I got very tired towards the end. I am not opposed to Christian music per se, but after four hours of it, I was well passed my threshold and I just wanted to go home.

Still, I thought about the string of serendipitous events that led me to be there at that moment – my wife being captivated by the music of Dara Maclean, our church organizing a group to go to the Winter Jam concert, my having knowledge of how to open the church doors and being there while our coordinator was stuck in traffic – and I realized it was God’s way of asking me to be a servant for Him that day. It was His way of saying, “Dude. I know you don’t really want to go to this show. I know you’d rather be home watching the NFL playoffs, but I really need you to serve for me today. I need you to be there for your community and help make a difference in the eyes of your peers and those kids attending the event. I give you so much and don’t ask a lot in return. So I need you to step it up and do this for me.”

It’s an absolute blessing to be presented the opportunity to serve the Lord and others. I was tired and fading into sleepy. My feet hurt, sitting in those arena seats made my knees start to hurt, and I was just about to mentally check out. Then God did His thing.

The closing act at Winter Jam was a band called Skillet. I’d never heard of them before except for what Lee had told me about them. Knowing they were going to be performing, she’d taken some time earlier in the week to listen to their music. She wasn’t impressed much, but she did say I might like them because they sounded a little like the band Rise Against, a band which I thoroughly enjoy listening to.

As they were introduced, I saw an arena full of teens and pre-teens jump with excitement for this band. “Great,” I thought to myself. “This is going to be one of those scream-metal bands that make me want to stab my eardrums with a pencil.” As I prepared for the worst, I was amazed by what came next.

The band Skillet simply ROCKED.MY.FACE.OFF!

They were amazing. They were spectacular. Before I knew it, I was bobbing my head up and down to their music. Lights, fire, pyrotechnics, elevated platforms; this was so different than the other Christian bands that had performed earlier. The analogy is this. Sit and watch a couple of hours of Celine Dione, Keith Urban, and Kelly Clarkson, then close the show out Metallica. THAT was the difference between Skillet and the other performers at Winter Jam. Don’t get me wrong, the other artists were very good, but none of them came close to moving me the way Skillet did. It was loud, over-the-top, amps go to 11, Christian rock and roll …. and it was totally awesome.

At the end of the day, I like to think it was God’s way of saying “thank you” for being there for Him. I know it sounds silly; God telling me “thank you” for serving in His name. But the thing is … He’s awesome like that.