Under Our Skin – A Forum on Race and Faith

Under Our Skin – A Forum on Race and Faith

Lee and I will be attending “Under Our Skin – A Forum on Race and Faith” on Thursday, February 16, at The Crossing Church in Tampa.

We’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to share this event with others at no cost (limited availability). Please see the attached PDF for more information, and use the form at the bottom of the post to let me know if you are interested.

Tyndale House Publishing is coordinating the event.

We hope to see you there.

Under Our Skin Forum Flyer

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Living Out Forgiveness

Living Out Forgiveness

We live in a world where racial reconciliation and bridge building should be at the forefront of what we do. In this story, we see how it’s often the victim that serves to enlighten (and hopefully change) the aggressor. We also see how modeling Christ and extending forgiveness can lead to being cast out and dismissed by your peers.

At the time Mr. Jones found himself being physically assaulted, he probably didn’t think that experience could be used for something positive. Yet God always takes our pains, burdens, and hardships, and uses them for His glory in a beautiful way. Mr. Jones glorified God by living out forgiveness, and we’re all made better by hoping to follow in his example.


jones

Persevering Through Him and For Him

Persevering Through Him and For Him

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:

Which one of the Beatitudes is most meaningful to you and why? 


In the spirit of full disclosure, this is not the prompt for November 7 for #NaBloPoMo16. Today’s prompt (What was your worst Thanksgiving food fail?) was a bit on the yawn side, so my wife Lee and I decided to go with our own prompt for our blog posts.

Lee and I started on our respective faith walks together back in 2009. One week after getting married, we began attending Relevant Church in Tampa. Relevant has been our home ever since, and I cannot properly express how much each of us have grown over the last seven years.

Walking in faith and with Christ has transformed our lives. It’s changed the way we give, the way we vacation, and it’s most definitely changed the way we plan for the future (Lee and I hope to transition to full-time mission work in the next three to four years). As someone whose been blogging since 2004, my faith has also changed the way I write.

So it was no surprise when Lee suggested we write about the Beatitudes. Writing in a non-secular arena has become second nature to both of us, and it allows us to explore our relationship with Christ from a different perspective. It’s one thing to share your faith story with someone verbally. After all, we all speak in rough draft. But when you’re writing, you have the ability to edit, research, ponder, and – when you’re really stuck – delete.

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I love writing about my faith, and I see it as a part of my current vocation. I view it as an opportunity to use the gift God has given me as a writer to bring glory to Him and to bring others closer to Christ. I can only pray that someone who is seeking His love and mercy may stumble across my blog and use it as a vehicle to grow closer to God.

But written ministry is not always about ‘Likes’ and positive feedback in the comments section. There is an inherent risk of not applying sound theology in my work. There is a risk of alienating someone because my understanding and belief in Scripture contradicts their personal worldview. From a broader perspective, there is always a risk in sharing Christ with others because there are so many questions people may have, so many arguments skeptics may make, and so many allusions cynics may cast. In layman’s terms, it ain’t always easy.

It’s not supposed to be easy.

We are called to press forward in faith. We are called not only to step, but to leap out of our comfort zones for the benefits of others. We’re called to go out on a limb for Christ because he suffered and died on a limb for us.

Dealing with people who for whatever reasons reject God and belief and religion can, at best, be awkward and clumsy. At worst, it can be downright painful. As an example, my wife and I struggled to answer this simple question early in our faith walk:

“You mean if I live a good life and am a good person, that’s not enough to get into Heaven?”

Lee and I knew what the right answer is (it’s no, by the way*), but we didn’t know how to properly communicate it. We weren’t well versed in Scripture (we still aren’t really; it’s a daily process), and we fumbled our way through a conversation that quickly evolved into an argument. It was uncomfortable and unpleasant, and at the end of it all we lost a friendship. Still, we knew in our hearts we wanted to/needed to stay true to His Word, and we used that experience as a foundation to work and be better prepared for the next tough question that was sure to come.

In the three and a half years since that moment, I like to think we’ve stayed true to that commitment. So when I read the Beatitudes and get to the eighth and final one – Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven – it strikes a chord in my heart. Part of evangelizing the Word God is giving the love and then taking the lumps others may give in return.

It’s not supposed to be easy, but it does get a little easier every time.

 

*I firmly believe it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we are granted salvation. This is repeated throughout Scripture.
     John 3:16
     John 14:6
Acts 16:30-31
Romans 6:23
Romans 10:9-10
Ephesians 2:8-9


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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


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Pain, Ink.

Pain, Ink.

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:

When was the last time you did something brave? What happened?


I like to think I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, but I am by no means one of those adrenaline junkies that get a thrill from enduring grueling and painful conditions. For the most part, I embrace my lazy side and you can usually find me on the corner of comfy and cozy. So it took focused determination to pull the trigger on an idea I’ve had brewing in my mind for …. well years.

My wife and I are planning to transition to full time mission work in the 2019 – 2020 time frame. We’ve participated in several short-term missions with our church, and our hearts are in dedicating ourselves to serving God with all we have. One of our favorite memories is being in the Dominican Republic with our pastor who has the story of King David tattooed on both his arms. Who knew permanent ink on skin could be a tool to evangelize the word of God?

Pastor Paul Wirth
Pastor Paul Wirth

As we prepare for our third visit to the D.R. in January, I wanted to take a page from my pastor’s playbook and wear my faith on my sleeve as well. So tonight, while basically all of America was watching Game 7 of the World Series, I was sitting in a chair at my friend’s tattoo shop getting my first (and second) ever tattoos.

I’ll admit, brave perhaps is not the most appropriate word to describe my decision, but it’s not something into which I entered lightly. There was the uncertainty of how painful actually getting a tattoo would be. There was the concern of how they would come out. There was a touch of anxiety at the thought of eventually showing them to my mom. There were a lot of hurdles, mostly mental, I had to clear to bite the bullet and get inked.

…but in the end, I remembered that fear is not from God, and after all He’s done for me, wearing my faith for everyone to see and using the talents of my friend and tattoo artist Shawn to help share Christ with others is the least I can do for Him. I guess if I really think about it, there was nothing to be scared about at all.

20161102_223401


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Retreat and Surrender

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:

When you’re having a bad day with your mental health, what do you do to help yourself?


Where do I even begin?

I guess, since this is November, I have to start with Thanksgiving. Not the holiday, but rather the ever-present need to be thankful for all God has given me.

I am thankful for not being afflicted with a clinically diagnosed mental health issue (although I have members in my family who have). I am thankful for not be saddled with a medical condition that requires a daily regiment of medications (although I have members in my family who have). I am eternally grateful for the health and well being of my two teenage children (although I have members in my family who can’t say the same).

Yes, life sucks sometimes. It’s cruel and unfair and it can be consistently inconsistent. Yet for every crappy day, my experience has taught me it can always be worse. I know that sounds quaint or trite, and yes, I know I’m perhaps oversimplifying the big picture; but there is truth in the anecdotal, albeit cliché saying, “this, too, shall pass.”

There is no one right answer for handling adversity or managing those ‘mental health’ days. The prescription for getting through the storm is as unique as our fingerprints. Still, as a person of faith, I believe there is one common denominator.

I used to surrender my crap to really, really loud music. Pop in the Van Halen, turn the volume up to eleven, and just let Eddie’s shredding on his guitar take me far away from where it is I was. When that didn’t work, I’d hand my problems over to alcohol. My happy place was inevitably found at the bottom of a bottle of booze. But ear drum and liver damage aside, what I was truly wrecking was my soul.

booze

Over the last decade, I’ve learned that everything in my life begins and ends with God. To put it in a mathematical analogy, He provides the parenthesis of my minutes, hours, days, years, and life.

(me), where ( = God and ) = God

Not only is this perspective highly effective when it comes to pressing through the tough times, it is absolutely liberating as well. Being able to surrender my problems to the Lord has helped me elevate above the worldly problems that arise and overcome them while minimizing the mental and emotional impact on my life. Please don’t get me wrong, just because I believe in God and have a relationship with Christ does not mean my life is easy and nothing bad ever happens. That’s not what I am saying. Rather, when the *bleep* hits the fan, dealing with it all becomes a less stressful situation because of my faith in Him.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33 NIV

For me, it all begins and ends with prayer. Effective, focused, and intentional prayer is how I get through the ‘mental health’ days. Sometimes God is immediate with His blessings and opens my eyes to the solution I am seeking. Sometimes He’s not, and the blessing is in the growth that results from the pressing through the tough time. Either way, I’ve found that when I make my time with God a PTA meeting (Praise, Thank, then Ask), there is no problem too great for Him to resolve.

PTA

When tough times arise, I now turn down the volume of the world and inebriate myself with the Holy Spirit. It’s not always easy, but that’s the thing with faith; it’s not supposed to be.


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Mission Lacking

Mission Lacking

One of my recent homework assignments for my Christian counseling class was to provide a news article and write about how it applies to the world of counseling. As I completed the work, I felt compelled to share it.


I think it’s difficult for those of us living in the comfort, security, and luxury of life in the Western world to truly appreciate and understand what is happening in Syria. Even more so, we can’t begin to make sense of how a child raised in the midst of civil war must be interpreting what it means to be alive. For all their time on earth, war, displacement, and pain have made up their reality.

In this article from Catholic News Service, it’s apparent there is a need for individuals who are trained in counseling to hold the hands – both figuratively and literally – of the children affected by Syria’s five-year civil war. The article speaks to the erratic and sometimes aggressive behavior refugee children exhibit in camps. The after-effects of the war are as shattering emotionally as they are physically to the buildings these children once called home.

We see many groups and individuals leave their modern world behind to serve as Christian missionaries around the world, sharing the gospel of Jesus, working to make believers out of those who have been lost. This article, however, shows there is chasmic need for individuals to carry the cross of trauma counseling for these children.

kid

Attending to the emotional and psychological need of these young refugees is as much a mission of good news as are the other works of lay people in the field evangelizing the name of Jesus Christ. I think we tend to neatly compartmentalize the role of Christian counselors to working with couples in marital distress or American kids dealing with issues that weigh them down (drugs, anger, sexuality, etc.) But as Christians, we’re called to reach out to those who require our help, and there seems to be such an infinite need for help on the part of war-torn kids who most likely do not have a concept of what it means to grow up happy or safe.

Being a Christian does not mean our lives our meant to be easy (John 16:33), but it does mean reaching out to those in need (1 John 3:17-18). For Christian counselors, this means setting aside our own comforts in order to provide some comfort to a little girl or boy who’s known only a lifetime of pain. It means to remind these children they are loved by God, and to be the personification of Psalm 34:18

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

I think my points are best summarized by this video.