It’s All About The Network

It’s All About The Network

No, not a data or cellular network.

I’m talking about your peeps. Your circle of friends. Your squad. Those with whom you partake.

For me, today has been a network-riffic kinda day. It started with a friend gifting me much needed moving boxes and containers. It was very serendipitous she posted to Facebook she had a surplus of the receptacles and needed to get rid of them.

From there I had a conversation with my attorney (it really is weird every time I say that out loud) whom I’ve known for over twenty years but is only in his first couple of years practicing law. It’s cool to have seen him and his wife go to law school and start their own practice, all while starting a family as well. To see the hard work they put in makes me that much more happy for their success.

I had good conversations with my BFF’s, catching up on life, snow in the Bible belt, doctor’s appointments, etc. My dudes help keep me grounded and focused, and I always take away something positive whenever I speak to them.

I wrapped up the day with some positive news regarding Lee’s and my future direction. There are still many details to be worked out, but the biggest hurdle has been cleared. Again, this is a new opportunity that is a direct result of my network of friends.


It’s been my experience that success follows when you surround yourself with good people; people who will encourage you, challenge you, support you, and pray with/for you. It will not always be smooth sailing, but more often than not, the rewards will far outweigh any setbacks. You will also find God uses your friends to open doors in your life, doors you didn’t even know existed. Conversely, you will find God uses you – your talents, knowledge, and experiences – to help steer others in new, positive directions.

We are not designed to go through life alone, so make the most of how God architected you and ‘do life’ with others. Fellowship is one of the ways God asks, “Can you hear me now?”

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One Step At A Time

One Step At A Time

The first marathon commemorated the run of the soldier Pheidippides who, according to legend, ran approximately 25 miles from a battlefield near the town of Marathon, Greece, to Athens to announce the defeat of the Persians in 490 B.C.

I used to run. I used to love running. I hope to pick up running once again. However, getting into a routine of running takes discipline. Building up the necessary endurance to run a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, etc. requires discipline and a plan. For many, it also requires a support structure.

As an example, for me to get back into shape for running a 5K will require an aerobic base building routine that includes a run/walk plan. An acceptable first week of training is 20 to 30 minutes total of jogging/running/walking three times a week. By contrast, ultra-marathoners (those who run 100-mile events), have insane training regiments. You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to be an ultra-marathoner (or regular marathoner for that matter). It takes time, it takes commitment, and it takes patience.

The same is true for being a Christ follower.

I admire those who’ve devoted a lifetime to serving God and sharing His glory with others. For me, the standard-bearer is John Piper. His site, Desiring God, is a fountain of learning and inspiration. I began my faith journey anew in the summer of 2009, and it’s such a blessing to be able to look back on the last eight and half years and recognize how much I’ve grown. I also look forward knowing I have a lifetime of growth yet to come.

I’ve also had conversations with others who are kicking the tires of faith or new to being in a relationship with Christ. I’ve been told they look at me as a model of what it means to be a Christian, and as flattering and humbling as that is, I remind them of how I still have a long way to go. Yet, I appreciate the comment, and I once again make the analogy to running. I am somewhere in the 5K to 10K stage of my spiritual activity, yet my eyes are set on the ultra-marathoning John Piper’s of the world, hoping I can one day come close to reaching those levels. By contrast, others find themselves on the couch, trepidatious about lacing up their Jesus shoes and starting a walk with Him.

What this all comes down to is that as we enter the season of resolutions and newfound resolve, I pray you give yourself the requisite patience and time to grow in your relationship with Christ. If you’re new to the faith, please know being a Christ follower is not easy. Accepting Jesus into your heart does not mean your life instantly becomes care-free. Instead, it means you can walk with confidence knowing God will provide.

The activation of the Holy Spirit within you is instant, but it will take years of spiritual and scriptural training to see the transformative change He provides. This means making reading the Word part of your plan. This means making service to others part of your plan. This means re-evaluating the priorities in your life. It’s a process – a sometimes grueling process – but one that yields rewards on both sides of eternity.

“He will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns. God will do this, for he is faithful to do what he says, and he has invited you into partnership with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 NLT


PostScript: I realized after having written this post I wrote basically the same post back in April of 2016. I try not to regurgitate material, and I apologize for the oversight.

Mission Initiated

Mission Initiated

“It appears God is speaking to us through a big, bright neon sign, and I don’t think we can ignore it.”

Those were words spoken to me by my wife. Those are words that have become the bedrock of what appears to be the next chapter in our lives. Those are the words I hope serve as the foundation for God to one day look me in the eyes and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Oh My, God

THE BACKDROP

Shortly after moving to Tampa in July of 1996, I picked up a job at an internal helpdesk for GTE Data Services. I started out as a consultant (employed by a staffing company), and in August of 1997 I was hired by GTE to work directly for them. In the twenty years since, I’ve seen GTE become Verizon, held varying positions with differing responsibilities, and was able to create new opportunities for myself along the way. In November of this year, my manager informed me my position at Verizon was eliminated.

My first thought was job search. Even though I’d remain on the Verizon payroll through the end of the calendar year, and even though my severance package will provide a cushion that should last through the summer, I knew I had to get my resume in order and start networking. In a nutshell, my skillsets are very transferable but often difficult to quantify. I feel I’m an excellent manager, but how do you illustrate that on a C.V.? I am quite adept at process and project management, but every organization does things a little differently, and the metrics of my Verizon world may not necessarily translate to the world of a new employer (especially if the new employer is not in IT).

I promptly sent an email to my network of friends, family, and coworkers, and it was humbling to receive such supportive responses. I knew wherever I would land the opportunity would present itself as a result of who I know.

THE TRIP

My best friend Jeff is a dentist and has been wanting to do some form of a dental mission trip for as long as I’ve known him. He’d been invited to take part in a mission trip to the Dominican Republic by an acquaintance of his named Mike who started an organization called Advocates of Love (AOL). AOL runs an orphanage in the Samaná province of the D.R., and Mike asked Jeff to join him on his next trip so he could learn about the facility, meet the kids at the orphanage, and see what could be done going forward regarding dental missions.

Having no experience with mission work, Jeff asked if I would accompany him on this trip. I said yes, our mutual friend – also named Jeff – said yes as well, and the three of us coordinated our plans to travel with Mike and Pedro, another member of AOL, to the D.R.

Bright and early on November 30, we boarded our flight for the first leg of the journey to Santo Domingo, and my world has not been the same since.

THE CONVERSATION

Our first leg was from Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale. From there we boarded a flight to Santo Domingo, and I was able to sit next to Mike on that flight. I was eager to pick his brains about how and why he started the organization, the history of the orphanage, and what type of work we could expect to do once we arrived. Mike was more than happy to share his God-appointed story with me, and I was just left speechless at how time and time again God showed up in Mike’s life to make all these things happen.

I explained to Mike my wife and I have been tracking to move into mission work or ministry work full time, but not until after my son graduates from high school in May of 2019. I am very much a planner, and I like having a plan of attack for the next five years of my life.  As I was telling Mike about my plans, I am pretty sure I heard God chuckle.

Me: “So Lee and I would like to be missionaries one day.”

Mike: “That’s interesting because we need a director for our orphanage in Samaná.”

Me: “Did I mention I just got laid off?”

What began as a tongue-in-cheek joke on the plane turned out to be God pressing on my heart and opening a new door for me. Over the next four days, I would spend time loving on kids, painting walls, cleaning up around a construction site, understanding what AOL does for the children and surrounding community, and praying. Lots and lots of praying.

I also spent lots of time on the phone with Lee, at first telling her what I was feeling. The conversations then grew into a discussion of, “I’m willing if you are.” Lee was supportive – actually downright enthusiastic – about the idea of running this orphanage in the D.R. The more she and I discussed it, the more it seemed to all make sense. Then we hit the, “what about…” questions. Through it all, we were blessed to have God reveal to us many answers to our concerns.

THE PATH

Mission work and ministry have been on my heart since Lee and I returned from our first mission trip to the Dominican Republic in January of 2015. As we arrived at the airport in Santo Domingo preparing to return home, we both shared a glance that confirmed to each other we’d be back. As time passed and we became more involved with mission work in our church – Lee and I are currently the mission team coordinators for Relevant Church – we both knew that when the time was right, we’d leave it all to become full-time missionaries.  I even enrolled at Trinity College of Florida to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry. I completed my final class this past October.

What I didn’t know is that God’s will would supersede my plan. Theologically I knew that, but practically I was convinced my plan was a good one if not God ordained. But as the saying goes, “Man makes plans and God laughs.” From the moment I met Lee, I told her my vocation in life was to be the best dad I could be to my kids, and for me, that meant being available to them through high school graduation. June 2019 had become our target date for Gil and Lee 3.0

In all that time and through all the conversations, I ignored God’s nudging and His whispers. I justified such disobedience by pointing back to my plan and resting on the notion of being very comfortable with my job, one that allowed me to work from home and earn six figures. Life was good, and when I was ready, we’d make the move into mission work.

The funny thing is that God makes us move whether we’re ready or not. There is truth to the adage, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.” In my case, He removed the barriers I created that, for me, were excuses for not making a move sooner.

“What about my job?”

“Don’t worry. I’m taking that away from you.”

“Okay, but what about this debt I’ve created?”

“Don’t worry. Here’s a severance package to help you with that.”

“But what am I going to do next? I need some form of income, and I don’t have time to fundraise.”

“Don’t worry. This is a salaried position.”

Every question I threw God’s way, He came back with an answer. He came back with the same assertive, almost trash-talking confidence we see in Malachi 3:10.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (NIV)

It’s as if God responded to each of my inquiries with, “Boom! Whatchu got?” To not listen and follow God would make me like the man in the ‘God Will Save Me’ joke.

THE RESOLVE

There’s a song by Imagine Dragons called Whatever It Takes, and this recent experience has me perfectly identifying with the lyrics of that song.

Whip, whip
Run me like a racehorse
Pull me like a ripcord
Break me down and build me up

Over the last month, God has broken me down and built me back up. He’s opened my eyes to what it means to step out in faith and in obedience. He’s made me understand what the meaning of the Abraham story is. I’d never been able to wrap my brain around Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son out of obedience to God, but I get it now. I better understand Elisha’s action of burning his plow when Elijah placed his mantle on him. I see more clearly now what Jesus means in the story of the rich man who was righteous but did not want to part with his possessions.


So loooooooong story short, Lee and I are moving to the D.R. More accurately, we’re praying the AOL board of directors formally approves us to be the next directors of the orphanage in Samaná, and we work out the transition and move details in January. Even if that should fall through, I know my next step is in ministry. The days of corporate America are over for me, and it’s time for me to work out of service to the Lord.

My friend and mentor Mickey Bane summarized the situation succinctly upon my return from my recent D.R. trip. He told me, “It’s not a matter of whether or not God is calling you to go. That’s obvious. The question is whether or not He’s calling you to stay; to stay in your nine-to-five, handcuffed to a career that doesn’t fulfill you.” To hear Mickey put it like that brought everything into clarity for Lee and me.

THE NEXT STEPS

There is still a lot to be done before Lee and I are drinking café under palm trees in Samaná. The first thing is prayer. As I mentioned earlier, we need the AOL board to extend us an offer for the position, and I believe the more people are praying for this opportunity to come to fruition, the better. We have to sell our house and downsize, and by downsize I mean sell just about EVERYTHING! We also must work out the logistical details that will come with moving to either another country, another state, or just a small apartment in Tampa.

Whatever God has in store for us, I know it will be perfect. Wherever He sends us, I know we will go. Like Elwood Blues would say, we’re on a mission from God
… a mission that is just getting started.

A picture I took of the beach area that is just a 5-minute walk from the orphanage.

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.


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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.

delete-button

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.

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