193/365 Good Fortune

Tonight we got together for dinner with the members of our growth group from this past Spring. It was great to see all those loving and familiar faces, and it felt like more than just a couple of months since our group concluded in early May. I feel like I’ve been in a personal funk since the group wrapped up, like when you do well on a diet and then let yourself go all over again. Being with the group was a reminder of how I can always do better with my life, both in small and big ways.

In addition to the wonderful food – we always have such wonderful food at our groups – the fellowship that was shared, as well as the loving spirit that filled the room, was just the kind of positive uplift I needed in my life at this time.We also took the time to discuss and plan for the next semester of growth group. I was thrilled to see we all were in agreement to use the same model we followed last semester, with Renee and Mark hosting and Lee and myself leading the group. I think we even settled on which topic we want to cover in our next group.

Getting back to the food, someone had brought, as their contribution to the pot-luck dinner, some fried rice and fortune cookies. I am a big fan of fortune cookies, and I opened mine with giddy anticipation. The message?

Getting together with old friends brings new adventures.

As I’ve said before, coincidence is just God showing off.

Freaking Out

Random Writers – Write about what life has taught you recently.

It was Spring 2009. I remember sitting in a mandatory meeting for my son’s First Communion, and all I could think about was how I so desperately did not want to be there. That though process was the first domino that lead me to walking away from my religious upbringing. My son’s First Communion would be one of the last Catholic masses I would attend.

It’s not that I had a crisis of faith. On the contrary. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt that God has been with me. Jesus has always been a part of my life. But right up until that moment, it was always a formal relationship I held with my God.

What I experienced was a crisis of church.

I was engaged to a woman raised Southern Baptist. She, too, had a very strong connection with God. Like me, she was yearning for a new way to celebrate her faith. We were both looking for a way to celebrate together.

I never shied away from stating publicly I believe in God. Yet through my Catholic upbringing, I never considered myself the evangelical type either. I was bothered by self-professes ‘Jesus Freaks’, and I cringed whenever I heard someone say something to the effect of, “You have to let Jesus show you the way.”

Whatever, dude.

My relationship with God had always been reverential. Much like the relationship I still maintain with my mom, it’s always been about honor and respect. Parental.

In the summer of 2009, and at the suggestion of a friend who had been facing a similar crisis of church, my wife and I began at attending a new and different place of worship. Christian, non-denominational, and situated in Ybor City in Tampa, Relevant Church was the answer to our prayers.

I remember having a conversation with a good friend of mine and how in her studies they’d discussed how Christianity needed to get back to basics. How the church needed to simplify. Relevant, with their purpose of “impacting the emerging culture with the reality of Christ”, did exactly that. They simplified the way we worship and celebrate God’s kingdom. From the moment we walked into the building and experienced our first service, Lee and I knew this was the place where we’d be able to celebrate our faith together.

As time passed and our involvement in the church increased, we found ourselves leading a growth group, which is a weekly meeting in which we discuss a chapter of the book we’re reading for that semester. We also pray together, share our stories of growth and faith, and experience true fellowship. Think of it as Bible study meets book club.

After several weeks, I’ve found a new strength in my relationship with God. My eyes have been opened to new perspectives, and I’ve been introduced with new and exciting ways to better my life and live it in way that honors God. I’ve also learned to let go of the formality with which I burdened myself in how I viewed God.

I’ve always been proud of the relationship I had with my dad. Lots of hugs. Lots of kisses. Lots of “I love you’s.” What I am realizing now is that I can have that relationship with God, too. That it’s okay to think of God as an open-armed dad, smiling and happy to see me, wanting the best for me, and watching over me in what I do. He wants me to be happy. He wants me to succeed. He wants me to know that by placing my faith in Him, there is nothing I cannot accomplish.

So here I am, three years removed from my crisis of church. I find myself closer to being the Jesus freak I mocked than to being the guy sitting in that meeting just wishing for it to be over. I’ve learned that in life, our roads our varied, but our destination is ultimately the same. Betterment, fulfillment, joy, and community. Living a good life and being a good person.

My recent life lesson is that when you open your heart to God, He helps you find that which you’ve been wanting most.

095/365 Godsmacked

I love my growth group.

For those of you who may not know what that is, through our church – Relevant Church in Tampa – we have groups that meet weekly and cover a variety of topics. In our group, we’re reviewing the book The 4:8 Principle.

It’s a wonderful book and our group is so very awesome. I found myself looking around the room this evening and I was left amazed by how incredible our collection of individuals is. I’ve never been a part of a group this size – we have 13 participants – in which everyone is so open, down to earth, trusting, and accepting. There is no pretentiousness, there is no judging. It is truly an honest and loving group that exudes fellowship and reinforces my belief of what church truly is about.

In the course of discussion this evening, I was reminded of how this past week I had drifted away from the principles mentioned in the book. I had allowed myself to wander from the path of my faith journey and off into the margins of sin and darkness. I was reminded of how I had failed, and tonight’s group was a swift kick in the butt to get me back on track to where I want and need to be.

It was a humbling reminder, or as I like to say, “I was Godsmacked.”

We talked about how in the times of our greatest achievements and positive experiences, we have to remain diligent with the steps we take along our path to God, for it seems those are the times we’re most vulnerable to our own human condition.

This picture serves as an excellent reminder of that lesson.*

*Photo rights property of Hiei Jaganshi.