Have you met Him at the lakeside Did you hear His still, small voice? Did He call you there to follow Him, And said, “You have a choice”? And did half of you say, “Yes, Lord,” And have half a mind to start? Did you think He didn’t notice When you gave Him half your heart?
He saw it on the day He met disciples on the mount; And gave them all another chance to make their whole lives count. Some said that day, “What comes my way, Oh, Lord, I’ll do my part, Dear Lord, I’ll be obedient and give you all my heart!”
I’ll love for you and speak for truth and tell the Gospel story I’ll live from this day forward to give you all the glory. Where e’er you send me—use me send me— I will speak for you, Help me glorify your name—be with me— see me through!
So as we leave the mountain top Will you go for Him or stay? Continue on half-heartedly or give it all away? Will you yield yourself from this day on Receive the Spirit’s call? Say Jesus, “I give all to you, Not half my heart—MY ALL!”
In 2017 I had the privilege of attending a Catalyst conference at which the keynote speakers were pastors Craig Groeschel and Andy Stanley. As they wrapped up the conference, Andy Stanley said something that has stuck with me ever since.
“Do not criticize that which you do not understand.”
Those instructions resonated with me having grown up in a household that, although was full of love, was also full of criticism towards others. With both my parents, decisions and situations were very binary (i.e. black or white), and there was never much consideration given to the nuance of a particular issue (i.e. the gray area in which we all live and operate).
I am sad to say that worldview dominated my way of thinking in my young adult life, and it was such a huge hurdle to overcome. To this day, I struggle with reverting back to that mentality, but I thank God for surrounding me with women and men of faith who, when it comes to this particular personality tick, help keep me focused on the nuance and not the binary.
So as I watched the video below about Billy Joe White, an artist in Ohio who covers up racist tattoos for free, I felt myself want to be judgemental towards the people who had the offensive ink and were now looking to have it hidden. The video does an excellent job in allowing the individuals to explain what compelled them to get those tattoos, and it steers our attention to where it should be; not on a decision in the past that propagated the rhetoric of hate, but rather on actions in the present that are rooted in love.
“Do not criticize that which you do not understand.”
The video is not about people who were/are racist. The video is about a man seeking to make a difference in a culture where racism and hate are prevalent. He does this not to bring attention to himself, but rather to help bring healing and renewal to others. The lesson here is one of extending grace.
For John, Paul, and Jesus, loving people is loving God. Not because people are God, but because they are loved by God. Refusing to actively love a brother or sister is paramount to refusing to love God. Under the new covenant, we do not love God and love our neighbors. Under the new covenant, we love God by loving our neighbors.
I pray the next time I feel myself leaning toward that old habit of judging and dismissing, I remember that as a follower of Christ I am commanded to love my neighbor, without exception and without conditions. It is a commandment we should all have tattooed onto our hearts.
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. – 1 John 4:20-21 (NIV)
The first is my friend Rick. He is also a writer and keeps a blog about his experiences during his faith journey with Jesus. His blog is called Discovering and Sharing Grace, and its focus is on gentle witnessing.
When I met Rick several years ago, his words and his writings gave me a new perspective on what it meant to evangelize the gospel of Christ. They also made it obvious to me that in-your-face Bible thumping is not the solution. Rather, a gentle approach in which you share what God has done in your life and give to Him all the glory for His continued blessing; this is how we kingdom build here on earth.
I was thinking of Rick as I was conversing with another friend of mine, someone whom I’ve known for over three decades. I was surprised to learn this friend is not a believer, and as we had a conversation about faith and religion and salvation, I could hear Rick’s voice whisper in my ear. “Be gentle. Stay gentle.”
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. – 1 Peter 3:15
I am very passionate about salvation, but eternity and the afterlife is not something (IMHO) that should be discussed passionately. Rather, I invited my friend to allow God to surprise him. I asked him to put aside for a moment his very analytical and scientific brain and just let Scripture speak to him. It was a good conversation, but it was also nuanced and delicate.
Still through it all, my focus was to be supportive and inviting. At the end of the day, I don’t save souls. Only God can do that. Still, I can be obedient to the need to share the gospel and invite non-believers into a relationship with Christ.
Overall I think it went well, and my friend will be in my prayers going forward. I ask you to keep him in your prayers as well.
Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning,[a] just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.
When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth,[b] who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.” – Mark 16:1-7 NLT
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 redo one moment in your life, what would it be and why? How would it change who you are now?
I’m a technology geek. It’s partly a result of working in IT for the last twenty-two years. If you’re not familiar with the keyboard command that is the title of this post, CTRL+Z is how you ‘undo’ a command on most computer applications.
Copied and pasted text into the wrong section of your term paper? CTRL+Z. Deleted the wrong graphic from the presentation that’s due in ninety minutes? CTRL+Z. Realized you applied the wrong formula to your financial spreadsheet? Well, CTRL+Z won’t help you there, but whiskey will.
But in all seriousness, today’s prompt is asking what moment in my life I’d most like to CTRL+Z. I wrote last week that I do not believe in the concept of no regrets. Regrets are healthful experiences that, when you step back and look at the fabric of life, allow us to progress as a civilization. I know that’s a weighty statement, but it’s one I find to be true.
There is nothing wrong with making a mistake so long as we learn from it, and in my life I have made many mistakes and I have lots of regrets. Not every mistake has lead to a Disney-esque lesson learned, and not every regret has been life-altering in the direction of betterment. Still, when I look at the road map of decisions that have brought me to where I am today, I see some glaring moments at which I could’ve been better, as well as some ‘what if’ bubbles that rob me of sleep from time to time.
To deliberately sound cliché, I wouldn’t change any of it.
I am experiencing my current life because of God’s divine grace, and because of the decisions, both good and bad, I made over the years. The pattern being; when I was prayerful and surrendered my burdens to Christ, I was blessed with good decision making. In those times I stepped away from God and tried to do life on my own terms, the bonehead moments were plentiful.
Yet our human nature, one that is sinful and proud, which by extension makes us innately greedy for comfort and ease, enjoys harping on those times in our past that slowly eat away at us. It’s the enemy whispering in our ear, “if only” or “what if.” We can’t undo the past, but God can undo our sins. In fact, He already has through His son Jesus Christ. All we have to do is ask Him to forgive us.
So as easy as it would be to say I wish I could undo that time in my life when I had an affair that cost me my first marriage, I use that experience in order to be a better husband in my current marriage. When I think about how I wish I would have been less hard on my kids, I allow myself to feel pride at how wonderful and respectful my children, now young adults, are. That homeless person I ignored on the street out of some meritless sense of fear? I let it serve as a reminder that fear is not from God and that I should be a badass like Jesus was.
If we could undo those moments that make us feel pain and regret, how could we possibly grow as human beings? And if we had no pain and regret, how could we appreciate the beauty that is the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We put too much focus on the CTRL+Z when we should be putting all our effort into the CTRL+S.
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.
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.
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.
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
There’s something healthy and heartwarming about taking time to look back and reflect on the recent moments of our life. As the year draws to a close, I, too, will take part in the unofficial tradition of recapping the year that was. This may be all over the place, so thank you in advance for your patience with my lack of cohesive thinking.
Kicking it Off Lee and I rang in the New Year with our dear friends Jeff and Lindsey. It wasn’t a crazy, NYE bash. It wasn’t a bunch of people reciting resolutions and singing Auld Lang Syne. Instead it was just the four of us, sitting in their lanai, talking about everything, and, as we always do, growing closer in Christ and community. Jeff and Lindsey are one of the couples with which we can openly discuss our faith journey, and they make us stronger because we share the same walk with Christ; four individuals growing closer to Him by sharing in fellowship and family. There was also that part where we shopped to make supply bags for the homeless and took the boat out on January 1st. I also had the opportunity to preach at a special worship service at my church.
The life changer – literally – came in the third week of the month when Lee and I traveled to the Dominican Republic to take part in the first ever mission trip for Relevant Church. The trip was very beta (we didn’t know what we needed to know), but it was eye-opening, informational, and just flat-out awesome. Partnering with SCORE International, we visited several villages in the vast sugar cane fields of Juan Dolio, a home for the elderly, an orphanage, and a house for women rescued from the nightmare of human trafficking.
It was all so amazing, and I wrote about my experiences while on the trip. The take-away, however, was what God would take away from my wife and me. As we returned home, our hearts were broken for Him and His will. Gone were the more material ambitions Lee and I shared for empty-nest life once my youngest graduates high school and goes off to college (2019). We had talked about downsizing and moving into a condo, perhaps in St. Petersburg. Instead, we left the D.R. feeling called to make the mission field the next chapter in our lives.
Lee and I decided to put things in motion to transition from 9-5 as we know it to full time missionaries in mid to late 2019. There was no doubt and no hesitation. We both knew it before we boarded the plane to come home that we’d be back, year after year, training and preparing to making serving others our new vocation.
God’s Take Away
As I mentioned above, God made room in our heart for His calling by taking other ‘stuff’ out of the equation. This was immediately visible to us as we came home from our mission trip and literally boarded a cruise ship the next day for the floating music festival that is The Rock Boat. We love The Rock Boat. Not only is the music amazing, it’s also our chance to connect with friends we get to see only once per year. Our music family is such a big part of our lives, and TRB is the annual family reunion. For Lee and me, TRB XV was our seventh Rock Boat. It was also our last.
From the moment we stepped on the ship, we knew this chapter in our lives was coming to a close. Our bodies were on the Norwegian Pearl, but our hearts were still in the D.R. Instead of thoroughly enjoying the performance by Bare Naked Ladies on the Lido Deck, all I could think of was how for what I paid for the bucket of beer at my feet, I could feed a family of four for a week back in Juan Dolio. For the most part, the entire trip was a reminder of that, – and perhaps it’s not a good idea to get on cruise immediately after a mission trip – but louder than the amazing music was God’s calling that it was time to make more room for Him by saying goodbye to one of things we love so much.
The Rest of January
Yes, there’s more for the month (and thank you for sticking with me this long). Coming back from TRB, we crashed at my friend’s house in Miami for a couple of days. This culminated in a fun Super Bowl party at his house and an impromptu drive to the Florida Keys. Lee had never made the drive to the Keys, and although we didn’t make it all the way down to Key West, the excursion was a new adventure for both of us to share, and we caught an amazing sunset in Key Largo.
In February we took in the State Fair (can you say ‘deep fried everything’?), and were fortunate to attend a fund raiser for John and Katie Zeller (Executive Director of SCORE International and his wife), at which we met the legendary Lou Piniella.
In March we did something completely different and took some time off to attend the 12 Hours of Sebring. Again partnering with our cohorts Jeff and Lindsey, we camped for four days next to the track in an RV, drank way too much beer, and just had a fantastic experience.
April and May saw us celebrate a milestone birthday for our close friend Ashley, another successful home rehab project through our church (be sure to check out the video), and my daughter’s soccer team winning a state title.
In June we we had the wonderful fortune to take my daughter to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. It was an amazing trip, and we fell in love with both cities. From museums to aquariums to stadiums and our first every Uber experience, the trip to the Pacific Northwest was once in a lifetime. We took in three World Cup matches, as well as a Seattle Sounders game. We got to see Abby Wambach play in her final World Cup, visited the original Starbucks, and went to the top of the Space Needle. It was an early 16th birthday gift for my daughter, and it created memories that will last a lifetime.
We celebrated the 4th of July on the East coast with Jeff and Lindsey, and our other dear friends Jeff and Ellen, who also share with us the same journey in Christ. Throw into the mix Nikki and David, Daryl and Kristi, a couple of boats, fun time on the water, and an excellent fireworks show, and it was one of the most memorable Independence Day celebrations of recent years. July also saw Lee travel to Eutaw, Alabama, to take part in a domestic mission trip organized by SCORE International.
We wrapped up the year with a couple of concerts, a great Q&A with Kevin Smith at the Improv in Tampa, and a camp experience with our favorite band Sister Hazel. Being able to take part in Camp Hazelnut with so many of our close friends was a great way to kickoff the Fall, and it allowed me to (partially) conquer my fear of heights as I made it to the top of the climbing tower.
I went back to school at Trinity College to pursue a degree in Christian Ministry, and we got to share Christmas services with Jeff and Ellen at both our church and their church. Being with loved ones during the holidays really made the season that much more memorable.
A Painful Passage 2015 was not without its hardships. In addition to her love for music, my wife has an incredible affinity for all things cats. We started the year sharing our household with four fur-babies (as my wife would call them). Unfortunately, we lost three of them in the span of three months, two of them in the same week.
In March we had to put our little Monkey to sleep after she developed a growth in her abdomen. At the beginning of June, after treating him for lethargy and lack of appetite, we had to do the same for our beloved Peppy. This was extremely gut-wrenching given Peppy was Lee’s special Angel-kitty, and he would always comfort her whenever she was not feeling well. Not more than five days after putting Peppy to sleep, we came home from dinner to find Boo in distress and agony (exactly what we wanted to avoid with Peppy). After a trip to the after-hour veterinarian, the only humane option was to put Boo down as well.
Devastating is such an understatement for what we experienced, and I know Lee put on a brave face in the weeks that followed. She battled every day to overcome the feelings of depression as well as the broken heart she was carrying, but I do know the experience brought her closer to God. As we search for answers to the things that make us cry, we inevitably turn to Him with our questions and burdens. The experience was a reminder that God works according to His timetable, our faith in Him does not remove us from the pains of this world, and we’re called to grow in Him when times are tough.
On the human side, we had more doctor’s visits in 2015 than we care to admit. Daniel broke his finger and required surgery and rehab, Natalie sprained the MCL in her right knee and also required rehab, and Lee had surgery to fuse her L5 and S1 vertebrae. Even I, as a result of a sudden (and temporary) loss of hearing in my left ear, required an MRI of my head and several follow-ups.
We blew through our flexible spending account half-way through the year, but the moral of the story is the blessing of having an FSA to begin with, and having the resources in healthcare to tend to our family’s issues as they occurred. The blessing is paying only $25 per office visit as opposed to the alternative. In looking at the bill for my son’s surgery and comparing it to the amount for which we were responsible, I was flabbergasted to think how people go through life without any health insurance.
365 days ago, as I was ready to ring in 2015, I had no idea of how differently my life would be in one, short year. There were several other low and painful moments in the year, as well as tons of super-awesome moments I’ve failed to mention in this recap. Life is like that; ebb and flow, up and down, hot and cold. Yet through it all, the one constant in all our lives is the love God has for us. We meander on earth while He remains steadfast and faithful in Heaven.
In looking back at the tough times, I am able to see the blessings. In reliving the good times, I am able to feel His love for me. In looking ahead at the goals and dreams I pray align with His will, I do so without fear and in the confidence He will provide no matter what.
2015 was filled to the brim with blessings. These blessings, in turn, lead to surrender. Surrender, coupled with obedience and discipline, leads anew to continued blessings from God. And in that cycle is exactly where I want to be heading into 2016.
Thank you for enduring this verbose year-in-review, and I pray you have a joyous, happy, and safe new year. May God’s grace guide you in all you do.