Project Gratitude – Servant Leader

Project Gratitude – Servant Leader

I was once in a management training program at work. The class was asked the question, “What is the difference between a manager and a leader?” The class was silent. I raised my hand and said with a half-chuckle, “a leader will take you to the top of the mountain. A manager will take the credit for getting there.” The instructor was amused – I think – and asked me where I learned that. Without hesitation I replied, “here.”

I’ve been in the corporate world since I graduated from college in 1994. In those 20+ years I’ve seen and worked with a wide variety of bosses, managers, and leaders. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that the person who is an effective manager and also a natural leader is the exception to the norm. More rare than that are the servant leaders, those who are in positions of leadership and authority who also have no problem rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty with the people she or he leads.

Boss vs Leader

Today I am thankful for the Paul Wirth, the pastor of Relevant Church. Paul is a servant leader. Paul is not only willing, he is eager to get in and ‘do’ with the other members of the congregation. Paul leads by example. Paul is MY pastor.

I had an assignment for school regarding evangelism and discipleship, and how much of the annual budget is designated for such programs. Paul was willing to meet me this evening to discuss the assignment. We met at a Starbucks – Paul and I share an affinity for lattes – and after initial chit chat and mutual coffee sipping, we tackled the assignment.

I thought the discussion would be mostly in the realm of finances, with me perusing spreadsheets and other planning documents used by Relevant. Instead, Paul took a deep breath and proceeded to explain. “Everything a church does has something to do with evangelism and discipleship, because that is why the church exists,” he said. He went on to further outline how every ministry within Relevant is aligned with evangelism and discipleship in some shape, way, or form. Everything Relevant Church does has to do with sharing the Gospel and having people take their next steps in relationship with Christ.

Paul Wirth
Paul Wirth – Lead Pastor at Relevant Church

Having been a member of Relevant since 2009, I can attest how true his words are. Relevant, in all it does, is aligned with Paul’s vision of teaching every person to love Christ with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Not only am I thankful for Paul and his willingness to take time out of his day to meet with me, I am so grateful for being able to be a part of Relevant Church. Relevant is my spiritual home, and the people with whom I get to share my Jesus journey are my family. It truly is a blessing to do life with them.

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Project Gratitude – Coaches, Cuts, and Cuisine

Project Gratitude – Coaches, Cuts, and Cuisine

Today was as enriching as it was long.

Normally. Lee and I like to not pack our weekends with too much to do. That usually makes for a bad Monday. But after having arrived home from our friends’ holiday party at 1:30 in the morning, the alarm was set for 7:00 AM so we could start our day.

First we were off to a 9:15 service at Idlewild Baptist Church. This is not our normal church, but they had a guest speaker today that I just couldn’t miss seeing. Growing up in Miami, Coach Bobby Bowden was someone I loved to hate. His Seminoles teams were always a thorn in the side of my beloved Hurricanes, but now I have nothing but admiration and respect for Coach Bowden. To borrow from Idlewild’s page recapping the event:

Coach Bowden told us about his life growing up in Alabama, his childhood, growing up in the church, playing college sports, meeting his wife Anne, and the start of his coaching career. Most importantly, Coach Bowden told us about his faith in Jesus Christ, and reiterated to us that the most important thing he ever did for his players is to share the gospel with them, and introduce them to Jesus.

Bowden

I am grateful for the opportunity to have heard Coach Bowden speak and for his affirming message. Much of what he discussed was a truth I already felt in my heart, but hearing his words helped me connect the dots and understand these feelings in a new, more clear manner.

From there Lee and I attended service at our church. Following the service, we had a team build in preparation for our mission trips later this month. We’re sending two team over two weeks to build beds in the Dominican Republic. This is a continuation of the work we kicked off last June, and today’s activity was a step through of the cutting and assembling we’ll be doing on mission. I am thankful for this wonderful team and for our friend Amanda who is the driving force behind the effort to deliver bunk beds to one hundred fifty families in the village of Quisqueya in the D.R..

Amanda

Finally, Lee and I wrapped up the day with dinner at the home of our friends George and Enaye. We’ve known them since we started attending church at Relevant in 2009, and we’ve been blessed to share so many experiences with them over the years.

About four years ago, George and Enaye adopted siblings from Ethiopia. They stepped out in faith and grew their family by traveling across the planet to bring blessings to a young boy and girl in need of a home. Tonight they invited us for traditional Ethiopian cuisine in celebration of Ethiopian Christmas, and the food was amazing. So rich in flavor, spices, and culture, it was great being able to take part in such a different experience. I am so thankful for the wonderful relationship we share with George and Enaye, and for the joy that is their three children Caleb, Meseret, and Binyam.

Food

Project Gratitude – A Jarring Experience

Project Gratitude – A Jarring Experience

As an avid Facebook user, I had stumbled across the idea of a gratitude jar many times. Usually, it was in the form of this image:

Gratitude Jar

I thought it would be something fun to do, but then my lazy kicked in and the idea of finding just the right jar and keeping little pieces of paper handy seemed to be waaaaay too much effort. (As an aside, I have a PhD in “Can’t be bothered.”)

Then I realized my blog would be the perfect substitute for the jar. I am always in front of my laptop (or phone, or other laptop, or tablet, or yet still other laptop), and I can keep my ‘jar’ up to date even when I travel or run out of ink or can’t be bothered to find more little pieces of paper. Besides, this method is also good for the environment.

So here we go. Project Gratitude. Three hundred and sixty-five days of Thanksgiving.

Today, I am grateful for no hangover. Lee and I were in bed not long after midnight. No crazy parties. No voracious drinking. We watched Ohio State get destroyed in the Fiesta Bowl (#bonus), then called it a night shortly after the New Year.

I am grateful for being a part of the social media team at my church.

Yep, I was responsible for this tweet. 

I am grateful that we were invited to the birthday party of our friend’s daughter Eisley. Although my days of being invited to little kids’ birthday parties are long since gone, it was great to be with our friends from church. We got to meet new people, two of which are hosting a growth group on wellness and nutrition, something Lee and I want to better focus on this year. Besides, how can you resist this precious girl who just loves dinosaurs?

Eisley

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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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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Faith Run

I hate running. I love it, but I hate it. In a lot of ways, it’s like writing. The best way of saying it is, I enjoy the feeling of having run, but I do not enjoy the actual running itself.

I was a pretty decent runner in high school. I could run a 5k in under 17 minutes, and I was a relatively big fish in a very small pond. I stopped running when I went to college. I was not competitive against the opponents I faced. Instantly, I was a very small fish in very giant ocean. It was disheartening. It was demoralizing. It was defeating.

Running at Tulane University, soooooo many pounds ago.
Running at Tulane University, soooooo many pounds ago.

Fast forward twenty-five years and my desire to keep a promise I made to myself when I turned forty; to run a marathon by the time I am forty-five. So after sitting on that life goal for almost three years, I decided last Fall to start running again.

Did I mention I hate running?

In high school, I had a lot less mass on my frame to hold me down. Six-minute miles are easier to run when you’re susceptible of being knocked over by a strong gust of wind. Today, I have a more intimate relationship with gravity, and downward force is significantly less compatible with forward momentum. In summary, it’s a challenge to find the joy of running compared to pressing through the pain of running. But there are moments, in my experience, when there is the right mix of endorphins and environment that allow that joy of running to come to the surface.

When I picked up running again last Fall, my goal was to run in the Gasparilla 5K in February. I installed the Couch to 5K app on my phone, and it was the perfect trainer for getting in shape to go literally from no running to completing a 3.1 mile race.

When you start out with CT5K, the initial workouts are simple: A five minute warm-up (brisk walk), run for one minute, walk for a minute and a half, repeat over twenty minutes, and conclude with a five minute cool down. Looking back, that workout seems so simple, but it was quite the challenge when I started.

As the workouts progress over the weeks, you get to a point where the run is a ten minute run. I remember the first time I reached that point, and how I thought to myself there was absolutely no way I could continuously run for ten minutes. This morning, I ran the longest I’ve run since the Bush administration (Senior, not Dubya). Four miles, fifty-one minutes, no stopping. Again, looking back to mid-December when I was starting my CT5K program, the idea of running for nearly an hour without stopping seemed – no, WAS – impossible.

After having put in the initial work, grinding the first and second gears of the process, I can set out for longer distances and quicker mile splits. Don’t get me wrong, it still sucks. I was dying when I finished that fourth mile. My hips were aching. My calves were on fire. My breathing could’ve probably landed me a job on a 900-line. I was exhausted and I was in pain, but I did it.

Nike+

And this is almost exactly paralleled with the faith journey I began anew in 2009. I look back and see the growth I’ve experienced in my relationship with Christ since Lee and I began attending Relevant Church the week after we returned from our honeymoon. I look at some of the spiritual challenges I faced transitioning from a ‘completed Catholic’ to someone attending a non-denominational Christian church. I think about some of the the theological hurdles I had to clear in the early days of my new journey, and how easy they appear to me now even though they were really hard at the time.

It’s a process. It takes time.

longroad

I still face theological challenges and areas of growth in my faith. This is especially true since I am a student in Bible College. However, I am better equipped to face them. It can be said I am more ‘fit’ to address these challenges than I was seven years ago. Sermon after sermon, chapter after chapter, verse after verse, mile after mile; we build on the experiences we choose to undertake, even when some of those experiences are not so good along the way.

If you’re new to your faith, remember it’s okay to walk where others are running. If you’re a marathoner with Christ, remember that most of us are still working on building our spiritual endurance. But wherever you may find yourself on your faith journey, take pride in the fact that your on your way. Rejoice in the knowledge God loves you, and He is always by your side.

“Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.” – Philippians 2:16 NLT

365 Days of Blessings – A Year in Review

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.

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The Transformation
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.

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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.

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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.

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Spring Forward
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.

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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.

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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.

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Summertime, Ey!
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.

June

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.

Camp

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.

We miss our Boo, Monkey, and Peppy.
We miss our Boo, Monkey, and Peppy.

Doctor, Doctor
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.

The Reminder
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.

Joshua