Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Never say Never...

When I graduated college, I was convinced I would never set forth in a classroom again. I hated school. I spent 17 years straight taking exams, making projects, writing papers, and reading endless books, and I was done.

Yet, when I felt a call into ministry, the natural question everyone asked was, “Are you going to seminary?”

I hated it. For one, I knew that I didn't want to be a pastor. I had been accepted into DiscipleMakers as a missionary to college students, and I loved the opportunities that I had there, so I started to resent this idea that it would be “better” for me to go to seminary and become a pastor.

Second, I was just tired of schooling. I wanted to be in the “real world.” I didn't want to be stuck in a campus bubble, nor did I want to be stuck in classrooms.

I vowed that I wouldn't go, not because I didn't see value in it, but because I thought everything I could learn, I would by being in the field.

It's been nearly ten years since then, and, much like all other times I've said, “Never will I ever...” God has gotten the last laugh. Starting January 2018, I will take my first class at Westminster Theological Seminary in pursuit of a Masters of Arts in Biblical Counseling. So how did I get from Spring 2008, where I said never, to now, where I'm begging for training?

1. God's Timing: While I trust God will use seminary for my good, and will further equip me, there was a lot of things I needed to learn while not in a classroom. I needed to learn to master and leverage my emotion for good, rather than let it control and consume me. I needed to face my fears of what people thought of me. I needed to crash and burn, and receive grace upon grace from Christ as I sought to learn from my mistakes.

2. Further Humbling: With those mistakes, I learned I knew a lot less than I thought I did, and in turn it made me more receptive to feedback, more patient to jump in with an opinion, and more quick to listen. This was very helpful, because in the past, I needed to prove myself. I had to be correct. And I was quick to defend any point that I had, because I, often wrongly, assumed it was contrary to Gospel. I needed humility to realize that I could learn in any and every situation.

Proverbs 4:7 says, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” The past ten years has helped cultivate an attitude (though not a complete one) of wisdom gathering, rather than prideful point-proving.

3. Understanding and Fine-Tuning my Gifts: One of the great things about working in campus ministry, and especially with DiscipleMakers, is that you have to learn so many different skills, even if you're not naturally good at them. But while I've become a far better swiss army knife, I've also learned where the Lord has gifted me over time. I hadn't realized it, but I realized one of my real passions was counseling. I deeply love digging in with people and helping them process the junk they have gone through, and there's some natural giftedness there.

But with that giftedness, I also see just how limited I am in this area. The more I explore and journey with people, the more I realize I'm stuck. Now, part of this is good. I'm not Jesus. I'm not the Holy Spirit. I don't have the power, nor the responsibility, to know just exactly how to access the heart. But I want to know how to be more effective. I want God to use me in ways that would bring miraculous healing to the souls and spirits of those most deeply hurting.

So... with faith in Christ, I'm doing the one thing I vowed I would never do: go to seminary. I might be crazy. I might fail. But I trust that God will use this for my good, and His glory. The fact that I want to go is a start. After all, He is the one that put it on my heart.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Beware the Story you Tell Yourself

In Christopher Nolan's film, “Memento,” Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a man who has anterograde amnesia. He can't remember anything for more than a few moments at a time, so he records everything with polaroid pictures and tattoos to retrace his steps. He's looking for a second attacker, who he believes killed his wife and and bludgeoned him to the point of his amnesic condition.

The big reveal, however, is after he kills one of the men who had been helping/using him. What we find out is that days before, this man who had been helping him shared information that exposed he had been using him. Knowing that he would forget this in a matter of moments, he wrote on the back of a polaroid not to trust this man, and tattooed this man's license plate number on himself, leading him to believe that this man was indeed the second attacker. He told himself a story that wasn't true, only to follow it so much that he would believe it as fact and act on it. It resulted in murder.

Stories are really helpful. They help us understand how we interpret life. They entertain us. We long for hopeful, happy endings, and we long to be affirmed and loved. Sadly, many of us have encountered huge bumps on the way to encountering our happy endings. Many of us, in fact, have been mistreated, abandoned, or wronged. The stain on the story can affect us dramatically, and for good reason: it wasn't supposed to be that way.

In Genesis 3, we see the beautiful story of mankind enjoying God in eternal bliss interrupted due to choosing a deceitful serpent's words over the trusting words of God. Beauty became chaos in an instant. And from that moment on, as sin and shame invade our life stories, we tell ourselves stories that are often more lethal and destructive than the bumps and bruises that we've encountered in our own personal stories.

None of us would say we are like Leonard. For one, we don't struggle with amnesia. And certainly, we would never murder someone because we believed a lie about them, right?

Yet, how often do we forget sin, brokenness, and God's sovereignty when we are wounded? How often, when we are busted and bruised, do we seek to destroy with our words? As hurting people, we can let our the stories we believe lead us down a destructive path. Much like Leonard of Memento, our hurt and confusion can lead us to devastating results, all because we reinforced over and over in our minds a story that is untrue.

How do we guard against this?

We remember God's Role: Frequently, God puts us in situations that we wouldn't put ourselves in. He sends Joseph to prison. He allows Satan to take everything away from Job. He sends Israel to exile. He directs Jonah to Ninevah. He places the disciples in the midst of a horrific storm. In all of it, He is seeking to bring about obedience, trust, and sanctification. No thing that happens to us is due to God turning His back, rather He is patiently trying to point our gaze back to Him. He cares far more about our heart than our circumstances.

We speak God's Word: Psalm 73 is a great lesson in this. As the psalmist pours His heart out about how he doesn't understand why the wicked have everything and he has nothing, He draws near to God. He spends time with God. “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.” (v. 24) He listens to God's Word, and He speaks it to Himself.

We trust God's Greater Story: In the midst of the stories we tell ourselves, we must tell ourselves a better one. We deserve hell. We deserve wrath. We deserve abject alienation. We hated God. We disowned Him. And God's response is to come Himself and take on that punishment, so that He might reconcile us to Himself. The cross is the most pertinent image of this story, because if the cross is true, and we trust in Jesus' saving power, there is no sin, no action, no thought that can cause God to punish us. He can discipline and allow consequences, He can place us in difficult circumstances and hardships, but they never communicate God's wrath. Rather, they are meant to point us to God's love and mercy, that we might draw nearer to Him. Believe God's Greater Story of the Gospel.

Monday, August 7, 2017

God can bring us healing through our hobbies

Author's Note: This is the last post in a series stemming back from May 1st.  To see that post, click here.  Also, sometime soon, you'll be seeing a guest post in reference to this topic.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” I Corinthians 10:31

I stepped into my pastor's office for my first counseling appointment. I was convinced I needed help at that point, about a month after moving back into our home. I had been to the hospital, anxiety-driven sleepless nights continued to plague me, and I dreaded stepping onto campus. I felt ineffective in my calling, and I wondered just how I had gotten to this point. What would God have to do to help me finally be free of this affliction?

I expected extra-spiritual advice. What I got was far more profound. “Have you purchased a fire extinguisher?” he asked.

The question confounded me. I was here to talk about the state of my soul, and he wanted to talk about whether I had bought something. Yet, to my shame, I hadn't yet. “No...” I replied.

Ok... buy a couple of fire extinguishers, make a fire plan for your family, and when you feel anxiety come on, go and either work out, or buy a punching bag, because adrenaline is coursing through your veins and you need a healthy outlet to work it out.”

What?” I thought. The advice should have made sense, as the physical always affects the spiritual. But I was so stuck on the “spiritual” things that I could do (praying, fasting, bible reading, ministry), that I had never considered that my soul might be helped by normal life. Of course it made sense afterwards. I'm called to cast my anxiety on the Lord, but it's a lot easier to do that if I know I have a fire extinguisher in the house in case of a fire. I'm called to cast my anxiety on the Lord, and it's easier to do that if I can utilize the physical effects of anxiety, namely, the adrenaline fuel, to my advantage rather than my detriment.

Now, that's not to say I should give into anxiety, rather to recognize that there are ways to wisely combat the level of anxiety and struggle we have in our lives if we trust the Lord in the normal rhythms of life. It's good for me, as a husband and father, to love my family by securing our home with those extinguishers. It's good for me to steward my body. But is it ok for me to have a break?

That was the next thing my pastor brought up to me. “Do you have any hobbies?” He asked. I listed off a litany of them. “I blog, I read, I keep up with other blogs, I do stuff on campus, I...”

Do you do anything not campus related?” He asked.

Nothing that doesn't make me feel guilty,” I replied. I realized that as I had gotten knee deep in ministry, I had put undue pressure on myself to never rest, even if it was what I was thinking about. In hindsight, it was probably a level of self-righteousness, since I always was trying to fight against a previous reputation of being lazy. Rather than trusting Christ, I instead said, “I will always do something 'godly'.

Now, of course, I wasn't actually being godly in doing that. But it revealed something to me that I hadn't considered for a long time: is it ok to do things without it being some sort of ministry? Is it ok to just enjoy God and what He has created?

The answer is a resounding yes! In fact, our entire posture should be one of FIRST glorifying Jesus for who He is. And how do we glorify Jesus? By rightly enjoying Him AND rightly enjoying His creation.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:15-16)

Jesus, the image of the invisible God, created all things, and they were all created for Him. That includes us, and all of what has been created. As long as we enjoy things the way God intended them to be enjoyed, we have freedom. Yes, joyous freedom to enjoy Jesus AND enjoy all of the things He created!

So, I can watch football? YES! I can talk about and enjoy becoming a better cook? YES! I can play with my kids without making sure I make some witty gospel connection that day? YES! I can spend money on a vacation and enjoy good things that God has created? YES!

And what I found was, as I freed myself up to discover what I liked to do away from ministry, I found myself loving Christ more, and therefore, loving people more. I went to a live Ohio State football game for the first time in four years. I realized I would love to do it again, but that I don't need to for a while. I discovered just how much I love cooking. I rediscovered my love for writing fiction, and I spent more time with family. And you know what's crazy? These were the things that helped me heal more than anything; God's common grace displayed through things I enjoyed.

That's not to say we should become captive to our hobbies, rather to see them as strategic times of worshiping the God who created them! With that being said, here are a few takeaways:

1. Create space to enjoy hobbies, and share them with others

2. Experiment to find which hobbies you enjoy

3. Praise God for how He's uniquely made you

4. Praise God for how He uses these hobbies to grow your love for Him, and for others

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

We Can Persevere through Friendly Fire

Of all the posts I've written in regards to the six lessons I've learned (Find it here), this is probably both the hardest and easiest one to write. Hard, because I've learned that good intentions can often be the most painful, and easy because I know that it's something we've all wrestled through to some degree or another.

One of my early coping mechanisms (though I wouldn't have called it that at the time) after the fire was just really dark humor. I'd joke about how I would burn things down, I'd mention “at least you didn't burn your house down...” after a number of other comments, and other jokes that brought temporary relief. As I look back, they were probably more cries for help, saying, “I'm not ok, please engage.” Some did. Others joked back, and I quickly realized that I wasn't ok with that.

A similar experience was when I was overweight. I felt comfortable joking about being fat, but I never appreciated it when someone joined in the joke. Yet, people would see it as an invitation, not a cry for help.

When that happens, it's incredibly easy to villianize people.

“How could they do that? How could they say those hurtful things? They just don't get me. They don't understand. They don't want to understand.”

The problem is, when you're on the other side of the coin, it's hard to know where to start. It's a common issue this side of glory, and one that shouldn't be surprising. Ever since Genesis 11, where God confuses the speech of the peoples, there has been misunderstanding and language barriers, and the language barrier happens even when two people speak the same language. I tell a joke, the person who wants to genuinely help thinks, “Oh, he wants humor, that's what I will give him!” Suddenly, it falls flat, with both parties thinking, “What exactly went wrong here?”

Even Jesus, the greatest communicator, was easily misunderstood.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16: 21-23)

Jesus was telling them the truth; life-giving news that he had to suffer and die, so that He could be raised from the dead and defeat sin and death forever. But Peter responded poorly. He told God Himself that he was wrong. He fed Jesus one of the most deceptive temptations, one in which Jesus could win the world without suffering. It's so severe, that Jesus calls Peter “Satan”. This is friendly fire from one of the most influential men of human history. Peter, the rock of the church, and Jesus calls him Satan, because he wants to care for Jesus, yet he misunderstands Him and His purposes.

Now we don't know if Jesus was personally offended, but that doesn't matter. What matters is Jesus' posture towards Peter afterwards. He forgives and He entrusts. Peter's mistake doesn't alienate him, but Jesus calls out the mistake, and draws near. What a response of grace! And this is what Jesus does throughout his entire ministry. He's misunderstood, He endures fire both from foes and friends, and He willingly takes it on, and operates with a posture of forgiveness.

What does that teach us?

1. Believe that it's okay to be misunderstood – Many of us (myself included) can view the greatest sin is to not be understood. However, marriage has quickly dashed the illusion that I should be perfectly understood all the time. We must remember that, even when we are suffering, we will be misunderstood. More importantly, we must remember that we have a Savior who understands, because He has been misunderstood by everyone. Including you. (For reference, John 18, the trial of Jesus, is another great example of when Jesus is misunderstood, and it's to the point of his death.)

2. Keep short accounts – Recently, a friend had said a comment that he meant for good, but I took it as offensive. When I couldn't move past it, I brought it up to him. He was gracious, and responded kindly, and our friendship grew because of it.

One note, when you are in deep suffering, the temptation is to expect all people to know how to care for you. While we need to grow and be sensitive to where people are at, we must remember that all people are finite in their capacity and understanding.

3. Be honest – When you are hurting, you need to share and speak openly. First, we must do this with Christ. A good friend of mine reminded me that Psalm 88 is hopeful, not because of its content (it ends by saying “darkness is my closest friend”), but because the psalmist is crying out to the Lord. Second, find a friend or two who you can really trust, and you are willing to fight with. People who you can share deeply your most raw emotions and frustrations (including your struggles with how you've been treated), as well as people who you can fight with and forgive when they don't understand.

4. Tell people how they can help you – A friend of mine recently told me how a comment I made wasn't helpful, and they were longing to be affirmed instead. This completely changed how I thought to care for this person! Good friends want to know how to better care for you.

5. Remember, not everyone is meant to help you through this specific season – There are some people that I've stayed away from during this season. That's not because I don't love them, nor will I avoid them forever. But without humility and grace on both sides, sometimes space is what is needed. And that's ok. Not everyone needed to know how I was struggling with things. Jesus all ready knows. And He will provide exactly who you need to help walk alongside you.

Monday, June 26, 2017

We can find Joy in God Alone

All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...” – Jesus (Matthew 28:18a)

The above quote is the verse that our ministry's name comes from. We are DiscipleMakers because Jesus commanded us to make disciples. I'm passionate to see young men and women give up everything to follow Jesus, because that's what he calls every Christian to do. But what happens when you give that call, but distractions get in the way? Or a certain lesson isn't sinking in? Or someone really struggles with a particular passage of scripture?

For me, the answer was simple: “Work harder.”

I went to campus more, spent more time thinking about ways to help students grow, considered all sorts of different strategies. Even when I was spending time with family, I was checking my phone, thinking about how I could reach students differently. I would watch movies feeling guilty, thinking 'maybe I should be on campus right now.'

For the record, the guilt was produced on my own. It's easy in this day and age to blame others for how people make us feel. It's the cultural norm. But no one in DiscipleMakers told me to think and act this way. No one expected me to work 24/7 on campus. No one expected me to eat, breathe, and sleep campus ministry to the detriment of myself and my family. The problem was far more internal. I wanted people to think I was good at my 'job.' I wanted to be recognized as a good campus minister to my students, to my teammates, to my supporters.

God was gracious to me to give me a wake up call.

After we moved back into our home, I found myself unable to sleep. Part of it was I kept imagining the fire. But there was something else keeping me awake at night. It was the dread of a new semester coming. Dread, not of the students, or the preaching and teaching of the Word, but of failure.

What if it all falls apart?” I thought. “What if all I am is just some fraud, who was never really cut out for ministry? What if I'm just the black sheep who will always be a failure?'

It was that thinking that led me all the way to a panic attack the first day of classes. I was so underprepared for the beginning of the semester, that the normal fears and anxieties were amplified to the point where I couldn't push them to the side any longer. And I landed in the hospital.

I wondered for a while what had happened. How could I have let this happen?

For one, I failed to realize the first part of Jesus' call to make disciples. “All authority has been given to me...” Who has authority? Jesus. Who's mission is this? Jesus. Who calls me to this mission? Jesus. Exactly when did the mission become all about my personal success and failure? And when was my personal success defined by results? When was ministry defined by what I produced?

It's through this whole thing that I re-learned an important lesson. Ministry is an outflow of the one who has all authority. The more I am in awe and wonder of Christ, the more I'm compelled to do ministry. The more I love God, the more joy I have regardless of the state of our ministry. And the more I love God, the more I want to see Him move in the lives of others, and the more I trust Him to move in the lives of others.

This past Fall was a great example. I was more limited than I had ever been. I was on campus less, recovering more, and wondering, “what is going to happen?” What happened was student leaders had more ownership, more young students were excited, and disciples were made. We had our largest first-year class ever, more investment in the bible, and more and more people clamoring for discipleship.

And as I got back on my feet, I realized how much I wanted these people to find joy in God. Not in their progress. Not in their discipling. Not in their bible study skills. In God. His character. His majesty. His holiness. His power. His mercy and grace.

If God is our joy, the pressure of results seems to fade away. We trust God when He says to take sabbath rest. We trust Him in our rest, knowing that He is working in our waiting. And when it's time to work, we work by faith, believing that He is Lord of the Harvest.

Have you believed Jesus' words, “It is finished?” (John 19:30). Have you believed that Jesus' “yoke is easy, and his burden is light?” (Matthew 11:30) Have you believed when God says,I am the Lord. I have spoken, and I will do it.” (Ezekiel 37:14). Have you believed “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold?” (Psalm 18:2) Have you believed that He, “has put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound?” (Psalm 4:7)

We can rejoice when we have positive results. But it is greater still to find joy in our great God, who can be our joy even when our results are lackluster. He will always allow us to find joy in Him, if we seek it. Despite our circumstances, our results, and our condition.