The Right [of] Way: A Farewell to TDOT

It’s a cold day [at TPAC] as I take this final skyline glance.

Vacancies once held now seven years of vibrancies starring back at me. Crazy how a city can reflect what you already know – the fact life is a highway built on and by dust…the cold yet beautiful reality that life is a vapor because it was spoken into by such.

Still, the question remains…

 How can one possibly capture a septennial’s worth of growth? Or put into words a spiritual journey equivalent to a Sahara crossing with one camel and a military canteen?

Whatever the answer, I won’t shy from letting words fly given this post is ultimately a testimony to God’s sovereignty. As such, I encourage you: Don’t read this as a summary of one man’s odyssey, but a synthesis of God’s faithfulness to transform.

Prologue aside, let’s dive in…

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When I started with TDOT Finance in April 2012, life was a bull market. From Lyssah to LEGACYouth to graduate school, everything seemed fresh and exciting. For the first time in years, I was enjoying all aspects of life – a stark contrast to the brutal four years preceding.

Yet, by fall 2013, many of these facets began to settle. While most things ministry and marriage-wise were flourishing, the same couldn’t be said about work. After a “promotion” from Budget to Payables, I struggled not only adjusting to the position but having to be in it at all. Unlike the two generations of Fry’s before me, I couldn’t support my family through pastoral ministry alone. Consequently, I often clocked in already feeling like a failure…like I didn’t belong.

And so, I vilified the culture, my 7-3:30 reality a necessary evil disguised as a reincarnated Matrix.

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On the surface, I was pressing on, but deep down, I was defeated, a prisoner of my own narrative. To be free was to be out, but I had no escape plan. Just a spray of mental splinters reminding me I had nothing to offer.

For years, I believed the lie my value couldn’t be realized at TDOT. While I was able to return to Budget by summer 2014, by then, the early stages of depression had settled in. Driven by lingering guilt from past seasons, it was clear the fight to tame my despair was not being helped at work. If anything, the lack of voice and professional development only compounded the problem. Perhaps had I not compartmentalized my ‘loved by God’ identity, these voids wouldn’t have hindered the way they did.

Either way, by January 2015, my disdain for the work culture had finally trickled into disdain for certain people. No longer could I emotionally separate the two. Like a house divided, my joy was one-sided with each day an elevator countdown and a prayer against hopelessness. Long gone were the days I could thrive; I just wanted to survive.

And yet, life was fantastic behind the scenes. For starters, all things family and LEGACYouth continued to bloom – the best years coinciding with the worse years at TDOT. I was coming off a solid two year run at MTSU where I received my Master’s in Education: Instruction and Curriculum. And to cap it off, after hitting three years in youth ministry, I was had started working towards my licensure with Messenger Fellowship.

However, the major plot turn came during spring 2015 when I started to sense God’s call to create a written resource for vocationals¹. At first, I questioned if this word was from God given the timing made no sense. Not only did I feel disqualified, but emotionally unprepared to tackle such a task. Who was I to say ‘yes’ in light of where my heart was at?

But looking back, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised considering…

  1. Even in our darkest hours, God is faithful to stir in ‘content’ despite our discontent.

  2. It’s often in the places we’re snake-bitten where God wants to deliver healing and entrust authority.

At any rate, after months of underground writing, His Girl Fryday published during summer 2015 to a humble following of 25 followers with biweekly posts and a podcast launch a few years after. But for TDOT, the key takeaway was the big picture – the fact God would use a special project to erode my heart of stone and transform it back into a heart of flesh. After all, it’s hard to stay mad at the marketplace when marketplace people represent your target audience. I guess that’s why they say, ‘God is without a sense of humor’.

Flash-forward to January 2019 and my heart is three years softer towards all things TDOT. Granted, there were some tough days; however, the inner maturation was now at a point I could daily choose joy, declare gratitude, and receive rest. Having learned a new rhythm of releasing, rarely did I carry anxiety into a new day. By God’s strength and power, I was being renewed regularly and refreshed in the mundane.

By early February, a new assignment had emerged, this time a Bible study open to all TDOT employees. As the Lord assured me, the inner man was ready to lead a charge that hadn’t been attempted in over two decades. A drive I would have laughed at four years prior, now a Spirit-led operation to plant a community of God’s presence. Using a mix of His Girl Fryday and Messenger Fellowship/Commission U content, I began to translate church-speak discipleship into digestible vocational dialogue. Though attendance rarely hit double-digits, the study would ignite a few more throughout the James K. Polk building. At last, the final chapter of my seven-year TDOT journey was complete.

By now, I bet you’re wondering…

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And to that, I’d reply: The point is the story itself and the source it comes from. The way I see it, God permitted my TDOT landing so I could learn how to abide in a place I didn’t fit and love within a culture I didn’t understand. Along the way, I discovered how much more Jesus I needed…how I couldn’t possibly love and lead without His daily presence manifesting as sustaining power. I also tasted the bitter dregs of indifference, resentment, and what it’s like to project insecurity onto those mirroring your own struggle. If only I received correction without assuming gracelessness, no question, much grief during my time at TDOT could have been spared.

Still, when I look back on my TDOT tenure, what I’ll ultimately remember are the seven wonderful years I had to grow in my professionalism. Could have I been sent to more trainings, webinars, and conferences? Yes. Was it difficult being a travel specialist getting to send people all over the country without being able to join them? Absolutely.

Yet, at day’s end, all this is moot.

For many are the miles, but few are the meters to loving your neighbor. Much is the work, but much more are the people who work it.

Therefore, whether we’re CPA’s or ASA’s2, remember what matters is faith, hope, and love channeled through attitude, integrity, and legacy. The road may not always be easy, but as long as we stay the course, the freedom and ripening we crave will come.

As for now, I relish this moment to say, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ not only to my TDOT family, but every breakthrough, confrontation, and endeavor that has occurred the past seven years. What started as a single man looking for occupational and financial stability has ended with a family of five finding spiritual and vocational stability in the places that matter most.

One line ends, another begins. No question, I’m on a higher precipice thanks to what I learned here.

‘Til next time, here’s to the next and the undeniable truth that the best is yet to come…

Selah.

 

 

Footnotes

  1. Particularly those in ministry and marketplace simultaneously
  2. Admin support assistants
Graphic creds: Skyscrapercenter, Alchetron

Staying Strong in the Void of Calm (October Recap Ed.)

I admit: I have not been in a writing mood this month.

Baby Milo, new job prospects, freelancing gigs, totaled car, family health issues…no question, there’s been much to handle in recent weeks. But amidst the turbulence, there have been silver linings – rays of strength in voids of calm. And while there’s much I don’t know in this state of processing, what I do know is we often discover new levels of courage during life’s greatest challenges.

So for today, I want to get real, raw, and a little freestyled about what the past month has been for me and family.

‘Cause truth is: Our response to crisis and unforeseen trauma is crucial; yet, it’s our heart towards God in the midst of chaos that defines whether we see Him as a momentary provider or persistent sustainer.

Real quick, before I forget: If you’re reading this and feel outside your comfort zone, rejoice! You’re probably doing something right or better put, right where you need to be. Be at peace, receive the calming of the seas within, and don’t look back.

That said, let’s dig in…

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As mentioned, October was a roller coaster month with memorable highs and freaky lows. The fun and games started back on October 7 when Lyssah was diagnosed with gestational hypertension. Coming off this appointment, we were only mildly concerned knowing we were close to Milo’s due date, not to mention we now had a valid reason to designate ministerial assignments. What we weren’t ready for was the nasty stomach virus spreading through our family starting with Everly then me, Caeden, and Lyssah respectively. While the bug left me quickly and unscathed, the same could not be said for Lyssah.

I’ll let my October 10th post do the talking…

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As you can see, the episode ran a gauntlet of fear, mainly preeclampsia and early induction. Thankfully, while our collective nerves had been rattled, none of these issues verified. Despite the modest scare, the event was now mellowing to background prologue. Surely Milo’s labor and delivery would be uphill in comparison…

Birth story recap: https://hisgirlfryday.com/2019/10/25/birth-story-staying-strong-in-the-void-of-calm/

Long story short, strength had gained momentum heading into Milo’s birth weekend thanks, in large part, to our surprise emergency excursion; however, this impetus could not have happened without deferred fear and supernatural strength adrenaline. For instance, throughout the Dickson Tristar ordeal, I’d often catch myself wondering, “How am I doing so well amidst this turmoil? I should be freakin’ out right now. This is unchartered territory. I don’t how to handle all this!” Yet, time and time again, I’d land on a familiar tune, beating into heart as if it had been on loop for days…

Don’t just ‘not stop’ and keep going, but stop making sense of my strength…and just receive it.

Ahhh, just receive it. Sounds easier said than done, right? Like fortune-cookie wisdom disguised as solicited sarcasm or oversimplified commentary on complex theology. But as the ‘tune’ advised, when ‘try’ and ‘do’ become excluded, the right option becomes an effortless decision, and perseverance is made practical, who’s to say receiving divine strength has to be challenging?

As Lys and I discussed with our doula, sometimes abiding in Christ is simply allowing God to prop us up when falling seems like the only option. Even as waves of crap are hitting the fan, by recognizing the proximity and sovereignty of God, we can experience a higher confidence never thought possible. Granted, it may seem counter-intuitive at first; however, as embracing God’s strength in weakness becomes rhythm, it’s not long until we find rest and rise to our aim.

For example, when I crashed my car in a four-vehicle accident a few Friday’s ago, I could have easily catered to disappointment wondering ‘why me‘ or ‘why God‘; however, having exercised my focus to ‘help me‘ and ‘help God‘ in prior troubles, my dependence was locked into gratitude.

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Of course, sitting in a totaled car on an interstate median is never fun. But again, as the Spirit reminded me, it can be when you count your blessings and declare praise knowing you and God’s best are still alive. Come to think of it, I wonder why we often say, ‘it could have been worse‘ when to use it implies a contrast of an inferior outcome to the worst possible one. Shouldn’t we go the other way and gauge reality through the ‘new’ that is to come?

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Whatever the case, whether you’re walking through hell or a level of purgatory, what ultimately matters is knowing a) you’re perpetually loved by One who has your front and your back and b) even in your darkest hours, you can worship through staccato cries for help.

As for how one stays strong in the void of calm? Frankly, there are many ways, but perhaps the shortest and sweetest one is this: Draw near, surrender fear, pray on the fly, don’t wonder why…just rely. Again, this takes years to learn and is handily theorized outside moments of stress; however, by committing to these steps ahead of the heat, you’ll be primed for God’s power during it. Like conquering any temptation, the winning move doesn’t start at the point of testing, but well before it (more on this in a later post).

For now, I’ll conclude with this: Though this breakthrough may sound basic to some, for the first time in forever, I’m pressing through pain without making sense of it, content in knowing what I don’t immediately understand will eventually be understood. And while I get the value in devotionals and specialized guides on handling conflict, there’s something to be said when God shows up in a fresh way, does an expanding work in your heart, and it’s not contingent on whether or not you ask for it.

He just shows up and pours in…because that’s who He is.

Selah.

As mentioned in my last pod, Lys and I will try (key word) to air a new pod on all this before 2020. Until then, feast on these verses (ESV/AMV), receive them whether or not you’re in a storm, and know if all you got is, ‘Help me, God‘, ‘Hallelujah‘ or ‘I need you, Jesus‘, God considers it a fragrant offering.

2 Timothy 1:7 – “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

Psalm 107:29-30 – “He caused the storm to be still so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they were quiet, So He guided them to their desired haven.”

John 14:27Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

Psalm 37:7-9 – “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land.

Psalm 46:10 – Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you.

Work as Intimacy: Scratch Notes on Hebrews 13

Core References: Hebrews 13:2; 13:15-16

Supportive References: 1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 5:10, Acts 28:2

Key Word: Hospitality

Communal Goals of Hospitality

  1. Making God accessible to people
  2. Helping people connect to God’s love/see their ‘loved by God’ identity
  3. Extending fellowship to all men (i.e. weary, broken, lost, searching, etc.)

The Contexts of Hospitality

There are several contexts behind hospitality in Scripture. For today, we’ll mention three of them: welcoming, intimacy, and suffering.

In the context of welcoming and receiving, our hospitality should radiate and reflect eagerness, enthusiasm, and intercession – the kind of heart that says…

We’re ready for you when you get here because we thought about you before you arrived.”

By embracing this posture, we allow prayer to invade both our heart to serve and our anticipation to serve (more on this in future posts).

In the context of intimacy, especially when engaged corporately, our hospitality is a lead-in helping people realize God is closer to them than they think. Likewise for many of the saints, we are more wired to touch people than we think since we’re not only close to God, but IN Christ IN community.

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In the context of suffering, our hospitality is an overflow of having received our ‘made in Christ’ identity and the renewing of our minds (Hebrews 12:1-2). We see this through the Jesus pattern in Scripture. From pre-ministry to Cross, Jesus continually allowed suffering to define new depths of intimacy. Even when He didn’t understand or lacked the strength, Jesus never stopped pursuing the Father’s heart knowing it was key to serving and saving people.

Applied to real world, we may not always sense the fullness of God’s presence, but this doesn’t mean our grief is the stronger reality or that our souls are being abandoned (Psalm 16). Rather, as we see in Gethsemane, when God’s presence lifts, we should see it as an invitation to reach up…to stand at the door and knock (Revelation 3:20) into deeper places of vulnerability. How awesome to think this moment in time not only provides a hospitality word picture, but emphasizes the direction of our worship at the same time!

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In Jesus’ case, when He asks God to remove the cup (Mark 14:36; Matthew 26:29; Matthew 26:42; Luke 22:42; John 18:11; Isaiah 51:22), He finds the strength to embrace grief as an instrument of redemption. To him, not only was preserving through suffering a joy but the suffering itself.

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As to how this applies to hospitality, consider how our ‘new nature’ identity connects to God’s ministry of reconciliation. In this life, we know trials and tribulations will come; however, we also know divine appointments often come with them. Accordingly, the joy set before us can manifest as hospitality through pain even as we’re transformed into Christ’s likeness. After all, to serve one another should not be a means we endure pain, but a way we love in pain.

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Core Scriptures on Hospitality 

I love how Hebrews 13 captures the sacrificial aspect of hospitality.

Hebrews 13:2 (AMP) – “Do not neglect to extend hospitality to strangers [especially among the family of believers—being friendly, cordial, and gracious, sharing the comforts of your home and doing your part generously], for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Hebrews 13:15 (ESV) – “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”

Hebrews 13:16 (MSG) – Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship—a different kind of “sacrifice”—that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.”

Concerning my point on suffering, note how v. 12-13 (AMP) threads these passages connecting back to v. 1 (MSG):

“Therefore Jesus also suffered and died outside the gate so that He might sanctify and set apart for God as holy the people who believe through His own blood. So let us go outside the camp holding on as He did when we are abused.” 

“Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love.” 

Again, I’ll come back to this due to the amount of series potential in the giving/suffering relationship.

For now, let’s combining core and supportive references…

Contribute to one another’s needs through grateful giving. See compassion as a fragrant offering (Ephesians 5:2) and sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). Don’t worry about your reputation, but let selfless care speak for itself. Wash the feet of the saints and keep the door open for strangers. Whatever they’re going through, you have something to offer as partners in the divine. What can’t be seen, you are making it seen. Even when you’re outside your element, let extraordinary kindness kindle a fire for the dreary and heavy laden.¹

The Bottom Line of Hospitality

Through practical acts of kindness, whether intentional or random, realize the table you’re setting for God to show up and showcase His greatness – the parts of His nature we’re to taste and see as good (Psalm 34:8).

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Paraphrased by Cameron Fry
Cover photo creds: XCHM; content inspired by September staff meetings @ The Gate Community Church

Work as Freedom: Hearts of Flesh (Part 1)

Inspiration passages: Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10

Backdrop passages: 2 Corinthians 3; 2 Corinthians 5:13

Core concept 1: God has qualified us to communicate the Gospel as Kingdom influencers; however, to walk in this competency, we must receive hearts of flesh in place of hearts of stone.

It’s no secret the world bombards us with the idea success is an identity we achieve through ability. If we want to get something, we got to first become something; if we want to reach ‘x’ status, we must set an ‘x’ goal; to reach an ‘x’ goal, we must get there by ‘x’ effort, etc.

However…

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For example, you may have a counselor’s heart, but doubt its validity since you’re not a licensed counselor. The world would say until you receive the proper credentialing, you’re not a counselor. But to God, you are a counselor because that’s what He’s made you to be. Of course, you may have much to learn and have to wait a few years until certification. But this doesn’t mean you’re not who God has called you to be.

You see, the world wants you to think it’s all about the process…that what you hope to be can only be accomplished through how you get there. But think about it: In order for there to be a ‘how’, there has to be a ‘what’ and for there to be a ‘what’, there has to be a ‘who’, right?

The question is: Who do we believe when it comes to who we are?

While the outcomes are many, by allowing God to be the answer, we can know the sweet reality that not only is our salvation secure for those who believe (Romans 10:9-10), but our purpose, our destiny,  and our future as well.

Accordingly, growth and improvement should not be seen as functions of development, but of yielding. After all, what you hope you are, you already are because your identity is not a matter of be-coming and self-refining (heart of stone thinking), but be-lieving and aligning (heart of flesh thinking).

This in mind, if what you seek to experience has already been prepared, why not enter into God’s best with a ‘yes’  than effort with a sigh? Why not accept His ‘realized new’ than take a chance missing it all for the sake of going your own way?

Core concept 2: To receive a heart of flesh is to believe God always sees the ‘finished you’. Accepting this sets us up to experience radical life in the Spirit…to be transformed through the Spirit’s inner power.

Consider this illustration from my dad/Gate senior pastor, Steve Fry (8:46-11:30)…

As created (or in this case, painted)…

…there’s amazing freedom to be found when we accept our future as known and pre-determined rather than unknown and self-determined.

Understandably, this can be challenging to accept since we often seek to control our destiny through achievement and effort. We think as long as we work hard and ask God for the right things, they’ll be given to us and to a certain extent, this is true; however, if making requests to God and modeling faith through excellence are detached from alignment, are we not craving what He can give versus valuing what He creates?

If so, dare to view present and future struggle through David’s Psalm 51:10-12 heart-cry, where he asks not only for a clean heart, but a new one! (more on this in a sec)

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As Paul emphasizes in 2 Corinthians, we’re not changed into a new creation, we are made as a new creation. We aren’t born again through accrued improvements; we’re born again through the Spirit’s transformative power which enables us to become what God has and continues to declare. As for us, all we have to do is align to God by His Spirit and walk His appointed paths through daily tuning and reliance. In a sense, that is life in the Spirit – an ongoing presence meets power, abiding meets trusting reality with God.

Think of this way: If the Good News is ‘Jesus is alive and has set you free‘, then by extension, you don’t have to earn your freedom because your efforts aren’t the keys to your life. Instead, you can relish in your freedom knowing you don’t create it by self-effort, but discover it being present with God.

Core concept 3: Believing God sees the ‘finished you’ allows you to embrace helplessness and surrender your veils.

When Paul mentions ‘veil’ five times in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, it’s easy to assume he’s talking about revealed glory; however, when we consider v. 17 and its modern-day application, we find Paul is doing, at least, three things:

  1. He’s linking Christ’s finished work on the Cross to our finished person (to see freedom through the lens of the New Covenant is to accept both Cross and weakness as the plan for our transformation). 
  2. He’s charging the church to fearlessly turn to the Lord.
  3. He’s cautioning the body against obedience through self-effort.

Concerning point #3, it’s worth noting even when we do the right thing, if the act is rooted in fear, our hard hearts will remain since trust is self-reliant. That’s why the flip-side is so radical. To do the right thing by trusting God is to allow God’s tender heart to tenderize your own. This is evident when we turn to Jesus in moments of dependence, desperation, and/or negative thinking. When you turn to Jesus, you’re essentially abandoning fear of conviction and exposure for the sake of discovering new levels of His nature, character, and glory. It’s the ultimate ‘His fullness exceeds my voids‘ proclamation…an acceptance of God and His desire for us to know His heart out of abundance, not fear.

As mentioned in Core Concept #2…

God doesn’t want to change your heart; He wants to give you a new one! He doesn’t want to improve you; He wants to take out your heart of stone and put in a brand, new heart of flesh. 

Yes, God is able to fully restore health (Jeremiah 30:17), relationships (2 Corinthians 13:9-11), fortune (Job 42:10), strength (Isaiah 40:29), and the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12), but with our hearts, our inhabitable being, He never stops wanting to go deeper; hence why God implants new hearts in His people so the larger dimensions can contain the future ‘more’ He’ll inevitably reveal.

As for our response, remember we don’t believe the right things so we can experience the cool buzz of God’s presence. We contend for them so the glory of Lord can fill our spaces…work, church, living, family/friends, etc. God desires His created to be free from performance and fear-based systems of thinking; however, we can’t tap into this desire if we try to effort our way there. Instead, we must yield our way to His way. That’s the hope of glory meeting the Good News as modeled in our own life!

Final Thoughts:

  1. Stop trying to be a Christian and turn to Jesus regardless of how you feel
  2. Accept God’s acceptance of yourself
  3. Pain is real, but irrelevant when you consider we are his workmanship created not only for good works, but for fullness from our finished future. Side note: Combining Colossians 2:10 and Ephesians 2:4-10 is super fun!)
  4. (see graphic below)

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from your effort, self-reliance, systems of performance, and the deepest of emotional hurts.

Stay tuned next time for ‘part two’ when I’ll discuss how this theology works in the marketplace. ‘Til then, praise the One with the key not only to your heart, but your future as well.

Selah.

Cover creds: Heartwell
Content inspired by ‘New Heart’ series @ The Gate Community Church