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

Woke Faith: A SOAP Study on Acts 17:15-34

When I say ‘Acts’, what immediately comes to mind?

Early church? Paul’s conversion? Pentecost? Speaking in tongues?

Perhaps you’re like me in thinking ‘Holy Spirit’, ‘encounter’ or some variation. To be fair, all these are great answers; however, they also occur during the first half of Acts. And as vocationals, I believe it’s important we examine Paul’s ministry in the latter half to understand modern-day application as Kingdom influencers in the marketplace.

That said, after discussing the Capernaum centurion in our last SOAP study, let’s fast-forward to Acts 17 where we find a provoked Paul stirring in Athens.

Scripture: Acts 17:15-34

Observations:

Relative to prior pitstops, the setup to Paul’s Areopagus address is fascinating. After mixed receptions in Thessalonica and Berea, Paul lands in Athens, a densely paganized hub drenched in idolatry (v. 16). Weary from travel, it’s fair to say Paul could have withdrawn or charged the scene in an abuse of confidence; however, as v. 17 states, Paul not only turned the other cheek, but reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews, city officials, and…[wait for it]…marketplace leadersevery day with those who happened to be there“.

This tells me three things off the bat:

  1.  Paul knew his audience, intentionally seeking it out realizing where the influence was coming from.
  2.  Paul was persistent, persuasive, and patient in his dealings with people from the get-go. As we’ll later see, how else could Epicurean and Stoic philosophers go from “What does this babbler wish to say?” to “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?” in one verse?
  3. Paul understood the seeds of truth he needed to sow, but also the soil he needed to cultivate for those seeds to take root.

Continuing on through v. 28

Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

From here a couple more points stand out…

1. Paul, knowing his audience, not only adapted his language in preaching the Gospel but included secular references in verifying the Scriptures. Note how in v. 28 he cites Epimenides of Crete and Aratus’s poem “Phainomena” to prove the invalidity of temples gods.

I love how Cameron McAllister, a speaker with RZIM, captures this as “cultural apologetics”…

2. Paul, up until now, has not introduced the concept of repentance. This is because he was more concerned about connecting God’s love to creation than freedom from sin – which they lacked context for anyway.

3. Like today’s world, 1st century Athens valued diversity, connectedness, and were open-minded towards many philosophies (v. 21). This is likely why Paul prioritized a) singularity and relationship when explaining God’s absolute nature and b) centralization metaphors/analogies that made sense to them. In other words, Paul knew to capture the sovereignty of God, he had to first emphasize what they inherently knew about Him whether they recognized it or not.

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4. As we find in v. 32-34, Paul saw few people converted in Athens on behalf of his presence; however, the lasting influence of his ministry is evident in that today the text of his speeches is still engraved on a bronze plaque at the ascent to the Areopagus.

Applications:

As Paul portrays, relating to the Athens of life is one of the most significant choices we can make as marketplace leaders. Like some of our working environments, Athens was a junkyard of idols, a toxic wasteland where intellect trumped truth. But amidst the funk, there were still people, blind as they were, who were open enough to listen – to give an open space as the Message translates. Thus, it could be said the greatest weakness of the Athenians was also their greatest strength given their misplaced devotion ultimately gave Paul the opportunity to testify.

As for us, there’s something to behold about this moment, especially as it pertains to our vocational environments. For one thing, I believe there are more people with receptible bandwidths in our midst than we think. Like Paul among the Athenians, we are often surrounded by colleagues, co-workers, and supervisors – many of them with a story, a set of ears, and a desire to be heard. Why then do we assume these people wouldn’t want to hear what we have to say? Is it because we’re afraid our vulnerability will not be received? Because we fear the truth will fall on deaf ears? Or are we so insecure, we evade judgment before it’s even cast? Not to downplay the discouragement Christian workers face operating in worldly systems of enterprise. I get how tough it can be when twenty seconds of insane courage become twenty minutes of painful rejection. I’m just sayin’ like Paul, we don’t have to resent the lost for being lost or the hurt for being hurt. Rather, we can sit down, invite them into our confident zones¹, and peacefully present the good news by which we live our lives.

Furthermore, I believe the power in our testimony is enhanced when we choose to speak the language of those we’re witnessing to. Remember everyone has skills and abilities, but very few know where they come from. As such, it’s imperative we acknowledge and affirm the areas God is manifesting through, whether or not they’re immediately recognized. After all, we’re all created by a master Creator with breath to take in the evidence of His presence. Hence, why it makes sense to incorporate the simple things we share in common into the unique ways we capture God’s love.

Selah.

Prayer:

“Lord, we thank you for being our source and our rock. We thank you for going before us to make a way when none seem possible. Day in and day out, you are our sovereign sustenance. What can we do but declare gratitude and victory in your name? But Lord, we also realize as vocationals, as marketplace leaders, as Kingdom influencers…we are not immune to daily alignment. Every day we’re exposed to idolatry, deception…worldly systems of tolerance and reciprocity disguised as love and compassion. We confess there’s much to be frustrated and angry about; however, we also confess your will in us, your Holy Spirit burning within, we have everything we need to counter culture with goodness, godliness, and the love you’re constantly perfecting inside our deep (Psalm 42:7). Give us the strength and discernment, Lord, to use your words in a language those around us can understand. Help us not be closed off to the raw giftings you’ve planted inside those who are far from you. If anything, help us know how to steward those divinely sown seeds so one day those carrying them will know without a day who they come from and why they are there. We choose you and accept the paths you’re establishing even now as we speak. May this all be so in your precious name. Amen.”

Footnotes

  1. As opposed to comfort zones

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 Intimacy: Creating Cultures of Honesty (Part 1)

Today’s Bible passage: Galatians 6
Supportive references: John 17:20-26, Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Hebrews 5:8

Core concept 1: The deepest reality we’re made for is intimacy. While many associate intimacy to companionship, in most settings, such closeness manifests as honesty and vulnerability. For instance, as professionals, we desire work cultures where we can feel safe enough to be vulnerable and free enough to be honest. As we find in John 1, not only does this define God’s original design for relationships, but work culture as well.

Bonus truth: The reality of intimacy predates the necessity of authority. While some see authority as power earned, because the Trinity has experienced intimacy for all eternity, we can instead say intimacy is authority entrusted

Work application: We desire real relationships with our colleagues. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done given very few people know themselves, let alone God. Even for the believer, trusting God in environments where cynicism abounds is tough sledding. But this doesn’t mean a culture of honesty can’t be cultivated; it just means our reliance on God must manifest through countercultural discernment and edification. Therefore, let’s not stress about what is counterfeit, but rather pursue excellence, and more importantly, encouragement with our cubical neighbors. Remember we don’t establish foundations where vulnerability and transparency can prosper; we pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:19) and let God lay the groundwork.

Bottom line: To build relationships, especially with seekers/unbelievers, is to a) partner with God in extending His father heart of love and b) guide others into freedom from fear, anger, and anxiety. As we’ll discuss next time, if we want to offer freedom, we must first be walking in it. Until then, why not focus on love through faith and let the Spirit guide you in what to say and when to say it?

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Core concept 2: Independence is unknown in the God community. Remember last time when we talked about how 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 applies to this point: To have a heart of flesh is to embrace intimacy. To have a heart of stone is to embrace independence.

Bonus truth: The reality of intimacy not only predates the necessity of authority, but the concept of lordship. 

Work application: As a younger professional, my idea of closeness was essentially real estate. I’d consider my location and build relationships with those who’d ‘receive’ me, as few as they were. Yet, as I ultimately discovered, this approach only fueled my skepticism and selectivity when serving my floor members. Yes, I knew God had a specific intent concerning my placement, but I often took it into my own hands. Little did I know my independence was distancing me from the very thing I craved: intimacy.

Of course, I get how easy it is to view colleagues as nothing more than people we’re proximate to. Still, it’s imperative we consider what intimacy looks like in the marketplace. In my experience…

…intimacy extended to our co-workers is evident when our desire to work with them becomes an overflow of our value for them.

Sure, we may not always agree with their life decisions; however, if we give love room and engage people for their benefit, we can enhance a culture of safety that leads to eventual vulnerability.

Bottom line: Independence and intimacy are diametrically opposed realities. If we long to transform our work cultures, then our service must be rooted in agape love, not fear. Once we grasp this, no question, we’ll begin to see freedom spring up within our influence.

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Core concept 3: Humankind was originally given a ‘made in God’s image’ nature. When Adam chose to act independently from God, he was reduced to human nature. To embrace our ‘new creation’ identity (Galatians 6:15) is to die to our human nature and recover the ‘made in God’s image’ nature.

Bonus truth: When Adam chose to be independent, he, and everyone since, lost the connection with the ‘made in God’s image’ nature; however, by having His Son die on a Cross, God not only saved us from our sins, but rescued us from oppressive worldly systems built on human nature. Put another way, Jesus not only died on the cross to provide salvation/forgiveness of sins, but also to rescue us from independence into the freedom of intimacy. When you accept the work of Jesus on the Cross, that’s your first step in discovering the vulnerabilities that create intimacy and the freedom that can result.

After all…

Jesus didn’t come to just die for you, but live for you.

Work application: To our lost and lukewarm co-workers, we must not be surprised the concept of identity is skewed. Left to our devices, not only does a concept of identity become a function of performance, but performance a function of independence. Interestingly, as modern cultural identity issues have taught us, the idea identity is about ‘being’, not ‘doing’ as gained traction; the problem is such notions are still based in independence, not intimacy. Perhaps this is why when we talk about sexual identity, many based their perception out of what they choose as opposed to what they receive. Whatever the case, it shouldn’t surprise us to find many within our realm of reach synonymizing love to tolerance and acceptance.

Back to our working environments, we may not be able to go ‘deep’ with everyone to the point vulnerability is default. Nevertheless, it’s important we keep these core concepts on our radar. To know who we are, especially in Christ, we must first understand our identity isn’t the sum of our accomplishments, but recognizes why accomplishments exist. Only then can we live the truth of why we believe:

We live for love having been created in love and we give for love having first received.

Granted, most people we encounter won’t understand this right way, but deep down, they want to be free from the weight of value being contingent on success. Dare to be a part in their quest for freedom by presenting the Gospel with such a lens.

Bottom line: To be made in God’s image is to be made for intimacy. Just as authority flows from intimacy, our doing flows from our being. Accordingly, as leaders, if you want to influence your team members, pour into how they are doing in addition to what they are doing.

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Stay tuned next time when I’ll unveil core concepts 4-6.

‘Til then, love the ones you’re with.

Selah.

~ Cameron

Cover photo: Wallpaper HD; content inspired by August 25 sermon @ The Gate Community Church