3 Things I’m [Really] Sorry For

For many, it’s the same thing every January…

                   …we forget all acquaintance, inflate our morale…

…only to tease ourselves with premature quests founded on prayer-less resolution.

But perhaps you’re like me in the sense you prefer cleanse before change…in getting real before getting right.

If so, trust me when I say these days in early January can seem just as blue as they are buoyant.

Still, while taking internal inventory may seem less ‘fun’ compared to making resolutions, when we fearlessly explore what we need to be free from, we ultimately position ourselves to embrace the ‘next’ God has for us.

Thus, in the spirit of going under the knife, here are three things I’m owning as we turn the clock to 2018…

1) Making culture the enemy

I’ve learned many lessons as a state employee from persevering when treated like a number to managing challenging subordinates, but arguably none has gripped me so intensely as knowing your enemy in the face of conflict.

Growing up, like many, I learned Ephesians 6:12: “…we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities…and spiritual forces of evil”; however, while I understood this truth conceptually, I lacked awareness contextually. For instance, at work whenever I felt belittled or neglected, I used to justify resentment by redirecting my disappointment from colleague to culture. I’d think to myself, ‘As long as what I hate isn’t breathing, I’m good.’

The problem was: my offense wasn’t going anywhere. If anything, I had taken cynicism with respect to ‘person’ and extrapolated it over ‘many persons’ all the while exchanging discouragement for a false comfort I could easily hide behind.

Yet, as I’ve now learned, when it comes to not making culture the enemy, we must be willing to assign our offenses and align our defenses in the heat of battle. Far too often, we want to make sense of our surroundings; we want to feel secure about who is for us, who isn’t for us, who is pouring into us, who isn’t, etc.

However, if our filing system defaults culture to enemy while compartmentalizing those we assume aren’t for us as products of that culture…are we not recasting the same judgment we fear?

And yeah, I know it’s easy to appoint anger and bitterness onto what we think can’t be seen; however, I encourage you…

…if your idea of enemy is the deceived, not the deceiver, then not only are you misappropriating identity, but you’re removing yourself from an opportunity to love and judge righteously.

Think of it this way: if you’re struggling to see the finger-pointing, never wrong colleagues as anything but enemies, try focusing on encouraging them (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27-36, Ephesians 4:32) and watch as God transforms how you see them. That way you’re at least in position to shift the enemy from instigated to instigator.

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2) Hiding behind proximity

As an introvert, I love my solitude…that still calm in the middle of productivity and a dwindling ‘to do’ list.

But lately I’ve been thinking: Why is privacy perceived as such a luxury when we were created for proximity (i.e. engaged connection with those around us…not just closeness in space)?

I mean…if you’re reading this, odds are you’re close1 to someone, right? From neighbors to co-workers to immediate family and friends, it’s no question proximity is both prominent and prevalent. Why is it then if we were to describe our ideal escape, it’d often involve seclusion or separation?

Is it because we think harmony and proximity are mutually exclusive…that rest can only happen in a vacuum?

If so, I submit we get back to valuing those in our midst regardless if they treat us like strangers or outcasts.

‘Cause truth is: if how we engage people is conditioned on what we can’t control, it’s going to compromise our conviction in acting on what we can.

That said, it’s worth noting the false security in minimizing proximity.

Case and point: for years at my job I used to think to myself, ‘Just because so-and-so lives two cubicles down doesn’t mean I’m entitled to be close…’ or ‘I’ve tried talking with so-and-so, but after all these years, they’ve never tried to talking to me. Might as well as be strangers.’

However, once I realized these thoughts were only de-salting my witness, I knew my approach had to change. Like my heart towards culture, I had to stop  compartmentalizing people to make sense of my surroundings. Somehow, someway…I had to open myself back up so anyone and everyone could be a potential target for love, kindness, compassion, and encouragement.2

‘Cause like many, I can love on certain people well…plugging into their life…even giving gifts (which for me, is far down the love language list), but when I consider how Jesus broached proximity, no one was outside his periphery to love or his reach to heal.

Thus, I think it’s important we all examine ourselves and explore where good intentions may be linked to our own terms. Perhaps then we can find those secret places we may be hiding behind.

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3) Marginalizingmy bandwidth

Left unguarded, my mind can easily drift into personal narrative. How will what’s left untold…unfold based on the good, bad, and ugly of yesterday?

Yet, as mentioned in prior posts, it’s hard to invest external margin (i.e. loving one another) in the present when you’re overly vesting it in the past. Therefore, if we’re wanting to be more selfless in venturing our margin John 3:30 style, then clearly we must be willing to examine our perception of relationship before transferring it.

Granted, easier said than done; however, as long as we’re intentional in asking God to breathe width into our bandwidth (i.e. capacity/strength to love on purpose), who’s to say we can’t change?

And hear me: I get how tempting it can be to assume other people’s perception of you is less than what it should; however, I also know if you cement your mind in thinking people won’t believe the best, you will do the same as well. Why not then trust God to move, convict, and transform others the same way He’s moving, convicting, and transforming you?

If it helps, if you want to de-marginalize your bandwidth, go back to your narrative…but this time, consider what you learn at 35 or 45 may be what someone else learns at 25 or 55. After all, who are we to judge when truth clicks for someone else? I mean…if we truly want to be heaven on earth, then we should want to root each other on regardless if our maturity curves line up (see Matthew 7:5).

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Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Literally and figuratively
  2. A key distinction between world and ‘like Jesus’
  3. To treat as insignificant

Cover photo creds: Newhdwallpaper

Bye, [Bye]Vocational

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s not easy marrying marketplace and ministry.

After all, when you consider secular expectations, the challenge of availability matching flexibility, how most church leadership models are structured…it can be tough-sleddin’.

Now, I’m not a church consultant or ministry life coach; however, in my brief ministerial experience, I’ve come to realize while tent-making is often praised behind the pulpit in an evangelism context, it’s rarely incorporated to the fullest in a leadership context.

Case and point: I work full-time hours (7:00-3:30 pm) for TDOT Monday through Friday, where at the start of each day, I take the day’s game script, stack it against my church load, and do what I can accordingly for both. For instance, on slower days I create youth discipleship content, plan events, design social media promotions, and field church-related correspondence on my breaks, whereas on busier days, I keep a running ‘to-do’ list to better tackle my gameplan after hours.

The problem is: whether or not my day at work is busy/productive, I still miss out on the life that happens at church (i.e. staff meetings, luncheons, offsite special events, etc.) during my shift.

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Granted, I do have supervisors who meet with me on a quarterly basis to catch me up to speed with important information. Yet, while the communicational challenges can be frustrating, it’s the communal setbacks that offer the greatest potential for discouragement.

So while having flex or contractual hours would be ideal, I know in seasons like the one I’m in, I can only abide in what I can control, confront what I can’t, and trust God in both. Still…this doesn’t mean the divide is easy.

On one hand, I’m proud to represent the Gospel in a taxing work environment, to mature in my reliance upon God when I find my own strength to be nothing but weakness. On the other, I’m often downcast considering a) it’s hard to justify why I work where I do1  and b) to not experience deeper community due to a job I can’t stand on my own strength is a bitter pill to swallow.

So when it comes to the idea of a bye-vocational (i.e. leaving one job to fully pursue the other) life in place of a bivocational one, I’d be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t intrigued considering the struggle to put forth full-time effort in part-time hours is [super] real…not to mention I’m the first Fry male in three generations to not know what full-time ministry life tastes like.

*Sigh*

I guess what I’m trying to say is: it’s hard being bivocational when the call itself seems to rob you of relationship. ‘Cause while many think bivocational ministry is all about tackling two different jobs, truth is: it’s just as much about influencing community and inspiring culture change as it is achieving excellence. Thus, how we cope when we feel our ‘spread out’ lifestyle is diluting our impact is worth discussion.

Of course, you can count on me to drill down on this in future posts, but for now, let me just say: for those of you working multiple gigs striving to keep joy afloat, understand you carry difference-making potential inside you…and that potential is not only going to come to fruition in the territory God has given you to tend, but is also never contingent on what you can’t control. Again, that’s the beauty of trusting God. Whenever we reach an end of the line, God grants us the slack to press on. Whenever we reach an unscalable wall, God equips us to ascend it. And whenever we’re overcome by a particular lacking, God meets us in our midst, fills us, and goes before us to make a way (Isaiah 43:16-19).

Yeah, I get how hard it can be craving community and passion outlets in the arid seasons of life, but remember God specializes in showing His power in hopeless situations. So if you’re reading this today wishing you could swap out a bye-vocational life in place of a bivocational one, I encourage you: allow God to fill up your empty canteen with encouragement and fresh perspective. ‘Cause I submit: where you are now is not by mistake, but by design and by grace.

Think of it this way: If you’re thirsty, what sense does it make to cut your water bottle in half when you could simply remove the cap and fill it to the brim?

Pretty obvious, right?

Yet, how many of you reading this are essentially doing the same thing by denying yourself full-fillment as a result of wanting the ‘bye’, not the ‘bi’?

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If you can relate, I encourage you: stop overfocusing on what you wish could be different in your life and embrace the fact God has you just where He wants you. Don’t fantasize about what it’d be like to customize your life. Instead, take joy in trusting the Lord’s lead and take courage in pushing through to the good stuff that’s coming (see Isaiah 58:11).

While I’m tempted to go on, I’m goin’ to push ‘pause’ for now and instead bid adieu with some parting questions:

1) What do you need to be filled with today?
2) What is capping the ‘containers’ God has placed you in?
3) Will you remove those caps and allow God to fill you up?

I’ll just let the mic drop there…

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Footnotes

  1. in light of how I was created

Cover photo creds: ThomRainer.com 

Rousing Resilience: Part 1

We all have heroes.

Whether they’re family members or historical/cultural icons…we all have figures we look up to1.

Of course, not all protagonists and champions are alike; however, when we consider their innate qualities, it’d be hard to find any who lacked some form of resilience.

What is resilience, you ask?

Well, for starters, it’s the theme of this year’s Acquire the Fire event (hence, the topic’s prevalence).

Yet, as far as definition goes, resilience bears rich substance2. In fact, when we dig into Scripture3, we find resilience to be a number of things. Among them…

  • A refusal to quit…
  • A pledge to stand firm…
  • Courage maintained…
  • Boldness with honor…
  • …and a fearlessness rooted in two instinct-defying words…

“I can’t.”4

Now, I know it sounds weird, but when we confess this itty-bitty sentence to God, it not only offers Him great delight, but it also allows us to see just how much “He can.

Why? Because owning our weakness is the first step to being set free from it!

In other words, when we admit and release our crap to God, He doesn’t just listen – He intervenes, He intercedes…all the while, showing us the pathway to real, radical heart change.

Pretty cool, eh?

But resilience doesn’t stop there.

‘Cause when we drill a little deeper, we find resilience also enables us to know how…

  • …our helplessness can be expressed as acceptable worship and reference (Hebrews 12:27-29).
  • …our weakness can be flipped into God’s strength filling in the holes of our efforts (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • …and our problems can (and will) be fixed simply by fixing our eyes on the One who ultimately is in control (Psalm 16:8, Hebrews 12:2).

Honestly, when you think about, this can be especially encouraging, considering we will encounter adverse circumstances at some point, whether it’s an abusive relationship, financial and/or occupational turbulence, past woundedness, and/or the stubble of our sin. But even when life seems stuck on cruise-control and hope is nothing but a fleeting fairytale, we can still know “no fear5.

Cause truth is: all it takes is one simple shout of surrender to bounce back…

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…one victorious “Yes” to God in the face of apparent defeat…

…and one resolute declaration of “God is enough”…

even if 6 we’re walking through hell, unsure of what’s to come (see Daniel 3).

And I’m sorry, Captain Nesmith, but the phrase, “Never give up. Never surrender” doesn’t fully capture the essence of true resilience. Because the only way to “never give up” is to surrender…abandoning any independent pursuit that suggests we’re strong enough to adjust our course.

At the end of the day, the only means of courage is to admit we must be filled with it to live it.

And that, my friends, is what real resilience is all about it.

Next time, we’ll examine some practical points on how to live resilience out in a transformational way.

In the meantime, I leave with some passages from Isaiah & one from Habakkuk:

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In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength~ Isaiah 30:15

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” ~ Isaiah 40:29

“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31

You wearied yourself by such going about, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint.” ~ Isaiah 57:10

The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” ~ Habakkuk 3:19

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Footnotes

1) Which is how we’re designed

2) And is arguably one of the most overlooked faith terms in Scripture.

3) Especially Joshua, 2 Timothy, Philippians and Romans

4) Point inspired by Christ Is Life Ministries

5) The fact this sentence contains a “triple-negative” doesn’t devoid it of truth.

6) The story of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego really centers on these two words (Thanks to Kemtal Glasgow for the inspiration)

 
Cover photo from thefeministwire.com

Staying the Course – The Importance of Not Quitting: Part 2

We’ve all been there.

Life in a lifeless cubical world. Surviving the 9-5 vocational jungle. Juggling a bunch of disjointed dreams against the backdrop of reality.

Perhaps you know what it feels like to be a fish in an aquatic Pandora’s Box

…like you don’t belong no matter how hard you try, no matter how hard the effort.

untitledNo question, it’s in these moments when we’re most tempted to quit…when we’re most likely throw in the towel and walk away.

But as I mentioned in last year’s post, there’s value in not giving up, there’s honor in putting down the white flag in favor of the warpath…and there’s hope in maintaining a posture of perseverance, no matter how hard the challenge.

True, it can be arduous making ends meet and bridging relational divides amidst an unfulfilling environment; it can be difficult loving¹ people in a vacuum where nothing around you seems to give you that much desired sense of accomplishment and worth.

But truth is, at some point or another, we’ve all questioned our place, especially during [what seems like] a fruitless season, where nothing seems to be effective or bear influence.

Yet, I contend we don’t often help our cause at theses points of impasse.

Why? Because of the human tendency to put calling before purpose.

You see, our purpose is simple: to be heaven on earth

…by choosing to love as Jesus loves…

…and to be an extension of hope through proclaiming the good news².

However, our calling is a bit more complex.

While our purpose boils down to modeling God’s love, our calling is how we model God’s love – an evolving expression, designed to influence different people at different seasons in our lives.

Thus, if our purpose is truly predestined (see 2 Timothy 1:8-9), then it should be clear how a) purpose proceeds calling and b) staying aligned to God’s will with a grateful heart is dependent on being completely satisfied in our purpose, regardless if we understand our calling (or how it should manifest in a given season).

In my case, when I applied this truth, it didn’t take long before my dayjob frustrations started making more sense. I had lost sight of my purpose within my assigned role, instead, fearing I was wasting my calling in a passionless, uninspiring position.

Yet, when I recognized my pride, flipped it through repentance, and returned my focus to loving people where they were at, my whole perspective changed.

No longer did I perceive my situation through an entitled lens…or doubt the handy plan of God on my life. No longer did I shrink in timidity or defeatism based on the incurrence of condescending labels.

Contrarily, I began to understand, in greater measure, how a) our callings aren’t meant to always align with what we think they should (i.e. our innate wirings, our creative passions, giftings, etc.) and b) the disconnect between where we are and where we hope to be doesn’t necessarily mean we’re in the wrong place.

In fact, I submit this wedge is something we all must taste at some point if we’re to truly appreciate and rely on the faithfulness of God.

‘Cause whether we feel relationally abandoned or hopelessly lost in an occupational wasteland, it doesn’t negate the fact God is always up to something. For He knows exactly what we need, when we need it…and will always stay faithful to develop the fine qualities He’s established/establishing in us (Romans 1:20)…even if our workplace environment doesn’t [seem to] value these things.

As for me, the only way I could rightfully deal with my workplace dissatisfaction was by embracing a holy satisfaction in my divinely appointed purpose: to do Father’s work His way…and to allow His Kingdom to reflect in and through my life (Matthew 6:33; John 5:19).

And I’m telling you…it wasn’t long after surrendering my aspirations in this way that I began to feel fulfilled within God’s placement again.³

So in closing, I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to not see your worth through what you do or value your calling ahead of your purpose. Rather, allow yourselves to be fully content on what God has purposed you to do, all the while, being faithful to pray into your calling…regardless if the heartstrings of passion are being presently plucked.

‘Cause at the end of the day, you’ll find when the two are in alignment, you’ll be primed for refinement.

And that, my friends, is a beautiful place to be.

Footnotes

1) Granted, love should never be circumstantial anyway

2) In addition to being disciple-makers

3) Sometimes, a return to basics with a slight twist of perspective is all we need to adjust the way God wants us to.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Photo from motivationgrid.com & mosstotalfitness.com

Staying the Course – The Importance of Not Quitting: Part 1

I’m going to be quite frank: I’m not a fan of my day job.

I mean…don’t get me wrong. I take great pride in being bivocational, serving as a full-time volunteer youth pastor with a permanent governmental position on the side.

But on some days, I’m telling you…I seriously consider buying some “Just for Men” products just to combat premature greyness potential.

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After all, it’s hard to stay engaged at work when you sense your passion bucket is drying up…when the only thing keeping your midday heart afloat is a splintered desire for excellence.

‘Cause truth is: Sometimes, it’s easy to want to quit…to unplug and refresh, especially when you feel you’re heart and résumé are headed in opposite directions.

However, when we soak in the Word and rest in the arms of Christ, we can find value in steadfast persistence, even when our circumstances don’t make sense. Yes, we may be burning for a reset compass to the tune of 90°, maybe 180°, but this doesn’t have to compromise our faith in staying the course.

Think about the ministry of Christ…

Whenever Jesus encountered a difficult situation, what’s the first thing he did? He yielded. He relinquished his prerogative and instead, referenced the Father so he could be filled with wisdom and understanding.

In other words, Jesus lived what God said…because he saw his life as a pure reflection of the Father’s heart and continually established the hope of glory as his vanguard.

Thus, the more Jesus yielded, the more supernatural strength he received, which in turn, helped him not only stand firm in the midst of trials, but also live a lifestyle of perpetual obedience.

Essentially, when we discern the ministry of Jesus, we see how holy surrender is the best way to never give up.

But maybe you’re still scratching your head, wondering how this relates to the humble workingman stuck in cubicle country. I mean…it’s not like these factoids can ease the burden of two rush hour commutes a day or the patronizing, unprofessionally filtered dialogue ponging up the airwaves and hallways…

or can it?

You see, studying the nature and ministry of Christ not only inspires us to live a life worthy of the calling set before us (Ephesians 4:1), but also compels us to take up our cross (Matthew 16:24-26). Without it, there’s no way we can expect our natural perspective to calibrate to where it needs to be.

And yet, on the flipside, I understand the profile of the unfulfilled employee whose frustration mounts whenever a co-worker is promoted out of bias or when another is  intentionally disregarded.

However, whenever I feel suffocated or ignored by a colleague, I remember the attitude Christ had whenever he encountered animosity.

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And suddenly, my crap doesn’t feel so…crappy anymore.

True, I may be tempted to vent steam in the face of what feels like discriminate functionality. But glory to God if I’m hard-pressed. Glory to God if I feel abandoned…if I’m stuck in a jam and the only way out is reliance upon His unfailing masterheart.

Bottom line: You may find yourself in a bland situation, feeling like you’re filing your creativity away …or stuck between provisional responsibility and a dream pursuit.

But whether you feel pinned under overwhelming pressure or hardened by lifelessness, the point is: Don’t quit…but stay the course!

Remember each season of your life is a stepping stone in the direction of the unfathomable calling God has for you. So don’t believe the lie that God doesn’t care about the job you do…or that everything has to make sense in order to embrace the opportunity in front of you.

Instead, press in, press through and put yourself in a position to hear God’s heart and voice, so when you hear His call, you won’t hesitate to obey even if you don’t fully understand the answer. For God always sees the ultimate goal and nothing is impossible with him (Luke 1:37). After all, He not only sees the light at the end of the tunnel – He is the light.

Let’s pray…

God, we want to be difference makers at our jobs, even though it may seem most of the people we work with tick the living shrek out of us. God, we want to love what’s hard, not just what’s easy. We don’t want to give up and surrender the chance we have to be light in the darkness. We may not be a fan of what we do. We may not see how this pertains to our calling. But by faith, we’re going to believe there’s a purpose behind the position you’ve blessed us with. We don’t have to see it to believe it and we don’t have to like it to live it. At the end of the day, we’re going to be obedient. And we trust that you’ll create and develop in us a stronger desire to selflessly serve while standing tall in adversity. It’s not about us. It’s all about you. So take this numb heart and breathe life back into it so we may be able to give life back to others. Amen!”