The Road Less Traveled: 4 Convictions for 2020 (Part 1)

They say life’s a highway…

… like a road you travel on where one day’s here and the next day gone.

But for me, I side with the converse…

…that the highway of life is life-inducing…where one day’s here and the next undone.

At least, that’s the thought as I drive this prairie paradise, my road, my view covered in white. The bleak mid-winter suddenly a meek lid-printer inking this retreat from reality. If only the weather could be as cold as the past three months, maybe then I wouldn’t need an escape to nowhere to tell me what’s up.

But I supposed this is why I’m writing this. Because somehow, someway…I needed to get away to look that direction. Hopefully next time, I can be less spontaneous and more strategic. For now, I want to share four convictions (over two posts) from the past three days that will hopefully change the narrative for me and you in 2020.


On your mark, get set, let’s go…

  1. Rethink ‘More’

If I’ve done anything right in 2020, revisiting ‘The Prayer of Jabez’ (both the verse and Bruce Wilkinson’s book) tops the list. In case you need the refresher…

Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.” ~ 1 Chronicles 4:10

Upon first glance, it’s easy to assume ‘enlarge my territory’ is the patented phrase of this passage; granted, for many, these three words can be the critical takeaway at a given point. However, it’s crucial we see a different three-word set as more significant overall.

‘Cause truth is: While asking God to enlarge the territory of our influence has its place, it’s the Immanuel essence of ‘God with us’ – in Jabez’s case, the ‘be with me’ – that’s the core blessing.

Consider this: Jabez could have easily paused after ‘enlarge my territory’ and ended with ‘that I may not cause pain’. But he didn’t. Why? Because he knew the bedrock of what he was asking, specifically that the ‘enlarge my territory’ was dependent on what came next, ‘that Your hand would be with me’. Accordingly, I submit the ‘bless me’ is the ‘be with me’ more than the ‘enlarge my territory’.

Now, before you all get your briefs twisted, understand I’m not trying to smite the Prosperity Gospel though I vehemently disagree with it. If anything, I just want to caution us as vocationals to examine what is driving our requests to God. For many a new year starts and we’re off the races urging God to give us more leadership, more opportunities, and more favor. As if our concept of ‘more’ is perpetually rooted in ‘me’.

But what if I told you we can submit these supplications (Philippians 4:6-7) in a way our intentionality flows from humility, not the other way around?

Would not our initial approach to God’s sovereignty be based in what we’re continually receiving as opposed to what we hope to employ?

Bottom line: While God is certainly for us, this is already established by the fact He is with us. As such, when we ask God for the tent pegs to expand (Isaiah 54:2), remember the point of what you’re asking is “for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:15)

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  1. Burn for Longing

We all know time is precious…that every thought, every word, every action has a beginning and an end. Yet, while we know for everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), we also know for anything we may not have a reason. And if you’re like me, this can be an intimidating prospect.

Sure, we can tell ourselves there’s a time for every purpose under heaven, but let’s be real: How often do we think that ‘time’ is never near…or fear His hand is idle when we need it?

Whatever the case, it’s fair to say…

  1. Anxiety is everywhere with many bogged down by worry, doubt, and uncertainty.
  2. The core of such angst is not only a misuse of trust but a lust for control1.
  3. Such lust often elevates contingency plans above courageous risks.
  4. Consequentially, more people would rather have a reason for everything than a season for anything.

Think of this way: Whenever we yield to anxiety, we’re essentially wanting something right the wrong way. For instance, we may desire what is good, what is true, what is healthy…yet at the end of the day, what’s fuels the desire is a fear of lacking, not a burn for longing. If that’s the case, should it really surprise us when we catch ourselves preempting the possibility of failure for false contentment and security? Or are we so numb by way of self-preservation, we no longer see our ego cheating us from the fill we crave?

If only people knew the pursuit of promise starts with still and ends with will, maybe then we’d be more motivated by longing than lacking.

For now, let’s consider this scriptural rundown of what it means to long and go from there…

“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” ~ Psalm 107:9 (ESV)

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” ~ Romans 8:19 (ESV)

I’m homesick—longing for your salvation; I’m waiting for your word of hope. My eyes grow heavy watching for some sign of your promise; how long must I wait for your comfort? There’s smoke in my eyes—they burn and water, but I keep a steady gaze on the instructions you post. How long do I have to put up with all this? How long till you haul my tormentors into court? The arrogant godless try to throw me off track, ignorant as they are of God and his ways. Everything you command is a sure thing, but they harass me with lies. Help! They’ve ­­­pushed and pushed—they never let up— but I haven’t relaxed my grip on your counsel. In your great love revive me so I can alertly obey your every word.  ~ Psalm 119:81-88 (MSG)

I don’t know about you but give me a burn for longing over a fear of lacking any day! As the Psalmist declares, even when we’re tormented and humiliated, we can yearn to know God…to see His glory permeate the darkness and decay around us. Given God has granted us grace and an abundance of life, take heart: Not only do we have His mind to abide in greater fullness, but also His heart to long for more longing.

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Selah.

Stay tuned next time when I’ll unveil ‘part 2’ to this conviction series (by Valentine’s Day *fingers crossed*).

‘Til then, be blessed and be a blessing.

You got this!

~ Cameron

Footnotes

  1. Evidence of contract thinking (more on this in a future post)
Cover photo creds: Subham Dash; loop time-lapse footage by Cameron Fry

 

Don’t Dream Big: Why Hindsight Doesn’t Have to be 2020

I’ll be honest.

I’m really tempted to write a reflection post about the past decade. Where I started, where I’m ending, the ups and downs along the way…yada, yada. With so much to say, the piece would essentially come down to the right filter. As you know, rarely do I sugarcoat content through rose-colored lens or Panglossian takes.

However, with many writing such pieces these days, I want to go in a different direction. Instead of recapping seismic shifts and lessons learned the hard way, I want to discuss ways we as vocational leaders can seize the year ahead.

For many the miles we’ll walk in 2020, but far few the moments to stay ahead of hindsight. Why not break the spell of the typical by committing your ways before pursuing them?

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Wherever you’re at right now, know this…

While it’s my heart you embrace humble beginnings1 as fresh intimacy with God, it’s my hope you relish them to purify your idea of success.

Eventually, we’ll discuss how this looks in greater detail. For now, let’s go back to our initial question and dive in…

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If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a go-getter. You like to read, research, explore the unknown…all the while creating original and/or improved work for the world to enjoy. At times, you may be more inclined to sacrifice construct for the sake of benevolence or governance. Either way, you’re a dreamer, a stargazer hoping to experience something bigger than you. And it’s no secret why. After all, everyone is equipped with a unique smorgasbord of gifts and skills for such a time as this.

The problem is in our pursuit of impact, we often lose sight of that ‘why’. For instance, we may desire a certain level of influence, but forget the reason it exists…or pursue a goal with pure intention, but in the hustle, neglect what defines our singularity. If either resonates, first off, know you’re not alone. But secondly, receive peace and request wisdom this side of whatever you’re contending for.

‘Cause truth is: Often, we pray for the plunge, not when and how to plunge. We plow our plans for ministry, but not our hearts for it return. And the crazy thing is…it’s not like any of us are looking to sacrifice abiding on the altar of achievement. It’s not like we want our divine inspirations to overwhelm all modes of operation. Yet, when push comes to shove, chances are we rather balk than bask in the face of Immanuel God. Why is it when Giver meets gift, we rather run with our ambition than consecrate our passion? If we believe we’re loved by God and that His loving power resides in us, wouldn’t it make sense to sanctify His way over our own? Or are we scared of what we want to be yes’s being no’s we can’t understand?

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I don’t know about you, but as the clock hits a new decade, I’m slowly realizing something I wish I would have gotten a long time ago…

In the fine-tuning and pruning of life, we should see the big picture as more important than a big dream.

What is the big picture, you say? In short, it’s knowing our discovery of God has a root system to our ‘loved by God’ identity. Like any root system, growth and fruit come at the watering of its source. The question then becomes, ‘What is the source and how do we water it?’

For starters, the source is our Creator and our relationship to Him – the eternal and perpetual reality we’re constantly pursued. As for the water? Not only is it more than a John 15 buzz word, but the Master’s way of grooming our hearts as we seek His. That one-of-kind wellspring connection when God casts perfect light on imperfect objectives revealing our aims for what they really are. Ideally, whatever dreams we have are overflows of having committed our time and stilled our mind.

Yet, even on the go, there’s never a time we can’t ask God to invade our thoughts, behaviors, and actions. As I’ve learned during my career, some of the sweetest times with God are those staccato moments when He prompts an invite into what we’re doing. Like a shot from leftfield, He never stops guiding us to His goodness, to contemplate His compassion in the midst of chaos. Perhaps this is why the Psalmist was so confident in His soul being nourished regardless of circumstance2.

Granted, I get this is easier said than done. My thought is…

If we see our big dreams as pieces of a bigger picture, we ultimately invite God’s power into our perspective – more specifically, to fix His hold on what He’s purposed us to do.

Thus, in a sense, I’m encouraging you NOT to dream big…

IF it means losing sight of the big picture.

One more point before wrapping up…

As vocational leaders, switching big dream with big picture can look a number of ways within the flow of our calling; however, if I had to pick a unifying resolution for us, it’s this…

Before we set any initiative, mission statement, or resolution…heck, before we even purpose them in our hearts…let’s get with God so He can refresh, renew, and reset our minds3.

In this way, we can retreat with God to know what He wants to write on the whiteboard of our hearts.

Sounds simple in theory, but like most January topics, it requires intentionality. Accordingly, for next time, I want to discuss what following the deliberate and well-thought-out plans of God looks like in 20204. For when we acknowledge the foreknowledge of God, only then can we properly prostrate our hopes and dreams before the throne.

Stay tuned…

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Zechariah 4:10 (NLT)
  2. Psalm 19, 23 (ESV)
  3. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
  4. Acts 2:23 (MSG)
Photo creds: Kanban Zone

3 More Things I’m [Really] Sorry For

If you’re like me, you like to reflect.

So much to say, so much to do…how can either happen when there’s so much to think.

Yet, as we journey another January, the heart behind this series, as made known last year, is still the same:

If we want to think right, then we must get right, if we want to get right, then we must get real…and if we want to get real, we must value cleanse before change.

Not to suggest such internal inventory is easy. Certainly putting all things on the table for examination requires courage, humility, vulnerability…among other things; however, since my goal with these posts is to help us embrace God’s ‘next’, it only makes sense to pray into the substitutions¹ God has for us.

That said, here are three things I’m owning as we turn the page to 2019…

1) Making sense of my surroundings

It’s remarkable the ways we justify our surroundings. I know for me, whenever I find myself in what I can’t explain, living in the moment can almost seem secondary to knowing why it has to exist. ‘If only I can solve the mystery, perhaps then I can find the satisfaction and peace I crave,’ I sometimes think.

But as we know, the journey of life is far from cut and dry. As much as we want to reconcile all our relationships and circumstances, we’ll never be able to given sin and free will’s response to it among other things.

Granted, God’s sovereignty isn’t confined by man’s weakness. But it’s also not restricted by our ability to ‘sherlock’ the past. And it’s this temptation I believe trips many of us up. We long to feel affirmed when we’re down. We yearn to feel validated when we smell injustice. We burn to make sense of our surroundings when they don’t make sense. Yet, in our quest to solve our voids, little do we realize the size of our ego and the numbing effect it has on our attitudes and heart postures.

It’s not always fun to accept, but the way I see it: Often the reason we are where we are is because God wants to help us find our kneel…to show us where our independencies have become idolatries…and to learn reliance within the unforced rhythms of grace. Perhaps you’ve struggled to grasp this feeling in seasons of idleness or stress…in settings where you felt more like a fish in an aquatic Pandora’s box.

If so, take a bite of my 2018 testimony. Our free will exists so we can choose Jesus to find freedom. No 12-step program full of striving. Just a simple decision to resist the fear of man and the impulse to make sense of our surroundings.

Accordingly, if you sense the temptation but not the exit, yield to surrender, voice the heartcry, and receive the serenity of stilled waters. God has not abandoned you, so don’t you abandon ship.

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2) The Nazareth complex

I suppose this could be a subset of point #1, but the nature of this conviction alone is worth emphasizing.

As alluded to in my 2018 Year in Review post, when last year started, going back to The Gate was far from an option. Having phased out of LEGACYouth weeks prior, my hope had clung to a sunset narrative where my last days of youth ministry would coincide with where it took place. While there were many reasons I emotionally did not want to return, the core of my withdrawal² centered on what I call the Nazareth complex.

The Nazareth complex is based out of Luke 4:14-30 when Jesus is driven out of his hometown (i.e. Nazareth) after revealing his true identity at the synagogue. While obviously I’m no Jesus, the personal correlation was this: Among whom whose eyes I had been under for years, there was no way for me to be known as God knew me. As such, what Nazareth was to Jesus, The Gate/local church was to me. To move on with my life, I had to leave the church to find anyone who not only would listen, but see me sans past and last name.

Of course, it’s safe to say Jesus never employed such a self-absorbed attitude. Still, it’s not hard to see why my deception took months to dissipate with resentment rooted in deception and victimization fixed in misapplied Scripture. To justify my isolated ego, I had to constantly cite the past, church gossip, unsurrendered soul/spirit hurts…even assumed vain assumptions (sounds confusing, but that’s unholy fear for you).

Yet, as the story goes, I eventually woke up, realizing if I truly wanted to move on and take hold of the new, I couldn’t keep holding on the way I had been. Six months later, the exchange is still ongoing…however, the door to freedom is much wider, in large part, to having repented of this complex.

tumblr_nikl8pxddz1tq4of6o1_5003) Financial fitness

For many couples, one spouse is the buyer, the other is the saver. In my relationship with Lyssah, the contrast is evident. While I’m a buyer who lives well within his means, Lys is much better at budgeting and sticking to it.

Ironically, you would never know by where our financial anxieties lie. As co-bread winners, to make ends meet, we both must work…whatever the cost with whatever time we can give. Unfortunately, the drive for excellence doesn’t always extinguish the entitlements and justifiers we use to buy (or even save for) momentary contentment/peace.

I know for me, I can only afford to invest so much as I near the end of paying off student loans. The white lie, then, is if I can’t currently invest as much as I want for my family, I should be frugal in my giving and employ generosity through alternative means. Yet, as I’ve been convicted, often my lack of giving ties to a lack of trust manifest as leverage against God for not opening certain doors. And I think for some of us, we forget withdrawing doesn’t just apply to our presence and/or banking transactions. It’s applies to trusting God with our finances…our energy…our time…not just what to sow, but where to sow and how much.

All that said, if you feel financial weak starting 2019, you’re not alone. Yeah, I’m an ex-Ramsey spouse. I have content, lessons, and principles I can pass down to future generations. But I also know…

  • If I’m not maturing my stewardship, those values can only go so far.

  • If’ I’m not maturing my stewardship, my intentionality in inviting God into my budget will be compromised.

As for 2019, no longer will I reduce God to an on-call financial counselor and over-rely on my wife’s strengths to make up the difference. Rather, I’m going to pursue financial fitness, embrace frugality under the context of stewardship, and flex into shape accordingly.

Think of it this way: Even though money isn’t the end-all, be-all of extending God’s providence, in no way should we want God’s faithfulness to be restricted by what we’re not trusting Him in.

Besides if you’re reading this, chances are you have enough and know God as more than enough. Not do you have what it takes…but you can do this. Why not do it together?

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Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Where I’m letting go of a stronghold, sin, negative thought pattern, etc. to replace it with something better
  2. Albeit an indefinite sabbatical was necessary
Photo creds: https://buzzerg.com