Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lonely or Alone?

Yesterday a friend asked me if I ever intend to marry again. Immediately I answered, “Absolutely I do.” The reason I answered that way yesterday is completely different than the reason I would have answered “Yes” 6 months ago. Six months ago my answer would have been based on the fact that I didn’t want to be alone. Not the case anymore. It was funny that he asked that, because I’d been thinking a lot about that lately and had already actually started putting my thought on paper (when I say paper I mean my Note app in my Blackberry).

A few weeks ago I heard something on the radio about being single and Christian and it started me thinking about my motivation to eventually remarry. That started me thinking about the difference between being lonely and being alone. You might be asking, “Is there a difference?” I think the answer is…100 times, YES!

I think the way I looked at my loneliness before was based on the void of companionship and intimacy created when my wife left. When that happened I secretly hoped that I would move on quickly to fill those voids she created. I started to realize that no matter how much you involve yourself with one person and no matter how many people you’re surrounded by, even if they are people that love you, you can still feel alone. I’ve seen that happen first hand to someone I loved very much and it is probably one of the saddest things I’ve ever witnessed. Slowly, I began to understand how important it is to have that one rock solid relationship before you develop any other. I began to discover what it actually meant to be consumed with pleasing and following Christ. I also began to understand the importance of transitioning from religion to relationship with regards to Christ.

I realized it is harder to feel lonely when you invite Christ to come in and you actually build a relationship with Him. I have a friend that has told me a few times that it’s kind of an unfair arrangement between us and God. He put it this way: We get all of God’s love and grace poured out on us and He (in the grand scheme of things) gets nothing. It amazes me that even though we have absolutely nothing to offer God, He still loves us, pursues us and wants every one of us to be saved. Our goal should be to be so consumed by Christ that you don't feel alone and you stop searching for that person to "complete you". There is only one person that can complete you, Jesus. When you get to that point of realization, the only validation you need comes from Jesus Himself.

This is not to say that God doesn’t desire us to have relationships. On the contrary, fellowship among believers is essential to our growth. Some may be called to singleness (for the record, I don’t hear God call me to that), but many of us aren’t. What we need to accept first is this: the first and most important relationship is the one between you and Christ. Without that, every other relationship is surface level strong. A relationship grounded and tested in Christ is unshakable. His is the ONLY relationship that is unwavering, unshakable, unbreakable and sustainable. All others are subject to fail. God has promised us repeatedly that He would never leave us. In Joshua 1:5 God said, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.” In Matthew 28:20 Jesus told His disciples, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He is the only one that can MAKE and KEEP that promise.

So you might be thinking, “Ok, I have Christ. I’m definitely not ALONE, but I still feel LONELY at times.” Open your eyes. I think (and maybe I’m way off, but this is what God has done for me) when God spoke in Joshua 1:5 He didn’t mean He’d be with us exactly like He was with Moses. Moses got to see God as a burning bush, a pillar of smoke and fire, God’s glory on the mountain, and the corner of his robe. Jesus’ disciples got to actually be with Him. Even though Jesus ascended, He sent the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor and Comforter. Once Jesus fills that void in our heart, the spiritual loneliness, the deep longing for companionship is gone. But I also think He takes care of the human and emotional element also. That is where community comes in. I think our pillars of smoke and fire today is the community of believers that God surrounds us with. It is this community that God uses to keep us accountable and speak love into our lives. This community (or our friends and families) are part of the promise God made to never forsake us and Christ made to be with us always.

When you have Christ you won’t be or feel alone. He will fill your heart and surround you with people that will love you. He did for me anyway. I think back and don’t understand how I functioned for as long as I did without that relationship. I can’t imagine ever going back.

So, do I hope to re-marry? Yes. I hope to find that woman that God has for me, so I can share my successes and failures with, that I can partner in my ministry with, that I can laugh and cry with and that I can share my love and life with. But all that will be grounded in and modeled after the deep and meaningful relationship that I have and continue to build in Christ.

I do have to apologize. I had about a million things flying through my brain. Because of that, I feel like this blog was all over the place. Really like its four different topics smashed together. Hopefully you get the gist.

Consumed by Christ,

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blew my Stinkin' Mind

Let me start by saying, I've never been to a conference, retreat, bible camp, etc...Either never really had a desire or the capacity (time, money, etc.) to attend one. Well I got the chance to attend my first pastor's conference. Really it was a roundtable (we actually sat a rectangle one) discussion for college pastors. It was presented by theMILL (link: theLEAD Network), which is the College/20-Somethings Ministry for New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. First off, theMILL staff, lead by Pastor Aaron Stern (Blog Bump Here), did a phenomenal job. I took away SO much that my head is spinning. Second, that 1 1/2 days I spent with theMILL, and other College/20-Something Pastors, changed a lot of perceptions I had and gave me a deeper and more clear desire to walk with this generation as they walk with Christ. Third, that 1 1/2 days will probably end up spawning a few different blogs as I go through my notes, so look for that. I am so STOKED (that's my new word lately) for what God is doing in my life, with Element Church and what is on the horizon for theSHIFT. Here are some pics from theMILL (albeit not good ones, but still conveys the size a bit):

theMILL empty

theMILL filling up


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Learning to Learn

I've recently been challenged on what it means to be a "leader" in ministry. Now, I have no doubts that God is calling me to the college/20-somethings age group, but I really didn't have a very strong idea about what leadership should look like, especially in that group. It's hard to discern sometimes because just starting in ministry I kind of fumble over myself at times. And hanging with college age adults is quite different than 1st - 5th grade kids.

If you know me or have read any of my blogs, you've probably figured out that I'm a bit of a talker. I actually had a counselor tell me that I talk a lot...isn't that the point in counseling??? With that said, my new found desire to intimately know and build a relationship with my Lord has only served to enhance that trait. So I talk way more than I used to. Not that I think I have a whole lot of profound wisdom to share, on the contrary, I have been trying to learn as much as possible and I feel like I have to share all this new stuff. I feel like I am learning all this new stuff that no one else knows and I have to get it out. Part of it may also be that I keep trying to rush God's plan for me. It's not that I don't think he can handle it, I fully know he can, but I am just too excited sometimes to resist pressing forward.

Regardless of all that, I was able to talk with a friend recently about what that "leader" role really means in the beginning of dedicating yourself to a ministry. What it comes down to is...being quiet. Not a virtue I hold close at all. The bottom line is most people, especially the college age group, are not looking for answers. Most people just want someone to listen, understand and love them. They want your ear and your time, that's it. That is what will build that relationship/connection. Then that will develop into respect and trust, then it's real. At that point they don't come to you for guidance out of obligation because you're "their pastor", they come to you because you're their friend and because you love them.

The biggest thing I was able to take away from our conversation (which I already knew, but need to be reminded) was that I'm still learning too. I was able to talk with another friend recently that is actually considerably younger than I. Now, with my impending divorce, it's no secret that I'll be single again and I have thought a lot about different scenarios that come with that territory. It's probably worth mentioning, if for nothing more than an accountability thing, that I fully intend to remain pure until I find the woman that God has for me and I'm married to her. I want to be fully consumed by Christ and have that relationship right, before I even attempt another Earthly one. That's one of those issues that I've gone over, it was a difficult decision, but one that I'd make all over again. But I digress, the point is I'll be single soon. This friend of mine is dealing with some of the same scenarios that I already assumed I'll deal with. Let me just say how super awesome he's handling those issues. Not only did he teach me a thing or two, but I was just awed in admiration for his dedication to following Christ. I want to be like that.

The wrap up is this: Leadership is Love and Love is Christ, they go hand in hand. People don't need or want answers, they want your time. I am learning a ton, still have tons to go and I'm loving it. I've said it before, but I'll keep saying it a million times - I love having the group of friends and family that I do. They keep me accountable, they're there when they're needed, they care and they're kinda fun to hang out with. I'm truly blessed and constantly amazed by His goodness.

Blessed and Amazed,

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My Friends Were Right!

If you read my blogs on obedience (Part 1 HERE & Part 2 HERE), then you know that I recently faced, what I thought was, a pretty bleak financial situation. By human standards, there was absolutely nothing I could do to correct it, I thought it was absolutely hopeless. Initially, I only looked at it by human standards, although I did try to put a God spin on it that helped me reason in a completely messed up an illogical way that God was letting me skip out on my tithe. But there in lies the problem...I thought it was hopeless.

Hopeless??? With everything that has happened over the past 8 months, hope has been in short supply. But, recently I have depended heavily on a hope that I never did before. I've written blogs about obedience, faith, and trust (all to our Lord, of course). I began to really develop this deep hope that I would experience God in absolutely every aspect of my life. I've even repeatedly asked God for that . Funny thing is, one of the only parts of my life that I NEVER wanted or planned to let God into was my finances. With that said, not that I am an idiot when it comes to knowing the right thing to do with my finances, but I was never very active in trying to maintain healthy finances.

Anyway, rather illogically, I had always believed I could manage my finances better than God. I never tested him like Malachi 3:10 says to and I never planned to, until back in February. For the record, I can't manage my finances better than God. That concept ended in failure back in November, only a couple months after my wife left. So, I have been writing all this stuff about obedience and praying to experience God in every part of my life, then when I'm given the perfect opportunity to have both, I almost blew it.

God knows that I had never experienced faith and trust in him with my finances and also knows that I so badly want to be obedient. God gave me the opportunity at the beginning of the month to trust, test and be obedient to Him by giving my tithe. At a time when it seemed impossible to pay this unexpected (rather large) bill and provide for my son's birthday, He asked me to continue to be obedient and trust Him and I couldn't see it.

Luckily He put people in my life that love me enough to hold me accountable and people in my life (some that have known me a little longer than others) that care about me enough to offer whatever help they could. Because of those people, God has made it more than clear that I'm very blessed. I feel that it is often more than I deserve, but somehow I'm that important to Him. Somehow, through all my failures and everything I've done, He loves me that much.

I WAS obedient to Him and He took care of EVERYTHING!!!! He provided a way to pay the unexpected bill and take care of Andrew's birthday (and there was some left over). I'm speechless. The coolest part is, it didn't matter to Him that I thought about not being (and really had already decided not to be) obedient. He didn't withhold His blessing and favor, "to teach me a lesson" not to doubt Him. Instead, because I was obedient, He poured out His blessing and favor to prove His love and that His word STILL applies today. The other cool thing is He doesn't just love me that much or offer that blessing just to me. He does it for EVERY single one of us.

Whether you believe it or not (I didn't use to believe it), there was NO, and I mean NO, way that I should have had the money to pay that bill or get Andrew presents by Tuesday evening. But I gave my tithe on Monday morning and by Tuesday afternoon He took care of all of it. There is only one explanation: GOD!

Experiencing Christ,

Sunday, May 3, 2009

When You Dis' Obidience - Part 2

This wasn't intended to be a multi-post topic. I intended to talk about obedience in "When You Dis' Obedience" (HERE) only pertaining to me being obedient to God about forgiving my wife. Then this week turned out to be a little less then stellar. Honestly it was pretty decent until Friday. Without getting into it too much, Friday morning I found out some "stuff" about the impending divorce that caused some additional anxiety. So that was the start of it.

After that, I get a letter from some legal office telling me that my wife's previous vehicle (registered in both of our names) had some toll violations, from sometime in September, totalling out to $300.00. Now, I do fairly well financially, however with the recent additional cost for legal fees and what not, money has not been growing on trees. So I call the law office (I know my wife can't and won't pay them, so I have to) and they tell me, no payment plan, no settlement, and they want $300.00 or they're going to call it refusal to pay. That would allow them to go for wages garnishment and being that I'm in the military, that would go over so hot with my Commanding Officer.

Ironically, my normal tithe is $320.00. So my first thought and only solution (as I see it) is to skip tithe and pay the fine. Surely God would understand, right??? I called the Toll Enforcement Authority to try to work a payment plan and to my surprise they actually reduced the cost by $110.00 and gave me until May 8th. I looked at that and thought, "Surely God is blessing me so I can use my tithe to pay it and bonus, God still gets like $120.00." (Genius thinking, I know)

So, I wrestle all weekend with the tithe v. pay fine (oh and it's Andrew's birthday - doesn't help the money issue) thing. By the time I headed for church Sunday morning, I had pretty much decided to pay the fine and skip tithing. I had convinced myself that God had poured out His blessing, by the cost being reduced, and was allowing me to "skip out, just this once." Even though I had "convinced" myself that God wanted me to pay the fine, I was still questioning if God would actually do that. As much as I don't want to admit it, I knew that God wasn't showing his favor with the fine being reduced to tell me it was ok to skip tithe, but it was my safe room.

Then I went to lunch with some friends (Thomas and Angy Hogan). Some how this whole thing came up and they were on me like a couple of spider monkeys (well Angy was anyway). Of course they went for the throat with Malachi 3:10, which says, "10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." How in the heck do you argue that? Like I said, I already knew what the right thing was, but I had retreated into my safe room.

So this got me thinking about obedience again. I've already said that obedience is about faith. In Part 1, I wrote:

What it comes down to is this, God can't fully bless us if we're not obedient. He may bless us, but in order to receive the fullness of His blessings, we have to be willing to not question and be obedient to what He asks of us.
As long as we hold on to any unwillingness to be obedient, whether it's giving forgiveness or whatever it might be, we are only robbing ourselves of God's goodness and blessings...It is easy to obey the things we like, but the real test of our faith in and love for our Lord is our obedience to the hard stuff He asks us to do.

I just stinking wrote that a week ago. I keep forgetting that God has a way of actually testing our faith in the stuff we actually say. I put that out there and I truly believe it, but saying it is ALWAYS easier than DOING it. As far as Part 1 goes I was mainly talking about forgiveness. That in itself, while more emotionally difficult, can be acted upon primarily with simply saying it. There is some action involved, but a large portion of it is just making the choice to do it, then reinforcing it by saying it. This latest challenge is tangible. If I tithe, I don't have enough to pay the fine. If I don't pay the fine, I could get in trouble. I didn't want to have to explain to my son why he doesn't have birthday presents on Tuesday. This is something that would be difficult in a lot of tangible areas right now.

Essentially, with the decision I had made, I was telling God, "I don't trust that you'll take care of things. I have the money right now, so I'm gonna use it." I've been reading and writing about obedience for the last few weeks and when an opportunity comes to actually put it into action, I almost bit it. Obedience is the way we show our love and faith in our God. Our God is bigger that a $300.00 fine. He's bigger than a two day deadline for birthday presents. But I almost missed out on an opportunity to actually show just how much I trust Him, like I've been writing I do.

So, lunch with good friends is what God used to show me that I wasn't being obedient or faithful and to get me back on track. Friends that will keep you accountable are not always easy to come by, but they are so essential for growth in your walk with Christ. Without them, you are left to your own devices and you will always be able to make what you're doing, justified in your own mind. This obedience thing is WAY harder than it sounds. But it wouldn't help develop character if it wasn't.

Back on Track,