Start. Small(er). Now.

What do you really want to be doing right now? Many people might answer “nothing”. Some might answer “traveling”. Some might say “not this”. But I’d dare say that very few people would respond with “exactly what I’m doing now”. There’s a common experience among us humans that we not only aren’t where we truly want to be–vocationally, financially, emotionally, spiritually, physically–but most of us don’t have a clear path in that direction; the direction we’d rather go toward the destination at which we’d rather be.

You may consider this to be far too simple and that’s okay. Like Lynyrd Skynyrd, I’m a simple man. I like simple things.

Many of us look at our visions of where we’d rather be and immediately we see obstacles, reasons we can’t, and excuses that stand directly and seemingly immovably between us and the vision. I want to move, as in buy a different house than I’m currently living in. I want a different view out the front window. A different address. As soon as I think those thoughts, I also think, “Now’s not the time. I can’t do that. I have too much to do with this house to get it ready to sell. The market isn’t right. I don’t want to start my mortgage clock over again. A new place comes with new problems. There are too many steps between wanting to buying a new home and laying your head down on your pillow in your new home. Nope. I can’t.”

You do this too, right? We all turn “wants” into “can’ts” without anyone’s help. The progression is lightning fast and concludes with you right where you are: 1. I want to… 2. I can’t… 3. I won’t. (I was tempted to throw in a “Gimme Three Steps” joke here, but two Skynyrd references is one post is too much, I think.)

But what if you started something? What if you could see a small “can” right in front of you right now? It’s not the big WANT, it’s a small can. What if the can’t you feel were easily kicked by the can you can?

What’s your small can? Don’t “shouldn’t” it to death. Don’t rationalize your inactivity regarding it. See that can and do it. And do it now.

Right now, I can write a page of that book I’ve wanted to write.

Right now, I can lift both legs under my desk and tighten my abs for 10, 20, or 30 seconds.

Right now, I can click “contact agent” under that house listing I’ve been looking at.

Right now, I can text or call that estranged relative or friend.

Right now, I can take the $3 in my wallet and fold it in half as a reminder not to spend it and start a habit of saving.

Right now, I can sign up for updates on Indeed and entire the criteria for that job type I really want to get alerted when those kinds of jobs are available.

Right now, I can do something that makes me more excellent at the job I currently have.

Right now, I can stand up and walk for 10 minutes to clear my mind and relieve stress.

Right now, I can give faith a shot and have a conversation with God.

Right now, I can read one article or watch one short video about that hobby I want to take up.

Right now, I can order those running shoes.

Right now, I can pull up my calendar and start getting my days and tasks more organized.

What can you do, even the smallest of “cans”, right now in order to take you closer to where you want to be?

My Life As A Racecar Driver

I think it often and live it always: I missed my calling as a racecar driver.

I remember my first slot car race set that my parents got me. I was the youngest of 3, but the only boy so I got my own room. For some reason, my bed was a “trundle” bed which meant it had another mattress, basically in a large mattress-sized drawer that rolled out from under my bed; presumably for when friends would visit. Not sure what type of commentary this is on the amount of friends I had, but we took that mattress out and replaced it with an electric racing set. So anytime I wanted (and it was often), I could pull that trundle out and my imagination took me 900 mph to the track where I’d swap paint with all the other drivers on that track that day.

If you’re not familiar with this kind of race track set up, let me explain it. Each race car was probably 2-3 inches in length, of a wide variety of designs and colors, and each had a single metal pole that came out under the car between the front wheels. This was intended to keep the car in its lane. Each racecar also had two metal pieces that made connection with metal rails on the track and provided the motor with the electrical current it need to propel the car around the track.

The track took any shape I wanted it to take, but was mostly limited to the few layout suggestions from the box it came in; after all, the ends had to meet up for obviously reasons–the primary reason being that you had to complete the electrical circuit in order for the track to work at all.

Finally, the most critical piece of the set up were the controllers. They came in different styles but the most common and the ones I’m certainly most familiar with are the pistol grip/trigger type. Held in your young hand like a toy gun, there was but one moving part: the trigger. The further you squeezed that trigger in, the faster your racecar would race down the track. To me and my young imagination, it was nothing short of magic.

I spent hours alone and with friends racing cars around the tiny little track, cheering when I won and jeering when I lost. But between the green flag and the checkered flag is where the drama lived. You see, it wasn’t just about going “pedal to the medal” the whole race. No, no, no. You had to know when to gun it and when to back off. After all, there were turns and hazards to be mindful of. If I entered a hairpin turn with my proverbial hair on fire, I could count on flying over the half inch plastic safety rail and maybe even go flying out of the trundle all together and then I’m liable to get some shag carpet wrapped up in the wheels or inner workings of my finely tuned racing automobile. Nope. Couldn’t have that!

I remember when I was introduced to the switch track. In normal racecar track set ups, the two lanes that the cars race on ran parallel for the entire race. But at some point some toy race track manufacturer got the idea of introducing a short segment of track that was essentially an “X” that caused the two lanes to switch places. I don’t think I have to tell you what happened if those two cars happened to be side by side when entering that section of track. Oh, I do? Okay well, they would collide and usually BOTH go flying off the track. It was a scene of carnage and devastation the likes of which no human can fully fathom. And I loved it. When racing a friend, I approached that section actually HOPING for a collision. After all, what could be more thrilling?

The power of the speed at which the car went, and consequently the outcome of the race was literally in the palm of my hand in the form of that pistol gripped trigger mechanism. If I squeezed it on the straightaways and let off just enough on the turns, I could all but guarantee the victory.

Go with me for a second on an analogy that struck me yesterday. It was to do with the power we find in our lives; the power to live, the power to love, the power to forgive, the power to overcome, the power to wait, the power to give sacrificially, the power to serve, and the power to see what others can’t. All the power I need to live the life I desire to live in Christ is within my control. I get to choose how much of my life is filled with the power that is available through God’s own Spirit. Just like that trigger in my hand, I decide how much of the motor of my life is energized by who He is. The more I squeeze that trigger, the more of myself (my agenda, my desires, my will, my plans, my ideas, my preferences) I submit to Him and the power He provides, and consequently the more I am in a position to see that His ways and His will are vastly superior to mine. Consider the game-changing, race-winning, life-altering truth of Romans 8:11:

 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

What about that slot track, though? It feels quite scripted, doesn’t it? Am I fated to never veer or diverge from this predetermined course? To answer that, let me say that I am not fatalistic in my attitude. What I mean is that I do not think that all the turns and twists are already set in stone and I’m merely a passenger on my own journey, powerless to navigate or change. Not at all. However, I DO believe what Paul said to the disciples in Ephesus during the first century:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,
which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
(Ephesians 2:10)

As I submit to God’s power and control in my life, the journey He has in mind is revealed, and I am gifted with a view and experience I could have never imagined.

So you can face each day with a pathetic resignation that all is set and you are powerless to affect change, OR you can (and I pray you will) enter this day and all days with a finger on the trigger of control and power that God has supplied, and ready to compete in the race He by His infinite grace has set out for you to complete; a journey of twists, turns, and triumph that you could have never created for yourself.

Wicked Ahh-some.

I spent last week in and around Boston, MA with a group of high school students and adult leaders. This experience was a thought/idea/dream I had last year. Let me explain. I’m a student and young adult pastor in the Richmond, VA area. The church I serve at is part of the Church of the Nazarene, which is part of the Virginia District, which is part of the Eastern Field. The Eastern Field stretches from Virginia to Maine and our “assigned” denominational college is Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) in Quincy, MA, just outside Boston. As a pastor to students, many of who are looking at their college options, I thought I should be doing a better job of exposing them to the option of ENC. What if–I thought to myself–we could use ENC as a base of operations and hold our annual high school mission experience on campus and launch out to different places in the area each day in order to serve and grow together? Turns out, ENC was down for it. So that’s how we ended up there this past week. Shout out to Mark Brown, our coordinator, ENC staffer, and good friend who helped with all the many logistics. Mark CRUSHED the planning details and really helped make a memorable week.

*Full disclosure: I didn’t hear anyone say “Wicked Ahh-some” all week. Well, except for me.

I’m going to try and recap some of the most poignant moments we shared from the past week. Hopefully not in some boring, “Hey, don’t you want to watch my home movies” or “Hey, let’s sit down and look at my high school yearbook even though you know no one in it but me” kind of way. I promise if you read this through you’ll come away with some good stuff.

The first moment happened within two minutes of us arriving on campus. We stepped into our dorms and dorm rooms. I mistakenly thought Massachusetts would be at least a little cooler than central VA in July. I was wrong. It was hot. I mean HOT. These old brick dorms were not equipped with air conditioning. My phone rang just after I set my bag down in my room. It was one of our female leaders: “Jerry. Were you aware there’s no a/c?” I replied calmly, “Yes, I’m aware. Just open a window. You’ll be fine.”

If you’re living your daily life on the path of least resistance let me implore you to find the nearest off ramp and live differently. If your motivation is comfort and convenience, you’ll be soft and weak in no time flat. I can now confess that I in fact DID know there’d be no a/c before we went on this trip. Since there was nothing to do about it and there would be no room in the luggage for fans, why bother sharing that info? Call me cruel for withholding that detail, but I didn’t see the point.

What can you do today that you didn’t do yesterday? What is one purposefully uncomfortable thing you can do, if for no other reason than to experience a different reality than you normally do? You never know what learning is lurking just outside your grip on comfort.

A couple days later, we went into the city of Boston and partnered with a local church called Congregation Lion of Judah. We met Evelyn and Jeff, heard their stories and were led by them (in two groups) around the city streets in order to pray, meet those on the street in need, hear their stories, and serve them in some way. Not sure if you’re familiar with Boston, but Congregation Lion of Judah is located in Boston’s “South End” neighborhood in what is called “Methadone Mile” or what has been renamed by that local church as “Miracle Mile”. We walked the streets in small(er) groups and interacted with those experiencing homelessness, drug addicts, and those in the very act of drug use. Again, putting suburban teenagers into the context of the sketchiness of such a location was an intentional move. I believe it was very valuable for them to be eyeball to eyeball with pain, hopelessness, and chaos. It was intentionally uncomfortable and that discomfort proved powerful.

Jeff leads us on the streets

We are strongest when we are most reliant on God’s presence and enabling power. We couldn’t have imagined just what we’d see on those streets, but we saw loved and cherished humans for whom Jesus shed His very blood and we sought to serve them accordingly. We wanted to meet them with dignity, humility, and deep care. It was so special to watch our students interact with these precious ones with the love of God; not in a way that puts anyone above anyone but rather in a way that is relational, personal, and intimate–I imagine that’s much the way Jesus met people in need. Not in a “Oh, you poor thing.” kind of way, but in a “I’m here with you.” kind of way.

I truly believe that this is what it means to be a disciple. The word “Christian” is found in the New Testament just 3 times. The word “disciple” is seen 261 times. Why, oh why have we decided to call ourselves “Christians” then? A disciple is a far better term to use. A Christian may be someone who believes something, but a disciple is someone who DOES something with what they believe. The week was filled with opportunities to not merely believe good things, but DO good things. And its in the doing that the believing is verified and validated.

What am I doing today with what I’m believing today? How about you?

Later that same day, we took the “T” to Jamaica Plains in Boston and to Awaken City Church. Pastor Melinda Priest was there to greet us and lead us in prayer and on a prayer walk around that neighborhood. As we walked, I noticed a building that really looked like a church but clearly it wasn’t being used that way. I learned quickly that this building actually was a church building but had since closed and been converted into apartments. At first, I thought to myself, “What a shame. I really wish that church building were still being used to house times of prayer and worship and other “churchy” things. But God spoke to me almost immediately and challenged my lamenting attitude. Essentially, He said, “How do you know I don’t still have disciples in that building, living among and loving their neighbors and sharing my gospel, and serving selflessly?” Then I thought, “You know what, God? You’re right. After all, shouldn’t the church be IN the neighborhood in every sense?”

Praying together as a group in Jamaica Plains, for the community and for Awaken City Church

We shared lunch together after our prayer walk and heard more about the mission of this young church plant and what brought Melinda with her family from Michigan to Boston. In short, it was God’s clear directive call; a calling that still sustains them despite a constant flow of adversity in carrying out the mission of loving those who are far from Jesus. I found her story to be incredibly inspiring and my heart was challenged in a way that caused me to ask “What have I risked, surrendered, or endured for the gospel?” I’m still wrestling with that question even at this moment.

After lunch, we put “blessing bags” together and left those for the church’s future use. However, Pastor Melinda challenged students to take one with them and ask God to show them who needs to receive it in the coming hours or days as we travel around Boston. Each bag had personal essential items: water, fruit/grain bars, washcloth, soap, toothbrush, comb, and other basic necessities. All in a durable backpack that those experiencing hardship or homelessness would find useful.

Later that week, I found myself still toting that blessing bag on my back. It was a physical reminder that I was carrying a blessing with me that someone else needed. You may not have a literal sack on your back, but if you consider yourself a disciple, you most certainly have a blessing to give to someone today. And as long as I felt the bag on my back, I was mindful of where and who around me needed it. More on that later.

On Wednesday and Thursday of the week, we ventured to Friends of the Homeless in Newell, MA. This was not at all the kind of “homeless shelter” I was expecting to see. I had been to and served at homeless shelters in the past. But this one was remarkably different. This was a unique setting and ministry that provided homes for families specifically. Each family had their own dwelling and met certain criteria in order to stay there, whether for weeks or months at a time.

Just one of the projects tackled!

When we arrived, we met Tandah and Herb, the leaders of this powerful ministry which we learned was also a Nazarene Compassionate Ministry site. They had not had any volunteers in two years and they had never had a group of volunteers of our group’s size. But I give them credit because they were prepared! They had a few pages of tasks that they had wanted us to try and tackle. As the two days came and went, it was so gratifying to know we were helping them accomplish things that had long since sat dormant. We cleared out an entire box truck of supplies and donations that had been sitting for 2 years. We gave that space back to them for far more efficient use. We built 3 brand new picnic tables/benches so that each area on the property (15 dwellings total) could have a place for families to sit and eat together. We installed new ceilings in the basement, covering up insulation so that this space could be better utilized for storage. We reorganized a neglected “baby pantry” and installed a/c in that room so that it could be far more useful for families to get diapers, clothes, formula, and other needs for newborns and young children. We cut the grass, repainted the sign by the road, and power washed buildings to name a few more tasks we accomplished.

Herb telling us the story of Friends of the Homeless
Our new friend Bill

We met Bill, who was celebrating 40 years of sobriety on the second day of our visit. We created a big card to give him, that everyone signed and congratulated him with. Bill was just one of those guys you want to hang out with all day. A gentle and generous soul that Jesus had rescued. Not a man of great means, but still Bill decided he wanted to bless our group so during the day he went up the road and bought a gift certificate to a local dairy farm and ice cream stand so at the end of the day, our entire group could have fresh, delicious, homemade ice cream.

We wrapped up our two days at Friends of the Homeless and said goodbye to our new friends. That experience tenderized hearts and reminded us that there is no such thing as a small thing done in the name of Jesus. Like the fish and loaves, he takes our smallest offering and multiplies its impact far beyond what we can see.

As I’m writing, I just went back to the beginning of this post to read and edit mistakes. I’m tempted at this point to shut it down and end it. Kudos if you’ve read this far. If you’ll stick with me, I’ll share something from our last day in Boston.

Friday was our planned “free day”; a day we set aside to reflect, rest, and enjoy the sights of Boston. We spent the morning at Nantasket Beach in Hull, MA. It was hot and wonderful. The water was quite cold and as I stood in the shallows on the shoreline, I thought back over the week and thanked God for all He had shown us, the changes He used us to affect, and the ways we had been stretched. We walked up the street, found a mural to take a group photo in front of (see below), and enjoyed some DD on the way back. After all, “when in Rome”, am I right?

Our official group photo. And a parrot.

Then on Friday evening, Mark our guide led us to Boston Garden, Boston Common, and finally to Quincy Market where we split up for dinner. Quincy Market is a veritable smorgasbord of food options. I’d never had a lobster roll, so opted for that. If I’m being honest, I can mark it off my culinary bucket list, but I’ll never wake up craving one. But I digress.

Remember that blessing bag I said I still had on my back? The evening was winding down (after a visit to Mike’s Pastries and Old North Church) as we headed back to the T for the trip back to ENC’s campus. I started thinking that perhaps my best efforts to offload and bless someone, I just hadn’t felt like I saw anyone to give my bag to. But then I did.

I saw a small group of men that seemed to be experiencing homelessness. My son Hudson and I approached one of them to introduce ourselves and to let them know about the bag, what was in it, and to offer it to him. His name was Miguel and in short order he let us know he had served in the United States Army as a cryptologist (?) for 9 years and had been homeless for the past 28 years. Clearly, he had no love loss for the military and the government’s treatment (or lack thereof) for his situation. After a few minutes of listening to his stories peppered with wisdom directed at Hudson, he stopped and asked us a rather unique question: “Are you guys with God?” Caught slightly off-balance by his phrasing, I paused, looked over at Hudson and turned back to Miguel and said, “Yes, we both love Jesus.” He immediately gripped my neck with his hand, drops his head, and starts in with “May the Lord bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you…” You can find this blessing in Numbers 6:24-26. This blessing is known as “Aaron’s Blessing” or the “Priestly Blessing”. It’s short but beautiful. When he was done reciting it, we asked Miguel if we could pray for him to which he immediately agreed. We all bowed our heads, his hand still on my neck, Hudson’s hand and mine on his shoulders, and my hand to heaven. And we prayed for Miguel; his mind, his heart, his future, his relationships, and his walk with God. Meanwhile the entire group of 20 stood nearby waiting for us before crossing the street. Honestly, it was perhaps one of the best ways I could have thought of to wrap up this powerful week, praying with my own son for a hurting man facing homelessness on the streets of Boston.

I suppose there is far more that happened that week that I could tell about, but quite honestly I’m still processing those moments and those thoughts. They were moments of raw worship, deep conversations, hilarious laughter, and unmistakable bonding with those around me. I want to thank several people including Mark Brown, our coordinator and host. Big thanks to Jeff and Evelyn at Congregation Lion of Judah for their hospitality. Thanks to our special guest speakers: Crystal Erb, Melinda Priest, Steve Kindt, & Stretch Dean. Huge thanks for Missey Kindt for making 20+ sandwiches and snacks for us EVERY day. Thank you to Nonny and Amarisse for being phenomenal worship leaders, hosts, and friends. Thanks to Herb & Tandah for allowing us to partner with them for the sake of families. And I want to give the biggest thanks to my phenomenal team of adult leaders: Katie Badgerow, Sharon Little, Ray Powell, Will Poynter, & Wynter Van Syckle.

Our theme for the week was “Mission:Boston” but for you and I right now (unless you’re in Boston while reading this), it should be “Mission:WhereverYouAre”. What does it really mean to live on a mission every day we’re on earth? What would the outcome(s) be if we lived in a missional mindset? Let me share with you the things I’m praying for myself and for our students going forward:

That we would focus more on…

  1. Seeing the mission every morning.
  2. Being selfless enough to embrace surrender and serving.
  3. Pushing into places where faith is needed, not just ability.
  4. Speaking words of truth and life to those in need, while being vulnerable with our own scars so that God can use our story in others’ stories.

If you’ve got thoughts on missional living or you’ve got your own stories where you encountered Jesus in uncomfortable places, I’d love to hear about those in the comments. Or send me an email. Either way, I’d really treasure hearing from you.

More Than Most

I live inside my brain, don’t you? (Inside yours, not mine that is.) Don’t your thoughts number the millions each day and bounce around inside that wondrous, crowded cranium of yours and run the gamut of opinions, questioned convictions, observations, judgments, and what I like to call “cerebral meanderings” (shout out to my current blog page tagline)? Don’t you believe your thoughts are supremely unique and far different than others’ thoughts (no better, just different), and that is true not merely in content but in execution? Don’t you think you think differently than the humans surrounding you?

One of the reasons I love people is that people are the most fascinating people that exist. I think sociology is an incredibly enticing field of study. Simply because people are people and people are so very beautiful in their complexities, conformities, and contradictions. Every time I see a fellow human I secretly want to know who they are, what they’re up to, where they’re going, and what’s motivating them in that direction.

And you’re no different. I think you’re fascinating. Truly riveting. You think you’re just doing yo’ thang but I disagree. That thang you doin’ is the stuff of myth and miracle. You’re intricately and powerfully impactful.

All that being said, let me ask you to fill in a blank for me. What do you suppose you do more than most? Would you say that you think you worry more than most? Do you think that you dream more than most? Would you suspect that you fantasize more than most? Do you grumble more than most? Are you more joy filled than most? Go ahead, fill it in: “I’m more __________ than most.” or “I tend to __________ more than most.” Or any variation of that. It could be a thought, a habit, a conviction, a compulsion, or anything else at all. Put it in the comments or message me with your thoughts.

Of course none of this is really qualifiable. Because honestly, who knows? And that’s okay, You’re simply surmising what you think you _____ more than most. There’s zero judgment here. Let it fly.

Where does faith intersect with psyche? What bearing does my opinion have on unchanging truth (if you happen to believe in such a thing, as I do)? Is the utter uniqueness you inherently possess cancelled out by the fact that we’re all that unique?

There’s beauty in that mirror of yours. Breathtaking mystery that lives behind those eyes you see. Whether you embrace it or not, you are far more _______ than most.

A Journey Begins;

Yes, I know that putting a semicolon there doesn’t really make sense. But hear me out. A semicolon is used when a thought is continuing but the path is shifting. That’s why I used it. That’s where I am.

I started this blog as a place for me to record and process my own thoughts. If anyone gets any thing–and I mean ANYTHING AT ALL–out of it then that’s great. I’m intent on recording this moment in my life because I want the ability to return to it and remember what I’m thinking and feeling right now.

For years and years and years and years my wife and I have walked the neighborhood, usually after dinner. I love it. Every step, every moment, every word of every conversation with her is “life-giving” as the kids today would say. And I wish I had a $2 bill for every time we talked about me going back to school to get my master’s degree. I can hear your gasps as you receive the news that I am NOT in fact a mastered individual. So I’d say that for easily 15 years, we’ve talked about this topic. And I’ve done nothing about it.

Yesterday, I received my acceptance letter into a very unique (and I’m sure very challenging) DUAL-master’s degree program. I will presumably graduate in 2 years with a Masters of Ministry AND an MBA. Here’s how I’m feeling/thinking about all that:

I feel nervous; my insecurities are locked and loaded because of the self-doubt I and most humans wrestle with continually.

I feel uncertain; despite overthinking this decision for 15 years, I’m not entirely sure that this personal Mount Everest will deliver all that I suspect it might in terms of suffering, surviving, and summitting.

I feel energized; jumping from a cliff will do wonders for your heartrate because you’re leaving what certainly was for what possibly might be.

I feel hopeful; the sheer power of hope is the jet fuel that propels me into a deep peace which confirms my conviction that I’ve made the right move.

I feel ready; there is a confidence that comes in knowing that you’ve chosen the harder, more difficult path on purpose. Not because you’re psychotic, but because you’re alive in a way that won’t settle for coasting.

I have a rather small handful of folks who read my blog. Other than you, my readers, I’m really not broadcasting this news. There isn’t anything I’m hiding, I’m only choosing to go about this business quietly. Other than you, the people I consider closest to me know I’ve started this journey and without exception I feel each of them behind me, hand on my back, cheering me on.

If you’re a praying person, I certainly won’t turn down any prayer support you might give.

The Day After The Day

We collectively lost our minds yesterday in jubilant celebration over the empty tomb. Remember that? You were probably either willingly or involuntarily immersed in a wave of Jesus-ness that spanned the globe. You maybe were hit with someone saying “He is risen!” and they silently expected you to respond with the traditionally appropriate: “He is risen, indeed!” This has been the greeting for millennia when Christians come in contact with other Christians. Its a reminder that Jesus was put in a borrowed tomb for a reason.

On Friday morning I found myself at a local church (not the one I’m on staff at) with a horde of other men of all ages, singing in worship in the frigid morning hours and culminating in a “raising of the cross” where a bunch of men worked/struggled together to lift a pretty accurately-sized cross in order to drop it into a hole that had been prepared. Oh, that was after we all took turns pounding spikes into it. Good times indeed on a Good Friday morning. Then breakfast and coffee. Yum.

Then on Friday evening, I gathered with another large crowd of Jesus people to observe/celebrate His crucifixion; the act that paid the full debt of humanity’s sin. We celebrated communion together and remembered the broken body and shed blood of the Savior. A somber tone to a solemn occasion.

Oh, let’s not forget the Maundy Thursday experience I led a group of high schoolers through on Thursday night. Trying hard to recreate the upper room experience, complete with “reclining” positions around a low table and a dipping bowl to dip bread into, we together looked at the Judases hiding in the dark corners of our hearts, and how even today we sell Jesus out for far less than 30 pieces of silver. Its a bitter pill, but one that must be swallowed.

Okay, so yesterday it was the “Sunday” in the “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” sentiment. (Any Carman fans in the house?) Resurrection Day! The day in which lovers of Jesus the world over collectively cheer and its this sweet vindicating party wherein we all point to death and hell and shout: “Loser!” We gather around the empty tomb and both marvel and “I told you so!” all the day long. Yep, its a great day for sure; the highlight of the calendar for anyone who loves and follows Jesus.

But then…Monday. Here we are. What is different except that our voices are a little hoarse from all that singing and shouting and yelling at each other about how “He is risen!”? What does Sunday do to Monday? I suppose for as long as I’ve been a spiritual investor in people, that question has always been the focus. That “So what?” has been where my mind and heart actually gravitate to: What does Sunday do to Monday? Certainly all the time and energy put into that Sunday morning celebration MUST have more of a last impact than an hour long church service. Certainly it must revolutionize our Monday, right?

So, let’s talk about Easter Monday as much as we talk about Easter Sunday, shall we? The hype, the celebration, the shouts of praise, and the focus on the empty tomb as the culmination of the mission of Jesus on earth should certainly ripple through the other 364 days of the year. Wouldn’t you agree?

Here’s one of the things that Paul wrote that I just love. You gotta love Paul. Right to the point:

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
1 Corinthians 15:14

Read the whole chapter sometime and tell me that Paul pulls any punches in anything he says. The truth here is so very clear and so very critical: If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead–if He isn’t actually alive right now, then we who claim Him are the most pitiful, pathetic, and problem-ridden people on the planet. What the cross did to the power of sin, the empty tomb did to the power of death. Do you see how the tomb completes the salvation equation? A little while later in that same chapter, look at Paul’s words in verses 55-57…

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! 
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So as you walk through your Monday, then your Tuesday, then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then Saturday… walk as if you are walking straight out of the empty tomb following your look inside to see that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Messiah to all has indeed risen just as He said He would!

Walk in confidence, in humility, in authority, in purpose, in hope, in love, in redemption, in restoration, in peace, and in hilarity as you move in and out of conversations and situations He has placed you in for the sole purpose of reflecting the reality of the resurrection.

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Okay, okay. I can’t help it. Here’s to all you Carman fans…

Honest to Goodness

We’re not always honest all the time to everyone. It would take so much longer to get even the most mundane tasks done if we were completely transparent and vulnerable to every person we encountered. The fact remains though that honesty is a bit of a lost relic in our world. It’s not that it’s not there, it’s just that it is often so mucked over with filters, with half-truths, and with hurriedness that we sometimes lose sight of the imperative nature of honesty.

I process things in my own way. So do you. I process things slowly. Maybe you’re a faster processor than I am. I bet you are. When presented with a question, or a truth, or new information my tendency is to take it in and shut the door. Have you ever walked up to the front door of a local business and its the middle of the work day but they’ve got one of those “Will Return” blue and white plastic clock signs hanging on the door? Yep, my brain is kind of like that when it receives new information.

When that information is processed, it’s integrated into what was already there. If it’s information that is more correct/true than what was there, it effectively replaces what was there. This is how our brains work. We learn, we grow, we change, we adapt, we become different thinkers every single day. Your brain is not the exact same organ it was even seconds ago when you started reading this blog post. It has changed itself based on all the input it has received.

This is why honesty is an absolute imperative. It is through honesty that we most effectively handle all this new information. This may seem like the simplest of statements, but I assure you it is not the case in all situations. The concept of truthfulness–perhaps because of the very idea of truth being perpetually on trial–is a slippery one at best. It’s one that many people might find unworthy of arguing over in what has been referred to as our “post-Christian” culture. (I should write sometime and make my case about how I don’t think the term “post-Christian” accurately describes the current state of America.)

I’ve found that honesty also unlocks every jail cell we can construct for ourselves. Honesty is a liberator waiting to be unleashed to its work. Not only that, but nothing else and no one else can do that work; nothing else is qualified or has the power that truth does. This is precisely why Jesus famously said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.(John 8:32)

A blog is no place to prescribe to you what this looks like for your day today. But I’d wager a bet that it does somehow connect very intimately with a situation you are currently in. So, may I offer you a set of questions to answer honestly?

  1. What does full honesty–no matter what–cost me?
  2. What are the predicted outcomes of being totally honest; both positive and negative?
  3. What is it that is my biggest obstacle to honesty right now? Is it fear? Is it past hurt? Is it insecurity?
  4. When and why did I construct the jail cell I feel my emotions are in because I haven’t been fully honest?

As a young person, I spent a season of my life lying almost exclusively. I wanted what I wanted and when I wanted it, no matter who got hurt. So I lied freely. I was numb to the devastation I was creating because I was blinded to see it, at least most of it. And what I did see was merely collateral damage worth the hurt because I was getting the things my selfish, sinful heart wanted.

My mom is an incredibly wise person. In the heyday of the deceptive lifestyle of my youth she likened dishonesty to digging. Each lie is a shovelful of sand. (I grew up at the beach, so this word picture was rich and poignant.) She showed me that each time I decided not to be honest, I was scooping a shovelful of sand, creating a deeper hole that I was living in. You may not know this, but many people have died on beaches in America simply by having fun digging holes in the sand. There’s a point at which the walls of the hole cannot support the weight of the surrounding sand and the hole collapses into itself, burying whatever or whoever is in the hole. My mom chose this imagery to teach me about lying and honesty.

So, what hole are you digging right now? I’m not encouraging us to honesty simply so that we feel better about ourselves or we can take some moral high ground. No, not at all. I want for you what I want for me: I want you to live in the freedom that honesty affords. My mom also taught me that the only way to live freely is to live honestly. Otherwise you have a much heavier load to bear. Each lie is another brick you must carry with you. This is because you have to keep track of lies, but not keep track of truth. You actively change details when you lie, but the details of truth aren’t like that. So on a very practical level, you don’t have to work nearly as hard to live an honest life as you do a dishonest life. Life is hard enough, why add to the load by being less than honest?

I suppose though that my main motivation in pushing us to full honesty is so that our hearts have nothing–absolutely nothing–between ourselves and God. The smallest grain of sand between my heart and the heart of God is still something. All spiritual progress and growth is interrupted and short-circuited by dishonesty. We cannot and will not grow in grace or draw close in worship while still holding dishonesty in our hearts. These two things cannot be reconciled. You are either dishonest and further from God than you need to be by your own choosing, or you are fully honest and are continually growing in grace and intimacy with God. This seems overly simplistic, but this is the truth.

If you don’t know where to start and if all this talk of honesty and holes and jail cells seems overwhelming to your mind and heart, then simply start with Jesus. He IS the Truth. (John 14:6) There is no truth apart from Him. Our relativistic and pluralist society would say that each of us have truths that are wildly different and yet somehow compatible. This is the height of nonsense. An atheist says there is no God. A theist says there is. Our culture says, “You’re both right.” The very nature of truth won’t allow this however. And the person of Jesus not merely embodies truth; He IS Truth. So if you don’t know where to go with these thoughts, start with Jesus. Approach Him. Ask Him. Embrace Him. Let He who IS Truth set you free from the crushing bondage of dishonesty.