Ten Years in the Same Place

Gibsons Pentagon 2008 editToday marks my ten year anniversary in Virginia. Like so many anniversaries, I can’t believe that it’s been that long because it doesn’t seem as if a full decade has gone by since we moved here.

At the same time, as I look back over the past ten years, more has happened than I could have ever imagined. If someone had told me ten years ago all that would transpire in the years to follow, I think that I may have tried to alter the future in whatever means possible.

In these 10 years, the following has occurred:

– I started and finished my Master’s of Divinity

– My wife and I had another son

– My wife and I had a daughter

– My mom died after a six month battle with cancer

– My dad died twenty-one months after my mother

– I was involved with a difficult church transition

– I transferred my ordination into the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church)

Those are just the big picture highlights. If I really stopped to document everything, it would be a bit overwhelming.

I’m certainly not the person that I was when I arrived here ten years ago. I have been given the gift of a whole lot of people who have taken time and invested in me. I have been blessed with great friends, great neighbors, great co-workers, and a great church family.

I’ve not always done things well or right, but I am grateful for the grace shown to me by God and by so many others. I’m glad that people did not let their first impression of me drive them completely away. I’m grateful for second chances.

I need to be honest and say that I’ve felt a rumbling within me lately. I’m not sure for what though. The only thing that I can say is that it’s for whatever is next. Something is waiting right around the corner, and I have a lot of ideas and thoughts about what it could be. I don’t want to move from where I am, physically at least. I feel like I have invested much and I’m just beginning to see some of the fruit of the investments and labor.

I’m not sure how much more patience I’ve gained in the last ten years. If anything, my patience has grown a little as my understanding has grown a lot. That’s kind of humbling because my understanding is still not nearly what I think it should be. But it’s in the journey that we are changed and transformed. Change and transformation takes longer in some of us than in others.

In the words of Psalm 118:24, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I’m grateful for all the people who have come across my path over these last ten years especially,. I’m expectant to see what happens over the next ten years.

 

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Shaped and Worn

20171114_130452.jpgMy head is spinning today with a million different things.

I received news of a dear friend’s passing as I walked into my office this morning.

I spent the last two days away with my fellow ministry partners preparing for what God has in store for us and our church in 2018.

I discovered some of my father’s old devotional journals and have been reading his thoughts.

While I was away on our planning retreat, I took a walk along the beach. There’s something about the ocean….

As I fought the wind trying to push me over and pummel me with its force, the sound of the surf pounding to my side was soothing. At the same time, the magnitude and power of those waves was slightly terrifying as they reminded me of just what they are capable of and how much damage they could inflict should they move beyond the boundaries of the sandy beach.

As I walked, I came upon a piece of driftwood. I spotted it while I was still far off. As I grew closer and it began to take shape within my vision, I began to anticipate the exploration of it. I felt like a kid again, the explorer, everything that I encountered feeling as if it were being encountered for the very first time.

Looking down upon that piece of driftwood, it was smooth yet jagged. I could tell that although there were still rough edges and points sticking out, the ocean had done a number on it. The wind and the waves had softened some of the edges, smoothing them out. Had I encountered the wood at the beginning of its journey into the ocean, I wonder whether I would have been as struck by its beauty.

Beauty. From ashes. From the ragged edges and jagged points. It seemed as if I were looking at a metaphor for myself. If you had encountered me years ago, I wonder if you would have been able to imagine the work that God would do in me over that period of time. Even now, I know that there are some who encounter me and still see those ragged edges and points and wonder when those jagged parts of who I am will begin to be softened.

We are all works in progress, it sometimes feels that we are like this driftwood, at the mercy of the sea. We are tossed and turned by the ocean, thrown back and forth, cut down, thrust underneath the current and undertow. There are times that we wonder whether our heads will rise above the fray long enough to catch a breath before we submerge once again below the surface.

But in our journey, through the storms and the waves, we are shaped and we are worn. The journey leaves us different than how we began it. Hopefully, better. None of us are left untouched or untainted by that journey. The question is, what will we be at the end of the journey and at the points all along the way?

Killing Spiders

kill the spiderWhat happens when we know that something is wrong in our life, something that needs change? We see the evidence of it throughout our lives, in our habits, in our relationships, in the nuances of how we go about living day to day. We begin to clean up the evidence of what’s wrong and never really go to find the source of it. It’s like a spider, we see the spider webs throughout the house, we clean the webs in order to make the house look tidy again, but that doesn’t remedy the problem. If we really want to get rid of the spider webs for good, we’ve got to kill the spider; otherwise, we’re just doing cursory work.

In his book, “Kill the Spider,” Carlos Whittaker tells his own story of getting to the heart of the issues that he faced in his life. His marriage was falling apart, he was losing his family, and he realized that he wasn’t fully convinced of the convictions upon which he had staked his life. He needed to find, identify, and kill the spider that was wreaking havoc on his life.

“Kill the Spider” is an autobiographical wisdom book. Whittaker shares his story with raw and deep details. He holds back on revealing everything, but it’s hard to read this book without feeling his feelings, thinking his thoughts, and perhaps even finding yourself identifying similar experiences in your own life. What Whittaker doesn’t capture with literary eloquence or powerful prose he makes up for with intense and reflective sharing of what he went through.

Whittaker journals his experience of losing his faith and finding it again in a week-long intense counseling retreat. He offers his insights into how he was able to push past the cobwebs and do the hard work of identifying the spider that was ruining his life. He never claims that answers are simple, easy, or quick. The old adage that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” proves true here when considering the amount of time it took Whittaker to get to the place from which he couldn’t escape on his own. In fact, he points out, although he was able to come to grips with the reality of identifying his spider, he wasn’t able to kill it on his own. The only one who could was Jesus.

Whittaker is no theologian, just a simple storyteller. This book is just the chronicle of someone who hits rock bottom and discovers an approach to getting back to the top again. Whittaker shares helpful insights from the Bible and even shares prayers that have been helpful for him. Whittaker was not able to come to grips with the heart of his problem until he was willing to get real and honest with himself. He shares the steps that brought him to that place.

“Kill the Spider” was a fast read. I finished it in just a few days. Whittaker’s ability to tell a story drew me back to the book and I found myself wanting to know just how he came out of the pit in which he found himself. Some might not appreciate the rawness with which Whittaker shares in the book. His cursing was most likely used to emphasize just how low he found himself and how raw he had become, and although they did not deter me, there are some who will close the book when they read those words.

If you’ve been struggling in your life to get to the heart of the things that have been bringing you down, “Kill the Spider” may be a helpful book for you. The way that Whittaker crafts and tells his story alone is a compelling enough reason to pick up this book and read it.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Of Mess and Moxie – A Book Review

of mess and moxieIt’s always slightly awkward reading a book for which you are not the intended audience. Jen Hatmaker can make one feel even more awkward about this. At times, it can feel almost like eavesdropping or voyeurism, peaking behind the curtain and getting a glimpse into the secret lives of women. The nice thing is that Hatmaker generally doesn’t play into those feelings and allows her readers, regardless of whether or not they fall into her target audience, to feel as if they were meant to be there all along.

In her latest book “Of Mess and Moxie” author and speaker Jen Hatmaker vamps on the things that have made her so successful. She speaks of motherhood, of getting old, of the church, of family, of fame, of her passions, and so many other topics that resonate with her readers. In some ways, her books seem to be the equivalent of a “Seinfeld” episode, they’re about nothing and everything all at once. I mean that in the most complimentary way.

Jen Hatmaker is raw and honest. Some people don’t like that. When she says “bless your heart” you know exactly what she means. She’s always been that way but she’s being refined. In her rawness and honesty, she can admit that she hasn’t always taken the best approaches. She admits that she doesn’t do anything half way, she jumps in head-first, giving her whole self to whatever it is that she’s embracing at the moment. She’s not afraid to stand for what she believes in and also not afraid to admit that there have been times when she’s not always gotten it right.

Through the words of the introduction and first chapter of “Of Mess and Moxie” the reader can hear her angst and frustration but also her tenderness and compassion. She’s experienced a lot in the past few years. Her public declaration in support of same-sex marriage didn’t win fans in evangelical circles. I am sure that she’s still facing the repercussions of her evolving stance and there seems to be some lingering sting within her words.

There are moments when her sass seems to be getting the better of her. There’s a fine line between being sassy, being funny, and being a winsome communicator. Most of the times Hatmaker holds that tension well but she seems to cross the lines a few times. While her honesty and candidness are admirable, there are times when she seems to be trying too hard to gain the affection of the edgy crowd by her choice of words. Words are powerful and once they’re out there, you can’t take them back.

In all her sass and sarcasm, Hatmaker has a way of connecting with women (and the occasional male reviewer like myself or curious male sojourner) in such a way that reading her books feels more like a conversation on a couch, covered with your favorite blanket, snuggled up in front of the fireplace with a hot cup of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or whatever your hot beverage of choice. Hatmaker makes her readers feel less alone, verbally hugging them and letting them know that there are others out there whose experiences may mirror their own. She never really toots her own horn and her self-deprecating humor deflects the fame that many try to pin on her.

Most of the time, I feel as if I could hang out with Jen Hatmaker and have a decent conversation. We might become fast friends. Occasionally, when we hit points of disagreement, I wonder how those disagreements would play out in conversation. Hatmaker is pretty clear that she values the Bible and loves Jesus. Her relational personality can make it somewhat difficult to separate out her emotions and feelings from some of the hot-button issues that she’s chosen to engage.

She has experienced for herself the “me too” factor that most of her readers most likely experience when they read her books. That place at which they arrive when they realize they are not alone but are joined by a whole tribe of women who have shared the same experiences and emotions that they have. She does a masterful job of communicating that and doing her best to recruit others to that tribe.

Jen Hatmaker makes her readers want to come back for more, over and over again. She’s easy to read, she’s funny, and it’s abundantly clear why she’s been labeled “the sound bite queen” as she’s quotable and Tweetable! Hatmaker spreads out four chapters of “How To’s” throughout the book. They are hysterically funny, enough to have had me laughing out loud in the middle of a crowded Starbucks. Whether you agree with her or not, there’s no denying that Hatmaker can keep her readers engaged.

I enjoyed “Of Mess and Moxie.” Hatmaker seems to be a modern day Erma Bombeck. There is nothing theologically astounding in here. Her simple observations of faith and family and all of the things you encounter on this journey called “Life” are insight enough. She has the gift of encouragement and I would be hard-pressed to believe that any woman feeling a little beat up in the midst of her situation or circumstances could easily find comfort here in Hatmaker’s words.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the word “overwhelmed” a lot lately. It’s probably because I’ve been feeling it…..a lot. Overwhelmed with emotion. Overwhelmed with activity. Overwhelmed with thoughts. Overwhelmed with worry. Overwhelmed with anxiety.

The word “overwhelmed” means “to turn upside down, to overthrow.” But like so many other words, it can mean something so different based upon its context. While we (or I) may use it more often as a negative word, it can easily be used in a more positive way.

Lately, my use of overwhelmed has felt much more negative. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my mom’s death and no matter how far I get from that day, it seems that it still has as severe of an impact as it did when it first happened. I can feel the anxiety and sadness rising up within me. I can feel myself getting overwhelmed.

I’ve had some additional responsibilities on me over the last two months. I’ve found myself growing in many ways, learning how better to manage my time and be more efficient. At the same time, there are moments when I feel incredibly overwhelmed, overcome and overthrown.

Even Jesus, as he prayed in the hours leading up to his death in Matthew 26, was overwhelmed. At least that’s how the New International Version translation of the Bible renders it. “My heart is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

But I think we can be overwhelmed with good. I think we can be overwhelmed when people do things for us that leave us speechless. I think we can be overwhelmed as we look at the blessings that we have in our lives rather than looking at what we don’t have.

As I’ve pondered it, I’ve thought more and more about how I want to be positively overwhelmed. I know that I will not stop being overwhelmed by other things, but how will I choose to respond?

I had a rough night last night. Didn’t sleep well. Tossed and turned. Dreamed restless dreams. Other than the overwhelming emotion of what tomorrow represents to me, a few other things were thrown at me in the past few days that completely threw me off. I’ve felt vulnerable, detached, disconnected, and aloof. While it was nothing compared to what Jesus talks about in Matthew 26, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling overwhelmed.

I really felt like I had no choice but to do my best to allow myself to be overwhelmed by God. My go-to place for that is the Psalms. I have always appreciated the raw and honest nature of the Psalms. So, I put on my head phones, laid on the couch, and let the Psalms be read into my ears.

And you know what? It worked. I was overwhelmed.

I was overwhelmed with the goodness of my God. I was overwhelmed with his presence with his people. I was overwhelmed with his faithfulness. I was overwhelmed with the salvation that he brings and offers to us.

I think the key to finding the positive aspect of being overwhelmed is to know where we need to go to find it. I will oftentimes go to the wrong place, some place that doesn’t fulfill, that doesn’t really meet the need. When that happens, it does the reverse of positively overwhelming me and I feel even more overthrown. We can all find places that will give us a temporary reprieve from the overwhelming feelings we face.

But in the Psalms, we find the God who is there. We find the God who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. We are not alone. We may be overwhelmed, but if we really stop to think about it, we can be overwhelmed by all that God is and all that he has done for us.

This past Sunday, we sang this song in our worship service. It’s a song that I’ve loved from the first moment that I heard it. I had forgotten about it until Sunday and as the music washed over me, I was truly overwhelmed.

Every.Single.Milestone

Yesterday was kindergarten registration and I brought my baby girl to register. Seriously, how did these years go so fast? This is the last one, my baby, my only girl, my princess, which is one reason why it’s that much harder. Sure, she’ll always be “daddy’s girl” but it’s just one of a series of milestones that I just have to get used to, no matter how hard it is.

Compounding the kindergarten registration, it’s just been a rough week. We had some minor issues with our house, nothing unusual or serious, but for some reason, every issue with houses, cars, and family always seems to be monumental when I’m going through it.

My emotional state wasn’t helped at all when a dear family in my church tragically lost their twelve year old grandson…

And it probably also didn’t help things any when I backed our van into my car on Saturday…

Then it was the four year anniversary of my dad’s death on Monday…

Then the father of my oldest son’s friend passed away…

Then another friend was handed a breast cancer diagnosis…

And the hits just keep on coming. But that’s life, right?

In the midst of these moments, the ups and downs, the high points and the low points, I feel the loss of my parents that much more. Just the comfort of hearing my mom’s voice on the other end of the phone and ending our conversation with prayer was a game changer for me. I’m no longer able to benefit from their experiences, other than the ones that they shared with me, which in less than 40 years just doesn’t really seem like much.

But God…

Yup, he’s still there. He is still not surprised by any of this. He still cares. He hasn’t removed himself from the picture. In fact, in the shadow of Easter, we remember that he suffered anguish and pain, that the difficulties of this world are not unfamiliar to him. He walked his own journey, felt his own loss, struggled with his own pain, and wept his own tears.

Sometimes it feels like every single milestone requires an exorbitant amount of strength just to get through or over. It’s like the fatigue that you feel on the last set of your workout. I sometimes feel like the little engine that could, continually reassuring myself with the simple words, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can….”

I want those words to be replaced with something about how I know God can, but I’d be lying if I said that those words were always at the top of my list or on the tip of my tongue.

In Bible study the other morning with the eighth grade boys that I mentor the lesson was on Mark 9 and the man whose son was demon possessed. When Jesus asked him how long his son had been like that, the father answered, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

You can just hear the frustration and exhaustion in the man’s voice. He’d probably been to person after person who he’d been told could help his son, only to come to another dead end, another disappointment, another ounce of hope dashed to the ground. I can completely understand his response to Jesus, regardless of whether or not he knew who Jesus was. I’ve been there before, I’ll probably be there again.

But God…

Yes, he’s still there, but sometimes he seems silent. Maybe he’s just speaking softer than we can hear. Maybe we just need to find solitude and quiet in order that we can actually hear him. Maybe he knows better than most people in the midst of dark times and instead of filling the air with empty words and platitudes, he simply offers us his presence, choosing rather to grieve with those who grieve and mourn with those who mourn. God has not left the building and he, in fact, knows how best to minister to us better than anyone else around us, but it’s not through prescribed solutions and quick fix answers.

Life continues to march on. Milestones come and go, registrations happen, sickness happens, loss happens, transitions happen. They are all a sign that things continue to move. We cannot stop the passing of time. 

But we are not alone, nor were we meant to be alone. We have been given the gift of God’s presence, those of us who call ourselves his children. We have been given the gift of the presence of each other, which can sometimes feel more significant because of its tangibility.

As I drove away from the elementary school after registering my daughter, tears welling up in my eyes, my mind jumped to my family’s cross country trip last summer. I thought about the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam and Carlsbad Caverns and New Orleans and Memphis and Los Angeles and Denver and all of the places we went. I thought about the many miles we drove, packed together in a minivan. I thought about the absurd moments that took place, I laughed at the shared moments by which we are all bonded together, and I wondered whether or not my kids have any friends who have dads who are as goofy, inappropriate, and unrefined as me. I thought of all those things……..and I smiled.

How Do I Hold This?

On my way to an appointment yesterday, I got a text message from my wife with an update on the father of one of my son’s friend’s dad. Any time I hear the words, “It’s not good,” I always feel like a boulder gets firmly planted in my gut. My shoulders sag, my heart aches, and I do my best to keep the waterworks from starting. Tears seem inevitable, yet I still try to contain them.

There’s so much hurt, pain, and brokenness. I get so frustrated with those false prophets who say that God never gives you more than you can handle. That’s a load of garbage. I can’t find one place in the Bible where it even remotely says that. In fact, I think it says the opposite, that in this world you will find trouble and that if you choose to follow after Jesus, pain will be part of the journey.

As I sit here feeling the weight of all the stuff swirling around me, I keep asking myself, “How do I hold this?” How do I hold onto hope while standing in the face of turmoil?

I’ve always struggled with those who consider themselves Christians and who talk about an absolute assurance with no doubt. My speculation and cynicism makes me think that they’ve never really experienced anything significantly difficult in their lives to be able to hold to that. I’m not saying that I doubt God, but I certainly wonder about his ways at times.

When you’ve seen a godly man like my father who served God for years as a pastor come to a place of brokenness and defeat in his final years and months, it’s hard to have such bulletproof assurance. Again, hear what I am saying, I still believe, but like the man in Mark 9, I continue to ask God to help my unbelief.

I honestly don’t know how people do it without hope and without faith. I recently read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me.” It’s a heartbreaking read of a father’s letter to his son. But that father has no hope and without hope, it’s hard to just know what to do about the future. What are we sailing towards if we lack hope? How do we step with one foot in front of the other without hope?

In the words of the old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” The problem is, sometimes I wish that my hope could be founded in something that I could see and even touch. Sometimes I wish that I could get a little glimpse of that hope for myself rather than having to hold onto God’s promises. It’s not that I don’t think that they’re true, it’s just that sometimes you want something a little bit more tangible.

After hearing of some more difficult news this morning, I almost told my friends that I think it’s time for a prayer meeting. What else is there to do?

While it might seem that I am in despair, I’m not. There’s a difference between discouragement and despair. Despair happens when we lose hope, and I haven’t lost it.

I’m reminded of the words of the prophet Habakkuk in the Bible. Despite the difficulty of the circumstances surrounding him, he still maintained his hope in the Lord when he wrote the following:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

My circumstances and the circumstances of the people around me don’t need to dictate my response to them. If those things bring me to my knees, then they draw me closer to the One who holds all these things in his hand…..so that I don’t have to.

Hopes and Dreams

hopesanddreamsIf you follow the church calendar at all, you know that this past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. I had the privilege of kicking off our Advent sermon series called “He is greater than I.” Appropriately, the sermon was focused on Mary and her response to the news that she had received from the angel regarding her pregnancy.

As I weaved my way through Mary’s song in Luke 1, I couldn’t help but think about what kind of a disruption this might have been for Mary. Mind you, the place of women in the 1st century near East is not near where the place of women is in today’s society, but you still have to wonder what kinds of things Mary hoped and dreamed of for her future.

Regardless of those hopes and dreams, things turned out very different for the teenage girl. She had a lot of explaining to do and she probably had to put up with a whole lot of stares as she walked through town. Any chance of having been a wallflower was most likely lost as the world would eventually know her name and what she had done.

I wonder if Mary realized the full extent of what she was being called to do. Of course, that’s been speculated in the song “Mary, Did You Know?” The angel who appeared to her was pretty clear about what she was being asked to do and who Jesus was, so it’s hard to think she didn’t know. But then, what else she heard after “You will become pregnant….” might be somewhat questionable, considering.

Whatever Mary’s hopes and dreams may have been, they really paled in comparison to what she got. On a list of hopes and dreams, I’m not sure that anyone would consider “Mother of the Son of God” as one of the bullets, yet that’s just what she would become.

After my message this past Sunday, I was asked this question, “How do we reconcile God’s bigger plan with our own dreams or is it better just to skip them altogether?”

Although I gave an immediate answer, it’s something that I’ve pondered a lot since the asking. While immediate answers aren’t always wrong, I find myself continually asking myself questions long after answers to them have been given.

I had to think whether or not I had hopes and dreams for myself. If I did, what were they?

As I thought about it, it seems that my hopes and dreams as I have gotten older have grown broader than they used to be. While there are some specifics, I find myself looking at things more generally than I did before, when I was younger. My hopes and dreams center around my family, hoping for certain things for my children yet not living vicariously through them.

I want certain things for my children and my family. I want to experience certain things for myself. I want to be effective in what I do and even have some vocational hopes and dreams as well. But what happens if those dreams are never realized? What if they don’t align with God’s plan for me?

I think that I learned about disappointment before I even left middle school. So, suffice it to say that the fact that my hopes and dreams might be dashed hasn’t stopped me from still hoping those hopes and dreaming those dreams. If I’m honest, I think that I might even find that like Mary, my hopes and dreams actually paled in comparison to what reality became for me. That’s not to say that I haven’t faced my share of disappointments, struggles, and heartaches, but overall, my blessings have exceeded some of what I dreamed they might be.

As I have grown in my faith, I have realized that we can often get too specific in our asks from God. Don’t mishear me here, we need to ask God specifically for things, but I think we have a tendency to take it a little too far. I was the kid who had Jeremiah 29:11 as his senior yearbook quote, so I’ve had to grow into this myself. I think we get too hung up in whether God wants us to be an artist or an engineer, whether he wants us to have 2 kids or 4, whether we should rent a house or buy a house. I’m not saying that he doesn’t care, I’m just saying that when we ask those kinds of questions, we kind of miss the forest for the trees.

God’s got a much bigger plan and we are only a small part of it. When we get so focused on specifics, I think that we’re trying to make ourselves a much bigger part of the plan than we should be. We’re not insignificant, neither are our desires, but there are much more important fish to fry than some of the ones that I have spent my time frying in the past.

I probably dreamed of the wife and family that I would have, maybe obsessing a little too much on them before I had them, but now that I have them, I see that my dreams were tiny in comparison to what I actually got. I pursued one vocation for a decade until I stumbled into another one that I’ve been in for more than that. While I dreamed of what my career would be, I don’t think that I ever dreamed of what it has become. It almost seems as if my dreams have always fallen short of reality, although it might not have always looked that way to me.

I’m not going to sit here and mimic a certain Houston pastor who wants you to live your best life now. I won’t sit here and say that God will always let you have what’s best for you (although that may be true). What I will say is that God will always let us have what’s best for him, what will bring him the most glory. In mulling that over, we can’t forget that one of the things that brought him glory was also the thing that brought him pain, the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. If God’s glory is even costly for him, why should we think that it won’t be costly for us?

I think that what happens as we grow in our faith, our maturity, and our relationship with Christ is that our hopes and dreams align more with his plans for us. That’s doesn’t mean that we’re always aligned, but I think that we begin to want what he wants, making our hopes and dreams his will. Does that make sense?

I’m still hoping and dreaming, and I plan to until my dying day. The minute that I stop hoping and dreaming is the minute that I begin to give up, and that’s not something that I want to do.

I’m going to keep mulling this over, but for now, I’m going to go hope and dream some more! 

How’s Your Soul? – A Book Review

hows-your-soul“You can have millions in the bank, a Maserati in the driveway, and more Instagram followers than the pope, but unless your soul is healthy, you won’t be happy.” So Judah Smith writes within the first pages of “How’s Your Soul?” and then he spends the whole book talking through just what it means to take care of your soul.

As I dove into this book, I entered skeptically. I knew that Judah Smith had risen through the ranks to become one of the most popular hipster pastors of late. But was he for real? While I’ve read his book “Life Is…” the jury was still out in my mind as to where he stood. I’m fine with people writing encouraging and inspirational books, but I was wondering whether or not there was any depth to Smith. After all, there’s already one Joel Osteen in the world, I’d rather not see any more like him.

Judah Smith is the real deal. He’s funny. He’s quirky. He’s self-deprecating. He’s grounded. As much as he is all these things, he brings gospel truth, not compromising the message of the cross or the gospel and clearly laying out the essentials of the Christian faith. Smith writes with a winsomeness that allows for those who aren’t quite there yet in discovering who Jesus is. He’s not pushy or arrogant, but neither does he pull punches when it comes to the truth of the gospel. That won me over.

As Smith talks about the soul, he’s honest about the beginnings of our problems. He doesn’t shy away from the word “sin” and says, “…if we try to apply these…elements to our souls without dealing with the sin issue, it won’t work.” He’s also honest about the work that we do for ourselves and the work that God has done for us when he says, “Self-effort is noble and admirable, and it will carry you through some things; but a love birthed in self will never be strong enough for all things. We need a love that transcends human ability and experience.”

His words are reminiscent of Augustine’s words when he writes, “As our souls find themselves in God, our lives will find their purpose, place, and value in him as well.” We will not find rest in our souls until we find that rest in God alone. He speaks of living lives that are surrendered and surrounded. We surrender to God and surround ourselves with others with whom we can walk. Even if we don’t fully get it or fully believe, it’s important to belong as we enter the process.

I appreciated what Smith said about belonging before believing. Too often Christians can be guilty of asking people to clean themselves up and then coming to Jesus. Smith encourages us to seek ways to allow for people to belong first rather than getting all the behavior right. It is a journey, we belong, then we believe, and then we behave. To try to behave first without belonging and believing is not only counterintuitive, it’s contrary to what Jesus taught us.

“How’s Your Soul?” was a pleasant surprise to me. There is no deep theology here, but that’s not what Judah Smith is going for, he’s just reminding his reader of the importance of soul care for living. It’s a fast read with some worthwhile truth. Check it out!

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Unreasonable Hope – A Book Review

unreasonable-hopeWhen I picked up “Unreasonable Hope,” I’m not quite sure what I was expecting. As Chad Veach tells the story of his journey with his daughter, Georgia, he pulls the reader into his story. He describes the emotions that he and his wife, Julia, experienced in the anticipation of a baby and the dreams that come for every couple expecting their firstborn child. Veach explains about the disease, lissencephaly, that his daughter has and explains the disease and their family’s journey with it.

It was hard to read at times because I could feel the heavy emotions that this young couple was feeling, which speaks to his ability to describe the situation with such vivid detail, enough to invest the reader into his story. Throughout his explanation, Veach never blames God. He is honest about the struggles but also sees beyond those struggles to what God is able to do through them. He shares about what God has taught he and Julia as well as those around them. He’s honest and realistic about their struggles but he also shares the hope that they have found in and through Jesus Christ.

There were moments in reading “Unreasonable Hope” where I felt like I was reading a Joel Osteen book. Veach is honest about the fact that being a Christian does not insure a pain-free or trouble-free existence when he says, “But just because Jesus is with you doesn’t mean you’re free from trials. Storms will happen when you know and love God.” While he acknowledges that, he still makes it seem as if we should be experiencing blessing and gifts from God in this life, that we should somehow anticipate that God has something more for us in this life.

While I don’t disagree that God wants to bless his children, I think the Veaches own experience is a testimony to the fact that sometimes in life, we don’t have answers that are satisfactory for the troubles that come our way, even as those who trust and follow Jesus. There were moments when it seemed that Veach got this, and it’s evident that he does, considering his circumstances, but the specifics of it weren’t as clear as I think that they could be to prevent someone for having unreasonable expectations of what our life in Christ should be like. He writes, “He’s ready to overflow our boat and give us more than we need.” I just wonder how a Christian living in the Third World might respond to reading that sentence as they are scrambling for their latest meal and watching their children go hungry.

Veach has an engaging writing style and, as I said, he draws the reader in with the honesty of his story. While I admire the honesty and transparency with which he writes, I feel like he misses the boat a little when it comes to explaining that sometimes the hope that we have in Christ won’t be fulfilled until the day when we meet Him face to face.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Thomas Nelson Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)