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More than the Sparrows – Part 2

More than the Sparrows – Part 2

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

Two months ago, God used some car trouble to teach both Jessica and I some lessons about dependence and worry. Shortly after I wrote a blog post about it, my parents lent us enough money to get a good, reliable car. They helped us find a Mazda5 which fit our needs and our budget. Jessica named her “Silvermist,” and we rejoiced that our car troubles were over. We enjoyed two months of safe reliable transport. Then on Wednesday, it all came crashing down. After 8 years of driving, I finally had an accident. I totaled our car, and we returned to the same place of uncertainty we were in two months ago.

For the second time in a row, God was quick to bless us through the trial. First off, I can be thankful that no one was injured in the accident. It happened right next to Jessica’s work, so she was able to walk to the scene of the accident to support me. Our insurance agent (who is next door to Jessica’s office) saw the wreck on his way in. Less than two hours later, I sat down next to the guy I hit and talked through the insurance process with my agent. We filed every necessary piece of paper right then and there.

Alli came down and provided transportation for us. We went to the hospital to get checked out, and then we grabbed a rental car. Friends and family came around to support us in prayer, and my parents began to send us links to potential replacement cars.

On Friday, Jessica and I signed our car over to State Farm, and they cut us a check. It was the fastest claim process our agent had seen in his entire career. God was so quick to bless us that He apparently broke records in the process. Not only did the money come extremely quickly, but we received a check for $30 more than we had paid for the car originally. They claims department had valued our car at nearly a thousand dollars higher than the original price, so we gained money in the transaction, even after they subtracted the deductible.

On Saturday, we found the a nearly identical car to the one we lost. It was $1000 below our budget. The only problem was that we didn’t have money in the bank yet. I mentioned it to the manager, and he offered to hold us the check. “We have been in the business for a long time. We know who we can trust. Just leave us the check and take the car. When you get your money, give us a call.” Jessica and I were able to drive off the lot in our new car three days after we lost our previous one. The manager gave us his number and asked us to let him know if we had any troubles with the car. At the end of the sale, he took us across the street and bought us dinner.

Throughout the whole experience, God’s grace was obvious. At every turn, we were met with compassion. The car dealer and our State Farm agent were both grateful that I wasn’t hurt. Friends and family reminded me of God’s goodness. It felt like God was moving mountains in order to take care of us. Our insurance check cleared the bank yesterday, and this story came to an end – only six days after it began! I suppose there is nothing more I can say about it other than “thank you.”

Thank you to my parents for giving us the advice we needed and for helping us find a replacement. (Also, thank you for helping us finance the first car). To Alli and Sarah, thank you for helping us get around when we didn’t have transportation of our own. Thank you to Steve from State Farm and Jerry from Vera Auto Sales for surpassing our expectations and providing compassion to a stranger. Above all, thank you to everyone who supported us through prayer. I thank God for the incredible story that only He could write.

To anyone who is in the midst of their own struggle, I hope that our story can provide a little hope. God is the author of our stories, and He never writes tragedies about His children. This week required a lot of work on my part, but I never had to worry. With every new day, I find more reminders that my Father in Heaven cares for me. I hope that there is not a “next time,” but I know  God will carry us through if there ever is.

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Soul 30 – Learning to live without distraction

Soul 30 – Learning to live without distraction

I would be lying if I claimed to be at peace with my days. My week may be full of great events and opportunities, but I often find that something is still lacking. Many days, I catch myself wasting every moment that wasn’t dedicated to a particular event from the start. My office is littered with unread books, my mind is filled with unwritten thoughts, and my soul is clogged by unspoken prayers. Many times, my career is affected and my work ethic begins to wane. My calendar appointments with the Church become lone islands of nourishment in a sea of apostate lethargy. On my good days, wonder why it’s so hard to live the life that I want to live. On my bad days, I don’t even have the wherewithal to even ask the question.

This past Sunday, I woke up with a very clear conviction in my heart. If I want to overcome my inherent laziness, I need to change the things I am feeding my soul. Of course, this idea wasn’t merely my own. Some of our close friends have recently completed the Whole30 diet. Over the past four weeks, we have been listening to their experiences as they learned to live without some of the foods that they have consumed for their entire lives. The Whole30 diet is unique because it was designed to be temporary. Right now, these friends are re-introducing foods to their bodies one-by-one to see what is good for them and what is bad for them. I have decided to apply the same principles to the things that I am feeding my heart and soul.

The Problem

If you want to get shunned and ignored in most churches today, all you have to do is suggest that perhaps Christians shouldn’t engage in certain aspects of our culture. I understand, the Bible doesn’t directly tell us how we should interact with movies, sports, social media, video games, etc. And I don’t believe any of these categories are inherently evil or should be thrown out by default. But when I read the Bible (the Psalms and Paul’s epistles in particular, just read Psalm 119), I see a love for and dependence on God’s word which I just can’t claim for myself today. It only seems logical that the way I spend my time might affect my spiritual appetite.

The man I am today is much less than the man I aspire to be. I know from my past that my “down time” often becomes a distraction and a source of busyness. I must set aside my preconceived notions and give my pastimes a fair trial. Jesus clearly asked me to deny myself if I seek to follow Him (see Matthew 16:24). I will not lie to myself; if something is holding me back, I first need to know about it and then I need to do something about it.

The Challenge

I’m calling my challenge “Soul 30” because I’m a dufus and I thought it sounded catchy. Naming aside, this is one of the best ideas which has entered my head in a long time. (Likely because it didn’t enter by my own accord.) Everything I have written on this blog so far was meant to encourage. But today, may I step out and offer a challenge? I want you to join me in this endeavor. Please ask yourself, “could this Soul 30 challenge change the way I live my life?” For many of us, I believe the answer to be “Yes.”

It’s okay to be skeptical. I have tried “Facebook fasts” before, and they almost never work. We are very capable of exchanging one distraction for another. I recently heard someone say that he was meaning to watch less Netflix so he could play more video games. I hope to accomplish much more than that through this month. Only by eliminating all distractions will I be able to understand how each affects me. There is no halfway.

The Details

For this month, I am using a whitelist approach to my free time. (A whitelist, in contrast to a blacklist, is a collection of good things which should be allowed to supersede a general rule.) Instead of listing all of the things I should not be doing, I want to focus on the positive. Where can I invest my time? Here are all of the things I will continue to do this month. For anyone who is willing to join me, feel free to modify the list to suit your needs.

  • Work – My career – and everything I am required to do/research, etc. will remain unaffected.
  • Friend/Family/Church commitments – My focus is on my personal time, so I am not going to reduce the number of commitments I have.
  • Prayer – Without this, the whole challenge is meaningless.
  • Reading the Bible and encouraging books
  • Journaling, writing, (this blog)
  • Internet when I have a specific purpose in mind – Paying bills, planning dates, etc. Does not include mindless browsing or online window shopping.
  • Uplifting music – I will listen to music while working, but I will turn it off when I can to provide opportunities to listen for God’s voice.
  • Texting and calling people
  • Budgeting (max 3 times per week) – I like to look at my money more often than I need to. That’s not a good use of time, but I will check in every now and then in case something goes sour.
  • Social Media (Less than 1/2 hour per day) – For me, social media is a small distraction, but is also a necessary way to keep up with certain people.
  • Time spent with friends/family, etc.

The list I provided above may seem awfully sparse. But boredom is not an absence of things to do. I often go downstairs, look inside a full fridge, and then declare that there is nothing to eat in the house. My problem is I have taught myself to crave something which I cannot have at the moment. I fully expect to find myself staring at the wall a few times during the first week. But I hope to see my tastes change in time as I begin to re-train my soul to crave the things of God.

A Word of Warning

My heart behind the Soul 30 is to teach myself (and others) to control distractions and to seek God first. To be fair, this isn’t a strictly Christian activity. You could eliminate distractions for a month in order to become a better businessperson, a better parent, or a stronger athlete. But I focused my list on Christian activities for a very specific reason. God created each of us with a unique eternal purpose in mind. Focusing on the things of this world and cutting out spiritual discipline is like taking a road trip and throwing the GPS out the window. Knowing where you want to go and knowing how to get there are two very different things. The only way to reach our dreams without destroying our souls in the process is to continually lean on God.

If you are reading this and you don’t know Jesus Christ personally, may I suggest that this challenge is not for you? You might unlock the ability sell yourself more wholeheartedly to some specific passion, person, or career. But what happens when that thing inevitably lets you down? You will lose your identity, your very self. God came down to Earth and suffered on our behalf so we don’t have to find our identities in incomplete things. He wants us to give ourselves wholly to Him so He can show us who He designed us to be. We will never discover ourselves until we begin to place our lives in His hands. If we settle for anything less, then we are merely substituting one distraction for another.

In Conclusion

If you have resonated with anything I have shared above, please consider joining me in this endeavor. There is a great need in our nation today for men and women who are ready to wholeheartedly give their lives to Christ. This challenge is not, in itself, going to change the world. But we have much more to gain than we have to lose if we dare to set aside lesser things in the pursuit of the greater. Together, let’s “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:2)”

If I have convinced you to try this Soul 30 challenge, I would love to hear about it so I can be praying for you. If not, please pray for me when you think of it. I expect the road ahead to be rough in places, but I know that it is well worth the effort. Thank you for taking the time to hear my thoughts and to share in my journey.

P.S.

In the past week as I have worked on this blog post and have shared my story with the church, you have continued to encourage me. I now know that this challenge is merely my way of answering the call that millions of Christians have already answered: the call to deny ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow Christ. (Luke 9:23) To everyone who has shared your stories with me this week, thank you. I thank God that this road I am on, though difficult at times, doesn’t have to be lonely. I have learned that fasting can result in joy more often than sorrow, and I have been strengthened and encouraged at every turn.

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Overcoming Spiritual Paralysis

Overcoming Spiritual Paralysis

Lately, God has been reminding me of my own weakness. I cannot do any good in this world except by God’s help. I’ve been trying to follow the plans He has revealed for my life, but I keep getting overwhelmed by all of the things I am supposed to be. It seems like every day, I am discovering a new commandment I am failing to live up to. If I’m honest, I’m living a small life because I’m afraid of failure. I put way too much stock in my own actions, and I forget that the battle has already been won.

But why am I afraid of failure? God is judging me based on His own merit, not mine. If I succeed, it is for His glory. If I fail, it is a reminder of His grace. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Rm. 8:1-2) If there is no condemnation, then fear has no place in my life anymore. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The burden of the Law

If you pick up a Bible and begin reading from Genesis 1, you may notice the abundance of rules. There are an estimated 613 commandments in the first five books of the Bible alone. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, there were groups of the religious elite who made a full-time job out of trying to keep all of the thousand-plus laws that they had at the time. One would expect Jesus to give them a pat on the back for doing such a great job, but He did the exact opposite. After condemning them for being hollow and shallow, Jesus pulled the noose even tighter. It doesn’t matter if you actually commit adultery, you are a unholy sinner if you let your eyes wander for a second! Can you imagine the despair on the faces of the crowd when they heard this? Their best was horribly insufficient.

The point is, and has always been, that we cannot keep the law on our own. The law isn’t just here to enhance our lives, it’s here to show us the extent of our need. The Law exitst to point us to a Saviour. Jesus kept the law to its fullest extent, and He suffered the fate of the worst of criminals so we who can’t keep it for even a day will be treated like someone who never once faltered.

Are we moving backwards?

It seems to me that we’ve returned to the exact same spot the Pharisees were in so many years ago. Our churches are filled with people who want to (or at least pretend to want to) keep the law, but we know deep down that it is impossible. I have, on more than one occasion, suffered paralysis on the light of the law. There are so many things a Christian is called to be. Am I feeding the poor, visiting the sick and prisoners, sharing the Gospel on the streets, being generous with my wealth, putting all others before myself and putting God above all? No. I will never get off the ground if I try to be all things at all times to all people. But God gave us a few secret weapons to help us overcome paralysis.

If we are the body…

The first thing that God gave us is each other. In the past few months, I have come to realize that I can’t be all things at all times to all people (I know, #thickskullproblems). The revelation came through my small group when we got together to buy Thanksgiving meals for families in need. I couldn’t spare a dime that month, but my friends were able to. We all contributed what we could, and God did great things with it. What would happen if I started reading the Bible as God’s letter to His church, not just to me? All of a sudden it becomes manageable. I’ll take the call to proclaim His name, you look after the prisoners, and our other friend can be an advocate for the oppressed. We were called to be the body of Christ, parts in a whole. How foolish have I been for assuming I can be God’s hands and feet all by myself!

God told me to write, and that’s what I’m going to do. I will send my money with those who have taken a different call. I will continue to meet with the Body of Christ regularly to see if we are forgetting something. We won’t be perfect, but we can do much more together than any of us could ever do alone. I recently told a partner in ministry about my plans to transition elsewhere. With incredible wisdom, she replied, “Of course, serve where you feel called. There’s no guilt, only joy!”

The strength of Christ

I would be remiss if I talked about the Body of Christ without mentioning the head. Many of us are so caught up with the worries of this life that we don’t have any time left to think about ministry. We must take our cares to the foot of the Cross. The Law isn’t about rules anymore. Jesus proved to us that we can’t keep the rules, and then He provided a better way.

The apostle Peter told us that angels never tire of looking into the Gospel. How can I? When I fully understand the Gospel, the law will become irrelevant. In Galatians 2, Paul tells the story of Peter acting hypocritically. Instead of quoting the law (which he knew better than any of us), Paul asked Peter to think out the implications of the Gospel. He reminded Peter that if Christ died for all, then there is no superiority among us, and therefore no ground for racial discrimination. If we look for Jesus on every page of the Scriptures, we will begin to find a story that is deeper and more wonderful than we could have imagined. The only response will be to obey with joy.

I am just beginning to experience the joy of God’s calling over me. I’m sure that there will be many failures along the way. But when we fix our eyes on Christ, we don’t have to measure ourselves by our success or failures. Work just becomes work, and ministry just becomes ministry. It’s all an offering of praise to Jesus who did the only truly great work on our behalf. Perfect love casts out all fear, so let us seek to understand the great love He has for us, and let us live out of that love.