Nostalgic October

Nostalgia: a sentimental longing of or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal affections.

Nostalgia. October brings it to me more than any other month.  I love when the cool weather finally begins to sweep in, ushering with it family traditions we began with our children when they were still toddlers and infants, such as beginning our Christmas festivities over two months early (back off). Today I am writing this blog in my backyard which will be covered in leaves for the next two hours, at which time my man-child will begin his nostalgic October routine of raking and bagging. My beautiful Australian Shepherd is laying beside my chair as I casually sip on my delicious Earl Grey hot tea through my ashy man beard (awesome pics above). Before I wax too poetic, let me share with you four October happenings that I love and that may amuse you:

It was around this time in October of 1990, 26 years ago, that I visited a church in Southwest Arkansas. This would become a time that would not only impact me spiritually, but completely alter the course of my entire life. I was 16 years old, weeks away from turning 17. I heard a simple presentation of the Gospel that night and excitedly drove back home to Rosston, Arkansas. I can still see and recall the place where I knelt in my bedroom, praying the most innocent and heartfelt prayer I could muster. My physical birthdate is November 15, 1973; but my spiritual birthdate is October 17, 1990. I immediately began to preach anywhere I could find a platform; the back of my truck in a parking lot, a bowling alley, nursing home, street corner, classroom. Everything seemed so simple in those days! I began to amass 'stories' without realizing that I was (that is another 'story' for another day). 

Five short years later in October of 1995 and I am not only 21 years old, but I am also quickly moving to expert level on marriage with approximately 13 months under my belt. Yeah, you heard that right. On a more serious note, I still laugh on the inside when I recall some of my friends attempting to give me their sage advice on marriage when they were in their early twenties with under two years under their belt. It has now been over 22 years that I've been married to Becky, and now I readily admit that I am no expert! God is so good. Ok...back to nostalgia! We were in Bible School for an entire month when I was approached by one of the assistant pastors, asking if he could call me in a couple of hours. Thinking I may have been in trouble, I was stunned and thrilled when he asked if I would like to work for the church. I had no idea how someone began working for a church, and especially no idea how it could happen to me at the young age of 21. Later when we met he told me; "I never hire anyone who asks for a job." I remember thinking to myself; "I'm sure glad I didn't ask for a job!" I also couldn't imagine why someone would ask for such a thing. He then told me why; "They have no idea what they're asking for." That is so true. Too many people desire ministry for the wrong motives. They desire a microphone, a platform, and/or notoriety, rather than a passion to help hurting people and to minister to the broken. Why did they hire me? Not what I expected either. It was not because I was a dynamic speaker, I had not grown a ministry, I was limited in my understanding of theology and even simple local church dynamics. The reason? I was simply a servant. I loved helping any way that I could. When that call came asking me to consider working for the church, I was working overnight at Walmart, going to Bible School from 8-12, and would then find ways to clean toilets, mop floors, vacuum carpet, help the youth pastor, serve in children's outreach, and anything else anyone needed before I grabbed a few hours of sleep and started my night job again. The most important ingredient was that of being a servant. 

Fast-forward to October of 2012. October of 1995 to October of 2012 had been a very wild roller-coaster of joy, sadness, adventure, rich friendships, funerals, weddings, baby-dedications, youth ministries, risks, church plants, outreaches, missions, multiple countries and many U.S. states. The upside of our ministry experience had always been greater than any downside. This month in 2012 would become an important month in our lives, as it would be my last time to preach as a Senior Pastor. We had a long run, but it was now time to stop running and start a different journey. A journey that if I was faithful to stay on would bring healing and rest, and one day see us return to the pastorate. By the grace of God it brought so much more than both of those and strengthened every area of our family and personal lives. All I had known from the age of 21 to 38 was ministry, yet so many places in our lives were broken. As God began to heal us it would become clear that He was also preparing us for another season. 

It is now October of 2016, and another fresh season is on the horizon for our family. It's been close to two years now since we moved to Fort Smith and we've met so many friends who have become more and more like family. Things Becky and I began to dream about over the last four years are now leaving that dream stage and moving into reality. It is truly an exciting time for our family! As I try and close out this post, I can't help but think about my kids. Right before sitting down to write, I enjoyed a video call with our oldest daughter Alyssa who is now living in Oregon and attending a radical internship. Her increasing passion literally reminds me of myself 21 years ago sitting at In Christ International Bible School in Alexandria, Louisiana. Paul is currently growing his hair out like I did years ago, and he has much more facial hair than I did at his age. He spends his time creating incredible (and hilarious) videos for our youth ministry and has an amazing level of influence among his peers. Victoria is homeschooling this year and has an amazing ability to learn to play instruments. She grabbed my guitar a few nights ago so she could play me a song she heard. I thought to myself, "Aww, this will be cute." Then my jaw dropped. "How did you learn to do that!" She just grinned. She is also my traveling companion. Hannah still has the rare gift of sucking the energy out of every living thing within a 20 mile radius and absorbing it to become some type of super-human. When she sets her mind to something, it is going to happen, and she will take your energy if she needs to.

Thank you for listening to me as I reminisce. October has been such an import season of 'new beginnings' in my life. How about you? Any nostalgic events you would like to share? 

Overcoming F.A.I.L.U.R.E.

Failure. Any person with success under their belt has had their fair share of it. Those with the most success have more than likely experienced a lot of it. What leads to failure, and what can we learn from others who have failed? That is the point of this post. Over 3 1/2 years ago I was silent blogging (basically writing my thoughts down in a journal). I had stepped down from ministry and was doing a lot of reflecting. This post comes from what I wrote then. I took the word 'failure' and made it an acronym, writing a word for each letter that defined issues I had faced. I want to share them with you today. If you are experiencing any of these, it does NOT mean you are a failure, but just one of these CAN lead to any type of failure in your life. I am going to keep this as simple (short) as I can, offering some advice in bold at the end of each paragraph. I tried to make this a series of blog posts, but it messes up the flow of my acronym!

F.A.I.L.U.R.E.

Fatigue. Fatigue is defined as 'extreme tiredness, resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.' It also means to 'weaken'. I love how the Gospels show Jesus taking His disciples aside to 'rest a while.' When we are working beyond exhaustion and our physical, mental and emotional faculties are not rested, we become vulnerable, allowing our mind to become a ball in an intense ping-pong match. You do not think clearly. Your decision-making potential is drastically weakened and can be irrational. You aren't as strong and aware as you think you are. You are in a dangerous place. You need to rest. Sleep. Take a vacation. Take a sabbatical. Step down for a season. Laugh. Cry. Stop living life in over-drive. Sure, people admire your tenacious drive and enjoy describing your intense personality...however, they probably won't be there to help salvage your life after you crash into a wall. Call a friend and tell them how you feel and what is going on. We need all of your life, not just your best 10 to 15 years.

Anger. This is so dangerous because it opens the door to extreme bitterness, which becomes nothing less than poison running through your veins. You've been wronged, lied about, mistreated...and you are MAD ABOUT IT! Worse is when you become offended over the way loved ones have been treated and you see their pain and you cannot even do anything about it. You walk around with a chip on your shoulder and nobody really knows why. You are always in 'attack mode' and ready to pounce on someone who even resembles the one who hurt you. The Bible warns against letting the sun go down on your wrath; "Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger." (Ephesians 4:26) Forgiveness is the only way out of this plot from the enemy. Whoever hurt you or your loved ones, you have to let them go. Forgiveness will remove the sting of bitterness. Release the situation to the Lord and trust Him to handle it. You will know you have forgiven when the mention of the offender's name does not cause anger to swell up inside of you. If you are struggling with forgiving someone, just remember all of the things that Jesus has forgiven you of. Oh, and remember all of the people you hurt in the past.

Isolation. You know what this looks like. To isolate is to 'detach, close off, quarantine.' The Christian life is meant to be lived in community. The Bible says that 'Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire.' (Proverbs 18:1) Usually the desire of someone who isolates them-self is to be left alone. Understand that when someone is quarantined, it is to protect them or to protect others. Something is not normal, not healthy. Once all is well the quarantine lifts. If you are hiding in isolation and don't want to be around anyone, it is not normal. Sometimes situations in life can seem to lock you in a cage; in this situation however, you are the one locking yourself in a cage. The primary culprit many times is fear and hurt. You isolate yourself because you are afraid of being hurt or hurting others. Another reason you isolate yourself is because you do not TRUST anyone. You need to confront your fears and tear down the walls you have built. There is a deeper issue at work inside of you (perhaps identified in the following paragraphs) and you need to uncover it. Determine that you will not live life as a hermit. By locking yourself away you are depriving yourself of much needed relationships, and also depriving others of the blessing of your relationship. Cry out to God. Go to church and be around people. Stop believing the lies.

Loneliness. At first this may sound like the same thing as isolation, but it is a little different. Loneliness is the offspring of isolation. Loneliness is defined as 'sadness because one has no friends or company.' One of the worst things in life is to be alone. You feel like nobody wants to be around you, that you have nothing to offer, there is nothing special about you, nobody loves you, nobody wants you. Loneliness leads to depression and can inspire thoughts of suicide. You need to find a small group. You need a friend. Take a risk on somebody. You've been hurt by people? Join the club. We all have. Try again. Invite someone out for coffee until somebody says yes. Embrace the awkwardness of learning how to relate to people again. Guess what? You're going to love it.

Unhealed. A wounded animal is extremely dangerous. They will bite or attack if you try to come to close to them. They hurt when touched and will respond instinctively as a reaction. It is the same for people. When you have unhealed hurts in your life, you will lash out even at those who are trying to help you, and then hate yourself for the way you act. You can't seem to figure out what is wrong with you, and with the passing of time it only gets worse. It will affect every relationship in your life, especially those you love the most. You have to find healing. Usually it involves forgiving someone who has hurt you. Many times there are cycles of shame and guilt that try to hover over you. That is a sign you are not healed. Bathe in the Word of God and discover all He has to say about you. Speak the Word of God over your life. Ask God to reveal the source of your pain, and then forgive and release.

Rejection. Years ago Becky and I experienced devastating rejection. It was incredibly painful, as all rejection is. The effect was so strong and lasted for many years. For instance, I remember taking a team to Lower Manhattan to pass out invite cards to our church that we had planted. After splitting everyone up and sending them all off, I sneakily made my way to a nearby McDonald's and found a corner booth to sit in. I sat in that booth for a very long time, crying off and on, and did not pass out one card all day. For the life of me I could not understand what was wrong with me. Here I was, a man who at one time would stand in the back of my truck and preach fearlessly to strangers in parking lots, and yet I couldn't hand out a card to someone I'd most likely never even see again! Why? I would come to understand years later that fear of rejection was the underlying root of my struggle. I did not want one person declining (rejecting) my card. I just couldn't handle any more rejection. You know why this is so dangerous? Because it will hinder authenticity in your relationships, never allowing yourself to become truly vulnerable. Call somebody and tell them what is going on. Tell them you are hurt. Describe the fears. Bring other people into the situation and don't face it alone. Rejection will paralyze you, and you have to deal with the root cause until it lifts. Love on other people. Confront your fears.

Ego. Other words for ego are; self-esteem, self-worth, self-respect, self-image. It is rooted in selfishness. It is all about you. You desperately need to get away but you can't because you are consumed with what other people think about you. You can't handle the thought that someone may find out that you are 'not all that.' You attempt to preserve a false picture of who you hope people think you are. If you are in the clutches of sin, this becomes a horrible snare and vice. Let that ego crumble to the ground and be crushed to powder. You are operating in a form of pride. It is not about you and has never been about you. Your life is meant to be hidden in Christ. Lose yourself in Christ. Be like John the Baptist, who said, "I must decrease and He must increase."

I hope this helps someone who may be facing any of these issues. I sure suffered from many of them, but by the grace of God I have found freedom, healing, rest, community, and restoration. It is available for you today! Share if you would like, and if you want to reach out to someone but don't know who to talk to, feel free to click this 'help' link and send me a message. 'HELP'

F.A.I.L.U.R.E.

When I was young, it seemed as though everything I did had success written all over it: explosive youth ministries reaching thousands, outstanding teams of men and women who could tackle and conquer impossible situations, incredible and rich relationships with awesome family and the best of friends, a busy traveling schedule that took me all across the U.S. and several countries. Don't get me wrong, I have always faced many challenges and hardships in both life and ministry (who hasn't?), however, the 'success' I experienced far overshadowed the difficulties and even made the pain of trials very worthwhile.

In 2006 our family of 6 moved to NYC with a group of friends to attempt our most daring adventure up to that time; planting a church in the East Village of Manhattan while overseeing a large inner city youth ministry located in Brooklyn (where we lived). I was not prepared for what I would soon discover about myself; I was a very broken and fractured man. We tend to think that issues ignored will eventually go away, but it is not true. Issues left unattended on the inside compound and it is only a matter of time before they demand a payday.

One dictionary defines 'failure' as: the action or state of not functioning; lack of success; an unsuccessful person. Other words for failure are: floundering, collapse, defeat, disaster, catastrophe, flop, loser, underachiever, dead loss, inadequacy, crash, bankruptcy, washout.

Even writing those words above cause me to shudder. I use to identify with many of them. But not anymore. It is a true statement that 'failure is not final', or rather, it does not have to be. Today I am beginning a new blog series that I believe can help so many people who are struggling with feelings or thoughts of failure. Perhaps you are experiencing actual failure right now. It can truly be one of the most crippling things in life. I'm going to use an acronym for failure, and hopefully finish over the next couple of weeks. I'll address key issues that can absolutely lead to failure. Before hitting on each point, I feel it is important I offer encouragement from the outset of this series;

Some of the greatest people used by God in the Bible also had some of the most horrible failures in their lives:

Abraham thought he was too old; Moses stuttered and questioned God's judgment in picking him, and he killed a man; David committed adultery and killed a man; Jacob was a liar; Jeremiah was depressed & suicidal; Noah got drunk; Peter denied 3 times that he knew Jesus and then backslid.

So if you feel you are a failure or that you are failing miserably right now, you are definitely not alone. If you know the Word, you know that these men overcame their failures. It is a lie that you will be forever marked by your failures. You can overcome failure, you can start over no matter where you are at in life, and you can experience 'success' again!

In our next post we will look at the 'F' in failure.