Monday, June 26, 2017

One Step

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Countless times I have heard this statement, but it is probably never truer in my life than this picture.  We took this one year ago today and had absolutely no clue what was about to happen to us.

The question I was asked numerous times on my final Sunday at my former church was “Where are you going to go to church next week?”  Instead of rolling my eyes like I wanted to, I just smiled and said “I’m probably going to take next week off” and that is exactly what we did.  Not only the next Sunday, but for 2 months we slept in, cooked breakfast together, streamed a church service online, and just enjoyed being with each other, and I was completely fine with this.

Belinda and I had a conversation a few days after that final Sunday about the future.  We talked about our fears.  She shared that she was afraid that we would never get connected to a loving body of believers.  The conversation ended with a lot of tears as our fears were completely opposite each other.  I was completely honest in this conversation, and how I felt was extremely scary to Belinda.  It scared her that I honestly did not care if I ever went to church again. I was done.  I had lost hope.  Not in Jesus, but in church itself. 

But I remember a Sunday nearly two months later eating breakfast with Belinda and streaming a church service when I heard the Lord speak to me.  I looked over at Belinda and said, “I think I’m ready.”  She looked back at me and I said, “I think I’m ready to take a step and go to church somewhere.”  It’s funny now because there was a little bit of a surprised and disappointed look in her face.  She was really enjoying our new Sunday routine and as she began to process things I believe she was then also ok to never go to church again.

So a week later and a year ago today, we stood on our front porch and took this picture of what was a monumental day for us, though we had no clue how much it would be.  I remember discussing silly things in our nervousness like “I should wear long sleeves so to cover my tattoo in case they don’t like that” which is so hilarious.  We discussed how this was a first step and how it was a fresh start for us.

I remember a lot of the details about that day.  I remember who did the welcome time.  I remember the worship set was acoustic and the gathering ended with Elevation’s “Raised to Life.”  What I remember the most was the message about rest and the first thing I wrote down was “Don’t Give Up Hope” which was exactly what I had done.  We left the gathering that day still with a lot of fears, insecurities, and a lot trust issues, but for us it was a huge step that we had taken.

We had plans to go to several different churches in both Cleveland and Knoxville but we never went to another one.  I can’t explain how grateful I am to be where God has led us and for all the relationships we have formed.  I do not write this to praise my new church over my former or to degrade where we used to be because I love both.  I write this to share how thankful I am that we took that step a year ago.  That step began a journey that would eventually move us and allow us to worship, connect, and serve right where we needed to be.  I am so thankful for the ways our new community has invested in us, loved us, and pointed us to Jesus and His healing.  I am filled with joy when I think about how my hope has been restored.

It was a step I was scared to take, but one I knew was necessary.  What if we hadn’t taken that step?  I don’t even want to imagine where we would be now.  I can’t imagine missing out on what God is doing in us.

There will always be one step that we need to take in following Jesus.  It is with that one step that our faith is strengthened and we pursue Him further.  What is the one step that He is calling you to take today?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Lord is My Healer

HEAL

I have discovered that I had a huge misconception and misunderstanding of this word.  I am not exactly sure how my view has been skewed, but may have been partially shaped by media.  Think about it- every good movie or story ends with the protagonist experiencing victory.  When it ends differently we are left with a feeling in us that something is incomplete.  We long for all stories, especially our own to end happily ever after.  But honestly that is fiction.  Sometimes everything does end happily ever after, but in many ways it never does. 

I believe this is part of the reason my view of the word “heal” has been off a bit.  However you get the same feeling when you look up the definition of the word “heal”:
- to make free from injury or disease; to make sound or whole; heal a wound
- to make well again; restore to health
- to cause an undesirable condition to be overcome
- to patch up or correct (a breach or division) between friends
To summarize these definitions, the word “heal” means to take a situation that is undesirable and make it desirable again.  When we take that definition and pair it with our worldview shaped by media, and sprinkle on our biblical knowledge of God’s healing, we fabricate our own view of what healing should look like.  When we are in an undesirable situation in need of healing, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual, we begin to believe that God will take the situation and make it the way we want it to be.  When things do not turn out the way we want, we think that God has forsaken us, but this isn’t the case at all.  We need to instead consider that God is healing us, but it does not always look the way we want it to.

I first think about this in regards to my knee surgery I had 2.5 years ago.  I had just achieved my greatest physical feat of running a half marathon.  I felt invincible and was looking to accomplish more.  When the doctor told me before surgery that I may never run again I chose to ignore it because I knew what going to occur.  I went in to surgery with the mindset I would be walking within a few days and back running a month later.  I was actually a bit excited about surgery because I thought it would be an opportunity to actually rest for a few days and then bounce back to normal.  I believed that this was my path of healing.  Little did I grasp the reality of 7 weeks no pressure on that leg, the mental and physical toll it would take on not only me but also my wife.  I remember clearly the day at physical therapy when I was discouraged from some comments that had been made about my long recovery (it wasn’t going quick enough in a number of people’s minds).  The physical therapist I was working with that day was extremely encouraging and said to me “Nathan, I know you are going to walk again some day.”  In that moment it certainly did not seem like I would ever walk again.  Then I will never forget the moment a few weeks later when I took my first steps.  God had healed and would continue to heal me.  It would not at all look the way I thought it should, but I was healing.  Since then I have only ran twice for about 30 seconds each, which was a terrible decision each time.  I will never run long distance again.  I have to consciously think nearly every step now, but I can walk.  The Lord is my healer.

In the present I think about God’s healing in terms of the season we have been in.  I have mentioned healing a lot in blog posts in regards to the wounds we are currently nursing.  I know that some people do not want to hear me say those things, but they also do not know the truth of what we have experienced.  I have been vague in the details of what we have been through in attempts to be respectful.  I imagined that in this Sabbatical season I/we would learn to rest, grow in our faith, and in a brief time move on to the next calling God has for me vocationally.  I believed that one day I would wake up and be “out of the fog” so to speak.  What we learned after several months was that the fog was thicker, the wounds were deeper, and we were far more physically and spiritually exhausted than we realized.  In other words, we needed healing far greater than we realized.  Discovering this, I assumed again that healing would be instantaneous one day, things would be much clearer, and life would resume in a way that I imagined it would.  But I was wrong.  The healing has not at all looked like I thought it would, but God is healing.  I cannot explain all the ways that God is slowly but surely healing us.  To have a fresh perspective on so many things, to slowly experience anger dissipating, to love others again with fervor, to understand joy, to slowly begin to trust others again- all of these and more are the ways that the Lord is healing us.  I wish it was much faster, but at the same time I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I believe slow progress is better than none and slow progress is usually permanent.  Can God instantly heal us in all of the ways we need?  Of course He can.  But if He does not it’s ok because the Lord is my healer.

I write all of this to explain why I got my recent tattoo.  I need to back up and also explain my first tattoo.  I got it on my left bicep about 3 years ago and it is Exodus 14:14 “The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”  This has been such a significant verse in my life.  When I got it I was learning to be silent and let the Lord fight for me.  Sometimes I did a good job of keeping silent when I needed to be silent, other times not so much.  Some times I kept silent when I should have spoken up.  This was during a time of refining as we were waiting and seeking God’s direction on when He was leading us to leave the church we served at.  Just as the Israelites waited for God to lead them forward, we were waiting and allowing Him to lead and work in our lives.  Then last year He released us to step in the waters and move forward.

After the Israelites cross the Red Sea, in Chapter 15 they sang a song of praise, were led into the wilderness, and whined a bit.  Then God makes a covenant with the Israelites and in 15:26 He says “I, the LORD, am your healer.”  I took this phrase and had it translated to Hebrew.  Then we personalized it to say “The LORD is my healer.”  I had it verified by a great friend and one of his seminary professors.  This phrase is now on my right bicep.  I am reminded daily for the rest of my life that healing does not always, and maybe even rarely look the way I want it to.  That does not mean that God is not at work though.  I see in incremental ways every single day the work that He is doing in me, and I am extremely grateful.  I still have a long way to go, but the Lord is my healer.

All of this healing cannot be overshadowed in any way by the ultimate healing that I have experienced.  There is one final definition that Merriam Webster lists for the word “heal.”  While not a complete definition, it says “to restore to original purity or integrity; healed of sin.”  The true healing and most beneficial healing that I have ever received was when I was made complete and whole by surrendering my life to Jesus and becoming His follower.  I don’t deserve any form of healing, but especially this.  Jesus’ blood shed on the cross is the ultimate form of healing.  This is the healing that I never have to question or doubt in any way because the Lord is my healer.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

One Year

Two weeks ago was the one-year mark of the last official day at the church I was at before my Sabbatical began.  For the last two weeks I have tried to write something about this, and this is actually my 4th version, which is quite different than its predecessors.  There is a lot I really want to say, but I keep searching hard to find what I need to say instead.  My previous versions were way more honest, but are best kept as a file saved on my desktop to be archived.

I think the best way to describe what is on my heart at the moment is this:  If everything Belinda and I have been through, every hurt, every heartache, every wound, every frustration, every difficult circumstance has been to bring us to the place we currently are (a new church family we are growing deeply in community with, and in a new home next to new friends we love dearly), to learn the things we are learning (how to forgive, how to worship, how to trust), to grow a stronger bond with our family and close friends, to gain gratitude for all of God’s blessings on a deeper level, to love my wife with a love that I never knew possible, to love Jesus so much greater and to experience His healing – if everything has been for us to gain these things, then I am beginning to be grateful.


There are plenty of days that are still very hard.  Honestly it is daily that Belinda and I are angry at the things we have faced.  Daily and nearly hourly I fight a fog that ushers in a chatter of lies telling me I am inadequate, unlovable, and a failure.  But in this fog that is slowly but surely lifting, I am able to look at how God has come to our rescue, and how far He has brought us.  In doing so I look forward and trust how far He will take us in the days ahead.

O LORD, You hear the desire of the afflicted;
You will strengthen their heart; You will incline Your ear
Psalm 10:17

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Why Do I Doubt?

Every year around Easter as I read through the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection I always try to read with fresh eyes as if I had never read it before.  Doing so helps me to not gloss over it as something mundane, but see it as the miracle it really is.  I always hope that something will stand out to me differently than other times reading these passages.  This year I was able to do just this. 

I focused on these passages around the same time I noticed some “Easter themed” social media posts.  One thing I saw this year were posts stating, in summary, that on Saturday everyone was waiting for Jesus’ resurrection.  At first you maybe nod as you read it, then the reality of Scripture sets in:  they weren’t waiting.  No, they weren’t waiting at all.  In fact the disciples were hiding away in fear and believing that everything Jesus had said was a lie.  Jesus had told them He would be crucified and raised back to life three days later, but they certainly weren’t living like they believed.  The two Mary’s went to the tomb with spiced prepared for a dead person.  The angel told them: Jesus has risen, “just as He said” (Matthew 28:6), “Remember how He spoke to you…” (Luke 24:6), and “Do not be amazed” (Mark 16:6).  We can also read about how the two on the road to Emmaus had no clue it was Jesus whom they were talking with and how Thomas said he would not believe unless he touched Jesus’ hands and side.  Mark 16:14 says that Jesus “reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart.”  We see a group of people who heard the words Jesus spoke to them, but instead of believing them and waiting, they chose to doubt.  Jesus had never lied to them before so why would He have lied about His resurrection.  The disciples should have been sitting at the tomb waiting for the resurrection to happen, but instead they doubted.

It is easy for me to look at all of this and smack my head over how they responded.  Then I find myself in the story.  I realize how often, actually daily, I choose doubt rather than listening to the words Jesus has spoken to me.  I do not doubt His deity or His death and resurrection in any way.  Instead, I doubt Him in the smaller things.  I doubt that “He who began a good work in [me] will perfect it in the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  I doubt His ability and even desire to use me.  I doubt that He is working in my waiting.  I doubt that He will continue to provide when I do not see how and even though He is still saying to wait.

I doubt in so many things.  Why do I doubt?  I hate it.  I wish I didn’t have so many trust issues, with God and with others.  Praise God that this is one of the areas that He is healing me, but I have a long way to go.  I am sure I am not alone here and you have areas of doubt yourself.  I probably have posted this phrase before and most certainly will again but when I doubt I need to listen to this:  “Celebrate God’s faithfulness in my past in order to trust Him with my future.”  It was one of the most life-altering statements made to me 2 years ago that helped me take huge steps of faith.  If I see how God has been faithful in all aspects of my life, along with focusing on His truths in Scripture, then the result is trust rather than doubt.  God has always been faithful to me.  Even in the midst of trying seasons and discouraging times, God is always faithful.  My friend Rick and I are always using the phrase “It’s a process” in relation to the work God is doing in us and it truly is.  I do not expect this to all change in an instant.  I will continue to face doubts tomorrow, but in this process that God is working in me, I am learning to trust Him more.  I am learning to believe that He will complete the work in me, that He is able and desires to use me, and that He is working in my waiting.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Never Speak Again?

One thing that I am learning to do during this Sabbatical season is to read Scripture or listen to a sermon and simply allow it to speak to my own life.  That may sound completely odd at first but let me explain.  Nearly every day that I would read Scripture, and every sermon I listened to (if I wasn’t dissecting if it was being preached out of context), I was thinking about how I needed to apply the passage or what was being said to a sermon or study that I needed to write.  I did this constantly over the years as I attempted to stay ahead, or rather most often stay afloat.  As many things are in the process of being reprogrammed in my brain, this was one that caught me off guard.  Though I was attempting to feed myself in Scripture daily, I was constantly trying to get things done with hopes that I would succeed in other people’s eyes.  If I could just get ahead.  If I could just write a better sermon.  What does everyone need me to teach?  What can I say that will be obedient to God and make everyone happy?  This was my constant way of thinking.

As I have learned this about myself, it has been a process to turn this switch off in my head.  I also noticed that as I would listen to a sermon by my good friend Jason or one of my pastor’s named Todd (yes I have two pastors named Todd), that I would think about how eloquent and profound their delivery and content was.  In this moment I began one of the things I am good at which is comparing myself, to which was always a lost cause on my part.  Why can’t I speak so clearly?  Why can’t I come up with such a great sermon example?  Why is my southern accent so awful?

Then I remember one night in January, shortly after we moved into our new home and we were live streaming one of the sessions of the Passion Conference.  Louie Giglio was preaching and once again I was listening to someone who I was in awe of everything he said.  Then a thought came to my mind that changed the way I thought about the way I listen to a sermon or read a passage of Scripture.  I looked at Belinda and said “I don’t care if I ever speak on stage again; I just want to love Jesus as I should.”  I explained a bit to her what had been my way of thinking and how I was tired of that.  I was ready to stop with that way of thinking and let God continue to do the work He was doing in me on another level.

I still feel that way in this very moment just as I did a few months ago sitting on our couch.  It’s honestly not that important to me to speak again if I am not growing in my love for Jesus.  I mean that with all my heart.  I think that is why I am so excited and see it completely different now that I have the opportunity to speak on stage again this weekend at a Disciple Now.  In no way am I claiming that now I love Jesus as He deserves, because I know that is completely impossible.  I am so excited because I am beginning to grasp something that I taught many time over the years.  I spoke this simple truth to so many people, believing that it was for them, but could not grasp it for myself.  That simple truth is this:  “My identity is not found in what I am doing, but rather who I am becoming in Christ.”  I have so far to go, but I am slowly, some days slower than others, beginning to see that my identity in who I am becoming in Christ is far greater than what I do for Him.  My identity in Christ is far greater than who other people think I should be, which I admit I am still having a really hard time grasping.  Because of all of this, my love for Jesus is deeper.

I say all of this not to boast in any way, but to share another aspect of what God is doing in my life.  I share with the hopes that you will continue to pray for me in this journey.  As I said earlier, I have so much further to go but thankfully I am progressing in the right direction.  Pray for me this weekend that I speak boldly and clearly.  Pray that my love for Jesus will continue to grow.  Pray that I will completely accept my identity in Christ and stop thinking about what I am attempting to accomplish and the perception others have of me.  I am excited that I get to proclaim the truths that God has laid on my heart.  I am praying that these words I speak will transform the hearts of the listeners, and that I walk away confident in who I am in Christ rather than fear of whether or not it was good enough.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Regaining Joy


I rolled my eyes as I drove past the church sign. I sadly admit that I do this far too often.  Reacting this way just once is too much I know.  This week’s sign said “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”  Hear me out before planning your strategy of my demise regarding my reaction to this statement. 

I first responded the way I did is because I am convinced that we say “churchy” statements too often without truly understanding what they mean.  How often are we guilty of saying something we believe sounds spiritual but do not fully grasp the meaning of it?  I know I have been guilty of this myself.  I may be completely wrong, but I believe this happens a lot more often than we would like to admit.  I believe Christians often say things they think sound good but do not really know what they mean.  I think people say things out of custom or practice rather than from a true experience of what God has done in their lives.

But there is another, much deeper reason for my response that day.  At the risk of sounding stupid, I really didn’t understand what the word joy meant.  I know the statement itself is biblical (Nehemiah 8:10), and how the Psalms are filled with praises to God filled with joy.  I know that Jesus taught His disciples so they would experience a full or complete joy (John 15:11).  I know this is something I am supposed to be experiencing daily as a Jesus follower, but again I admit that I really did not grasp what this word meant.  This word that even without looking through years of sermon notes, I am certain that I taught about.  This word that I am sure I sang as I led worship many times.  A word that I had used often, but did not understand what it meant. 

Had I never experienced joy in my life?  Well of course I have.  Many moments in my life I look back and remember the joy that God blessed me with.  The day I watched Belinda walk the aisle toward me to be unified in marriage, times of sitting with my close family and friends, times where I saw students experience spiritual growth.  There are honestly too many moments to write about in a blog post.  But the reality is that I had lost joy in so many ways.  I was blinded by the pain of our circumstances in a way that I saw joy as more of a concept than something for me to have the opportunity to experience.  I began to believe I wasn’t good enough to experience His joy.  We had been hurt so much that I believed that I must not have the right to experience the joy God desires for me to.  In my mind if people disliked me so much, then certainly God is just tolerating me because He has to.

All of that is a complete lie.  I actually just set a while and looked at that statement as I typed this post and let it sink in.  God desires for me to experience Him and for the joy He provides to be my strength, just as much as He desires it for the next person.  His joy is more than just an emotion of happiness, but experiencing who He is in my life. 

I am beginning to take note of all the blessings in life and am gaining joy from them.  I can’t begin to explain how thankful I am for the ways that God is providing this.  Whether it is the sweet smile on my wife’s face for whatever reason (often from ice cream), a certain song, an encouraging text message, my community group praying over us for God’s guiding hand during this season, playing guitar on stage with a really good friend and hearing one of my best friends preach for the first time in a really long time, or seeing tears of love and compassion roll down my wife’s face as she cries with me on the difficult days. 

I had wrongly assumed this was all lost and unattainable.  So now I am writing this to share how grateful I am that through God's love and mercy I am regaining joy.  I have always loved David’s heart cry in Psalm 51, but now I am experiencing what it means to have the joy of God’s salvation restored in me.  The joy of the Lord is now where I am gaining strength daily.

I am not through the fog completely and I certainly wish that I was, but God is at work.  I hope that this small piece of how I am regaining joy will also bring you joy.  If you are like I was and believe that joy is unattainable, then my prayer is that God will show you today that this is a lie and that His joy is for you to regain.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Is It Worth It?


Difficult times are wonderful because to live one must die.  The challenge is accepting that.  When we do, it’s amazing.  Think about it, when was the last time we asked for challenging times to make us more like Christ?  We don’t.

That’s a snippet of a text conversation a few weeks ago with Jason, one of my closest friends.  God has surrounded me with people who are much wiser than I am.  I have thought a lot about that conversation since then.  If I am completely honest, I rarely, if ever ask God to make me more like Him when I am in the midst of difficult circumstances.  I usually ask two things:  1) For God to remove the difficult circumstances completely and 2) Is/Was this act of obedience even worth it if it allowed this much pain in our lives?

That second question is one Belinda and I have asked a lot.  In our heads we know overwhelmingly that the answer is “YES!”  However, in the midst of trying to understand it all, a lot of which we never will this side of heaven, we often don’t feel that the answer is yes.  In our minds we try to weigh the pain vs the fruit produced, and most fruit we will probably never know.  We question why would God allow these painful situations to occur, and completely ignore what His Word says in James 1:2-4.

I wrote earlier this week that if we knew God was calling us to go into a situation that would seemingly fail, would we still be obedient?  I talked about how our obedience requires faith, but by being obedient faith is produced in us.  I ended by using James 1:2-4 because I was reading it in preparation of our community group study this week.  We studied James 1:1-18 last night and it spoke so much truth into our lives.  We learned that the word “trial” or “test” is similar to how silver was refined.  It would be heated so the impurities would rise to the top and be scraped off.  This process would be done until the silver was pure enough for the silversmith to see his own reflection.  For us, God uses trials to refine us so that eventually our reflection is not of our own, but that we reflect Jesus.  It is during trials that God calls us to greater dependence on Him.  It allows us to be in a position to experience Him on a deeper level.  Through this process we become more like Him and display Him and His greatness to the world around us.

It’s difficult in the midst of circumstances to see that this is process that God desires for us.  I selfishly ask Him to completely remove them.  I rarely consider it joy.  I ask if it is even worth the pain, especially when dealt by the hands of other “Christ followers.”  But I know deep inside that the answer is yes.  When I see what He is doing in us now and where He has placed us, I know without a doubt that it is worth it.  It doesn’t mean that it never hurts, because we hurt daily.  I am still angry at many things.  While we are healing there is much more healing to experience.  But I am learning to look to God to experience His presence greater now than ever before so that I can be refined and reflect Him to the world.  If that is what it takes to be more like Him, then I am grateful.