Thursday, December 31, 2015

Another exercise in trust

Things today have been a little turmoil-ish.

I found out that my Jetta, in which I survived an incident with a drunk driver about two weeks ago, is likely to be deemed a total loss. Because of the way the vehicle was set up, this leaves me with no debt and no payments, but also no car.

That's a little scary to me.

But I also discovered that it's likely I will get money for "pain and suffering" and I will have medical expenses covered to get my back looked at. This is good.

I just don't know where God takes me from here. There are a bunch of big question marks looming in the coming months that I have yet to answer, and as much as I like to take things as they come, there are certain securities I like to have settled — my vehicle being one of them.

It's another exercise in trust and faith, I suppose.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Lord's many blessings

The last several weeks have been a wash, an outpouring of God's love and bold displays of his ability to care for me. I've been so busy lately that I haven't had time to reflect on the happenings of late, but my editor was gracious enough to give me the evening off (as a thank-you for working at 5 a.m.).

We're entitled to a little goofiness.
I've been battling bitterness these last few months, and it's been apparent that I need to learn how to keep those bitter thoughts at bay. Bitterness, like doubt, is a tiny seed when planted, but it quickly grows into an out-of-control weed.

Let me quickly lay out last week: Sund— you know what? Never mind. There's no sense in rehashing the reasons for me to be unhappy. I can just marvel that God has worked in my heart and mind to make me resilient to the bumps and bruises along the way. I'm safe, I'm warm, I'm fed and watered, and I'm loved. Period.

Christmas was a huge blessing. I saw my whole family together for the first time since June, and was able to introduce the newest member: my beloved best friend, with whom I look forward to a life of excitement and adventure. Marie has been an incredible revelation to me; someone I cherished in a platonic sense for years who worked her way into my heart and my future.

We were able to build a transcendent friendship  — one we were blissfully unaware would one day be more — and it shifted and blossomed into a relationship I can really take pride in.

She is one of many things God has given me recently that I haven't asked for. He wants to lavish on us, and that's been apparent. Everything from blessing me with safety in the wreck a few weeks ago (and giving me a slick rental for the Christmas road miles) to giving me a soft schedule this week as I look to adjust my daily life to more healthy habits.

I have plenty of things I want to accomplish in the next few months, and I'm sure I'll write further on those subjects individually, but it's exciting for the Lord to have re-awoken the ability for my heart and mind to DREAM once again. The prayers I have yet to ask have already been answered, and my time is free here and there for God to jump in and fill it with goodness.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tragédie à Paris

It dawned on me yesterday exactly how many times I've been working and touched by tragedy in the last several years.

As I sit here in the lobby of my old Starbucks and tap away, I clearly remember working the night of the shootings at Clackamas Town Center, and speaking with customers as they drove by the window in tears. I was at work shortly after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, and remember the chilled atmosphere amongst the customers.

Six months ago, a student at one of the high schools I covered was killed during the school day as she drove home from the local community college. I watched the students react in heartbreak over twitter throughout the day, and was part of the team covering the candlelight vigil that night.

I was on my way to the office on Oct. 10 when I learned about the shootings at Umpqua Community College — just 75 miles from where I live.

And just a few days ago, I sat trapped in the car, listening in horror as the terror in Paris unfolded.

It's really hard to pretend that sports matter on those days.

When Kerrigan Clark was killed, I struggled to return to work. When the students in Roseburg were murdered, I sat in a daze at my desk and listened to the chaos in the newsroom as we bent under the weight of what had happened a short distance away.

The town of Roseburg is still humbling to drive through. There are a handful of billboards along I-5, two of which carry Umpqua-related signs. One carries has large white letters on a black background, bearing the message, "UCC STRONG; we will prevail together."

It's hard to process all of this. The recent murders around the world (and that includes Beirut, in Syria, in Iraq...) are a powerful reminder as to who holds the title of prince on this hell-bent rock.

As often as I've been reminded of what matters in sports — the relationships, brotherhood, learning and growing, the emotion — I've also been drawn to do work that really matters. And not to waste time on things that aren't important.

My heart doesn't break for this lost world often enough. Asking the Lord to open my eyes to how much the earth needs redemption is a terrifying request, but if that's what it takes to motivate me out of my meaningless rut... so be it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Chasing the self-motivated man

I've spent ample time over the last few weeks thinking about sources of motivation. Being closely connected to athletics, I find it amazing to watch a kid who is self-motivated.

I'm not that way, not really.

I've spent too much time focusing on being better than the next guy, and not enough time trying to be the best version of myself. And that's unfortunate, because those two things are rarely at the same level.

I'm a competitive person, by nature, and therein lies the reasoning for much of what I do. If somebody else plays a game well, I want to play it better. If someone else writes a story or wins an award, I want to write it better. I find myself wanting to sing better, to give gifts better.

For starters, it's a terribly selfish habit, but that's another blog post on humility. I know how I come off sometimes. It's coming.

The bottom line, though, is that I think I've forgotten how to compete with myself. My reason for pushing myself has been external — in my job, and in my personal life. It extends to music and relationships, and worms into my family relations, as well.

I think it's Envy-based, which is something I've written about before. Remember, self, thank the Lord for his blessings when Envy starts to creep in.

Being more grateful will be the first personal aspect, I think, and it's important to keep things in the right perspective. Our society looks at a self-motivated person as continually saying, 'I can, I can.' It should be more of an, 'I will.' One presents self-betterment as a possibility, and the other as a reality.

This upcoming holiday season is a big opportunity. It's a chance to be genuine, and I have a shot at examining what my goals are in how I relate to people. What matters more: my being better than the people I'm around, or that I do my best in whatever I do?

Should be an easy answer. I will.

Monday, November 2, 2015

To walk, to wake

Rather late this morning, I finally convinced myself to get out of bed and drug myself across the hallway to have a machine make me coffee.

A sandwich and copious doses of caffeine in my system, I returned to my sheets and was about to click through to one of my Netflix addictions and continue to waste away my day.

This has become a pattern, and one that's difficult to break. And a day in bed doesn't exactly mean a day of rest — rather, it usually ends at three or four in the morning when I get bored of Criminal Minds and decide to sleep until the process begins over again the next day.

It makes for a sleepy — literally and figuratively — life.

But today was different. Coffee still in hand, I pulled my office chair from my closet and began organizing my things. Dirty laundry went to wash, clean laundry went to drawers and I went to work cleaning my life up.

I trimmed the beard last night, for the first time in two months. I'm getting a haircut tomorrow, and the old, ripped clothes that have been stowing away in my closets for the last few years are being disposed of. My bed is made, the dishes are put away and the floor of my little room is clear of obstacles.

I found my collection of wool socks, and might have let out a little murmur of pleasure when I put them on for the first time this fall.

I'm hoping that, somewhere deep in my consciousness, I've decided to wake up.

Looking back, I wonder how many opportunities I've missed for fear of upsetting my lazy routine. The chance to be in shape, the chance at making the last few years a little less lonely by stepping out and embracing my community. The chance at a stronger walk based on unrelenting trust.

I'm still hiding behind a screen, but I've moved to Rogue Roasters. It helps to clear my head, and with a few of the cobwebs knocked away, I find myself frustrated at the lack of meaning and progress I sometimes see in life.

This blog is full of quick-fix ideas. I'll give up Facebook for a week, I'll have my phone off on Sundays, I promise to be more active, I'll be working on immediately acting on God's whisperings... there's a little bit of everything.

Three years later, what is different?

Habits are built and broken. Sins are contracted and eradicated. That's all part of the process, but the whole idea is the difference in my heart. I've long wondered when the Jesus-thing will just click and make sense. I've asked for a Damascus moment, but it seems not very many people get those -- and for good reason.

I think God wants me to choose that on my own. I've got to make the conscious choice to DO something with my life. To change, to grow, to love.

To walk, to wake.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Addicted to work

My desk actually looks a little like this.
Hello, everyone. My name is John, and I'm addicted to work.

That's what it feels like, anyway. Maybe it's time for a self-intervention.

These last two weeks have been crazy. Tuesday, I started early and worked late. Wednesday, I started really early and worked really late. Today, I had a 9:30 a.m. appointment over in Medford to have my car looked at... and I'll be working late. The weekend is full of work in Eugene and a visit to Portland.

The only upside is that I think I'll finally be able to get to a church on Sunday.

I'm reminded of a handful of conversations I've had over the years about personal boundaries to keep certain things safe. I do a great job of isolating myself emotionally and spiritually, but I'm poor at protecting my personal time and horribly inept at putting boundaries around the time I reserve -- or don't reserve -- for my walk.

This is a problem, and one I have no idea how to fix. As I've detailed before, most of Sunday is spent in a daze recovering from the week that was. On weekdays, I do my best to drag myself out of bed in the late morning/early afternoon, attempt to get some exercise and food in, shower and go to work around three. If I'm lucky, I get home before 2 a.m., and begin the process again.

That doesn't leave time for reflection, and it certainly feels like there isn't time for prayer or reading. And as I sit for the first of four hours at a little Starbucks (yaaaasss) in Medford, I can see three different groups of men gathered here on this Thursday morning and talking about the bible, their faith and accountability.

Three groups. Yes, Lord, I see your point.

But how do I handle it? In Scappoose, God pointed me toward a pastor and friend and we met up a handful of times in the months before I moved. But here in Southern Oregon, everything is fresh and new. I don't know anyone, and hardly have the energy to look.

Maybe things will get easier as I get more comfortable. Hopefully work will slow down once fall postseason schedules have run their courses.

Thankfully, God's plate is capable of holding an awful lot more than mine.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cats and church

The last few weeks -- six of them now, I suppose -- have been so full of learning, writing, sleeping and complaining about the excess of the secondary and the lack of the latter that I've neglected to post any thoughts here.

Philadelphia, October 2015
Unfortunately, the thing that brings me back is the lack of my presence in a church. The last time I attended was before I left in August.

My stay in Grants Pass thus far has been a good one. The job has become more comfortable, and I've been blessed with a great place to stay while I look for something more permanant, something more of my own. My cat Philadelphia is staying with my parents in Klamath Falls, about 100 miles away, and I've visited her (and them) on a number of occasions.

In other words, more often than I've been to church.

My job has me working long, mentally taxing hours between Friday and Saturday, and I often find myself waking up on Sunday afternoon wondering where the day has gone. The haze and copious amount of Netflix on Sunday leads to another lazy day on Monday, and then it begins anew.

I need to somehow break myself out of this little cycle. I'm not sure if that means forcing myself out of bed on Sunday morning, or if that means I search for something on Sunday evening or Monday, but it needs to change. And it shall.

Stay tuned for more updates. I hope to begin writing more often, and using this blog as an excuse to get out of the house and mingle with... people...


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Many thanks in advance: the move

In the time between my last post and this one, my world has turned inside out -- kinda. A month from now, I'll be moving to Grants Pass to take a position at the Daily Courier, as most of my tiny blog-readership is already aware.

Change is difficult for me. I'm excited for the new possibilities that come from a larger town and a bigger newspaper. I'll get to cover seven high schools instead of two. I'll get to cover some collegiate athletics, including Oregon and Oregon State at times. Rent is cheap; the future is bright.

But something about all of this is still terrifying. I think it goes back to yearnings over the last several years for the chance to have God ask me to blindly jump into a new situation.

I know three people in Grants Pass/Medford, and one of them is my future editor. I don't make friends very easily, and usually prefer to hide away with Netflix, my cat and a bottle of wine. The prospect of having to find an apartment some 250 miles away and cultivate a new group of friends puts me on edge.

This is definitely a jump: find a home, find a church, find a new life. It's a fresh start, and one that God can dictate from the beginning.

Hopefully, I can look back at this post a year from now and write about how God stepped in and found me a place to live. I'll have a group of people I can trust and spend time with, and life will be peachy.

Experience should be enough proof, right? I found an apartment in Oregon City because I happened to look out the window on my way to work and discovered a perfect situation which hadn't ever been advertised on Craigslist. My place in Scappoose is close to my office, is cheap enough for me to afford and has been a good living situation.

For some reason, though, I still have anxiety about where I'll live. I've spent the last few days anxiously checking Craigslist, the local online classifieds and other apartment websites, desperate for a lead. Will I have a roommate? Will I have to live at the new office? How hard will it be to find a place for my cat?

I have to expect that God's answer will come in time. Maybe it'll come when I drive down in a few weeks to check things out again. Maybe it'll come after I've been living on somebody's couch for a month. But whatever happens -- and I need to work this into my fear-filled heart -- God will carry me through.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Rainbow Joward

The Supreme Court's decision to extend equal marriage rights to the homosexual community this week broke the internet.

It became the fad to add a rainbow filter over your Facebook profile photo, whether or not you'd ever openly advocated for gay rights before. Companies and news organizations trumpeted the ruling and jumped on a massive multicolored, politically-correct landslide.

I'm not here to debate politics. What I am here to do is leave a message for the Christianfolk with whom I (at times begrudgingly) identify.

To those of you who posted updates about how gays and lesbians will burn in hell, to those of you who wildly flailed your crucifixes in desperate hope that you wouldn't be mistaken for having agreed with the movement, for those of you who posted bible verse after bible verse condemning homosexuality -- this is for you.

Just because you don't agree with the movement doesn't mean you should be spreading a movement of hatred and fear.

We are called to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, as I've written about before. But we are also called to love the people around us -- and that's regardless of their age, race, eye color, hairstyle, religion, height, smell, favorite hockey team... and sexual orientation.

Putting a rainbow on my Facebook doesn't mean I'm a-jumpin' on the gay train, it carries a far more valuable meaning. I'm taking a stand to be loving and accepting, regardless of how others who share my faith have been reacting all week long.

Some of my thoughts were sparked by something a friend posted, a message by Ian Pratt on Instagram which captured my feelings in a really good way. Pratt talks about how Jesus met with and loved people from all walks of life, from the pharisees to the tax collectors and prostitutes. Pratt was moved to action, not by his convictions on the issue of gay marriage, but on the reaction from fellow believers.

"My message to the gay community is this," he writes. "You are loved. You have infinite dignity and worth."

And that should be the message. My personal beliefs aside, I love you guys. This isn't one of the, 'Hey, you can do what you want as long as it doesn't affect me,' things. I hope to treat you as I should the rest of my friends, with love and respect for who you are.

Jesus loves you, and that doesn't change.

To those who are 'enraged,' as one commented mentioned, I'd challenge you to discover why. Gay people are nothing to be afraid of. In fact, they are to be loved as neighbors -- much like the Samaritan, who would have been the sworn enemy of the Jews along the road. God doesn't set parameters of who he loves and when he loves, so why should we?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Jesus the wave-maker strikes again

Jesus is excellent at shock-value statements. Excellent.
It seems to be through some strange plan of God's that I find myself sitting in a cafe hiding from the rain, sipping a sweetly caffinated beverage and reading up on Jewish law on an otherwise unremarkable Monday afternoon.

My mini-study began as research on a post about how sex and worship are on a level with one another, and it ended with a fairly fascinating realization regarding a verse and a bible story I'd known for years.

It's a story reflected in three of the Gospels -- Mark, Luke and Matthew -- and we know from experience that if God wants to emphasize something in his word, it gets repeated.

Flashback: Jesus is asked by one of his disciples (you can read the whole story here) about who will be the greatest in the kingdom of the Heaven. It's a selfish request from selfish men, who size one another up and ask for special favors on more than one occasion.

But Jesus isn't about to cater to their worldly wants. We're talking about one who has the power to calm the wind and the waves, and he's about to make a few waves on his own.

Jesus responds in a way that likely surprised them, calling a child over to sit on his knee and explaining to his followers that the greatest in the Heaven will be the ones who humble themselves like children. Jesus then goes on to make an interesting statement.

"If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea," Jesus tells his audience.

For the Jews, who would have understood the basic rules and prohibitions of their culture extremely well, that statement would have been mind-blowing.

A large part of Judaic law centered around preserving life -- even at the cost of violating minor laws. There's an extensive list of what things do and don't count as "minor" enough, a list which excludes desecrating the name of the Lord -- whether through idolatry, public transgressions of Judaic law meant to desecrate the Torah or otherwise. It also includes certain forms of sexual immorality, and murder.

It's a little more complicated than I fully understand or have the time/space to include, but the Jews were supposed to value life -- even their own life -- above everything but those three commandments. If the Jews were under threat of death, they were supposed to allow themselves to be killed rather than break one of the three above-all rules. Jesus is now telling them that, rather then cause a child to sin, it would be better for them to literally tie a giant rock around your neck and jumping into the sea.

It goes beyond personal responsibility, and has to do with how your actions affect those around you.

Jesus is laying the groundwork for the theatre of the mind in which we battle to manage our thoughts and imaginations. Lust is equated to adultry -- part of the "sexual imorality" section -- and hatred is akin to murder. In a moment, he'll talk about how it is better to cut off your hand than have it cause you to sin -- the same with one of your eyes.

It's a well-known quotation of Jesus that the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The Jewish leaders took the same commandment to justify giving up your own life -- all your strength -- in order to fulfill the commandment. Loving your neighbor was rule 1A in the mind of Jesus, and with that background in mind, his words would have hit home with those listening.

Your actions, and the way they affect the people around you, matter. Jesus adds essentially adds a fourth exception, saying that causing others to stumble was on a level with murder and should be avoided on pain of death.

Thankfully, God forgives. The penalty for all sins, big and small, is death. We have grace as we stumble and cause others to stumble with us, but Jesus gives a strong warning: in the same way that it's better to cut off a hand than steal or cut out an eye than lust, death is better than being a stumbling block.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

God's heavenly solutions

I had a moment like this today, minus the broom and the pink shirt.

Anyone who knows me well understands that I enjoy pushing the envelope from time to time, and I like getting under peoples skin and watching them react.

My bad habits as a columnist have caught the attention of angry parents or administrators from time to time, and in turn, my publisher. I've been called into the little conference room at our office on a number of occasions, and each one has been thrilling in it's own right.

Once, we discussed my accidental reference to an administrator's coworkers as "cronies." Later, we talked about how my coverage needed to be more comprehensive. A few months later, I was informed of a different administrator's attempt to ban me from campus and have me arrested -- for which we threatened a lawsuit.

The top such incident came after a column critical of game day operations that resulted in an irate parent emailing the CEO of our company, suggesting that I be reigned back to simply reporting box scores and occasionally using words like 'slam dunk,' and ended by saying, "I merely ask that your publication NEVER pay him for anything ever again."

Needless to say, my publisher threatened to fire me if I wrote about the cheer team again.

Also needless to say, when he asked me to step into the conference room with him today, which is more than a year removed from our last private visit, I was convinced  -- a little sarcastically -- that I was headed for joblessness.

I didn't get fired, I was given a raise.

Remember how I wrote a few weeks ago about clearing my head of earthly solutions and giving God room to work miracles?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Communion's questionable timidity

There's such thing as too much, but I think we're too timid as a Church.

I often ask myself this during church services -- and communion, especially.

Why are we so quiet and reserved? Why are we so timid? If we are celebrating the DEATH and RESURECTION of Jesus, why do we sit silently and think with our minds instead of jumping and shouting for joy?

I think some of this frustration comes from God beginning to change my heart and my walk from an intellectual one to an emotional one. Our relationship takes pondering and meditation, don't get me wrong, but how many times in the Bible did we see characters react to miracles by quietly bowing their heads and solemnly closing their eyes?

I've come to understand that -- and this seems a little obvious, at first -- Bible characters are just people. There's nothing special about Paul, other than his education and ability to teach. The apostles didn't have super powers. They're just some guys with God-given gifts.

Because they're people like us, they wade through the same issues. It takes a little time to build up trust. Even the Bible characters made bad choices early on. They had doubts, they struggled and they made mistakes. Thomas doubted Jesus' resurrection, and the disciples feared for their lives in the boat during the storm.

Look at Abraham, for example. Long before we read about his example of trusting God with the life of his son, we read about how he and Sarah decide to jump the gun and jump the rails of God's plan to make a nation of Abraham. Their impatience -- a lack of trust -- leads to some nasty family business, and it's only years later that Abraham has grown in faith to the point that he's able to trust God with the life of his promised and belove'ed son.

My point? Abraham was human.

So was David, and David praised God by singing and shouting and dancing -- sometimes clothed, and sometimes not. And while I won't condone worshiping in the nude, I think the important lesson to learn is that God is an EMOTIONAL being as well as an intellectual one, and I'm frustrated with how hard it is to let go and worship God in an emotional way.

I'm also not saying that communion should be replaced by jumping up on the table and acting like monkeys, but it'd be interesting to examine how we go about such a service. There's an element of self-reflection, but we can't forsake the jumping and leaping and praising God part of it, either.

The people in the bible were humans just like us, and they made mistakes, just like us. But if  they were human and they worshiped undeservedly, then why don't we?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reflections on the faithfulness of God

This is my happy place, in my favorite corner with my headphones blaring weird music.
As has been typical over the last several weeks, a night off calls for hitting the road to St. Helens in search of inspiration, a green tea -- or should I say, iced grande, no-classic green iced tea -- and a quiet corner at the only Starbucks in Columbia County.

A quick glance at this afternoon's schedule immediately reminded me of my forming habit, one which has brought about several chances to jot down notes on how God is beginning to shape me a little at a time, and how I've grown over the last few years.

Normally, a thought will strike me early in the day before I get a chance to write. It generally comes to me as I'm showering before work, and I'm able to turn over the idea in my head for a few hours. Today, I came home from a brutally long stretch at the office with my fuzzy, over-worked brain a little burnt out. 

Maybe I would write about a thought I'd had last week contrasting redemption and salvation? Maybe I could finally complete a post I'd started around Easter about my frustrations surrounding exactly how conservative churches are. Maybe I could read back through old posts and wait for one idea to out-shine the others.

Being a little lazy and off my inspiration-game, I opted for the third path and perused the entries from my final few months at Starbucks and first few months working for the Spotlight, my current place of employment.

What I came across was fairly fascinating, and something I've seen from God in the very recent past. I documented financial struggles two years ago, and was able to look at how my reactions have changed when some tax issues hit me a few months back. It was a major testiment to God's work in my heart.

Two summers ago, I was in the midst of having been turned down for a job at my hometown newspaper, the Molalla Pioneer. Even at the time, I noted how I was able to handle the 'rejection' much better than expected, and I looked forward to other opportunities God would have for me. I was frustrated with Starbucks and felt like I was ready to move on to something new.

Sound familiar? I'm not sure how much I've actually captured here on this blog, but I feel some of that still. The job here in Scappoose has been a major blessing, but I'm somehow unable to shake the looking-for-something-bigger-and-better compulsion. It's interesting, though, that every time I've been turned down for a job, there's been something better waiting around the corner.

God kept me at Starbucks a little while longer until something opened up that I couldn't have imagined. It was one of those non-earthly solutions to a problem that I've been thinking about quite a lot over the last few weeks. Maybe the same thing is in store for me this time around.

For me, it's important  that I continue to throw my shoulder to the wheel, no matter where God has placed me. I'm not sure how long he has me in my current position, whether it be two months or two years.

At the end of the day, it helps to look back at my life and see the times that God has come through with the best possible solution for me. God doesn't change his character, and so I can trust that I will be well cared-for in the future.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Dominoes and an impolite Jesus

Sometimes change isn't comfortable. God never promised you that you would be.
At the very end of the post last week about grown up decisions, I had origonally written out a paragraph about feeling as though God had set up a number of dominoes and was simply waiting for the right time to knock them all down. I ended up deleting the graph because it didn't quite fit with the rest of the post, but it stuck with me.

The phrase came to mind again this afternoon during a conversation with a fellow churchgoer after today's service -- there are pieces God has been setting in place in readiness for some big change.

The music team met and, for really the first time, discussed bettering what we do on Sundays. The teaching today was a little awkward at first, but raw and powerful and honest. It was transparent, and began to break down longstanding barriers of fear.

I've no idea what the dominoes will look like when they fall, but I think back to a few days ago when I asked God to clear my mind of earthly solutions to problems and instead work wonders that I couldn't imagine. The Lord provided for me that day, and in a way I hadn't really considered.

I find it interesting that there are bricks being laid for a new foundation at my morning-church in the same way that the Lord is laying bricks for a new foundation in my life. Perhaps the biggest lesson I've learned over the last few weeks is that I can relax and allow myself to focus on growing in Christ instead of attempting to force sin from my life.

I've always been reminded of the song that begins, 'Come, just as you are, to worship.' For a long time, that phrase seemed like it had to do with what you looked like Sunday school. It's taken on an entirely different meaning for me.

I can't allow sins and struggles to keep me from letting God speak into my life. If I spend too much time focusing on being better and on erradicating bad habits and bad choices, it becomes really easy to drown out God's teaching.

Think of it this way: don't be so busy rowing that you forget to raise the sails.

It's always stuck in my mind to ask God to fill me so full of himself that there isn't really room for anything else. All the bad things, the habits, the additions, the wandering thoughts -- all those things are gone, not because I forced them to leave and was left empty, but because I swapped them for the things of Christ.

There's no gap, and no waiting period in between the two. God isn't polite enough to ask for a nice, clear space in my heart, and I hope that I become more aggressive in asking God to take my heart by force.

In that same breath, I hope to continue -- or to be more transparent, begin -- to ask God to be so present in my life that I cannot ignore Him and the things he does. It's something I found scribbled on a piece of paper when I cleaned out my trunk a few days ago, and I think it captures a longing I had years ago for a time in which I would grow and prosper.

That time is now.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In which, I make grown-up decisions

I woke up this morning with taxes on my mind, and the thought of exactly how hard the next few months might be. A few hours later, after paying more money than I'd like and pressing send, I collapsed at the foot of the bed, weighed down by the reality of the position I'm in.

I've written a few times in the last several months about an issue with my taxes costing me a fair amount of money, and a fair amount of money that I don't have. I'd done the math and in theory, it seemed like I would just scrape by. Today, I actually felt the pressure and wilted under it.

After some tearful moments of desperation, I asked God to clear my head of all the plans I'd made to stay afloat until next year's tax returns (as in, 2016) arrive. I'd come up with all sorts of ideas, things ranging from donating plasma or finding a roommate to finding a higher-paying job, but for those few minutes, all those things seemed worthless. I didn't want my earthly solutions.

I had a quick breakfast, and stepped into my daily thinking-place for a shower. Then a thought hit me.

I'd always heard about how the apostles celebrated in the hard times and during persecution, and while 1 Peter 12-14 doesn't relate perfectly to the words that popped into my head this morning, I have a better understanding for what it means to rejoice in tribulation.

The greater the challenge, the more I will have to praise God for once he's brought me through it.

Sure, I've painted myself into this corner, and I get that -- like Paul says in Galatians -- we aren't supposed to mess up in life simply so that more of God's grace is poured out. But at the same time, I find myself less filled with dread and more filled with excitement to see what plans and little miracles God has on the path ahead of me.

At the least, these next few months will teach me a great many things. It will teach me about how wasteful I've been, and how much I can afford to NOT have. It will also serve as a reminder that my money doesn't belong to me, and that any and everything I have comes from the Father.

I can't help but wonder if it all goes back to finally being willing and brave enough to ask God to take away the things I didn't need to serve him. It seems as though, and I've mentioned this before, there are a handful of puzzle pieces being amassed in my heart simply waiting for God to piece them together.

Here, there is more immediate evidence of the redemptive process. In the past, this post would have been filled with fear -- just as my terrified prayers were this morning. I've had plenty of blog posts similar to those few moments, but I find it incredible that I've grown enough to see things in a different light and see an opportunity for God to be glorified.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Love, you're doing it wrong

Music has always had a particular way of allowing God to speak to me, and a few weeks ago, David Crowder's Oh, How He Loves Us popped into my head -- no doubt a quiet prompting.

I settled on the phrase in the chorus in which the song focuses on the awe of God loving us. In conjunction with God being God, and everything I know about God, that didn't make any sense. If God is just and perfect, there's no reason for God to love us as he does.

John 3:16 says that God loved the world so much that He sacrificed his son so we could be with him. In that frame of mind, the love of God is great -- it's huge and immeasurable, by our human standards -- but God's love is still quantifiable.

In other words, it can be earned and it can be lost.

That's a scary thought. If God's love can be measured, it can be used up. And with all the sin in the world, it would make sense that God's love would eventually run dry.

There's a flaw in that thinking, though. John 3:16 doesn't talk about WHY God loves us, it simply states that He does. God's love is unconditional, and I've grown up thinking that God's love is unconditional because there's a whole bunch of it.

That's now how unconditional works, though. Unconditional means that love is literally outside of conditions.

God doesn't love us because of what we do, how we act or who we are. God loves us BECAUSE we are. 

Consider the relationship between a parent and a child. No matter what happens between them, the son will always be the child of the father. If the father's love is based on the fact that the son is HIS son, then it will never change. It will never dissipate, and it will never grow or diminish based on how the son acts.

That light makes God's love far more comforting, I think. There's nothing that I could do to change the fact that God loves me, because he doesn't love me for the things I bring or don't bring to the relationship. He doesn't love me because of my talents or my looks, and certainly not because of my faithfulness.

God loves me because he created me and because God is love, and I will always be his creation -- regardless of the things I do in this life. God's love is unrelenting, it's a wall or a wave. It's unbroken and unfailing and constant.

What an example, and what a fresh way of thinking! If we are made in his image and we are called to reflect him, then we are called to the same love -- love that it outside condition. That's why it doesn't matter how we're treated, and it doesn't matter whether or not we get anything back from the relationship.

I need to learn to love like that.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A look back at two years of progress

It's typical of me that I didn't realize it was Thursday until I'd finished writing.
When I started writing on this blog almost exactly two years ago, the original idea was to give myself a way to look back at the past and see God working in my life.

The first few posts were pretentious, at best. I think part of it might have been that I hadn't gotten into the routine of cutting needless information out of my writing, but it seems the very wording of the early topics is fluffy with the intent to deflect attention away from myself and my own issues.

They're filled with flowery language you might expect in some fancy bible commentary, and from my perspective, I did an awfully good job of pretending I was... something different. Take this next paragraph, for example, from the opening monologue:

"Now, that's not to say that we are not redeemed by Christ and signed by the blood of Jesus into the book of life, but though we are already saved, we are still surrounded by the sin we choose to participate in. The redemptive process, salvation, is nothing more or less than Christ's every day good work to make us more and more like the Father."

Uhm, what? Sure, I believe those words, but I feel like they were written by somebody else -- or at least with the intent to sound like somebody else. The next post, written about making plans without trusting God, is a little better, but there's still a strong sense of distance between myself and the reader. I offer two examples and analyze them as though I've come through hellfire and brimstone with some sort of higher knowledge, regardless of the fact that I was likely more mired in issues of trust than anyone who dared read my commentary.

It wasn't until a few weeks later that the current framework for the blog began to take place, beginning with a post about my thoughts, my fears and my concerns after finding out that I'd lost a job that was supposed to help pay for my newly leased apartment. Here, though it's brief and slightly isolated, I'm finally honest with myself. I finally capture something real: the fear surrounding where I would live and what I would eat.

That kind of fear has hit me several times over the last two years, including my first few weeks at my current job. I had to borrow money from a friend to pay for gas, and was living on two top ramen packets per day until my second paycheck arrived.

The fear hit once again when I was terrified that I'd managed to somehow strand myself in Finland without enough money to get home, and recently, fear arrived at my doorstep upon discovering that I was several thousand dollars in debt to the government after some mistakes on my taxes.

The Lord, faithful and true, took care of me and provided just enough to make it through having lost the job back in March of 2013. I got an unexpected care package of food from a family member that August to help me through those tough financial times, and God managed to barter down the price of a re-booking to get home from Finland so that I didn't have to borrow any money.

So as I struggle to wrap my mind around the next challenge, even after God blessed me a few weeks ago, I've never been more glad to have started this project and stuck with it, though spotty at times. If there's anything that I've learned through reading a few of the early posts, it's how God has developed a deeper honesty through my writing than I had before.

I'm better at threshing the wants from the needs, and I'm becoming a little bolder when asking for things. It's a process, and a slow one at that, but I feel as though God is setting pieces in place for a big move all at once.

Most of all, I see God's hand in all of this. It's an important reminder that God has taken care of me in the past -- and as God doesn't change, he will continue to care for my needs in the future.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Blessings and a financial crisis

I don't have much time, so I'll just leave this little post-it note:

About a month ago, I discovered some tax issues that will end up putting pressure on me financially. I reached out to a friend, who had one response: "Pray."

A month later, the Lord has given me plenty of reminders that He can, does and will continue to provide for my needs -- both financial and otherwise.

First came a freelance opportunity with the NWAC (you can read the results of my weekend), during which I got an email from the sports editor of the Eugene Register Guard asking about freelancing for the upcoming high school tournaments. I mentioned that I'd be back from the NWAC tournament in a few days, and I'd love to help out.

Then God opened another door: The timing worked out that I got to freelance a game at the NWAC tournament, and two more high school games when I returned. With the freelance money and an expense check from February around the corner, I was pretty blown away at the Lord's response.

Now my insurance is going down.

I think it's an important reminder that when we ask, the Lord loves us and cares for us in ways we can't possibly predict. I've noticed over the last few months there have been several things I've wanted and not received, but have only realized after the fact that I wanted but never asked.

Maybe it's a pride thing -- I feel like I should have to bother God about my personal wants and wishes, and would rather chase after them on my own. Maybe it's the opposite, that I don't feel qualified or worthy of asking for things.

Just remember this, John, the next time a door seemingly opens: You are blessed, you are blessed, you are blessed. There's no harm in talking about it with the One who loves you the most.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Deliberate decisions and responsibility

Pardon me if this is a bit of a ramble, but I need to get my thoughts out where I can go over them later. Not having a laptop has seriously limited my abilities since July, but a new machine has re-opened the door for late-night trips to whatever coffee shop will have me.

There's no sense in leaving life up to chance.

Tonight's topic is semantics, more or less. Over the last few months, I've noticed myself referring to my past as "full of mistakes." And that's true, in part. I have made plenty of mistakes. I've gone into plenty of things with good intentions, only to have them come off the rails.

My problem with such thinking is that it takes blame for wrongdoing from my shoulders and puts it on chance. I tried to do the right thing, but simply got caught up.

But I think that's wrong. And I think that's poisonous.

Sure, I've made mistakes. But more often than not, they're not "mistakes." They're decisions. Bad decisions. Deliberately choosing the sinful option isn't a mistake, it's a conscious direction.

It's really interesting to watch kids disobey their parents and feign innocence. I remember doing it in elementary school, and pretending to have not understood the playground rules. If I claimed I was ignorant of the rule, I could get out of the punishment, right?

While that might have worked as a fourth grader in terms of actual consequences, but I'd bet money the playground attendant knew exactly what was going on. I was a handful not worth their time to deal with.

It's easy to scoff at the 10-year-old me now that I'm older, but it's also a little frustrating to realize I haven't broken the habit with age.

The "mistake" vs. decision confusion is the same years later  -- claiming you were misinformed or misguided, instead of admitting to having chosen to do the wrong thing with the full knowledge of what you were doing.

I can't help but wonder if my lack of responsibility for my actions has led to my inability to deal with and let go of things. That's been an issue of mine for as long as I can remember, dating back to that girl in high school or someone -- and I actually thought of this today -- telling me during my senior year that my shirt was too small.

Those things still rest on my mind from time to time. I'm not saying everything negative in my entire life is because of decisions I've made, but learning to take responsibility for the things I have done might allow me to figure out how to let go of hurtful things in my past.

Everybody makes mistakes. We're not perfect beings, and that seems to simply be part of life. BUT that doesn't absolve us -- absolve me -- of responsibility for the choices I make.

Maybe I just need to slow down a little bit. Maybe I just need to listen a little bit more. Maybe I just need to heed the things I hear when I listen. Maybe God has been laying the groundwork for a new way of thinking over the last few weeks with this continued theme.

Whatever happens going forward, I'm glad to be back on the blogging wagon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

We the black sheep | The reasons why I've begun to resent the church

Black sheep stick out because of their wool, but they're the same as everyone else on the inside.

I've noticed an interesting thought in my head recently, and one which continues to pop up more and more frequently. Though I've wanted to write about it for some time now, I've always hesitated because of how it might come off.

The reason? I've begun to resent the church for the way it treats black sheep.

Looking back at my childhood and relatively isolated upbringing, there are so many positives from how I was raised that have helped to mold me into the believer I am today. I understand the value of small-church community, and I've been helped along by the people from the body I've spent most of my life participating in.

But having made my fair share of mistakes and drifted more often than I'd like to admit, I can't help but look back at my old viewpoint on sin and wish I had learned to approach righteousness differently.

Example: When I was relatively young, I got mad at my older sister and I felt so badly about being angry I apologized through tears. I might have been seven or eight, and things like being angry, telling fibs or staying up late to read after my parents had put me to bed was the worst offenses I'd ever committed. I was destroyed at the prospect of having done something so wrong.

An earlier draft of this post skipped this next thought and moved on to slamming people for not reaching out to those who didn't have clean wool like they did. But after a fair amount of thought, I've realized that a large reason I reacted the way I did when I made mistakes or sinned as a youngster was out of a fear that I would be caught. Embarrassment plays a major role, and I would rather waste away than be vulnerable and admit my wrongdoings.

The next paragraph of the old post talked about how I sometimes missed the old standard, and how I'd gained perspective as I'd grown up. What I've come to understand, though, is that my fear of being discovered has led to my spiritual isolation from fellow believers. Instead, I learned to accept and befriend people as broken and twisted as myself, and along the way I think I've somehow become desensitized to the horror of sin.

I understand that there is a trade off; a compromise, I suppose. I'm not so horrified by the front they face to the world that I can't love people IN the world, but I've flown close enough to the sun to get burned, and I have scars that only Jesus himself can make new. He takes me in his arms daily for that purpose. I am well cared for.

Now to the meat of my resentment: Why was I — am I — afraid to be transparent with my own church? Is it because I grew up thinking I needed to look the right way and do the right things in order to be accepted? Is it pride? Probably. I've written about that particular issue before. But I think there's a larger component based on what I see around me. And as a disclaimer, this isn't directed at the church I attend. It's directed at THE Church as a whole.

I've seen the silent look of pity; the disapproving look Jesus describes in Luke 18. He tells of a pharisee who went to pray at the temple alongside a tax collector. The pharisee prays and thanks the Lord that he is not like the tax collector, that he prays and fasts as he should, and he's not caught up in sin — he's not "dirty."

If I carried all my sins up in front of MY church, would they look at ME that way? Why does a man who is openly gay, someone battling drugs or a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock get treated as repugnant in this church of Christ? Does the parable of the good Samaritan mean nothing? And what of Jesus' life example: he chose to spend his time with tax collectors, was heralded by shepherds and showed love and acceptance to whores.

So much for the current standard, right? While you bitch and moan about having a problem with swearing -- oops, did I say that? -- I'll sit and silently decide not to bring up the hit I'd taken in the parking lot earlier, or the person I'd slept with the previous night.

I've made mistakes. I've had some really dark stretches in my life, and I've never brought that to the church asking for help. Why would I? I know what to expect: the look and "Oh... wow. Well, I'll be praying for you, man."

Here's another excerpt from the first edition that I'll include because I feel like it captures the resentment, anger and fear I feel from people who have chosen to stay away from the church rather than face judgement from fellow believers: "I can hear the words coming out of someones mouth, and they make my blood boil. This world isn't all puppies and rainbows, my friend, and if you can't handle anything juicer than being late to book club, I've obviously chosen the wrong place to be transparent."

It makes non believers afraid to walk in the door. They know what awaits them. That young pregnant girl already sees it daily at the coffee shop. It makes wayward believers afraid to return and ask for support. They've seen it too, on the faces of their former friends or relatives before they fell away.
And lastly -- and this is the worst poison -- it keeps believers who struggle with unsavory sins from being real, honest and open with their fellow believers. I count myself in this group, and I've begun to resent the "oh poor me, I lied once this week" crowd.

If that's the worst you've done, praise Jesus. You're further along the path to sanctification than I am, but I'm willing to bet there's something a little darker under the surface. If not, you have something invaluable.

We the black sheep -- weather we're open about our struggles or not -- don't need your pity. We don't need your self-righteous "come to Jesus" speech, and we definitely don't need your judgement. We don't even need your religion.

We need your love. And love knows no boundaries. It is patient and kind and accepting. It doesn't judge, and it doesn't compare. It leaves the fixing to the Lord and trusts in His timeline to do so.

There's nothing wrong with long hair. There's nothing wrong with tattoos. Jesus' example of the pharisee and the tax collector actually ends with the tax collector beating his chest, humbling himself and walking away justified before God. There's nothing that should keep you from showering love and support on anyone who walks through those doors -- harlot or pastor. The sacrifice of the Cross applies to them equally.