One Word for 2014

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I am a fan of AT&T’s current ad campaign. Who doesn’t love kids saying hilarious things on TV? The newest commercial began airing recently and I found it less funny yet more profound. 

Maybe unintentionally AT&T is onto something here with our New Year’s Revolutions.

Several years ago, I jumped on board with my friend Alece Ronzino’s One Word 365 movement. It truly has become a movement. I believe that so often we sit around and make list after list of things we want to change about our lives leading up to a new year and the complexity and vastness of the list actually hinders our ability to focus on what’s most important. We lack focus in the area that God truly wants to concentrate His efforts in us.

Isn’t that what’s most important anyway? Shouldn’t our priority be what God wants to do in us instead of the list of things we want to do in our own strength? It is the struggle of all struggles, after all, what we can do versus what He can do…what we want versus what He wants.

I heard a message from Austin Stone Downtown Campus Pastor, Jeff Mangum last week about how, just maybe, God wants to work in the small, dark places of our hearts that we haven’t even examined in awhile. That message helped me unpack what God had been speaking to me quietly for a few weeks, my One Word for 2014.

My word for this year is…NEW.

God isn’t in the business of cosmetics. He’s in the business of reconstruction…Complete tear downs and rebuilds. God does his best work from the ground up.

The Book of Genesis is a perfect example. God started Mankind’s existence from the dust. There wasn’t anything he had already made that he felt he could just improve on or modify, he just made something new. God is an expert on new.

In Isaiah 43:19 he says,

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

It is in this passage where I see the connection between Jeff’s point on small, dark places and new. There is a phrase we use about others, but seldom about ourselves, “He/she is rough around the edges.” We all have rough edges. Our lives are so full of hurt and pain that life is bound to scuff a few edges. Often times that comes in the form of poor choices we make and other times from no fault of our own. Regardless, how we smooth those edges is our choice. Many times we are disinterested in doing anything at all. Sometimes, we’ve become so accustomed to the roughness that we don’t even realize it is there anymore.

What we tend to want to do is to throw on a mask, or put new clothes on the rough spots. That’s not what God does. He takes the masterpiece that we already are and he begins to sand us down in the carpenter’s workshop. He planes us down to our foundation and resets our basis. From there He remakes us into a new creation.

The thing I’ve discovered in the last few months is that God doesn’t just smooth out the rough edges, the tough stuff. Starting from scratch also means the edges that were already smooth also get remade. Sometimes we hold onto good too long. We can let good get in the way of new.

Only God can do this stuff. Only God is creative enough to be able to make new the human soul. Only God can cause someone to be reborn. Only God can make me new.

My focus in 2014 is on allowing God to make me new. the crazy thing is that God just doesn’t do this new thing one time. Remember the Isaiah passage? He is in the present tense, always now, making new. It is a daily newness that comes from walking with Christ. I am so looking forward to what God is going to do in 2014 in every area of my life.

Just maybe AT&T is onto something with this New Year’s Revolution thing. God isn’t into a resolution in our souls, he’s into starting a revolution of newness in us.

Dropped Connection

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Take a minute to look at your Facebook wall.
How many “friends” do you have? Hundreds? Thousands?

Take a look at your Twitter account.
How many people are you following? How many follow you?

How often do you send and receive texts?

We have been fed this line that we’re more connected than we’ve ever been. We have more ways to have “meaningful” relationships than any generation that has come before us. If that is truly the case, why do we feel increasingly more lonely?

We aren’t really more connected with one another. We’re actually more isolated than we’ve ever been and worse than that, we believe we’re not. We’re missing connection and deceiving ourselves into believing we’re more connected than ever. We can’t figure out why we feel so lonely.

Our connection online and through these internet connected devices we carry with us have sold us a false sense of connectivity and human interaction.

Don’t get me wrong, the potential for increased connectivity exists today that has never existed before. We have the opportunity to start new relationships that were once impossible, but only if we take the next step in community building. We have to take the step of face to face interactions. We don’t take our connectivity far enough. We stop short of real human-edifying connection.

We’ve replaced real relationships and intimacy for bad habits. We have become a people who can no longer communicate beyond 140 characters. We are more reluctant than ever to have difficult conversations because these conversations have become increasingly more difficult now that we no longer have deep respect and intimacy with others. In place of respect and intimacy, we’ve put passive aggressive behaviors like texting difficult and important information.

Our culture is on a breakneck pace in terms of developing technology, but we are also on an equally paced downward slide of relational competency.

I am challenging myself to take a step this week to have a face to face connection with someone just to develop the relationship.

What about you?

The Challenge of Living in Transition

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We spend so much of our lives planning stuff. We plan everything from entire days to trips to the grocery store. There’s a part of our culture that looks at you kinda funny if your life isn’t all planned out and shiny bright. We say things like, “When I get into my dream home…” or “When I get my stuff together, then I can get married.”

I have spent the better part of the last four years in perpetual transition. Relationships, homes, money, jobs, churches…LIFE. IN. TRANSITION.

I keep thinking, “When I finally get into that perfect job opportunity, in that perfect place, with that perfect person, life will be back to normal.” I’ve spent time reluctant to build strong relationships and plant roots because life didn’t feel normal.

But, the more I yearn for normal, the more I realize that Jesus is calling me to a normal that is comfortable in transition. So maybe the challenge of living in transition is actually being ok with living in transition.

What do you think?

Is it planning or worry?

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Have you ever been in a situation where you know the next move you are supposed to make but you are waiting on timing? You’re living in the balance of waiting on God and stepping out in faith.

I’ve been there. I am currently there. Honestly, I don’t have the answers. As a matter of fact I’m looking for answers myself.

I got reacquainted with a story in the Gospel of Matthew over the weekend that got me thinking about it again.
Jesus is sending his disciples out for ministry. He tells them that he is giving them everything they need. He’s promised them that they have His power to heal and do signs and wonders that point to God’s greatness. Then he says this:

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. (Matthew 10:9, 10 NIV)

Jesus promises that they will have everything they need if they just go in His name. He assures them that he will provide.
This theme runs through the Gospels and is central to Jesus’ teaching. Our job is to go. His job is to provide for the details. We’re not supposed to worry. He takes care of the big picture.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:25, 26 NIV)

Then he says…

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33 NIV)

This really resonates with me, yet I can’t help but think about what I’ve always been taught.
Aren’t we supposed to plan and watch and pray?

Do we go with our heads up and our hope in Christ or do with watch and pray?

If 35 year old me could talk to 25 year old me

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When we’re young we look forward to birthdays. They are filled with parties, sleep overs, gifts and friends. The older we get, the more they change. Today is my 35th birthday. The last several weeks have been filled with opportunities to think about where I’ve been, where I am and where I go from here.

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If you could travel through time, like flux capacitor, 1.21 gigawatts type time travel, and have a conversation with a younger you, what would you say?

If I could travel back in time and talk to 25 year old me, there is so much I’d say. I guess I start out by asking him what his dreams are. What do you really want to get out of this life. I think I can remember what those were but they are definitely more blurry today than they were then. I think he’d say that he wants to be more in love with his wife and kids every year as the family grows and becomes more like Jesus. I think he’d say that he wants be a part of a church that really gets the Gospel. I think he’d say that he wants to personally reach people far from God and help them see the face of Jesus. He’d say he wants to become a great husband, father and leader.

I would tell 25 year old me to get off the computer and get his priorities straight. I’d tell him how much his new family needs him to lead, to be the man that God made him to be. I’d share with him the importance of honesty, integrity and grace, both giving and receiving it. I’d share with him how much he’s going to need strong Christ-like men in his life and that he needs to start cultivating those relationships now.

Most importantly, I would share with him that when things get tough, and they will, he needs to lean into his family not withdrawal from it. When the valleys in family life come, ask for help don’t try to fix it alone. 25 year old Jason needs to know that the only way to navigate these waters in life is by growing in Christ.

I would hope that after hearing all this that 25 year old me would be convicted and then excited about what the future holds. Maybe, just maybe, 25 year old me would look back at himself 10 years later and say something like, “Keep living, keep dreaming, keep loving and keep growing in Christ. It’s not too late to make the dreams that God has placed in us reality.”

Just One Time…

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…I’d like someone to tell me the truth.

“It’s probably not going to be better tomorrow.”

“This is gonna hurt for a long time.”

“This may be exactly where God wants you to be.”

That’s why I really like my counselor. He’s a truth-teller. He doesn’t mince words or sugarcoat. He shoots straight. He says things like, “Have you thought that maybe God wants you to be single?” Or the one that really sticks with me, “You have to be able to throw dirt on the grave of those expectations before the pain starts to heal.”

I’ve realized that many times I do people a disservice when I put a candy shell around their difficult circumstances. Now, I realize that I also have to be willing to walk the hard road with people. I can’t just be a truth-teller and drop a bomb on someone and then walk away. I can’t speak truth just for shock or to get a reaction. My heart has to be right. The recipient has to be ready to hear it and often it’s the truth-teller that needs to be the one that discerns that. You have to be there, walking with them in the middle of the crap to know if you can or should be a straight shooter in that moment. That’s not a license to lie…ever. It becomes about being able to discern the readiness of the person hearing the truth.

Singling Out

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I never realized how hard it was to be a part of the Church as a single adult until I went through a divorce and became one.

When I worked full-time on church staffs, I honestly never thought about our programming implications for singles. We programmed for families, marrieds, even seniors but never singles. Looking back on that it was shameful. Our programming cause singles to be isolated and singled out of church life.595702_shadow

I’ve realized throughout my “church life” there has been this “push” or emphasis on getting married and being married. I think most people think and dream about what their adult lives will look like and most of the “most” dream of being married, but the churches I’ve been a part of seem to elevate marriage over singleness.

In Bible college, there was this unspoken pressure to find “The One” as fast as possible and move on toward engagement and marriage before graduation. Every time news of another engagement spread across our small campus, it was like the pressure cooker would turn up the heat even more. No one really verbalized any fear they might have had of the possibility of not finding a mate.  The spoken parts of this pressure where really cruel jokes. The joke for the ladies was that girls went to Bible college to gain their “MRS” degree. The joke for the guys was all about sexual pressures. The pressures of sexual purity on a Bible college campus seem to have been even greater than normal Christian college students. Every time a couple would get married while still in school, they would move to Married Student Housing. Among the guys on campus, Married Student Housing was known as “SexVille” “Congrats on moving on over to SexVille,” they’d say.
For the guys who were pastoral ministry majors there was an unspoken pressure that came from churches. If you were an unmarried pastoral ministry guy, you weren’t as marketable. I mean what does an unmarried pastor know about relationships in marriage and raising a family? No wonder so many couples moved to SexVille and began having kids!

Since becoming single, I realized that the Church can’t diminish singleness while elevating marriage. This thought was made clearer after reading this tweet by Grant Jenkins

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God can and will complete the good work he began in you just as much as a single adult as he will in you as a married adult. It has been said that marriage is more for our holiness than our happiness. It is also said that God is concerned more about our holiness than our happiness. God wants us to be holy as He is holy and will do that work in us single or married. It’s our heart He is concerned most about.

Singles…Take heart and seek Christ. He alone fulfills our greatest need.

Marrieds…It isn’t your calling to get singles “hitched” and on their way to “greater holiness.” Grow in Christ likeness and your marriage will flourish.

Church Leaders…Help people seek Christ and yearn for holiness. Single or married, young or old; make disciples. (Oh, and judge a pastoral candidate on passion for Christ and His Church, not on his marital status!)