Tag Archives: christian living

But God.

I might be over the hill.

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After making the decision to answer God’s calling on my life and head into full-time ministry, I started having a tough time fully grasping that the best years of my career are ahead.

For the last decade, I had built a strong reputation in the digital advertising industry.  Colleagues respected me, clients enjoyed me, employees liked my training.  I was asked to speak at seminars, colleges and networking events.  I was driving revenue and evolving my long-term vision for the company.  I was wrapping up 10 consecutive years of increased income.  I had another couple decades of strong growth, increased earnings and advancement ahead.  And I was leaving it behind. 

I would be starting completely over.  I would be entering a new job with no formal training.  I would have peers with Master’s degrees and doctoral degrees and tons of practical experience.  I would have the least amount of seminary education on staff.  It would take me another decade to feel caught up, let alone ahead of the curve (where I try to be).

Sports, technology and entertainment have done a great job of skewing everything for us average joes.  LeBron James was drafted at 18 and became an overnight millionaire with contracts and endorsements.  Daniel Radcliffe’s popularity and frequency on magazine covers exploded when he took the role of Harry Potter at age 12.  Tech moguls are even more ridiculous – I think Zuckerberg created Facebook when he was just a fetus.

With all the hype surrounding these young entrepreneurs, actors and entertainers, you don’t often hear about people making an impact at a later age.  In the NFL, teams start casting aside their players when they hit 30.  If I were a professional athlete (wishful thinking) at this stage in my athletic life, I’d be considered washed up as a running back, on the decline as an outfielder and over the hill as a small forward.

As someone who was about to make a career change, I started struggling and doubting the impact I would really have.  My Christian education is way behind.  I’m starting seminary.  In my head, every student around me will have full books of the Bible memorized, know the full lineage of Christ and be profound ecclesiological thinkers.  I’m guessing (hoping) that’s not the case, but it certainly feels like I’m about to be parachuted right in to some astrophysics class.

I believe that the answers to our questions are contained within the pages of Scripture, so that’s where I turned for clarity and reassurance. Luke 3:23 tells us that Jesus’ ministry really didn’t start until he was in his early 30s (it helps when you are the firstborn Son of God, too).  Moses and Aaron were each in their 80s when God called them to speak to Pharaoh and lead people out of Egypt.  Peter served as the Rock in the church during the second half of his life.  God has a way of using people wherever they are for his glory.  God has knack of keeping us in check, for the good or for discipline.

I recently had the privilege of hearing a new friend and pastor preach.  He talked about his favorite two words in the Bible – ‘But God.’

Conjunction junction, what’s your function?  The function of ‘but’ is used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned.  ‘But God,’ is a phrase that offers hope, redemption, peace and life.

Acts 13:29-30 says, “When they had carried out all that was written about him (Jesus), they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God  raised him from the dead.” 

Sin had seemingly crushed the Son of Man, but God gave us hope!

Romans 5:7-8 says, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Aside from maybe our families, most people won’t lay down their life for someone else.  But God sacrificed his son for all, even while we were acting against him.

I was questioning myself and assessing my inadequacy, But God had other plans.

Simultaneously, while I was going through the process of sorting out my future in ministry, our church in SC was already praying about how they could bring us home.  My wife and I helped start our Acts 1:8 missions team several years earlier and continued to be a committee run by lay leaders.  But, our church had continued to be faithful to missions both physically by going and financially through giving.  Our activities and partnerships had grown so much that it became more than the lay lead committee and a portion of a pastor’s time could handle.  The time had come to add a full-time missions pastor.

That’s when I got the call.

I was in North Carolina leading seminars that taught advertisers how to effectively use digital marketing for their businesses and also going on four-legged sales calls with the local team.

“When are you gonna be around these parts again?” our executive pastor asked.  I was in a town 45-minutes from our home church and about 20-minutes across the border in North Carolina.  I told him I was nearby and we agreed to meet for dinner at an Outback Steakhouse (apparently all my life-changing religious events happen at restaurants.)

Throughout the next day, I kept getting text messages from the executive pastor.  He had a busy day of counseling and our dinner appointment kept getting moved later and later.  I figured if he needed to move it again, it might not happen at all.

“Do you think this is ‘the talk’?” my wife asked.  “I sure hope so,” I replied.  We had been praying regularly that one day we would have the opportunity to be on staff at our church, but this seemed so unreal and unlikely that it would happen so fast.

The time finally came for us to meet.

“So, you guys still want to be in ministry one day, huh?” he said.

“Definitely,” I replied.  “We’re just trying to be obedient and available whenever and wherever God wants us to serve.”

Hearing the questions and seeing the huge smile on my friend’s face, I could easily see where the conversation was headed.  I answered a few more questions about our direction, family support and willingness to leave behind a fantastic job.

“Well, we’re ready to have a missions pastor and we’d like it to be you.”

That was the best steak dinner I’ve ever had.

That one statement, that one conversation, that one offer made everything that had gone on over the last 18 months, the last five years, even the last 32 years make perfect sense.  It was the ultimate But God experience.  I was starting to question the timing and my ability to benefit a church, but God showed me a church body that was praying for me and wanted me to come serve them just as I was.  They knew I didn’t have any seminary training yet.  They knew I had only been involved with missions for a handful of years, but they wanted me anyway.

It’s the same way with God.  He knows we aren’t perfect.  He knows all our faults.  He knows our sin.  But, he wants us anyway.

The dinner conversation with the executive pastor was wonderful, but not nearly as beautiful as the one I was about to have with my wife.

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Plans, pigeons and prayers

Ten days after we made the decision to pursue ministry full time, I called my best friend.

“That just made my whole day,” he said when I told him the news.

It felt good hearing that.  We were excited and it was an amazing feeling to finally tell some people, especially him.

I had been on a mission trip with him and some others during the summer of 2012, while I was still living in Florida.  We have some dear friends who live in North Africa and we went to support them.  As the trip neared the end, we had a special prayer time in our friends’ apartment.  I was so teared up and torn up that I couldn’t even express a verbal prayer.  I realized then how much I missed my friends.  Leaving that trip was going to be like leaving South Carolina all over again.

This is why it was so comforting to start telling people what God had put on our hearts.  We started feeling the comfort of our friends again.

I considered the plan we made.  Step one, find a job in SC.  Step two, get into seminary.  Step three, graduate and find a job in ministry. Very early in our process of moving back to South Carolina, I had a job interview.  I just knew that I was going to get the job.  I knew that God was behind it.

I sat in a parking lot overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway on my lunch break while I spoke to a recruiter.  I was watching a flock of pigeons (or are those flocks?  gaggles?  herds?), anyway, a bunch of pigeons eating some feed that someone threw out.  There was one bird that looked…unkempt.  Another way to say it is the bird looked downright sketchy.  He looked like someone gave him a bag of donuts and a bag of meth.  You know the way your hair (not mine since I don’t have any) looks when you wake up in the morning?  The bird look like that.  I’ve never seen a bird with messed up feathers before.  I even think the bird had a lazy eye.  I made sure my doors were locked.  The strung out bird-thing looked something like this:

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While I was staring at this bird, I noticed that no other birds came near him.  I guessed he also hadn’t seen a birdbath in a while.  I chuckled at the sight of this bird for a moment, but then became saddened.  There was something wrong with this bird.  Maybe he was born that way.  Maybe he got struck by a car or flew into a window and was injured at some point.

Over time, I started feeling like that bird.  I started feeling alienated.  I started feeling neglected.  I didn’t get that job after all.  In fact, not a single company that I sent my resume to contacted me.  I had a fantastic resume.  I was 31-years-old and a corporate advertising executive for one of the fastest growing media companies.  I had a strong six-figure salary with a bonus potential more than some people make in a year.  I had been promoted often and had a vast knowledge of the industry.  I was applying to jobs that were below the level of my first job out of college.  Nothing.  No emails.  No calls.  Silence.

It was at that point that my prayers started becoming more silent, too.  I never doubted that God was calling me into ministry, but I was doubting the timing.  It was a daily struggle to try and understand that balance between what I was feeling and what was actually happening.  Discerning God’s will is not an easy task.  Getting out of my own way and letting God work is an even harder one.

At service one Sunday, God reminded of me of some important verses.

Therefore do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

In just a couple short lines, God steered me back on the path.  So what if things were not happening as I had planned?  So what if these companies didn’t call me back?  So what if things weren’t happening as quickly as I had hoped?

I started praying boldly.  I started praying very intentionally.  It was difficult for me to get to this point.  I really struggled to figure out if I was being obedient by praying specifically, or if I was being selfish by telling God what I wanted.

I started praying that God would guide me to a time where my former church home was ready to have a missions pastor.  I knew it was down the road and could be years, but I asked God to place me there.  I asked that the church would become financially able to add a staff position and have the workload to justify it.  I asked that he would prepare me through seminary to be the missions leader they would one day require.

Looking back, I noticed something about that freaky pigeon.  As lonely as he seemed at the time, someone was still feeding him.  He was still getting nourished by the food that was sprinkled out on the ground before he even arrived.  And you know what?  I started getting fed as well.

I finally got a the call I had been waiting for.

From the church.

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It Started at Bojangles

“If we moved back home and made substantially less money, would you go?”

Well, technically, I suppose it all started years ago, but for the sake of this part of our journey, it started at Bojangles’ in Walterboro, South Carolina on April 8th, 2013 – where all religious experiences happen.

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So, there’s that. With one loaded question, our future changed. Our finances, our status, our savings, our reliance on a job to sustain us, all changed forever.

By asking Elizabeth that question, it was more of an admission that we needed to change the focus of our lives than it was an actual question. With as much certainty that I knew the answer to the question when I asked her to marry me, I already knew her response to my latest life-altering, stress-inducing, excitement-wielding, freak-out-making question.

Luckily, she said yes.

And with that loaded question and simple answer, our lives would forever change.

Now, a little more of the back story.

In 2008, I found out about a cool mission trip that was going to East Asia to share to Gospel with people on basketball courts around a mega-city.  I was hesitant because I had never been on a mission trip before, and frankly, didn’t think that I was qualified to actually go.  But, I started feeling like God wanted me to go anyway.  Then, Elizabeth said that she thought I should go and that she wanted to go, too.

Here’s the first sticky part.  We needed to make a decision in a about 24 hours.

I was traveling out of town for work the same day we found out about the trip.  I found an office to tuck away in and Elizabeth and I prayed about it over the phone and decided to go on the trip.

Here’s the next sticky part.  We needed $4000.  In fact, we needed a $2000 deposit that week.

I’m guessing God really did want us to go on that trip because just a few days later on February 14th, I showed up to our Valentine’s Day dinner in tears.  A wonderful couple from church had sacrificially donated the exact amount we needed for the deposit.

Fast forward a few years and nine international mission trips and I still get the same feelings I got on that first trip.  I vividly recall standing on the side of a busy road in this mega-city talking to Elizabeth and our trip leader and saying how I could do this all the time.

In early 2012, I was restless with the path of my career.  I had a great job and was very good at it.  I never intended my career to be in digital advertising sales, but I quickly learned that I liked it quite a bit.  Every single year in my working career I had made more money than the year before, either by selling more or getting a promotion.  But, I continued to feel like that would not be my “forever job.” So, I started praying that God would do something so amazing in my life that it would be unmistakable that he was behind it.

Well, God answered that prayer pretty quickly.  I prayed that prayer for the first time on a Friday and the following Monday my publisher called me into his office.  “The CEO wants to talk to you,” he said.

Our company had been purchased at the beginning of the year and the corporate director of digital advertising was not planning on relocating to the new headquarters.  The CEO asked him if he knew anyone in the company that could do the job.  The former director gave him one name.  Guess who.

“Can you be here on Thursday?” the CEO asked me.

“Ummm…yes,” I replied.

On the afternoon of March 9, 2012, I was offered the promotion that required a move to Florida.  On the evening of March 9, 2012, I witnessed the birth of my daughter.  I suppose you could say that was a big day.

The 18 months working as a corporate sales director was a great experience.  I traveled, I worked with fantastic people, I learned and I grew.  Being away from South Carolina, our friends, family and our church was extremely challenging.  Emotionally, the two hardest things I have done in my life so far are leaving home for college and leaving my church for the new promotion.

At the time, I thought this job was the answer to what I had been praying about.  This type of promotion does not happen everyday.  After consulting with friends and coworkers, time in prayer and much discernment, we felt it was the right step for our future.  The income would allow us to continue to let Elizabeth stay at home with the children and take care of our future planning.  The on-the-job training would allow me to continue to grow personally and professionally, and it did.

But, a funny thing happened.  During the time at this new job in Florida, I went on two more mission trips with my South Carolina church.  I had the same feelings upon returning that I had following every single other trip.  I wanted more.  I wanted to give more, invest more and be more obedient.  In time, we learned that the promotion was not the end of God’s big plan for us.

That takes us right up to Bojangles in Walterboro, SC.  Our new plan was to start looking for a job that would bring us back to South Carolina, get enrolled in seminary and one day, upon earning a master’s degree in a few years, find a job in ministry full-time.

Here’s a text message between me and Elizabeth a few days after our life-altering chicken supremes lunch:

J: I called a friend who is a strong believer and owns a business, he didn’t have any jobs right now.  We need to figure out how much it will take for us to live.
E: You’re really serious about this, huh?
J: It’s time.
E: I’m scared, but I trust you.
J: Me, too.  It’s not me we need to trust though. 🙂
And so it began.
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Fantasy Football, Real Life Jesus. Part Two: The Prize

First place, Hispanic men’s soccer league, Charlotte, NC.

I am not Hispanic.  I do not live in Charlotte.  I do not play soccer.  But, I must have this trophy.

You see, this trophy, along with bragging rights, is the prize for our church fantasy football league.

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I bought this beauty at a garage sale for a couple bucks.  While driving through my friend’s neighborhood, my wife caught a glimpse of the trophy.  Knowing that I was looking for an elegant, professional trophy for our league, she (against her best judgement) pointed it out to me and we pulled over.  There was a young girl, maybe 8-years-old, manning the family garage sale.  Her father, I assume the owner of the prized trophy, was not around.

“Hi,” I said to the girl.  “I’d like to buy your magnificent trophy, please.  Will you take $3?”

And it was done.

This 3-foot symbol of athletic (and fantasy) excellence is exactly what I had been looking for.  I brought it to our live draft and put a sheet over it.  As all the guys showed up, they wanted two things: homemade guacamole and to know what I was hiding.  Just before we started the clock for the first pick of the draft, I unveiled our statue of fantasy football supremacy.  Immediately, every guy in the room thought the same thing, “My wife is gonna hate this.  Excellent.”

I was able to hold on to the trophy during that season because I won the previous year.  We’ve had three other winners since the trophy was introduced.  The wives seemed to win the battle initially.  The trophy has been outcast to closets and garages, but currently, our league champion is proudly displaying the pièce de résistance on a shelf in his office.  I’m sure it helps keep him motivated on work all day.

The North Carolina Hispanic soccer league trophy is our prize.  It’s what we desire.  It’s the reward at the end of months of planning and strategy and luck and fun.  It’s so tacky and so silly that we (as guys) have to have it.

As believers in Christ, are we living in such a way that we’re making Him our prize each day?  If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably no.  I would like to think that I’m working for the prize every hour of every day.  But, I’m not perfect.  That’s not an excuse, it’s a reason and I’m not hiding behind it.  If it were an excuse, I’d simply stop trying to live for Christ.  It’s a daily struggle of personal sin and selfishness, despite knowing better.

We should be reminded of our prize in Christ.

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Revelation 22:12

We should be refreshed by our prize in Christ.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17

We should be re-energized by our prize in Christ.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

We should rejoice in our prize in Christ.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him.  Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:8-9

We should relish in our prize in Christ.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14.

Obviously, I love that last verse, it’s what this blog is named after.  Despite our challenges, stumbling points and shortcomings, we need to keep a constant focus on Christ.  Remember learning how to catch when you dad would tell you to keep your eye on the ball?  What happened when you didn’t?  You got nailed in the eye or nose or crotch-ular region.  As a basketball player, I know how important it is to focus on the rim when I’m shooting a jump shot.  If I don’t square up and watch the rim the whole time I’m executing the jump shot (it doesn’t take me very long to jump), I know I’m not going to make the shot.

In our fantasy league, the desire to win drives us to constantly adjust our lineups, look at injury news, seek out trades and make the right decisions.  In our daily lives with Christ, we should have a similar desire to constantly readjust our focus, look at others first, seek out Biblical wisdom and make the right decisions.

Yes, I want this beautiful trophy to be back at my residence and display it prominently so people ask me about it when they come over.  But, even greater, I want to live so that Christ is my trophy and elevated on my personal mantel so that others will ask me about him when they see him through me.

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Take your tractor to work day (part 2)

Last week, I wrote about how Rylan insisted that I take his toy tractor to work with me.  Wondering what I was going to do with a tractor all day, I started taking photos of it all over my office.

Well, this week I’m in North Carolina leading educational digital advertising seminars for our clients so I decided to take the tractor with me.  Each time I take a photo, I text it over to Elizabeth to show Rylan.  Apparently, he thinks it’s pretty great.  I think so, too. I love entertaining my little buddy and baby girl.

Here’s the latest round of photos.

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