Tag Archives: life

A letter to my son about rocks.

Little buddy,
I know how much you love rocks. Since you were a toddler, you’ve been picking them up, feeling them, putting them in your mouth (ugh, glad those days are gone), studying them, collecting them and admiring them.
Before I go any further, I want to apologize. I want to apologize for hurrying you. I want to apologize for throwing back some (many) of the rocks you find. I want to apologize for thinking these are unacceptable toys. There are so many times (seriously, so many) that we were on our way somewhere and you find a rock. I’ve dragged you through parking lots, fields and streets with you crying or upset that we don’t have enough time to pick up every single rock. Your mother and I have pulled rocks out of the washer and dryer and (occasionally) we catch them before they even make it that far.
Here’s the thing, I’m actually really fascinated by what interests you. Geologists get excited when they find a rare fossil in a rock, preserved for thousands of years. You get equally excited when you find a rock from the parking lot. You don’t see the thousands of rocks around you. Instead, you see the one rock that caught your eye. I love that about you.
I want to make you some promises.
  1. I promise not to stifle your exploration of the world. There is so much out there and I want to show it all to you. I want to slow down and be able to look at all the rocks, the trees, the stars, whatever it is. I want us to see it all.
  2. I promise to join you as you learn. Together, let’s read books about rocks. Let’s study the differences between metamorphic and igneous rocks. Let’s go find some examples of each. Whatever it is that drives you, I’ll be by your side.
  3. I promise to tolerate whatever it is that you collect. I collected weird stuff as a kid. For a while, I collected beer bottle tops. I didn’t care at all about what was inside the bottle, I just thought the logos and designs were really cool. My mom tolerated that phase and she even dusted my desk around where they all were kept, organized by brand or color or font or however I had them organized that week.
As I write this, I’m on a personal sabbath – a time for spiritual retreat and renewal with the Lord. I spent time walking around a lake tonight and I found a rock for you. It’s not a spectacular rock, but it’s your rock and I’ve got some thoughts about it for you.
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  1. One side of the rock is bright white. Let this be a reminder of the purity of our savior, Jesus Christ. Through his blood, we are washed clean. Our sins are forgiven and for that, we should be eternally grateful. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” I found this rock because it was in the middle of a patch of dark leaves and soil. The whiteness of it stood out amongst the darkness behind it. The contrast drew me in. Be that light. Show the world, your friends, your classmates, girls you might one day date (a loooong time from now) that you are different because you are in Christ.
  2. One side of the rock has been darkened and stained by the earth. Let this be a reminder of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” At one time, this entire rock was all the same pure color. But, over time and exposure to the earth, dirt and red clay from the ground, part of the rock was made impure. It’s unlikely that me, or anyone else, would have picked up this rock for the beauty of the stained side if it were facing up. If I asked you if this rock were clean or dirty, you’d probably answer that this rock were dirty because one of the sides was dirty. That’s just like we are. Because there is even one ounce of sin within us, we are tainted and stained in God’s eyes. But, the good news is that we do not have to remain that way. I can bleach this rock and make it as white as snow. And Jesus does that for us.
  3. This rock can be used for good. Along with thousands of other rocks, this one can make a walkway or path to a lake or resting spot. It could be stacked on top of others to form a wall or shelter. It can hold down papers when it gets windy. It can be studied and appreciated. Let your life have function. Let your life be used for good. By itself, this rock doesn’t do much. But, when added to many other rocks, it has potential. Sitting next to a lake, this rock has no influence over the water. But, if you exert some effort and throw the rock in the lake, the ripples would be great and they would extend farther than the eye can see. Be a ripple-maker for the Lord. Be a leader. Be a teacher. Be a listener. Be an explorer.
  4. This rock can be used for evil. This rock, though small, could break a window on a car or house with enough force. It could be deadly if thrown at someone with enough force.  This stray walk on an otherwise solid ground could cause someone to roll their ankle or trip. Don’t be that rock. Be thoughtful of your actions. People are going to follow you. I’ve seen it in you already. But, will they follow you for good, or will they follow you into mischief? Align your will with God’s and your path will be straight.
  5. This rock is solid. It would take an immense amount of force to break it. Know that your family is just as solid. I love your mother with all my heart, but I love Jesus more and your mother is okay with that. Your mother loves me (even when I don’t deserve it), but she loves Jesus more, and I’m perfectly fine with that. We both love and adore you and your sister. Our family is rooted in the Lord, therefore we are strong. The Lord is our strong tower, our refuge and our strength. Our love for you and your sister will not falter, even though your actions and obedience might. We will always be waiting for you. Patiently. Lovingly.
  6. This rock sparkles. There are specks of minerals and crystals in this ordinary rock that sparkle and shine. I hope you know how special you are. There are special pieces inside you that sparkle and shine as well. You are so creative. You love to design, build, draw and create. I can see your heart. Not figuratively, but I can see how compassionate and caring you are. I can’t describe it, but I can see my heart in you. The things that make you tick are the same things that make me tick. It’s in the way you look at things. It’s in the way you interact with your stuffed animals. It’s in the way you want to help. But, I know that one day you’ll do things far greater and inspire far more people than I ever could.
As a son, I thought I understood the intricacies of a father/son relationship. Now, as a father, I realized that I’ve barely scratched the surface. I am so proud of you. I am praying for you. I look forward to our adventures together. I will dream about the rocks we’ll find together and the ripples we will make. I love you, little buddy.
Thumbs up,
Daddy
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Disc golf with Jesus

Today, by the graciousness of my family and staff, I’m at a conference center out of town having a personal sabbath. A day of rest. A day of reflection. A day of refuge.

Over the past couple months, I’ve seen God do some pretty incredible things. Between large-scale projects, international mission trips, a growing and thriving ministry and personal struggles, this season of my life has been…well, busy. I’ve felt distant from the Lord and I needed to reconnect. The times when I am most involved in my own life are always the times when I am furthest from Jesus.

So, this morning after I dropped my son off at school, I headed out of town. I spent the first couple hours here in prayer for the circles of people closest to me; my family, the pastoral staff around me, the leaders on my team and my small group. I spent time in Scripture which was a cooling balm for my weary soul. Following a very simple plan, I started reading through Psalm. Today is the first day of the month, so I read Psalm 1 and added 30 to it reading Psalm 31, 61, 91 and 121. I quickly found myself becoming refreshed as I prayed with the Psalmist, “into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord; faithful God,” (Psalm 31:5).

After lunch, I headed out to play a nine-hole disc golf course. I’m not very good at disc golf, but I enjoy it. The course is par-3 throughout and I’ve played it several times over the last few years. As I walked, I spent time in prayer, in meditation and reflection of the lessons God wanted to teach me during this time of sabbath. Hole-by-hole, I started to find parallels between the game and life. For anyone who finds themselves disconnected and astray from the Lord, here are a few reflections from my round of disc golf with Jesus.

Hole 1: On this first hole, my drive took the flight I wanted it to, bending around a group of trees to the left and landing a few yards from the hole.

The first thing I did this morning was confess my sins and shortcomings. All the pride and selfishness and gunk. All the personal, dark and rotten things. I had to get them off my chest. I had to start this time with God with a good approach. “Lord, be gracious to me,” (Psalm 31:9).

Score: 2, (-1 for the round)

Hole 2: My first shot went off the fairway (a dirt path in the woods) and ricocheted off a tree. I thought for sure this happy start was quickly going to be ruined. Where I landed was great, but it certainly was better than I anticipated. Once I arrived at the problem, I found that it wasn’t really as bad as I thought it was. Even though I was behind a group of trees, I simply bent down and found an opening.

I’m an emotional person, I act quickly, but deliberately. I pray for wisdom and have faith that I’m moving in the right direction. But, admittedly, there are times when I see a problem and it seems much larger from a distance. I’ve got to remember that even when my shot smashes in to a tree and I think there’s no way around it, I just need to look at it from a different perspective. Just like my shot behind the trees, creativity and perspective often lead to an effective solution. “Lord, make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love,” (Psalm 31:16).

Score: 3, (-1 for the round)

Hole 3: Oh, how I hate this hole. As I mentioned, I’ve played this course several times before and I know exactly what’s going to happen. The fairway is a dogleg to the right (which I can never do with a disc) and there’s a huge 6′ ditch to the left of the hole. Of course, as always, my second shot went straight into the ditch.

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That yellow thing at the bottom of the ditch of doom is my disc.

I had to hold on to some trees in order to climb in the ditch and a couple shots later, I finally ended the pain by landing my disc in the basket.

So often I find my life being just like this hole. I know the dangers. I know the hazards. I know my habits. I know my tendencies. But, still, despite recognizing those things, I still end up in the same situation. For some it might be an addiction, a certain sin, a specific vice. For me, most times, it’s busyness. I’m only around for a short time and I want to serve the Lord with all my heart. I want to lead my ministry to do things that we’ve never done. I want to push the envelope for what missions means in the scope of the Church. I want to be the best dad, the most dedicated husband. I have goals as an artist, a writer, an adventurer and an athlete. But, not all those things go together at the same time and I know that I need to reign those things in. “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction,” (Psalm 31:7).

Score: 5 (+1 for the round)

Hole 4: I love the woods and the outdoors. I do not love spiders. They are creepy and horrible creatures and I just about walked in to several of them. I couldn’t finish this hole fast enough.

The things we fear are all around us. Whether it’s inadequacy, anxiety, immaturity, depression, sense of worth, risk of failure – any of our fears – they are right around us all the time, just like those spiders. So, what do we do? We can freeze and wait for someone to come kill the spider (typically my wife’s job around our house, though I’m getting better) or we can find a stick and move the problem in order to move on to the goal. “Rescue me from the hand of my enemies and my persecutors,” (Psalm 31:15).

Score: 3 (+1 for the round)

Hole 5: This tee is at the bottom of a hill and you can’t see the basket without running up the hill. Because I’ve played this course before, I could visualize where the goal was in relation to the tee. I took a breath and let the disc go. It soared. It cleared the trees overhead and avoided a large pine at the mouth of the trail. I ran up to see the disc land at a reasonable distance from the basket.

That’s faith. Faith is not being able to see the goal, but aiming for it anyway, trusting it’s there. I can’t see heaven. All I have is John’s description from the book of Revelation and promises about heaven throughout Scripture. But, I trust that’s where I will be because God is faithful. So with my life, I will aim and go. “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God,'” (Psalm 31:14)

Score: 3 (+1 for the round)

Hole 6: This tee is at the top of the hill just in front of the basket for hole 5. There is a wide open fairway, the widest of the course. Today, there was a soft breeze that cooled me on a warm day. There were no obstacles, no ditches and no awful spiders between me and the goal. My drive was low, firm and level. (And far!) It landed right next to the goal. I couldn’t have done that again if I tried (trust me, I did). From a technical standpoint, I have no idea why that shot was different than the rest. Maybe the wind was just right. Maybe I adjusted my grip. I could tell when I let it go that it just felt…different.

Recently, I helped create an outreach project in my town that got a lot of attention and went viral online. Tens of thousands of people (maybe more) were reading articles about it online and people from all over the world emailed me about it. Everyone wanted to be a part of it or ask me how they could do the project in their city. “What made it work?” they asked. “How did you get all the media involved?” others wanted to know. “Where did the idea come from?” people inquired. The idea came from God. He gave it to me. He helped it grow. He guided my hand. I just released it and he directed it, level and far. When the project started, I just knew that it felt…different. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness,” (Psalm 31:19).

Score 2: (Even for the round)

Hole 7: This one took me a while to get started. I couldn’t find the tee marker anywhere. I knew roughly where it used to be, but I just couldn’t spot it. I had just about decided to estimate where it was and begin my drive, but then I saw the faded yellow paint from the top of it poking out from some pine needles. Evidently, after years of being out in the woods, it rotted and fell over.

Sometimes, we’re lost. We don’t know which way to go. We don’t know if the decision we’re about to make is productive or destructive. But, with some time, reflection and patience, we will see the way. “You are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me,” (Psalm 31:3).

Score: 3 (Even for the round)

Hole 8: Another great drive, followed up my a terrible second shot. I was about 10 yards from the basket, but I overshot and it veered to the left, blowing a decent chance at a birdie. With my third shot, I corrected my mistake and nailed the shot.

There are very few things in life you get one shot at. Making mistakes is just part of life. Luckily, my wife and children are very forgiving people. Lord, help me to correct when I overshoot and keep my eyes on the goal. “Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily!” (Psalm 31:2).

Score: 3 (Even for the round)

Hole 9: A long hole, but straight as it parallels a road. I feel good about the round I’ve played, but I haven’t added up my score. I usually shoot in the low 30s when I play and I think my best was 29 (I said I wasn’t very good). My drive was strong, though it headed into some trees. It’s funny, in disc golf, sometimes the trees can be your friend as much as they can hinder you. In this case, the shot hit a tree and bounced back towards the goal. The shot was within reach, but I was just off and parred the hole.

I started with momentum and had a strong first approach. Now, it was time to finish strong. I was the only one out there and I wasn’t playing for any prizes or competing with anyone. But, I really didn’t want to end on a bogey – and if I did, there goes the idea for this blog post. As a kid, I’d play basketball for hours by myself before and after dinner and during any other block of time I could. Before I’d go inside, I had to make my last shot. It was a rule I had; a commitment to myself. I was going to end with success. I want my time on this earth and my walk with the Lord to be the same. I want to end farther than I was yesterday and leading other people for tomorrow. I want Jesus to see my efforts and be proud.

I want to have evidence and an answer at any point of my life of what God is doing in me, through me and around me. I remember one time helping a student with his job interview skills. One employer (a Christian sports ministry) asked him, “what is God doing in your life?” He didn’t have an answer. He hadn’t considered it. He had not taken the time to reflect on what God was using him for and it caused him not to finish the interview strong and ultimately, he didn’t get the job.

I want to finish strong. “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! (Psalm 31:24).

Score: 3 (Par for the round)

Oh…by the way. I went back and played another round of nine holes. Remember that hole #3 with the ditch? Finished it in three shots.

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How to Wake Up Early (and Like It)

“I don’t know how you do it,” one person said.

“I’m soooo not a morning person,” said another.

“4:45…like, a.m.?” yet another groaned.

Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yeah, I wake up at 4:45 a.m. Monday through Friday. On Saturday, I usually let the kids wake me up. On Sundays I’m usually up at 5:40, getting a whopping 55 more minutes of sleep before heading to church for a busy day on campus. I would probably agree that I am a morning person, but I would emphatically agree that I am not a night person.

Growing up, I had a curfew of 10 p.m., but I was rarely out that late. Even in college where staying up until the wee hours is the norm, I was in bed at 9:30 or 10 each night. There were many times when parties at my own house would rage on to 3 or 4 in the morning, but I was long asleep. When the sun goes down, I stop functioning.

So, yes, I get up at 4:45 a.m. to get to the gym every weekday except Wednesday. On Wednesday, I head to Waffle House for a time of discipleship with two good friends. We share our prayer requests, read Scripture and enjoy peanut butter waffles, all in the name of Jesus. Pretty sure that’s what he’d want.

Getting up at 4:45 a.m. does take practice. For years, I woke up at that time to go play basketball. When we moved away, I fell out of that pattern and it was hard to get back in to it. Now, I’m at Gold’s Gym by 5:25 to get on an elliptical for 30 minutes followed by 35 minutes of weight lifting. I have a ton of energy and my workouts have gotten more intense as the weeks roll by.

How do I do it? How did I condition myself to wake up and actually get up? How do I overcome drowsiness, the comfort of my bed and sacrifice sleeping in just to go and wear myself out? It’s easier than you think.

You ready for this?

I move my foot.

Seriously.

After I turn off the alarm on my phone, I have a conversation with myself. I know I’m tired. I know I’m comfy. I know that if I continue to sleep, I might regret it later. So, I convince myself to simply move my foot.

Picture this: I usually sleep on my left side and on the right side of the bed (if you’re looking at it from the foot of the bed). All I do is talk myself in to moving my right foot forward. What happens next is pretty amazing. By the simple act of moving my foot, my body weight shifts. I start to roll over toward the side of the bed. My other foot follows. My hips turn. My feet fall out of bed. I touch the floor. I stand up. My clothes are laid out on a chair in the bathroom. I’m at the gym. I work hard. I leave the gym feeling fulfilled. I’m exhausted, but satisfied.

The best part is what happens in the two hours following the gym.

I get home and eat before the kids wake up. I get showered and dressed and by this time the kids are awake for me to talk to. I kiss them and my wife goodbye. I grab my Yeti mug and Keurig coffee and head to work. I’m usually among the first ones there. I close my door and hide out in a chair in the corner of my office where no one can see me. I don’t touch my computer at all. On my chair is my Bible. On my phone in my Evernote app is my reading plan and my strategic prayer list for the day. I have a 15-30 minute quiet time. Just me and God and it’s every bit as refreshing as my time at the gym.

Once I’m done, I go to my computer and avoid my email. I plug in a headset and start working on Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish. I do this until about 8:50. I glance at my email for a few minutes before getting ready for our daily staff meeting.

So, by 9 a.m., I’ve done something physical, spiritual and mental. I’ve grown in three different ways. I’ve improved myself, prayed for my family, friends, missionaries, ministry. I’ve confessed my sin and given thanks. I’ve learned new vocabulary words in another language and invested in my ability to communicate in other countries.

All because I moved my stupid foot.

Proverbs 6:9 says, “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?” This verse is warning about the danger of resting in our laurels and not living the life God has made us to live. He does not want us to be lazy, non-committal or blind to Him. God wants us to be passionate in our lives. Passionate for Him, passionate about life, passionate about loving others. Otherwise known as anti-lazy, anti-sluggish and anti-lethargic.

Here are a few other tips I will recommend for getting out of bed earlier.

  1. Set an alarm. This sounds like a complete no-brainer, but I double check my alarm setting every night before I go to bed. In some cases, I even set a backup alarm. I never use the snooze button. Ever.
  2. Go to bed earlier. Some people thrive on a few hours of sleep. I cannot. I know that if I want to have a productive day, I have to get at least seven hours of sleep. Plan accordingly.
  3. Have a plan. The worst thing to do, especially when you first start your commitment to waking up earlier, is to get up without a plan. I know what parts of my body I’m going to work out. I know what I’m going to listen to on my phone while I’m doing it. (I listen to podcasts while I’m on the elliptical to pass the time and heavy metal or hard rock while I’m lifting weights). I know what Scripture verses I’m going to read and what my focus will be on when I pray. I always have room for the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is leading me to pray about something else or read something else, I’m not at all bound by what I determined. I’m structured, but flexible.
  4. Put it on your calendar. This is perhaps the single most important recommendation I can make. Getting up early and going to the gym is no longer on my calendar because it has become a routine, like eating. But, when I started, I would put it on my calendar. Everything is on my calendar; dates with my wife, meetings, reminders to call people. Everything. If it’s not on my calendar, it’s probably not going to happen. When I talk to young guys or new believers or anyone wanting to grow closer to Christ, scheduling a quiet time is the first thing I stress.
  5. Look in the mirror. Now, I’m not talking about staring in the mirror flexing (I will not confirm nor deny that I’ve done this). What I am talking about is giving yourself a regular assessment. With regards to working out, I can look in the mirror and see that I’ve changed. I can see muscle tone and less fat. I can look at the amount of weight I lift and see that I’ve increased or that my stamina has improved. But, in regards to my quiet time with the Lord, that is less tangible. I have to work a little harder to assess myself. So, I might questions like: What have I learned through my Scripture reading this week? Has God answered my prayers? What is God teaching me about Himself? Have I been diligent in praying for my family? Have I been journaling my thoughts on Scripture and prayer? Hopefully, I can answer yes to these and see exactly what God has been teaching me and how he has pulled me closer to Him.

When I see results, it makes me want more. I hope you will, too. Remember, just move your foot.

Let me know how it works for you!

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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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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.

Image_Bojangles

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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