Tag Archives: struggle

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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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:

Image_pigeon

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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I don’t think I’m ready for that jelly.

I’m addicted.

Ever since I was introduced a few days ago, I couldn’t wait for my next fix…in 30-minute increments.

Yes, I’m addicted to the Candy Crush Saga.

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I’m a grown man.  This is a game with silly cartoons and ridiculous candy icons.  It’s a modern-day candy land.  It’s something kids play online and solicit lives from their friends on Facebook.  And now I’m part of it.

I blame my mother-in-law.  She just HAD to show me what Candy Crush was all about.  I had no interest in playing the latest and greatest game.  I was completely content with the few Words With Friends games I was involved in.  I didn’t have room in my life for Candy Crush.  Just the name turned me off.  It sounded like something you played while you waited to see if the girl in homeroom texts you back.  It seems like something you play while listening to Taylor Swift or Ke$ha (or as I call her, K-dollar sign-ha).  I would not give in.

I gave in.  And I took my wife with me.  (Sorry, baby.  We’re going down together.)

Me: Are you going to connect with Facebook?

Wife who is not going to like that I’m posting this: No way, I don’t want people to know I play this thing.

Me: Me neither.

Well, I guess we should connect now.

Today I had to fly out of town for the week to work from Fort Walton Beach, FL.  My flight out of Daytona Beach was delayed, which meant that I had a meager few minutes to teleport through ATL.  Of course, I had to change concourses.  Of course when I got to my gate there was a flight going to Jacksonville, FL.  Of course when I asked where my flight went (though I got there slightly before the doors were supposed to close), no one knew where it was.  Luckily, I was booked on the next flight about 90 minutes later.

What’s worse than having to sit and sweat in the Atlanta airport after missing your flight?  Doing it without any Candy Crush lives left.  If you haven’t (yet) jumped on the Candy Crush bandwagon, when you fail a level enough times, you eventually run out of lives.  The makers of the game must have found that 30 minutes is an appropriate amount of time to stew on your frustration because you didn’t “clear all the jellies.”  (Seriously, how stupid does that sound?).  Once all your lives are out, a timer starts and after 30 minutes you start accumulating lives again.  Oh, how painstaking it is to wait for your next life to regenerate.  Or, you could just buy some.  I read that this game makes over $600,000 per day from people with no restraint.

This game is interesting.  You fail and fail and fail and eventually just sit back and wait/buy/beg others for a new life to be given to you so you have hope of moving to the next level.  That sounds a lot like life, dontcha think?  We face adversity, we struggle to pay bills, we toil on work projects, we tussle with home improvement projects or we get lost in our own sin.  We end up getting let down, beat up and knocked back.  At least, I do.

Years ago, when I got sick of my ways and fed up with the sin in my life, I sought after God and pleaded that he give me new life.  Of course, he did.  Romans 6:4 says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

I received that new life.  A guaranteed, spoken for and undeserved eternal life.  But, that doesn’t mean that the day-to-day gets easier.  Recently, I’ve encountered challenge after challenge.  Whenever I feel like I’ve moved past one level, the next has something completely different in store for me.  To compare it to Candy Crush, it’s like moving past the jelly and having licorice wrapped candies instead (wow, I’ve never used a more lame metaphor.)

Anyway, the point is this: I’ve been stuck in a valley and I want out.  I have to rely on God, the giver of life, instead of myself.  There’s a lot of things that God wants me to do.  I truly believe that.  He’s given me vision, passion and desire.  But, the waiting is painstaking.

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Ghostman on third!

Mrs. Gwendolyn Jones’ third grade class was divided in half.  There was a good half and a bad half.  This was not a generalization of the social climate in the classroom.  There was quite literally a ‘good side’ and a ‘bad side’.

You had to earn the opportunity to move your desk to the good side.  You had to be quiet, do your work, clean up and be attentive.  I was good at three of those four things.  I was not good at being quiet.  As a result, my desk stayed on the bad side of the room practically all year.

If you were lucky enough to get promoted to the good side, you actually picked up your desk and chair and proudly moved them across the room.  However, if you acted up and got demoted to the bad side, you had to begrudgingly drag your desk (which immediately seemed five times heavier than before), back to the bad side.

Week after week, month after month, I sat on the bad side.  I watched my friends move their desks around.  I envied.  I coveted.

But, then there was one day, one glorious day, I earned the right to move to the good side.  When I got called up to the big leagues, I crammed all my books and papers in my desk (the really old-school kind with the flip-top) and scooted/strutted across to the good side.  Bye-bye, dark side.

My time (albeit short-lived) on the good side was amazing.  What made it extraordinary is that Mrs. Jones picked me to be one of two captains for a class kickball game.

More than just a ball.  A way of life.

More than just a ball. A way of life.

I loved kickball.  It was a way of life.  I can still remember how all my classmates kicked.  I know that Joe would kick it straight over first base.  Jesse would ground it by third.  Robert would slam into the outfield over second.  It’s what got me through the day.  Recesses was the second best time of the day.  First pitch in my backyard after school was the best.  Except, sometimes we didn’t have enough people to play.  There was nothing more devastating to a kickball aficionado than being ill-equipped to field a full team.  So, occasionally we would resort to two-on-two or even in the rarest of events, one-on-one kickball.  That’s when we relied heavily on the ghostman.

If you’re rusty on your backyard kickball terminology, having a “ghostman on third” meant that as a runner, you have advanced the bases as far as you can get on your own.  You made it all the way to third base and got stranded, leaving no one left to physically “bat” for your team.  So, we would make a declaration that there was a “ghostman” on third base (or whatever base you advanced to.) The only way for a ghostman to move to the next base was for you (the runner) to advance to the place where the ghostman was located, pushing the ghostman forward.

The purpose of the ghostman was to hold your spot while you did something else.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could have the ghostman with you all the time?  The boss needs a report?  Ghostman on Powerpoint!  Kids need a bath?  Ghostman in the tub!  License expiring?  Ghostman to the DMV!  Line too long at the grocery store?  Ghostman on lane seven!

The ghostman allowed you to still put points on the board even if you couldn’t get all the way home on your own.  The ghostman in kickball was like the Holy Spirit of playground sports.

I’ve been struggling a bit recently.  A few weeks ago, we did a spiritual gift survey in our Sunday school class.  I was not surprised at all with the top three categories, in fact, I quite expected the results.  But, the area that I scored the lowest in was discernment.  Huh?  Am I that bad at making a decision?  Am I that weak in understanding God’s will in my life?  Am I that oblivious to the Spirit’s guidance and influence over me?  What the heck?

I know, I know.  It’s just a book.  Books can be wrong.  But, the top of the spectrum is what I expected.  My top spiritual gifts are evangelism, leadership and administration.  Quite the conflict with discernment, wouldn’t you say?  Who wants spiritual guidance from someone who lacks confidence when assessing God’s will?  Who wants a leader who doesn’t judge well?

The book says that people with the gift of discernment know with confidence if individuals, teachings or motives are from God.  So, if I’m not able to interpret things clearly, I must be inserting myself where I don’t need to be.  I’m putting my needs first.  I’m not relying fully on God.  It’s frustrating because I’m trying to be obedient.  I’m trying to follow.  I think I’m going about my life the way God wants me to.

It’s a hard thing to deal with.  It’s difficult to be the head of your household and lead your family spiritually when you constantly are second guessing decisions.  It’s not easy being an executive at work and having to make decisions that effect hundreds of sales people and their clients.  Some times you just have to turn off the noise in order to hear things.

I had a refreshing drive home from work.  Typically, I have music playing all the time.  But, today I drove home in silence with the windows down so I could just listen.  I wanted to hear the cars.  I wanted to hear the breeze.  I wanted to hear the music in the car next to me.  I wanted to hear the clickclickclick of my turn indicator.

I think I need a ghostman to take my place so I can turn off all the rest of the noise in my head and just listen.  Listen to the world.  Listen to God.  Listen to my heart.  Just listen.  Maybe once I quiet down like Mrs. Jones wanted, then I can see what it’s like on the other side of the room.

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