Keeping Your Best (Homeward Bound, Pt. 2)

There is something you are best at in your life. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:6-8 all about the different spiritual gifts God gives His people. So whether it’s teaching, art, cooking, service, or whatever, there is something you are best at that correlates with your spiritual gift(s). Do you know what that is for you?

A while back I talked about cutting out the things that waste your time the most, but today’s post highlights the other big lesson I learned over in Santa Barbara — finding healthy, productive activities in your free time. Finding things that keep you doing your best.

At first glance, crushing time-wasters and finding productive stuff to do sound almost the same. However, they’ve very different. For instance, let’s say I’m very good at drawing and feel a calling to graphic design, but I have a problem with watching too much TV. So, let’s say I eventually decide to stop watching TV to focus more on drawing, but instead of sketching more, to hone in on my gift, I instead pick up the hobby of yo-yoing. It’s not exactly a waste of time, and I could even argue it keeps the creative juices flowing. But is it really the most productive thing I could be doing for my calling to graphic design? No.

What gives? It seems like once we find out what God’s best equipped us with, we put it off because, if we’re best at it, we feel we can do it anytime we want. We treat it like a talent, when we should be treating it like a skill. Skills must be practiced, over and over.

Think of it like a knife; you’ll need to sharpen it over and over until the day you die. Otherwise, your blade will become dull, and you won’t be able to fully live the life God desires for you.

One thing I love about my fiancé is her ability to cook. She is never afraid to experiment and try new things, and I think that’s what keeps her cooking so amazing. While she has some amazing recipes, it’s her cooking that makes them so utterly delectable. Not the recipes themselves. What if she never experimented with new foods? Her ability to cook would probably go down as she gets complacent with the same recipes, time after time. (Disclaimer: I’m just using an example — I’m not trying to say those who cook must scrap all their good recipes over time).

It’s the same reason why NBA players work out during the day instead of going shopping (although watching a few episodes of Cribs would reveal they probably get a lot of time in for that as well).

It’s the same reason why the best singers sing random tunes in a lot of their free time versus playing solitaire on a computer all day.

If you want something to keep in mind, Paul sums it up pretty well:

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Romans 12:11.

One key thing to remember is that whatever you are best at came from God. Therefore, that’s exactly where it should be pointing to. But it won’t if your gifts are all about you, or you neglect building them up.

Now that you’ve gotten the time-wasters out of the way, how can you be active in fine-tuning the things God has given you to do best?

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Homeward Bound, Part 1

Cool picture by x-inna.

It’s hard to believe over two months has already passed. Summertime is coming to a close, and this is my last weekend out here in Santa Barbara, CA (I fly back Monday). It actually is a bittersweet thing. I’m ready to go home to my friends, family, and the love of my life, but I’ve been able to enjoy a satisfying job and a wonderful new niece that I will miss along with the town of Santa Barbara. The food, the mountains, the ocean — it’s majestic here!

I’m grateful to have largely been out of my comfort zone while here. Being in an unfamiliar town for over two months with barely any friends has been great for my heart. God has shown me some of the deeper idols I didn’t see so well before, and I’ve been able to witness a lot of eye-opening truths about what it means to be a godly husband and father. This has been indispendable as I am getting ready for some of the biggest and best chapters of my life.

God has indeed taught me a lot of things, so I wanted to focus on the big two I learned while out here. As you have probably surmised, today’s post is about the first one.

Let’s talk about risks.They’re exciting with a side of uncertainty, making them scary as well. Some argue that being safe is always a better idea than taking risks; others have opened the door to many new opportunities as a result of a risk being taken.

Should Christians be in the business of taking risks? Yes, but please let me clarify:

It’s not always worth it to take risks, but risks taken are always worth it.

To put it simply, it’s not smart to take every possible financial, spiritual, or relational risk you find, but when you prayerfully consider, weigh, and faithfully take a risk, it will end up being worth taken.

Consider my trip. I think of it as a risk, since coming to California for over two months did come with some personal costs –

I was nervous about spending the summer in California. Being away from my girlfriend for over two months wasn’t going to be easy (even though she did visit for a week). Being away from my family was another strain, and being away from my closest friends definitely proved to be a challenge. Also, staying with my brother and sister out here when they just had their first baby would indeed be a trying transition.  However, looking back on what I’ve learned and experienced here, I’ve had a blast! Not to mention I’ve had the privilege of getting to know some wonderful folks. The risk was worth it.

My job here has been in sales (I find and reach out to prospective clients for my brother to work his sales-magic on), and is thus extremely free in terms of how to get work done. There is plenty of room for creativity to boost production. While this takes off a lot of pressure in terms of day-to-day tasks, one wrong move can completely turn off clients and make the company look very bad. However, not only have I developed attributes in this environment that I think will be beneficial in ministry, but I’ve also been able to come up with a few work methods that will change the way my brother’s team works internally. Once again, the risk was worth it.

Anecdotes aside, there are three, practical reasons why risks taken are worth it:

1. It takes great faith in God to take a risk. Think of Moses, Gideon, and Jonathan. We see their lives of faith, and when we take risks in any capacity for God today, it stands as a testimony to Him for others. Throughout Scripture we see God using people who take risks, and He wants to use us to make an impact when we leap out in faith, too!

2. Like change, God uses periods of risk as periods of growth. Any time you step out of your comfort zone in faith, you better believe God is going to refine you in some way. Whether it is showing you sin that needs repentance or giving you new desires for the future God wants to use you for, growth occurs when you take risks.

3. If taking a risk ends up working out like you thought or completely flopping, you can always walk away wiser! Did an outreach plan succeed? Awesome. Now you can keep expanding in the right direction. Did it fall through on it’s head? That’s good, too, because next time you now have an idea for what doesn’t work in your community. Proverbs 1:5 – “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance…”

There you have it! Because of God’s creativity and power, we as His image-bearers have dreams and aspirations. He put those there, and it glorifies Him when we pursue those desires He’s placed in our souls.

Your mind may be thinking about that one thing you’ve really been wanting to do lately. A new video project? Start a non-profit? Sit still and wait amidst financial pressures? Whatever it is, go for it! Just like God told Gideon in Judges 6, “I will be with you,” so He’s always with you, too.

Lastly, don’t get caught up in the word ‘risk’. They don’t have to be immensely dangerous to qualify or whatever. A risk is merely an opportunity with a noticeable cost. Just be sure that as you take those leaps and risks for God, you do so in prayer and faith, being led by the Spirit.

What risks do you really want to take? Are there any big opportunities laying before you?

Make It Count

Ecclesiastes 7:1 – “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.”

This is one of the most thought-provoking verses in the Bible for me, because it reminds me that time is not on the side of humanity. I don’t mean to make it sound like a war, but literally from the minute our life on earth begins the clock starts ticking until the end.

While life is forever in those who know Jesus, but not for those who don’t, this means that eventually ministry will come to an end. Making an eternal impact will stop. Reaching out to those in need won’t be necessary anymore.

That’s why I take this verse seriously. Make it all count. Don’t waste your time.

If anyone in Scripture knew this truth best, it would be the author of Ecclesiastes (who many believe to be King Solomon). He’d slept with tons of women, accumulated massive amounts of money, and acquired as much stuff as he wanted. However, as he got old he looked back on his life and realized none of it was worth it. It just separated him from God and the aspects of life that truly matter.

Everyone’s heard the adage, “time is money.” Call me melodramatic, but I think it should instead be, “time is life,” because time governs life far more than money does (Also, as a reading of Ecclesiastes and James 5:1-6 will tell, landing a ton of money can be a waste of time).

Another reason I love this verse is because it applies to everyone; no human is exempt from death.

Chew on Ecclesiastes 7:1 and reflect.

What’s that one task you need to get done this week? What desires and visions has God been putting on your life? Take it a step further.

What’s wasting your time in getting there? Get off Xbox. Stop watching TV. Turn off FaceBook. Good things can waste our time, too (1 Corinthians 6:12). What do your weekends and free days look like? How about those extra three hours you’ve got each Thursday? 

What’s keeping you from making it count?

Rid of my Disgrace

There are some subjects people tend to skirt around in conversation and relationships. Subjects so uncomfortable, their mention only brings up a wrecked past, a rough childhood, or a particularly disconcerting uncertainty for those unfamiliar with it. One such subject is sexual assault, and sadly, it is not spoken out about enough by pastors and families.

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb have written this book to ‘come out’ on sexual assault, unveiling the myths as well as the tragic truths behind it. After getting through the first two chapters, it’s plain to see how heavy of a burden sexual assault is. However, the Holcombs overcome this age-old problem in an extremely Biblical manner, and end up amplifying the Gospel’s goodness and power over every evil thing, namely sexual assault.

The book starts out with its foundation in the Word, opening with Tamar’s story of rape in 2 Samuel 13. The title directly comes Tamar’s outcry in the passage — “Where can I get rid of my disgrace?” — just before her brother, Amnon, rapes her. As the authors indicate, her cry encompasses the dirtiness often felt by victims of sexual assault.

The first two chapters alone open up the depth of the book, explaining what sexual assault is in all connotations of the phrase and all the latest stats on sexual assault, victims, and perpetrators. Did you know that one in four women and one in six men will be sexually-assaulted in their lifetime? How about about that every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted? Did you know that one study reported up to a third of girls and a fifth of boys have experienced incest? These three stats are found in chapter two, and there are many more. It is simply staggering. Great care is also taken in this chapter to show how ‘self-help’ books and positive thinking actually do much more harm than good; stats are even provided to back that up!

The bulk of content is spent with each chapter outlining a specific emotional reaction to being sexually assaulted, like shame, distorted self-image, anger, etc. The authors outline exactly how a victim may react with each given emotion (emphasizing how normal it is), how destructive it ends up being, and how the Gospel rescues from it, promising much better. Just before each chapter, there is a personal story told by someone who was abused sexually and reacted as shown in the given section. This serves to make each chapter more real and credible.

As the end draws closer, the last three chapters detail how sin gave birth to the sexual wrongs and outline all instances of God’s grace throughout the Old and New testaments. Since the book 1. is all about God’s grace, and 2. always returns back to a Scriptural base, providing these last parts really helps solidify the assurance of God’s loving character written about in in Rid of my Disgrace.

When you put all the stats and anecdotes and pain together as you turn each page, it becomes clear the content is overwhelming. If a victim came to you seeking advice here, what would you say? If you’re a victim afraid to speak out, where would you start? Perhaps this is why so many pastors and leaders (wrongly) avoid this topic.

But where words fail, Christ does not. That’s the point Justin and Lindsey constantly reiterate, and it’s much needed. This topic is too much for man. Fortunately, readers are reminded from beginning to end here that Christians are God’s kids, whether abused or not, and that no amount of sin or disgrace could overpower God’s saving love.

There are two primary audiences prime for reading this: victims and leaders in ministry. As the book thoroughly goes through its content with a tone of restoration, it’s plain to see that Justin and Lindsey want to reach out to everyone who has been sexually offended. And make no mistake, this is a book of healing. While there are plenty of books on how to correctly counsel in this difficult area, few (if any) speak so directly and pastorally about the issue. Even if you’ve never been abused, you’ll undoubtedly feel healing in some area as you hear God speak to you through the pages about guilt, despair, and the like.

The second audience, ministry leaders, would be at a huge handicap to skip over this one. There’s a big handful of footnotes (which I absolutely gobble up), making the Holcomb’s masterpiece an excellent resource for extended research and reading. Also, I personally have never gone through sexual abuse, so most of the intense content here was completely unfamiliar to me. If anyone had come to me with this sort of victimization seeking godly advice before, I’d be completely unprepared. Now, I feel like I have a great place to start. I have a feeling that as I go through seminary and be in ministry years down the road, I’ll be coming back to Rid of my Disgrace above others.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, God wants to speak to you through this book. Hey, leaders and pastors, every one of you needs this on their bookshelves. I sincerely praise God for what he has done through the Holcombs. Also, if you’d like to get an idea of what the book is like, the Holcombs also wrote a brief article about the Bible and sexual assault. Don’t miss it.

Rid of my Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault

God’s Timing is Bad

Awesome picture thanks to c3ph3ld

From my experience, it seems like God often has bad timing.

Whenever I’m standing in line at Chik-Fil-A anxiously asking God about what I should order, He usually doesn’t answer me right away.

The days I have specific plans for how I’m going to utilize my time, that’s exactly when God has someone call me with a need or convicts me to go talk to someone.

On a side note, I can’t really blame Him. He is…. God.

In any case, I think David would probably agree with me on the off-ness of God’s timing. You may recall the story in the later chapters of 1 Samuel: King Saul was bent on killing him, and David ran away for his life from Saul all around the countryside, spending plenty of time in hiding. Saul was on his heels frequently, and there was little rest for the future king of Israel.

It wasn’t until eight years later that God finally sent the Philistines nearby as a distraction that effectively pulled Saul off David’s tail (see 1 Samuel 23). Eight years. Many of you like ‘being on the road’; how about ‘traveling’ for eight years straight because the ruler of your country wanted you dead?

Now since this story is told over a handful of chapters, only so many details managed to fit. Thus, we don’t have much indication as to how David was feeling and thinking during this part of his life, but I don’t doubt he was tired and probably wondering why God hadn’t saved time and shown up sooner. Sound like a familiar thought?

I bet David realized something important, though. There was more at stake than just his own life. There was also the entire nation of Israel, and subsequently the rest of the world, too. David knew that God was using him as a part of His story (Psalm 31:7-8). He also knew that he would eventually be the king of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13), and that God has never been unfaithful in any of His promises. Also, it’s a no-brainer God was growing and preparing David for the future even in this tough time.

Let’s flip this coin. 

David knew that asking God to help him immediately in that moment would have been selfish, as the request disregards how others are affected. That holds true today – our actions affect other people, and it wouldn’t surprise me if whatever my Sovereign God does affects everyone in the world as well (ex. providing a way for salvation). Answer me this: do you know how every decision affects each and every person possible, all the time? Of course not. And in our ‘timing’, we tend to forget this.

God knows, though. And He acts accordingly, in His timing.

It was in God’s timing that Saul was practically handed to David in the next chapter. It was in God’s timing that he was later made king over Israel. It was in God’s timing that Jesus was sent to reconcile a lost race. None of this happened within your timing at all.

Think of all the blessings God has given you – think of your life. Has everything really worked out in your timing? In all honesty, whenever I’ve tried to control something more, I’ve almost always ended up being frustrated. God doesn’t run into this problem on His watch.

Are you asking God to do something right now? Is there a dire decision that needs an answer? Seek God’s timing, not your own. If He doesn’t answer right away, appreciate the present meantime He is using to prune you for the future, like David.

Have you ever needed God to answer you right away, but He did/didn’t? If you had to flee for your life for eight years, where would you go?