The Most Valuable Thing I Learned in 2015

A couple months ago, a really wise person in my life introduced the importance of moving what we know in our heads down to our hearts, practicing it with our hands, and then once that cycle is complete we are ready to share it with others.

In Rising Strong, Brene Brown puts it this way: “We move what we’re learning from our heads to our hearts through our hands. We are born makers, and creativity is the ultimate act of integration — it is how we fold our experiences into our being. The Asaro tribe of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea has a beautiful saying: ‘Knowledge is only a rumor until it lives in the muscle.’”

  
When I write, or talk with others, I’m so often tempted to short-circuit this cycle and move from my head straight to my mouth, parroting out words without having tested them myself.   

I set out to write this blog about a few of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in 2015, but then I asked myself which of the lessons I wanted to write about was fully integrated into my heart and working its way out through my hands…and I came up as a still-very-messy-work-in-progress.

And so this, instead, is my biggest lesson from 2015: That I need to do more than just learn something in my head and repeat it back as a hollow echo.

A few weeks ago I was finishing one of the best books I read in 2015, Rising Strong by Brene Brown. And while I was reading this book about finding the courage to live authentically and vulnerably, I was going over a scenario in my head that I was really frustrated by. I’m naturally conflict-avoidant so rather than do the right thing of getting in touch with a friend to talk out how I’d been hurt, I just sat there, feeling more and more frustrated as I read a chapter about compassion, whole-hearted living, and being brave enough to tell others how we really feel.

I had one of those ridiculous inner-monologue moments where I knew I could either keep reading a book about the kind of life that I want to live, or I could actually go do the thing that would put into practice the kind of life that I want to live. And so, with a lot of eye-rolling and “Are you kidding me, God?” self-pity, I got over myself, put the book down, took the initiative, and reached out to repair a relationship.

There are a lot of lessons that I learned in 2015, but a lot of them are still in my head. A few are working their way down to my heart, and even fewer are working their way out through my hands. But when I think about the kind of person I could be at the end of 2016 if even two or three of these lessons actually became fully integrated into my life, I feel hopeful and excited.

As a follower of Jesus, I have the most incredible resource for wise living found in the Bible. I’ve got so much of it rattling around inside my head, and in 2016 I’m hopeful to see how God continues to use the everyday moments and lessons to establish these ideas more deeply in my heart and help me live them out in my day-to-day interactions with others.

And hopefully, this time next year, I’ll have a few more hard-earned lessons that I can share with you.

Jesus, I’m So Glad You Came

Last year for Christmas, I woke up early and drove down to Newport beach.  I sat on the sand by the pier with my Bible, journal, and a Christmas devotional book by Ann Voskamp.  I thought about how grateful I was that Jesus came to earth, and about just how different my life was because Christ was a part of it.

From that spot in the sand, watching a few ambitions Christmas morning surfers and the slow steady crashing of the waves, time slowed down and I had a moment to soak in what felt like a real Christmas moment.

It wasn’t about presents, decorations, parties, or Christmas cookies.

It was a moment of peace, and a moment of knowing that Jesus had come to earth and was making all things new.

It was a moment where the holiness of God trumped all the hard circumstances in my life, and for a few moments I found that I could let go of all my questions and unmet expectations and trust that God really was on the throne and He really was good.

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This year, I’m working at 4 Christmas Eve services, going home, packing, and waking up early to catch a flight home to Oregon.  I’m looking forward to seeing nieces and nephews open their presents, meeting my brand new nephew Bradley, hugging my parents and siblings, and getting to be all together as a family.  And yet in the midst of travel, presents, and the Christmas goodies my mom and sister are known for, I don’t want to lose sight of that moment at the beach last year.

This last year has been crazy and chaotic, and the peace of Christmas is something I’m in serious need of right now.  Since last Christmas, I’ve gone through a tumultuous year of changing jobs and churches, and moving and adjusting to living with new roommates.  I’ve seen a best friend get married and two other best friends get engaged (along with countless other friends getting engaged, married, pregnant, etc.), while I’ve experienced a string of dating disappointments and heartache.  I travelled to Thailand and Cambodia and had my eyes opened to the brutal reality of the sex trafficking industry.  It feels like I’ve been in a constant state of transition, and God continues to break down everything comfortable in my life.

And yet, in the midst of all of the hard and all of the change, I know that God is up to something good.

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At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus came to earth in human flesh.  We celebrate that our God is near to us, that He too has walked this earth and shared in our experience of what it is to be human.  We celebrate that Jesus has shown us more of what God is like, and that He is loving and kind and full of grace.  And we also remember and celebrate that with Jesus coming to earth, God is breaking into our story so that He can make all things new and bring about redemption and reconciliation on earth.

It is a time to remember that Jesus has come not just into our world, but also into our lives.  And just as Jesus coming to earth is all about how God is doing something REALLY BIG to make all things new on earth as they are in heaven, God wants to do the exact same REALLY BIG thing in each of our individual lives to make all things new in our hearts just as they are in heaven.

I can look back at this last year of my life and see the hard, and the growing pains, and the ways I’ve had to die to my old ways of living, and die to my old hopes and dreams.  I can see the brokenness and the disappointment and the moments of loneliness and confusion.

Or I can look back at this last year of my life and see that God was with me in every single one of those moments, and that for every time my heart was broken, God healed it and made it a little bit more like His heart.  He made me a little bit more compassionate, a little bit more understanding of the hard things others are going through, a little bit more trusting, and a little bit more brave.

C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

At Christmas, we remember that God is with us.  He wants to make a home in our hearts, and sometimes it’s going to get harder before it gets better.  But through it all, we have the promise that God is with us.  That Jesus has come so that we can be reconciled to God and that every hard thing we’ve gone through is being redeemed and used by God to build His kingdom here on earth, and also in our hearts.

And so this Christmas, I look back at a hard last year, and forward to year full of unknown, and yet I say,

Jesus, I’m so glad that you came.

 

Good Things Come to Those Who Work

If I knew what I was supposed to do, then I would do it!  If someone would tell me what I’m supposed to do, then I’ll get started on it!

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve shouted those phrases in exasperation.

Where should I go to school?  What kind of job or career should I pursue?  How can I give back?  Who should I be investing in?  Where should I live?  What or who should I be focusing on?  How can I help others?  Who should I spend the rest of my life with?

Most recently for me, I’ve been asking questions as I’ve become increasingly aware of the inequalities and injustices plaguing our world.  It’s atrocious and overwhelming and paralyzing all at the same time.

I’m leaving on a trip in a few days to Thailand and Cambodia to learn more about the work that an organization is doing to fight back and help rescue and restore victims of child sex trafficking.  As I was talking about this trip, and the related issues of human trafficking, my friend made the following comment:

“It’s horrible, but I feel like I can’t do anything about it.  It’s so overwhelming.  What can I possibly do?”

As he said it, I saw the compassion in his eyes and heard the genuine care in his voice.  And I think that is probably how most of us feel.

My guess is that, to the degree of which you are aware of the atrocities and injustices in our world, you DO care!  You DO agree that they are evil, and your heart DOES break for the victims.  But like my friend, and like myself most of the time as well, we frequently feel completely helpless to do anything about it.

We’ll look for opportunities to give resources or funds to non-profits who are on the frontlines, sponsor a child, or find opportunities to volunteer in some way.  These are all great things, and things we should all continue doing!  I know people who are doing incredible things to live sacrificially and help those who can’t help themselves, and I admire those people incredibly.

Recently, I’ve found myself in a bit of a wrestling match with God.  As I’ve thought more about the problems of injustice in our world, and as I open my Bible and over and over again come across verses that point to God as a God of justice, and a God who cares for the poor, and a God who deeply loves and cares for the orphans and the least of these, I’ve found that God has been pushing me and challenging me to think about what more I can do to take up the fight.

It started about 6 months ago when I was reading Isaiah 58.  In this chapter, Isaiah is calling out the Israelites.  The people of Israel are complaining that God has not noticed their fasting or answered their prayers.  God responds with a harsh rebuttal that their fasting has been completely misguided: they are going through the motions and only pretending to care about the ways of God, all the while persisting in their wickedness, quarrelling, and exploiting their workers.  And then God tells the people of Israel that if they want a guarantee that he will hear and respond to their prayers, a different kind of sacrifice will get his attention:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:  to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will appear quickly; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say:  Here am I…
“If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
Isaiah 58:6-10

This passage in Isaiah, and so many more like it that I have come across in the last few months, keep tugging at my heart.  And while I still don’t know what exactly it is that I’m supposed to do, I know that inaction is no longer an option for me.

For lack of knowing what to do, I started reading and searching Scripture and talking to people who are already working against injustice.  I watched talks from Christine Caine and Gary Haugen.  I read books and articles and started becoming more and more aware of the intricacies and complexities of some of the issues related to injustice.  I dipped my toe in a little bit by trying to do a few fundraisers and volunteering for a non-profit.  I moved forward with plans for this trip to Thailand and Cambodia.  I prayed and kept looking for action steps.

And as I took these steps, even though I didn’t feel like I was taking any real tangible action to make a difference, I still felt deep down like these tiny steps were hugely important.  Instead of running away from how hard it was, or returning to complacency, I did what I could.  I started educating myself and pressing into this topic.

Too often in my life I’ve been concerned about a topic, but let lack of a clear action step keep me from doing anything.  At all.  I want the opportunity to change the world handed to me on a silver platter.

I wonder if the world isn’t changed yet because instead of making our own opportunities or figuring it out ourselves, we’re waiting for someone to come along and hand it to us.

And I wonder how different the world might be if we picked a topic we cared about and didn’t wait for someone else to tell us what to do about it, but we decided to start figuring it out for ourselves.

I don’t want all of us to care about victims of human trafficking.  I want some of you to care about orphans and foster kids, about at-risk teens and single moms, about victims of abuse and domestic violence, about poverty and clean drinking water, about teenage pregnancies and drug and alcohol addiction, about unreached people groups and illiteracy, about people with disabilities and the homeless, about family and raising healthy kids, about healthy marriages and healthy bodies, about the elderly and the widows, about the persecution of believers and the crisis in the Middle East, about church plants and Bible translation, about discipleship and prayer, about racial tension and gender equality, about justice and truth.  I want you to care about your little corner of the world and how the values and ways and love of God can best be lived out in your sphere of influence.

If you believe God is tugging on your heart to care about an issue, but you don’t know where to start, can I suggest you start with Scripture?  Can I suggest you start by building your confidence that God is passionate about the very thing you are becoming passionate about?  Can I suggest that if you think you’re willing to do the work for a cause you care about, that work might start by educating yourself?

I got tired of not knowing what to do.  And so while I still don’t know the solution to problems as big as human trafficking, not knowing is no longer an excuse.  I’m going to learn.  I’m going to study.  I’m going to put in the work, and travel, and talk to people, and figure out what can be done.

“If I knew what I was supposed to do, then I would do it!”

“If someone would tell me what I’m supposed to do, then I’ll get started on it!”

I’ve said these phrases so many times, and I’m tired of using my lack of knowledge as an excuse.  In my life, this looks like reading books about justice, having intentional conversations, and leaving for a trip to Thailand and Cambodia to immerse myself in these issues for 2 weeks.  It’s not a solution to the problem.  But it does get the ball rolling.

And something tells me it will be easier to be ready for the right opportunity when it finally comes along if I’m already in motion.

So if you find yourself asking questions about what to do, or you’re wrestling with what steps you should take, or you feel stuck with where you’re at in life and wondering what exactly it is you’re supposed to be doing, first, let me tell you that I feel your pain.  But let me challenge you with this:

What if what you’re supposed to do is put in the work to figure out what you’re supposed to do?

What if what you’re supposed to do is just start working — even if it’s not the perfect solution or situation — because good things come to those who work?

For those of you who are past this stage of figuring out what to do, what advice would you give?  What helped you move forward with pursuing your purpose in life?

What are the causes you have found worth fighting for, and what are the tangible action steps you are taking in that direction?

By the way, here are a few book recommendations to get you started:

Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker

good things come to those who work

Discipleship: 7 Reasons Why It Matters

I love this article by Carey Nieuwhof about discipleship in the church today.  He has poignant insight about how the church has missed the mark on discipleship in many ways, and he provides thoughtful suggestions for moving forward.  I appreciate his diagnosis when he writes:

I agree that often Christians in the West are immature. I agree our walk doesn’t always match our talk.

But I also think the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.

The way many leaders approach maturity is to assume that knowledge produces maturity. Since when?

It’s wonderful that people understand what they believe, but knowledge in and of itself is not a hallmark of Christian maturity. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up. Love, by contrast, builds up. And some of the most biblically literate people in Jesus day got by-passed as disciples.

The goal is not to know, but to do something with what you know.

Discipleship is one of those things the church really can’t afford to ignore.  It can look really different depending on church culture and methodology, and be adapted and implemented in a variety of ways to suit our context….but we can’t afford to overlook it.

By the way, when I’m talking about discipleship, I’m talking about a lifelong process of FOLLOWING Jesus, INTEGRATING our faith into every area of our life, and MULTIPLYING our impact for the kingdom of God as we pass our faith on to others.

When we disciple people, we want to help them deepen their faith as a follower of Jesus in such a way that it translates to actively applying and integrating what they’ve learned into their day-to-day actions and decisions.  Eventually, as disciples draw closer to the heart of God and start to learn and care about the things that God cares about, they’ll have a natural outflow of wanting to serve, and begin investing their lives into others, thus multiplying the impact of discipleship.

The importance of discipleship will never go away.

Here are 7 reasons I think discipleship is essential:

1. A lost culture

The values of western culture continue to move further and further away from how God designed life to be lived.  Accepted attitudes about money, sex, power, and human dignity have never been further away from what God has communicated about his design for human flourishing.  The church has to respond not by telling people they are wrong (because they stopped listening a long time ago), but my showing how the life that Christ calls us to is actually a life worth living.  The answer is not to shout more loudly, but to live more authentically like Christ.

2. A generation gap

These statistics from the Barna group should make us take a long and hard look at what we’ve been doing, and what we need to change to reverse these trends:

  • 5 out of 10 in their fifties and older attend church weekly.
  • 4 out of 10 thirtysomethings
  • 3 out of 10 twentysomethings
  • 6 out of 10 spiritually active teens left the church in their twenties

(For more, check out this article and this article)

3. A loss of literacy

Biblical literacy is at an all-time low.  Fewer and fewer Christians are regularly reading the Bible, much less memorizing or meditating on what they are learning.  Christians used to be “people of the book” and now we are people of bite-size social media theology and feel good sayings.  (Read more here and here)

4. A promise of God’s presence

(Ready for some good news yet?)

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus promises to be with his followers in their disciple-making endeavors.  “Surely I am with you always.”  Sure, we know that God is always with us because of that whole omnipresent thing, but there is an assurance that we will get to partner with God in a unique way in the work of discipleship.  Not many other enterprises come with that guarantee.

5. A reminder of God’s goodness

When we walk through life with someone we are investing in, and as we continue to point them to Jesus, we have a front row seat to the work God is doing in our disciple’s life.  Few things in life will bring greater joy than the living reminder we see before us of God’s active presence and goodness.  You will most likely be changed just as much as the person you are discipling!

6. A fulfillment of God’s command

God has clearly left this task for his followers to do.

Do you really believe Jesus was serious when he said, “Go and make disciples”?

There’s not a lot of wiggle room here that I can see.  Less memorizing.  More doing.

7. An example to follow

Jesus bet his life’s work on discipleship.  Robert Coleman puts it this way:

“His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with the men whom the multitudes would follow.” (From The Master Plan of Evangelism)

Jesus discipled 12 men for 3 years, and entrusted them to carry on his his message after he left this earth.  Jesus didn’t build a structure, or create a 5-year program strategy.  He discipled.  He instilled his life into a few close followers and trusted that they would then pass it on to others, who would pass it on to others. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to follow this example.  We need to disciple.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Why do you think discipleship matters?

Have you ever discipled someone before?  How did you see God work?  What did you learn from that experience?Dallas Willard Discipleship Quote

Something You Can Build A Life On

In the swirling chaos of life, the advertisements competing for our attention, the online barrage of news and opinions (that often contradict each other), the relational conflict, the budgeting and financial pressure of making ends meet, the crises all around the world, and the unrest we hear about every day in the news, in all of this thing we call life, aren’t we all just looking for something we can rely on?

What is steady?  What can we trust?  What can we anchor ourselves to and find shelter through the rocky storms of life?

It’s a basic question every human has to answer.  What can I trust?  What foundation can I build my life on?  What can I know for sure?

We need a foundation to build our life on.  We need something we can trust.  We can’t build any sort of structure, any sort of life, if there is not a firm foundation to build upon.

This need for something we can trust, something we can build our lives on, is not new to the 21st century.  When the apostle John wrote a letter to first-century followers of Jesus, he addressed some of these same basic questions.

As he writes to these early followers of Jesus, he is writing to communities of believers who have been persecuted because of their faith.  The Jewish religious leaders of the day were opposing those who claimed that Jesus was God, and the ruling political power of the day, Rome, also sought out and persecuted the followers of Jesus.  It is to these people, the harassed and persecuted, those who have everything to lose by their allegiance to the cause of Christ, that John writes to give them assurance that they can, indeed, continue to build their life upon their faith in Jesus.  John assures these early Christians:

 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).

If you have Jesus, you have life.  If you know Jesus, you can have confidence that you know God.  If you don’t know Jesus, if you don’t have a relationship where you have trusted Christ and chosen to make Him the foundation you build your life upon, then you don’t have this life with God that is accessible only through Jesus.

Can it really be that simple?  Can we strip away the noise and complication and confusion and find this rock-hard truth that there is, indeed, an opportunity presented to us to live reconciled to God, to live a life with God rather than struggling against God, and to have confidence that this life will continue with God into eternity?

John writes to assure his readers, YES!  Yes, it really is this simple!  Yes, you can have confidence in your relationship with God!  Yes, this is something you can build your life upon!

Our confidence is not based in ourselves.  Our confidence is based on the complete work of Christ, and that if Jesus really is who He said He was, if He really did conquer the grave and rise from the dead, then we, too, can find a new kind of life in Him.  A kind of life that not even death can stop.  A kind of life that breathes and thrives and loves and overcomes.  This is the life offered to us in Christ.

The child-parent relationship is one that can never be broken.  Your mom and dad will always be your mom and dad.  No matter the status of the relationship, you will always be their biological son or daughter.  Nothing you do can ever change that connection!  This is one thing in life you can know for sure.

In the same way you can know that your mother is your mother, you can know that your Savior really IS your Savior.  Jesus really has come to offer us a new kind of life, to save us from the ways of this world and the consequences of our sin and show us a new way to live.

If you have come to believe that Jesus is God, and trust that He really did conquer death and rise from the dead, and you recognize that His death on the cross paid the penalty you could never pay for the wrong things you have done in your life, you can have confidence that you really do, through Jesus, have a new and lasting relationship with God.  A relationship that will last through eternity.

That sounds like a solid foundation you can build a life upon.

This reconciliation to God is just the beginning, and we have a whole life ahead of us where we learn how to live this new kind of life, to understand what the ways of God are, to find what it means to trust God and live our lives for Him, and to learn the patterns of walking through life with God.  But it starts with being reconciled to God through Jesus.

You CAN have confidence that you have a relationship with God.  This gives you a foundation that you can build a life upon.

Over the past year, I’ve been developing a curriculum called Following Jesus: Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.  The first lesson is what I’ve just been writing about:  Finding Confidence in Your Relationship With Jesus.  The book includes 9 studies total that look at what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and I’m excited to tell you that you can now check out this resource for yourself!  All 9 lessons are available as a PDF download here.  There are student copies and leader copies, and I’d encourage you to grab a friend and go through these together.  If you live locally in Orange County, you can also pick up a hard-copy at the bookstore at my church (Calvary Church of Santa Ana).

Following-Jesus-Photo

I would also love you to join me as I spend the next few Wednesday nights going through this at my church.  We’ll be meeting Wednesday nights at 7 pm and walking through and discussing these foundational lessons about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Follow Me

Two words have been resounding in my mind and my heart these past few months.  

2 simple words.  

1 incredible invitation.  

FOLLOW ME.

Follow me and find your true self.

Follow me and find what you were made for.

Follow me and find wisdom for how life is meant to be lived.

We were made for a purpose.  Every human life is a masterpiece created by God to accomplish great things.  When we choose to live life according to our own ways, we disconnect ourselves from God and His purposes for our life.  Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father, to fix the broken relationship caused by our selfish ways, and show us a new way to live.

If we choose to follow Jesus, we are invited and caught up into a greater story of how life is meant to be.  We learn from the Creator of life Himself how this span of years we are given here on earth was originally intended to be. 

We were made to know and be known by God.  We were made to live in healthy relationships with those around us.  Sin and brokenness have marred this life we were created for, but Jesus has made a way for us to get back to the relationship and the life we were intended for.  He paid the price we couldn’t pay for ourselves, dying on our behalf so that we could live for Him!  It’s not just about going to Heaven, but following a new way of life during our time here on earth—living differently TODAY because of the new life we have found in Jesus.

It’s the kind of life that has no regrets.

It’s the kind of life that has confidence in making good decisions.

It’s the kind of life that is abounding with purpose, meaning, and fulfillment.

It’s the kind of life that is invested in healthy relationships with the people we love.

Jesus taught and modeled a new way to live.  It’s a life of freedom, selflessness, joy, and adventure.

Maybe you’re new to who Jesus is, or maybe you’ve grown up hearing a lot about who He is but still haven’t quite figured out how and why it matters in your own life.  Or maybe you’ve identified yourself as a “Christian” but you are still choosing to live life your own way.

Jesus invites you to follow Him.  Follow His Way of life.  I invite and encourage you to find out what this means.

The more I’ve taken steps to live this life that Jesus has called us to, the more I’ve found it is the BEST life possible.  He really is the one who designed it, after all, so it makes sense that He would have the best advice on how it is meant to be lived.

He’s invited you into an incredible adventure and a new way of life…

Will you follow Him?

 

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full -John 10:10

 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do -Ephesians 2:10