Thursday, March 5, 2015

Don't Dig Up In Doubt What You Planted In Faith

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven… A time to plant and a time to harvest.” 
- Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

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Remember those science projects we all used to do every year in elementary school for the Science Fair?

You know, the ones where you would have to conduct an experiment of some sort and then buy those foldable cardboard display board with the wavy borders to show your hypothesis, procedures, results, data and all the other portions of the scientific process? 

I don’t remember much, but I do remember my favorite projects revolved around plants -- not because I had any sort of affinity for plants, but mostly because they were the easiest projects to do. Don’t judge! I was never the crafty type and building a scale model of the solar system or a volcano just didn’t seem worth the effort. Plus, plants don’t run away or explode.

Anyways, one year I decided to plant different types of seeds to see which ones would grow faster. These projects required time and patience. I'd plant them in the same type of soil, give them all the same amount of water and exposure to light and let them do their thing. Some of the seeds grew quickly, others wouldn't -- at least not right away. 

If I decided then and there to dig up the seeds to try and see what the problem was, I’d disrupt the process. I would undo all the progress being made underneath the surface and have to start over. All because I didn't have faith in the process of plant growth. 

The same often applies with the things we plant in faith in our lives.

I may not be a overalls-wearing, pitchfork-wielding farmer, but in a way we’re all spiritual farmers, planting seeds of faith in prayer and hoping for a harvest somewhere down the line.

We have dreams for different areas of our lives and we sow seeds in our relationships, in our finances, in our churches, in our careers… and then we hope that those tiny seeds of faith turn into a crop of healthy marriages, strong families, successful businesses, enriching friendships and fruitful ministries.

Usually, the problems occur in between the sowing and the reaping. It’s making sure our seeds are getting the right amount of water and sunlight and protecting our seeds from the weeds, birds and insects that threaten to sabotage growth.

Most importantly, though, it’s figuring out when to just stay out of the way and let God do the work. It’s practicing patience and not compromising everything we’ve planted by uprooting the seeds we plant before they bloom. When we want everything to happen on our own timetable, we end up digging instead of reaping.

I’ve been staring at a couple of empty fields lately that I hoped would have been yielding some kind of results by now and I’m wondering if I’ll ever see a crop show up. I’m tempted to dig up in doubt what I planted in faith. Maybe you are, too.

Don’t do it. Don’t bail out before the breakthrough. Don’t let doubt uproot your faith. Don’t let impatience override your trust in God and in the process.

Stay the course. Stay committed. Stand firm. Keep sowing. Keep tending your fields.

Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Find Your "Something": Why Your Work Matters

"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." - Colossians 3:23

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Writers write. 

Simple, I know, but I'm a writer and sometimes I need to remind myself!

We're all hardwired to do something.  

Maybe you're "something" is painting. Painters paint. Or maybe you're really good at building things. Builders build.

Whatever that something is -- and it could be one of a million things -- it's important that we do it.

But maybe an even more important question than what your something is why you do it. There's gotta be something behind your something!  

Why do you write? Why do you paint? Why do you build? Why do you do what you do?

BIGGER THAN US 

When we hear the word "worship," usually what comes to mind is a music genre or the songs we sing on Sunday mornings. But worship is so much bigger than that.

My pastor, Ed Young, once said that worship is our response to God’s identity (who He is) and His activity (what He does) expressed by what we say and what we do. 

Everything and anything you do and how you do it matters. And our work, along with everything else in our lives, is part of living a life of worship. Whether you are serving chicken sandwiches at a fast food restaurant or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, it matters. It matters to God.

Your work is an act of worship! So whatever it is you do -- whatever your "something" is -- do it in response to who God is and what He has already done for you.  

Write in response to God's faithfulness. Paint in response to God's design. Create in response to God's creativity. Work in response to God's faithfulness. Serve in response to God's grace. Love in response to God's love. Teach in response to God's wisdom. Speak in response to God's Word.

What are you passionate about? What activities do you find yourself gravitating towards, regardless of whether or not it brings you a paycheck? What brings you joy when you are immersed in it?

Find your "something" and go do it. And if you don't know what that something is just yet, keep searching for it. Your searching is an act of worship, too.

When you treat everything like an act of worship, everything changes.    

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Give Yourself A Break

(Note: This is that post I was telling you all about a few weeks ago.)

You wouldn’t have wanted to sit next to me in the family van after a loss in little league.

I’d kick myself for every little mistake -- if I got a hit in three out of four at bats, I’d fixate on that fourth one. If I was pitching and threw a bad pitch that led to an RBI double, I’d replay it in my head over and over more times than ESPN said the word “Deflategate” in the two weeks leading up the Super Bowl.

My parents would try and cheer me up, but I wouldn’t hear any of it (Sorry, Mom and Dad). It didn’t matter to me that baseball is a team sport or that 95 percent of the outcome of any given game was out of my control. Somehow, it was my fault that my team lost. There was something wrong with me.

Even now as a 24-year-old grown adult, I still struggle with that little leaguer mentality. And after a while, it always starts to take a toll.

Some “losses” still bring out the worst in me. Anger. Pride. Jealousy. Bitterness. Discontentment. And I hate that. I hate to see that I still struggle with these things in my own heart. I hate to see failures open up wounds that I thought were healed. I hate admitting my own weaknesses and I’ll beat myself up for having them in the first place.

I start to hear: Joel, look at all the choices and all these mistakes you’ve made -- you are such an idiot. Look at these emotions that are wrecking you -- you are so weak and useless. Look at that failure -- it’s all your fault.

I’ll start to look at my own reflection in the mirror and not like what I see.

I’ve always struggled with grace and forgiveness -- particularly for myself. I’ll demand perfection of myself and when I predictably fail to meet that ridiculous standard, I’ll beat myself up for it.

Maybe you struggle with this, too. I’ll tell you what some close friends have told me: You’ve gotta give yourself a break. We need to give ourselves some grace. I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. And we’ll never be perfect. And that’s okay.

God doesn't demand perfection of us. Yet, we somehow expect ourselves to be perfect.

First John 1:8-9 says that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We can give ourselves grace because God has already extended grace to us as a gift. And His grace is enough.

It’s more than enough. It never runs out. It never fails. It’s always available to us. No failure is final. No pain is permanent. No mistake is too much to come back from. 


Too often we beat ourselves up for things that God has already forgiven us for. We remember things that God has already forgotten. We dwell on the past when God is trying to guide us forward in freedom. We hold on to things that God wants us to let go of.

When we withhold grace from ourselves, when we continually belittle ourselves for past mistakes and failures, we’re robbing ourselves of the joy, peace and rest found in Jesus. Not only that, but it also becomes much more difficult to extend grace and forgiveness to others if we can’t even offer it ourselves.

What are you beating yourself up over? What scenes are you replaying in your mind over and over? What kind of things are you saying about yourself?      

Give yourself some grace. Allow yourself to take a step forward. And another. And then another.

Give yourself a break and relieve yourself of a burden that you were never meant to carry.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The “C” Word

This entry is a guest post from my dear friend Christina Arteaga. She is a wife, a mom, a creative (in every sense of the word) and someone who is unashamedly after the Lord’s heart. It’s my pleasure to share this post with you! You can read more of her stuff on her blog.

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Nobody likes to hear the “C” word.

Every time it gets brought up in a discussion, especially one where advice is being issued, it’s like a knife in our ears and a punch to our hearts. How can people even say that word so easily? It carries such a stigma.

I roll my eyes every time it’s said, especially in church. If only we could do away with that terrible, wretched word:

CONTENTMENT.

Yes, that horrible word “contentment.” Just like “hedge of protection” and “your will be done,” it is an overused statement that’s usually said haphazardly, just to sound a bit more “Christian.”

Every time I was told to “just be content,” it was a quick answer to a question I had about struggling. I wasn’t really instructed on how to be content, I was just told to be it. I grew to hate that phrase so much, I never told people “just be content.”

And yet, I’ve learned that contentment is the key.

If you’re struggling today, let me instruct you on tangible ways to be content.

I feel Andy Mineo said it best in his song “Curious” off of his “Heroes for Sale” album. In it, he says “The secret is to learn what it means to be content and celebrate what God’s given [and] not the things He didn’t.” This seems like a pretty elementary idea, but putting it into practice can be a bit harder than it seems.

1. CELEBRATE WHAT GOD’S GIVEN

This can be explained in two parts: (a) Praise God for the things He’s already given you and (b) celebrate those things, but don’t worship them.

Praise God for what you’ve already received. It’s always easy to have a “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality, but what we don’t realize it there are people looking into our own lives thinking “I wish I had ________ like they do”.

I’m married. I know plenty of single people looking for their future spouse. I have a daughter. There are people trying to have kids and devastated that they can’t. I have a roof over my head, a vehicle to drive to work, a job to pay my bills, a pretty decent phone…the list goes on and on.

Instead of focusing on what God has yet to give you, praise Him for the things He has already gifted you with. And in that, don’t worship the gift. A good thing can quickly become an idol when you make that thing your source of happiness instead of Jesus.

Everything fails you. A perfect husband could forget your anniversary. The greatest car could have a flat tire. When we put so much on a human or an item, our joy is shattered when the inevitable happens and it fails us. Contentment means being grateful for the gift, but placing your joy in the GIVER and never moving it from there.

2. DON’T OBSESS OVER SOMETHING YOU DON’T HAVE

Remember when I mentioned that a perfect husband could forget your anniversary and the greatest car could have a flat tire? The truth is there is no such thing as a “perfect” husband or a “greatest” car because “perfect” and “greatest” are subjective. To me, the “greatest” car is one that saves me gas money. To someone else, it might be a red car (personally, I prefer black cars).

My husband really loves sports. I like that about him. Maybe to another woman, that would be a turn-off. When we go on a search for the perfect _______ or the greatest ______, we go on a never-ending search because, at the end of the day, we must realize that it simply doesn’t exist.

The plain truth is that our focus shouldn’t be on what God didn’t give us. Theodore Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of all joy” and he is correct. When your focus is on what you don’t have, you are inevitably comparing what you do have to what others have, which leads to feelings of envy, greed, jealousy, anger, bitterness and more.

Don’t be ashamed if you find yourself struggling with this. Personally, all of 2014 was a struggle with contentment for me. I wasn’t alone and neither are you. You can overcome this. There is a light at the end of this dark and cold tunnel.

Contentment isn’t just another “Chrsitianese” word. It is something real and something attainable.

Just take the following steps daily and know you will soon feel the peace of contentment again:

1) Pray and ask God to show you where you aren’t content. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re envying or we’re bitter.

2) Make a list of the things you are thankful for and praise God for those things individually. There is something good in everything, even if we don’t see it at first.

3) Realize that the things we dream about, even the noblest of things, aren’t perfect and never will be. There is no perfect husband, perfect home, perfect job, etc. Letting go of this false reality is the first step to becoming content.

4) Understand that God can give you what you dream of, believe that God will, but know that even if He doesn’t, He is still God and His promises are still true.

Contentment is a real thing. It is the key that unlocks the door to joy in Christ. It is a game changer.

You can follow Christina on Twitter at @TinaXArte and see more of her blog posts at ChristinaXArtega.com. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

You Don't Have To Have It All Figured Out

What do you call a writer having trouble writing? Frustrated. And that's what I am.

I looked up this morning, realized we're 27 days into the new year and I haven't published a single blog post. Nada. Zilch. I apologize for that.   

It's not that I haven't had ideas, I have a bunch of them. I have a bunch of drafts on Google Docs that I haven't finished. I've written ideas on post-it notes and napkins.   

There is this one post in particular I've been stuck working on for more than a month, a post that I'm hoping is completed in the next week or two. I feel like I can't post anything else until I get this one done, but I'm having trouble with 1) finishing it and 2) actually wanting to publish it.

As I've been writing this thing -- and, really, just living life in general -- I've had to confront some of the parts about myself that I don't necessarily like. I've had to acknowledge that I don't have it all together. I'll share more on some of this when I finish that post. 

I've convinced myself of a few things these past few months that I need to fight against. Things like: "I need to have everything figured out before sharing anything" and "I need to be strong in order to be of any use to anybody."

It's not fun confronting this stuff. It's not fun to admit your own brokenness and weaknesses.

I don't understand everything that I've been learning yet. It hasn't all sunk in. My head gets it, but my heart has been slow to catch up -- that also frustrates me. It's like when your parents tell you something and you know they're right and you nod your head and go "Yes, Mom... Yeah, Dad... I know, I know" but it still hasn't sunk in as real for you.

One example is this pair of verses I've kept circling back to in recent weeks:

“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” - James 1:2-4

It’s difficult to read that and not shut my Bible closed whenever I’m going through a difficult time in my life.

Really, God? ‘Great joy’? I don’t feel a lot of ‘joy’ right now… This situation stinks. I’m hurt. I’m broken. I’m angry. I’m tired… How am I supposed to find ‘joy’ in this?

I'm still figuring this out. I want it to be real in my life. I know that joy runs deeper than just being happy. Happiness comes and goes. Happiness is based on circumstance. Obviously, I don't think we're expected to smile and say "All is well!" if our house is burning down.

But I know that the joy that comes from the Lord is knowing that these trials, these difficult times, are just temporary. They won't last forever. God is still here and He is still working in my life. It's not in vain.  

But I think to myself How can I post about something that I'm still figuring out? Isn't it kind of hypocritical of me to say something that I still have trouble practicing and applying in my own life?

So, maybe I don't have it all together right now. Maybe I haven't figured it all out -- we never really will though, will we? But I'm still running back to God again and again, still struggling and wrestling with it all.

Maybe I was never meant to be strong on my own so I can see how strong God is. Maybe I fall and I fail so that I can see how faithful Jesus is when I'm not. Maybe God shows me my weaknesses so that He can work in me and so that I can boast not in myself, but in Him and Him alone. 

Maybe all I need to do is keep my eyes on Jesus and keep moving forward toward Him. In the end, that's what it all comes down to. He doesn't want you or me to have it all together or have all the right answers or to be perfect. He doesn't want us to just follow a bunch of rules. He wants us. He wants us to love Him with all our hearts and all our minds and all our strength. 

I'm still learning what that all means and trying to figure out what that looks like, too. Maybe we can figure it out together.