When God takes you the long way…

The Long Way

I love efficiency. I love when things are streamlined with as little resistance as possible. I love when things fall into place with very little effort. Really, we all do. If there’s an easier way, we’ll take it. If there’s a way we can cut down the time it takes to get something done, we’ll try it. Our culture celebrates efficiency. In fact, we tend to grow irritated when someone asks us to slow down or to take the long way.

So what happens when our values for efficiency rub up against God’s plans?

Well, if you’re like me, it probably leads to frustration and maybe even anger. But as I read through Scripture, I’m reminded that I’m in pretty good company.

A couple of weeks ago we shared our story here in Atlanta with some new friends. We shared how we had moved from Tacoma to San Diego so that we could prepare to help launch a ministry in Spain. It was a pretty straight forward plan as far as we could tell. God however, had other plans. Support raising didn’t go as we thought it would. We ended up doing much more ministry in San Diego than we had originally planned. Our timelines didn’t line up the way we thought they would. And to top it all off, God shifted our family and ministry toward Italy instead of Spain.

As we shared our story, our friends looked at us, sensing our weariness and confusion as to what the past few years had been and simply said, “sounds like what God did to the Israelites when they left Egypt. They had a pretty straightforward road to the ‘promised land’ and God took them the long way – on purpose – for their own good.”

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. (Exodus 13:17-18)

Over the past year, many people have said to us, “God wastes nothing.” In our heads, we know that’s true. And yet, for some reason, on that day with our friends, it hit us differently. God knew if the Israelites had gone the “efficient way,” that the first sign of trouble would have put them on the express train back to Egypt. God purposefully took them on an epic journey of preparation to build His people’s trust and faith in Him.

If you look on a map, the distance between the two paths is pretty dramatic. Clearly God’s not in the business of efficiency. If he were, he’d have taken the Israelites as quickly as possible to the promised land. But, what we see throughout Scripture is that God is actually all about intentionally developing His people’s hearts for the long haul.

When you look at the Israelites journey, you see that God did some pretty incredible things while they were going the “long way.”

God fed them with manna from heaven every day they were in the wilderness.

God provided water for them out of a rock.

God protected them from the heat of day and the cold of night.

God kept their clothing, shoes and tents from wearing out.

God gave them victory over enemy after enemy.

God did these incredible things along the way to grow and develop His people and their trust in Him. It was far from easy. It was anything but efficient. But it was entirely on purpose. In fact, “the long way” would serve as the back drop by which generation after generation would reflect on and point back to God’s faithfulness.

As we ourselves continue to step forward toward Italy, we have seen God’s intentionality in so much of what we’ve encountered. If I’m honest, some days I’m grateful for God’s process in taking us the long way, other days not so much. One thing is for sure, we are grateful to have already been able to see God’s faithfulness throughout our journey. God has been using the long way to intentionally grow our faith and trust in Him and prepare us for what lies ahead in Italy. It’s our prayer that when we look back on the “long way,” we’ll be overwhelmed with gratitude for all God’s done, and our whole family will be able to point back to God’s faithfulness for generations to come.

Hi, I’m Jeff and I’m an ENTJ

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon, if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves.” Thomas Merton

Hi, my name is Jeff, I’m an ENTJ, enneagram 8 wing 7, and an “Analyst/Prioritizer/Captain.

Fact: The easiest way to connect with someone is by asking them questions about themselves. Facebook is littered with quizzes and memes telling the world what city you should live in, or what Princess Bride character you are, or even what pizza topping you are. You’re lying to yourself if you say you’ve never taken one of those quizzes. We all have, because we all love to be known – we all love to talk about ourselves. All of us. Deep within us is this desire for us to be labeled and known. I would argue that that innate desire is to both know and be known by something greater than ourselves; and furthermore to have significance.

Our community has spent a lot of time exploring the world of both Meyers Briggs and Enneagram and the “types” of things those personality “theories” communicate about us. It’s a fascinating world of theory that can bring both clarity and sometimes frustration.

“That IS me!!”

“I don’t really do that, do I?”

“I don’t experience you that way…”

These “personality” tests really can dissect and help us better understand the intricacies of who we are and how we function. Each one of us has personality – each of us desires for our personality to somehow “fit” into this crazy world – and to matter. Personality is simply the collection of our conditioned reactions, emotions, fears, ways of behaving and believing that makes us unique from each other. And that’s the beauty of it, we all are unique. No two ENFJ’s are the same, no two Enneagram 7’s are the same. And we all have the opportunity to uniquely shape our world. Certainly these personality tests and systems help us in that discovery process, but they’re not the end all.

As we’ve been here in San Diego, we’ve seen so many neighbors and friends searching desperately for significance and trying to live out their lives with a hopeful futility. Many of our neighbors simply punch in and out of work and seek to make the time in between a little more enjoyable. Many of these neighbors, if asked about themselves, will talk endlessly of their “real” passions and their dreams. And that’s just it, so many of us come alive when we share “the real us” and are known and understood.

It’s in those spaces of listening and really hearing others well that we give our neighbors a taste of the Kingdom. The reality is that when we take time to listen, encourage, and know others we are revealing the heart of our Father who loves and knows each of us with a depth we can’t even fully grasp. As we’ve served with :Beta: we’ve had the privilege of walking with countless men and women in the process of self discovery and help them step into their dreams and passions. We’ve seen our neighbors and apprentices come alive before our very eyes. I think that’s simply because when we know ourselves well, then we are able to make an authentic contribution to our world. 

No matter what our personality profile says we are – we have all been created for significance and for an authentic kingdom contribution much greater than we could ever imagine.

I Feel So Bad For You

Support Raising. The very words elicit so many other words. Challenging. Difficult. Hard. Lots of waiting. These are all words I have used and heard to describe what support raising is like. I don’t think I’ve ever heard support raising described as beautiful, rewarding, or encouraging. But the longer God has placed us in this season of support raising the more I actually would use those words. You see, as long and difficult as this process has been, I wouldn’t change any of it.

What I have learned and experienced throughout this process would not have happened without the difficulty, the challenge or even hardship and for that, I am so thankful.  I don’t know how many times I prayed that I would be transformed, changed, and stretched by God.  And well, we know that God is a God who listens and answers prayer – so He did. He answered those prayers in amazing ways. And by amazing I mean both beautiful and uncomfortable, sweet and painful, and surprising and frustrating.

One of the surprises to me has been just how much ministry we’ve gotten to do within the support raising process. We are support raising so that we can go to Spain to make disciples of Jesus. As we go, we are called simply to be faithful to the process and share the gospel – we ourselves can’t make someone choose to follow Jesus – that’s God’s part. In the same way, within the process of support raising we also can’t make someone join our partnership team – we are simply called to faithfully share our story and invite people to join with us in what God’s already doing. And what has often times come out of those conversations has been incredibly beautiful. We have had the honor of hearing so many people’s stories. We have been trusted to listen to tender prayer requests, passionate hearts, and sweet stories of what God has done and gifted with an opportunity to respond. We have gotten to affirm, empathize, and celebrate what God has done in and through these wonderful lives! That’s not a bad deal!

Another surprise along this journey has been getting to hear things like “I’m so sorry” or “ this must be so hard” or “I feel so bad for you.” And actually, I love those comments too. I love them because its been an invitation to share from a deeper place the ways I’ve been able to connect with God because of this experience. I have been forced to question how much I actually trust God, which then of course leads to so many other questions and truths about God. Is God really in control of this process? Is God actually going to provide? Is God going to do what He said He would do? Wrestling with God and these questions has given me so many tender moments with God. It has driven me to be completely honest about who I believe God is and what is actually in my heart. Through that process I’ve felt the presence of the Holy Spirit stand with me in my fears and brokenness. He has cared for me, listened to me, and gently pruned my heart along the way, and for that I am so grateful. So when I hear “I’m so sorry” in reference to support raising, I actually am grateful – and not sorry at all and don’t want others to be either. This process has taught me so much. The conversations we’ve had about the support raising process have so often been beautiful invitations to share just how good, faithful, and gracious God is and has been. It’s been hard – for sure – but I wouldn’t trade it – because it’s deepened my faith and understanding of who God is in ways that I would have never imagined.

When hard work doesn’t equal results.

“To go to a place you do not know, you must be led down a path you do not understand.” – John of the Cross

What do you do when all your hard week seems to feel like it leads nowhere? For the past year and half my wife and I have been working tirelessly connecting with churches and individuals sharing our story and vision for ministry in Spain. Few times in life can I remember working so hard round the clock. Partnership development is a long, laborious, and yet beautiful process that requires a monumental amount of time, energy and heart. 

For much of my life things have come easy. School, relationships, jobs – all of these things I’ve been able to do well and with relative ease. For as long as I can remember I had functioned from a place of expectation – do the work and you’ll get the results. And in a way, I liked that – people saw me as successful, able, and a hard worker. I took pride in that.

Naturally as we began the process of support raising for ministry in Spain, that very line of thinking undoubtedly followed me. Surely this would be the same. As long as we work hard, we’ll get the results, and get to Spain. Sure I knew the stats on the length of time it’s taken most missionaries to get over there. Talk to just about any missionary who’s gone to Spain and they’ll tell you – it took FAR longer and was MUCH harder than they’d ever expected just to get there. But I knew, if I do the work, I’ll get the results. 

So we worked. Hard. A couple months in and we saw minimal results. To say we saw nothing would be untrue – but my “do the work and you’ll get the results” had not fully been realized – we’d be doing the work, but not really seeing the results (well, the results I wanted). I began to become frustrated and disappointed. In my mind I figured, we just need to work harder, pray more, be more diligent. That’s what I’d done before. And so that’s what I did again. But this time, it didn’t work.

“Huh?! How could that be? I don’t understand!?!” We’d done all the work – but were still seeing only minimal results. My frustration and disappointment began to turn to anger. 

“God, what the heck?!?! Why is this not working? What are we doing? Are we still supposed to go Spain? I don’t understand!! We’re doing what you told us to do!?!? What are people going to think? I’m failing! I’m trying so hard, but I better try harder. I can do better. I’ll do better.” Questions swirled, frustrations grew, impatience and disappointment clouded a lot of my thoughts. It’s funny how quickly and easily your heart shifts when things don’t go the way YOU thought they would. Confused and even a bit disoriented, I started letting God have it. 

“He’s the one who got us into this mess in the first place right? It’s His fault this isn’t working. I’m doing the work, I’m being ‘faithful.’ God’s not holding up His end of the bargain.” A good friend of mine reminded me of all the passages of Scripture that talk about how when we’re faithful we see God’s faithfulness. It’s all over Scripture, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, the list goes on and on. Great!! That’s exactly what I had needed to hear, I’d been faithful, I’d done the work – so let’s move on.

“Wait…what? They all had to wait a LONG time to see God’s faithfulness?! A. Really. Long. Time.” (Insert the sound of a deflating ballon) The problem for me was I felt as if we didn’t have a long time. We’ve been waiting a long time already. Plus, people are partnering with us as we prepare for Spain – they’re expecting us to get there and get there soon! I figured, God has to know that, so what could possibly be the hold up?

Day after day I’d walk around our neighborhood with our dog Satchmo offering God my prayers of lament. It felt like my prayers were on repeat. I wrestled with God – still uncertain as to why we haven’t already moved and why we’ve not seen the results that we wanted to see. And slowly I began to hear His voice.

God’s Spirit, in such a gentle way, began to reveal my true heart. I wanted God to work like a coin operated machine; I do my work (partnership development) and God would do His (bring the partners onto our team). When I failed to see this play out I quickly turned my attention to what I’d done before – just try more. That had always worked in the past. But funny thing about that line of thinking, it’s all about me.

I was more concerned about how I was being perceived by others rather than paying attention to the ways God was moving and shifting my heart. I was struggling to believe that God truly was in control and knew what He was doing. I began to doubt what God was inviting us into and the truth that God always provides for those He invites into places of ministry. In fact, time and time again God reminded me that He was in control and would provide. And yet, my response tended to always be about what I needed to do get the results.

Partnership development moved my heart and mind to a place of chaos that I wasn’t necessarily wanting to enter into. The way I found myself responding to this chaos began to be a mirror to what was really going on in my heart. The funny thing was, God was using it to let me in on something – how filled I was with my self, and how preoccupied I was with myself – He wanted to take me into a place of humility. And for me, the spiritual pride was saying, “what’s going on? What did I do wrong?” My coin-operated view of God was nothing more than spiritual pride – I was choosing to believe that God was only showing up and “working” because I was working hard. But instead what was really happening was God was taking me on a journey out of His deep love for me. 

God in His gentleness was reminding me, “its always been me who’s been at work. I want to show you places where you don’t love me. Those are the places where I want to love and teach you.” The irony of the season of chaos was that God brought me into it not because of my actions of pride but rather because of His love for me and purposes for me. In other words, this season was, and actually still is, a gift from God. 

Now, I’d love to say that I’ve learned and grown and now view this season we’re in as a gift – always. That’s simply untrue. We’re still hard at work sharing our story and building new partnerships with churches and individuals. But I’m continuing to learn that our results are not indicative of our work ethic or abilities, but rather God’s complete control and timing in moving us to Spain. Some days I fall back on my pride and get angry we’re still not in Spain, since we’ve worked so hard and all 😉 But more days look like us trusting God’s provision and timing and remembering that we are called to be faithful and yet still put our faith in Him for the results. 

And so, we cling to 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

We used to…

Every Monday night a few of us head over to the neighborhood park to partake in some soccer and volleyball. It’s a ton of fun to not only play, but to play with such consistency that people know – Monday’s 5:30 – we’re there. From day one the aim was two-fold: have fun with friends and connect with our neighbors. Through the consistent week in and week out play we’ve met a lot of people, many of whom have joined us for just a season, some we’ve built friendships with, some we’ve seen once and then never again. But consistently we get a chance to meet our neighbors, and it’s pretty darn great. But what happens when the very thing we’ve set out to do – meet neighbors – begins to work.

Hint: It changes things.

Over the past couple of months we’ve had some new neighbors begin to come with great regularity. Neighbors we rarely get to interact with. Somewhere around December a number of our Latino neighbors began showing up to play volleyball at the same time we play. They’d bring their own net, their own ball, their own people, and be ready to play. All 10-15 of them. It certainly changed some things. Before when neighbors came we could have them jump in and play, our numbers rarely got above 6 on 6, so everyone could play – no problem. But 10-15 extra changes things.

Let me explain. It’s a gift to have an entire segment of our neighborhood that we rarely get the opportunity to connect with show up and invite themselves into our world and vice versa. But with it comes a whole slew of new challenges. We all know living out Kingdom values costs us. In fact, that sort of life always asks us to put others ahead of ourselves – humbly choosing to serve, rather than be served. And yet, we like things to play out the way we want them to, don’t we? I know I sure do. And so when something different happens in ministry or even life than I expected to happen there can be a pretty strong rub. I’ll find myself using the phrase – “we used to” a lot. You see, we used to be able to all play as many games as we’d like without having to rotate in and out. We used to be able to play by our own set of rules. We used to be able to fully understand everything that was said and done on the court. But now we can’t. Inviting our Latino neighbors into our game means I play less; it means I need to be more flexible with the rules we play by; it means I need to pick up a couple more Spanish phrases to participate in small conversations with my neighbors. It means, volleyball really isn’t about me – it’s about getting to know my neighbors. But that’s the funny thing about ministry and life, we get used to things a certain way – we might even say something like “let’s do such and such so that we can better connect with our neighbors;” which is great until it costs us something. But if I’m honest, when it costs me something than I tend to balk a little bit.

What’s so encouraging to me is that our community has done such a great job of welcoming, loving, and being flexible with our new friends. Mondays are now a lot bigger, and even more so a place where we can connect and meet with our neighbors while having fun. Which is exactly what we set out to do! I may not be able to get into as many games, but if my focus is on Kingdom building and not myself – it really doesn’t matter how many games I get to play; because it’s not about me. Whenever I begin to starting saying, “we used to,” it’s probably worth a look into my own heart and motives and remind myself why we’re doing what we’re doing. No matter the ministry, no matter the circumstance, when God starts moving and things start happening, it’s gonna be messy and it’s gonna cost us something – but the payoff is always, always worth it!

2013 A Year In Pictures

It’s crazy to think about all that happened this past year. We are grateful for the ways God moved in our hearts, continually drawing us to closer to Him and giving us greater clarity in our calling. Over the past year many have asked for more pics from the family, so we wanted to share a couple of pics highlighting this past year as a family. Enjoy!

Jenifer and Emerson hiking around Cabrillo National Monument
Hanging out with one of our Spain teammates Charlie
Celebrating the wedding of friends down in Mexico
Pre-Marathon

Jeff and Jenifer at the Al-Hambra during their vision trip in Spain
Jeff stopped at Arches National Park while helping his brother move across country
Getting his art on
NieuCommunities Staff and Apprentices graduation night
A great day at the beach
Commissioning prayer welcoming us on-staff with CRM
Getting ready for Trick-Or-Treating
Pondering the intricacies of life
Opening presents Christmas morning in Chicago
We looked forward with eager anticipation at what God is going to do in our lives this next year. Blessings on a new year! May you experience the grace, peace, and life of God like never before in 2014!