5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

5 Lessons I Learned in the Desert

God actually brings people through the desert. On purpose. Because He loves them.

Let that sit for a bit.

The desert.

You know, that place where you’re all alone. That place where there’s absolutely nothing around for miles. That place where wild animals are looking for their next meal. That place where your deepest fears and insecurities seep up from the depths of your soul because you’re left alone with them.

That place where no matter what you do, you don’t feel God’s presence and nothing turns out the way you thought it would. That place where you’ve done everything you’ve been told to do in the past: pray, read your Bible, listen to hymns about God, go to church and it just doesn’t work.

That place is where I’ve found myself wandering throughout this past year. To say that it’s been exhausting, emotional, and just plain hard would be an understatement.

And yet, being led into the desert was God’s purposeful and loving path for me to be formed in the ways of Jesus. And through it, I’ve learned a lot.

1) God cares more about my heart than He does about the results of my “ministry”

God used the desert to show me the places in my life where I didn’t love Him. He began to strip away any semblance of productivity and success. God made it clear: more than the number of people I lead to Jesus, more than the leaders I’ve trained and developed, more than the partnerships I’ve forged, He cares about my heart being surrendered to Him.

2) Often times I live like I’m a Christian Moralist

When I didn’t see the results and “fruit” of all my hard work I felt guilty and shameful. In order to cover those feelings up, I worked harder. But what God began to show me was that it’s not my job to take away guilty and shame. That’s Jesus’ job. That’s why He died. God began to show me what was in my heart. Spiritual pride. “I can do it myself.” Instead God pointed me to a place of love and humility; the way of Jesus.

3) You can’t read and pray your way out of the desert

Scripture is full of verses that talk about “waiting on the Lord.” We often think that that the longer we’ve been walking with Jesus, the more “experiences” we’d have with Him. We’re often told that we’re supposed to “feel” God’s presence all the time. And so it’s confusing, we often think that the more character/maturity we have in Christ, the deeper the experience of God we should have. When we stop having the “feeling,” often our response is to go back to what we know. “But, I’ve read my Bible, I’ve prayed, I’ve gone to church…why does God still seem so distant?” What I began to understand is that God’s desire is to take us to real places of growth. Thats the purpose of the desert, to expose one’s heart. God strips us of what’s worked before to draw us into deeper relationship with Him. God brings us to places where all we can do is pull up a chair and sit down while we wait for Him to form us, grow us, and lead us out of the desert.

4) God desires for us to be vulnerable with Him

I was raised as a good Baptist.  I could never imagine telling God I was angry at Him. I mean, I probably told God I didn’t like something once or twice, but never dared to express my anger towards Him for putting me in a specific situation. And yet, this past year I’ve spent more time reading Psalms and Lamentations than ever before. Let’s be very clear: David and the writer of Lamentations were extremely honest with how they felt about their subsequent situations. They held nothing back. As I began to share the anger, frustration, sadness, and brokenness that was in the depths of my heart, I in turn experienced the invitation of God to draw near to Him in love and comfort. He loved me despite the smorgasbord of genuinely negative feelings I had towards Him. Allowing yourself to feel emotions in the midst of your situations and offering them up to God who in turn responds with love is a recipe for heart change. And that’s what began to happen.

5) We need community to point us to Jesus when we can’t find the way ourselves

The desert is disorienting, exhausting, and grueling. When you’re in the middle of the desert it’s hard to tell which way is up. I’m grateful that in the middle of one the hardest seasons of my life, God graciously surrounded me with people who knew which way was up. When I couldn’t hear God’s voice, they listened on my behalf. When I couldn’t “feel” God’s love for me, they showed me the love of God. When I couldn’t see God’s faithfulness they pointed out God’s gracious provision. They prayed faithfully for me, listened intently to the cries of my heart, and sat with me when I needed friendship and comfort. They pointed me to Jesus when I couldn’t find my way through the desert. A community that reflects the person and work of Jesus transforms neighborhoods and lives. That’s why community is so important.


God’s At Work in Italy

Thank you for your prayers and support through this exciting time of transition. As you know, I (Jeff) had the privilege of spending over a week in Italy with two other :Beta: leaders. As we spent time on the ground, we met with so many incredible leaders who have a heart to see Italy transformed by the Gospel of Christ. What we experienced and saw was that the need is HUGE. Very few cities have much of an evangelical presence. While the country is overshadowed by the power and influence of the Vatican, and most are at least culturally Catholic, there is very little knowledge of and interaction with Jesus. And yet, we clearly saw God at work; we heard the stories of those who have faithfully served and are praying for a movement of God to sweep the land. We desire to be a part of this movement and are thrilled to see how God may use us in the months and years ahead in this incredibly complicated ministry context. Below are a few pictures from the trip.

Rome’s city center is an intersection between ancient history and modern.

Italy’s history is rife with war and violence. Many people lost their lives in the wake of Rome’s continued desire to expand it’s empire.

The Vatican’s power and influence both politically and economically in Italy is far reaching. In Rome alone, the church owns over 50% of the real estate. In Italy, due to the Vatican’s power, evangelicals are still fighting for religious freedom, something most of the West takes for granted.

In Rome there are over 900 churches, sadly today most are nothing more than museums.

We had the privilege of praying for Giosue, an Italian in Florence using film as a medium to bring the gospel to light in a dark city.

We had the privilege of meeting with and praying for Giosue, an Italian in Florence using film as a medium to bring the gospel to light in a dark city.

This incredible group of young people is led by one woman who has a deep heart for her city. In Manfredonia there is no evangelical church and yet Angela disciples, teaches, and leads these young people by faithfully living out and proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.

This incredible group of young people is led by one woman who has a deep heart for her city. In Manfredonia there is no evangelical church and yet Angela disciples, teaches, and leads these young people by faithfully living out and proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.

Sharing a meal in Italy is a sacred time. Food in Italy is something special and taken so seriously. We were grateful to be invited by our dear friend's family to their home for dinner. It was incredible.

Sharing a meal in Italy is a sacred time. Food in Italy is something special and taken so seriously. We were grateful to be invited by our dear friend’s family to their home for dinner. It was incredible.

An unexpected excursion took us to a city called Pescara on the Adriatic Sea. This city was incredible. All three of us sensed God's purposeful redirection to take us through this city - excited to see what could come of our connections there.

An unexpected excursion took us to a city called Pescara on the Adriatic Sea. This city was incredible. All three of us sensed God’s purposeful redirection to take us through this city – we’re excited to see what could come of our connections there.

Please continue to pray for us in this exciting season. God continues to connect us with more and more people in this country. We absolutely feel God’s hand leading us to pioneer something new in this incredible country. May we continue to step as God directs our path.

And Who Is My Neighbor?

Vacations are great…

Often times, they give us the opportunity to see new things, try new things, and simply get out of what can become the monotony of life. When you travel, your mindset changes a bit doesn’t it? On vacation you become a tourist. You are simply there for pleasure. On vacation you want to separate yourself from your everyday reality. You want to get away. And it feels good to get away; to escape and simply be free to do whatever you want, whenever you want. You simply step into a different place and engage your surroundings as you please.  As a tourist you can freely float from one experience to the other.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on this idea of being on vacation versus the way I sometimes engage my own place or neighborhood. If I’m honest there are times when I engage my own neighbors and neighborhood much like I tourist. I come in and out of my neighborhood as I please, separating myself from the realities of life that are all around me. Rather than being present to my surroundings, I move from experience to experience simply using my home as a hotel bed to sleep in. Leonard Hjalmarson in his book “No Place Like Home” looks at this phenomenon.

He writes:

“There is a certain approach to life, a particular posture, that dominates in our culture: it’s the posture of the tourist. The challenge we face as followers of the Incarnate One is to move from the posture of tourist, to the posture of pilgrims. Tourists are escaping life; pilgrims are embracing it. Tourists are trying to forget; pilgrims are trying to remember. Tourists are looking for bargains, and aren’t really SEEING at all. They are like technicians, cataloging reality as if it can be accrued in a bank balance. And they hate to be surprised. Pilgrims love to be surprised, and are looking to see, to connect with something larger, something other than themselves. Charles Foster comments that, ‘What sets the pilgrim apart [from the tourist] is that he hopes, and at some level believes, that someone will hear his footsteps coming from afar … and that from inside will come music that he has heard somewhere before.’”

This is a powerful reminder that as followers of Jesus we are actually invited to move beyond the perspective of a tourist and actual take the posture of a pilgrim right in our own neighborhoods. As a tourist simply view my neighborhood from the pane of a window and never actually enter into the lived story of my place. When I take the posture of pilgrim I’m actually invited to enter into the stories that shape my community. I’m invited to move from consumer to actual participant in the lives of those around me.

That means, I purposefully live my life in the midst of those around me. That means I actually learn who my neighbors are and allow my life to intersect with theirs. I not only learn their stories, but I share my own and invite others to join me. To be a pilgrim means that I am constantly learning and engaging with my surroundings. Each life, each space, is sacred – because it reflects the beauty of our creator. So, who are your neighbors? What are their names? What do they do for a living? How old are their children? What do they like to do as a family? What are their fears or their dreams?

When I’m on vacation I’m focused on “the experience” and rarely pay attention to the locals, unless they hinder my ability to enjoy my vacation.

As a pilgrim, I have stake in my place, in my journey, and those who are a part of it. If we believe that our God is a God who took on flesh, we must also acknowledge that God cares about place, about the particulars and intricacies of life – And Christ beckons us to do the same.

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.”

Semana Santa

“Penitentes carrying torches in hopes that Jesus will forgive their sins from the previous year”

As we find ourselves in the midst of Holy Week – we’re reminded that all around the world communities stop and reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Malaga, and Spain, this week is a huge deal – a sacred week – Semana Santa. It is a week filled with processionals and pageantry all meant to remember and reflect upon the suffering of Christ. All throughout Spain these processionals are taking place.

Each afternoon/evening during the week, 17th century floats bearing imagenes of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, emerge from the old churches and process through the streets for hours and hours until finally snaking their way back to the church from which they came. Costaleros bear the weight of these enormous floats, while penitentes, both large and small, lead and follow the float bearing traditional capirotes and candles. The eerie and sorrowful flamenco hymns, written in minor keys, are played by the Semana Santa bands to set the desparing tone of these processions. The hymns of the band, the wailing singers, and the cries of the pregoneros who bring the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, can be heard from miles away.

For the entire week pageantry, beauty, and grandiosity grips communities in Spain with such wonder and awe. And yet still, when all is said and done, when the week is over, and the costumes return to storage, the floats go back from whence they came – life in Spain returns to normal. Reflections of Christ become nothing but images in the rear view mirror.

As Jenifer and I look forward to and prepare to engage this beautiful context in ministry; this week especially, reminds us of how we all can at times be prone to production and grandeur to the point that we sometimes lose sight of Jesus. This is certainly the case in Spain as pageantry and religion clearly overshadows conviction and actual belief. But, at the same time, I can’t help and think of how easy it is for me to sit comfortably as an evangelical and point the finger toward a culture or cultures whose images convey grand religiosity devoid of Jesus when I myself can at times easily do the same.

As we somberly sit in this holy week and reflect upon the suffering of Christ and at the same time prepare for our celebration of His resurrection –  My prayer is that I/we would not get caught up in all of  our grand plans for celebration and at the end of the day forget Jesus. May we celebrate well and then allow that celebration to set the tone for lives that are lived well in light of that celebration – Jesus suffered and died, was buried, but rose again in triumph so that we too would live resurrection lives, lives impacted, shaped, and directed by His resurrection.

“The walk of penitence in Andalucia”

Lessons From A Construction Site

My son loves “digger trucks.” LOVES them. Our house is stocked with digger truck puzzles, sheets, toys, books. He was a construction man for halloween. He can’t get enough of the digger trucks. Lucky for us (or unlucky for us), our neighborhood has been under construction as long as I can remember. There have been digger trucks in and around our neighborhood for well over a year. And we’ve made sure to visit them. Repeatedly. 

One afternoon, a couple of weeks ago we needed to get our dog some exercise. Getting ready to go, my son asked if he could come with. “Of course,” I said. But before we could get out the door he asked in his two-year old english “go see digger truck?” And before I knew it, we were out the door on the lookout for diggers. 
As we walked, we talked about digger trucks, our neurotic dog, and the things we saw in our neighborhood. As we continued the walk, my son blurted out, “run daddy.” And he took off running, desiring me to chase him. As I started to run he took my hand and we ran together laughing and trotting as fast as his little legs could carry him. Smiles for both of us from ear to ear. We took breaks intermittently, simply to “catch” our breath.
Finally we arrived at those diggers. The best part – they were all still working. Eyes wide, he became overwhelmed with excitement. We stood there watching them come and go for a while, squealing with delight every time the excavator unearthed more road or the digger truck carried dirt across our path. He could have stayed there forever.
We then began the long walk back. But instead of walking, Emerson took my hand again, looking up he asked, “run daddy?” And so we did; we ran most of the way back, hand in hand, laughing and smiling. In the midst of one our sprints through our neighborhood God’s Spirit spoke right to me. 

“This is the same way I enjoy you – in big moments or small…” 
“I take joy in you and the things you love.” 
“I want to run with you, laugh with you, celebrate with you.” 
In that moment of joy with my son, God spoke to the depths of my heart. What a beautiful reminder. I’m thankful for the ways my son continues to teach me about God and how He cares deeply for me, wants the best for me, actually takes joy in me! Something as silly as trotting down the street and laughing with my son became a sweet moment and example of God’s care and love for me.
It’s funny how even the moments so simple and sweet can often be the times God speaks so vividly and lovingly. May my ears and eyes continue to be open to experience God in all moments big or small.

Silly little peas

“You silly little pickle, you tiny little peas, to think that walking ’round this wall will bring this city to it’s knees.”

I grew up watching Josh and the Big Wall. The story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho is one of the, shall we say, more popular Sunday School lessons. Really, a big city that comes crashing down because some people went in a circle, blew some horns and yelled…pretty awesome – makes sense why it teaches so well in Sunday School.  

I have always been a fan of the french peas in that cinematic masterpiece Josh and Big Wall…they were always witty and honestly they said what everyone else is thinking – “you’re crazy.” In Joshua 5, Joshua is greeted by the commander of the Lord’s Army. The very name, “commander of the Lord’s Army” sounds like a big deal. This angel of the Lord tells Joshua “the plan” – “Walk around the city of Jericho one time a day for six days and on those days take with you seven priests with seven trumpets. On the seventh day, walk around seven times, have the priests blow the horns, and shout really loud – the city will then crumble so you can take it.” I’m not gonna lie…if I were in Joshua’s shoes…I’m singing with the french pea and drinking his slushy. At the outset it sounds crazy…while they’re doing it, it probably feels crazy, but then something happens – the walls actually come down. The biblical lesson as per Veggie Tales was all about obedience. I think that’s pretty spot on, but I think it’s also about faithfulness. As Bob tells Junior at the end, God’s ways may not always make sense, but His way of doing things is always the best. We’re called to be obedient, God is absolutely faithful as we are obedient.

It’s funny how a silly little computer animated film can so easily and simply cut to the core of biblical truth. Over the past couple of years Jenifer and I have certainly had our share of those “God’s ways may not always make sense” moments. Whether it was our initial move from the midwest to Washington without jobs and knowing no one, or our move south to San Diego and our subsequent journey into the world of support raising, and even now our exciting foray into overseas ministry in Spain. We have encountered a number of instances where we knew we were supposed to do what God had called us to and yet, we heard those french peas. “You’re crazy, that doesn’t make any sense, why would you do that.” Sometimes we heard those very things from people around us, sometimes we battled those thoughts in our own heads, but like clockwork they would come and creep in as we stepped into God’s direction for our lives. But as we cut through those lies, we saw God’s faithfulness shine through.

The thing about the Jericho narrative is that it’s almost always connected in sermons, books, and studies, to what is God calling you to that’s so huge, so crazy, so massive that you simply have to trust him in. While I think that is certainly a big part of that narrative what I think gets overlooked is the day to day. Here’s what I mean: in a lot of ways it’s easier to pinpoint those momentous times in our lives where we’re asked to follow God and we simply have to really trust him in our obedience. But I’ve been noticing more and more that those “God’s ways may not always make sense” moments pop up day in and day out…a lot of times we’re too busy or too distracted to realize it. In fact the more and more I interact with neighbors, friends, and partners in ministry I’m reminded of how real this is. Countless times I’ve talked to people who have felt they were supposed to start doing something and they let those french peas and their sticky slushies get in the way. Or, they we’re supposed to say something to a stranger or friend that they never did because they were too scared. Or, they were supposed to apply for a job that they were just sure they’d never get.

I’m convinced that too often we let fear get in the way of what God has for us each and every day…not just in the big things. The fear of being viewed as the weird one. The fear of being dead wrong. The fear of falling flat on our faces. You name it…all of us have faced it. 

A couple of months ago while we were in Spain prayer walking through the neighborhood we’ll be moving into, I felt like God was saying that we needed to stop and talk to one of the local store owners. I almost didn’t say anything to my friend as we walked…the inner monologue began, “was that really God’s nudge?” “We already walked past the place, maybe next time” “What would I even say?” “You don’t speak much Spanish.” …but I did say something to my friend and so we walked back towards the store. As we interacted with the store owner we quickly realized he wasn’t interested in engaging us at all. We spoke briefly with him and went on our way. I look back at that interaction and think…”What was the point?” “Was that God really nudging me to go in that store?” I don’t know…but I trust God does…and regardless, I am beginning to realize that it’s far more damaging to not follow God’s lead than it is to step into something I feel God is calling me to and seemingly have nothing happen. More on that in a minute.

Just recently I was headed out to the beach at Coronado for some early morning quiet time. As I got out of my car to head down to the beach I crossed paths with an older woman, we exchanged polite “good mornings” and went on our separate ways. Except as I walked further down toward the beach I continually felt God saying, “go back and talk to her.” Everything within me wanted to just sit on the beach read my bible and pray. And so I began the process of trying to shove that initial encounter and subsequent word from God down into the deepest depths of my inner being so I didn’t have to actually do it. And wouldn’t you know it, it just so happened that I came to Joshua 5 and 6 for my morning reading…God’s got a great sense of humor…As I sat at the edge of water and began reading and praying I couldn’t shake it. And so I began reasoning with God…”well if she’s still there when I’m done.” “What do I even say?” But I knew what I had to do…blow past the fear of failure, the fear of being wrong, the fear of rejection and just simply trust God for whatever was going to occur. So I began the walk back toward the car where she was sitting on a bench. The whole walk back was an internal battle and prayer. I got up to the car and even did a walk past covered up by my “need” to put the blanket away before I talked to her. And then I went for it. And for the next 30 minutes I heard a story of someone trying to faithfully walk with God through tragedy, frustration, and a whole lot of battles. I simply listened for the better part of 30 minutes to God’s story in her life and how he was changing her and shaping her, and what a struggle it’s all been. I had an opportunity to speak words of encouragement, blessing, and truth into her life in only a few short sentences as she did most the talking…but as we left, she gave me a hug and said a couple of times…God really did have us cross paths today, thanks for listening… And that was it. Nothing momentous, nothing revolutionary; but simple obedience that led to an opportunity to listen and encourage someone who needed encouraging. 

I would have never done that on my own, that’s just not my personality…but God’s ways aren’t my own. And what I’ve begun to learn more and more is that sometimes I think God is simply asking us to be faithful, whether its the little or big things. I think he simply wants us to be faithful. I am thankful that part of the process of hearing God clearly is making mistakes, it’s stepping into things that God isn’t necessarily calling us into (maybe that was the case in Spain, maybe not), but that even in that we learn how to better discern His voice and we certainly get better at discerning the voices that come from the french peas and recognizing them as lies. As we’ve been here in San Diego, we’ve seen countless times God has asked us to step out in faith, both big and small. My prayer is that as I sense God leading us I would be faithful like Joshua was faithful…I’m reminded of the battle cry of the book of Joshua…“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” 

If that’s true…I must step with confidence and trust God for the results…worrying more about being faithful than what others think of me…that and I must throw all those slushies back in the french peas’ faces.

More lessons on listening.

A little over two weeks ago we had the opportunity to participate in “The Coaching Workshop.” It was an entire weekend dedicated to learning how to coach people toward solving problems, reaching goals and developing them as leaders. Something both Jenifer and I desire to do long term! To say it was a lot crammed into one weekend is a vast understatement. The entire process of life-coaching (within a Christian context) revolves around two main premises:

1) My job as a coach is to simply ask questions and to refrain from giving my opinion or insight.
2) Trust that the Holy Spirit is working in the coachee’s heart and mind to draw them to the answers and steps they need to take to accomplish whatever they are seeking to be coached on.

Ask questions and trust the Spirit; in other words – just listen. 

Listening is one of those gifts that some people have, but most have to really really work at. I’m good at giving my opinion. I’m really good at fixing people’s problems. Well…fixing them the way I think they should be fixed. We had a lot of time over that weekend of training to practice coaching one another and one thing that kept coming up again and again for many of us was the difficulty we had to simply ask questions that helped the coachee work through their issues themselves without leading them or giving them answers. It’s tough. I want to give my opinion; I feel like I need to. I’m learning more and more…I don’t. If I’m honest with myself most days I’m a poor listener. But one thing that seems to continually come up through the apprenticeship here in San Diego is that in order to really be effective as ministers of the gospel we need to be people who listen well. In our world today, especially our own culture good listening is a rarity. Throughout our coaching workshop I was continually reminded of two passages: James 1:19 and Proverbs 17:27.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19 ESV)

Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Proverbs 17:27 ESV)

Throughout this past year, I have been challenged to listen better and to simply keep my mouth shut. It’s funny to me that both Proverbs and James attest to the importance of seeking wisdom. Both seem pretty clear: wherever wisdom is the goal, hearing will be a first virtue. Inherent in that statement seems to be the reality that often times our speaking can come from a place of self interest. That’s certainly true in my life. What was so powerful for us as we practiced the new coaching insights we were learning was really how effective powerful questions and intentional listening can be. When I trusted the process, God’s Spirit provided the results, I was simply there to help the coachee hear the Spirit more clearly and help them to respond well. I believe that’s where the wisdom lies. 
Throughout that weekend I was challenged to be a better listener not simply in a coaching arena but in all areas of my life. Countless times I have found myself trying to fix my wife’s situations when all she wants is for me to hear her out and empathize with her. And there are those times when friends or coworkers have asked me for advice on issues. Let me assure you, a lot of the time I’m quick to jump in with my “awesome” insight that’s sure to do the trick when I should probably have listened better and asked more questions. How quickly do I assume I know what’s going on in a given situation in my neighborhood or ministry context without delving deeper by asking more questions and suspending judgment? If I’m honest…I do it without blinking an eye. Pride has a funny way of playing itself out…A lot of times I don’t listen because I think I have the answer someone needs. 
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been challenged to trust the process. What that’s meant for me is on a broader level than just coaching: do I trust that God’s Spirit is at work in the midst of those around me? If I answer yes than that ought to affect the way I interact with those people. I don’t need to go around and give my advice and insight all the time. What I need to do is to simply listen and ask more questions. I want to be someone who helps others discern the Spirit’s work in their lives, not try to usurp the Spirit’s role. That means I need to be slow to speak. I want to help people see where God is at work in their life and encourage them to live into that reality. 
Thankfully God is gracious and the countless times I’ve jumped the gun or butted right into a conversation I didn’t need to, I believe God is able to still use. But I want to live more into the truth that God’s Spirit is at work in the lives of others – that requires me to be in tune with His Spirit myself – which actually means I should probably listen to Him first and foremost. And hearing God’s Spirit takes practice; lots of practice and lots of patience. Now sometimes I believe we are asked to give insight and speak into a situation and that needs to happen, but I’d argue that my first posture should be one of listening rather than speaking. And when I listen well, I believe I have a better platform from which to speak into the lives of others. I have found that to be true over and over in my relationships and instances where I have listened first.

For both Jenifer and I our hearts desire is to hear God’s Spirit well so that out of that hearing we may be effective hearers and then doers of God’s Word. As we learn to be better coaches we hope to have countless opportunities to raise up new leaders to influence their neighborhoods and world for Jesus. We are both thankful for this year of challenge and growth here in San Diego as we prepare to be sent out.