"He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." ~Jim Elliot

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Friday, November 4, 2016

Fearless

Entry 5

11.03.2016

It is week 10. The end is within reach.

One of the most important and difficult lessons I learned during my time in college was to overcome. It was fear, mainly, that I had to face. This was my largest obstacle, my kryptonite. Had you asked me when I was going into post-secondary education if I was afraid of anything, I most likely would have said something to the effect of, “There are things that intimidate me, but God is on my side, so I have no fear.” While this was true in its ultimate sense, my attitude towards others, myself, and my fears greatly changed over the course of the last four years.

God is always for us. He must be always for those who trust in Him. Psalm 56:3 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (ESV). If God is for us, nothing can stand against us (Romans 8:31). I have long known that. Conceptually, that was firm in my mind in 2012 at my last graduation. However, I think that my answer in large part was due to the fact that many of my flaws were unexposed.

I never imagined the possibility of having so many difficulties in work and in life as have happened over time. My failures at certain jobs and even at school overtook me like a tidal wave. Even at the job I am now leaving after two years, so many things were uncovered that were humiliating in so many ways. When my inability to communicate or confront would stare me in the eye, I would shrink more often than not. For so long, I needed to take the leap and become an adult. In some ways, I am still growing out of my childhood.

It was in those moments of loneliness and feeling small that I most needed comfort. And I found it. Thank God, I found it. Over and over again, I saw the weakness, the misery, the pain, the despair drive me to Christ. All of my physical, mental, and spiritual inabilities pushed me down to the point where I could only be on my knees. And that was exactly where God wanted me to be. It is still where He wants me to be. I believe that He desires us to be in that place without the pain and the promptings; but we are undisciplined, so He loves us enough to correct us.

You cannot experience the power to rise until you have fallen – the power to awake unless you have slept, the power to be strong unless you have been weak, the power to fly unless you have been on the ground, the power to dream unless you have been stuck, the power to walk unless you have been idle, the power to rebound unless you have fallen back.

The power to live
Unless you have died.

I have died. My soul is kept firmly in heaven. And now all the promises of God find their “yes” and “amen” in Christ Jesus my Lord who is greater – than sin, than sickness, than pain, than anything that has stood or may stand against me.

Now the words come to life: “I’m not what I have done / I’m what I’ve overcome” (Fireflight).

There truly is nothing now to fear. Those struggles may still present challenges and difficult times, but they do not own me. I am able to conquer through the Lover of my soul. I am able to stand in all things. I can hear His voice in my soul, feel His breath in my lungs, experience His life in my veins, and see His fire in my eyes.

We're not waiting for permission
We defy our inhibition
Like our middle name is "fearless"
Unafraid

If we're gonna fly, we fly like eagles
Arms out wide
If we're gonna fear, we fear no evil
We will rise
By your power, we will go
By your spirit, we are bold
If we're gonna stand, we stand as giants
If we're gonna walk, we walk as lions
We walk as lions

- Skillet

Monday, October 3, 2016

Work

Entry 4 from The Final Lap.

10.03.2016

I thought a great deal last week about the type of path I chose for college. Every now and then I would look around my peers, and – I must be honest here – I thought their lives were easy. I envied those students who had the chance to live on campus and have either no job or a small part-time job. They were able to devote themselves to school, friends, hobbies, trips, ministry opportunities – everything but work. This is one of those areas where I truly believe my college experience was far different than that of most students, especially young ones.

Since I was 16, I have always had a knack for work. For some reason, there was something about having a chip on your shoulder and overcoming odds and outperforming your peers for pay that appealed to me. Even though I was never a responsible person at home, I found it in myself to push harder at my job because I looked to the more tangible benefits. I regret the person I was to my parents as a child and young teenager because I was lazy. There is no other way of saying it. Somehow, by a miracle of God, that did not totally translate to the jobs I had through college.

The passion and drive for hard work that I felt pushed me to success. Don’t buy into that kind of thing? Well, I did. And it got me three management positions and three promotions. Maybe the desire to work came from one of the deepest fears I had in high school – paying for school. Even the most affordable universities sounded extremely expensive to me (they still do). I hated the idea of loans from the beginning and made it my resolution to never take one out. It’s strange how things unfold. I never would have imagined being married by the end of school, but that is exactly what happened and it ended up being one of the many things that kept me from student debt.

One of the things I am most looking forward to is having a five-day weekends-off kind of job. That kind of thing has never happened. I am also greatly anticipating working 40 hours and having no homework. It has been about three years since I started full-time work. For a while I had a break, but there was also a time when I worked full-time for Express, part-time for Banana Republic, and had a full load of classes. That semester was the hardest to get through. Switching my major from management to accounting didn’t make my life easier either, so I’m glad to be done!

All of that said, if I were to go back there wouldn’t be much to change. Maybe I would have stayed at Domino’s a little bit longer, but I still don’t regret leaving in the least. Switching to accounting was probably some of the best advice my father-in-law Bruce has ever given me, and he has given me a lot of good advice. You see, aside from going to ASU or getting an internship, my time in college has given me advantages over almost every other person in my classes. Many of them are getting ready to take on a much larger workload; mine will likely be going down. Many of them have their shiny A’s and B’s; I have experience. Yes, they have burned the midnight oil – but have they acquainted themselves with that time of morning before the sun rises?

All of these things somehow made it worth it. There were countless parties and gatherings and events my wife had to attend alone only to hear people ask repeatedly, “Where is Jon?” Those who did ask that question got used to hearing the familiar theme, “Work.” And now that it has been so long, perhaps I have worked too much. Perhaps I need rhythm and more time to do what God made my one life to do. It is time to hang up the student-worker title and move on to all those things that I missed.

No one wants to come to the end of their lives saying, “Gosh, I didn’t really accomplish anything in life other than what I did in my job, but I was a great worker!” God placed me in a time and season where it was appropriate and necessary to work full-time and go to school. It came at a great price. And few people I know were willing to pay that price. Few know the difficulties and stresses that I have faced for these couple years. But finally it is time to move on to ministry because that is ultimately what I was made to do.

For some, work is the focal point of life. They run to it. They think about it when they’re off the clock. For others, it is the burden of life. They run away from it. All they can think about while they are working is getting off. For me, it is somewhere in between. And as a matter of fact, I don’t know that I care that much as long as I can be the person that God created me to be – at work or at home, on earth or in heaven.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Hunger and Thirst - What It Means to Be Somebody

Entry 3 from my collection of essays titled The Final Lap: Meditations of a Second-Semester College Senior.

09.19.2016

The clock continues to tick, and I have come to week 4.

Tonight brings me to heavy meditation on the faithfulness of God – sometimes clouded, but often enhanced, by my failures. I should note that my journey through college was not primarily a time spent being educated and trained by books and lectures and professors and tests, although there was a lot of that. Above and beyond all these are the experiences and spiritual journeys I have traversed. At the end of my education, I will receive a piece of paper saying that I finished. But at the end of this series of spiritual journeys, I will be a different person.

My outlook has been heavily influenced by the drive for what many deem to be winning at life. The power of the invisible hand, the almighty dollar, return on equity, cost-benefit analysis, theorems, x- and y-axes, supply and demand, gross margin, market behavior, empowerment. Math, economics, management, accounting. Some combination of all of these things and more provide the essence of what many people live for. In the end, they use the combinations for money, and that is enough to wake people up in the morning.

As a believer, it is often hard to balance the aggressive nature of business administration with my primary identity as a believer in Christ. One instance specifically changed my entire perspective on the issue. From 2012 until now, I have had many spiritual and emotional battles trying to figure out the core of who I am and why I do what I do. It is not that I am confused about either, but rather it is the Romans 7 type of struggle that I feel in my body every day. Even with the word of God and the Spirit of God abiding in me, there is one struggle that remains. It is not the power and not the penalty but the presence of sin. Sin lives in my skin.

I recall one evening when Megan and I were not yet married and we had a serious conversation. It is no doubt the weight of the school semester and my work load were weighing down on me, but the heaviest thing on my mind was my own despair over sin. So many times have I offered to God the prayer of David: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). This felt as a distant dream that day, and all I could do was throw my hands up in the air in frustration. I cried out, “I don’t want to be me anymore… I want to be someone else… I don’t know what to do.”

My loving soon-to-be wife then asked me, “Well what would you say to someone who told you that?” It was in that moment that the words of Numbers 14:18 came to me: “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression….”

This answer does not always take away all the pain. It does not remove the physical presence of sin. But what the truth of this verse does accomplish is the removal of the power and penalty of sin which would ultimately happen through the death and resurrection of the Savior. Often I still find myself stuck on, “O God, be merciful to me, the sinner” and unable to move to Christ’s words, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” But in the steadfast love of the LORD, I find my hope. His grace is the shelter that protects me; His love is the wings that carry me; His mercy is the song that I sing into eternity.

One song that has strongly shaped me in the latter portion of my time working towards my degree is called “Be Somebody” by Thousand Foot Krutch. Some of the words to that song read,

After all the lights go down, I’m just the words, you are the sound
A strange type of chemistry, how you’ve become a part of me
And when I sit alone at night, your thoughts burn through me like a fire
You’re the only one who knows who I really am

We all wanna be somebody
We just need a taste of who we are
We all wanna be somebody
We’re willing to go but not that far


Somehow in the end, God used all of this for at least one major transformation that I still see and hold onto today: He changed my hunger and thirst for success into a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Through His grace, I continue to see that righteousness in Him day by day.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My Plans, His Plans

As I am in the final semester of my undergraduate degree, I have decided to compose a series of essays called The Final Lap: Honest Meditations of a Second-Semester College Senior. The following is one of the entries...

Entry 2

09.13.2016

Week 2 has ended, and I am now 14 weeks away from a long-pursued goal. As I run the final lap of my race, I reflect on the many things that have brought me to this time in my life. I can still remember how my sister Melissa during her high school graduation – almost in tears – said, “I want to thank everyone who has helped me get to this point.” The final lap has that effect. And so I remember.

None of this happened like I was planning it. It all started with a 16-year-old high school kid who was just going to a community college in Southwestern Indiana in 2011. The plan was to spend a couple semesters there, get some prerequisites under my belt, figure out a school, and figure out a major. Ivy Tech was an option only for two years, but I was looking seriously at the University of Southern Indiana (USI). Writing was my passion, but I was hesitant to pursue a degree in English because I wanted job openings but not a teaching position; and I definitely didn’t want to spend six or seven years in school for a master’s.

It is peculiar how things unfold. God mysteriously moves in all things, and I could have conceived none of it. USI never happened, nor did I continue on at Ivy Tech. Instead I tried working my way through a cost-effective accelerated program called CollegePlus which had students take CLEP exams and then transfer to an online university for one semester. From the outset, I knew that learning college-level material only at home with no professor would be a challenge. After a few tests – and failing one or two – I knew that getting through was not realistic.

By that time my family had moved to the Phoenix, Arizona area. Phoenix is home to an excellent district of partnered community colleges with easily-transferring credits. My previous community college credits and most of my test scores transferred over. I began pursuing a degree in Business Management because of its appeal to me. It was a general degree that I perceived as presenting job openings with a wide variety of career options. Eventually I would switch to a more demanding degree – Accounting.

The rest unfolded from there. I didn’t end up finishing very much at Ivy Tech, never made it to USI, never finished CollegePlus, didn’t stick with management, and never made it to Arizona State University. It will be a pure miracle if I even end up with a bachelor’s degree in anything even remotely related to business! If this isn’t a testament to God’s plans prevailing over man’s, I don’t know what is. I never planned Arizona. I did not plan on meeting my future wife and getting married while I was still in school. The beauty of God’s design is that sometimes He wrecks our plans so that He can enact better ones – His own. Had I not made it out of Indiana, I may have never finished school, and I wouldn’t have met my beautiful wife Megan.

Where I am is not where I once thought I would be; it is much better. And that leads me to believe also that where I am going is not where I think I will go. It will be much better. There is a life that I have not been able to live, friends I have not been able to see, and needs I have not been able to meet because until now I have been completing the step to the next step. As that finishes, God will take me to be His light in new places to new people while doing new things. I can imagine no higher honor than to be used in any way by the King of this universe, so with great joy I lay down my life to be used by Him to do His will wherever His providence will take me.

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