Things Unnoticed

“Your car is done, dude.”

Those were the words I heard from the Mechanic on the other end of the phone call.  He wasn’t calling to tell me my car was ready to be picked up, either.  I was going to be on a Mission Trip with Elevate for a week, so I figured I’d drop my car off and let the mechanics work on whatever was urgent.

Well, what I didn’t know was that my car had SO MANY issues that it was going to be the smarter move to not put any more money into fixing it, and begin looking for a newer car.

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It didn’t take too long to find one.  I might have been extra-motivated to replace my car when the Mechanics used phrases like “punctured tire” and “stranded on the side of the road.”  We had our sights on a vehicle we liked, the price was about what we intended to spend, so we went for it.

The car I was replacing was a 2006 Saturn Vue.  The car my wife and I bought was a 2016 Ford Fusion (Sorry Dad, aka the 30 year GM Employee).

One of the first things I noticed was how smooth and quiet the ride was.  Truly.  It was incredible to me.  Now, this post is not intended to be a review of the Fusion.  What I kept thinking was, “I never really knew my old car was so loud!”

Meagan, my wife, had often told me that my car was not as awesome as I made it out to seem.  She would often point out all the flaws and tell me all the things she didn’t like about it.  I would always take my cars side…ya know, stand up for the poor thing…SOMEONE had to like it, and it might as well be the owner!

What I see now is that I would often gloss over all the faults because it was all I had, and it had been “all I had” for over 11 years.  I got used to the noisy cabin.  I was accustomed to the ripped-up seats.  I chuckled when it would make various noises while going down the road.  Eventually all of those things became background noise that went unnoticed.

As I was riding in the newer car, I couldn’t help but think of the parallels to how we live our Christian life.

The ripped-up seats and noisy cabins of our lives could be a number of things – certain sins that we’ve accepted for so long that they just fade into the background of our lives, unnoticed.

Daily walking with Jesus means daily doing the work of noticing the things that aren’t aligned with Him, and seeking to correct them.  Maybe it’s an attitude, or maybe an action.

That’s why I’m such a fan of the journaling practice I blogged about a few months back.  Taking inventory of my life on a regular basis means I’m more likely to notice that which would normally go unnoticed.

I’m not batting 1000% on this, and I’m sure I have plenty of unnoticed areas that need attention.  But I will say that creating “noticing habits” – like journaling – has helped me move forward in some areas.

For me, it’s not a matter of IF I have things in my life that go unnoticed, it’s a matter of doing the work to find those out.  I’d guess it’s the same with you.  Here’s to doing the hard work of noticing (and then doing something about it).

We’re Still Climbing

Often times on Wednesday morning I’ll attempt to make a 5:00am spinning class (indoor cycling) at the gym at which my wife and I are members.  I don’t have perfect attendance, but I’m fairly proud to be among the 8-10 crazies that could be called regulars.

The instructor that leads the class is quite intense.  What comes to your mind when you think “Military Drill Sargent”?  Yep.  That’s what comes to my mind too.  And that describes this instructor perfectly.

One thing this instructor LOVES to do is “gradual climbs.”  Basically we ride for 15 minutes or so, and every 20-30 seconds we increase the tension on the bike one-half-turn.  We do this at least twice, sometimes three times if he’s feeling extra generous.

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One Wednesday morning, during one of our gradual climbs, everyone thought we were coming to the end of the climb and so we all looked at the instructor, waiting for the “ease up the tension!” command. But it never came.  He saw our tired eyes staring at him, and so he offered some encouragement.

“Don’t worry, we’re still climbing!”

He had a smirk on his face…as if to say, “Nice try, suckers.”  And so we kept climbing.

But it got me thinking.  That’s how life is, right?  It really doesn’t matter what aspect of life we’re talking about – navigating marriage, parenting kids, launching a new business, building a ministry – there’s an aspect where we will always be climbing.  There will always be a hill in front us.

Sure, some hills may be bigger than others, but rarely in life do we get to just coast.  And come to think of it – would we want to coast if that was an option?  Isn’t climbing hills, taking new ground, changing personally (inside and out), and creating momentum part of the excitement of life?

As image-bearers of the Creator God, part of our wiring is to build, create, move, change, inspire and empower…we were made for climbing life’s hills!  I’m seeking to change my perspective on the hills of life – big and small.  Hills can mean pain and struggle…but they can also be great indicators that it’s not over yet, no matter how we feel.

What if we saw the challenges of life as an opportunity to stretch our God-given muscles to climb?  What if challenges were proof that we were, in fact, still in the game and have something incredible to offer our world?

Maybe you think you’re about tapped out of energy, and you can’t do much more.  I’d offer the same words my instructor offered the class:

Don’t worry, you’re still climbing.

 

Under Construction

Since moving to Chicago, I’ve really enjoyed the neighborhood we moved into.  Not too big, but not too small.  There’s room to run some miles, get a good bike ride in, etc.

Near the back of the neighborhood is a park that’s easy to run to and run around once there.  The past few months, however, it’s been closed for Construction.  They are expanding the neighborhood, and doing a lot of work to the park.

It’ll be closed most of the summer.  When I ran by it the other day, I thought, “Oh man, what a bummer.”

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After thinking about it for more than 2 seconds, however, I realize it may not be as big of a bummer as I first thought.  Construction means progress and process.  And progress/process usually means growth.

My mind often goes to direct application to my Christian life…

As a Christian, I believe God has saved me, is saving me, and will save me.  I decided to follow Jesus in 8th Grade (He saved me).  Since then, however, I’ve been in process – under construction – continually being molded and shaped into who God created me to be (He is saving me).  One day, when Jesus returns, the redemption story will be complete and we’ll be restored to full wholeness in Christ – completely saved, without sin, sickness or death (He will save me).

It’s the middle “saving” that can be frustrating sometimes.  Being under construction is not fun…but just like the neighborhood park, construction means progress and process. And even though there’s delays, setbacks and obstacles…there’s also victories.  And ultimately, construction doesn’t last forever.  Heaven does.

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And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

 

Grow

Husband. Cancer Survivor. Youth Pastor.

The three “identities” I’ve used to shape the blog subtitle.

I’ve spent considerable time writing about the middle two words:  Cancer Survivor.  I’m not ashamed or apologetic about that, either.  I’ll likely share more in the coming months as I process more and more.

This post is about the last two words.  I’ve worked in Youth Ministry for roughly 14 years.   I’ve had the great privilege to work with some fantastic people, and get to do some pretty incredible things.

Recently, I was asked to be a part of a larger team of Youth Pastors around the country (and world – Hey Canada!) to put together a year-long strategy that included teaching series, tips on parent communication, strategies for events, etc.  I was tasked with writing a 4-week series on making Spiritual Growth a habit (we called it “Make it a Habit”).

 

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Well, the time is now, and it’s in pre-order phase, set to release June 30.

It’s simply called Grow Youth Ministry Curriculum and Strategy, and it’s from Stuff You Can Use – a two-member team (Kenny & Elle Campbell) that love Youth Pastors and seek to resource them as best as they know how.

So, Youth Pastor friends – if you’ve been looking for a comprehensive strategy and curriculum, look no further than this!

 

 

 

 

 

Reflecting vs. Dwelling

A friend asked me recently, “How often do you think about your diagnosis/cancer journey?”

It’s been 3 years, today, since I was diagnosed.  How often do I think about it?  Often.

There two main reasons for that.  The first reason is quite practical. There are scars on my body from two surgeries that weren’t there before.

Practicality doesn’t necessarily mean mundane.  Reflecting on my scars can be an exercise in worship, because it’s a reminder that God brought me through some difficult times.  Elevation Worship wrote a song a few years ago that deeply affected me the first time I heard it.  Here are some of the lyrics:

Thank You for the scars I bear
They declare that You are my healer
How could I have seen your strength
If You never showed me my weakness?

I was able to see God’s strength in that season of my life because I was brought to weakness.  Seeing my scars allows me to remember that.

Beyond practicality, I reflect on that season of my life so that it’s not wasted.  I want that season to be one of many things God uses to shape and mold me into who He created me to be.  That won’t happen unless I reflect on it.

Reflecting and Remembering.

I think they’re essential ingredients to the Christian life.  All throughout the Old Testament we see the practice of remembering.  The Psalmist will remember the good deeds of the Lord and it will give him strength.  The Israelites will fail to remember God’s provision and it causes them gripe, complain and eventually turn away to false gods.

This is one of the reasons I journal.  It’s a built-in way for me to reflect and remember.  I recount the ways God has been faithful to me in the past, and that practice gives me strength to trust Him in the future.

Reflecting is different than dwelling.  Dwelling on something in the past isn’t always a good thing.  Reflecting on it sets the expectation that things will change because of it.

So today, 3 years after my diagnosis day, I reflect…expecting that my life, way of thinking and behavior is different because of what happened that day.

You can read more about my journey here, here…and here.

Why Not Me?

About one week before I was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer, I came across a Matt Chandler video that he recorded for his church when he was first finding out about his Brain Cancer.

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I was inspired by Matt’s resolve to love and serve Jesus in spite of this challenge he was facing, and I was inspired by his ability to see it as just another thing in life to trust God with and use to build his faith.

He talks about Hebrews 11, and how some great men of God shut the mouths of lions and fought injustice and did phenomenal things in their lifetime…but then some great men were killed and tortured for their faith; yet both were counted as ones who had great faith in God.

Then, he said something that would completely change my perspective on trials and challenges for a follower of Jesus:  He felt honored to be considered worthy to endure this trial (brain cancer), and be given a chance not only to praise God in the good times, but to praise God in the tough times.

I remember sitting in my bed, watching that video, thinking to myself, “I hope I would have the same response if something like that happened to me.”

Fast forward to the hospital bed I was in on May 8, right before my emergency surgery.  I truly believe it was Gods grace and strength that allowed me to lift my perspective, but I turned to my family and said, “ya know? Why not me?”  It’s hard to explain, but in that moment, I felt a sense of honor that God would trust me with this trial.  I had that video in mind that I had seen just the week before.

Theologically, I believe God was aware and allowing this to happen in my life.  And since He was allowing it, I had the choice to trust and praise Him through it, just like I’ve trusted and praised Him through all of the good times in my life.

Pause & Sidenote:  I realize this could sound super prideful…it even reads that way as I write it.  But I hope my heart’s intent comes through these words – nothing I did enabled me to have this response.  I believe God allowed me to see the bigger picture.  Did I have my doubts and down-days?  Absolutely.  Not every chemo day was all smiles and Bible verses.  It sucked, and it’s ok to be human, and weak, and honest about those days. 

That Chandler video shifted my perspective on life, how I read the Bible, and how I viewed trails and challenges in this life.  Why not me?  If trials are inevitable (and they are), then may they be yet another way to lift up the name of Jesus.

Also, if trials are inevitable, then why not allow Jesus-followers to experience them?  We can be the people to walk the tough road differently.  We can be the people of peace, grace, and kindness in the midst of a storm.  The world will be able to look upon Christians walking through trials and notice how different our response is to theirs.

I’m not confident I know all the reasons I had to walk through Testicular Cancer.  When I think about my life and where I was at the time, perhaps God wanted to show a youth group of Junior High students in Michigan what it looks like to be a Christian and still walk through really tough times.

If I could be part of God’s illustration in a broader teaching to the watching world…then, why not me?

A Season’s Song

During the first few weeks of me being diagnosed with Testicular Cancer, I was able to get to church a few times. As a Pastor, I’m often “putting on” church for others, so this was a time of refreshment, refocus, and much needed stillness for my mind.

My friend, Kristi, was leading worship this one particular weekend, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.  Her voice is angelic, and her worship-leading style is one that draws lifts high the name of Jesus rather than lifting high her talent.  She was teaching our church a new song…rather, a newer rendition of an old hymn, “It is well.”

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It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I love worship music – in fact, it’s mostly all I listen to.  So I already knew the song she was teaching the church.  And I was excited to declare the truth embedded in its melody.

The entire song spoke to me.  Especially in the season I found myself in.  But a few lines in particular really touched my heart.

Far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can’t see
And this mountain that’s in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea

My eyes couldn’t see what my future held.  Would cancer take me out?  Sure, testicular cancer has a high cure rate…but it’s still cancer.  There was still some uncertainty in my mind, no matter the percentage of success the Doctor gave me.

Would I accept all the blessings I had received from the Lord, and not accept this trial?  Far be it from me to not believe in the Lord just because a hardship had entered my life.  The text that Christians read and believe is full of trials and hardship.  The Apostle Paul went as far as to say that it’s when he is weak, that’s when he feels God’s strength in him.

Whether this mountain that was in front of me was going to be thrown into the sea by way of miraculous healing, healing through medical treatment, or ultimate healing in heaven – I didn’t know the answer to that.  I just knew the mountain would ultimately bow to our Almighty God.

So let go my soul and trust in Him
The waves and wind still know His name

This line of the song brought to memory the Bible stories of Jesus calming the storms.  There’s the one when Jesus is asleep during the storm and gets awoken by his buddies. He speaks a command and the lake calms down.

Then the other one when he’s walking on top of the water during a storm and calls Peter out to take a walk with him.  Peter does…for a minute.  The waves scare him and so he begins to fear, which leads to sinking.  Jesus catches him, asks him why he doubted, then calms the storm.

This man, Jesus, was in complete control of physical storms on the water.  And I believe He is in complete control of storms in our lives.  The waves and wind still know their Creator.  And they still obey Him.

I had this song on repeat.  It was my mind’s mantra.  And I was encouraged every time I heard it.  This storm I was in surely was a storm – no denying that.  And there were moments I doubted.  But the God I believe in was in control of this storm.  And this song was an especially beautiful reminder during this season.