Thanks for the Lift!

I want to show you a picture of myself.

Turtle on a Fence Post

I know, I’m not a turtle. But many of you know that, if a spirit animal was really a thing, for me it would be a toss up between sloth and a turtle. I’m not particularly quick about stuff… generally speaking.

This picture is really more about how I feel at this point in my life. Several days ago I was able to participate in the graduation exercises of Dallas Theological Seminary. In a couple of months, when a bit more paper work is done and a few more hoops have been jumped through, I will hang my diploma in my study next to this picture.

This picture is in itself a testimony of how I find myself passing such a milestone. It was taken by my dear brother after hearing me speak of the old observation of the turtle on a fence post. It’s a simple observation really.

If you see a turtle on a fence post, there is one thing you can know most surely: he did not get there by himself.

That’s my story. I find myself in a place in my life to which I could never have arrived on my own strength or ability or effort. My amazing wife and this crazy kids of mine (born and otherwise) have endured and supported and allowed me to invest the time and energy needed. Our pals (a.k.a. the Coffee Club) have endured so many groaning sessions and crying spells.

So many of my brothers at arms—my pastor brothers who encouraged and supported and prayed for me along the way—helped me through more than they know. My family—brothers and sisters and parents–did the same.

There were several professors that invested more than just a transmission of information by helping me, encouraging me, and challenging me to genuinely, “Teach truth. Love well.” My mentor for this final year has invested so many hours in listening, encouraging, praying, and teaching.

And then there is the family of faith that motivated this degree in the first place. My CalvaryDuncan family has patiently allowed, endured, and encouraged this process. Their prayers and patience have been so crucial to this journey, but the truth is that I began this journey out of a longing to be the kind of pastor that I believe they deserve.

Along this mountain-climb, several folks have come along at crucial moments and made enormous investments in my life and ministry. Some of those have been in financial ways (including the entirety of my last two semesters’ tuition), some with a particular conversation or prayer, and some with a kindness or gift or gesture. All of these moments and helps have helped me carry on.

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This photo is a cross-section of the much larger group of folks that have given me such a lift.

All of these folks have figuratively lent a hand to lift a middle-aged turtle to a place that he could never have managed to reach on his own. So I guess the question is obvious: why?

I can only believe that all of these amazing people were a part of a extraordinarily beautiful example of what Paul taught us so plainly:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all time, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8)

They were and are, each and every one, vehicles of the amazing grace of God through which He has provided for me everything I need to follow His plan for my life and ministry.

As I pause here atop this utterly unlikely fence post, I can only say to them all, “Thanks for the lift!”

Even When You’re Eyeballs-Deep

Take a moment to look at this picture.

It’s full of glorious color.

It’s a testimony to the beauty of creation that renews over and over and over again.

It’s a testimony to the evergreen and its reflection of the faithfulness of our great God.

What you don’t see, however, is that is was taken standing next to a garbage dumpster.
Now, I didn’t climb into the dumpster to take the picture, but I could have.

I know a number of people right now that have kind of latched onto a phrase I used several weeks ago as I spoke of being overwhelmed with the mess of life. I described the feeling of being “eyeballs-deep in the mess” and it struck a chord with some folks. If you’ve ever been through a season when you couldn’t seem to see out over the mess, you know what I’m talking about.

Part of my function as a pastor is to help us see things more completely, to see the hand of God at work even when we don’t feel it or when we’re overwhelmed. I get to sit in the mess with people and try to draw attention to the beauty around us that is so easily overlooked.

We sang a song yesterday that expressed it beautifully with this simple lyric, “There’s beauty in my brokenness.” (Give it a listen here.)

You see, the life of faith—for all who have believed in Jesus—is filled with beauty. When things are difficult and painful and scary, there is still an abundance of wonder in the greatness of our God and the things that He has made.

John’s gospel account teaches us that everything that was made came through Jesus (John 1.1-3). But when Jesus came to earth, God was coming to us, stepping down into the mess of this life to show us the most wondrous thing of all—Himself.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1.14)

My friends, there is much beauty around you. Despite how clouded our vision may become with the weight of the mess of life, the beauty is still there. Regardless of how broken and battered our hearts may be, the beauty of this God who stepped into the mess of this broken world is still all around us.

I know that the mess is overwhelming sometimes. I know that it’s often hard to stand up under the weight of it all. I know that the pain is so much sometimes that you cannot see around it. But the beauty is there… even when you’re eyeballs-deep.

Look up. Look beyond the mess. See the glory of our great God on display all around you.

Father, help us today to see Your glory on display—even when we’re eyeballs-deep in the mess.

The Rainy Days

It’s raining this morning.

It’s beautiful. It’s soothing.

But it’s isolating and lonely. It’s inconvenient and restricting and… messy.

We all know that rain is necessary and healing for the land. We know that we can’t live without it, that there is a fundamental need that it fulfills.

At least we know that is true for the literal rain. But then there are the rainy days of a deeper, heavier sense. The rainy days of life when loved ones are dangerously ill, when bad news beats on our minds like hurricane gusts, when the instinct to hide or escape or self-medicate presents options we would never consider in brighter days.

Those days stir questions without simple answers and longings that just never seem to be fully met. Continue reading The Rainy Days