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    ThuThursdaySepSeptember21st2017 Margin for Messiness

    Junior High was a crazy season of life. Shivers. What a time!

    It represented one of several “coming of age” points, stepping stones where I made conscious decisions about who I was, what I believed, and who I would become. We all have those moments. They are essential and valuable.

    At that time in my life, I was surrounded by a great family and a great church. They did a wonderful job guiding me in my development toward pursuing God. But, for some reason, I felt paralyzed to express the doubts I was having about God, faith, and the Christian life.

    It became a significant internal struggle. I never took the step toward talking with anyone about it. I didn’t think I could.

    That was my fault, even as a youth. There were plenty of people around me that I could have brought the struggle up with. But I didn’t feel any margin, any space, any freedom, to express my messiness. I felt like I had to look like I had it all together.

    Now, I am almost 39 years old. I am a husband, and parent two young boys. I am a disciple-maker and am paid to do so as a career. That means I come in contact with many men, women, and children on a weekly basis and connect with them at key points in their walk with God.

    Junior High Abraham was messy. He was full of doubts, sin, fear, and grief. Thirty-nine-year-old Abraham is messy. He is full of doubts, sin, fear, and grief. You as a reader are full of doubts, sin, fear, and grief. I get that. My question is: How do I (and how do you) make a margin for the messy, making space to express the ugly stuff we tend to hold inside?

    It doesn’t matter how old we are. We learn to put on masks and put up a false front that we are all okay and that there is nothing to be concerned about. This takes place throughout our days, in the workplace, on Sunday morning, in Care Group, and over a meal with a friend.

    I want to create space for messy moments. Are there questions we can ask that give others permission to reveal their mess? Is there anything we can do that tells others we are a safe place to talk about messes with? Can our children tell us they struggle to believe in God? Can our neighbor comfortably share his struggle with pornography?

    I have a lot of growing to do in this area but I want to create margin for the messy.

    Here are some ideas that I have:

    1. I need to own my messiness. I struggle with doubt, depression, grief, and sin. I am not above anyone. I am no less messy than anyone else. By acknowledging that daily, I am moving into my own messiness and I believe that will fashion me into a more approachable person by default.
    2. I need to be vulnerable with my messiness. This is a scary one to me. It will backfire at times. I will share with someone who will hurt me. But my identity is in Christ and I can trust him to care for me in those moments. The grenades that go off will be far fewer than the moments of ministry that take place as my life intersects with the lives of others. By trusting others with the deep places of my heart, others will see that they can trust me with their own.
    3. I need to invite others to share their mess with me. There is a caution here. I am never entitled for someone to share the depths of their soul with me. Even a simple question may come across as too aggressive for someone who doesn’t want to be vulnerable. However, gentle questions and looking for opportunities, founded on humility, can pave a road toward transparency. This is not to mention budgeting time to genuinely listen to what they share.

    It’s not rocket science. I have a lot of learning to do. But I invite you to create margin for messiness within your own circles of relationships.

    ThuThursdayAugAugust17th2017 The Whole Me
    byAbraham Cremeens Tagged Discipleship Life 0 comments Add comment

    What do you think of when I say the word “whole”? Maybe eating a whole pie comes to mind, or a whole carton of ice cream. Possibly, your thoughts go to money, such as a bill that is due: “I owe the whole amount!”

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about that word. It hasn’t been in the context of food or money, but as it relates to all of me, the whole person.

    God made all of us, the whole us. And he is working through the whole that we would become more like Jesus in our entirety.

    Through a series of conversations, someone has brought to my awareness that there are actually eight areas that make up our lives.  You may add or take away from the list, but I present eight:

    • The physical
    • The emotional
    • The mental
    • The spiritual
    • The digital
    • The relational
    • The missional (work, what I do)
    • The cultural (community, its impact on me and my impact on it)

    That’s a long list. I had no idea. I thought I was much simpler than that. As I’ve thought more about it, though, I’ve observed interconnectedness between them all. Sadly, my neglect in one or more areas hinders the areas where I think I’m doing well and, ultimately, impairs the whole me.

    Case in point: You love hearing a particular pastor preach, admire his spiritual maturity, yet he is severely overweight. Something is off. God is transforming him into the image of Christ but he has kept one area off limits.

    Or, a friend of yours is the life of the party, always happy and making the most of everything. You wish you had her humor and optimism. Yet, her walk with God has waned over the last year and she changes the subject every time you bring up how she is doing spiritually. Her emotional formation is on track but she has made her spiritual formation off limits. Something is off.

    God made the whole person. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.13-14). He is intimately involved in every detail. He cares about the continued formation of every part of us, all eight parts apparently.

    In a season of serious self-evaluation over the last couple of months, I see considerable neglect as it relates to the whole me. I overemphasize some areas while tossing others to the wayside. I devalue some as not important enough. Even if I haven’t said “off limits,” I might as well have since my neglect offers the same detriment.

    I want all of me to be on the table before God, offered completely as a sacrifice to him. I want all of me to be on a formation track, moving forward, onward, and upward as I give it needed attention. God is faithfully making me more like Christ as my years go on. It is something he does. I want him to form me and he is doing so. But I want the whole me to be in his working hands.

    What on the list stands out to you? Is there an area you view as strong in your formation efforts? Is there an area that is weak or neglected, even roped off as “off limits”? Maybe you devalue an area as “not spiritual enough” to give it needed attention. Give it the time. It’s worth it. The whole you is worth it.

    ThuThursdayJulJuly20th2017 The Dangers of Life Management
    byAbraham Cremeens Tagged Busyness Life Prayer 1 comments Add comment

    Life management is good. From the early stages of childhood, our parents worked to train us in proper life management. We learned to use the restroom, to brush our teeth, to bathe, how to swim, what deodorant was, and how to limit pieces of candy.

    In college, we entered that interim phase of being adults while still having the care and guidance of our parents close at hand (at least with a phone call). We learned how to maintain a schedule, pace studying, keep a job, and take breaks when needed.

    After college, we sought a career, maintained time for relationships, and learned how to file our taxes.

    All the way through we learned how to manage life as responsible adults. But with that comes a certain set of dangers.

    Don’t get me wrong. There are few things more unfortunate than a forty-year-old who lacks the appropriate maturity. Maturity (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, digital, etc.) is a good thing and should be sought.

    But let me tell you something I’m learning. It is possible, over the course of years and decades, to turn life management (positive) into self-reliance (negative).

    God has been exposing self-reliance in my own life again and again over the past several months. As I’ve been peeling the layers of my heart back one at a time, I have seen a “God, I got this” attitude frequently.

    Here are some things I’ve identified that reveal a life management turned self-reliance:

    1. Equating Lifestyle. The alarm goes off on my phone. I wake up, get ready, follow the command of my calendar with an about face. Out the door I go and into the day’s events. Just as 1 + 1 = 2, so I put one and one together to get the result I want. I work these deeds of the day until I return to my pillow all to wake up again with the same movements. Now that looks like life management. But with the absence of inner dependence on God, in reality, it is self-reliance. That has been the state of my heart.

    2. Prayerlessness. Married to number one above, I can go through various events of the day, the entire day, without ever talking with God about what is going on. Even in key events or significant crisis I can push through, onward and upward, without involving God in prayer.

    3. Joylessness. This is more the outcome of the previous two points. I have recently looked inside and admitted a lack of joy. It makes sense. God designed us and life to be enjoyed with him, not without him. Self-reliance precludes experiencing his presence in life’s events. And without that comes a lack of joy.

    David said, “I have no good apart from you” and “in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Ps. 16:1, 11).

    As I put these thoughts together several weeks ago and looked them square in the face I had to admit my fault and change. I did that. Here are two changes that I’ve found helpful so far. Both are related to prayer.

    First, I’m creating a rhythm and mind hook to not turn on my office computer until I have prayed. This is typically a short prayer of resignation but it packs a punch. I find it helps me be more aware of God-reliance at later points in my day.

    Second, a friend pointed me to the idea of “the space between the space.” This has been a much more difficult discipline and rhythm to brew. The idea is to pause and pray as I finish one activity and before I begin the next. Again, this is brief. It also requires that I engage God about my emotions and how I’m doing. For me, it is usually accompanied by a deep breath (and sometimes journaling). It serves as an opportunity for me to be honest with God about how I am feeling, what’s going on in my day and to acknowledge his presence before a next step.

    You may find a different pathway of prayer that leads from self to God-reliance. But I share these thoughts in hopes that they at least stir some thinking and action toward a God-reliant day (and life) for you.

    TueTuesdayMayMay23rd2017 The Frozen Lock
    byPaul Briggs Tagged Life Trials 1 comments Add comment

    Recently I was leaving my office for the day to go and pick up my family for a long-anticipated family event. I hadn’t traveled very far when I noticed a student I recognized walking toward the building on campus in which my office is located. This was a young lady we had met last year in her home country on our Asian travels. During her first year at Purdue, the Lord opened numerous doors to build a strong relationship with her.

    Several conflicting thoughts swirled around in my head: Should I stop and say hello? She is probably coming to say goodbye for the summer. But I am in a hurry and I don’t want to be late! What if she has a problem and needs help?!

    I ended up turning around and saying “hello.” She explained that she was headed for our offices because she needed help with her bike: Her lock was frozen; it just wouldn’t open, and she needed to take her bike to the place where she would be storing it over the summer. We went back to the bike shop at our office and got a can of WD40 and headed off to where her bike was located to see if we could get her lock to open.

    Finding a parking place on campus that day was the first challenge. It was the next-to-last day of finals, and parking places were at a premium. We were able to find a place within a short walk of where her bike was locked up. As we walked I tried to keep my mind fixed on the task at hand and not on what I had envisioned myself doing at that moment (heading for home to pick up my family to leave town).

    I asked her to summarize some of the things she had learned outside of the classroom during her first year at Purdue. She talked about having participated in a variety of events related to Christian student organizations and how she had learned things about Christianity she had never thought about before. She reminded me about having seen the video on Resurrection Sunday about Jesus meeting two of His followers on the road to Emmaus following his resurrection (Luke 24:13-35) and how that helped her understand things she had been learning from the Old Testament. She also spoke excitedly about the joy she had witnessed on Resurrection Sunday during the worship service at Kossuth. I was able to encourage her to continue learning about these things when she returns to Purdue in August.

    We reached her bike and I began spraying large quantities of WD40 into the lock, praying silently that the Lord would cause it to unfreeze quickly! I put the key into the lock and tried it. Nothing happened. It was still stuck! I continued to spray the oil into the lock and continued to wiggle the key back and forth. Still no movement. I prayed some more...and kept spraying...and kept wiggling the key back and forth (praying that it wouldn’t break off in the lock!). After about 10 minutes of this, the lock finally opened!

    I don’t know who was happier, the student or me. She exclaimed enthusiastically that she had been lucky to have met me that morning. I gently reminded her that it was not luck or coincidence that we had met. To which she inquisitively responded, “God had us meet today?” I told her I believed this was an appointment the Lord had fixed for us, even though it hadn’t appeared on my “To Do” list for that day!

    As I continued on with the things that I had planned for that particular day, I thought about the blessing of this unexpected (or was it unwanted?!) encounter, I was thinking about the problems we often face in life. The words of James 1:2-4 came to mind: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  

    The trials of our lives are like the frozen lock. They often make us feel like we are stuck; with no apparent solution when we desperately need one. The grace we need is like the oil on the frozen lock...sometimes what we think should be enough simply isn’t. We need to apply more...and allow more time to pass. Over time the grace that is applied in abundance produces its good and faithful work: often not when (and sometimes not what!) we expected.

    May God continue to grow us in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus which allows us to count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds. Be sure to be sharing your stories of the good and faithful work the Lord is doing in your life for His glory through the various trials that are taking place in your life!

    ThuThursdayAprApril6th2017 Showers and Flowers
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Endurance Life Suffering 0 comments Add comment

    Here in Lafayette, the month of April has had a soggy start. In fact, as I write this, the rainfall over the last few days has resulted in a flood warning for our area. Personally, I’m kind of sick of the rain. It’s making me grumpy.

    But there’s an old adage that brings me hope. You’ve probably heard it, too. April showers bring May flowers. As dreary and wet as some of these days have been, there’s joy in the anticipation of all the bright colors and new life that are soon to come our way. This rain isn’t purposeless. It will yield a bounty of vegetation in due time.

    I suspect there may be a lesson for us here that extends far beyond the weather.

    In life, things can get soggy sometimes. In fact, there’s another rain-related adage that comes to mind: When it rains, it pours. One thing goes wrong, and then suddenly ten more things go wrong right behind it. Disappointments multiply. Frustration leads to more frustration. In a world that doesn’t always do what we want it to, it’s easy to get bogged down in the muddiness of life.

    But what if we could step back for a moment and gain a bigger perspective? What if the rainy seasons of our lives could be seen in relationship to something greater? What if in our April showers of discouragement and frustration we could have our outlook transformed by the hope of flowers in May?

    According to the Bible, these “what ifs” aren’t merely hypothetical.

    For example, if you’re in a season of discipline, things may look pretty bleak at the moment. But Hebrews 12:11 offers hope: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” There’s something better coming. The unpleasantness of the discipline will ultimately give way to righteousness.

    If you’re in a season of suffering, it may feel like every day is a downpour. But consider what your suffering will bring you, according to Romans 5:3-5: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” Suffering waters the seeds of hope in our lives, causing them in due time to burst into full and radiant bloom.

    If you’re in a season of trials, the sunshine of joy may be distant. But 1 Peter 1:6-7 points your gaze toward the future: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Your trial is intended to give way to something stunningly superior.

    Rainy days are inevitable. We’re all going to have them. And for many of us, those days will turn into weeks, and those weeks may even turn into months or years. But during those times, we need not grow disillusioned by the puddles. The same God who sends down the rain also calls forth the flowers. And although you may need an umbrella today, sooner or later God will reveal the magnificent results of the work he’s been doing.

    So hang in there. The flowers are coming.

    WedWednesdayFebFebruary1st2017 A Life Worth Living
    byWill Peycke Tagged Legacy Life Work 1 comments Add comment

    Well, there it went. January is already behind us. Every year, I marvel at how quickly the “newness” of the New Year wears off. If January 1 is an opportunity to set new goals and make a fresh start, perhaps February 1 should give us pause to evaluate where that fresh start is taking us. During this first month of 2017, I’ve been chewing on these words from author Don Whitney:

    Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.

    Whitney’s words remind me of something the apostle Paul wrote about a person’s life work:

    Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames. (1 Cor. 3:10-15, NLT)

    We are all building a life: year by year, day by day, moment by moment. Every project we undertake, every dollar we spend, and every commitment we add to our calendar is like a brick in our wall, a piece of our life. It’s exciting to think that some of those “bricks” will be even more valuable at the end of our life than when we first set them in place. But it’s sobering to realize that some won’t. Some bricks will crumble away or, to use the imagery from this passage, burn up. They won’t prove to have any real, permanent value.

    Before we moved to Lafayette, we lived next to an old cemetery. Several of the stones near our fence bore dates from before the Civil War. Many others were so old and worn that the names and dates were no longer readable. Living next to that cemetery was a constant reminder that my life won’t last forever.

    And that’s a reminder I need often. When I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I chase a lot of things that don’t really have any lasting value. Building “a good life,” one that looks like my neighbors (only better, of course!), is always tempting. But in the end, it will prove as short-sighted as a Civil War general investing in confederate currency or a technology company stockpiling floppy disks.

    We all desperately need an investment that won’t flat-line when we do. We all want to spend our lives on something that will really pay off, really be worth it. So, to borrow Paul’s terminology, what are the “gold, silver, and jewels” we can build our lives with? What kind of investment will prove to have real, lasting value?

    Paul’s investment, his “gold standard,” was pouring himself out for the sake of others. His “life work” was spreading the good news of God’s grace. And that work was built on Paul’s own relationship with Christ—what he called “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8).

    Paul was confident that this investment was worth it. Near the end of his life, he wrote these words:

    As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” (2 Tim. 4:6, NLT)

    If you are in Christ, then your foundation has already been laid. But how you build on that foundation is up to you. Why not make it your “life work” to know Jesus and point others to him? The investment you make in the gospel—both in your own heart and for the sake of others—will always be worth it.

    The first month of 2017 has come and gone. Take time now to thank God for his grace to you. Ask for his wisdom to evaluate where you’re going and where you should be going. And ask him to help you build well—for the next eleven months and beyond. 

    WedWednesdayNovNovember16th2016 God's Will for Your Life
    byDrew Humphrey Tagged Decisions God's Will Life 2 comments Add comment

    Have you ever wished that you could know God’s will? I know I have.

    For many of us, life can often feel like one big mystery. We don’t know which way to turn or which path to choose. We’re uncertain about the future and how to get there. And although we know God must have a direction he wants us to go, we struggle to figure out what it is. If only we could open the Bible and find the place where it says definitively, “This is the will of God for you.”

    Well, guess what. We can.

    In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” This three-fold exhortation seems pretty mundane, right? For those who have sat through their fair share of sermons and Bible studies, this is nothing earth-shattering or unexpected. But what comes next might throw you for a loop: “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

    Let that sink in for a moment. The will of God. Clearly stated. In language, we can understand. Preserved for generations in God’s own inspired word.

    You would think that these verses would be underlined in our Bibles. And highlighted. And memorized. And anything else we do with verses. (Made into pretty digital graphics?)

    But be honest: When was the last time you faced a difficult choice in life and made your decision by turning to these verses? “Is it God’s will for me to take this new job or not? Oh, the uncertainty! But wait! Look here! It says in 1 Thessalonians that God’s will for me is to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Mystery solved! Now I know what to do!”

    I’ve never experienced that scenario, and I doubt many others have either.

    The point is that this statement of God’s will strikes us as a little underwhelming because it doesn’t exactly answer our questions. It doesn’t tell a teenager which college to choose. It doesn’t tell a young lady whether or not she should entertain the romantic overtures of a zealous would-be-suitor. It doesn’t tell a home buyer whether to place an offer on the 4-bedroom house with a small backyard or the cute little ranch out in the country. To find out that God’s will is to rejoice, pray, and give thanks is like watching the series finale of Lost and finding out that very little has actually been resolved. (For the record, I gave up on Lost in season 3, although I have it on good authority that the ending was a huge disappointment.)

    But the problem here isn’t with these verses (obviously). The problem is with what we’re trying to get out of them.

    If you’re like me, the questions you ask about God’s will are mostly “what” questions. What should I do in this situation? What direction should I go? But these verses help us by redirecting our questions altogether. They show us that we’re actually asking the wrong thing.

    You see, God’s will isn’t nearly as concerned with the “what” as it is the “how.” It isn’t nearly as concerned with the destination as it is the journey. It isn’t nearly as concerned with the outcome of our decisions as it is the manner in which we make them.

    So, let’s say you’ve been offered a promotion at work. Should you take it or not? Well, you’ll seek the Bible in vain for a hidden insight into God’s will that will give you that answer. But what you can know is this: God’s will for how you should make the decision is clear. He wants you to rejoice in the position in which you find yourself, to pray fervently as you weigh the options, and to give thanks for God’s provision, regardless of the path you choose. Does this mean you’ll take the job? Who knows. But if you do these things, you can be confident that you’re squarely within the will of God whichever route you go.

    So the next time you’re standing at a fork in the road, consider what you know about “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It’s not about right or left. It’s about how you walk. So walk joyfully. Walk prayerfully. Walk thankfully. And in doing these things you’ll be carrying out God’s will.

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