Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Church can be fun

OK, so it's kind of an odd title. Some of you probably think that church should always be fun, or at least good, or desirable, or comfortable, or some other positive adjective. But some of you probably disagree; you go to church "because it's the right thing to do", for lack of a better description. Verses like Hebrews 10:25, or Acts 2:42 tell you that God expects believers to meet together regularly, and you go, but never really feel comfortable. Maybe it's not a comfort issue, but rather that you're bored by the sermon, don't like the style of music, dislike how friendly (or standoffish) everyone else is, or that you feel like everyone is just pretending to be happy since it's a Sunday.

For the large majority of my adult life, I definitely fell into the second group of people. For me it was an issue of being judgmental of everyone I saw at church for various reasons, and I ended up feeling miserable when I left. There have been other issues at some of the churches we've attended over the years, but the root cause was that I was just not willing to be a part of the church like God commanded us.

And I didn't know how to change that. Each time we moved and found a new church, I'd try to make myself go to a small group, participate in church functions, go to the Wednesday night service, and 'get connected'. That usually lasted little more than a month before I just decided I was better than everyone else, and go slinking back to my old ways. I prayed about it all the time. I WANTED to feel at home in a church, to feel like I was worshiping and fellowshiping with others as the body of Christ. I wanted church to leave me feeling closer to God. I wanted to learn, to be fed, to be able to share and give and grow.

Since I know that God is able to do anything, to answer any prayer, to change a heart and a mind when someone seeks Him earnestly, I also know that He had a plan for the last few years of my life. I'm still not sure what it was, but that's OK too. But what I do know now, is that He is AMAZING, and has given us an awesome church for the two months that we're here in San Diego.

This is really about God changing my life, and not about how amazing the people are at church, but I do want to share a bit about that too. We arrived in San Diego on a Saturday night, and despite wanting to skip church the next day (I came up with plenty of excuses for myself), I really felt God telling me that this was important. So to Google I went in search of a new (albeit temporary) church home. There's a lot of churches in San Diego, but I narrowed it down to a handful before going to bed, leaving a final decision for the morning.

We decided on a small church called San Diego Bible Church about 20 minutes from where we're staying, and headed out to see what it was all about. When we left church a few hours later, I didn't really understand what happened. It was not at all the sort of church I was looking for. It wasn't the sort of music I usually liked, it had very, very friendly people who 'made' us wear a name tag and then greeted us, listened to us, talked to us, loved us, and made us feel at home. (For those of you who don't really know me... ... well, I'm not an overly social person, and that sort of stuff usually makes me pretty uncomfortable). Just about the only thing that my rational mind told me it liked was the preaching, which was deep, concise, clear, and unambiguously straight from God's Word.

But you know what? I couldn't wait to go back. I wanted there to be a Sunday night service so we could go to that. I wanted to get to know everyone there. I wanted to meet and spend time with the pastor. It was... weird.

So what's up with that? God was there, not just in the church, but in me. The small things that might have irritated me didn't matter. Instead He just showed me the unique personality of every person there. He filled me with a desire to worship Him, to love others, and to draw near to His side. It made no sense, but it was wonderful.

So. Sounds like a great first Sunday, but would it last? Or was it just a one-time thing where God had come through? Turns out that God has some sort of plan for us here in San Diego, and it involves us being in a church that honors and serves Him wholeheartedly, and a church that we love being at. Last Saturday we were able to get in (very last minute) on a church trip to Ensenada Mexico for the day to help out a sister church down there. Really cool experience, and I think probably the first "missions-trip" I've actually ever been on.

One more thing, and then I'll stop. I know I've been talking a lot about this church, but it's been really exciting to me to see God work in my and Naomi's life through His servants there. On Monday nights, Pastor Steve has a Bible study at his house where he goes through the upcoming week's sermon and holds a Q&A time along with some solid teaching. We'd wanted to go since the first Sunday, but either work or other previous obligations meant that today was the first opportunity we'd had. We showed up at his place at 5:30 this evening, and wondered why there weren't more cars in his driveway. After he invited us in, we found out that they'd cancelled it for the week since so many people were out of town for the holiday weekend. Since we hadn't been before, we weren't on the list of people they called to let them know. Instead of that being it, though, Steve invited us to stay and talk for a while. We ended up having a great discussion (about Calvanism, Armenianism, limited vs. unlimited atonement...) and then doing the whole Bible study anyway, just the three of us. He asked pointed questions about the text, explained the background, translated portions from the Greek to make the passage clearer... it was just fun! I don't know if I've ever described a Bible study as 'fun' before, but it really was. I learned a lot, and came away with so many more questions to ponder, and an immense desire to spend time in the Word.

So I'm writing a lot more than I originally intended. I suppose I'll stop here. I want to share some of what I learned tonight, but maybe another time. But for anyone who was praying for us to find a good church here in San Diego, know that God answered your prayers in a tremendous way.

Things I've learned:
- There's some things in our lives that we're incapable of changing on our own, but God is not limited by our past.
- God hears us every time we pray, and even when we can't fathom why He doesn't answer how we want, He does have a purpose, every single time.
- Living out the answer to a prayer is the most amazing thing I've ever experienced!

Ahh.... I want to keep writing, but this is too long and I don't want to lose anyone. More later

Friday, March 01, 2013

Quick trip update

Going to be a few days before Naomi or I get much more posted. Tomorrow will be the last leg of our trip west. We'll be leaving here (Camp Verde, AZ) bright and early, destination San Diego, CA. We'd contemplated trying to make part of this trip via historic Route 66, but I don't think it'll work out time-wise. Instead, we hope to be able to swing by Joshua Tree National Park briefly, and then more or less directly to the Navy Base in San Diego. On Sunday we're hoping to be able to visit with Josiah and Ally and possibly visit the San Diego Zoo. Monday I officially begin my two-month school, and we start to settle down (at least temporarily) after our trip.

Once we get settled in, we both have some catching up to do with both writing and photo-editing (and sharing.)

Thanks to everyone who's encouraged me to keep writing this time around. The feedback makes it worthwhile.

In the meantime, here's a few...

Things I've learned:
1) The desert is very dry. Dumb sounding, I know, but as someone who's never really experienced it before now, I was still surprised. I'm pretty sure I've drunk about a gallon of water since we got home this afternoon from our fun trip exploring Jerome, AZ.
2) Travelling is exhausting, even when you get a good night's sleep. We're both ready to settle into someplace where we can stay for more than a couple of days.
3) There's nobody else I'd rather spend so very much time with than my darling girl, Naomi. I love you, sexy :)

Hearing God without understanding is OK too

The last several days we've spent in west Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Ever since our first morning driving through the wide open spaces in Texas, I've felt a longing in my heart. At first I thought it might just be a desire to live somewhere new, or my emotional response to such a beautiful, raw, and mysterious place, but I'm not sure now. I think that what I'm feeling as we drive through the deserts, mountains, plains, and prairies is a desire to create. To live in a place and a life where I can see the results of a days work in a tangible way. I want to shape, to move, to grow the earth. I'm pretty sure I'm not really cut out to be a farmer, rancher, or some hunter-gatherer prehistoric man, but I do feel a desire live closer to the way God created man in the beginning.

The first command God gave mankind after creating Adam and Eve was:
“...Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it..." (Genesis 1:28, NIV)

God made us to work and live in connection with the rest of the world that He created for us. I realize that it's not practical or even enjoyable for everyone to live on a farm or directly work the land, and this is the first time in my life where I've even felt a faint desire to do that. I don't know what all this means; I've still got a minimum of 3 years left in the Navy, and really no idea what we'd like to pursue after that. But I do know that God's been pulling me towards something these last few days. Some realization, some direction, some thought. Maybe just pulling me closer to Him as He reveals himself through creation. I don't know. But I do know that spending time in the western states has affected me way more than I thought possible.

Things I've learned:
1) God's creation is just amazing. How have I lived in this country for this long and never seen all this before!?
2) Getting away from daily routines and the 'normals' of life opens us up to hearing God speak. I've never felt a more intense pull towards God than I have in the wilderness of these states.
3) Sometimes it's enough to just hear that God is speaking without knowing exactly what He's saying. I feel now more than ever before in my life that God has a purpose in mind specifically for me. I still have no more of an idea what that might be than I did a week ago, but that's OK. It's enough to know that He knows.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Some thoughts about living life - kind of long

This post turned out to be long-winded and full of some disconnected thoughts about the last few months of living. Feel free to skip to the 'Things I've learned' for a summary or to just give this post a miss altogether.


A blank screen is intimidating to me when I'm trying to write. Once I get a paragraph, a sentence, or even a few words down, the rest usually seems to write itself. But those first few minutes, staring at a blinking cursor and nothing else, cause me to worry that I won't be able to think of anything to say.

That's how I feel this morning about my life. At the start of a new day, when there's nothing but a blank 'screen' in front of me for the next 18 hours or so, I wonder how I will fill it. Before the plans start to kick in, the driving begins, or the workday starts, I wonder if I will do anything useful with the time I have before I go to bed again.

When I write, I tend not to brainstorm much before I begin. Some writers start with an outline, a free-association mind-map, or at least a solid idea of where they want to go with their thoughts. Instead, I tend to latch onto the first idea that seems viable and start writing about it. I think I sometimes live life that way, too. I might have a vague idea about what I want to do, but I often let the day take me where it will. Sometimes that works out for me and I end up with a great day filled with a lot of new experiences that I wouldn't have had if I'd had a defined plan. But sometimes it just leads to a wandering day where I look back at the end and wonder if I really accomplished anything.

I think that the last 8 years in the Navy with all its structure and control have left me wanting more time that I can spend how I wish. The jobs I had before the Navy left me at least my evenings and weekends to spend as I chose, but I haven't even had that for a long time. Instead of managing the little time off that I do have well, I've just drifted along through it, trying to relax by 'doing nothing.'

I think I really only came to grips with this in the last several months, and it's been a work in progress. I've been trying (mostly successfully, I think) to actively 'do things' in the time that I do have. Instead of coming home from work and heading straight to the computer to 'relax' and 'just not think about work for a while', I've been trying to get out of the house with my lover-girl, see the sights, read more books, have more real conversations, and think more thoughts. It sounds kind of dumb when I write it down, and like something that normal people do all the time, but it's really something that's been difficult.

Things I've learned:
1) Relaxing by doing nothing is not really relaxing at all. The things that need to get done just pile up and the longer I put them off the more difficult it is to get them done, and the more stress they create.
2) Getting the 'must-do' things done first allows for way more time for the 'want-to-do' things.
3) The brain in 'consume mode' instead of the 'produce mode' quickly shuts off, making it very difficult to remember how to really live life.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Life is complicated, exhausting, and wonderful

I set out this morning, as planned, looking for some fear to conquer before the day was through. As I write this, 18 hours later, I am still looking for it. I'm trying to recapture the events of today to see where I might have overlooked some small fear that I noticed and overcame. Despite my best efforts, today was just a perfectly lovely day. A long day, a tiring one, but one full of love and fun and joy.

I'm reminded once again why all those "get-(fill in the blank)-quick" schemes never seem to work. They focus on just one area of life, and claim that if you just do that one thing right, you will be fulfilled and on your way to riches, health, the perfect pant size... whatever. But life is so intertwined, so complicated and involved, so rich and beautiful that focusing on just one part of it, no matter how well-intentioned, necessarily leads to neglect of the other parts.

So I'm glad that God prompted my mind to wander off my new ideas for self-improvement and instead to simply soak up the beauty that He created throughout the world. Although I'm exhausted now, and way past due for a long sleep in a comfy hotel bed, today was so relaxing. Driving through half of Texas and most of New Mexico opened my eyes to a natural beauty that I've just never seen on the east coast.

Here is what I've learned today:

1) As much as I praise and admire the talent and creativity of my amazing wife (and if you've seen her stuff, you know that she's incredibly good at what she does), God's just got her beat when it comes to beauty of creation. When she posts her travel blog for today you'll get a glimpse of some of it.

2) It's easy to latch onto a simple solution as the only solution to a problem. While simple is easy and nice, it's usually just that: too simple. So, facing fears is great, and something that I'll keep digging at in my life, but there's more to discover about who God has made me to be. Today I discovered that I've spent way too much of my life indoors and that God made the entire outdoors just for us to appreciate. And today I really, really appreciated it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Avoiding Fear

This is the easy way to live life: never do anything that scares you. This is also the most boring way possible to live life. These are the two facts that I have discovered after 28 years of living.

To my recollection, I have never continued to be scared of something after actually doing it. I'm not really talking about the major fears some people have: fear of spiders or snakes, of heights, or of clowns. There are far more small fears that we barely even recognize as such. Fear of not being able to change who we are. Fear of not being recognized for our accomplishments. Fear of moving to a new town, state, or country. Fear of feeling like an idiot because we don't really know how to do something that we 'should' know how to do. Fear of offending people whose opinions we value. Fear of letting down our family or friends. These are the fears that paralyze us, that keep us in the same habits and ruts that we've lived in for so long. These are the fears that make our lives very predictable, safe, and boring.

Facing a fear, even a small one, and getting past it is what makes us grow. Sometimes we have no option (or at least it seems like we don't), sometimes a friend challenges us (purposefully or inadvertently), and sometimes we just summon up the guts to face a fear. Today I have chosen to attempt to discover one fear that I have and face it for every day that I can, starting today.

Today my fear is just a little one. I am scared to write about how I want to change for fear that I will look back on it later and laugh (while cringing on the inside) because I have still not changed. I am facing my fear by writing this, and saving it somewhere where I will read it later. Coincidently, this also lets me face another fear that I am only half-facing today: the fear that nobody wants to hear what I have to say, that I have nothing of worth to share, and that I am a nobody. I suppose the root of both of these fears is that I am afraid that I have no self-discipline. If I post this where others can read it, and then I stop writing after a few days or weeks, I will have let people down, I will look like a quitter, and I will once again feel like I can't establish habits and routines in my life that I want to.

I wanted to not face that fear today. I wanted to just save this and 'maybe post it later.' After all, I haven't posted to my blog in... years, I suppose. Nobody would even know if I didn't post this now. But acknowledging a fear and then hiding from it makes the fear grow, so I will post this. If I never get started, I will never know if I can keep it up.

Got a fear (big or small) that you've been pretending didn't exist? Yeah, me too. I've got lots. Time to start figuring out what they are so I can deal with them.