"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be." - John Wooden
I haven't posted for almost a month but there is a good reason. 16 days ago I accepted a job on staff at the church in which I grew up in Iowa. I believe God brought the right opportunity at the right time although there have been many days over the past few years when I wouldn't have minded this opportunity. But His timing is right while mine is often colored by frustration, impatience and selfishness. He had more work to do in me here and for me to do here before it was time to move on. Now is that time.
It's been bittersweet saying goodbye to so many friends over the past two weeks. One thing God had convicted me of many years ago was to always act with integrity, honesty and consistency. Basically, He told me to stop being one person to one group of friends and somebody different to another group just to find acceptance. The truth is that people accept you and are drawn to you when you bring two things to the table - authenticity and a sincere desire to simply be their friend and care about them without expecting anything in return. It was very reassuring as I have spent time with many circles - old church friends, softball teammates, co-workers, neighbors, men's small group - that I was able to simply be the same person in every situation. I was able to feel comfortable not because each of them affirmed the person I am but because God made me the person I am.
There have been lots of ups and downs here - financially, professionally, socially and spiritually. I have had lots of things go wrong. I have had the idea that I was in control shattered. I have had the notion that I would have nothing but success turned upside down. There is a great scene from the movie "Instinct" in which Anthony Hopkins' character attacked Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character. As he had this man's life in his hands, he asked him what he had taken from him. After a couple of unsuccessful answers and given one last chance, he finally answered, "My illusions." My illusion that I am the center of the story and that things should turn out the way I envision has been taken away...and I am infinitely richer because of it.
The most important experience I had in St. Louis probably happened my second year here when I joined a small group from the church in which I was taking new member classes. My understanding of Christianity up to that point was mostly head knowledge and a belief that restrictions outweighed freedoms when it came to living a holy and God-pleasing life, which they do, by the way, if you are basing your relationship with God strictly on your behavior, which I would argue is no relationship at all.
But then I walked in on a group of people my age who not only pursued God but delighted in Him. It wasn't a counterfeit love that many Christians default to when their heart isn't really with their Lord. It was real. It was vibrant. It was beautiful.
“In your presence is the fullness of joy,
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” - Psalm 16:11
As Matt Chandler often says, God isn't after our begrudging submission. That brings him NO glory. He is after our joy - our absolute and complete joy IN HIM. Happiness is based on circumstances. It can be taken away in a heartbeat. Joy runs so much deeper. It endures and it strengthens and it is living water to the thirsty. God has taught me a lot about where joy is found. My heart still wanders from Him all too often but I am convicted almost immediately now that nothing good can be found where I am looking. My spirit aches for my eyes to return above.
So, God worked and continues to work. My love for Him is deeper and wider, and consequently, my love for others has grown in step. My men's group just finished a book called "Man Alive". I highly recommend it. When do you feel most alive? The answer may say a lot about the gifts God has given you and the calling that He has placed on this season of your life. I feel most alive when I am helping and loving someone else...when the conversation turns deep, when heartaches and struggles surface, when defenses and walls are laid down and a broken sinner, just like me, aches to be reconciled with their Creator. I love taking people as far in their walk with Jesus as they desire and then stepping back and witnessing the almighty power of the Comforter work. I love being a part of God's redemptive work. It still amazes me every day that He lets a rebellious traitor like me act as His ambassador.
But He does...and it is good...and I can't wait to see what He has in store for me next.