Going Dark

I’m going dark.

Getting off social media.

I’m not going to go on a rant on why you should follow suit, so don’t worry. I just know it’s not good for me right now. I don’t like what it’s doing to me. I can’t take a walk and enjoy the scenery without thinking of how that sunrise or that building would make a good picture to Instagram. I can’t read the Bible without thinking “Oh, I need to share this.” Even this blog has become something I don’t like, causing me to check hits and clicks and shares and who’s commenting. And who’s not.

I just don’t like what it’s doing in my heart.

We live in a world where image is everything, and we have the tools at our disposal to craft it. I haven’t sought to be disingenuous with my posting, whether Instagram, Facebook, or twitter. I’ve truly, especially in the last year, sought to be open and “real.” Trouble is, I’m so worried about doing those things that I fear I’m losing the real work in my heart.

So y’all know our story: I stepped down from my position at church. I left the ministry. We sold our house. We moved west. We started over. Blah blah blah…here’s the thing: we thought it was over. It’s not over. I’m not even sure it’s really even begun.

We say things about how God cares about the condition of our hearts more than anything else, yet we live and move in a culture that allows us to mask that heart any way we choose. We can keep ourselves numb to what’s really going on in that center-of-our-being place, blind to what’s really there thanks to busyness, connected-ness, and, gasp, even or especially, ministry.

So I’m getting off.

I’m going dark.

I was going to wait until Lent to do it, but why wait? If you’re in need of a physician, you don’t put it off, you make an appointment. If your tire is flat, you don’t keep driving on it. You pull over and take care of it.

My tire is flat. I’m pulling in the garage.

If you’ve humored me until now, you’re either family or a very good friend, and I truly appreciate that. You’re the reasons I posted this on here and didn’t just “go dark.”  I figured you’d all think I was depressed…or had fallen off a cliff.  I wanted you guys to know why.  I would love to talk to any of you during this time. Seriously. If you feel led, reach out. You have my number. It’s the same.

I may be back. I may not. We’ll see what God does. Pray for me, and my family, if you would. God’s not done, and while that sounds super spiritual and “holy”, the truth is it’s hard and it’s not always pleasant. I’m ready for this season to be over. I’m ready for the heart-work to be done.

But I know, deep down, it won’t be anytime soon.

So pray for us, and we’ll pray for you.

Much love,

Treenewt

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Home

My wife is a nester. She loves taking the bones of a house and turning them into a home. Whether it’s through painting, picking out the perfect piece of old furniture, finding a rug, or it’s a rip-out-the-floor true renovation, I think she enjoys the process as much as the result. Sometimes I’ll come home and the kids will say, “Dad, you’re not gonna like what mom did!” I know that means our bedroom and/or living room has been rearranged to make it feel more…home.

I love her for it, though I don’t always show it by my reaction when enlisted for the manual labor. I love that she wants to make our house a home, to make it our home.

When we finally got our own place here in Oklahoma, it was so cool to walk in each day and see her busy unboxing, arranging, and rearranging things.

It was the happiest I’d seen her in a long time.

We’ve been here pretty much a year now, although the permanent move wasn’t until April, and we didn’t move into our own place until October 1. In Jeremiah 29: 5-7, God told the exiles in Babylon: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” We’ve tried to do that (renting, not building…no gardening yet, and def no spouses for the kids, but you get the idea).

We’ve been trying to settle into life here, to become a part of this place. Just like those exiles, we’re attempting to put down roots here, where we know He’s called us. Yet, no doubt also just like those exiles, in the back of our hearts and minds there is an unending, never fading, ever increasing longing for…home.

Home, such a small yet powerful word. As a noun, it refers to “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.”

It’s also be used as a verb, meaning “move or be aimed toward (a target or destination) with great accuracy.” Dang. That one hits…home.

We feel a continual pull towards home, east, NC. It’s always there. And it’s not about missing the house we lived in and remodeled, nor even about the particular town we lived in. It’s not about places at all.

This pull is about the people that made NC home for us, our family and our friends. It’s about the relationships we built there, the lives that were forged. It’s hard to leave that behind, even when you know God is doing “a new thing.”

In the end, I know even if we were to move back “home”, there would exist, underneath all the joy that move would encompass, an even deeper pull to home. A pull that makes us realize, no matter where we work or lay our heads on this mortal coil, home is not here. Well, not yet, anyway. Deep within all of our hearts is that longing for home that cannot be satisfied by anything in this world.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity said it better than I ever could:

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

The longing for home that we feel towards NC is an indicator of the deeper and greater longing we have to be in that place where all is made right, where sorrow and suffering cease, where joy is unending, and where peace abounds. It’s a longing to be with Jesus, the One who gave it all so we might have life in Him. That’s the home I look forward to, the longing that all other longings point towards. Until that day, we are to live here, now, wherever that may be, seeking the peace of the city we call home…temporarily…in anticipation of the one that will never end.

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”  Hebrews 13:14

Pals

Billy the Kid called them “pals” in that cinematic masterpiece known as “Young Guns.” I just call them “friends.”

They are easy to take for granted, and dang hard to make. Forged through trials, struggles, joys and sorrows, friends are a gift.

You spend years unknowingly knitting and weaving your lives together, sharing birthday cake and childcare, shedding tears and passing outgrown kids clothing off to each other. You can pick up the phone and seek an impromptu babysitter, and offer to return that favor in kind.

They’re there whenever you need them, and you try to reciprocate. You outdo one another in doing good to one another. The guys share tools and help fix each other’s fixer uppers, the ladies swap stories and help fix each other’s hearts.

Hearts…the ultimate fixer uppers.

Then one of you ups and moves halfway across the continent and screws up the entire scenario. Jobs can be found. Houses fixed up. Streets are learned and the best places to eat located.

But in the background, like that app on your laptop that you can’t ever shut off, there’s a reminder that something…no, SOMEONE is missing. While you can text them and call them, tweet them and FaceTime them, you can’t simply drop the kids off on a moments notice. You can’t run over and share a cup of coffee and tears, or borrow a cup of sugar.

Your kids, who probably thought they were truly related to each other, now see each other’s faces only via a screen. Distance bridged by technology’s blessing, but also a wicked curse…cause they know they’re drifting further and further apart.

Cause it doesn’t stay the same. I don’t have the heart to tell my kiddos that, but it just doesn’t. People change. They go on.

We’ll go on.

Eventually.

I know what my kids don’t…new friends will come. With time. With tears. With joy. Sorrow. Days. Weeks. Months. Years.

They’ll come. And we’ll go.

We’ll never forget those friends we love so deeply. How could we? And with some, a precious few, we will pick up from time to time, when schedules and travel allows, to laugh and cry and drink coffee and watch our kids play again.

But for most…the chapters are written and put in the book. The memories made and iNstagrammed.

Now the work begins. Now life goes on. What was “easy” is now necessity, work, effort. Like Adam and Eve tilling the ground post-fruit biting incident, nothing is easy when you start over.

Trust must be built, wisdom weighed, love expressed and walked out.

And it will be.

In time.

How much time?

Probably longer than you expect. Definitely longer than you wish.

Bitterness or Brokenness?

Neither one is pleasant. Neither is enjoyable. Both carry hurt with them.

The difference (and oh what a great difference it is! ) being we run from one and embrace the other, to our own destruction.

One is fueled by pride and ego, the other is grown in the fertile ground of humility, softened by tears. One puffs up, the other bows down. One is death, one is life.

How quickly we run to the power of bitterness! How quickly we turn our cheek away in anger and respond with the word, or even the fist (whether physically, or far more often, digitally)! How quickly we can point out the speck in another’s eye, often wielding scripture as the tool of speck removal, while ignoring the fact that the very same scripture seeks to pierce our own soul.

How hard it is to see with the plank in our own eyes! All of us, staggering around in our bitterness, speaking hate and anger, instead of the one thing we’re supposed to be known for: love! Where is Love? Where has she gone?

When did we become the Pharisees?

Oh, we’re so sure God is on our side, but so were the Pharisees and scribes! And though God-in-the-flesh stood before them, they couldn’t see past the plank of their own righteousness, the plank of their own way. They missed the fulfillment of the law they claimed to know so well. Shouldn’t that be a glaring “wait a second” to us? We with our head knowledge that has never pierced the scaly walls of our hearts?

Forgive us, Lord, for we have known about You, yet we don’t know You at all.

I think most of the time we choose bitterness instead of brokenness because it hurts to be humble. Brokenness requires we suffer wrong. Brokenness requires we lay down our rights, real or perceived. Brokenness requires we admit we don’t have it all together, and that we’ve missed the mark. Brokenness requires an acknowledgment of and confession of our own sin, of the plank in our eyes.

Who wants that?! How much easier to hide behind the walls we build around our hearts and lob missiles at those who approach! How much easier to climb on the high horse of bitterness and trample down those who we deem in opposition to us! How much easier to ascend to our virtual pulpit and deliver passive-aggressive memes about others!

I’ll let Paul’s words to the Philippians speak:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Every week we lift up the bread and we proclaim this truth: He was broken for us. He wasn’t broken so we could stew in bitterness, so that we could be right all the time, so that we could become the 21st Century Pharisees.  No, Jesus was broken for us, in our place, to free us from sin and to free us to follow Him.  His death and resurrection free us to lay our lives down in the love and service of others.

He was broken in love that we might be broken by His love, and in that brokenness find the life we lost at the Fall, a life spent in the love and service of God, loving and serving those He puts in our lives.

How can we do that if we’re bound up in bitterness?

I write these things not as a condemnation of anyone, but as the battle I see in my own heart.  I want to choose brokenness before Jesus, not bitterness.

The Year that Was and Is to Come

Happy New Year from my crew to you! I’m sure I’m not alone when I ask, “How in the world can it be 2018 already?” (Insert cliche’ regarding time passing here: What a difference a year makes, right?

One year ago we were staying at my parent’s house in North Carolina, having moved all our worldly belongings into storage in anticipation of the sale of our home.

Home.  That’s a word that would take on powerful new meanings for us over the course of the year.  But I digress.

We had no idea what was to come on the heels of that sale, how drastically our lives would change, and what the year-that-was-2017 would hold.

I can’t speak for Amanda but had I known, I’m pretty sure you’d have seen me running screaming from the room.

I’m so glad I didn’t know. In the midst of all the questions, loss, hurt, and fear, Jesus captured our hearts again.

We didn’t even know we had gone missing.  But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, set out to find the two lambs who had somehow escaped the fold. He came on all the more,  tracking us all the way to the Midwest, to an old church building, to a pew in the balcony where He met us, week after week, and brought us back the fold, back to His family.

We were, quite simply, being changed by the power and truth of the Gospel.  I realized it was ok to admit I didn’t have it all together, that I was still a man in desperate need of a Savior.  I saw my wife reborn in the midst of all the loss of home, friends, and family like a phoenix rising from the ashes.  All the time I had missed in my kids’ lives began to be restored like locust years.

We began to see that somehow we missed the truth that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are everything.  We came to see how the Gospel proves He loves us more than we could ever imagine, not because we serve Him, or because we continually do more for Him, but simply because He is love.  2017 will forever remain as the year my heart was pursued and captured by the overwhelming love of Jesus.

Crazy that I had to quit being a pastor for that to happen.

Now I look ahead to 2018 with eagerness and hope. As one of our pastors said yesterday, the same God that carried us through every part of 2017 has already gone before us into 2018. I don’t know about you, but I find such peace comfort in the knowledge that He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, 365 days a year, not just at Christmas.

So as we each step into this fresh, new year, I offer this prayer:
Whatever this year may hold,  may we be drawn into a deeper walk with Jesus than ever before. May we repent often, forgive much and love even more. May we seek the place He has for us in His body, the church, as we also seek the peace of the cities where He has called each of us.
And whatever we do, may we do it for His glory and fame.

About That New Thing

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We set out on a journey, called by Jesus to go! We set out, like Abraham, not knowing where we were going. We set out in faith, the evidence of things not seen. Blind faith, many would (and did) call it. We set out clinging to the promises we saw in Scripture, these ancient words that live, that shape, that guide.

We set out thinking we had a physical destination to find, and a destiny to manifest there. We set out knowing big things were in store. Everyone said it! It must be true!

“God has big things for you!”

Indeed…huge things. Massive things.

Just not things you thought.

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him,” 1 Cor. 2:9

That includes what my mind and your’s think is best or fitting.

I never imagined what He had in store, but just like He met Saul along the way, he met us. Boom! Blinded by the light of the Gospel! Knocked off our horses and onto our knees before Him.

He had Himself in store for us.

Who are You, Lord?

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.

Lord of life.

Savior.

King.

Redeemer.

The One we thought we knew. The One we claimed to serve. And yet, like Saul, we were so bound up in serving God that we pushed Him to the sidelines.

And we never knew it, until He Damascus-road-ed us from dark to light.

He is love, that Jesus who met us in that prison of Phariseeism. This idea that to follow Him meant you had to do more, be more, learn more. Do do do, more more more! It’s a trap that those who began well so often find themselves finishing in. We miss Him in the doing.

Until He shows up.

And boy did He ever show up.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?!”

Yes, Jesus. We perceive it…now.

Speaking of a new thing, she went down into the water Sunday. She went down carrying with her all the hurt, bitterness, loss, pain and change of the past. She didn’t carry it alone. Jesus was with her. He was waiting for her there, waiting for those burdens to fall off her shoulders and onto His.

Because He died for those sins, too.

She went down into that water with eyes full of tears.  No tears of sadness, but tears of joy.  She went down into that water and came up soaking wet and smiling the most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen, an outward picture of what Jesus had already done in her heart.

And is still doing.

A new thing.

So do your new thing in us, Jesus. Bring to competition this heart work that changes the way our feet move, where they go, what they carry.

Let us carry You, the light, to a dark world.

Looking Back While Looking Ahead

At this time of year, a switch flips in our hearts causing us take time to reflect back on all the events of the past twelve months. This year, I think I have been, and will be, spending even more time than usual pondering all that 2017 held.  Well, more like the last 18 months, because everything we went through in 2017 was brought on by the events of mid-2016.  And what a long, strange trip it has been.

While there are many things I could write on, as I look back here at the beginning of December, these things stick out most:

The blessing of a spouse – Trying to put words on the page to adequately describe how amazing Amanda has been on this journey would be impossible. She has stood by me, prayed with me, prayed FOR me, sought the Lord’s will, encouraged me when I faltered, and was willing to set her own desires aside for what God was calling us to. Seeing her grow in love for Jesus as the days went by, in the midst of some really hard things, has been such a joy to me. Babe, He has indeed done a new thing, in us both!

The blessing of time –  No matter how much time you have, it’s never enough.  I was without a regular job for 11 months, and it flew by like a finger snap.  While we were able to do a lot of things as a family, there were more things left undone than I’d care to admit.  Make the most of the days you have, whatever they may hold.  They’ll pass you by all too quickly.

The blessing of generosity – We were amazed by the generosity of others time and time again this year.  My sister and her husband opening their home to us, completely without time limit or caveat…well, I could never say enough about that.  Their willingness to come alongside us and give us the space to seek the Lord’s will, to simply wait on Him, was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given.  Others gave their ear, their money, their time to encourage and help us out, with little if anything promised in return.  Grateful doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The blessing of friends –  The band Cinderella had a hit in the 80’s with the title “Don’t Know What You Got ’til It’s Gone”, and that could have been one of my theme songs this year.  While I always knew I was blessed to have some amazing friends, I know I didn’t fully appreciate that until I could no longer see them each week.  Whether scarfing down tacos, getting deep over coffee, serving together at church, or simply having our families hang together for a meal, the friend’s we left behind in NC are greatly missed.  Those deep friendships take time, they take investment on the part of both parties, and they can never be replaced.  While we are so thankful for the new friendships that are in bloom here, we will never forget those friends back home.

The blessing of having great Tex-Mex anytime you want it – I’m a simple man, and one of my greatest pleasures in life is good Mexican food.  I’m thankful God moved us to a state that has incredible Tex-Mex on nearly every corner.  Also thankful that I have a physical job to offset the effects of said Tex-Mex.  To all my Taco-Tuesday brothers, y’all need to do a road trip.

The blessing of our church –  Though every single aspect of our life was uprooted and unclear for most of this year, we are so very thankful that the one thing that was clear from the get-go:  where we were going to go to church.  That’s the ONLY thing we knew!  And week after week, the Holy Spirit has been speaking to us, convicting us, healing us.  From coffee with a pastor, text messages, community group, emails and the service on Sunday, God has used Frontline in a major way in our lives.  So, so grateful.

And last, but most assuredly not least….

The blessing of brokenness – I charged into 2017 convinced that I was going to be back in ministry quickly.  I just knew it was coming, and I pronounced myself ready to tackle the next task.  Little did I know that this year was going to be a “Sabbath” year of rest physically, with the bulk of the work done of a spiritual kind.  This year, the Lord has been working overtime on my own heart and soul.  Undone is probably the best way to describe it, as the sinfulness and fleshy-ness of my own heart was shown to me.  But in this brokenness, as all the dead wood in my heart began to get cleared away, the Gospel of Jesus began to find fresh soil to take root in.

I don’t have the years of ministry that many others have had, but I know a few things from my time as a pastor.  One of the things that I’d wager every pastor struggles with, but few feel they have the ability to acknowledge, is that we don’t have it all together.  It’s subtle, but it’s there, and it’s powerful.  The feeling/belief/conviction that we have to be stronger than you, that we have to be perfect, that we have to have all the answers, that we have to fix every situation, that we…that we…there is a burden there that can crush a man’s soul.

It nearly crushed mine.  And I was just a worship pastor.

The result of it is we seldom let others in, we seldom confess our sins for fear that it disqualifies us and that we have to “protect the sheep”, forgetting all along that the only One who is perfect and without sin is Jesus, forgetting that the sheep are His and not ours, and the fact that pastors are sheep, too.  We don’t mean to do this, mind you, but it happens.  We are just as broken as you are, but we don’t feel like we can admit it.

So the result is we fall into a works-based righteousness, we diminish the Gospel in our lives, if not our words, and we make ministry an idol from which we get our identity.  Ministry for Jesus becomes the defining aspect of our lives instead of Jesus alone.

This hurts to write, but it’s the truth.  And it took me several months of being out of ministry to realize it had happened to me.  In my heart, my identity was wrapped up in what I did for Jesus, not what He did for me.  I served at church a lot.  We had multiple weekend services, weeknight bible studies, small groups, etc.  I led worship just about every day…and I know now that I was missing Jesus in the midst of it all.  How is that possible, you might ask.  Trust me, it happens.  More than you realize.  In telling others of their need for Jesus it’s easy to forget you need Him, too.

So the hardest part of all this journey is also the sweetest part:  the soul-work the Holy Spirit has been doing on Amanda and I.  Do you know how crazy it is to realize that every bit of this was about Jesus drawing us nearer to Him, and that He had to use a complete revamping of our lives in every way in order to get us to that point?  That’s humbling, because I know my own hard heart is a big part of that, but also so incredibly encouraging.  How is this encouraging?  Well, because the God who left the glory of heaven to be born as a baby in a smelly barn grew into a man, and gave His life as a ransom for our sins…this same Jesus will spare nothing in reaching our cold, hard hearts.  He still comes for us.  He still seeks us, pursues us, draws us.  He will spare nothing to reach us.

As a good friend of mine recently reminded me, we are all mid-story, wherever we are in life.  God’s not done (though the end has been written, and it’s glorious!), and He’s still working.  I think Amanda and I were expecting the “next thing” to be “THE thing”, when in fact, it’s just another part on the journey, another page in the chapter.  He’s not finished with us, or with you.  Let Him peel back the stuff of life that’s keeping you from Him, painful as it may be.  Trust Him that in the letting go, you’ll truly find what you need so deeply….Jesus.