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I love rejection.

Those are words no one says or at least no one voluntarily says in the middle of it.

Because rejection is horrible feeling. It makes you feel defeated, abandoned, and alone. You feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut. Maybe it’s not the physical taste of bile in your mouth, but you can’t help but have a sick feeling in your stomach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t disappear as quickly as spitting it out of your mouth. It lingers. It haunts. It creeps back in at the most inopportune times no matter how hard you try and fight it. No matter how many times you psych yourself up to get out of the funk, have people say “You’re better off without him or her,” or how far you stuff the hurt down, rejection can loom as an ominous cloud overhead for days on end.

I know this because I’ve lived it. I know this because it’s been an all too familiar refrain for the past 12 months. The same song, different verse.

And it hurts. It cuts to core of who I am. The words “You’re just not good enough” echo in the back of my head hidden amongst words of flattery and apology. It’s those words that hang over my head not the good ones. They are the ones I carry with me not the encouraging ones. They are the ones that occupy my thoughts not the true ones.

And I hate it.

Because you can say all the right words, you can use all the right clichés, you can do all the “right things” and you can smile and say “I’m okay,” but the truth is… you’re not. No matter how hard you try to “grin-and-bear-it” you heart is aching inside. And sometimes, no matter how many hugs, crying fests, or self pep-talks it just doesn’t help.

Now I know, as a Christian, you are supposed to lean on Jesus. I know He says He will be your strength. I know He is always there for you. I know He suffered more than I’ll ever suffer. I know He has felt the pain of rejection, humiliation, and abandonment 100 times over what I’ll ever experience. I know He understands what I’m feeling. I know He wants to use the situation to shape me into being more like Him.

I know all these things.

But, if I’m honest, I don’t always want to hear those answers. Because in moments of of hurt and pain I don’t want to hear the “right” answers. I don’t want to hear a pep-talk about how “There’s someone out there better for you.” I don’t want to hear “It’s all in God’s hands.” While they’re all true words and often meant to encourage and help pull you out of a rut, I don’t want to hear them.

All I want to hear is someone to say “Me too.”

Because it’s in those moments our loneliness finds a companion. It’s in those moments Jesus somehow takes on skin. It’s in those moments we see the Church embodying Christ. It’s in those moments we realize we’re not abandoned.

And what’s beautiful about those moments is that once we finally come out of the rut, once we’ve climbed out of the hole, once we’ve forgiven and begun to move on, we become the person who can comfort those who are in the place we were. We can offer words of encouragement not based on tired (albeit true) phrases but out of a deep empathy because we were there too. Because our hearts understand that pain, our souls understand that ache our spirit understands that groaning and we’re able to step in the midst of that situation and help someone else pick up the pieces and begin rebuilding. We begin to look like the hands and feet of Jesus rather than just parroting His words.

Sure, it’s horrible to be in the valley. Yes, it’s terrible to have to fight every day against the negative lies that hover in your head. Of course it hurts when someone tells you you’re not good enough. But on the other side of that pain, hurt, and abandonment, we find comfort. Not only from God, but from others. Not only for ourselves but for others.

And I wouldn’t wish the rejection I’ve walked through on anyone, but, in the meantime, I’ll choose to love it for the way it will one day be used.

I’ve been reading through Hebrews lately and there was one idea out of all of the chapters that jumped out at me this time around: faith.

While that’s not to hard to see why since there’s a whole chapter and more devoted to the topic, I got a glimpse of a new perspective and understanding this time around.

Hebrews 11 opens with the lines:

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1-3, MSG)

The metaphor of vision, seeing, and experiencing really grabbed me this time. I started to think about things we see and don’t see and how that affects our belief—whether in God or in every day circumstances. I turned over and over again in my mind the idea that faith is not just verbalizing belief, it’s more than that but it was hard to really put into words what was stirring.

Until this simple phrase hit me: faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Think about that for a second. Because belief is a conscious, but passive, understanding of something. You can believe in something that is not yet. I can believe that the earth is going to rotate and the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow to start my day. I can believe that I will one day be promoted to a higher position in my company. I can believe that I will marry a beautiful woman and love her all my days on this earth. But the reality is, none of these things are able to be seen at this time. I can believe they are true, but that’s not faith.

Faith is belief put in action.

Faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Let me be clear: faith is not blind belief. Just because you act does not mean what you believe will come true—especially when it comes to Bible. The “I Can Think It; It Will Happen” mindset has no place in Christianity. Your faith is influenced by your belief. Therefore, what you are being fed (beliefs) will influence your actions (faith).

This is why it is critically important to line up your beliefs with what Scripture teaches, and it is why the author of Hebrews goes on to give examples of what faith looks like in Chapter 11. If you look at all the “By faith…” examples in the chapter, they are followed by action. It is not, “Abraham believed in God and tried to get clarity on what exactly God was trying to say.” It was, “By faith, Abraham did this, that and the other.” Faith caused action not further introspection.

Faith always leads to action otherwise it’s just a belief.

Belief is not bad. In fact, belief is the primary starting point of faith, but the purpose of belief is to lead you to action.

The scary part of faith is that we end up acting on things that haven’t come to pass yet. We don’t know how they will turn out. We don’t know what will happen. The fear of the “not yet” can paralyze our faith. Fortunately, we have a God who “already is.” He knows how everything is going to play out, turn out, and happen in every situation. So our belief in something that is not yet can be confirmed by a God who knows it already is. No longer do we have to fear what could be because we have a God who has already seen it. He stretches our beliefs causing us to act—from passive to action. Because faith proves belief.

So, instead of just believing the sun will come up tomorrow, faith sets an alarm that will wake me up so I can go to the gym and work out so I can see the sun come up. Faith works hard every day at my job to learn everything I can, be the best at what I am doing, and invest in those who work around me to make everyone better because I know that is what it takes to get better. Faith calls girls and asks them out on dates, filters what I allow in my mind, and risks relationships by putting myself out there because people are worth it.

Because faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

I recently downloaded Sleeping At Last‘s Yearbook album off Noisetrade. While I had vaguely heard of his music before this was the first album I downloaded and listened through, and, I have to say, I am a fan.

As with any album, I really put a value on the lyrics rather than just the music. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have a catchy melody but as a writer I place a high value on artistically crafted words that communicate emotion and touch the heart. As I was listening to Yearbook, I was struck by many of the words that were being sung. But there was one song in particular that stuck in my head, 101010. The chorus seemed to be on repeat in my head and I found myself humming the words even when I wasn’t listening the song:

’cause grey is not a compromise –
It is the bridge between two sides.
The shores on which our stubborn land
And restless seas collide.
Grey is not just middle ground,
It is a truce that waits to be signed.
I would even argue that, from where we stand,
It most represents the color of God’s eyes.

These words really grabbed ahold of me. I did a little looking and stumbled upon a blog post written by Sleeping At Last about the origin of this song and what some of the meaning behind it. While the story is a beautiful one full of sobering truth and emotion, the beauty of art is that you can find yourself amidst the words in a way the writer could not have foreseen.

I was pondering the words and was drawn to the idea that much of what we believe is focused on a “this or that” a kind of rigid dualistic thinking. There is what I believe is right and what I believe is wrong. There is clear line in the sand that is drawn and, if people can’t see this clear line and don’t side with my perspective, they are obviously wrong. As the song subtly implies, the extremes are clearly defined: black and white.

I understand why we think this way: it’s easy. It’s easy for our brains to comprehend when there are only two choices. It makes things simpler to understand and easier to grasp. The “this or that” mentality makes sense. Sure, there are moments where it’s easy to draw the line, prove your point, or choose a side, but unfortunately life isn’t always that clearly cut or that simple. It’s more complex than that. The extremes of black and white are just that, extremes.

If you’ve ever studied Statistics, you are familiar with the idea of a bell curve. Of all the possible data points the outliers make up the extremes while the majority (+/- 96%) usually fall within two standard deviations of the middle. Your understanding of the outcome may exist in the outliers but your data may prove another conclusion. In those instances, does it make sense to still hold tightly onto your conclusions just because there was some evidence supporting your understanding? Or do the findings support the fact that you might need to take into consideration new data and information that may move what you believe more towards the middle?

Now, move this out of the realm of hypothetical, statistical theory and into real life for a minute.

What if your view on [fill in the blank with your favorite controversial issue] is leaning towards the outliers? Chances are you can identify those on the other end as well and you probably end up engaging in fights with them via your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed more often than not. But, what if we looked at our beliefs through the bell curve analogy and recognized that most of the disagreements are actually taking place on the outliers of these issues? That means the majority of people actually exists somewhere between the extremes—black and white—somewhere in the grey. Would that change the way we interact with people?

Better yet, should that change the way we interact with people?

I love the final two lines of 101010 because I think it is a beautiful picture of how we should look at God when he sees us. He sees all of us as we are: the good and the bad. He sees the incredible things we’ve done that overjoy His heart, and He sees the horrible things we’ve done to break his heart. He doesn’t blanket condemnation because of your choice right now, nor does He blindly offer grace because of what you haven’t done. He loves us wherever we are at on the continuum—black, white, or whatever shade of grey—and wants all of us to be drawn to Him.

What if we did the same? What if we stopped trying to sort people into camps, deconstructing the opposition’s argument, and focusing on the outliers? Because the reality is we are probably not going to change the way the extreme opposition thinks by lobbing logical, theological, or political grenades. What if, instead, we began to look at the world through the eyes of those caught in the middle of these minority wars and those who have to deal with the fallout? If we did, would that change the way we engaged with others? Would it change the way we love others? Would it change the way we see the world? Because, if you think about it, God doesn’t even see the way the world the way we do.

We like things to make sense and be simple—often at the expense of others. However, God does not need that simplicity because He already understands it all. And because His ways are more complex than our ways, I have to wonder if our black and whites are just shades of grey to Him.

As a freelance designer I look at the end of the month with a love/hate relationship.

Love because I get to send out invoices in order to get paid.

Hate because I have to send out invoices in order to get paid.

The nature of my work and agreements I have with my clients allows me to do all invoicing at one time, so the end of the month can be daunting when you are counting up hours, figuring out the cost of projects, and sending out emails to clients. It’s a lot of work to do at the end of every month and I try to avoid it as long as possible most months. It’s necessary, but that doesn’t make it fun.

What is fun, I have found, is tracking my finances. I’ve kept a spreadsheet for 4 years of all my earnings broken up by month and client. So at any point I can glance and see how much I’ve made at any given point from any given client. It allows me to look at trends (i.e. I made more money during the summer while I was in school because I had more hours I could work) and forecast projections for next year. For not being a “numbers guy,” I actually find these numbers extremely fascinating and get lost in them every month.

The more I look at them over time, the more I see a bigger trend: generosity.

Before you take that as a humble brag, I want to explain what I mean.

I see all my finances as an act of stewardship. Yes, I work hard for my money; yes, I like to spend it on things I love to do. But, in the end, it’s not mine. I view it as a gift from God. He didn’t have to give me the skills to work with the clients I work with, but He did. He didn’t have to equip me with the ability to create and design, but He did. He doesn’t have to reward me with paying clients who are a joy to work with, but He does.

What I do and what I have been given are unbelievably unequal. I have been blessed with more than I deserve—it’s called grace. The most simple definition of grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

And I’ve learned the only response to grace is generosity.

Someone who has been given so much does not clench their fists and hold on tightly for fear of losing it. No, they hold it loosely with a grateful disposition, humbled to be given the opportunity to steward the resources they have been entrusted. Then, they look for opportunities to do the same to others because the precedent has been before them to give.

So when I look at my finances on my spreadsheet every month, I try not to look at it as “This is how much I’ve earned this month” but rather “This is how much I’ve been given this month.” It shifts your perspective from a selfish consumer to a grateful giver. It is a subtle reminder that you have been given the greatest gift of grace that can never be out-given.

It is a reminder to give because you have been graciously given.

 

One of my favorite TV networks is HGTV—and, no, you cannot take my mancard from me. The design and building aspect is fascinating to me and fuels creativity and dreaming.

One show that seems to always be on-air is Love It or List It. Each episode centers around a family who is at odds whether they should stay in their current house or move. A designer has to remodel their current house in order to persuade them to stay while a real estate agent shows other houses that meet their dream criteria in order to encourage the move.

It’s a pretty cookie cutter show episode to episode. The hosts (designer and real estate agent) annoyingly banter back and forth, the family is unbudging on budget, the last house show is always the “perfect house,” and there is always a dramatic catastrophe that results in the family not getting everything they want in their old house. While almost 2/3 of families choose to stay, the “drama” created by the show keeps audiences engaged and somehow you find yourself four episodes deep wondering where all that time went.

With all that being said, there are only twenty minutes of the show that I really care to watch: the initial walk-through and the final reveal. Everything else I could really care less about. I want to see the before and after. There is just something that resonates when you see the old, cluttered rooms transformed into new, fresh spaces with color and cohesive design. I don’t want to see the actual renovation part or the houses they don’t pick. The middle 40-minutes are just not interesting to me.

I think this sentiment goes deeper than television though. Many times in our life we find ourselves in a mess and have a dream of where we want to be—emotionally, physically, spiritually, or intellectually. We might see other people who embody those qualities and we covet their life. We wish for patience like that. We hope for a happier marriage. We desire a deeper connection with God. We want that end result, but we don’t want to pay the price to get there.

We don’t want to watch the middle 40-minutes.

Because, those are the messy moment in life. They are the ones full of hard decisions. They are the ones where we find ourselves in the dark night of the soul. Things don’t always go the way we want them. Things take a toll on our relationships. Things become painful.

Because the middle 40-minutes are hard to watch.

But it’s in those moments that God is working. It’s in those moments He’s gutting out the mess. It’s in those moments He’s laying the new foundation. It’s in those moments He’s restoring areas in our lives that He sees more potential. But, it takes hard work. It takes time. It takes dealing with the mess we were so comfortable living in yesterday.

That is not easy. No renovation or restoration is easy, but, ask anyone who has done one, the payoff is worth it.

Maybe, one day, I’ll make build up enough courage to take on my DIY project, but until then, I’ll keep watching others struggle through renovations…

All the while God is leading me through my own 40-minute renovations to make me who He has dreamed for me to be.

I have been a fan of Rob Bell since Velvet Elvis. I devoured Sex God and Jesus Came to Save Christians. I read through Drops Like Stars hours before seeing the speaking tour. I followed all the controversy, heard him respond in New York City, and wrote a literary rhetorical analysis on Love Wins. To say I am familiar with Bell’s writings and thinking would be an understatement. As a communicator, stylistically and substantially, he has been the single most influential voice in my life—to a point. I do not agree with everything he says, believes, or even questions. But, I have a profound respect and appreciation of his approach, style, and voice.

When I heard another book was in the works, I was genuinely excited for what was coming out next—especially in the wake of Love Wins. I knew it would be influenced by his relocation to California, but there was something within me that wanted to give him another shot.

What We Talk About When We Talk About God is very much like Bell’s other books yet, in the same breath, very different. There is his classic use of dianoeasplitting up

lines

so

you

read

them

more

dramatically,

and packaging it all in stories from his “friends” that no matter who picks up the book, you will find yourself nodding along saying, “Yeah, I’ve been there too.”

Much like his other books, there is a larger path Bell is leading the reader on. Each chapter builds on what has been said previously. Therefore, the book is broken down into two larger movements that are then broken down into smaller segments.

The first movement talks about how we actually talk about God. Bell emphasizes that we drag a lot of baggage to the discussion, and, in order to have an honest discussion, we have to have a starting point where everyone is on the same page. So the first chapter, titled “Open,” tries its best to show the gravitas of this universe we live in, from the largest pieces to the smallest pieces, and how science and faith are fundamentally answering different questions. It lays the groundwork by saying “There are just some things in this world, if we are honest and open-minded enough to admit, just do not make rational sense.” Which leads into the second chapter, titled “Both,” in which Bell suggests the tension of choosing this or that, when it comes to faith, does not automatically make them mutually exclusive. In fact, he suggests, a faith that wrestles with doubt is actually stronger than one that blindly believes either extreme. Therefore, “both” can and should exist in a faith belief.

The second movement addresses what we are actually talking about when we talk about God: God. Bell argues that there are three distinct words that help frame our understanding of who God is: with, for, and ahead. In the chapter titled “With,” Bell explores how he believes we are all actually experiencing the presence of God in so many ways each and every day. His argument is attempting to deconstruct the belief that God is off “somewhere else” or God created the world then left it to its own devices (Theistic Deism), but rather God is here and now. Next, in the chapter titled “For,” Bell argues that God is for everyone, regardless of beliefs, actions, failures, opinion, mistakes, sins, etc. God is not vengeful and hateful just waiting to punish you if you slip up. Rather, God wants each person to flourish, thrive, and be everything we could possibly be. Lastly, Bell tackles the idea of God being “Ahead.” Combatting the notion many believe that the concept of there being a supreme being is outdated and primitive, Bell explores the God of the Bible and how many of the laws God put in place were radically progressive for their time and place, and God is not stuck back there but calling and pulling humanity forward one step at a time.

If you are familiar with Bell’s writing, you might be surprised. It is written like Bell, crafted like Bell, and presented like Bell. But it does not sound like any previous Bell book. That is because the audience has shifted. No longer is Bell courting the next generation of evangelical Christians (those started falling off at Jesus Came to Save Christians and completely deserted after Love Wins). He is writing to the “spiritual sensitive” types. Those who are searching and seeking but are not quite sure what to make of everything or are open to many different things. This was plainly seen when Bell sat down to do an interview with Oprah. She loved the book (and him) and people who follow the same spiritual path as Oprah, will find this book very accepting. On the other hand, many conservative Christians will argue he is too soft on his theology echoing the cries of heretic heard before. The reality is What We Talk About When We Talk About God is not a theological treatise; it is a starting place to begin a conversation about who God is for people who are still trying to figure it all out. That is the audience, that is who the book is written for, and that is exactly what it accomplishes.

So Bell ends with a “So, what is next?” While he finishes with a neat bow and a very poetic understanding that God is bringing all of our parts (read: body, mind, soul, spirit) together, what is next from the mind of Rob Bell will remain to be seen. Until then, people sure will have a lot to talk about when they do talk about God.

Nehemiah 5

I am reading through and studying Nehemiah. I know the Old Testament is not a place many camp out for an extended period for one reason or another, but I really felt like I needed to just sit in Nehemiah for a while.

I am not going to go summarize Nehemiah here. It is short enough for you to read it in one sitting if you really want to–which I would highly recommend. I do want share a really important insight God revealed to me while reading through Nehemiah 5.

In this chapter Nehemiah deals with the injustice of the wealthy oppressing the poor. They are excising interest on their own people on land that has been mortgaged out. Nehemiah calls for reform and challenges the people to forgive the debts, return the land to the people, and stop charging interest. The people respond and vow to do so in the sight of God and the priests.

The reform does not stop there though. In the next section, Nehemiah outlines the steps he took himself to help the poor.

This is the section that struck me. In the midst of the upheaval of trying to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem, govern the people as a leader, and defend their progress Nehemiah is making a statement about what leaders should value amidst adversity: determination, humility, and generosity. These three character traits are imperative if any leader wants to introduce change and shape a new way for a culture to think.

Determined – Nehemiah was determined to finish the project he was sent to do. He never stopped rebuilding the wall. He never quit on the vision he had. Our leaders must never lose sight of their ultimate vision. They must always continue to take steps forward regardless of the opposition or setbacks.

Humble – Nehemiah continually sought the wisdom of God. The record is filled with Nehemiah praying for the nation of Israel and for himself. He never lost perspective on who is ultimately in charge. Our leaders must never lose sight of who is ultimately in charge. They are placed in their positions by the sovereign God of the universe. This is not be taken lightly and should influence how they lead.

Generosity – Nehemiah was generous with what was entitled to him. When he was given what was entitled to him he took a smaller portion. He did not lord his position over others; he took a small amount so he could be generous in everything else. Our leaders should always be looking to give more than they expect to get back. Selfishness is not leadership; generosity breeds a culture that will follow.

Amidst a heated political season, God reminded me that these are the qualities essential to leadership to change. Both candidates are standing on platforms of change; so it really does not matter which one is chosen because both will need these qualities to effectively lead.

For the following months this is what I will be praying for in the life of the future President of the United States. Which candidate is insignificant, because we need leaders who are determined to move forward, humble before God, and generous towards the people.

Will you join with me and praying for determination, humility, and generosity for our next President?