I Will Put My Hand Over My Mouth

Several years ago, a good friend shared his testimony at our church’s Easter service. Part of his testimony was sharing of his job layoff. I remember smiling ear to ear as he exclaimed, “Pink is such a nice color, why do they give you a pink slip?”

He had a point.

He expressed a period of both frustration and disappointment yet in all of it, he was reminded of Job. Job suffered greatly, losing his children, livestock, servants and possessions all in a short time. He, if anyone has a reason to complain. As the story unfolds, and Job expresses his disappointment upward, God finally answers back, rattling off his accolades that humiliates Job. We find a verse of Job’s response coupled in the longest recorded message of God speaking in Job 40:4:

“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.”

My friend shared that in his time of trial, this became his life verse. When he was tempted to complain to God and others, he put his hand over his mouth. During the trying month that I just had, it became my life verse too.

The temptation came, in full force, to complain, to whine, to express disappointment and resentment. There was more than once where I wanted to stand on a mountain and scream at the top of my lungs, “Why God, why?”

I put my hand over my mouth.

There were mornings where I didn’t want to crawl out of bed, what was the point? Nowhere to go, no one to see, beat up and bitter with nothing to live for. I wanted to grumble under the sheets, “Why God, why?”

I put my hand over my mouth.

There were days, maybe even a week that I felt like a total zombie. No call backs for interviews, no promising prospects online, feeling worthless and despondent. I wanted to cry, “Why God, why?”

I put my hand over my mouth.

If I could go back in time and start over, would I have ever left Jersey? Would I have ever left a great church, community, friends and support system to wade the murky waters of the unknown? If I could start over, would I ever came to New York, only to be terminated within the week? Yes.

Why? Because I am confident that though my life circumstances haven’t shaken out the way I might have wanted them to or liked them to, I am receiving something greater than predictability and control and that is faith, hope and love. This short season of trial has produced in me a greater depth of understanding into the person of Christ, the suffering Servant and my love for Him is stronger than ever. 

This is not something you can learn in a seminary classroom or from an inspiring sermon. It’s something you must walk through.

He doesn’t promise us an easy life, a care free life or a safe life but He does promise He will be us, even to the ends of the earth.

I also thank God that I have been offered a job and start on Monday and that we get to stay in New York! This has been a wild 5 weeks but I am reminded at a level deeper than I have ever known this reality: great is His faithfulness. 

The problem with being young and passionate.

Recently my best friend texted me and expressed his frustrations of having been turned down from yet another ministry position. This guy would be the best pastor a church could ever ask for but he has two problems: he is young and passionate.

You might think, “How is that a problem?”

Let me explain.

Part of his application process, the search committee asked that he would respond to questions relating to his convictions on items like ministry philosophy- evangelism, counseling, preaching and the like. Far enough. He composed answers that shared his well articulated views with passion, vigor and enthusiasm. 

After spending several weeks waiting to hear back from the search committee, he was told in so many words that his views on missions and evangelism were dogmatic and harsh and he was no longer considered for the position. I read his answers, they were biblically sound views. They were no different than anything modernist like Francis Chan, John Piper or David Platt would articulate. They were no different than giants in Christian history like C.T. Studd, Charles Spurgeon or  William Booth would have said.

There’s just one problem.

My friend is young and passionate and for many in the church world today- that just doesn’t fly.

I one time heard one of my favorite preachers Paul Washer say that many American Christians honor, almost worship the George Whitefield, the A.W. Tozer, the John Wesley, the John Knox… but if they were alive today, they would never let them preach in their church.

I am afraid that sometimes we in the church want our leaders to be passionate, but not too passionate. To be excited about God’s word, but not too excited. To love Jesus but love Him, well, in moderation. In what fits into our cute, safe confines that we have built.

Why? Because if you get someone who is young and passionate that may disrupt the status quo. They may shoot the ornate religious elephants that has been built. That may challenge the church to think deeper about conviction, about the words of Christ, about what it means to follow Jesus. That is not an easy person to bring on the team when the church’s favorite phrase is, “It’s how we always did things.”

So people like my friend are stuck, their passion is seen as too much, too much intensity, too much passion, too much devotion and instead of taking a risk and bring that person on board, they find someone that won’t rock the boat, won’t question the tradition, that won’t ask “why?” That person is much easier to mold and shape.

The incredible thing about that is if my friend was 60, the same search committee would read his book, deem him inspirational and a giant of the faith among mere men. Since he’s just a young man, he is perceived as reckless and foolish, lacking wisdom and given the cordial e-mail that others candidates are being considered.

To my friend and those like him, don’t lose heart. Don’t succumb to what is perceived proper by the institutions put in place, keep your fire burning and know that God is pleased with your passion. You are a world changer.

Suffering is a Gift

There has been one thing that I have gained in the past 30 days which have been nothing shy of a whirlwind: be careful what you wish for.

That may sound anticlimactic in the grand scheme of things, but in my moments of solitude, it is that idea that permeates and saturates my thoughts. I wished for adventure. I longed for challenging the status quo. I wanted to grow in the deep things of God and knew that growth would require walking in faith, little did I know what that faith would look like. I thought I knew, but had absolutely no idea.

As most of my readers know by now, I have lost my position in the Bronx. What most don’t know is the emotional turmoil I wrestled with for the few weeks following, overwhelmed with deep anger, bitterness, jadedness and hurt, much of which I am still processing.

I couldn’t focus on my studies, looking for another job felt useless, my marriage was strained beyond levels it ever has been. I was tired, confused, burnt out and wished I could have crawled under a rock and die. I even googled communes to go live in– for a moment that seemed like a viable solution. I was desperate.

During that period, I was having breakfast with a friend, expressing to her some of my frustrations. She listened intently as she cut her waffles, not interjecting her opinion but just listening. It felt good to get it off my chest and I was grateful for a friend to listen. We all need friends like that sometimes.

At the end of my mournful monologue, she offered some perspective, all of which was good and demonstrating wisdom beyond her years. At the end though, she said something that almost made me cough up my bacon, she looked me square in the eyes and said, “Eric, suffering is a gift.” 

Those four words stuck with me like super glue over the next few weeks, haunting my thoughts whenever I was tempted to grumble. As I complained, harbored resentment, disdain and contempt, I was missing out on the reality that suffering is a gift, pain causes growth and if I truly wanted to go hard after God and develop into the man He wants me to be, it’s going to take much more than I myself am capable of. I was looking at my situation as criminal, an injustice plotted against me instead of viewing it as God’s pruning and shaping and yes His gift to me.

Like I said, be careful what you ask for.

I felt so defeated and broken down to what seemed like the bare minimum, the end of myself where I have no place to look but up and even in that seemingly desperate place, Jesus met me there. Not as a rushing wind or a trembling earthquake but the still small voice that you have to really listen close to hear. 

One of the realities that I have come to embrace in a deeper level than I ever have is that Jesus has a special place for hurting people.

I knew that, I lived in that helm in my whole adult life as a youth worker and missionary, however I was always the one working to unbind the captives, never being the captivated myself in need of a liberator. Yet, I came to realize that Jesus can unbind me and despite the brokenness I feel right now, He can identify with me for He suffered on this earth much greater woes than I can even fathom.

To Him, I thank. For though this was not the way I expected things to shake out, even in my wildest imagination, I trust Him. For suffering is a gift.

How my own stubbornness gave me a bike tour around The Bronx

It was a beautiful, crisp day [For all the southern readers, that's 40 degrees and sunny]. Spring was definitely in the air, the skies were blue, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the brutal winter felt like it finally gave up its fight. I had a few free hours, wanted to get out of the house and decided to ride my bike to my gym, which is about 4 miles away, no big deal.

The ride there went great. I popped in my headphones with Google Maps on and Pandora playing my favorite tunes. I weaved in and out traffic, enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of a sunny afternoon in the Bronx as my GPS gave me queues on where to turn. All in all, it was a great ride, about 20 minutes, mostly flat and not too much foot or vehicle traffic for New York City. I felt so cool riding my bike through the neighborhood, this was something I daydreamed about during every snowstorm this past winter when I was cooped up in my house watching the snow fall.

I spent a few hours in the gym, mostly socializing and doing a few lifts and mobility. Afterwards, I threw on my hoodie and track pants, popped in my headphones and began the pedal home.

On the way down, I realized that about 75% of my ride happens ride under the 6 train. For those that haven’t been to New York, or have been to New York but never out of Manhattan. In some of the outlying boroughs, the subway line runs above ground. I didn’t realize this until 3 years ago when I was visiting a friend in Brooklyn. Riding my bike under the subway line was nice, it provided shade and gave me a good lane to ride through, as long as I made sure I avoided the double parked cars, I was pretty set.

So, I thought for the ride home, I would just let my GPS take me the subway, then I would just follow the subway line all the way home. No big deal.

As I began the ride, sure enough in about the first 5 minutes I connected with the subway line. “I knew the way from here.” I was so sure, but I kept my headphones in just in case and let the GPS lead me back. During the ride, the GPS kept queuing me to turn right, this went on about 6-7 times but I was adamant. I knew the way back, surely this complex device developed over the course of several years didn’t know the way home, I did. Just follow the track. I stubbornly pedaled on.

After about 25 minutes and riding, and not knowing why I wasn’t home yet and recognizing no landmarks… I finally admitted defeat. But hold on, I see the entrance to the terminal there, let me just MAKE SURE I am following the right track. I pedaled over and didn’t my glasses on so had to ride right next to the terminal and say a bright green number 5! I need to follow the 6 to get home?!

Ok, I am lost.

I actually obeyed my GPS which ended up wanting me to go onto the interstate. I knew enough to know that wasn’t a good idea. I was standing on the side of the exit, cars whizzing past me laying on their horns. I pulled out my GPS, punched in my address to get directed home in which I was told “No route found” in bright red letters. Great.

To make a long story short, about 20 minutes later, twice the time it should have taken, I ended up home. A bit sweaty, a bit tired and a bit annoyed. At least I got a nice bike tour of the Bronx, even if it was unintentional.

I couldn’t help but wonder how often in our lives when we insist on our way, we get way off track. Even though we have guidance that is good guidance and knows the way better than we, we are convinced we’re on the right track. If we were to listen to and heed the advice of good advice, we’d be much less likely to end up sitting on our bicycle next to the interstate frustrated. 

Just something to think about.

The time I got invited to “Gay Men Night”

The workout at the gym went well. Burpees, Kettlebell Swings, Wall Balls and Double Unders. Felt good to get the heart pumping and blood flowing, and if I’m honest, felt good to have a defined focus of just pushing through a workout as opposed to the million emotions that have kicked in my head in the last 48 hours. KRS-One, Nirvana and Underoath blared on the loudspeakers. Encouragement from the other athletes was known. Felt so good.

The crew was small at the CrossFit Gym in the South Bronx, pretty typical for a Monday morning I can imagine [And no, I took Subway and didn't drive, not making that mistake again.] Roberto, Michelangelo and Eric, felt a bit like the vanilla wallflower but that was my own fault. Everyone was welcoming and accommodating, and it was good to suffer together.

After the WOD, while we foam rolled, talked about The Open, and cleaned up our sweat spots on the gym floor. The owner begin telling me more about the gym, vision, branding, future, ethos.

Then the bomb dropped.

“We also hold a gay man night, if you ever want to come.”

I froze, blushed, smiled awkwardly, and picked my jaw up off the floor. Did he just say what I think he said? Didn’t I mention that I was married… to a woman? Why did I take my wedding band off to workout?

OK, Eric, have an open mind. Don’t be rude, it’s probably just some confusion, no reason to get annoyed. Maybe you should be flattered, as weird as that sounds.

He continued…

“Yeah, I thought we’d play some poker, chess, board games. Just give a chance for people to relax on a Friday night. People can bring their own snacks to share. Families are invited too! I think it could be fun.”

Then it hit me, “GAME NIGHT”

“Of course, I’d love to come.” I responded, “My wife would too.”

“You brought a bird feeder!?”

Blogging from The Bronx!

Can hardly believe we’re here. Excitement, awe, nervousness and joy filled Sarah and I as today was our first official day as residents of New York City and meeting our new church family!

But let me begin by here: we had a first great day, Sarah and I are both happy, grateful and excited. Tomorrow, I’ll drive her to the subway where she will begin her first day of orientation at New York Presbyterian. Proud of her.

Amidst all the minor adjustments we’ve experienced just in the past 24 hours, I thought I’d share some of the early observations.

1. Lots of BEEPING! Not even a minute on the road and you can hear horns left and right. It seems like if you hesitate half a second too long at a green light, BEEP. Turn too slowly, BEEP. Turn too quickly, BEEP. Take up two lanes [there is NO WAY in telling what is a lane and what isn't], BEEP! Funny story, I was returning the UHAUL and Sarah was following me. At one point, we’re sitting in traffic [lots of that too] and I beeped at Sarah to get her attention, smile and wave. I beeped and she just sat there. Beeps lost their attention getting power within the first few hours.

2. It is QUIET at night. We came prepared bringing earplugs that we had from our first apartment where we lived beside a busy street with lots of tractor trailers late at night. However, we didn’t hear a peep all night, that was a pleasant surprise. We both slept like babies, we were exhausted.

3. We packed some DUMB stuff. We have never lived in a city before, we were as suburban as suburban gets. When we were packing, I texted the pastor and asked, “Do we need a weed whacker and lawn mower?” He wrote back, “DUDE! I am cracking up over here. No, you don’t need that.” For some reason, Sarah insisted we brought our bird feeder. This isn’t an ordinary bird feeder, thing is 8 foot tall cast iron with a hook for the feed. While unloading, one of the guys helping pulled it out of our truck with a look of confusion, “What is that?” His friend responded, “It’s a bird feeder! What? They brought a bird feeder?”

There was a moment of slight awkwardness and embarrassment, followed up by laughter. Maybe you had to be there, but it helped alleviate some of the stress.

So we decided this: first person to visit us from the suburbs gets the bird feeder. See you in The Bronx.

Until Next Time, Washington

The moment came. I knew that it would happen at this moment, I was doing all I could to emotionally ready myself. It was a moment of dread, mixed with excitement, mixed with anticipation, mixed with second guessing, mixed with joy. It was a moment that everything got real because up until then, “it wasn’t really happening.” That was what I kept telling myself. 

That moment was when that UHAUL truck came around the corner and I was driving it home and I knew I wouldn’t be returning it there.

I know, anticlimactic, but let me explain.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been sharing stories with friends and coworkers, planning our transition, packing, doing all we could to get ready to move to The Bronx. Up until the moment that UHAUL turned the corner, it just seemed like a dream, it didn’t sink in, surreal in its finest form. It’s like going to bed on the night before the day you graduate, or go to your prom, or get married, and you know that tomorrow your life is going to change. However it doesn’t hit you until you put on the cap and gown or put on the tuxedo or the moment you see your bride walk down the aisle dressed in white. 

Seeing that it is my last night in Washington, I felt it was only appropriate to share my heart a bit. I wish I could sit down and talk to every single person that filled mine and Sarah’s life here but that’s just not doable. The most important thing that I would want to communicate is that Washington is my home.

No, I didn’t grow up here, I was never a Warren Hills Streaker, I have no memories of playing in the park as a kid, going to the pool, playing football for the borough or watching the 4th of July parade on Broad Street and the fireworks at the Middle School. Those memories are tucked away in a small town north of Harrisburg called Selinsgrove but still, Washington is my home. 

Today, while having Leo’s Pizza for the last time with one of my former students, he made a comment that both surprised me but disappointed me: “Even though you were only here for 4 years, it felt more like 8-10. You just fit in here, people welcomed you. But let’s face it, you’re not really a Washington kind of guy.” 

I knew he was saying, but I told him the same thing I write here, Washington is my home.

And as of this time tomorrow, the Bronx will be my home. Just as I moved to New Jersey, so I will move to New York. I will learn the neighborhood, the people, the best place to get greasy food at midnight and who knows? Maybe 3 years from now, the coffee shop or convenient store I frequent will know me by first name basis too.

One thing that I have promised myself even as a teenager is that as I follow the call of Jesus wherever he may take me, where I live will become my home. I don’t want to look back and think that I was a mere community tenant, not an owner. Or to use the words of Christ who calls His people to be a shepherd, not a hired hand. Someone that lived in a community but just merely slept there, having no interest in the life of the community or the people in it.

Going to miss this town, and its residents, and my home for several important and formative years of my life. Sarah and I will forever remember the town in Jersey where we lived where we first got married, the church and the hospital we worked at, the relationships we built, the lives we impacted and impacted us and those hot dogs with the pickle on them.

Until Next Time, Washington 

Vengeance Belongs to the Lord

I want to use a word carefully because my use in this post is minimal compared to how that word is traditionally used. That word is injustice.

Normally when we use that word, we talk about slavery, corruption or economic disparity. Though those are the most dire injustices facing our planet today, what happens when we are directly faced with situations that are unjust?

Whether that is someone else in your company getting promoted over you though they’ve used dishonesty to make gain. Or that person that treated someone you love unfairly and took advantage of their weakness. Or that person that exploited you when you entrusted them with personal information.

When faced with injustice, I tend to be a reactor. It stems from a protective instinct that I have had since childhood. Having a younger sister and being the eldest of 12 cousins, I have always had a sense of duty to protect and defend others, particularly those that were more vulnerable.

While walking with Jesus, that is a noble trait. While walking in the flesh, it’s toxic because it can easily become a “savior complex.” A burden that no person should have to carry. 

Let me explain.

There is a delicate pendulum that swings when facing injustice that all of us can find ourselves wobbling back and forth on. On one hand, you or I could easily experience injustice and tack it up with “Well, God is good and sovereign and knows what He is doing, so I just will keep my mouth shut and head down.” Toxic.

Just as well, we could blow a gasket, rally the troops and storm hell every time we perceive something to be not right. Equally as toxic.

So how then do we live?

What I have come to accept and struggle to embrace is living in constant tension of understanding that I am not Jesus, I cannot right every wrong in the world. Thank God too, because those are shoes no mere human can fill. Yet, I can do something and I should regularly be Christ with skin on binding the broken and serving the needy and yes, administering justice. When faced with injustice, I run my response through three honest questions:

1. Is this a labor of love? Let’s face it, our hearts can deceive us quickly and easily. Particularly in our social media crazed world, I have to ask myself if I am genuinely seeking to redeem for God’s glory or my own? Do I want to do this because I want to make much of Jesus or because I want to impress others whether in real life or by their likes on Facebook? The greatest test of integrity is when you’re willing to do something that no one else will ever know about. 

2. Is this reactionary? If faced with a injustice, is my response based in my own anger? Not righteous anger but prideful anger? Or do I believe that operating in this sense will somehow validate myself? Show my manhood or toughness? I have found that when I react to something quickly, it normally is my ego, not the Spirit of God.

3. Is this prayerful? Most often when I face small injustices, after a time of prayer, the Holy Spirit gives perspective. When I enter the time of prayer blood boiling, He invites me to take the radical approach. Die to self. Trust in God. Let Him have the vengeance. Or other times, “Do Something.” But His perspective needs to come first.

Ultimately we as Christians are called to do something and sometimes that something is to trust God to be the God of Justice and other times that is to do something. May He grace us with wisdom as we navigate through issues that require us to decide which it is.

My Last Day at Faith Discovery Church.

What an unbelievably surreal day. From the time I woke up to now, this day has felt like a dream, eventually my iPhone would chime and I’d snapped out of it, be in my bedroom and think, “That was weird” as I reach onto the bedside table to disable the ringer. Never happened. Wasn’t a dream. This is real life. Still a tiny part of me doesn’t believe it, even as I write. 

The day went well enough, about how I anticipated. Many hugs, tears, encouraging words, some letters and even a lei. I guess I didn’t anticipate that last part, but it was awesome.

The way that I approached this day was by using advice I received from mine and Sarah’s wedding, a friend told us “soak in every moment because the day flies.” I remembered that advice, even though my last day as youth pastor is a bit less dramatic as the day I got married [to say the least] but all day I kept trying to remind myself, “soak in every moment because the day flies.”

And it did, I’m still waiting for the alarm to go off and wake up from this dream. 

This won’t be long but I just want to thank every person that made this day so special for Sarah and I, but more than that, the past 4 years. There is not enough time to write about so many different people have blessed us in so many different capacities but we are so grateful we found a church family that loves, supports and challenges us to grow. For two fresh-out-college kids to move to a new state, start life together, we are so grateful for a community that loved and accepted us. We are proud to be Jerseyans! 

Even more, I thank Jesus that He is building His church and that He uses ordinary people to do it. I thank Him that, of all places, He chose to put me in a little corner in Northwest New Jersey to a church that became family and a town that became home. I thank Him that He will continue to build His church through men and women that are just willing to be obedient, not necessarily the best and brightest but the open and the available.

Sarah and I love you all deeply. We will miss you all tremendously. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

Know you got a friend in the Bronx!

 

Do You Love Yourself?

Part of my job requires me to counsel people. Though I don’t think I am very good at it, I do enjoy listening to their hearts, sharing perspective and working through hardship. In almost all counseling situations I face, I always ask a question that makes the counselee sit back in their chair, face turn flush and their eyes widen, that question is “Do you love yourself?”

Normally I get a stammered and forced response, “Of course I do, I know God loves me, so I love myself” or something to that affect.

It seems to be a common theme when I’m interacting with people that are dealing with a hardship– they simply don’t love themselves. Whether it’s someone in a toxic dating relationship and grinning and bearing it feels like its their only option. Or someone addicted to food, porn, drugs or acceptance. Or even someone that is angry, bitter, resentful, hurt. The common thread runs through each session.

Do you love yourself?

In my limited experience, I have found that not loving yourself leads to not thinking of yourself as valuable and not thinking of yourself as valuable opens yourself up to harm and destruction. This can manifest itself in poor choices of how you spend time, money and energy to a refusal to take care of yourself by not eating nutritious foods or exercising and to giving into excess of technology, comfort and the avoidance of others. 

The troubling reality of it all this is that the church and bad preaching can be the reason. Though Jesus says “love others as you love yourself.” I’ve sat through more than one sermon where I sensed I was the pastor’s punching bag, being condemned for every wayward thought and action and surely God’s wrath was going to fall on me like Sodom and Gomorrah 2.0. I would be overwhelmed with a sense of worthlessness leaving these services, not love. God must be a Drill Sargent and I need to fall in line. Or else.

For me, and many like me, this had led to a thinking that says, “God doesn’t love me, God loves my potential, God loves what I can become, but who I am today, well, He tolerates me.”

But that leaves me back in the counseling room with a person who is making bad decisions, needs help and perspective and for some reason beyond my understanding, God puts them in front of me.

“Do you love yourself?”

or more pointedly,

“Do you believe that God loves you so much that He gave His son to die for your sins, not for your potential, but for you and that you have incredible value in His eyes? Do you believe you have worth for today and hope for tomorrow? Do you believe He delights in you and loves you more than any human love can even fathom or compare? And with even the faintest understanding of this, that you can love yourself too?”

Do I think that it will solve all of your problems or mine? Nope. But it’s a good step in the right direction.

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