Pruning Our Layers

Family Update From 2017

God is in the business of stirring things up in ways that make us uncomfortable. In the midst of Him pruning and stripping us, He continues to be patient, forgiving, gracious, and loving. We have been reminded of His goodness so many times over the past few months! Even in the midst of experiencing God’s goodness, my own selfishness and pride often causes me to drift away from truly recognizing how amazing God is. We are called to choose joy each and every morning, but man, that’s difficult! Feeling sorry for ourselves while questioning God’s sovereignty can easily become a part of our daily struggle.

I am reminded of the words from the father of the boy with an unclean spirit in Mark 9:24 – ‘I believe; help me in my unbelief.’ That has been my prayer over the past few months – God, I believe and trust in you, but help me where my pride gets in the way! Help me to choose joy when circumstances don’t go my way. Help me to have patience when life never seems to slow down. Give me clarity even when my brain is foggy and the future is uncertain.

While, these last few months have been somewhat difficult, God’s goodness has reigned supreme! We have seen Him provide in miraculous and unexpected ways. In the midst of our circumstantial ups and downs, God has remained constant. It is comforting to know and serve am the God who remains the same yesterday, today, and forever! I am thankful that His steadfast love remains present, His mercy is new every morning, His peace goes beyond all my understanding, and His grace is sufficient for everything I may need!

Our church family has been walking through a chronological study of Scripture this year. First and foremost, the Old Testament can be challenging (and interesting to study through with your kids), but it is amazing to see God at work in and through His people. There is a constant reminder to the Israelites to remember what God has done for them, to experience His blessings today, and to pursue towards the life He has called them to tomorrow. We get a glimpse of God’s sovereignty in their past, His grace in their present, and His redemption in their future! The amazing thing… THIS IS THE SAME GOD WE SERVE TODAY!

God is sovereign over our past! We cannot change it, but we can grow from it. We must remember what God has done for us and where He has brought us. Our past is a reminder of who we once were, but more importantly of who God is! I’ve wrestled through this… Why would God allow certain things to happen? What if things happened differently? What were we thinking? Where was God in the midst of that? Scripture reminds us that God allows us to go through certain circumstances or gives us the ability to make decisions so that His name can be glorified!

The past two years have been an amazing rollercoaster – one that would definitely give you the thrill of your life. The one that you would throw up on, but turnaround and get right back in line for! After leaving full-time ministry in 2015, our family was broken. There is no other way to explain it… We were hurt beyond explanation. Our marriage was struggling. Our health was a mess – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The importance of family had been thrown out the window. To be honest, we had learned how to set aside portions of the Gospel for the sake of work. Many of our closest friends and family saw the ugliness that came from this. We were attempting to seek God, but had confused how to actually do that on a daily basis.

But…GOD! See, He knew what was going on. He knew where we were at and met us right there. Just like Adam and Eve, even when we tried running with our tails between our legs, He knew right where we were. And man, was His grace ever present in the moments we needed it most! Even when I wasn’t gracious with those around me, God remained gracious with me! I sit here today not fully understanding God’s grace. Yet, I trust in is grace because of the countless times I have experienced it! Each day of our lives is made possible because of His grace. It was through God’s grace that we have experienced tons of healing over the past couple of years. It is because of His grace that we are continuing to grow where we are at today!

Please don’t misread me…God’s grace is not always a warm fuzzy feeling that makes us feel good about ourselves. There are times it has included discipline, reproof, pruning, refining, and stripping us of our comfort zones. It hurts in the moment, but grows us closer to Him in the long run. I am thankful for the counseling we have experienced. I am thankful for the countless people who have stuck with us, even when it would have been easy to tell us to go away. It has been a blessing to have experienced a true sense of community and discipleship within multiple settings over the past couple of years. I am thankful that God has reopened my eyes to the fullness of His Gospel!

God’s pruning should lead us to abiding in His redemptive story! When we rest in Him, the Gospel becomes our reason to wake up in the morning. Experiencing His peace brings a sense of security to our lives, no matter what the circumstances of tomorrow may bring. Finding our purpose is a daily struggle. A new motto we should all live by – experience God’s grace today so that we can find purpose in our tomorrow!

Without preaching, I get the sense that we feel like we can accomplish this by attending church once a week, maybe praying every once in a while, and owning a Bible. Maybe you are a better ‘Christian’ than me, but I’ve learned that doesn’t work. God doesn’t want our once a week attendance records. He doesn’t want our leftovers as we fall asleep at night. He doesn’t ask us to simply write a check so somebody else can go on a missions’ trip. He calls us to be His disciples – learning, growing, and experiencing Him every moment of every day! That is not an easy task, in fact – its impossible to accomplish on our own! So, instead of trying, we easily give up and just go through the motions of modern-day ‘American Christianity.’ We enter the doors of a building and walk out with an emotional high, feeling like we can conquer the world. Monday comes and smacks us in the face, and by Tuesday we are back at doing life the way we want. I say all of this out of experience – I’ve been there, done that, and own that t-shirt! And, unfortunately, my tank ran out. I was left running on empty – plowing through everybody else around me! There is no judgment for those trying to live that way, because there are days that I still wrestle through this exact issue!

The challenge Paul gives us in Romans 12:1-2 is not a once a week challenge. It is a daily, moment-by-moment renewing of the mind that God calls us to! In order to authentically live out the life God has desires, we MUST be begging God for His redemptive story to ring true in our hearts and minds every single day! I get it – there are mornings where I don’t want to. It is in these moments that authentic discipleship and community come in play! It has been amazing, yet difficult to experience this aspect of the Gospel. Life gets ugly. People see us at our worst. We lack the ability to put on a front and be two-faced. The world will judge us and call us hypocritical. We might not gain popularity and we might miss out on that awesome promotion. Seeking a life that exemplifies God’s redemptive story gives us meaning and purpose beyond anything this world has to offer!

I am sure the majority of the people reading this won’t even make it to these next thoughts. That’s ok – my goal was ultimately to share the Gospel, and not to talk much about the Euler Zoo on Wheels. Hopefully most at least read up to this point. I have realized that it is in God’s redemptive story that we also find our calling.

Over the past few months, Autumn and I believe God is calling us to a new season of life. We believe His desire is to be back into full-time ministry. While we would love the opportunity to stay in SWFL, God has yet to open any specific doors that we believe He is leading us through. We have also been encouraged to not limit God based on where we want to be. I have begun submitting my resume to various contacts all over the map. We are relying on His leading as we continue to wrestle through the life He has called us to. Whether it is SWFL or beyond, we know God has a plan and purpose for our family that goes beyond what we could imagine.

So what does that mean and look like? To be honest – I don’t know, but God does! I wish I knew. I wish I had clarity and there was a bright light at the end of the tunnel, but that’s not always how God operates. He isn’t a genie – He is God, Creator, King, Provider, Protector, Savior, and Lord! We would ask that you be praying for us as we filter through the next season of our lives. Pray for wisdom, clarity, patience, and peace.

I would like to leave you with these words of challenge and encouragement… Do you see God’s sovereignty in your past or are you overwhelmed by it? Are you experiencing God’s grace on a daily basis? How does your tomorrow fit into the redemptive story of Christ? Is God calling you to something greater? Are you living with a false image of God’s grace and sovereignty?

Experiencing a Confusing Culture

My wife and I spent this past weekend in Key West, FL. While having a great time, my eyes were broadened to the cultural realities that surround us every day. We experienced life that goes beyond what we see in our typical suburban neighborhoods. We met people from around the world who are striving to make their environments a safer, stronger, and better place to live! We had conversations with locals and tourists who were playing their part in impacting the world around them. I was reminded that the American dream is alive and real! My ability to type, edit, and publish this article is proof that I live with freedoms to express my thoughts and opinions.

We talked with people about religion, the economy, relationships, kids, the president, drugs (we were even told how much cocaine costs in Key West), sexual orientation, and the weather. People of all backgrounds, family structures, economic situations, and political affiliations were open to having just about any conversation. The entire weekend made me evaluate what I am doing to make a difference through my words, actions, finances, time, and relationships. There were moments of brokenness as we watched people, but there were also moments of excitement when seeing the work ethic of so many individuals.

Overall, I realized we live in a culture of confusion. To most people, truth remains relative to their circumstance and, for the most part, we are overly consumed with the immediate moment in front of us. This works if you are on vacation, live in a transient area, are good at faking your way through life, or are not worried about making a difference in your own environment. To be honest, I was even somewhat confused as to how to respond to much of what I experienced this past weekend. Where do we go from here? As a follower of Christ, what should be my response to what I experienced? How can I authentically witness to those who either already think their path leads to God or they don’t want to be witnessed to?

Here lies the realistic confusion of our culture…

We live in a culture that wants to end sex and human trafficking, yet sex drives culture within our music, entertainment, and advertisement. Some statistics have even shown the pornography industry has more of an economic influence on our nation than Netflix.

We live in a culture that believes every refugee and immigrant has the right to live wherever they desire, yet homelessness and abortion are greater today than ever before. I cannot express the brokenness we saw on the faces of so many homeless throughout Key West.

We live in a culture where people want every source of federal funding available for themselves, yet they struggle to live out the work ethic it takes to obtain a larger paycheck.

We live in a culture where we want to be respected for what we believe is truth, yet we protest, post against, and are offended by everything we disagree with.

We live in a culture where we are upset with the way corporate America operates, yet we take advantage of every opportunity we have to do a business write off. How do we think corporate America made it to the level they are currently at?

We live in a culture that is simply – confusing! We don’t know what we want to believe, and because of that our belief system and ideology of truth is relative to our immediate situation. We want to be social, relational, loving, kind, and humble, but only if it fits where we are today. We don’t want to be offended, upset, easily angered with our neighbors, until they do something that steps on our toes.

The idea of loving as Christ loved is not relative to my situation or circumstance. It is defined by Scripture and the calling God has placed on my life! There is not confusion found in experiencing God’s love, but there may be confusion in trying to comprehend it. Confused yet? Follow me for a minute…my wife and I experienced Key West – walked Duval Street, hung out at Sloppy Joe’s, had amazing Cuban coffee at the Cuban Coffee Queen, biked almost 30 miles, and much more! But honestly, it was difficult to comprehend the culture of Key West. It was a tourist trap for fishermen, bar hoppers, and cruisers. Certain political agendas were evident, but no more than I have seen at Disney, Target, ESPN, or even some churches. I was confused if I should walk away saying I have enjoyed the culture.

As my wife and I focused on growing our relationship and the experience of our time together, it was an awesome weekend! Honestly, I believe we can make anywhere in the world under any circumstance a joy-filled time! It is the same thing regarding our relationship with God and our responsibility to love as He has called us to love! Don’t always try to comprehend every detail of life, because it will only confuse you more! Relax, take a deep breath, and remember that God is sovereign over all! Trust Him, rely on Him, fall more in love with Him, and experience His goodness! As you do that, the culture around you will be impacted for the cause of Christ!

You Have My Attention: When God Breaks In

image26About 2 months ago, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I can conquer the world!’

I honestly believed there was nothing that could hold me back and nothing that I could not accomplish. I felt like I had the ‘correct’ answers to everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen God do extraordinary things this past year – some of which I cannot even explain! I have been a part of a student ministry that is absolutely flourishing! There is a barely a week that goes by that we do not see students come to know Christ or baptized! Our numbers have drastically increased and our leadership is stronger than I could ever imagine!

On a personal level, 2014 was a challenging year, but also a fruitful year. Our family saw God work in ways that did not make sense – many times when we least expected it. We saw a 3-year debacle over our house on the east coast of Florida end via 2 phone calls over the course of 48 hours. We proceeded to sell the house  for more than we were asking within 4 weeks! We feel blessed beyond measure for the health and joy we have experienced this year!

I truly believe that there is nothing impossible for God, but my pride often gets in the way. I fool myself into believing that there is nothing too powerful for me to accomplish as well. I take the place of God and attempt to accomplish things on my own, ultimately missing what He has for me.

I like to think I am a strong leader – organized, efficient, capable, empowering, and competent. I also tend to think that my character and integrity is most often Christlike. Now, yes, there are those times that my pride and arrogance gets the best of me and, just like Paul, I struggle doing what I know I am not supposed to do and not doing what I know I am supposed to do.

About 3 weeks ago, I was quickly reminded that my ability, my strength, my energy, and yes, even my mind is a blessing from God, the one who gives and takes away. There is nothing I can accomplish outside of who He is. There is no fruit I can produce outside of His love, His character, and His will!

At 1:55 pm on Sunday, December 14th, I came stumbling out of my bedroom and went into a grand mal seizure that lasted about 3 minutes. I tripped over my 4-year old son and ended up falling onto our tile floor. In the process, I also dislocated my shoulder, which is causing me constant pain. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with adolescent epilepsy and was on medication for about 16 years. This past year was the first year that I have not taken any medication, and I was under the assumption I was in the clear – until about 3 weeks ago.

I feel like I have been to more doctors over the past 3 weeks than the past 10 years combined. My wife has become my chauffeur, because legally I am not allowed to drive for 6 months. I am also dealing with the effects of my body getting used to epilepsy medication again, which has caused me to be an emotional basket case on more than one occasion.

It has been a rough few weeks, one that has humbled me and opened my eyes to where my priorities need to truly be. I have been forced to do nothing. My wife even went to the extent of asking me how it felt to have my independence taken away. If it were not for the inability to process my thoughts into words quick enough, I would have responded with some sarcastic comment back at her.

I have realized that I do not have this thing called life figured out. I do not have this thing called leadership figured out. I do not have student ministry, family ministry, or my own relational life figured out. Unfortunately, I have not reached perfection, and if you ask my kids, I still have a long ways to go!

But I do know one thing for sure – God has EVERYTHING figured out!

His love casts out all fear

His grace His sufficient

His mercy is new every morning

Great is His faithfulness

He is MY rock and MY redeemer

He is the beginning and the end

He is the Good Shepherd

He is the great I AM!

And at the end of the day, He has all the answers to all the questions. He has my future in His hands. His purpose for my life far exceeds anything I could ever desire or imagine. I am His vessel, living out the life He has called me to live!

There were several factors that went into me having a seizure and there are still physical, mental, and emotional consequences I am working through. But I truly believe it was God trying to get my attention. I veered off course just slightly and was allowing my pride to take the place of what God had in store for me.

It doesn’t take much of a change in direction to miss what God has for us. For Peter it was taking his eyes off Jesus’ eyes. He was walking on water, with Jesus in his vision, but his eyes were not focused on the Savior’s eyes. For David it was a quick second glimpse off the patio that caused his eyes to lose sight of God’s eyes. For many of us, we feel like we are right there, doing exactly what God is calling us to do, but our pride has caused us to veer just slightly off course. God is in our vision. We believe we are moving towards Him, walking with Him, and living as He has called us to live. But, there is a difference in focusing on the direction of Jesus and focusing on His eyes.

Think of it this way… if I want to drive from Cape Coral, Florida to Buford, Wyoming, simply heading west may not get me to my final destination. Even though Wyoming is constantly in the direction I am headed, getting to my exact location takes more precise accuracy than simply heading west. God is not generic, He is specific. He has a clear plan for each and every one of us that requires us focusing directly on His eyes!

As Christians, we cannot get caught up in our own abilities that we miss the priorities God has mapped out before us. Our first step (or in some cases 5, 20, or 50 steps) often has to be backwards. We must reset our priorities and schedules in order to focus on what is most important.

We have to remain faithful to God’s leading, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient that may be. And at the end of the day, we must never forget that no matter what happens, God is in completely control and He has EVERYTHING figured out!

God has my attention, and my prayer is that He either already has or gets yours! We not only need Him, but we must want Him more than anything this world has to offer. I am committed to seeking Him more this year than ever before. My Lead Pastor put it perfectly, ‘Our faith becomes stronger through our intimacy with the Father’

May this year, we grow more intimately in love with Jesus. May He truly remain our first love in everything – every situation, every event, every circumstance, and amongst every relationship!