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!

Speaking Life into Students and Young Adults: Valuable Lessons for 2 Generations

speaking-lifeOver the past 10 years, I have seen firsthand the gap between two very different generations. The ‘Millenials,’ also known as Generation Y, are those born between the early 1980’s and the late 1990’s. Generation Z are those born between the late 1990’s and the mid 2000’s. I have had the privilege of working closely with the individuals and families of these generations. Some of them I call my best friends, some my own family, some leaders, and still some students.

I have seen these generations thrive in ways nobody could ever imagine, but I have also seen them fail to live beyond the low expectations others set for them. Every generation can learn quite a bit from the generation before them. But I am not sure we have ever seen two back-to-back generations that offer as many valuable lessons for each other the way Generation Y & Z have lived out.

I have been their pastor, their leader, their friend, their brother, their counselor, their coach, and their father. I have picked them up when they have fallen. I have cried with them, laughed with them, and yes, even yelled at them. They have challenged me in ways they don’t even know, and I love challenging them in ways they sometimes can’t stand. They have lived in my house, eaten my food, sat at my dinner table, watched my children, played with my dog, and made my wife laugh so hard she peed her pants! I have poured blood, sweat, and tears into their successes and failures. I have walked them through family crises, death, defeat, victory, and success. They have prayed over me, visited my newborn children in the hospital, walked with me through my parents divorce, and given me a sense of hope when all hope seemed lost. I have traveled with them to Kenya, Haiti, Washington D.C., Phoenix, AZ, Ducktown, TN, and many places in between. I love these two generations dearly and pray many of them continually seek God’s face in every aspect of their lives!

I say all of this to reassure you that every word you are about to read is written out of a heightened love and a desire to see Generation Y & Z become the individuals God has called them to be! Based on my experience and observation here are a few life lessons Generation Y & Z can learn from each other!

Accountable Community I love hearing our Millenials share their desire for authentic community. I remember my first few years as a youth pastor. I realized right away that I was never going to be able to fake a message. My students wanted to see me living out what I was talking about before they were fully bought in. I pray today’s middle and high school students never lose sight of the importance of authentic community. At the same time, I hope they raise the bar of community to include deep accountability. Many of today’s young adults want incredible community without the accountability. My prayer is that we see a generation rise up willing to hold each other accountable to the truths of God’s Word!

Commitment to The Church – Generation Y understands what it means to serve God’s Kingdom. I could share story after story of Millenials who haven given of their time, energy, and resources to grow an area of ministry. Many times I have seen them serve up to 40 hours a week without receiving a single penny of compensation! Although at times I feel the local church has done an injustice to our twenty-something’s, I have seen many of them rise above the lack of financial compensation to see God’s Kingdom grow!

I understand that the local church has taken advantage of many Millenials, but I have also seen many of them bounce from one ministry to the next because of the struggle to commit. They get bored, lose interest, and feel like they are not accomplishing what they want to accomplish, so they simply move on. I have seen this happen in the blink of an eye, without any notice! I pray Generation Z understands the importance of committing to The Church, even if it doesn’t mean always being in the spotlight!

Passion, Passion, Passion – Have you ever heard of Passion Conference? How about the Passion Movement? Passion City Church? How about the Passion Worship Band? Every single one of these is an effort to attract the Millenials! While I do not completely agree with their motives, I cannot argue with their success. Their purpose is to unite ‘students in worship and prayer for spiritual awakening in this generation.’ They have seen over 60,000 young adults gather together under one rough!

Generation Y is extremely passionate. I have come in contact with many young adults that could turn the world upside down if they committed to it. They are gifted, talented, knowledgeable, adaptive to change, and they desire to achieve success. But many of them have become so passionate about a variety of things that they really aren’t committed to passionately changing anything. Imagine if these two generations passionately caught Jesus’ call for discipleship! I truly believe they have the voice to turn our culture upside down for the cause of Christ!

Owning your Entitlement – Yes, you read that correctly… I believe Generation Y has taught Generation Z the wrong view of entitlement. Today’s teenagers feel they deserve everything! They want life handed to them on a silver platter, alongside a gold fork and a diamond-studded knife. Let me say this… entitlement has been taught the wrong way. As Christians, we are blessed with the opportunity to experience life to its fullest, not because of who we are, but because of what Christ did for us on the cross! We are entitled to experience life with Him – as His son or daughter. Generation Y has turned that and said, ‘We are entitled to experience freedom!’ Generation Z has taken it a step further and said, ‘We are entitled to whatever we want!’ And their parents and grandparents are all sitting back saying, ‘Sonny, when I was young…’

I believe it comes down to a question of identity. Do you find your identity in friends, sports, school, culture, music, relationships, work, or in who Christ is and what He did for you on the cross? As we grow closer to Christ, we will not struggle with identity crisis. We will not become consumed with what we think we need or deserve. We will own our relationship with Christ and find ourselves entitled to His love, grace, mercy, and faithfulness!

God’s Wisdom versus Man’s Ideas – The Millenials are full of great ideas! Today’s young adults are so passionate about making a difference. They want to experience the latest and greatest idea that will draw emotion in order to create change. But I often wonder, what is the end goal? What should that change look like? Do these two generations truly understand what Jesus meant when He said, ‘Follow Me’? That was more than just a great idea. It was one of the wisest statements ever made! Jesus offered more meat in those 2 words than any butcher could handle in an entire lifetime! My kids do not need the latest and greatest idea. They need the wisdom found in the pages of Scripture. Simply put… they need the truth of God’s Word!

When it comes to wisdom, we must also be willing to trust in the advice of those older than us. Generation Y & Z must understand they are loved, not judged. Don’t take offense when one of us old geezers critiques how you live your life. We may look foolish, but many of us are fairly wise. And beyond that – we have a desire to see you succeed beyond what you can imagine! Trust us, we have been down the block a few times. We may not know what we are talking about when it comes to music or social media, but when it comes to Biblical wisdom and life experience, the older generations can teach you tons!

My heart breaks to see what many students and young adults within Generation Y & Z has to face. Several authors call this the fatherless generation. The hurt caused by broken families is immeasurable. The pain created by a lack of identity and issues of self-worth has caused suicides, school shootings, and self-harm to skyrocket. I have seen the tears, heard the horror stories, and fallen flat on my face at the feet of Jesus, begging Him to take away the pain that so many of our students and young adults bear. I have bore their pain in the midst of life’s most difficult crisis. I have stayed awake many nights revisiting conversations I have had with countless guys and girls within these two generations. My heart breaks as I watch so many of them miss out on the life Christ has called them to live.

Let me wrap up by saying this… If you are a part of either Generation Y or Z, be proud of who you are! Find your identity in an authentic relationship with Christ. Don’t listen to the statistics. Don’t allow culture to shape your generation. Don’t leave the success of God’s church in the hands of the generations after you. Take ownership of your faith and create the revolution that I know you are capable of establishing!

If you are not a part of either of these generations, what are you doing to speak words of love, wisdom, and affirmation into their lives? They are broken and in search of something. Are you encouraging them based on their identity in Christ or discouraging them because of their laundry list of identity issues? Love them. Father them. Spoil them. Invite them around your dinner table. Let them babysit your children. Give them the example that many of their parents failed to give them. Offer them the space to serve and lead. Show them Christ. Treat them to something fun and exciting. Teach them. Speak life into them. And never forget… they could be the ones taking care of you someday!