Blog, God + Spirituality, Guest Posts, Relationships

Foundations in Relationship: Trust – Part 1 of 2 [Guest Post]

Today, I’m happy to introduce a new guest writer, Spike Martinez! Spike hails from Texas and is here to share his infectious heart for God, specifically today in the area of building a solid foundation of trust in the most important relationship of your life. [Check out Part 2: Intimate and Private Conversation]


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[Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Text Edits: Alison Lam]

I am a fairly open person. If anyone approaches me and asks me a personal question, I am most likely to give them an honest response, no matter what the subject matter. I believe in being transparent before others. It gains the trust of people; it helps them to understand that I’m human, too.

But being open and honest with God is a totally different story.

My sister and I were driving from Dallas to San Antonio a few years back and, on the way, she said to me, “God wants to tell you something. Pray and ask Him what His favorite shoes of yours are.”

Weird, I know.

So, I sat in her car, listening, praying, waiting and waiting. And, when God spoke, He said, “I love your bare feet.”

It was in that moment that I understood one of the characteristics that God created me with: being open. I have always felt so comfortable sharing with people about my life, my testimony and my struggles. Even when I wasn’t walking with the Lord, I told people that I wasn’t. But, despite my ability to be open with others, I wasn’t able to be fully open and honest with God.

The Lord earnestly wants us to fully trust in Him. But, just like our relationships with people, how can you trust someone if they can’t trust in you? I know that if I come before the Lord with all of myself –my hurts, my celebrations, my conversations, my slip ups— it will help me to build trust in God when I can feel Him comforting or celebrating or communicating with me. In turn, the Lord builds trust that He can speak candidly to us because, if we are telling Him about every moment of our day, He will know our hearts.

We all know that God knows everything that happens to us and that none of it will come as a surprise to Him. He knows what we are asking for before we even ask. However, just as our relationships with others are built on communication, so our relationship with the Lord is built on constant and honest communication. We must also understand that, as we are trusted with something, there also comes an expectation of privacy.

God will trust us with His Word, His Promises, and His People but, only if we are exemplifying that trust in our lives to God. Think about this: If someone you knew well were to come into your home and openly, blatantly steal from you, would you continue to trust them?

Now, think about this: We openly, blatantly ignore, rebuke, come against, steal from and turn away from God. Yet, He is still willing to trust us with His word. I don’t know about you, but that resonates with me. The Ever-Present, Living God still wants to speak to me, no matter what I’ve done to Him. God will always forgive us because He loves us and He knows that, when we finally decide to give up, He’ll be right there, arms open wide, waiting for us.

It’s in that moment, when we step out and trust in the unknown, that our faith is dramatically expanded.

“Come,” He said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Mark 14:29-31, NIV

Peter started with an immense amount of faith and trust that, if he were to step out of the boat, he would not sink –he would walk like Jesus, upon the water. But, as Peter was bombarded by the wind, the waves and the storm that surrounded him, he began to doubt and he began to sink. Even in our worst storms, our deepest valleys and our driest deserts, trusting in God will get us through; it will build our relationship with Him so that, when we come out on the other side, our faith is pure, tested, and strong.

“Consider it wholly joyful, my brethren, whenever you are enveloped in or encounter trials of any sort or fall into various temptations. Be assured and understand that the trial and proving of your faith bring out endurance and steadfastness and patience. BUT let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, SO THAT you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed [with no defects], lacking in nothing.”

James 1:2-4, AMP

Trust me, when I say, that God will test your heart. He’s looking for our response to situations. Will you continue to keep your eyes focused forward, toward His kingdom? Or will you let the storm around you distract you and overwhelm you? That’s why, in the Word, it says in Proverbs 3:5-6,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”

Fully trusting in the Lord is a challenge to our faith. Even when the world around us falls apart, I know I stand on a firm, solid foundation and I will not be crushed. That’s the trust that God wants us to live in.

[Check out Part 2: Intimate and Private Conversation ]


About the Author:

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Spike lives in the San Antonio, TX area and delights in his bovine neighbors. He seeks to reach out to San Antonio through prayer and the arts. He hopes to find a job where he will never have to shave again. You can find Spike online on his Website.

Blog, God + Spirituality, Guest Posts, Ministry + Missions, Personal Growth + Wholeness

Life is an Unexpected Adventure [Check out my Alumni article]

As alumni of the Orillia Christian School, I was asked to write an article on what I’m up to and what God has done in my life, to share with other staff, students, parents and alumni. I thought I’d share about the unexpected adventure that God has taken me on and the beautiful experiences I have had traveling the globe seeing the beautiful nations and people of the world.

Click the link below to download the short PDF newsletter/article p.3:

Article: Life is an Unexpected Adventure [Alumni Article for OCS Mind & Soul Newsletter May 2013]

Here’s a little snapshot of the article below, but if you find that difficult (or impossible) to read (!), download the article link above to read it full size :)

full alumni article

Blog, God + Spirituality, Guest Posts, Ministry + Missions, Personal Growth + Wholeness

Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 2

Here’s the second and final article in my 2-part series on the things I’ve learned on my sabbatical. I’d recommend it for anyone to read, whether you are in full-time Christian ministry or not. If you’re a human being, it’s good stuff. Basically, they are life lessons for humans.

(If you didn’t get a chance to read the 1st part, check it out here: Part 1)

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Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 2

If you missed Part 1, check out The Intro, Lesson #1, Lesson #2

Today I’m continuing to share some of the things I’ve learned through my fumbling attempts at “being on a sabbatical” right smack dab in the middle of my prime years of ministry. So often the things that God brings into our lives seem like very, very inconvenient interruptions to our well-laid plans. In the end, though, He is proven very wise, indeed. I’m so glad I listened…

Lesson #3: Don’t expect to feel awesome. Expect to feel insignificant and unproductive.

Taking a sabbatical will press all your “significance” and “identity” buttons. If you’ve got issues with these things, which I discovered I did, you’ll have some “fun” times of kicking and screaming and throwing your fists up to Heaven.

When you’re not earning money, working a public job, or have no official ministry title or role, can you still accept yourself? Can you still think your life is okay? Can you still feel that you are ‘enough’?

Can you believe that you are significant just for being alive and being yourself, without anything else to cling to?

Do you feel that life is okay, if all you have to hold onto is God Himself?

These are the questions that hit you square in the face on a sabbatical. During this time, you won’t feel awesome about yourself and your contribution to society. You certainly won’t feel productive (but that’s the point of Sabbath rest… to take a break from your productive work!)

Oh, and to top it all off, you’ll feel totally out of control!

I think that’s the point God’s trying to make, though. You aren’t the Savior of the world. You are not the V.I.P. of the nations. You are not in control of the universe.

He is.

Yes, you are significant, but not that significant.

Taking a sabbatical gave me a more realistic perspective of my own life and opened my eyes to my own self-obsession, self-absorption and over-inflated sense of self-importance. The humbling that happens just by being taken out of the game (so to speak) is quite real and quite uncomfortable. But it’s actually a relief to come to this realization – it’s not about me! I’m not that important. Phew. What a relief!

And the sneaky thing about God is that He’ll push you past your breaking point, when you think you can’t do it any longer. He wants you to wrestle with the restlessness. Wrestle with the questions. Wrestle with that sense of insignificance and discomfort with being so unproductive. Wrestle with your fear of man and the fear of their opinion of you. Wrestle with the pain of not being seen or noticed. Wrestle with the winter season where some things must fall off the branches and some living creatures must go into hibernation – all to prepare for a greater fruitfulness come springtime.

That’s the great thing about a sabbatical season: if you invest yourself in it, eventually you will feel awesome again. That’s the point! You’ll come out the other side more firmly grounded in your secure identity in God – a security that has nothing to do with titles, roles or the applause of man.

Lesson #4: Investing in the heart-stuff will cost you, dearly.

You haven’t let God interrupt your entire life, just for you to stay the same! To me, that’s the most torturous thing in the world – to waste a tough season and not grow from it! Change requires much time, but it also requires expending much energy and effort and experiencing much pain. Change requires that you invest something that costs you something – something that will probably hurt to give it. Most often, it will require putting your wallet on the table and making its contents fully available.

You’ve got to settle it now: you’ll do whatever it takes to see lasting transformation in your heart and life because real change is always a worthwhile investment.

The heart doesn’t just change in a vacuum, and rarely does it change on freebies. At least, that’s how it’s been with me. Transformation has not come on a free-ride. It’s cost me, dearly.

So, don’t be afraid to spend the money. Don’t think that everyone else somehow magically changed in an instant, without the mess, and without the moola.

If you’re going to do this thing, why do it cheaply? You don’t know when you’ll ever have this time again in your life. If it was worth the time it took to stop your entire life, spend the money you need to make the stop worth it.

Most often, the money will be for investing in the time of other people. People are valuable and their time is precious. You’re going to need other people to help you through this time of change. You need to open up your schedule to people. You need to get them in your face so they can ask you good questions, poke you, prod you, challenge you and mess you up a little. You need to invite friends and mentors and new people into your life to give you wisdom. Spend the money to drive or fly or take a bus to get to them. Take them out for coffee. Have them over for a meal. Pay for their fuel to get them to drive up to see you, if they live far from you! Pay their phone bill so you can get in touch. All this costs money! You’ll also want to invest in some books (or check out others’ book collections and borrow some!), go to seminars, sign up for a course or two, or commit to going to a counselor or therapist over a significant length of time.

Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

Real change will cost you.

Lesson #5: Don’t isolate yourself on a sabbatical! Get dependent!

You can’t “do” a sabbatical on your own, as an island. You just won’t make it if you disconnect from the Vine and the Body. Yes, you may go on a few retreats in this time (which I highly recommend… silent retreat… no-technology retreat… no-food fast… etc), but “retreating” is not meant to be the majority of your time on a sabbatical. You may be backing off from certain types of ministry or work roles, but you are still one part of one Body. If you are a mouthpiece, you cannot find refreshment when you are disconnected from the lungs! In some ways, you may actually need to retreat less and engage more!

Get connected. Get in community. Don’t hermit yourself away. It’s a big mistake if you think you can “take a break” from close fellowship with the church and fellowship with God. If you are already connected, get connected in an even deeper way through greater levels of intimacy and vulnerability and relationship with others. I would say that this is most likely a time where you need to prioritize relationships over work. It’s more about depth of relationship vs. productiveness at work. If you are not connected currently, I urge you to take this time to become a part of the Body! Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what this looks like in your life and in this season. It will look different for all of us.

Find a mentor or spiritual father or mother or counselor to process things with. You are going to have many things going on inside of you and many things shifting. You can’t process this season alone. You need others. You need Jesus-with-skin-on.

And you need Jesus Himself like never before! You desperately need Him! He’s been trying to get your undivided attention and desires your wholehearted affection! I would say that the most significant reason for taking a sabbatical would be to simply return to your “first love”, Jesus Christ. In the busy-ness of ministry, we can often lose sight of the very One whom all of our ministry is for! One teaching that has gripped my heart and recaptured my “first love” for Jesus is this powerful teaching by Allen Hood. ( http://hopetauranga.org.nz/podcasts/?sermon_id=31 )

A sabbatical is not a vacation from God. It’s a time to “come away with God” into a greater interaction and fellowship with the Holy Spirit, your great Counselor, Companion and Comforter.

It’s only in the presence of God that you will find that rest, refreshment and newness of life that God has interrupted your entire life for! So, get in God’s face! Burrow yourself inside His beautiful heart! Don’t isolate! Don’t get independent! Get more dependent!

Your life depends upon it.


If you want a refresher, go back and check out Part 1

Blog, God + Spirituality, Guest Posts, Ministry + Missions, Personal Growth + Wholeness

Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 1

I decided to reveal some of the hard-won lessons I’ve learned on my fumbling attempt at a ministry sabbatical. If you’re in full-time Christian ministry or missions, this is a must-read. If you are not “in ministry” but you are a human being, this is a must-read. I think that these are timeless lessons for all people in all walks of life.

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Lessons I Learned on my Sabbatical – Part 1

So, I’ve been a missionary overseas for about 8 years. I had taken breaks here and there throughout the years, in between assignments, but nothing really intentional. I didn’t think I needed it.

Last year, I was rarin’ to go after a couple quiet years of ministry service. A sabbatical was the last thing on my mind. This was when God so lovingly disrupted all my “go-ye-into-the-world” plans and loudly said, “STOP!”

Say what, God?!

I was adamant in my resistance, at first, but finally accepted the call to stop and take a “sabbatical” from ministry, even though it did not make total sense to me. I just couldn’t ignore the voice of God. I had to heed His word.

I went back to my homeland of Canada. I royally freaked out, to be honest. I fumbled and fell my way through it in the early stages. Being on this sabbatical broke me, first, before it was able to bind me up and heal me.

A majority of the time, the impatient “gotta-produce-some-tangible-results” part of me felt like I was completely wasting my time. The “idealistic-and-perfectionistic” part of me often felt like a failure, as if I had this unattainable image of what “The Ideal Sabbaticalizer” would be doing on their sabbatical, and somehow, I was surely doing it all wrong. It’s funny to think back on this now, but at the time, it was not funny at all! It was like I was looking for some kind of “blueprint” to guide me through my sabbatical, when all God wanted was for me to put my hand in His and trust Him step by step, with no backup plan.

Sometimes you’ve got to have all your buttons pressed (and I mean EVERY button) in order to receive a greater insight and wisdom that will truly help and direct the rest of your life.

Sometimes you’ve got to be taken off the radar and brought into a place of complete obscurity, in order for God to get your attention, so He can show you what’s really going on inside of you, to produce some real, lasting transformation within you.

Sometimes you’ve got to be taken past the point of breaking, where you think you can’t take one more week of “feeling-like-you’re-wasting-your-life-away-in-the-prime-years-of-your-life!” (I may or may not have said this very thing about a million times on my sabbatical…)

Would God really shut you down and hide you away in the very years that Jesus came out of hiding and had His public ministry? Yes, yes, He can. And He does. And He did it with me. And maybe He wants to do it with you.

3 Reasons to Take a Sabbatical:

I strongly encourage any of you in long-term missions or ministry to take a sabbatical. It is wise and it is healthy to do so. “How” you do it is totally up to you and the counseling-nudges of the Holy Spirit, but I’ll give you a few reasons why I’d recommend it. None of my reasons are proven in “sabbatical textbooks” or backed up by any “sabbatical theologians”, so take it all with a grain of salt. Here’s what I personally think are the 3 main reasons (or purposes) for taking a sabbatical (and if you do it for only 1 of the 3 reasons, it will totally benefit and bless you):

  1. For rest and refreshment – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
  2. For real heart transformation, change and redirection
  3. For greater intimacy in relationships, first with God and then with the people God has given you.

If you can identify with one, two or all three of these reasons, maybe God is trying to get your attention. All I ask is that you consider it.

With that said, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned on my “so-far-from-perfect” sabbatical, and maybe you can get a nugget of gold from it. Maybe you’ll discover that it hasn’t been a waste of time at all, but rather, absolutely necessary and extremely fruitful.

Lesson #1: It is a labor to enter into the rest of God.

Does that sound like a contradiction? In a way it is! It is work to enter into rest. You don’t just sleep your way into rest. You have to make an effort to re-orient ways of thinking, and re-position ways you’ve lived your life, in order to make your life more restful. You have to make it more restful. You don’t just fall your way into a state of rest. There is a really significant line that I’ve heard Laura Hackett sing, a worship leader from IHOP-KC,

“I labor to believe Your word, that I might rest in You.”

I agree. You labor in faith to believe what God says, and this brings you into the rest of God. I have discovered that the most fruitful times on my sabbatical, where I experienced great peace and rest in my heart, were when I invested my time and my energy and labored to seek the face of God and experience His presence in the Word of God.

Lesson #2: If you break the Sabbath, it will break you.

God is serious about Sabbath. I didn’t know how serious, until He interrupted my whole life to tell me. I hadn’t realized that I was entering my seven-year mark in full-time missions and ministry. God’s biblical pattern of Sabbath is to work the land for six years and then rest it on the seventh.

It is never convenient to take a Sabbath (sabbatical). It is always an interruption. If it was convenient and easy to enter into Sabbath, everyone would do it. And sadly, most people have forsaken this all-important season of life. When you take a sabbatical (or a weekly Sabbath) you must trust God with all your unfinished work. Six days labor. Seventh day rest. You must leave your work undone until the next week begins. It takes trust to let God interrupt your work-flow and follow Him into a sabbatical. I certainly felt the weight of it. Right in the prime of my life, when I was so ready to “GO YE”, God said, “STOP” and “REST”. Majorly inconvenient, God! Not funny!

But God gives us the Sabbath because He loves us. God so seriously values the Sabbath for our own sake. It’s not just one more rule to keep. It exists to give us more life. He knows that if we break the Sabbath, it will break us. Meaning, we will eventually burn out and have a breakdown without it. Something “not-good” will happen to us if we don’t take the “good gift” of Sabbath that He is giving us.

We just won’t flourish or thrive long-term without rest. It’s as simple as that. We may look okay for a little while on the outside, but over the long haul, we’ll fizzle out (or be miserable). And if there’s anything I’ve learned on this sabbatical, it’s that we reproduce who we are and what we value. Why would we ever want to reproduce driven, miserable, burned-out workers for God? If God values rest, let us value it as well. We want to reproduce what He’s about. And He’s about Sabbath rest.

Then, out of our refreshed and restful heart, we will work and we will labor for Him.

(For the final 3 lessons, check out Part 2)

 * Photo by: idlphoto

Blog, God + Spirituality, Ministry + Missions, Personal Growth + Wholeness

Frank Thoughts on Faith

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I may have returned to a familiar land, but there is nothing familiar about the journey I have been on this year. Kris Vallotton shared something recently that resonated with my heart, describing exactly what this year has been like for me so far:

 

“Often times you have to give up to go up. I mean sometimes you have to let go of something you love doing to embrace your divine destiny. It’s hard to leave what you know well to follow God into your unfolding mystery.” – Kris Vallotton

 

Mostly what I’m doing these days seems like jumping off a cliff into an unknown mystery, but it’s not like I am just ‘randomly’ taking steps. Yes, I’ve certainly surprised myself with every decision I’ve made this year, but it’s as if I am being led by an unseen Hand, and I’ve decided to entrust my entire life to follow Another’s lead.

These days, I am often reminded of a talk that one of my YWAM spiritual fathers, Frank Naea, shared a couple years back at a YWAM national gathering in New Zealand. I hastily jotted down a million little one-liner nuggets of wisdom in my journal as Frank was throwing these spiritual goodies out.

At the time, my life was in upheaval, there were so many questions left unanswered for the future, so many new things coming around the corner. I was on the verge of a huge international move. With all this on my plate, I just ate up everything Frank was saying. Fast forward almost two years later, after shifting hemispheres, I’ve still got so many unknowns in my life, so many unanswered questions.

I think it’s time to hear what Frank has to say again. And I thought I’d bring you in on the goodness.

Frank started out telling all of us that he was there to talk to us about NOTHING. Literally, when he asked God what he should talk about, God showed him a big fat ZERO in his spirit.

He went on to share about our father in the faith, Abraham, and how Abraham’s big commission to “go ye” came in the form of “not knowing”. The call was full of question marks, uncertainty, and left him completely out of control. You see, it says in the book of Hebrews:

 

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. – Hebrews 11:8 NKJV

 

Go figure. Our father in the faith went out ‘not knowing.’ How ironic is that? Does anyone else find that somewhat hilarious?

All was not organized. Nothing was planned (as far as Abraham could see). Of course, God had much up that big sleeve of His, but did God disclose the details to Abe ahead of time? Nope. He left the whole thing under wraps.

God likes to do that! He seems to be a parent who likes to surprise His kids, keeping us in suspense for what’s around the corner. And it drives us nuts, doesn’t it? Whatever happened to our childlike sense of adventure? I’ve asked myself that very question so many times in this season…

Interestingly, I’d like to point out that Abraham ‘not knowing’ the details was what qualified him for the Hebrews Hall of Faith, memorializing him for generations to come. Interesting, indeed…

 

A New Perspective on Faith?

We often think of faith as holding on to all that we ‘know’ that God is speaking to us about, and seeing it come to pass. Yes, that is partially true, but maybe it’s not a full picture of the faith that God wants us to experience.

I’m beginning to discover that faith may be more about holding on to a God I know while being asked by this God to step forward on an unknown path, ‘not knowing’ where it will lead.

Could this be real faith?

Let’s see what Frank has to say,

 

“We desperately want something organized and planned but God asks us to go and step forward without knowing. Abraham received the mantle of authority from God by going out ‘not knowing’! He is the father of ‘not knowing’, our father in the faith! This place of ‘not knowing’ is not a place of being lost. It’s a confirmation that you’re on the right track.” – Frank Naea

 

STOP. RIGHT. THERE.

WHAT?!

Not knowing the plan or the details is confirmation you’re on the right track?!

WHAT?!

Okay, I’m sorry Frank. I just had a little freak-out moment there. You can take the mic back now,

 

“We get distracted by the obsession that we must ‘know it’. You already have the answer, it’s just not the one you want. You’re ‘not to know’. You’re to go out ‘not knowing’.” – Frank Naea

 

Okay, my mind is reeling! This stuff is threatening my comfortable little world! How do I find rest and security in ‘not knowing’, Frank?

 

“When all the variables are not fixed, HE IS.” – Frank Naea

 

In the midst of NOT KNOWING, we can KNOW God. Everything can blow up in our lives, but God is constant. God is stable. God is secure. God is a fixed foundation.

Faith is more about trusting who God is, rather than knowing what’s going on.

I think Frank has a few more things to say to continue his assault on my idea of faith,

 

“Do you want normal, standard, measured, calculated and planned? There is a father who can lead you down that road, but it is not the father of our faith. Do you want a father in faith who went out ‘not knowing’? Can you live in that tension, the place of ‘not knowing’? Do you ‘not know’? That means you qualify! You’re in! You’re just like Abraham, your father in the faith of ‘not knowing’! This uncertainty of yours does not disqualify you! Rather, it includes you in the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11, the Great Hall of Faith! When you lay down having to know every detail about your dreams, then you’ll be able to finally receive His dreams. How do you qualify for God dreams? Well, it’s as simple as ‘I don’t know’. He knows. You don’t have to.” – Frank Naea

 

Let that mess with you! It certainly messes with me. Your uncertainty is your qualification for faith. That’s a head-shaker. I can just imagine the conversation that went on between God and Abraham,

 

God: “So, will you go?”
Abe: “Okay. Where are we going?”
God: “I’ll tell you when we get there.”

 

Most of us would have said no. But Abraham said yes. That’s an adventurous spirit, I’d say. What’s at the heart of his adventurous spirit? A trusting heart, and a willingness to do whatever his God has spoken, no matter how little detail he’s given ahead of time.

Frank goes on to give us a little helpful guidance for this unknown faith journey,

 

“Be prepared to continually lay down and surrender to what you don’t know. And just remember the testimonies of the family of God, past and present, and take those stakes and drive them into the ground and extend the tent pegs of your dwelling. God is saying, ‘I am taking you to places that you have not yet anticipated. And it’s not because of your capacity and your qualifications. All I need is your willingness that you’ll go with Me even if you don’t know.’” – Frank Naea

 

Be assured that you don’t know! And that’s okay. Totally okay. Who knew that a big fat ZERO and the fact that you know ‘NOTHING’ is the very thing that qualifies you to take the faith journey you’re on right now.

Let’s chew on that one for a while now…