2 Corinthians 12;9

It’s not a typo. The semicolon is supposed to be there but we’ll talk a little bit more about that later.

Two years ago, I made a series of bad decisions. Some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made all in one night. Those bad decisions were the product of a time in my life when I was experiencing deep depression. The last bad decision I made that night was to harm myself on my left forearm. It’s not in my nature but depression can make you do things that you never thought possible of yourself. I was ashamed. I had allowed my brokenness, my weakness to control me. I sank further into depression. I drank more.

It was about 3 months later that I read 2 Corinthians 12:9 in my personal devotion time. I’d read it before, it was familiar, but it was different this time. I can be a prideful person and with that pride comes difficulty in recognizing and admitting faults, or weaknesses. It was easy to read the words and think, “I’m good.”

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

“(Christ’s) grace is sufficient for (me)” “Power is perfected in weakness”

This time as I sat there depressed and broken reading this passage of scripture, the words sank in and I wept. How could Christ’s grace be sufficient for what I did? How could power come out of such a great weakness, nonetheless be perfected by it? It couldn’t in my mind yet there it was in black and white. Paul didn’t mince words, he wasn’t talking in coded circles, he was explicit.

It took me some time to accept it. It took me longer to even think about boasting. I wrote about it several months later for the first time. It was hard. It hurt some people, it helped some people. After that, the whole thing became taboo to me. I didn’t talk about it and I didn’t want new acquaintances and friends to know about it. It was as if it had never happened.

I’m not regularly depressed but I’m going to admit, I do get depressed sometimes. Every so often, I become overwhelmingly and inexplicably sad. But I’m a lot better now; in some ways I’m better than I’ve ever been before.

The turning point was what 2 Corinthians 12 did for my faith. Everyone always seems to have it all together in church, good on them if they actually do, but having it all together is not grace; that isn’t Christ’s power working in us. Christ’s power is never better displayed than in our weakness. It’s right there in verse 9. Why do we hide it? Why do we, in essence, flee the perfect, redemptive love and grace of our Creator and Savior? For me, it was pride. I couldn’t admit problems because that’s not who I was. I had it all together.

I don’t have it all together and that is okay. I want to boast about my Savior’s power to the world. I want to scream it even though I have found that screaming, “JESUS LOVES YOU” at people is one of the worst and most ineffective forms of evangelism. BUT HE DOES LOVE YOU AND I STILL WANT TO SCREAM IT.

I’m not going to scream it. I’m going to find ways to display Christ’s power through my weakness. One way I’m going to do it is through my newest tattoo. Project Semicolon was founded to be a way to spread hope and love for those who are or have struggled with depression, self-harm, suicide, mental illness, and addiction. You can read more about it by clicking above but the basis is to get a semicolon tattoo as a statement that my life isn’t over yet, the same way a semicolon works in a sentence.

I wanted a way to display this idea while honoring Christ and the work He has done in my life. I decided this was the best way to do so:

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Christ’s power is made perfect in my weaknesses. I will boast about my weaknesses so that His power may reside in me and give me the ability to show that power with others.

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Midweek Music 12.09.15

“A Light” & “May You Find A Light” | The Brilliance

Lost and weary traveler
Searching for the way to go
Stranger, heavy-hearted
Longing for someone you know

A light shone down on us
A star of hope shines bright

May you find a light
To guide you home

Working in ministry, I typically begin to think about Advent and Christmas in August. It helps that this is my favorite time of year. I enjoy the decorations, the parades, the parties, the time with family and friends, and man do I love the music. It’s all wonderful but there is one thing that makes the season stand out to me, one thing that makes it something more than an enjoyable time of festivities. Hope. Advent is a time of expectation, it is a time of preparation, it is a time of celebration; Christmas is a time that our hopes are fulfilled in the form of a child, the picture of innocence, sent to save us from ourselves.

As I began to prepare the Advent music service for this Sunday, I found myself dwelling on the theme of light throughout scripture. I began to connect the beginning of light as God separated it from the darkness, the prophecies of a “new light” from Isaiah, Christ being personified as light in the Gospels, and finally the expectation that we should be reflections of that light into this world. John Arndt and David Gungor of The Brilliance wrote these two beautiful songs that perfectly captured my thoughts.

We are, all of us, searching for answers and we’re all on this journey together. We can rejoice that a star, a light, shone over Bethlehem signifying the birth of our God in the flesh, our Savior. This Sunday, December 13, we are having a special service of music in the morning services at University UMC. I hope you will join us during the 11:15am service where we will celebrate Advent, Christmas, and this light that is guiding each of us weary travelers home.


 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

 

Midweek Music 10.28.15

“Breathe” | The Brilliance

I sigh a lot. I find it is the quickest and easiest way to deal with stress. Not that I lead an overly stressful life but while working in ministry brings its many rewards, it certainly brings its fair share of stress and frustration.

Sometimes I’ll be working around other people, none of us talking, just working. I’ll be working on worship planning or scheduling or designing or formatting or any of the other things that serve me a large dose of fulfillment with a side of frustration and I’ll take a deep, audible breath in, hold if for just a second or two and then audibly exhale out my stress. Sometimes in those moments where I am holding the breath, without actually uttering a word, I’ll think to myself, “Lord, restore me”.

I heard this song for the first time earlier this year. This song is the perfect representation of those little 5 second “sigh-moments” I have throughout the day. In those 5 seconds, I take all the built up stress and frustration, I inhale as much as I can, I dwell on God and His renewal, and exhale my problems. It’s my 5 second interaction with God asking Him to breathe life on me again.

I’ve gotten to where those moments don’t just happen, I need them. I depend on them. I would probably, in complete honesty, quit ministry without them. And it’s good that I have this dependency on those moments because in those moments, I abandon myself and re-learn just how in need of God’s renewal I am. I need God’s breath, God’s love, God’s life, God’s spirit to take over where I am unable. If I sigh around you, it’s okay. I’m not sad or upset, I’m just having a moment and lesson that I think all of us need every now and again.

Oh, Spirit of God
Here with us now, giving us life again
Breathe, breathe on us now
Fill us with Your love
Send us with Your power
Spirit of God


I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Midweek Music 10.21.15

“You’re Beautiful” | Shane and Shane

When we arrive at eternity’s shore
Where death is just a memory and tears are no more
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring
Your bride will come together and we’ll sing
You’re beautiful


 

I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Seeing orange when all we want is red (another Lawson inspired post)

11201811_10153658453707813_6482443562922202457_nIf you don’t know who Lawson is, you must not read my blogs very often. I talk about my youngest nephew quite a bit, not only because he is one hilarious and cool kid but also because, when I visit him, I always leave having learned something.

On one of my recent visits, Lawson was showing me some of his newest Ninja Turtle gear. He’s a big fan. His favorite is Raphael, the red-masked ninja turtle with attitude…let’s just say it fits well that the stubborn, strong-willed turtle is his favorite. While we were going through the inventory of his Ninja Turtle swag, he pulled out his Raphael mask and wanted me to help him put it on his face so he could pretend. I was more than happy to help and play Ninja Turtles with him but every time I tried to put the mask on him and tie it, he resisted.

The problem, as it turned out, was that the mask was double sided. The part of the mask facing out was red like Raphael wore, but the part facing in towards Lawson, was orange like Michelangelo wore. Every time I went to put the mask on him, all he could see was orange. In his mind, I was making him be Michelangelo when he wanted to be Raphael.

There have been many times in my life where I had an idea of who I wanted to be and what it would take for me to be that person. In my pursuit of this, I would plan my path and do anything I could to stick to it. The issue here is that sometimes, dare I say oftentimes, the path doesn’t follow the plan. Situations arise, circumstances change, paths need to be rerouted and plans just fall apart. Sometimes the person we think we are “supposed” to be changes entirely.

Like Lawson, I failed to see the “red” because I couldn’t stop focusing on the “orange”. I became so focused on the destination that I forgot about the journey. I needed a change of perspective. I tried showing Lawson that there were two sides to the mask and when I put the orange facing toward him then the red was on the outside making him Raphael. He couldn’t grasp it because each time I went to try again, he saw the orange and would get upset. He couldn’t, nor wouldn’t, change his perspective.

There are times we become some fixated on how we want things to work out that we don’t see things from God’s perspective. There are times we become some fixated on getting our own agenda out there, that we fail to see things from other’s perspectives. After a good while of disagreeing, Lawson eventually grasped the concept of what I was trying to tell him. He got to be Raphael when he opened up to a new perspective.

Imagine the things you could do by opening your eyes and your mind to God’s perspective over your own. Imagine the person you could be and the glory you could bring to God by viewing life through the lens of another’s perspective. Imagine what we could accomplish together if we stopped seeing orange when all we want is red.

Midweek Music 09.03.15

“Come to the River” | Ronnie Freeman

It has been some kind of week. One of those weeks where every aspect of your life is invaded by stress and you feel like there is no escape. That kind of week.

I heard this song for the first time about 11 years ago. Ronnie was the worship leader for a time at the church in which I grew up. He left when I was still young to pursue a solo career and after a few years of success, he returned to the church for a homecoming concert at which he performed this song. It became one of those songs that I just fall into. I can listen to it over and over and it never grows old and always encourages me.

I’m doing this song on Sunday for communion, something I planned weeks ago.  I didn’t know when I planned it into worship that I would be having the week I’m having, I just felt led to put it on this Sunday. Being able to practice this song and listen to it over the last week has been a great source of comfort and rest for me. It’s in those moments where something falls into place, something I felt led by God to do in the first place, that bring me the greatest comfort. The idea that maybe, just maybe, God knew I was going to need this song this week. That maybe someone in the congregation needs to hear this song, this week. That maybe someone reading this right now needs to hear this song, this week. Rest in God and be comforted by His incredible peace.


I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Midweek Music 08.12.15

“Christ is Enough” | Hillsong Worship

We all “need” something from time to time. A new car, new clothes, certain foods, different job, more money, better social status, etc… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been guilty of “needing” something that, in actuality, I didn’t.

We play a game with God. “Give me (insert item) and I’ll do better about (insert spiritual attribute)”. We treat our relationship with Christ like a points-based reward system. I’m just curious when Christ stopped being good enough. When did his unjustified love and grace towards us stop being more than what we deserve.

It’s hard to live the words of this song. It’s hard living in a material world and not being a material girl (or guy) to reference a song with a different mindset. It’s hard but it’s worth it. Letting Christ be more than enough, let alone enough, is so worth it. Commit yourself to Christ, be encouraged by his unmitigated grace, and follow the direction toward which he is leading you. Let Christ be enough.


I’ve created a playlist on Spotify featuring all the songs from Midweek Music, feel free to follow it along with the posts.

Jehovah Jireh

Throughout scripture, many descriptive names are ascribed to God in order to portray the active role he plays in our (his creation’s) lives. One such name is “Jehovah Jireh” or “the Lord will provide”. It’s taken from Genesis 22 and the story of Abraham being told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. At the last minute, after proving himself faithful, God stops Abraham and provides for him a ram to sacrifice instead. It was a test for Abraham to prove his faith and obedience. In response, Abraham names that location “Jehovah Jireh” to acknowledge God’s faithfulness in providing.

Over the weekend, I found out about a couple friends who are in need of jobs. Someone had been talking to them about “Jehovah Jireh”. This type of theology makes me shudder. God is faithful and God is just but I see the “Jehovah Jireh” theology, such as this one, taking firm roots in Evangelical America. The idea that your want is in actuality a need and that God is a magical genie waiting to grant your wishes if only you ask enough and/or are “good” enough.

That is not the Gospel of Christ. That is dangerous thinking. That is prosperity gospel.

I believe that God loves you and because He loves you, He wants to be in relationship with you. The problem is we live in a first-world society which seems set on the mentality that being in relationship with God means material blessings. It gets worse when we equate the amount of our material blessings to how much we love God and God loves us. What does this theology say to third-world missionaries? To starving children? To our atheistic neighbors?

I believe that God plays an active role in our daily lives. I believe He loves and cares for us. I also believe the opportunity to use my passion for leading worship as a career and the fact that I have money in my bank account is not because God loves me more than a friend who is serving as a missionary in Africa. He doesn’t love me more than the starving and homeless people my friend works with on a daily basis. He doesn’t love me less than Joel Osteen and his $50 million estimated worth.

God will provide. It just might not be in the way you expect.

The Opulence of Not Giving

I have an acquaintance that started a charitable organization a few years ago. It’s not unlike him to do so as he is a really nice guy, eccentric at times, but nice. I won’t give names or specific details because my goal is not to publicly embarrass this guy. Let’s just say his charitable organization is moderately successful through his and his father’s connections, a pretty concerted social media effort, and the fact that his charity has the potential to do a lot of wonderful things for some human beings that are in desperate need.

I’ve never given any money to his charity.

Why? It’s not because I’m a stingy miser. I do donate to charities. But I don’t donate to his. It’s because of his lifestyle. Maybe I’m overreacting, maybe I care more than I should but this guy lives a ridiculously lavish lifestyle. He takes marvelously expensive trips multiple times a year spending (seemingly) more money than I make in that same year. I’m suspicious that some of his clothes cost more than the entirety of what comprises my closet. I’m fairly certain that some of the parties he throws costs roughly the same amount as that of the value of my car (which isn’t all that much so maybe a bad example).

Not only does he live this lavish life, he flaunts it.

Not a day goes by where I login to one of a variety of social media accounts that I don’t see any number of pictures/statuses/tweets/snaps about his latest expensive venture. I won’t deny it makes me jealous sometimes as I sit at my desk in my office and look at pictures of him in cities all around the world. I am human after all. But my fleeting jealousy is not what fuels this post.

Here’s the thing, I don’t completely fault this guy for spending his families money they way he sees fit. If that is the lifestyle he wants to lead, that is totally his choice. I vacation, I go shopping and eat out. I’m in no place to criticize those things. My problem lies in this fact: this same guy who is leading and flaunting this lavish lifestyle is the same one asking me to donate to his charity.

The charity’s most recent campaign was trying to raise $2000. It exceeded it’s goal, which is fantastic. As the campaign went on, I watched it’s CEO take a vacation to Europe. I couldn’t help but question how much the money spent on that vacation might have helped his organization’s beneficiaries. The plane ticket alone might very well have covered the entire campaign. As he flew to Europe, person after person dedicated $10, $15, $25 to helping others.

He is not alone.

In 2013, American households gave $241 billion to charitable organizations. I’m amazed at that kind of generosity. It’s heartwarming to see that kind of giving. There’s a catch though. In that same year, American households spent $621 billion directly on leisure travel. Individuals spent 158% as much on traveling for fun as we did on feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless, disease prevention, and educating the uneducated.

This isn’t intended to guilt you into canceling your vacation. I sure as heck am not canceling mine next month and I won’t feel one ounce of guilt as I play with my nephews on the beach. But I know that I also have a responsibility to live within a certain means so that I can help others. Maybe I even need to reassess what I spend on a regular basis.

Someone once told me, in regards to this argument I am making, “Trey, there is always more that can be done. You’ll never be satisfied.” And they were right, there is always more than can be done and I won’t ever be satisfied. I hope you won’t be either.

(Insert Name Here)

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

Ernest Hemingway

I’ve never been exceptionally talented at any one thing. I have attained many average or “slightly above average” skills. Because of this average “jack-of-all-trades” life that I’ve led, I have oftentimes found myself in an almost constant state of comparing myself to others.  I was a decent baseball player but not on the same athletic level as my older brother. I was a pretty good public speaker but didn’t size up to my youth pastor’s ability to draw in his audiences. I am a good musician but can’t even begin to list the countless people I’ve met who are far more talented and hard-working than myself.

I admired these people for what they were able to do and what they were able to accomplish in their field of expertise. I admired them and I compared myself to them. I compared myself to them and I put myself down in my own mind for my inability to live up to them. In turn, I would find people less talented or less intelligent than myself and feed my own ego off their “inferiority”. I would tell myself that I might not be as good as (insert name here) but at least I’m better than (insert name here). I caught myself in this trap of feeling insufficient through comparison while also needing to gain self satisfaction through further comparison.

We live in a world of constant comparison. Competition is not only encouraged, it’s expected. Survival of the fittest is ingrained at an early age. Work harder, move faster, study more…be better. The error is when we step back and realize whom we are supposed to be better than. We’re told to be competitive with those around us which is not totally wrong, healthy competition is good, but are we really improving our lives by holding our heads higher from having defeated someone else? Isn’t true improvement, the truest “betterment” in character attained when we can look in the mirror and say, “Today, I am better than I was yesterday.”

I’m a remarkably competitive person and I won’t lie and say I have this completely figured out. Comparison and competitiveness is something with which I struggle on a daily basis. I have, however, come to a point in my life where most days, I can shut out the rest of the world, stop worrying about others achievements, look in the mirror, and know how I size up to the man I was the day before. Some days the man I see is better and some days, that man falls short. On the days where I have fallen short, I pick myself up and find ways to be better the next day. On the days where the man I see is better, I find ways to be even better the next. On this day and every day after, don’t concern yourself with being better than (insert name here). Concern yourself with simply being better than (insert your name here).