Saturday, December 7, 2013

Clarity In The Midst of Darkness...

This has been a tough week.  No way to sugar-coat it.  The first few days were downright gloomy.  I think I described them in my last blog as being in sort of a "fog."  The feelings of sadness, feelings of confusion, and worst of all, anxiety, were just not fun at all.

There was an upside to all of this, though.  I did a LOT of praying, soul-searching, and crying out to God.  That fog started to lift on Wednesday.  I have several people that I know that I can talk to about all of this (and I do), but had been praying that God would send someone along to speak wisdom into my life from a fresh perspective.  I was in my office working, when a man from my church stuck his head in to see how I was doing.  I know him well, and I could tell that this wasn't just any old visit to my office.  We sat and discussed things for about 45 minutes.  He was able to point out some things from a perspective that I had not thought of before.  His walking in my office was the beacon I had been looking for.  He told me that he felt impressed by the Lord to come by.  Hmm... I love it when God works that way!

Thursday, early in the morning, I was again in deep thought and prayer about all of this.  The wheels in my mind had been set in motion by the previous day's conversation.  God finally saw fit to open my eyes to some of the issues that seem to cause so much anxiety in my life.  Things tend to make better sense when you begin to see the bigger picture.  Let me try to explain.

I am a fixer.  Those that know me well, know that this is my nature.  I have always been that way.  If I have it in my scope of abilities or resources, and you have a need...I'm going to do my best to try and get it taken care of for you.  I thrive at this...maybe too much.

For years, as a pastor, I have used this "gift" to drive ministry.  Everything from counseling to helping needy folks get food...falls right into this category.  Of course, there is nothing at all wrong with that, but the problem is that the needs FAR outweigh my own abilities.  Obviously, I know this, but a large part of my anxiety comes from trying to take the weight of all of the need I cannot meet, and carry it myself.  A good example of this would be my desk at work.  On a normal week, I can clear my desk of most of the tasks that come across it.  However, when I'm in the midst of the busiest time of the year (usually the summer), things that are not of immediate importance tend to pile up there.  At some point, I have to come back to that desk and begin to work through the pile.  Sometimes that can be an overwhelming task.  When the needs of others outweigh my ability, I tend to keep a mental stockpile of that need with me at all times.  That leads to my next point.

I have a bit of a perfectionist streak.  Now, I'm not an ultra-perfectionist at every little thing.  I don't line my pencils up on my desk in perfect fashion, or anything like that.  However, growing up on the farm, my dad and grandpa always instilled a "do it right the first time" work ethic in me.  Often times, that meant staying at something until it was done, even if that meant staying up late into the night.  So, there are certain things in life that my mind tells me that I have to keep at until they are finished.  The problem is that while ranching has some similarities to ministry, working with people isn't quite as cut and dry.  Fixing a fence is easy.  You just follow the steps, and it works nearly every time....job done, move along.  You simply cannot have that attitude in ministry, as these are PEOPLE we are dealing with...not farm equipment.  But, just like one should always fix the fence right the first time, I feel like I should keep at people's problems until they are taken care of.  The problem is that people do not often "fix" so easily.  The ones that can be helped quickly are far fewer than those (including me) that seem to take time to help.  So, my mind becomes littered with these "unfinished" things...much like my desk in the summer.  My perfectionist streak wants to see ALL of them to conclusion... but my finite mind/body does not allow it.  And thus, the anxiety begins to mount.

The answer to all of this is that even though I'm doing ministry, I'm depending WAY too much on my own abilities and power.  If you notice, there was a lot of "I" and "me" going on, and even though I was praying and seeking God... I had forgotten that it is not me that truly helps people...but it is Jesus.  I am reminded in the last few chapters of Job about who is really in control of everything.  God does not NEED me... but chooses to allow me to be His hands and feet to the world.

I am in process.  God is continuing to stretch and mold me.  He is continually reminding me of just how much He loves me, and those that I minister to.  The words of John 3:30 ring loudly, "He must become greater, I must become less."  No, this is not a new concept for me...I just needed to be reminded of it again.  I confess that I mess up... a lot... but thank God for His love, for my family, and for Godly friends that speak into my life.

I pray that these words will encourage you this week.  I was reminded of them by a missionary friend in Whales this week.  Wonderful encouragement here:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." -- Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cloudy Days

Anxiety, depression... statistically, the few weeks around the holidays are when these feelings are often the worst for many people.  Why is that?  There are many reasons for it, and they can range from sadness over being alone to being overtaxed from travel and business.

During the past few weeks, I have been pretty quiet on this blog page.  In my last update, I shared my struggle with medication, and my decision to stop taking what I had been on.  Things went pretty well until a couple of weeks ago.  Due to some health issues, stress at work, and other issues, I found myself loaded with anxiety.  Not only was it crippling emotionally, it was also embarrassing.  After all, I had just announced that I was doing better, and was off my medication.  I had to admit that once again, I could not handle all of this on my own.

I saw my regular doctor, and after a lengthy conversation decided that I should probably try a different medication.  Although I don't like taking medicine, I began a new type of medication that night.  It has helped, for sure...although I am still dealing with my anxiety.  It comes at fairly predictable times, and I can usually tell what is going to cause it.   However, I still find myself lost in the midst of it sometimes.  That makes me frustrated, as I think I should be able to see it coming and take steps to avoid it.  Maybe in time....but not yet.

Today, I find myself in a bit of a fog of depression/anxiety.  Not the kind that makes you have to stay at home and in bed...but the kind that saps you of your energy, and clouds my mind.  I know that a good portion of it is coming back to "normal" after spending a week with family and loved ones last week during Thanksgiving.  I also firmly believe that a good portion of this is a spiritual attack, as well.  I simply don't feel that I have the strength to fight this attack.  As a pastor, this is particularly annoying, as I SHOULD be able to do that.  I am so thankful for people's prayers on spiritually "cloudy" days like this.  I could use some today.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Have You Prayed for Your Youth Pastor Today?

Okay, before anyone gets snarky about the title, this is not a plea for attention.  It is an honest question.  Have you prayed for your (or the person serving at your church) Youth Pastor today?  Let me explain why I am asking...

Today, I had lunch with a group of youth pastors.  Now, this does not happen very often, but it is usually pretty great to get together with other ministers.  These are guys who truly understand what you do, and all that comes along with doing this type of ministry.  Brothers-in-arms to use a different analogy.  We met at a sub shop, and swapped ideas, talked about our families, and about ministry here in our city.  We truly had a good time together.

However, I could see pain the eyes of a few of the guys.  Pain that I understand.  As I have explained before, many of us pastors have been deceived into believing that we are supposed to have it all together.  We are not supposed to get down, we are not supposed to fail, we are not supposed to show weakness...  after all, people are LOOKING to US for leadership.  So, we bottle our own emotions, and ignore our own problems...that is until our own problems become so great that they can no longer be hidden.  When the elephant (your problems) that you think you have kept hidden in the room, finally falls out from behind the lamp post (ridiculous, as it was obvious to everyone else) is often a fall of epic proportions.

One of the few places that pastors (and yes, I classify youth pastors as pastors) can sometimes share their issues is with...other pastors.  Today, a couple of us had the opportunity to listen to a brother pour out his heart, and pray with him.  He is hurting, worn, and exhausted.  Years of serving the church can do that to you.  It's not that you do not love what you do, or that you do not love the Lord.  The truth is that it is a job that you never really get to "leave" at work.  The emotions and effects of our ministry are on our minds all the time.  We get phone calls at all hours asking for prayer, to meet someone at the hospital, texts for prayer, for a ride, etc.  Don't get me wrong...this is what we do...what we signed up for, and truthfully...we love it.  I am just trying to illustrate the mental/spiritual side of what we do.

I talk to youth pastors from all over, and the story is the same.  The devil seems to be on the offensive  right now.  I would be wrong to tell you that this is only affecting youth pastors.  All ministers are vulnerable.  However, the youth pastors in churches can be easy to miss.  They are not often front and center, and spend a lot of time with teenagers...a place where many adults fear to tread...:)  My request of you is pretty simple.  This weekend, take a bit to offer up some prayer for your church staff, but please make it a point for the next week to specifically pray for your youth pastor.  Pray for his spiritual strength, his walk with the Lord, his marriage, his vision for ministry, his relationships with other ministry staff members, and pray for physical health and strength.  Take the time to thank him for the work that he does with the church.  You have no idea just how much a kind word or a thank you can change things for the better.  Thank you for taking the time to read this!

Lastly, once again...some may think of a blog article like this as rather self-serving.  Please be assured that this is not my intent at all.  Just wrote this out of concern for my brothers in ministry!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Would Jesus Say This To You?

I read a passage in Matthew this morning.  Every now and then, God uses a passage that I have read many times to speak wisdom into my life today.   Here are the verses:

 “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad.  You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say.   A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.  And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.  The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” Matt. 12:33-37 (NLV)
Jesus was speaking to some religious leaders of the day, called Pharisees.  They did not like Jesus, and used any opportunity they could to try and discredit the ministry of Jesus.  In this case, they had even accused Jesus of getting his power from the Devil. 
These were men that were looked up to in the community, and were leaders in the Jewish church, not just average citizens.  Jesus looks right past their “standing” in society, and their pious attitudes.  He goes right to the center of the problem…the condition of their hearts.
Does this hit you the way it hit me?  How often do I rely on my own thoughts, traditions, and perspective in the way I follow Jesus?  Do I allow my heart to become calloused and cold, resulting in speech that demoralizes, or criticizes others?  I have to admit that I find myself fighting the urge to be snarky, cold, and critical of others.  It is particularly bad when I am tired, or when things have not gone my way.  I hate to admit that, but it's true...
Truthfully, we are no different than the Pharisees in this story, if left to our own devices.  Jesus IS in fact saying this to us, as well.  Check your heart...make sure it's tuned into God, and not yourself!  I pray that God uses you in mighty ways this week!

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Road of Life Moves On...But We're Not Alone...

This road has been an interesting one over the past few months.  As a pastor, I have been to countless training sessions about the warning signs of depression, as well as how to help folks struggling with this unwelcome intrusion in their lives.  What I did not know was the vast breadth of how depression affects so many different people.  This blog has opened the doors to countless conversations with both friends, and absolute strangers, about the impact of depression on each one of them.  Most were stories about themselves, but there were also stories of spouses and children interlaced among these conversations.  There are so many different types of depression.  For some, it is a mortal battle of epic proportions...where each day is a fight to stay alive.  For others, it is a constant feeling of helplessness, and even a loss of hope.  There are obviously people at various points in between these examples...MANY people.  These people are all around us...striving to attain some sense of "normalcy" in their lives.  I pray for them...

While doctors have been helpful, my struggle with depression has been eased by several factors.  The first, and foremost, is my relationship with Jesus Christ.  He never left my side...even on really tough days.  Even in the midst of despair, I could sense His presence...His peace...   The support and encouragement by my family, church staff, and friends have been invaluable.  Encouraging words, stories (even some of them that were obviously painful for them to tell), have been amazing.  Through a friend in the state Baptist convention, I met an amazing man of God that has made it his vocation to help struggling pastors, who is also a former youth pastor.  His advice, willingness to listen, and expertise have been so helpful.  It has been wonderful to begin to understand things that I need to change in my own life in order to feel "normal" again.  Many of the things that I struggle with are related to things that I have experienced in life...particularly in church ministry.  Unpacking old hurt and things that I have buried, emotionally speaking, have been so helpful.  When I can share those with someone who understands, and can give objective advice, it is very freeing.

The last, and hugely important factors is....SLEEP.  Seriously, I cannot emphasize how important this one has been for me.  Those that know me well, know that I have always been a night owl, and a bit of an insomniac.  For years, I've lived on 4-5 hours of sleep a night.  Yes, nearly every night.  Now, I've gone through stages where I slept more than that, but on the average....that has been me for at least the past 10 years.  When I get tired, I am more emotional...and not in a good way.  I have a tendency to feel more anxious and stressed...for obvious reasons.  So, I made the decision a few weeks ago to force myself to sleep more.  Now, I don't go to bed at 8:00 PM...that'll never happen.  However, instead of 2:00 AM, I started dialing it back a bit at a time.  At first, I would take some Tylenol PM to ease myself into a "sleepy" state, but soon found that I could go to bed earlier without the sleep aids.  I'm still up late most nights, but am averaging between 12:00 - 1:00 AM...  Not exactly a massive improvement (on average), but there have been several nights that I have been in bed by 11:00 PM.  More sleep has been a step in the right direction.  Mentally and spiritually, I have felt much more renewed each day.  I'm still working on it!

I said last time that I had made the decision to remove medication from my treatment.  I have now been off of all medication for 2 weeks, and am very glad that I made this decision.  The medication I had been taking was causing some odd side effects...enough that it was more of a hinderance than a help to me.  Please understand that I am not advocating that everyone drop medication from treatment.  That is a personal decision that is best made by you and your doctor.

I thank God for improvement...  Of course there are still tough days (and nights), but progress is improvement.  During all of this, I have taken great comfort in the words of Scripture.  Especially the words of David in Psalms.  Psalm 51:12 says this, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you."  Psalm 28:6 - 7 says "Praise the Lord! For he has heard my cry for mercy.  The Lord is my strength and shield.  I trust him with all my heart.  He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.  I burst out in songs of thanksgiving."  David's struggles came from many directions.  Some were products of his own actions, but many were not.  I just thank the Lord for words like these that we can take comfort in.  His presence is always with each of you...hang in there!  Praying that His comfort finds you today... no matter where you are in life!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Next Step..

I have refrained from posting to this blog over the past couple of weeks.  I was concerned that my posts were too dark, and did not want to sound like a total "negative nelly."  That, and I really wanted to write about milestone moments in my life, not just random postings about the same thing.  Of course, some of you may be thinking that the "down and depressed" subject matter all sounds the same after the first post.  I totally understand that.  However, many of you have expressed your absolute understanding of these posts, mainly because you were/are in that same point in your life.  Depression is a strong opponent, and the support of others can be a wonderful ally!

I have now been on Wellbutrin for 6 weeks.  I have always hated taking medication, but I was willing to try it this time in order to get past some very dark days.  One of the problems with any type of mood altering drug is that it does what it's supposed alters moods.  Sometimes that is a good thing, but it can also have a very "numbing" effect on your mind and body.  A sense of apathy, or the general "blahs" are not uncommon.  Plus, there are a multitude of physical side effects to these medications.  Loss of sleep, restlessness, dry mouth, stomach cramps (and other wonderful things), and the list goes on and on.  Many of you told me your stories about these medications, and I have experienced many of these side effects.  So much so, that I have begun to question whether taking these meds are worth the "other stuff" that comes with it.  I personally have decided to wean myself off of this medication, and see how things are in my "natural" state.  Will keep you posted on how it goes.

My counseling has been going well.  We meet via Skype, so that keeps me from having to drive somewhere for an appointment.  My counselor is a former youth pastor, so he totally gets where I'm coming from.  The first few sessions have been foundational stuff... history, past problems, current problems, etc.  We are now working through a workbook that has been quite helpful so far.  Making some progress there, for sure.

I am not "over" my depression, nor do I know that I will ever be completely done with it.  However, I am glad to see some light again.  I pray for those of you out there dealing with the same issues.  I pray that you realize and know that you are not alone, that Jesus is always with matter what.  I pray for those of you wrestling with decisions regarding medication or counseling...that you will make wise and informed choices.  Most of all, I pray that God will provide you with friends and family that will lift you up, that will listen, that will love you through even the most difficult days.  Take heart...God says that He will "...Never leave you or forsake you."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fake It 'Til You Make It...

Are you familiar with the term, "Fake it until you make it"?  It is the art of trying to convince people that you really know how to do something, that you are in complete control, or that everything is fine until you actually figure out how to do that something...or your problems go away  We all do it, right?  We try to keep others believing that we have it all together, that we know what we are doing all of the time, and that even our problems are just minor specks on the windshield of our life.  We carefully craft our twitter, facebook, and even our blogs to portray our lives as successful, happy, and exciting.  Our society in America...and even the church, have bought right into this "Fake it until you make it" mentality.

I have to confess that I have been as guilty of this as anyone.  I have stated previously in my blog postings that as a pastor of 16 years, I do not have it all together.  I struggle with self-doubt (a LOT), pride, envy, anger, and fear of failure...just to name a few.  As a pastor, I have times in my life that I do not understand what God is doing in my life, as well as periods of spiritual drought.  Often times, these two things at the exact same time.  It is hard to explain, and so during these times of drought, I often resort to the "Fake it" principal.  No, I do not desire to be "fake," however in an attempt to cover my own problems and confusion, I tend to carry on with business as usual with those around me.  I am not diluted enough to think that people do not see through this at times, but honestly...I believe the lie that people expect their ministers to have all the answers, and to have it together... So, this cycle gets repeated often.  I would venture to guess that, based on experience, most of us are not very good at being real.  I am not even good at being real with myself!

Over the past few months, I have been coming to terms with the fact that I have some issues that I need to deal with.  Depression is simply one of the things that I need help in conquering.  Being honest with myself and others should be at the top of that list, as well.  I must confess that I often tell people that I'm doing okay, even when I'm not...simply to spare them the details.  That is a pattern of lying that I do not want, and deeply apologize for.  I am not great with finances, I can get stressed out easily when something unexpected comes, and sometimes find myself doubting my own abilities as a communicator of the Gospel of Jesus.  Obviously, I have more issues than that, but I want people to understand that when I talk about being "real"...I'm not just saying that.  When people get to know me...the REAL me...I want them to understand that I am as flawed of an individual as anyone else out there.

I know that this may seem like a bit of a "Debbie Downer" posting.  However, I want you to understand that I am fully convinced that God can take imperfect, odd people, and use them for His glory.  We see evidence of this in the life of David, of the Apostle Paul, Peter, Moses, and many others in the Bible.  In every one of these stories, we see great men of God...imperfect men... being used by God Himself to further His kingdom.  God even goes as far as calling King David a man after His own heart. adulterer and a murderer...was still a man used by God.  Peter denied knowing Jesus on the eve of His crucifixion, Paul killed Christians, Moses was disobedient to God...and yet God still chose to use these flawed, imperfect men to show His power and love to a world that really does need God.

I have to believe that God will continue this trend, even in my own life.  While I am scarred, flawed, and imperfect, I have to trust that God is moving me closer to His presence, in spite of my own efforts to derail things.  I do not want to be fake at all...  I want people to know that what they see is what they get.  When others interact with me, I want them to see what God can do with a life that is devoid of pride, selfishness, and above all... being fake.   To do this, I must continually remind myself that the status quo of this world...even in church... is not what God wants.  He just wants our hearts, and our devotion.  These two verses are some of my favorite reminders of what I need to strive for.  I hope they will speak to you, as well.

"And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."  -- Romans 12:1-2 (NLT)

Stay real, my friends...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Scorched Earth... Slow Healing

Over the past few weeks, I have faced a lot of battles.  Most of those battles are silent, personal battles.  The actual diagnosis of depression just gave a name to the face of something I have struggled with for several years.  Over the past few weeks, I have heard from a large number of friends from all over the world regarding my initial blog about depression.  There are so many of us out there that are fighting these silent battles every day.  I am thankful for the fact that I no longer feel alone in this fight.

One of the biggest lies that we often believe is that no one else understands, that no one else cares, or wants to know about how hard we struggle at times.  I mean, it's easy to believe.  How often do those that we care about want to hear about the same struggle that we shared with them yesterday, or last week?  We don't want to be a burden on anyone.  So I, like many others, chose to keep it to myself for far too long.  For me to heal, that has to change.

My dealings with depression started in about 2007, when some folks that I trusted greatly in our church, turned on myself and our pastor.  The following months were confusing, dark, and extremely frustrating.  Thankfully, we came through that event without any career damage, but the emotional effects of that encounter were pretty deep.  Flash forward about 18 months, and I had moved into a new church ministry job in the same city.  During this time, I experienced some extremely great highs in ministry...and something new that I had not experienced before. For reasons that I still do not understand, the pastor that I worked with began a series of mental and verbal abuses that became relentless.  This went on for several months, and I had no idea how to handle it.  From the outside, everything probably looked fine.  Our youth ministry was flourishing, the church was in good condition financially and numerically, but the dark side of this church that I was seeing that was quite damaging to me.  This abuse went on for months, and became more and more frequent.  To this day, I still have no idea what brought it on, and believe me, I asked on multiple occasions.  Sadly, like the saying goes, "If you hear a lie enough times, it begins to sound like truth" these words of untruth became real to me.  Logically, I KNEW these words were false... but in times like this, ministry work can become very confusing.  How do you follow the spiritual lead of a person when this kind of stuff is going on?  It affected my view of ministry, of the church, even my view of church people. My view of ministry and the church were shaken to their core, but my faith in Jesus has never wavered.  Praise Jesus for that...

After 10 months at that church, an abusive encounter occurred in front of the entire staff, and at that point, I knew that things were not going to get better.  I chose to resign, and walk away before things got any worse.  There were things that were done and said in that last meeting and the weeks after I left that honestly still make no sense to me. I was deeply wounded...worse than I ever had been before...on multiple levels.  My pride was obviously splintered, but the deeper issue was that my very spirit had been shattered over the course of those 18 months.  My will to get out of bed, or even eat a meal were gone.  I had zero...and I mean ZERO desire to ever work in a church again.  I was so worn down and exhausted from the struggle that for the first time, depression reared it's ugly head in my life.

There were many days spent locked up in my house. I only wanted to see my family, and tried keep myself occupied.  I was unemployed, angry, battered and bruised...and not healing quickly.  It was during these days that the most terrifying part of depression hit me...thoughts of suicide.  I will never forget when those thoughts began to come.  Don't get me wrong, I KNEW they were coming from satan, but he was relentless.  Wave agter wave of attacks would come. It was brutal. I never actually thought about carrying these thoughts out, but experiencing this brought shame into my heart.  It was just one more thing that seemed to be crashing down on me.  However, the Lord saw fit to bring a couple of friends alongside me that had walked this road before.  My friend, Nick Watts, walked with me through the entire time that this abuse was going on, and through  the aftermath.  He, along with a very encouraging letter from another friend, Jason Bishop, were anchors for me during all of this.  Thankfully, the thoughts began to subside after much prayer, Bible study, and time with my family and friends. Praise God for those men...

That was five years ago.  God has brought me through a lot since then.  He restored me to ministry, moved me to a new city, and has opened new ministry experiences overseas that have been amazing.  He even enabled me to forgive that pastor, and the others involved in that mess.  I praise God for that.  However, the story does not end there.  The emotional and spiritual pain has not been erased.  Just when I think I am past all of it, something will occur to bring those thoughts and feelings all back again, usually something at church.  Thus, my dealings with depression tend to crop up every few months.  Usually after God has done something amazing in our lives is when it hits the hardest.  This summer, we had the best summer of ministry that we have ever been a part of.  We saw many kids give their life to the Lord, had an amazing mission trip to Hungary, two amazing interns, and saw God move in mighty ways. so many of the people we read about in the Bible...after the amazing times often come the dark times.

That is where I am today.  I am now on some medication to help take the edge off of the emotional side of things, and I am speaking with a counselor that a good friend in ministry introduced me to.  No, I am not past this yet...but with God's help, I am making progress.  I am learning to trust people again, particularly people in church.  Sharing parts of my story in this blog have been hugely helpful in trying to put some of these feelings to rest.  I just pray that in doing so, that the Lord may use this blog to help others out there know that they are not alone in a struggle like this.  Thank you for your prayers...please let me know how I can pray for you.... :)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fighting the Enemy of Unbelief...

Studying this morning, I read a passage by Charles Spurgeon on unbelief.  I meet so many people who struggle with unbelief...and not just teenagers and college students!  Usually, we seem to struggle with unbelief when we are faced with serious obstacles or trials in life.  This is where our faith is truly tested.  I think that most of us can totally identify with the father in this story:

'A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not." 
"O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 

Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered.  "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"' -- Mark 9:17-24 (NIV)

I confess that I have prayed these very words many times in my life.  Too many times I have been faced with problems with finances, sickness, obstacles to doing ministry, or even the ongoing struggle I face in dealing with depression.  I tend to find myself relying on my own understanding in trying to figure a way out of these problems.  Never once have I been able to figure out any of these problems on my own.  When I have tried, I have failed miserably.  That is part of why I continue to talk publicly about dealing with depression.  I realized that I can not beat it on my own...and trust me, I've tried.  I must continue to move forward, trusting those that God has guided me to for help.  I have no doubt that the doctor and the counselor that I speak with were put there by the Lord to remind me that He is still leading me, even when my belief and strength are failing.  The war with unbelief is real, and one that I believe we all wage daily.

My prayer for you is that you realize that you are not ever alone as you move through tough days that come in life.  I have a trusted set of friends that God uses to remind me of His grace and love.  That group is not immune to this battle of unbelief, either.  I must do my part in encouraging and lifting others up in prayer, as well.  If you do not have people in your life like this, I encourage you to find a church home, and ask God to give you a friend like this.  God speaks to us through His Word (The Bible), prayer, and through His people.  We must fight the enemy of unbelief together.  If you are reading this and feel all alone, I pray that you sense the power and peace of Jesus right now.  He tells us in Hebrews 13 that He will not leave you, or forsake you.  I posted the passage from Charles Spurgeon below, in case you would like to read it. 

"STRIVE with all diligence to keep out that monster unbelief. It so dishonours Christ, that He will withdraw His visible presence if we insult Him by indulging it. It is true it is a weed, the seeds of which we can never entirely extract from the soil, but we must aim at its root with zeal and perseverance.

Among hateful things it is the most to be abhorred. Its injurious nature is so venomous that he that exerciseth it and he upon whom it is exercised are both hurt thereby. In thy case, O believer! it is most wicked, for the mercies of thy Lord in the past, increase thy guilt in doubting Him now. When thou dost distrust the Lord Jesus, He may well cry out, "Behold I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves." This is crowning His head with thorns of the sharpest kind. It is very cruel for a well-beloved wife to mistrust a kind and faithful husband. The sin is needless, foolish, and unwarranted. Jesus has never given the slightest ground for suspicion, and it is hard to be doubted by those to whom our conduct is uniformly affectionate and true.

Jesus is the Son of the Highest, and has unbounded wealth; it is shameful to doubt Omnipotence and distrust all-sufficiency. The cattle on a thousand hills will suffice for our most hungry feeding, and the granaries of heaven are not likely to be emptied by our eating. If Christ were only a cistern, we might soon exhaust His fulness, but who can drain a fountain? Myriads of spirits have drawn their supplies from Him, and not one of them has murmured at the scantiness of His resources. Away, then, with this lying traitor unbelief, for his only errand is to cut the bonds of communion and make us mourn an absent Saviour. Bunyan tells us that unbelief has "as many lives as a cat:" if so, let us kill one life now, and continue the work till the whole nine are gone. Down with thee, thou traitor, my heart abhors thee."

                                                                                   -- "Morning & Evening" by Charles Spurgeon

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Unique Ministry Opportunity For You...

Do you wish you could do more to help our missionaries overseas?  I want to share about a way that you can help equip them for ministry, from right here in Austin!

This summer, God opened the door for us to be able to help these families get what they need to communicate the Gospel, as well as keep in touch with their families here at home.  It is so simple, yet so important.  For lack of a better name, I will call it iMission.

The technology here in the US moves at an astounding pace.  Phones, tablets, and computers get replaced with newer models very quickly.  Many of us keep up with the new cycle of equipment, and upgrade frequently.  This is where iMission comes in.  While an iPhone 4, or an iPad 2 may not seem like “gems” to many people these days, they can be invaluable tools for someone overseas.  I met with a pastor in Hungary that could desperately use an iPad in the ministry he does at his church.  However, an iPad 2 costs about $600 there.

This is where you come in.  If you have (or will be soon) upgraded your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch (4th gen or newer), or even a Mac laptop, and are not sure what to do with the old ones… you can help!  We ask that you pray about donating those phones, iPads, and laptops to further the kingdom work in other nations.  These items will be refurbished, and either given to the missionaries in need, or in some cases, sold to provide money to get what they are requesting.  We ask that iPhones be a 4, or newer.  Any generation of the iPad would be fine, and mac computers that are not more than 3 years old.  Right now, we’re only asking for Apple branded items, due to their unique iMessage system.  If you have any questions, please let me know, and thank you for your help!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Running Off The Assassin...

Since posting about my struggle with depression, I have been astounded by the number of people who have contacted me.  I have listened to all kinds of stories, had many conversations, and added many to my prayer list.  I now see that depression is a large-scale problem within our society.  People of every walk of life, every socio-economic group, and age are affected by depression.  I have spoken with teenagers, college students, young professionals, young parents, older parents, even some that are much older who deal with this silent assassin.

I use the term assassin here, because an assassin's job is to destroy life, and is usually sent for a specific reason.  I firmly believe that depression is a tool that the devil uses in an attempt to draw our gaze away from Jesus, and focus our attention on an internal crisis.  If you have ever dealt with depression, or anxiety, then you understand what I mean by the term, "internal crisis."  When in the midst of this type of crisis, it is hard to know which end is up, and where to turn next.  Seemingly common tasks become massive hills to climb.  Going to work, the store, or even to church can be a battle.  In my own life, in the midst of these attacks, I find myself having to quote a lot of scripture.  Many times, I do not feel like I even have the strength to do that, and end up reading quotes from the Bible app on my smartphone.  There is such power in the words of God...that the enemy has to leave.  It is a relentless battle... the devil retreats, but often comes back quickly, and with more ferocity.  It really IS a battle... one that is waged on the grounds of your very heart.  Often, these attacks come without warning, and at inopportune times.  My attacks seem to come most often at night.  It may be something very emotional, or a thought that does not allow me to sleep.  Whatever the intensity, or the emotion... in the middle of the night, it is easy to feel very alone.

The stories of those I have talked to are all very similar to mine.  The devil wants us to feel alone, to feel unable to make a stand, to be unable to be used by God.  If he can convince us with this lie, he will keep pounding that message home, again... and again.  I spoke with one man, in particular, that shared his obviously deeply painful struggle with depression.  I hurt for him, as I could hear in his voice the longing to be free from this pain.  I pray for him every time I think about him.  I pray that he, and the others I have talked to, will be able to see through the lie of being "on our own" in this fight.  I fall for this lie, and I understand how convincing it is.  You know the saying, "If you hear a lie enough times, it starts to sound like the truth"?  This is exactly what is going on here.  On a side note, please do not take this paragraph to mean that I think that depression is only spiritual.  There are many components to depression, which is why it is such a difficult thing to deal with.  Medicine, counseling, prayer, all have their place in treating this.

Why am I writing this tonight?  I know how easy it is to simply write depression off as a "small" problem.  I have heard people say that we should be able to "just get over it," or "if you had more faith in God, you could whip this."  My reason for writing this blog tonight is to ask you to stop and pray for someone you know that fights depression each day.  I cannot tell you how amazing it is to know that someone is praying for you.  Send them a note, an email, or a text letting them know that you love them, and are praying for them today.  Everyone can use encouragement like that!  God often uses His people to be his hands and feet here on earth.  Please do not ever think that you are bothering someone by letting them know that you are thinking and praying for them.  Depressed or  not, everyone needs friends like that!  It is hard to feel alone when you are surrounded by friends that are lifting you up in prayer!

Thank you to all of you (many I know, and some that I do not know) that have sent me encouraging emails and texts.  Thank you to those of you who have come by and asked me to hang out.  It means so much!  I have decided to be open, and public in this struggle.  However, there are MANY out there that are trying to walk this road on their own.  Ask the Lord to show you which of your friends or acquaintances might need some encouragement and prayer.  What a way to show the love of God to those in your life!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How Do We Go Back to "Normal?"

I can't sleep...I can't think straight...and I'm having a hard time focusing on completing menial tasks around the house.  Lazy?  No...just a youth pastor during the last days of summer.  ...and what a summer it has been!

In 16 years of ministry, this was the busiest summer of all, by FAR.  We started off the summer with our children's VBS/Basketball Camp, and were blessed to see the Gospel shared with many young kids from our area of the city.  We then took our teenage leaders to Super Summer (a leadership camp designed to train young disciples of Jesus).  After that, Amy & I took a team to Hungary for two weeks of ministry alongside a ministry team of missionaries that live in-country.  Follow that up two days later with a final week of Youth Camp, and that made for a full calendar!

However, just being active is not what keeps me awake at night.  Something larger that I cannot seem to shake.  You see, I saw God move in some amazing ways this summer.  I saw Him move mightily in the lives of others...and I saw Him move my heart in some unforgettable ways.  I saw Jesus change lives this summer... I saw Him push people beyond their comfort zones...  I saw Him in the eyes of orphans in Hungary, and in the eyes of teenagers right here in Texas.  I saw Him move with an authority and power that I have not seen in a long time, and now I sit in wonder of how mighty God really is.  This was no regular summer... it has been a game-changer for me.

This summer, we also had an MK (that's Missionary Kid) college student stay with us, and intern in our youth ministry.  We were blessed to start this summer by getting to spend a few days with her wonderful family.  They serve full-time in Europe, and do ministry in some very interesting places.  Listening to their passion for the Lord, and observing their family was such a blessing!  We felt such a connection to them, and were so blessed by our involvement with the Pearce family this summer.  God impacted our family's life (including our daughters) in ways that we never saw coming.  God used this experience to stretch us spiritually, relationally, and our faith as we watched God continually provide for need after need.  Amazing...

If you have read my other blogs, you also know that this summer is coming to a close with a serious bout of depression for me.  Absolute phsyical, spiritual, and mental exhaustion forced me to finally deal with a problem that I thought I had "under control" for several years.  Like Joshua at Ai, or Elijah after fire falling from heaven, or Jonah after seeing Ninevah repent, I am coming off of an amazing experience with God... and have crashed hard.  The past 8 days have been incredibly difficult, but I'm slowly starting to see a new picture from God as we move forward.  It is not all in complete focus yet, but I stand in amazement at the God I love so dearly.  He has used the people of God, His Word, and His grace to prop us up, even when we did not feel like we could move forward.  Each new day, we still face massive spiritual attacks by our enemy, the devil.  Each day we have to rely on God's strength to press forward...even when defeat is the only thing filling our minds.  When these times come, I MUST go back to scripture...and God reminds me of what He told His servants long ago:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." -- Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

Of course, God is speaking to the leader of Israel about conquering Jericho, but before Joshua was Moses, and this is what God told him...

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." -- Deut 31:6 (NIV)

Like these men, I believe God has a plan for me, too.  Moses and Joshua did not have the luxury of knowing the future, and neither do we.  However, I cannot ever go back to "normal"...  Once God moved me out of that spot... there's no going back.  Holding tightly to His hand as we move through what He has in store for us in the days ahead...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Cedars of Lebanon

I read this today, and just thought it was too good not to share.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.  It is from Spurgeon's "Morning & Evening"

August 13
Morning Verse
"The cedars of Lebanon which He hath planted." Psalm 104:16
Lebanon's cedars are emblematic of the Christian, in that they owe their planting entirely to the Lord. This is quite true of every child of God. He is not man-planted, nor self-planted, but God-planted. The mysterious hand of the divine Spirit dropped the living seed into a heart which He had Himself prepared for its reception. Every true heir of heaven owns the great Husbandman as his planter. Moreover, the cedars of Lebanon are not dependent upon man for their watering; they stand on the lofty rock, unmoistened by human irrigation; and yet our heavenly Father supplieth them. Thus it is with the Christian who has learned to live by faith. He is independent of man, even in temporal things; for his continued maintenance he looks to the Lord his God, and to Him alone. The dew of heaven is his portion, and the God of heaven is his fountain. Again, the cedars of Lebanon are not protected by any mortal power. They owe nothing to man for their preservation from stormy wind and tempest. They are God's trees, kept and preserved by Him, and by Him alone. It is precisely the same with the Christian. He is not a hot-house plant, sheltered from temptation; he stands in the most exposed position; he has no shelter, no protection, except this, that the broad wings of the eternal God always cover the cedars which He Himself has planted. Like cedars, believers are full of sap having vitality enough to be ever green, even amid winter's snows. Lastly, the flourishing and majestic condition of the cedar is to the praise of God only. The Lord, even the Lord alone hath been everything unto the cedars, and, therefore David very sweetly puts it in one of the psalms, "Praise ye the Lord, fruitful trees and all cedars." In the believer there is nothing that can magnify man; he is planted, nourished, and protected by the Lord's own hand, and to Him let all the glory be ascribed.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Slow Progress...

Well, after the initial "oddness" that I felt after confirming that I was dealing with depression, this week has been an interesting mix of emotions for me.  I started on some medication on Tuesday, and it is slowly invading my body.  There are times that I can tell that it seems to be helping, and other times that I'm not sure it's there at all.  My friends that have been through this tell me that this is normal.  I'm just ready to get back to some sense of normal.  Then again, since I've been dealing with this for a while, it may be that "normal" is not where I want to be, but a new normal that God will bring.  I'm ready for that.

I'm writing this on a particularly tough morning.  Satan has fed me a steady stream of nonsense all day. The sad thing is that I didn't feel like fighting it...just didn't have the strength.  I know what truth is...and I know what a lie is, and yet I still get caught off-guard by the enemy, which is Satan.  He tells me that I'm alone...that life will never be normal again...  Obvious lies...but why do I even entertain them in my mind?  Then I am reminded again...that I am mortal...that I don't have it all together, and need help.  I am so thankful for friends who will remind me of that, and point me towards Jesus.  One of those amazing friends sent me these scriptures this morning:

"Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see" (2 Kings 6:17) 

"Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." (Psalm 43:5)

I thank you for letting me candid here...for being supportive.  For some reason, putting this into written form seems to be good therapy for me.  I thank you for so many of you who have shared your stories with me.  It has been amazing to see.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The "D" Word...(and not the one you're thinking of)

Let me first preface by saying, if you have noticed me acting differently in the recent past...there's a reason for it.

It is something that has haunted me since some dark days back in 2008.  I have tried to put it away, and act like it isn't there, but over the past weeks and months, I have been forced to realize that depression is a real part of my life.  That's hard for me to write, as my pride has never wanted to be labeled... knowing what people often think about labels like this.  Regardless of what I wanted people to know about me, in the midst exhaustion and stress, I now know that this is a problem I have to face head-on.

As a pastor, we feel that we must have it together 24/7.  People look to us for leadership, for stability, and direction.  While these things are true, I (and probably most pastors) believed the lie that I could be that person all of the time, and in all circumstances.  Masking weakness becomes a skill of the trade, as crazy as that sounds.  I want to say it out loud... "It's just NOT possible!"  I wish someone would have told me that when I began in the ministry...but they did not.

Why write these things in a public forum?  Not for sympathy...  Not for publicity...  I simply write this note for two reasons:  1)  I KNOW there are many of you out there that are silently struggling with this same battle.  I want you to know that you're not alone in the fight, even if it feels like it!  That's what our enemy, the devil, wants us to believe.  One of the most helpful things for me so far, has been to share what's going on with me.  Admitting that you don't have it all together is quite freeing.  2)  I NEED your prayer, and your support.  I am so thankful for my amazing wife and kids, and brothers/sisters in the ministry who understand this fight and have been with me every step of the way.  Obviously, the struggle goes on, but I know that one day, I will finally get on top of this.  I am confident in my Lord, who says:

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." -- Isaiah 41:10

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Elephant in the Room

Recently, there have been a flurry of articles, videos, and books regarding the church's stance on homosexuality, and more specifically....homosexual marriage, crowding social networking sites. Unfortunately, most of them are pretty extreme, and often very divisive...and that's honestly a problem, IMO. Now, bear with me here...

Churches and "Christian leaders" seem to be taking a couple of stances on issues regarding homosexuality and homosexual marriage. The first stance (and the most harsh) is, "It's the biggest sin issue facing our world, and we have to eradicate this problem at all costs" or something in that realm. The second approach is the "Just ignore the issue, and we do not have to deal with it" approach. I do not see many articles or stories out there that differ much from one of these two lines of thought. Of course, some are not quite at the polar extremes that these are...but they normally lean heavily towards one of these two camps. Obviously...the ones that seem to pop up the most are the "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" postings. Honestly, this just grieves my spirit.

Jesus told us to go into this world and literally "as we are going," MAKE disciples. Right here in Matthew, He says:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” -- Matthew 28:19-20

What is a disciple? A disciple is simply a follower. A follower who learns (emphasis on the word "learns" here) the ways of the one they are following. Another word for follower is "apprentice." No apprentice masters the craft he/she is learning overnight. It is a long process, often full of failures and problems.  It is through the gentle and patient teaching of the master craftsman that the apprentice hones his or her craft.  Becoming like Jesus is not an overnight process, either.  Jesus does NOT tell us to get people to "sign up" for church or "register" for His kingdom. He tells us to make followers....or to apprentice people in the faith of God.  Inexperienced people, learning to walk with the Lord. 

How can we have a conversation with someone, let alone apprentice them in the faith, if all they ever hear from us is what we are against? Somehow we have come up with a system that assigns a "value" to different types of sin. Some sin, we simply brush over, as it may be more "socially accepted." Lying, cheating, slandering, gossiping, stealing, even sex outside of marriage (all of which are defined by the Bible as sin) are often overlooked by those of us in the church. Why? Honestly, I believe that it is because we are more prone to publicly condemn sin that does not effect our own lives. I am guilty of's easy to tell someone to stop drinking alcohol, because I have not ever been tempted by or addicted to alcohol. It would be much harder for me to write an article or present a message at church on selfishness, pride, anger, or any of the other things that I struggle with every day. The truth is, I believe we make issues like homosexuality/homosexual marriage a big issue, because it takes the focus off of the sin that muddies our own lives.

I am not the definitive scholar in seminary circles, but I find that God views sin in the Bible as just that...sin. Sure, there are different consequences for different sins, but from my experience as a believer in Jesus, studying the Bible, and working in ministry for nearly 20 God, SIN IS SIN.  He doesn't like ANY of it!

We need to be more about showing and teaching others about the character of God, than which store we are boycotting this month. We must stop tryout to simply shout louder than those that we disagree with.   Instead of the world seeing Christians a venomous activists, they need to see Jesus. The same man who spoke these words in Luke,

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." -- Luke 6:41-42

We tend to forget that Jesus didn't hang out in the temple most of the time. He didn't spend all of his time chatting about the latest cause. The Jesus we find in the Bible spent the majority of his time investing in HIGHLY imperfect men and women. Crooks, salty fishermen, doctors, tax collectors, prostitutes, and even church officials who were only interested in making themselves great, rather than God. Jesus loved the people around Him.

However, we can't just leave it there. You see, Jesus never compromised his own morals or beliefs when He was with people.  He didn't join these people in their sin, but His love and compassion were so evident that He was able to speak the truth of God's word into their lives.  He was the same man with his closest friends and family, as He was when teaching to large crowds. He never gave them permission to continue sinning. In fact, He called on people to repent (or turn) of the sin in their lives, and follow Him. To die to themselves and follow Him. If you continue to read in the Bible, you see the changes that come about in the lives of those He was around. They changed because of their faith and interaction with Jesus, and that was the birth of the church.

Never should we as Christians condone, or ignore sin. However, we MUST be careful not to label others or condemn them based on what they struggle with in their own lives. Jesus died on the cross for each one of us. We have to constantly remind ourselves of this. Jesus was called onto the carpet by the religious leaders of that day for spending time among tax collectors...who were common thieves in that society. This was His response:

"On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” -- Mark 2:17

Romans 3:23 tells that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." All of us...ALL of us are sinners by nature. The difference in the life of a follower of Christ is this...we are sinners that have been saved from our sins by God's grace.  If it were not for the grace and love of God, I would not be any different than the worst sinner that you can imagine.

God likes to remind me of that fact every day. I'm grateful for this reminder. It helps me remember that I am not the center of the universe, that what God has for me is so much better than anything I could ever come up with on my own.

For many these days, homosexuality would seem to be that elephant in the room that no one knows what to do with. It has become the emotional issue that sparks endless debate.  However, I would submit that the true Elephant in the Room is our own sin...the sin (in whatever form it takes) that blinds and distorts our own view of God.   Sin that might even be deemed "socially acceptable" in our society.  Perhaps we need to focus on that first...and let God bring people into our lives that we can help along in the journey of faith that is being a disciple of Jesus.   Follow His footsteps...and He'll take care of the rest...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

How Far We've Come...

I turned 38 last, not 40 yet...38.  I think the thing that is ringing so loudly within my heart is that 38 marks 20 years since I graduated high school.  That's hard to fathom...even harder to say...20 years.  I know that in the grand scheme of history, 20 years is not that long, but I have been thinking a lot about how much I have changed in that time, as well as how much our world has changed.

20 years ago, I had not ever heard of Al Qaeda, email (I know, hard to believe), never been out of the country, and still lived on a farm.  I drove a small truck with no air conditioning, and could fill it up with gas for less than $20.  20 years ago, I had no idea what God had in store for my life.  I had no idea where this farm-boy from New Mexico would land...I just knew that God had a plan...and I had to trust Him to show me the way.

I walked onto the campus at Hardin-Simmons University with a plan in my mind.  That plan involved business, making money, and doing big things...all in the name of the Lord, of course.  I started classes, made friends, and honestly had a great time.  I met some young men in Anderson Hall, our dorm, that changed my life:  Michael Kirchenbauer, Mike Southard, Eric Von Atzigen, Chris Heep, Todd Peterson, Brad McConkey, Aaron Garmon, Jason Radcliffe, Dave Bryant, Jeff Irving, Daniel Kilcoyne, Kevin Godin, Jeep Calvert, Paul Corder, and Brady Kolb.  Of course, there were a lot more people in my life, but these guys were, and still are amazing men of God.  I spent so much time talking with each of these guys, singing, playing guitar, using Radcliff's blow-gun to cause trouble, praying, laughing...and every other manner of craziness that goes on in a college dormitory.  The difference between these guys, and other typical college guys was pretty distinct...they all had an intense love and relationship with Jesus Christ. 

We spent many nights crowded in a single dorm room, or out on a patch of grass praying for one another, listening to struggles, asking for and providing accountability as we were being forged into men.  We had dumb nicknames for each other...we did a lot of dumb (but fun) stuff together...and grew together.  God used each of these men to shape me in some way.  Each has their own gifting, their own strengths, and weaknesses.  It was, and is an "iron sharpening iron" group for me.  I am who I am today, in part, due to these men.

During this time, God began to speak to me.  Through ministries that God allowed me to be a part of, I began working more and more with teenagers.  I spent three summers during college working at 10 different weeks of youth camp a summer.  I was involved in a drama team through the BSM that allowed us to travel to many area churches to work with area youth.  There was, and is, something about young people that I find addictive.  At the risk of sounding creepy, let me explain.  Teenagers are endless sources of energy.  They are creative, entertaining, and usually pretty happy.  Unlike "adults," their optimism and drive have not been dulled by the cares of this world.  Most of all, their love for the Savior, and ability to minister in all sorts of ways is incredible!  I am just so encouraged (most of the time) to be around young people! 

Back to the story...I became less and less thrilled with business classes, and even though they were going well, I didn't enjoy them.  The prospect of spending my life chasing money around started sounding pretty lame...  I wanted to do something with more meaning.  So, after the toughest semester in college, halfway through my junior year, I switched my major to communication.  At this point, I still had no real idea where the Lord was taking me...I just knew he was moving within me.  Many of these guys that I mentioned earlier were experiencing similar situations as they sought God's direction for their lives, as well.  I wish I could say that we all knew exactly where God was taking each of us, but honestly...we had no idea at the time.  God didn't reveal His plan for each of us all at once, but gradually.  We were all different ages, so some graduated and moved on, and we all eventually moved out of the dorm.  However, God wasn't done with us...He was just getting started.

I did not fully know that God wanted me in the full-time ministry until I was already out of college, and newly married.  I had an idea that He might take me that direction, but nothing was certain...that is until I met Randy.  Honestly, I couldn't tell you his last name.  He was at a youth camp that I attended, and had been the pastor at a little church outside of Abilene...and asked me if I knew anyone interested in being a part-time youth pastor.  Long story short, Randy put me in touch with them, and a few weeks later, we were moving out to the thriving community of View, Texas...  It was an interesting church.  We had about 82 in worship on a good Sunday, and I had about 12-15 youth in the community that came.  We met some amazing people in that little community...and some not-so-amazing people...but God was working in us.

After Amy graduated, she received a job offer back in my home town of Clovis, NM.  We felt God calling us to Clovis, and since it had insurance, and a real paycheck, (I was selling cars at this point...and ministering on the side) it wasn't a tough decision.  Within a year, the youth pastor at our church in Clovis resigned.  I had found work at a bank (you know, I had all those business skills and classes), but it was NOT where I wanted to stay for long.  Our church called and asked us to consider coming onto their staff full-time...and we were off.

We spent some amazing days working in 3 different churches in Clovis.  We met some absolutely amazing people that have continued to shape our family (our two daughters came along during our time there) to this day.  God took us on mission trips, camps, Disciple Now weekends, youth-led services, service projects, and a TON of time spent with one another.  The love we have for so many people in that area is HUGE!

I would be lying if I said everything has been perfect through all of this journey.  We have faced some intense spiritual and financial struggles in the ministry (that'll be a shocker to any of you in the ministry...:) ), and have SERIOUSLY considered walking away from it on several occasions.  There were a few people who were placed in our path that we did not expect.  People who did not share or understand our vision for ministry.  These were the folks that brought about some of the darkest periods of our life in ministry.  Through it all, God has always remained the same.  He had given me an amazingly Godly wife, parents and brother, in-laws, plus the guys I mentioned earlier to lean on.  He also brought men into my life like Nick Watts and Mike Martindale.  Men who have been in the ministry longer than me, but treat me as an that I HUGELY look up to...and call friends.  Nick walked with me through some extremely dark days...many phone calls...many notes of encouragement...talks at his house...and just making me laugh!

2 years ago, God threw us a curve ball.  He asked us to move to Austin...and compared to any place I've ever lived...this place is HUGE!  I am so amazed by our church family here.  We have a great staff, very supportive youth parents, TONS of volunteers (it's like a magical dream for ministers!), and a passion to see the lost come to know Jesus.  They have been super patient with us as we learn and grow into our roles here in this new city.   We are so thrilled to be a part of Hillcrest Baptist Church! 

God has also allowed us opportunities to travel around the world to do ministry.  This door opened up about 2 years ago.  We have been to Budapest, Hungary...Chiang Mai, Thailand...and Prague, Czech Republic...all in the past 2 1/2 years!  God allows us to teach and lead worship for youth conferences in these places...which has been amazing!  Through this ministry, God has allowed us to work with fellow ministers all over the world!  He has even opened the door for us to take a group of our own youth and adults back to Hungary for 2 weeks of missions this summer.  We are SO looking forward to that!

20 that time, God has done so much in my life.  I now have an amazing family...amazing friends from all over the world...and we really ARE doing something with meaning.  We have seen countless lives changed by the power of Jesus.  We have seen our students grow up to be ministers, feel the call to the mission fields around the world.  I pray that there are even better days ahead.  While our world is changing and becoming less stable, the opportunities for sharing Jesus are skyrocketing....

...and the men that I've mentioned here...each one of them has a role to play in these ministries...  Many of them are pastors, youth pastors, missionaries, working with drug rehabs, musicians, police officers, you name it...and all of them are still running after our Savior, Jesus.  I thank God for these men...(and listen, there are a TON of Godly ladies that have shaped my life, as well...but I have a special place in my heart for these guys)...and pray that in another 20 years, we can look back and see what God has done with a bunch of goofy dorm guys!