We aren't starting over, we're just turning down a new road

This past Monday morning June 19, 2017, a couple of trailers and a whole host of people showed up at our town home in Southport, NC, to help us pack our lives up and move us up to Wilmington, NC. For several hours we sweated, laughed, grunted at ridiculously heavy pieces of furniture, and laughed some more.

Our journey to Wilmington began towards the end of last summer with a bit of a nudge. Both my wife and I sensed that God was moving us in that direction, but we weren't exactly sure why. My position at the church I was serving in was going and growing well - I truly enjoyed being both a Teaching Pastor and Connections Pastor there, helping people plug in and take their next step with God. Even though my wife is a nursing professor at UNCW, she was okay driving back and forth a few days a week. Our kids had all of their friends in Southport and we lived in a really cool community. Why move?

God continued to nudge us and we continued to pray for His wisdom and guidance. At the beginning of December, some dear friends of ours from Wilmington told us about a house in their neighborhood that had just gone on the market, for sale by owner. They said it would be perfect for our family and we should check it out. Being familiar with the neighborhood and loving how it was laid out, we said why not, let's take a look. We loved the home the moment we set foot inside of it.

Things began rolling after that. Within a week's time we had come to an agreement with the home owner and on January 31, 2017, we closed on our new home. We decided that we would wait until the end of the school year before we moved in, giving our children the chance to finish at their respective schools and to have that valuable time with their friends. In the meantime, we would venture one or two days a week to change paint colors and put our own touches on the place. Three days ago that house officially became our new home.

As you read this story, you may notice that there is one element missing. What am I going to do as far as ministry is concerned now that I am in Wilmington? That's a great question - I'm glad you asked!

Even though the future for my ministry was unclear, from the very beginning my wife and I had a peace about this move. Let me rephrase that. We had a intermittent peace about the move, interspersed with doubting and second guessing and moments of panic. Are doing the right thing? Maybe we misunderstood what God was trying to show us? Why move now when things are going so good?

As we wrestled with these realities, there was one constant at the forefront of all our planning, dreaming, excitement, and worries - God is faithful. He has a plan and His plan is always better than anything I could possibly scheme. So as far as what I will be doing up here, the moment those trailers pulled up in front of our new home this past Monday, my new ministry began.

I want to be the best neighbor that I can possibly be, loving my new neighbors well and being a godly influence in my new community. But my plan is not to just sit at home and be nice to people - I am actively seeking opportunities where I can serve and work and give of myself, utilizing the gifts that God has given to me. We are also now just a short drive from UNCW, which means that our new home will be open to college students who are looking for a place to "get away." In short, this new home is the beginning of an exciting new ministry for our family.

Moving is hard and unbelievably fatiguing. But moving is also exhilarating when you are following the path that you believe God has set before you. For me and my family, moving to Wilmington doesn't mean that we are starting over, because God's path for our lives hasn't changed. Instead, we are taking a turn along the way to somewhere new. Life is a journey and life is ministry. Y'all come see us!

That's not a tear, I just have something in my eye

Yesterday I attended my fourteen-year-old daughter's last dance recital. I say "last" because she is heading to high school next year at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem where she will focus on music, specifically the clarinet. She has made it clear to us that she sees her future in music, not dance, and that she is ready to move on to the next chapter in her life.

The next chapter? At age fourteen?

As I watched her dance in her three performances, so much flashed before my eyes. I recalled her first dance classes as a three-year-old. For three solid weeks all she did was stand there stiff as a board, unwilling to participate with the other girls as the teacher was instructing them in all the finer points of dance that a three-year-old can digest. Finally, my wife laid the gauntlet down - either you dance or we're going home for good! Miraculously, from that moment forward dancing was never an issue with her.

Memories of her first recital, with the poofy costumes and the awkward but unbelievably cute dance moves, came to mind. For a moment she was my little girl again, complete with glitter and feather costumes that served as dress-up play clothes for years to come. Then when the littlest girls from the dance school came on stage after my daughter's performances, it was like a flashback to the past and I saw her again as my little girl up on the stage with them. I'm not gonna lie, I may have had a tender moment right then and there.

This is not unique to just my second oldest child - I am living through it with all four of my children as they grow up before my eyes way too quickly. And it's not that our children don't need me and my wife anymore, it's just that they now need us in different ways. "Mommy" and "Daddy" have been replaced by "mom" and "dad" and hand holding has been supplanted by hand outs. When my wife and I started to have children, I remember someone saying to us that we would blink and they would be grown up. I never realized how right that person would be.

As of this past Friday I now have a junior in high school who is bravely going to a new school in Wilmington next year; a freshman in high school who will be four hours away at the UNCSA; a fifth grader who is one step away from middle school; and a fourth grader who is smarter than I could ever hope to be.

I wish I could stop blinking but I find that I have something wet in my eyes that forces me to close them on occasion.

What's wrong with ch_rch today? Could it be u?

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about why younger people are not returning once they graduate high school and why younger adults are checking out of church as well. A whole host of reasons have been given to explain this phenomenon: A lack of relevancy in today's church, this younger generation expressing a much greater need for community than church can offer to them, and a shift in theological perspectives.

It is likely that all of these reasons, and many more like them, are partially responsible for the church exodus from many in the younger generation. What is not apparent is whether there is one dominant reason that people just aren't all that crazy about church today. Let me be up front - I don't have a clue as to what that primary reason could be, or even if there is one. All I know if what I hear from those who find themselves less than enthused about going to church today.

Recently I had a conversation with a man who had not been to church in seventeen years. Growing up as the son of a pastor, he told me that there weren't many days that he was not "forced" to be at the church, including Friday nights when all his friends were out having a good time. Throughout his childhood he had expectations heaped on him that he felt were unrealistic and he faced what he considered unfair judgment from those he considered to be hypocritical in their treatment of him. Now a thirty-five year old father of two children, this man was still bitter about his experiences, yet he had never lost his faith in God.

What do you say to someone like that? Do you invite him to come to your church because your church isn't like that? Or maybe you secretly roll your eyes, assuming that the problem is him and not the church in which he grew up. Regardless of how you view this situation, what so many in the church today don't do is take a close look at themselves and ask, "Could I be part of the problem?"

I realize that we live in a postmodern culture where so many want to rewrite the laws of truth, and that at no time should the church ever compromise its stand on the authority of Scripture. Yet I also believe that today's church is still entrenched in a methodology that is more polarized than it is engaging.

As one who grew up in a church culture that was more formal in nature, I have a healthy respect for the traditional church. But what about those who have felt abandoned by the church? Or those who like the idea of Jesus but are completely baffled by the perceived requirements of being part of a church today? Do we just assume that they need to get over it and jump on board or are we willing to take a closer look at how we receive them when they come through our doors?

Maybe the problem isn't that people are disinterested and unwilling to accept truth. Maybe the problem is that we've unknowingly manipulated people to fit into our mold of what we believe should be acceptable for church. I believe more than ever that today's culture is screaming for relationships that are real and attainable. While church can and should provide some of most meaningful relationships possible, none of these men and women will know the joy of these kind of relationships unless we love them where they are and not where we want them to be.

You don't have to stay angry

"Here's to second chances and new beginnings!" he said, raising his cup in a mock toast. Suddenly, his demeanor soured and he added, "I just wish I wasn't so angry about what happened in the past."

What I heard my friend say is not all that uncommon. All of us, at one time or another, struggle with feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness. Even when we find ourselves in a good place, the pain from our past can still hold us hostage to the point that we struggle to move forward.

Let me go ahead and tell you this: You don't have to stay angry. Or bitter. Or be filled with constant resentment. A good friend of mine once told me that "the past is prologue." This means that your past, while instrumental in determining how you move forward, does not have to define who you are now.

Easier said than done, I know. The truth is that fighting lingering feelings of anger or bitterness takes a lot of hard work. Think about it - it's easy staying mad. You can be as grouchy and upset as you want to, feeding that beast for as long as you choose. However, choosing to no longer be angry means that forgiveness and grace come along with it which, while both are amazingly beautiful concepts, can be pretty costly on the ego.

So here's the deal - if you want to move past your past feelings of anger, resentment, and bitterness, then it's going to take a concentrated effort on your part, but you can do it. How do I know? Because Jesus has shown us the way of love, grace, and forgiveness by offering Himself in our place on the cross. We can forgive and move on because Jesus has freely forgiven us.

Knowing that is a game changer in and of itself. But here are few more morsels of truth for you to gnaw on if you find yourself wanting to make a u-turn on the road to anger and bitterness

If you don't control your anger, it will control you. Nietzsche once wrote "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Unless, of course, it does kill you. And that is exactly what anger and bitterness and resentment can do. Once they have a grip on your heart, they are in control. The good news is that you have the ability and the right to choose to whom your heart belongs, which means that you are fully in control of how you allow anger to affect you. When was the last time that bitterness ever did anything good for you? I didn't think so. Since you know that nothing good comes from staying angry or resentful, then choose to not let these emotions have dominion over you. 

Looking ahead keeps you from always looking behind. Have you ever been so concerned with who or what is behind you that you have no idea what lies ahead? Anger and bitterness can cause you to look back - in regret, fear, resentment, with a mindset of revenge, etc. - so much so that you have no idea of what's in front of you. That friend of mind that I mentioned at the beginning of this post was in this boat. Once he realized that what God had in front of him was so much better than the pains that lay in ruins behind him, it was easy for him to start heading in a forward direction. Again, this is your choice. You can live in the past or you can live for your future.

God is good. Let Him have His way in healing and nurturing your soul beyond your past hurts. There is not one heartache, failure, frustration, or regret of which God does not have intimate knowledge. He knows you inside and out and His love for you burns hot 24/7. Even though we experience times of pain and grief in our lives, God never leaves us for even a moment.

Anger is bed mates with bitterness and resentment. But anger unchecked can completely derail so many aspects of your life. Let the shackles of anger go. Let God heal you. And freely look ahead to all that awaits you in the future.

Who's got your back?

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