Saturday, October 31, 2009


Last Sunday, I spent the afternoon in my kayak on Armond bayou. Sunday found me in somewhat of a fog, and after we got home from church, I felt myself slipping into a spiral of frustration and self pity. Sundays are always a little tough for me. When you work in the church, Sundays are always the busiest day of the week. I used to love Sunday, because it was as if the culmination of all the work from the week before was coming to fruition. I used to feel as if I was releasing all the love that God had been building up in me all week to the incredible people that I was blessed to minister to. I love the local church, but I have to admit: I do not look forward to Sundays as much these days.

So, before the spiral slipped to a point of no return, I decided to get out of the house. I glanced at the lawn. Usually yard work helps to clear my mind, but the length hadn’t reached that critical point, so I couldn’t justify pulling out the mower. I glanced at my running shoes. Running is always great therapy for me, but since I can only squeeze out about 30 minutes these days, it seemed like too quick a solution. Then I glanced at my bag of kayak gear. The thought of disconnecting myself from land seemed to be very appealing, and the thought of disconnecting myself from reality, if only for a few hours, seemed even better.

Armond Bayou is an amazing place. In the midst of our fast paced culture, it’s a sanctuary for animals, birds and the soul. Oh yeah; there are alligators too, and lots of them! But once you venture out a mile or so into the twists and turns of the various inlets, you cannot imagine that just over the tree lines lies suburbia. Without the sounds of cars, construction and everyday life, you hear each animal scuttle through the salt grass. Fish break the water and turtles slide off the banks as you glide past on the glass-like liquid that carries you along. It reminds me of climbing into your bed after a hard day and covering yourself up with your blankets. The outside world vanishes for a while and you create a new temporary reality.

There was a time in my life when I dreaded being alone. For me, solitude was isolation, and isolation was far too connected to loneliness. As a person who has recovered from severe depression, I can now see that being alone is not such a bad thing. The problem is not solitude in and of itself, but rather why we choose solitude. When you deal with depression, there are times when you feel isolated 24/7. It’s a great feeling to choose being alone, because you enjoy being alone.

The Bible tells us that Jesus often withdrew from the crowds of people that surrounded Him to be alone and pray. Luke 5:15 says that the news of what Jesus was doing was spreading so much “that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” There are two very significant points in this verse. One, Jesus’ popularity was growing at a very fast pace at this point. And two, Jesus still needed time to get away and immerse Himself in solitude.

I find it funny how the busier we get doing things for God, the less with we spend with God? And yet Jesus saw the importance of isolating Himself with the father, no matter how large the crowds were. And He saw this as an imperative; before the people smothered Him.

We dig deeper when crowds push in. We immerse ourselves within the waves of humanity, that rush overhead, and then wonder why be can’t breathe. Peace is found at the shore, waiting and watching for what God is doing in those that we minster to. I can see them. And they do just fine with my isolation. Jesus saw them as well, and yet after His time of solitude, He still confronted the Pharisees and healed a paralytic man. Pretty cool example.

"Kayak Solitude" - Watercolor by Judi McWilliams -

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Holding Patterns

Every once and a while, I hate writing. This morning is one of those times. I’m sitting here at Starbucks, staring at the Via Ready Brew display in front of me, and thinking about how I have nothing interesting to share. I’m frustrated, tired and a little bored with myself. Being an out-of-work pastor is no different than anyone else who is out of work. Mondays seem to make your unemployment even more vivid. The wound is fresh. As the week moves on, you begin to accept your current situation, but it’s still hard. You find ways to cover and care for your wound. You medicate it, bandage it, protect it, and it begins to feel better, but there is still an ache.

I guess it might be a little easier for me, because I’m out of work by choice, rather than the economy, bad performance, etc. To make a long story short, I resigned from my last position as an associate pastor/children’s pastor because it just wasn’t a good fit anymore. God began to make it clear that he didn’t want me at this particular church anymore, and as a very dear friend and mentor put it: “Jake, it looks like God has closed the door, and you’re trying to force it back open.” And I see now how very true that was. I realize now that I got to the point where I came to work with crow bar and hammer in hand. And as hard as I tried, as much muscle as I put into it, the door was not only shut, but sealed. I finally had to realize that I was going to have to find another exit point. Or maybe it was an entry point. But much of this is clear only in retrospect.

God’s ways are not our ways, and that is a very difficult thing for a person like me to accept. I like being in control. I like knowing what’s going on all the time, and what the next steps are to get to where I need to go. Now that God has placed me into a time of uncertainty, as temporary as it might be, I’m having trouble accepting it. And I have to admit, I’m a little angry with God. After all, I had a successful ministry. People liked me and I liked being liked. I liked the pats on the back and the recognition I received. I was good at what I did. Or at least I think I was. But is that such a bad thing? Is it wrong to enjoy the occasional stroking of our egos? Aren’t we taught to be the best we can be at each and everything we do? Well, sorry. I don’t have an answer for you. In fact, if you have some insight on this, please feel free to let me know.

But there is one thing that I am very certain of. I am exactly where God wants me to be right now. I’m a 100% sure that he wanted me to leave my last church. I am 100% sure that he wanted me to remain out of paid ministry for a while; at least for the summer. I spent an incredible amount of quality time with my two boys, and was blessed beyond words. It was part of His plan, and I’m very thankful for that. So I accepted it and assured myself that by the time school started, God would reveal the door that would not only open with ease, but would remain open for at least the indefinite future. Well, at this point, all I see is walls. No doors. No windows. Although people come in and out, I don’t know from where they come from. They have doors to come in to my life, but it’s almost as if they are only visible from their side of reality. Kind of like Monster’s Inc., huh?

I know that God has a plan for me and my ministry. I love God’s words of comfort to us in Isaiah: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” - Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT) Those words really speak to me today, and I know with all confidence that God already has everything laid out. I know this because His Spirit has assured me of that. For whatever reason, He’s just not letting me in on the details yet, and I’m OK with that. I'm in a holding pattern and don't have clearance to land yet. Wandering. Wilderness. Uncertainty.

But even in the occasional dark times of discouragement, I feel Him gently whispering and reminding me that He’s there and has it all under control. Like any earthly Father, I believe that God only wants the best for us, and I feel confident that that is what lies ahead for me. My last ministry position may have been good, but it wasn’t what was best for me. But as my door closed, it became someone else's to walk through. It was someone else’s “better”. And you know what? My next ministry position may not be the “best”, and if it’s not, God will shut another door. I pray that if He does, I won’t pull out my crow bar and hammer again.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Do you ever feel like time is racing by faster and faster? Do you look back on your life and wonder what happened to all the years? Job said, "My days are swifter than a runner; they fly away without a glimpse of joy." (Job 9:25) As I grow older, I am beginning to understand how he might have felt. Sometimes, my days do seem to race by like a runner, leaving nothing more than a blur of what once was. Lately, I've been thinking of the past quite a bit and what it all means to me today. It's funny how the past almost seems to have a physical existence, like it exists "somewhere", "out there". God created us to be thinkers and stretch the power of our minds, and I guess that's how the whole concept of time travel began. Man has always tried to harness time, but much like the mind, our efforts prove futile. Is time only a relative concept and our memories just bits and pieces of data, stored away in the recesses the miracle that is our brain?

Go back in time, for just a moment, to your very earliest memory. Mine is the day my parents brought my younger brother home from the hospital. I was only three years old and I remember this little red thing wrapped in white and the house filled with people. I remember my Mom smiling at me as she encouraged me to “meet” him for the first time. Your memory will be very different. It might be your first haircut, getting your first bike, a particular Christmas that stands out, your first time at the beach, whatever. Close your eyes, fix your thoughts on that moment and think about it for just a few minutes. Do your best to imagine the details. Try and remember how it felt. What did things look like around you? What time of day was it? What was the lighting like? What smells do you think might have been connected to this memory. Who was there? What were they wearing? Put yourself in that moment. Capture it. Be in that moment.

Now, concentrate on the moment you are in right now. You might be at work, at home, in a Starbucks like I am, wherever you are. You might be taking a walk, working out at the gym, shopping, whatever. Look at the environment around you. Focus on the details of your surroundings. Engage all of your senses. Who is with you or around you? Close your eyes and take in the and sounds. Focus on the smells. Absorb this very moment. Take it in. Capture it. Be in this moment.

Now imagine the great expanse of life in between these two moments. Imagine the vast and detailed canvas of your life. Two very specific memories. Two isolated points of time. Two very distinct and vivid moments, divided by an almost endless amount of details, moments and memories that make up the construct of your life. Now think about this for a moment. What holds these two memories to one another? What connects these moments together? What is the “filling” of these two very different and isolated points of time? What are some of the events in life that you would look at as significant; the ones that have transformed you into who you are today? Who are the people that have come in and out of your life? How long were they in your life? How have the touched you? How have they changed you?

Now go back to that first memory. How did that one significant event affect the filling of your life? How did that event play a part, even if very small, in the progression of where you are today? How did that event help in directing the life you lived after that moment? Why do you think God put you in that very place in time, to experience what you did in that moment? Why has He put you in this place in time, reading this particular blog?

What’s my point? I’m not sure. I guess as I get older, I am beginning to look at my life with a more critical eye. As I do certain things, right or wrong, I am more aware of how they might affect the rest of my life. I wonder how each action I take might have an influence on other events that follow. I wonder how what I do, say and even think, might touch someone else’s life and even change the course of events. Obviously, the birth of my brother was a very significant event in my life because as hard as I try, I do not remember anything before he was born. How different would my life be had he not come along? How different would my life be if he had been a girl, or if he had been mentally or physically disabled?

Think about it. A lot of time has transpired between the two moments that we just imagined. And as we live in the present day, our tendency is to move extremely fast. Let’s face it; as we get older, time seems to accelerate at an alarming rate. I remember when a year seemed to be an eternity. Now, a year goes by in the flash of an instant. And that makes me wonder, “What happened to all that time? Where did it go? What happened to all those details and moments of my life? And I guess what I’m really asking is, “How have I lived throughout this last year? What did I do with these memories and moments? How have they affected my “today” and how will they affect my tomorrow?

“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14) If these things are true, does this not have a profound effect on how we live our lives each day? Each hour? Each minute? Each second? I think this might be the “meaningless” of life that God is trying to get across to us. Maybe in terms of eternity, our lives on earth are only a snapshot of what God created us to be.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Marc Driscoll's Family Dinner Devotion Method

Do you have trouble finding time to have family devotions? When you do, do you face the frustration of wondering what to do? Does it work? Are the kids getting it? Well, I found this approach from Marc Driscoll that seems very realistic and effective. Give it a try, and let me know what kind of results you get! Marc Driscoll is Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, founder of the Acts 29 Network, author and speaker.

Step 1 - Eat dinner with your entire family regularly.

Step 2 - Mom and Dad sit next to one another to lead the family discussion.

Step 3 - Open the meal by asking if there is anyone or anything to pray for.

Step 4 - Someone opens in prayer and covers any requests. This task should be rotated among family members so that different people take turns learning to pray aloud.

Step 5 - Start eating and discuss how everyone’s day went.

Step 6 - Have a Bible in front of the parents in a translation that is age-appropriate for the kids’ reading level. Have someone (parent or child) open the Bible, and assign a portion to read aloud while everyone is eating and listening.

Step 7 - Parents should note key words and themes in the passage and explain them to the kids on an age-appropriate level.

Step 8 - Ask questions about the passage. You may want to begin with having your children summarize what was read—retelling the story or passage outline. Then, ask the following questions: What does this passage teach us about God? What does it say about us or about how God sees us? What does it teach us about our relationships with others?

Step 9 - Let the conversation happen naturally, listen carefully to the kids, let them answer the questions, and fill in whatever they miss or lovingly and gently correct whatever they get wrong so as to help them.

Step 10 - If the Scriptures convict you of sin, repent as you need to your family, and share appropriately honest parts of your life story so the kids can see Jesus’ work in your life and your need for him too. This demonstrates gospel humility to them.

Step 11 - At the end of dinner, ask the kids if they have any questions for you.

Step 12 - If you miss a night, or if conversation gets off track, or if your family occasionally just wants to talk about something else, don’t stress—it’s inevitable.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Am a Rock

As a kid, I grew up listening to folk music. Simon and Garfunkle, Bob Dylan, John Denver and Peter, Paul and Mary were standard sounds pumped though our “high fidelity” record or cassette player. Saturday mornings were always accompanied by my Mom cleaning the house, the smell of breakfast wafting from the kitchen and the sounds of 60s revolution in the background. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes I did my best to drown out the sounds from the living room stereo. Usually that came from dueling sound systems as I assaulted my parents ear drums with anything from The Smiths to Black Flag. But well into my 40th year of stumbling through this life, I find myself looking back on those days with a comforting nostalgia.

Now that I’m older, I have a greater appreciation for these artists. In fact, I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan. One of the best days of my life was taking my dad to see his aging folk idol at the Houston Rodeo in 2002. Dad’s reaction? “Wow! He sucks in his old age!” But you know, when hearing these artists today, my mind quickly drifts back to a much simpler time. Last week, as I fumbled through the radio stations, I heard Simon and Garfunkle’s classic, “I Am a Rock”. As I hummed along, I was surprised that I actually knew all of the words. But for the first time, I caught myself really listening closely to the lyrics of this song and what the artist had to say.

“I’ve built walls, a fort deep and mighty, that none may penetrate. I have no need for friendship; Friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island…If I never loved I never would have cried…hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me.” Too bad they didn’t have Paxil or Effexor back in those days, huh?

As I wrote in my last blog, we all experience dark times in our lives. We all experience “the funk”. How familiar does this sound? You have a bad day at work, reprimanded by your boss and given a hard time by co-workers. On the way home, you’re pulled over for speeding and given a ticket. When you finally return home, the stressful reality of family life sets in with a greeting of screaming kids, clutter and a to-do list that looks more like a three page essay. At this point, the only thing you want to do is crawl under the covers and shut off for the remaining hours of the day. The thought of confronting anyone only makes you more frustrated. You don’t want to talk to anyone. All you want is isolation. “I am a rock.”

Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won't collapse, because it is built on rock. But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will fall with a mighty crash." After Jesus finished speaking, the crowds were amazed at his teaching."

So, when I isolate myself in my pain, am I really a rock? Am I an island? Do I have no need for friendship because friendship will only cause pain? “Friendship causes pain,”. Hmmmm. You know what? I would have to agree 100%. Friendship does cause pain, and that pain comes from the responsibility of loving one another. But it’s worth the risk. “Love one another.”

(Art by Ben Davies-Jenkins. "Golden Isolation"; oil)