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Your Theme for 2022

Today is the last day of 2021.

Today, everyone will make New Years’ resolutions and will break them by January 2.

A New Year, so what?

Theme. What is your theme for 2022?

First, you are wondering how and why you should create a theme for 2022.   A theme is different than a resolution.  A resolution is often something that is broken in a short amount of time.  A resolution is focused on the short term.  A theme will give you focus for the entire year.  A resolution is something that we put little thought into because it is obvious.  A theme is something that shapes the whole year and is sometimes something that is only revealed through prayer.

How does one develop a theme for 2022?

First and foremost, you want to start around Thanksgiving. Yes, it seems early; however it gives you time to not rush into your theme. Because you are not rushed, your heart and mind are not anxious and you are more open to hearing God’s voice. It is similar to using a Crock-Pot or the microwave for cooking meat. Which tastes better? The Crock-Pot. Slow and steady for developing your theme.

I get it. Today is New Year’s Eve and you are party planning. In your mind, it may be too late to plan for a theme for 2022. Wrong! Start the process now and give yourself about a month to hear from God. Don’t rush it! What you are praying for is a theme of one to two words. Don’t complicate it! And remember, you cannot do this solo…..

Next, you want to involve a trusted friend or two into this process. With these folks, you can explore how your theme is playing out throughout the year. Are you receptive to what God is doing in your life? Are you open to others who can help you with your theme and how it applies to your life? God cannot work with a closed heart.

Journal your progress throughout the year. Document the ups and downs that you encounter as you seek God in the year. This journey is about your progress in the Process. Jesus is never done refining you and molding you to be more Jesus.

Lastly, learn to breathe. This is a theme to guide you–not strict guidelines!

Here’s to a vision-filled 2022!

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End of the Year Wrap-Up: Goals

We continue our series on wrapping up the year; however, today we take a lighter approach. This short and sweet post will hit all areas of your life!

Goals are something we all have—or should have. Goals are what motivate you to get out of bed in the morning. Goals are why you go to that particular job or educational program. Goals get you to think, plan, and execute.

I encourage to look back over this last year. What goals did you have going into 2021? Did you meet these goals? Why or why not? If you met your goals, what (habits) or who (supportive people) aided you in meeting your goals? If you did not meet your goals, what barriers did you encounter that stopped you from meeting your goals?

After taking a look at 2021, we now have to plan for 2022. The Book of Proverbs says “the people will perish without vision”. That also applies to us personally. Our families and homes need a plan. Our churches and organizations need goals. And we have to have a plan with our finances or it all magically disappears into the spending abyss.

Here are some tips of planning for 2022:

  • Spiritual: Dive deeper into your faith on a daily basis. Don’t wait until Sunday at church to talk to Jesus.
  • Financial: Use a budget. Yes, it sounds old-school and like something your grandparents did but it works. Check out Dave Ramsey’s Every Dollar app or his website. https://www.ramseysolutions.com/ramseyplus/everydollar/budget-with-everydollar
  • Social: Get a life. Get back into a hobby, read something new, and turn off the news!
  • Physical: Make your health a priority. Do more than dieting in the New Year. Change your habits and therefore change your life.
  • Mental: I am a firm believer that everyone struggles with something mentally like we do with medical health diagnoses. There is no shame in this. Check yourself on how you are “really doing” and lean in with a friend and/or professional.

Have a great day as you plan for 2022! While these are good steps, my next blog will share how to have an overall theme for the New Year. Stay tuned!

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End of the Year Wrap-Up: Trauma

As I continue to write about things we have encountered through 2021, I would be avoiding the obvious if I did not talk about trauma. Let me preface this blog post: I am NOT a licensed therapist or psychologist. I have mixed work experiences in ministry and mental health and have learned from trainings and very respectable colleagues. I am still learning about the impact of trauma on myself, those I love, and the people I pastor.

Trauma is best defined by the American Psychological Association: Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions. (https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma)

Why trauma? Let you ask you: why not? Can you name one person in your life who HAS NOT come out of 2021 (and 2020) with some wounds? 2020 was COVID-19. 2021 has been COVID-19 and everything else that came with it. Here’s the scary part: there are people that say these things did not impact them. “Nothing scares me but the fear of the Lord.” This is a good statement but it is lacking what happens when you live in community with others. You will experience pain and suffering.

There are two types of trauma: primary and secondary. Primary is what directly happens to you and it alters your life. Secondary trauma is something that you indirectly experience and it starts to stir your soul. We have experienced a lot of this in 2021. Between our own suffering and the suffering of others and being tied into the media Matrix (the news), the arrows flying at our hearts and minds are relentless.

Here are some tangible steps to evaluating what traumas you have experienced in 2021:

  • Stop. Breathe.
  • Pray throughout your day about your 2021. Ask Jesus to reveal your wounds from 2021.
  • At the end of the day, write down your wounds in two categories: primary and secondary trauma. Use pen and paper and chart this in a journal. Physically writing it down (not typing) will slow you down and make you think.
  • Get some help. Whether you need professional guidance or a friend, reach out. The Life with Jesus was never meant to be done solo.
  • Help someone else. There is something sacred about helping someone else in their suffering. Remember your own woundedness when helping others.
  • Identify your stressors. Does watching the news make you angry or anxious? Turn it off. Throw it out the window. Whatever you need to do. Do certain people (yes, even family) get under your skin. Do some work and learn the WHY.
  • Get a life. Go back to that hobby you avoid that brought you so much joy. Read something other than the news and Facebook news-feeds. Find JOY again.

As we experience healing, our open wounds will eventually heal. We will have scars from our experiences. However, behind every scar is a story of hope and redemption with God. May you find healing and lead others to healing–in Jesus’ name. Amen!

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End of the Year Wrap-Up: Surviving Politics

Good morning, friends. I am off this week and promising myself (and you) that I will blog more this week. My focus over the next week will be on reviewing the last year. Let’s start with surviving politics….

2021 taught us that everyone has an opinion about anything that is considered remotely political. The political machine has seeped into communities, schools, churches, and families. How do we address this beast without it dividing everyone and everything?

We pause. And we shut our lips. You didn’t like that exercise, did you?

If we took 5 minutes and slowed up on crafting a response to what the other person said (or DID NOT SAY); this would be a game-changer to our society. If you are reading this blog, you are most likely a Christian or inquiring about those of us who are Christians. The Gospels are clear: We are called to be in the world but not of the world. This equates to us being informed about the world and its happenings but not conformed to the world. A Christian’s response should be different than someone who is not a Christian.

Because we are slower to respond, this avoids the need to be right all of the time. Check this out: Jesus was not a Republican or a Democrat. In fact, he was not the political answer that many thought he would be when he came around. People thought he would build some type of high-kingdom and rule it all. Jesus came onto the scene and he did a reversal: the first shall be last, the outcasts have a seat at the table, the unclean have hope, sinners have a second chance, etc.

Your faith should impact your decisions in life–including your political views. It should not be the other way around. Friends, no politician is going to save your life. They are one person in a big machine of government. Learn to trust Jesus. I trust most political stuff like I trust gas station sushi–very little! Trust Jesus and remember the following…..

  • Seek to understand instead of seeking to be right.
  • Love one another.
  • Are you trusting the Good News or the mainstream news? Your words and actions will show it!

Stay well!!!

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THANKSgiving is a Heart Issue

Thanksgiving is today and everyone is getting gearing up for the annual smorgasbord. Food will be consumed. Football will be on the TV. And holiday shoppers will begin their war room strategies for Black Friday.

I encourage you today to think about your blessings. All of them…..are from God. Here’s some ideas to help you cultivate a thankful heart–even beyond today’s holiday.

– Start a gratitude journal. Write down people and experiences that you are thankful for.

– Donate some of your unused stuff. This spiritual practice opens up your heart to joy (from giving) and to healing (trusting God).

– Be thankful for WHO is currently in your life. It’s easy to want to relive the “what ifs”. Focus on the rich relationships you have in the present.

– Put your money where your mouth is. How so? Tell the people that you love that you love them.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

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Changes

No one likes the idea of change. Quite frankly, we so desire it in our lives and then when we finally get to that decision/moment/transition of change—we freeze. There is something inside of us that fails to move forward. We shrink back and chalk up the awkward moment to something we ate that particular day.

Change is difficult for humanity but it is necessary. If we never would have changed as humans, we would still be walking around in fig leaf clothing and killing everything with our bare hands. Our favorite outfit and Chick-Fil-A would be something we never imagined. And coffee? Well, we probably would not drink coffee but would pray fervently as we are drinking contaminated water from the streams and rivers around us. You have no car, smartphone, WiFi, and your house is made of mud, sticks, and straw. And when they say “crap rolls downhill”; it literally does in your village. I guess not all change is bad, huh?

We have changed over the years and much of it is necessary. Some change is not necessary. As you are reading this blog, something electronic in your house is beeping and reminding you that you are needed. We are going all over the house and doing this and that. And that is just at home! Work is often a rat race for most people. Get as much done as you can at work and be a pack mule. We were not created to be robots.

We were made in the image of God. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Everyone faces changes in their life. Here are some tips with dealing with change:

  • Check yourself. Are you resistant to change “just because this is how its always been” or because it will require something deeper within yourself?
  • Remember your core values and why you and/or your organization or whatever exists.
  • Journal. Document the personal and professional changes that are you encountering. While your situation may be difficult right now, you will want to reflect on this part of your Journey at some point later in life.
  • Don’t be That Person. We all know That Person. This is the person who fights everyone and everything to keep things the same forever. Be a part of the solution.
  • If you are a Christian, remember that the Kingdom of God is NOW and not just when we die and go to Heaven. Worried about people going to Hell? Bring them hope, healing and a glimpse of Heaven RIGHT NOW here on Earth.

Best wishes as you navigate changes, friends. Stay focused on the Kingdom.

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The Allure of Autumn

Autumn is here. It is official. That is what the calendar says and the news is reporting. And the news is always right! 😉

There is something about autumn that is alluring. Allure means “powerfully attractive or charming, or tempting”. This sure sounds like autumn. We so desperately wait for autumn every year. Maybe our souls need it—especially over the past two years. The summer time is a time of trying to squeeze in sports, vacations, and those overdue house projects. Autumn makes us slow down. There is less daylight and freedom in scheduling. We are almost FORCED to look around and look within.

Time slows; it may even feel like it passes. We see the trees showing their true colors of awesome shades of red, orange, and yellow. Decorating the house for the season feels like a breath of joy instead of a chore. People who are usually a “homebody” will suddenly venture out for Halloween or autumn-themed events. The idea of seeking beauty is suddenly in our faces.

We all need to seek and find beauty. Not Cover Girl beauty. But deep, refreshing beauty. What does this look like? Let me give you some examples:

  • Get outside. Do yourself (and your soul) a solid favor and get outside. Take a bike ride. Go for a walk. Find 3 different leaves that are full of color and God’s handiwork.
  • Practice the Sabbath. Pick a day of the week to rest. Before your Sabbath day, ask God how He would have you spend the day. Maybe you need a day alone or with others. Seek direction and then REST.
  • Thank A Friend. As you read these words, you are thinking of a few people. These people have been beautiful people to you. These friends may speak light into your darkness or their prayers for you have been hearty and plentiful. Thank God FOR THEM and then GO TELL THEM you are thankful for them.
  • Be creative. Painting, drawing, writing, cooking, and singing–these are all tangible ways that you can experience beauty. Get creative and then invite others into your spiritual practice of beauty.
  • Turn off the news. Take a break from the Media Matrix. I have never met a hopeful person who watched alot of news.

Seek beauty, friends. You will not be disappointed.

For the Kingdom,

Jason

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Dirty Lens

There is nothing worse than dirty lenses on eyeglasses. The struggle is real. I go through this struggle on a daily basis. I clean my glasses and then some magical dirt and dust fairy descends upon the area and BOOM—-my glasses are gross again. So I take my glasses and wipe them on my clean and soft t-shirt. Wait, that shirt was clean until my toddler wiped his Cheez-It-crusted hands on it. AHH!

You and I have a lens that we see the world through. Call it our worldview, perspective, or viewpoint but we all have this feature. It is part of being a human being. Unless you live under a rock, you will notice how religion and politics have become enmeshed in the USA over the years. It seems like these two topics used to be distant cousins but now they are married to each other. This is not always a bad thing; however, when we are not grounded (especially if you are a Christian), you will drink any ideals that are offered to you.

How do you handle these two topics when mixed together?

  1. Take inventory of yourself. Before you do anything else, pause. What is the LENS through which you see the world, your neighbors, your loved ones, the Church, and LIFE? The lens you use is how you will see the world. Any hurts, traumas, successes, prejudices, and ideals—they all are factored in to how we view the world. The above mentioned things will also impact how you read and interpret the Bible.
  2. Be careful where you put God. When we mix religion and politics, we sometimes try to say God wants this side or that side to win. Or that particular candidates are the Chosen One. Watch how much you interject God into politics. Political systems are a huge breeding ground for power, corruption, and chaos. Additionally, so are college and professional sports. God is more concerned about us being in relationship with Him than in WHO wins. Besides, your sports team or political candidate never walked on water and they won’t get you into Heaven.
  3. Remove emotions. I have found most (not all) people cannot discuss religion and politics because they cannot manage their emotions. They want to win the argument! There is no hearing the “other side” out on why they believe what they believe. If you want to have these talks with people, check yourself and your emotions at the door.
  4. Stop watching so much media/TV. I do not know of any calm people who watch a lot of news or spend countless hours on social media. These soul-sucking vortexes will just tire you out, make you more anxious, and create a Us Versus Them mentality. Be kind to yourself and know when enough is enough.
  5. Little ones are watching. Remember that other people are watching you—-your kids, grand-kids, neighbors, etc. Ask the younger generation what they think about us “religious folks”. Poll your neighbors to why they don’t go to church. You will be stunned. Yes, no one is perfect including the guy writing this blog. However, to love others does not mean AGREEMENT with others. If you look at the Gospels, Jesus hangs with the religious folks and the lost. Jesus does not always agree with how things are but he still loves the Pharisees (haters) as much as the lost.

Friends, I hope this blog was helpful in navigating the religion/political minefields that are out there. Remember your worth and rest in the fact that the Kingdom is bigger than what we see on a daily basis. Now, go clean your glasses!

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You Are Enough. Pass It On.

You are enough. We have heard these words all over social media and authors have penned them for theories and ideas in their books; however, what does it mean? And how does my faith inter-mesh with this idea?

The idea of being “enough” is as simple or complex as we make it. If you are a Christian and assuming you are (or curious) because you are on a faith-focused blog, you wonder what God says. God loves you tons. He sent His Son (Jesus) to die on the cross for you. Yes, YOU! The sinful you. The broken you. The married you. The single you. The divorced you. The old and young you. God loves you and you are enough!

The self-help genre of books is a massive marketing beast. If you can write a good self-help book, then you will probably make truckloads of cash. However, “self-help” means you are helping yourself and you are. It is bigger than this! To find deeper healing and find your identity, a person must go to God. The God of ALL Creation—-the autumn beauty of fall foliage, uniquely made human beings, deep oceans, and outstretching mountains. You must go to God and you must be ready to MOVE!

Here is where people get stuck. You are loved by God no matter where you have been or where you currently are. No one and nothing can change that. But as far as being enough, this is not a license to simply do nothing. This is where we put our faith into action. If there is anything that is KILLING THE CHURCH right now it is passivity. We complain about culture and sit on the sidelines. We reminiscence how “things used to be”; however, we fail to attempt new ways of reaching outside our church walls.

You are enough. You are loved. Now, bring this to others. Love God. Love others. Preach with your actions. Be mission-minded in your movement. But for goodness sake, do not sit on your laurels. There are enough Monday morning quarterbacks. “This is what my team should have done on 4th down last night”. Don’t be that person. The Kingdom needs YOU. Yes, YOU!!

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Hearts of Swiss Cheese

I love cheese. I mean, who doesn’t? (Sorry vegans! We still love you.) There is nothing better than cheese on a burger. And then we have the concoction known as Swiss cheese. Swiss cheese has the big and small holes in the cheese. Whether you like Swiss cheese or not, you could probably agree that sometimes, our heart is like Swiss Cheese.

Our hearts take a lot of hits. Heartbreak, traumas, loss, grief, pain–all of these things hit us hard. The problem is we usually know this about ourselves; however, we bury the problem. We ignore the pain but post on social media about our “best life”. And we indulge in something—anything that will serve as a distraction. We follow lesser gods and bigger egos and we are left with more emptiness.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” -Proverbs 4:23

We must guard our hearts. It sounds like something out of Robin Hood or a modern love story. If there is something we have not IGNORED in today’s culture it is mentioning the heart. We talk about the heart all of the time in music, social media, and art. We get tattoos of hearts and names on our bodies. We spend money on cute signs with love quotes and hearts for our homes and offices. And the heart emoji is used endlessly in texts and on social media.

There are two extremes that usually exist in dealing with our hearts (unless we are guarding them):

Extreme #1: Throwing your heart all over the place. This is not vulnerability. This is someone who puts everything out there on social media and to the world all of the time to “just be real”. You didn’t guard anything. You gave your heart and all of you to everyone and everything. There is a time and place to share personal things to give others a piece of wisdom. Don’t overshare. You are worth getting to know!

Extreme #2: Lock your heart up. This is common if you have experienced some significant trauma or loss in your life. It is easier to never let anyone in again, correct? Looking at it for face-value, sure, you will never get hurt again. However, with that mindset, you will never experience deep relationships (friendly or love). We were created as relational beings.

So what does guarding your heart look like? It means praying for wisdom. Who can you trust with your heart? These are people that will walk through the heavenly highs and hellish lows with you. They will breathe life into you in a culture that is bent on tearing others down. And they will be few in numbers. Jesus did some of his most profound ministry in small numbers—12 disciples, 1-on-1 conversations, etc. Your greatest heart-work as a believer will be in smaller settings.

Guard your heart. From it springs LIFE. And be sure to pour into others and those who walked that road with you.

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Unity: An Intro and Why It Scares YOU!

Now, I am not naive and I have worked in the Church on various levels as a student, intern, ministry leader, and pastor. I have encountered many different attitudes in regards to “unity”. Some people associate unity as getting together with other churches of the same denomination/affiliation on an annual basis. Others take the approach that unity is not possible because our churches and communities are too different.

Christian unity scares people. It scares God’s Church but it should not. Unity should not scare Christians. Unity scares people because it brings our INSECURITIES to the surface. Our prejudice or assumptions about other churches or denominations is exposed when we aim for unity as One.

Unity scares the Enemy. And no….the Enemy is not the church down the street from you whose building is prettier or bigger than yours. The Enemy is not the church who hosts bake sales, fish fries, or youth activities in the parking lot. The Enemy is not the church who sings only hymns or only contemporary worship music.

The Enemy is the enemy……Satan. Satan hates to see Christians getting along. When Christians work together, much good can happen for the Kingdom. Satan hates that; it probably gives him heartburn.

Unity starts at home. It must be modeled and lived out at home. What we teach our children, friends, and siblings about Christian unity will trickle down. This is crucial because we must confess that we are not perfect. You and I are not perfect. Our churches are not perfect. We must agree to disagree.

A big assumption in Christianity is to assume we know what another church or denomination believes in. Do some research. Ask questions. Talk to people associated with those churches or denominations. You might learn more than that Bible course you took in college.

My next couple of blogs will tackle the topic of unity and I encourage us all to stay open to God’s Spirit. May we be One……….One united Body……..fighting for the hearts of men and women and bringing them restoration and healing in God.

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Why You Should Write…..

You are reading this blog because you are curious. Maybe you stumbled here due to a Google search. Or maybe you are one of my friends and family who read what I write. (Hint: I do not write like a Harvard scholar. I hope you figured this out by now.)

Even though you came here to read, I would encourage you to start writing for yourself. Everyone has a story. Each of our stories are filled with joy, surprises, achievements, heartache, and trauma. The last word there (trauma) scares everyone; therefore, they try to minimize any pain in their life. “I’ve never experienced anything traumatic or horrible. I just suck it up.” <—- Right, because that has worked well for you and the rest of us. I speak in pure sarcasm.

Writing is good for you. Whether you write a blog or keep a journal (or both), it is like therapy. As you are thinking and processing life, you begin to write due to something in your life, good or bad. You know the living hell you walked through. And because you are STILL STANDING, you desire for others to have hope and healing.

Take some time today and evaluate your life. Start a journal where you can look at your journey and how God and others have walked with you in that journey. Be mindful of your style. Some people write huge paragraphs and others use bullet points on their pages. This is about process; not perfection. If you are into a topic of interest and wish to start a blog, go for it!

Don’t wait! Act now!

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W.A.Y.

When I was first out of college, I worked at a church and Latchkey program. They were interconnected and this was great as a 4th and 5th grade pastor for ministry opportunities. In the Latchkey program, we provided before and after-school care to a large group of students from Kindergarten through 5th grade. Organization and structure were key. This was when I was introduced to “the W.A.Y.”

W.A.Y. stands for Worry About Yourself. One of my esteemed colleagues provided this idea to the children and the staff at the program. If a situation was out of control, we pointed the children to Worry About Yourself. This idea is not mind blowing. This idea is not something that Harvard researchers came up with after months of research and tests in a lab. W.A.Y. is meant to be behavioral but this can be applied to the spiritual life.

This was introduced to me in 2006. Yes, 15 years ago. But the truth that drips from the mantra holds true! Worry About Yourself can apply to our spiritual life. What does our time with Jesus look like? We cannot pour from an empty cup. Instead of being focused on how holy someone else’s spiritual life looks like (thanks social media), get close to Jesus. Talk to him. Hear from him. Really!

As I write this blog, I know there are people who are dying to say: “But aren’t we called to serve?!” Instead, we are! And herein lies the dilemma, you cannot offer others what you do not have. Your church attendance and service in the local church is admirable and needed; however, this does not go before your relationship with God. There is nothing more sad than when people are busy and neglect Jesus in the process.

Social media has provided everyone with a microphone and a platform. If you have something to say, then you have a place to say it. You will probably have an audience given how much time we spend on social media. And with your audience comes those background beasts fondly known as trolls. Trolls are interesting. They may be passively nosy or they may want to engage and fight in the Daily Keyboard Olympics (its like Fight Club but for trolls). Pick your battles wisely.

Why W.A.Y. when dealing with all of the possible battles out there? Because you cannot be in ALL things, ALL of the time. In John Eldredge’s book Get Your Life Back, he teaches about Benevolent Detachment. Benevolent Detachment is an act of giving everyone and everything to Jesus in a time of intentional pause throughout the day. It is NOT a “I am done with the world, forget them” mentality. It is releasing your burdens and the burdens of others to God. We are not God.

Worry About Yourself. Your heart and soul need it. And when you care for your heart and soul, then you can help others.