The Long Way Round

Ok ok yes, you caught me; I started this blog around a year ago and this is only my second post ever. I’ve had several thoughts about what I wanted to write about but there has been one thing getting in my way every time I go to write…I am lazy.

If you already read my last post, I let you in on that little secret already. If you haven’t read it that’s ok, but I do ask you to try for a moment if you can to push past your initial impression of me (which I can only assume is soft spoken, never sarcastic, and an incredibly deep thinker) to accept this hard truth.

I took my time deciding what I wanted to write about, but I really do hope to make this the beginning of a regular thing for me. I love reading (though the motivation to do it comes in phases) but writing has never been something that comes naturally for me. I struggle with the process, it takes time and the ability (and patience) to think deeply. I tend to try finding shortcuts a lot of the time in life, for a long time in school I was always trying to figure out the formula for the best possible grade with the least amount of work. This worked in some classes, in others it cost me big time.

Here’s the thing about shortcuts my friends, you buy a little time now, by costing yourself a lot of time later.

I have learned this lesson the hard way, because my shortcut cost me 7 years. Allow me to explain. I was a senior in High School very much into the performing arts (singing, dancing, acting) I loved being on the stage, and studying music. I’ll level with you, by my senior year out of my 8 classes of the day almost half of them were music classes. I had accepted Christ about a year previously and was going to Beta a high school bible study in Cuyahoga Falls consistently but God didn’t fully have my heart. I was following my own desires. I wanted to be recognized. I loved the applause, the compliments, the fun of performing and gave my all to music and what I thought was my key to happiness.

Once I graduated I decided that I wanted to go to Kent State University (mostly to follow a girl) though going where a lot of close friends were going had its benefits too. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, my mom was a teacher and the idea of having summers, spring/winter break and major holidays off just sounded too good to pass up. I originally was an integrated math major for about three minutes, but knew I would not stick to it. I decided to go exploratory until I decided what I really wanted to do. The thing was though I already knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to follow music. I had this stupid little thing in my head called common sense that told me I could not spend 4 years studying music performance because there was no chance I would ever make it big as a performer. So after taking two years to decide in the exploratory program I switched to music education. The first three years of college were like a tug of war battle in my heart. I was doing what I thought would make me happy, but it ended up just draining me of my love of music instead. It was around year two of my music education program (year three of college) when I was faced with a major issue for those wanting to teach choir. I could not play the piano. I was trying to learn and could slowly piece things together if I had a long time to do it but not enough to pass a piano class. I was also told that as part of my program I had to attend 80% of the music events at the school. Most of these events were concerts and recitals that took place on Tuesday and Saturday nights. What was the issue with that? Lets rewind a little.

My summer before my sophomore year of college I had joined a ministry apartment with some high school friends and some friends from my church now called Freedom Fellowship. For those who are not familiar with a ministry apartment, it basically is just an apartment where I live with some friends from my church with a mutual goal to grow our faith in the lord with one another. To be honest I can’t tell you why I moved in originally, the lord must have been really pressing on my heart to try it out. I was not very dedicated to my faith at that point in my life, it was pretty low on my list of priorities. I was going to my college bible study, taking part in a small men’s bible study, and attending a weekly church wide meeting. I was learning more and more about the bible but was not really sure what I wanted to do with my faith or the knowledge I was learning. I just wanted to have fun, play the games after the teachings, go home and watch tv.

I was living life my way but I did not realize there was something better out there. Something right in front of my face that I just couldn’t bring into focus.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Rev 3:20 (NIV)

God was trying to knock on my heart, he wanted me to realize he was standing right there begging to offer me a better life. I had accepted him into my heart my junior year of high school but I never did anything with it. I had yet to make that “second decision” to live my life for him.

I kept fumbling around, failing classes, hooking up with my ex girlfriend on again off again to try to feel happy. The truth is I was miserable, depressed, and always felt like I had to put on a fake smile for everyone around me. After all I was supposed to be a performer right? So…I performed.

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12 (NIV)

All my decisions seemed like they in theory should make me happy. It was not until much later that I would come to realize that while I wanted a life of happiness, what I needed was a life of Joy. My plan was going one direction while the lords plan for me was going the other he wanted me to be joyful, I just wasn’t sure how to get there. I kept following my plan until one night something broke. I was at home in my apartment feeling the impact of the life I was living and I felt just broken. Had no idea what I wanted anymore out of life. I was failing school, failing in relationships, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was utterly defeated.

I had nothing left to lose so I told God I would give his way a shot. I was already here, living in an apartment focused on growing with him, so I decided I would test out his way. I would try caring for my roommates, talking to him more, read the word and actually try to care about the things he cared about. The most mind blowing thing for me though was that the number one thing God cared about…was me.

The difference was quite literally like night and day. I suddenly didn’t feel so sucky to put it mildly. I felt joyful and lighter, IP (my college bible study) was actually fun because of the people and conversation I would have, not just the games. I felt so free…until I went back to school. So now we can pick up where we lift off Music classes kept getting harder, I didn’t know piano, and I would have to spend most of my time attending music events. I was resigned to my fate until the music event schedule came out and as I said most of the events took place on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The issue, those were the days I had my bible studies. So the path I had chosen, and the path the lord laid out in front of me had literally collided.

(Disclaimer: I in no way, shape, or form wish for you to take this out of context to mean God doesn’t want you to do things you want or love. I could have totally made the decision to skip a lot of my bible studies to follow the music path and God would still have loved me unconditionally)

In reality I was miserable in my music degree and looking back now I am convinced God was in the works to help me escape a future career I would not have done well at or enjoyed. I was going to finish up this semester of music education and then decide where to go from there.

After looking into all the options I saw two possible paths, either get a general degree and graduate ASAP or I could switch to another degree and stick it out for a while longer. This time I was convinced I needed to let others in on my decision. I talked to some friends and my roommate who was a teacher Zak Rozler, about what he thought I should do. He encouraged me that while Music Ed did not work out, that he believed I could be a great teacher. I’ll admit I was tempted several times to take the shortcut, get the general degree and be done with college now and save two years. I prayed about this, talked to family and friends and in the end I decided I was done with the shortcuts. The first one I took by going with music education, assuming I could do the easy stuff first then worry later about the hard things (learning piano for instance) had already costed me four years of college.

I switched into my Integrated Language Arts degree and to my great surprise, I loved it. The classes were fun and engaging, I was actually good at it. I started raising my grades, and my last three semesters I have made the deans list. This phase of my schooling has been the best of my college career by far. I am sorry for the extremely long background but I felt it necessary to get it out there and be totally candid about how I have been in college for seven years. Yes, almost two bachelors degrees worth of time. Not going to lie, at times I am really embarrassed of how long it took me to get my school life together. It requires me to admit that I messed, I failed.

While I wanted to just get it all out there about my schooling I want the bigger point to be this. I can not make my life work work by myself. I need God. His plan is so much better than my plan.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)

God is my hope, he’s gotten me so much farther than I ever would have thought possible from a few years ago.

As I approach the end of my college experience I look back and just am filled with so much joy about the things the lord has done in this time of my life. I have numerous friends who I love dearly, a loving girlfriend who encourages me daily. Roommates who I can laugh and cry with. The lord has been able to use me to help bring people to him, lead a house of truly compassionate men, and be part of amazing discipleships. The last seven years has been hard, the most challenging in my life but also the most joyful.

So to wrap up this way too long post (thanks for bearing with me). Let the lord guide your path, his plan is way better than our plan. He wants desperately to be there to support and love you. In Matthew six Jesus talks about how we should not worry about what we will eat, drink, or wear for when we are seeking him first he will provide for our needs.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

God provides, he truly does, he did with me. So while it took me a lot longer than most to finally get through college, I am so glad I did not wait to make the decision to live for the lord. There is no shortcuts when it comes to following God, follow him, rely on him. It isn’t always easy, but it is always fulfilling and a life of love and joy.

And for a life like that I don’t mind taking the long way round.

Fight the Feelings!

I’m lazy. Yep, have got to start off just throwing it out there. It’s no real surprise to those who know me, it’s not one of the universes best kept secrets or anything like that. I just don’t like doing things all the time. Now don’t get my wrong, there are times when I have all the energy in the world and am ready to go on an all night adventure, or hit up sheetz at 1am with my friends for a late night snack. Now in those moments you couldn’t stop me with a freight train, when I want to go I GO. The issue is however, those moments are not all the time and lately I have found them few and far between.

Recently I find myself repeating the Phleg motto with the same enthusiasm as Spongebob did when Plankton won him in a poker game

“Nah I don’t really feeeeeeel like it”

If I was being honest with you I would say that 85% of the time I really don’t feel like doing much. Luckily this is a blog and I can choose to lie and say I only don’t feel like doing things 50% of the time. Except for the fact that I already told you it was realistically 85%, I could go back and erase it but like I said in the beginning I’m lazy.

Lately I have been thinking about our feelings. What they’re good for, and probably more importantly when we’re following Christ, what they aren’t good for. For example, if I can trust my feelings to guide my daily schedule then you can trust I will not get out of bed until 1pm, I will then lay on a couch for nine hours watching tv, and will then get food delivered to me. The point here being that our feelings are not always the best guide.

Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Our hearts are messed up, its a true statement and yet we live in this culture that is always telling us to “Follow your heart” and what that looks like is following our feelings. If you feel like you have a shot to make it big in Hollywood you go, don’t let a silly little thing like a son to raise hold you back. Oh, you love that girl, well why didn’t you say so, of course you can leave your wife, it’d be more messed up not to leave. The path our heart takes us on leaves a trail of pain and destruction everywhere we go.

When I think of biblical feeling followers the first person that comes to mind is Moses, the man killed an Egyptian in a moment of anger and his life changed forever. Moses ran away and had to hide from his adoptive grandfather until the man died all because he followed his feelings. Now here’s the thing, Moses thought he was doing what was right, helping his fellow Israelite fight against the big bad slave driver. Moses had the right idea, he knew the slavery of his people was wrong, but he was doing things his own way, not the lords way.

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding

God wanted justice for his people as well, in fact he even told Abraham he would free his people 400 years before they even were enslaved. God had a plan, and what was amazing about that plan was that included using an 80 year old man who had already tried it and failed his way (Eventually I plan to write a blog on how God uses the underdogs, but that’s for another time).

So God speaks to Moses in the form of a burning bush, and gives him his big chance to march back into Egypt and free his people and what does Moses say?

“Nah I don’t really feeeeeeeeeeeeel like it”

More specifically, Moses thinks he cannot do it, he feels like he is not smart enough, strong enough, not a good enough speaker. Now the fact is that he’s right, here in this instance his feelings are spot on, he does not have the ability to do this.

You see our feelings do have their use, they tell us things, we feel sad when someone dies because we know its unnatural and goes against Gods original plan for us. We feel angry when we or someone we care about has some sort of right violated. We feel happy when we enjoy some of the amazing things God has graced us with. Feelings do have their place. Moses is feeling weak and powerless and scared, and if he had continued to follow these feelings then none of us would be where we are right now. Its a good thing Moses had feelings because they told him that he was not enough, and that means he needs someone else’s help.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Moses had his feelings and threw them at the lords feet and despite how he felt in his insecurity and weakness, he went forward and relied on the lords power.

So Moses didn’t follow his feelings, he followed the lord, he followed the knowledge and the reassurance that God would without a doubt, succeed in his mission.

Moses didn’t follow his feelings, he followed the truth.

The truth is that God is the creator of the universe and knows what is best for us. The truth is that God has a plan and has made that plan known for thousands of years. The truth is that, what we know of God always trumps what we are feeling in the moment.

But I know its not always that easy.

It can be so hard to focus on what we know when we so strongly are experiencing what we feel. It is something I battle very often. I feel like my friends don’t care for me, I feel alone and unloved, I feel like God isn’t there. In the moments I feel like that, it can be so hard to focus on what it true. Really really really hard…but…it gets easier.

The more I grow with Christ, meditate on his word, and above all the more I talk to him, the easier it is to live out what he calls me to do. Especially when I do these things when I don’t feel like it. When I feel unloved and alone I talk to God because despite how I feel, I know he’s there. I know he cares for me

1 Peter 5:7 “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

See, told you. When we are willing to take our feelings and put them aside we can see what is true. The more we focus on what is true, the easier it is to not live in our feelings. Let me tell you, when we are able to start putting your feelings on the back burner, you experience such a beautiful freedom. You no longer feel like a slave to your emotions, you still feel these things, but you know that they do not take precedence over what is true.

Philippians 4:8-9 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul starts with what is true for a reason, he knows the truth takes precedence over all else. Paul says in that Philippians verse that when we think about these things we get the “peace of God”, when we are following our feelings we do not get peace, we get confusion.

So what does it look like to follow the truth? When we follow the truth, it means we take action. What action are we called to take?

John 13:34 “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”

We are following the truth when we live out this commandment, we go and love others. The best way to get outside of ourselves is by getting into the life of someone else, and when we do that is when we learn one of Gods little rewards for us. When we start going out and loving others, we stop feeling so bad, in fact we start to feel pretty great.

Feelings follow actions. I think God put that little cheat code in there for us and I thank him that he did. When we take the action of loving even when we don’t want to, our feelings often follow and we feel better because we were able to focus on someone else and give them love.

This isn’t going to happen overnight, its not going to happen every time we’re upset. We will experience times when we just won’t be able to fight off the feelings and we sit and need someone to listen to us for a bit, and that’s okay when that happens, but in those moments we need to be able to see what are our feelings and what is the truth.

Just to wrap up here, I really encourage people reading this to think how we can encourage our people to live in the truth and not just follow our feelings all the time. I have seen some of my friends really grow in this area over the last few months and it has been so amazing to see them talk about their feelings but still be able to say they know what is true and they want to focus on that.

So in conclusion:

  1. Feelings: Great indicators, terrible guides
  2. Be free from the chains of our feelings

John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”