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Guard Your Heart

By Lee Sullivan

Random Writers Topic: Write about what life has taught you recently?

We had another wonderful growth group last night as we discussed Chapter 7: Your Personal Firewall, from The 4:8 Principle by Tommy Newberry. The chapter began with Proverbs 4:23 “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  What a reality check! This chapter made me realize just how little I prioritize God in my day to day.

I want to share this one passage from the book with you.

Guard your heart means to be intentional about your exposures, so that as you strengthen your mind, you simultaneously increase your capacity to serve others and affect the world in positive ways

Now, let me explain about the prioritize statement. In the book, Mr. Newberry talks about how “if junk goes in, then sooner or later junk must come out.” I think we all know this and it’s not this great big revelation.

When I first read The 4:8 Principle in preparation for this small group, I was blown away but this chapter. There are three habits that it suggests to help you “erect a fortress around your mind.” The first is to feed yourself with positive mental nutrition. Pretty self-explanatory – junk in equals junk out. He prompts us to ask this question, “How are my reading, listening, web-surfing, and TV habits different from non-Christians?” Sadly, the answer for me is probably not much different at all. I spend entirely too much time watching reality TV, reading news stories skewed by main-stream media agenda, FB, Twitter and other online trash. I will say that I’m pretty comfortable in my listening choices as I now listen almost exclusively to either Christian radio or artists with positive, faith inspired lyrics. Overall, though, I realize I have much room for improvement on developing this first habit.

The second habit he suggests is to start the day with joy. Easy enough, right? Well, not for me. The suggestion is merely to make your day’s first fifteen minutes be about God. He even suggests that if you have to, wake up 15 minutes earlier. Uh-oh. You see, I need sleep. My day, every day, starts badly simply because I had to wake up. I.Hate.Waking.Up. Hate it. So, the idea of waking up earlier than I need to just puts me in a bad mood thinking about it. This is where I fail God yet again. I’m not willing to give up a measly fifteen minutes of sleep so that I can read my bible, pray, or do some other faith enriching activity. And yes, this realization is painful for me. God gave His Son to die on the cross for my sins and I can’t give Him 15 minutes. Yep, I’m probably going to hell.

Now, can you guess what the third habit is? Newberry tells us to seal our day with joy. And you guessed it, one more area in which I fail God again. You see, I’m a true-crime junkie. Whether it be in the form of TV shows like CSI, Body of Proof, or Castle, I love crime solving. My DVR is set to record every episode of Dateline and 48 Hours, and even though I can’t possibly find the time to watch all of the recorded episodes, I still watch as much as I can in pieces when I have a few minutes to kill here and there (Ahhh, the joys of the DVR). My nightly routine involves brushing my teeth, crawling into bed and immediately tuning the TV to Investigative Discovery. I often fall asleep to some narrative about real life unsolved murder mysteries.

I had never thought about the messages that are being “impressed on my mind” each and every night as I fall asleep. I’m pretty sure this does not qualify as positive mental nutrition. After reading this book for the first time, I realized I had to make changes. On the day I read this chapter, I went straight for my DVR, deleted all recorded episodes of Dateline and 48 Hours and then stopped the series from being recorded again. That night, I fell asleep with the Oprah Network airing a re-run of Oprah’s interview with Pastor Joel Osteen. I fell asleep feeling really good about this change I was making. I was not devoting my final fifteen to God, but I was filling my thoughts with positive messages from positive and good people. There would be no more true-crime drama in this house.

Yeah, right. Who was I trying to fool anyway. My new directions quickly veered off course and within weeks, I was sneaking in episodes of Dateline when I was home alone, much like a junkie needing a fix. I don’t know what I was thinking but I do know I failed, and as more time went by, I stopped feeling guilty and resorted to my old ways as if nothing had ever happened. The junk was filling my brain. And my heart.

Gandhi said “Action expresses priority”. It’s amazing how three little words can shake you up as much as these did for me. My actions have clearly not expressed a priority for God. If anything, my actions have expressed that my desire for sleep and sleazy entertainment trump my desire to grow in my faith. Alright, I’m being a little bit dramatic. I know that, but I am trying to make a point here.

In reality, if I sit and catalog the events of most of my days, it would be very clear that I do spend time with God, that I do work to become closer to Him, and that not all of my days and nights are filled with junk.  However, this chapter did make me realize some areas in which I can do so much better.

I probably won’t give up my true crime TV or resist my desire to read depressing new stories during my lunch. It’s a pretty sure bet that I will not set my alarm to wake me 15 minutes earlier each morning. But, I am putting myself on notice. I will be developing more of a personal firewall to guard my heart against the junk that surrounds me. It may take me some time to get there and I will probably fail many more times. However, I know that God will not fail me. Ever. And THIS is why no matter how many times I fail Him, I will keep trying.

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Posted by on April 20, 2012 in Faith, Lee Sullivan, Prompts

 

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Keep On Keepin’ On

By Lindsey Goodall

Though it may seem that RW’s has lost it’s mojo,  I assure you that it has not!   We love this project and are committed to it, but we’re all just balancing a variety of commitments, relationships, and additional priorities and sometimes life gets in the way.  Appropriately, this weeks topic, “Write about what life has taught you recently”, gives us a view into the diversions that have kept us away from here.  Gil wrote a fantastic post yesterday, and I would encourage you to check it out, HERE.

The last few weeks and months have been a whirlwind for me personally.  Though I’ve slowed it down, rested and recovered, just as I set out to after the first of the year, God has been rocking and rolling all over my life.  It’s as if I hopped up on some big surfboard and have just been riding the wave ever since.  There’ve certainly been a few spills, but I can assure you it’s been a ride. I’m sorry that I can’t delve into the details at this point, but the time isn’t quite right. I am excited, however, to share a little bit today about what I’ve been learning.  I hope God speaks through it, even without great analogies and stories to make the point.

So, here are the Cliff’s notes:

We Are At War.  Where there is good, there is bad.  Where there is light, there is also dark.  We have an enemy in this world who hates us, and wants our hearts and our souls for his very own.  As we draw near to God, we fire him up, and all sorts of craziness starts to take place.  And while we have a sword and shield like no other, we have to fight!  We have to tell the asshole to back off, that he has no right to us, and that we want no part of him.  Doing so, consistently, sends him packing.  And despite how fast and furious the attacks are coming, it’s important to never, ever give up.  He will retreat. God is always there by our sides, and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is all the proof that we need to know that God always wins and that love always wins.

Let Go And Let God.  I’ve written on this topic before, but never in my life have I seen so clearly what He will do when we truly surrender.  The Bible tells us that God wants to bless us.  He wants to give us what we want, but we are so fond of holding on to all control devices that He can’t. As I’ve been fighting on the front lines of a spiritual attack for the past year, I reached a point after the first of this year where letting go was seemingly the easiest way to shore up some energy.  I was so tired from fighting the devil to continue fighting the Lord, too, and somehow, unknowingly at the time, I just said, “Fine, Lord.  Do it your way.” There were two major areas in which my normal efforts would have certainly failed and God has shown up BIG TIME in both, creating welcomed results that I alone could have never manufactured.

Seasons.  Life truly does take us through a period of season.  There are times of blessings, times of want, times of trial, times of peace.  He does this to keep us on our toes, to keep us from getting too self sufficient, as self-sufficiency keeps us from turning our eyes towards the One who made us.   We should never lose heart in a season of trial, because as we remain committed to listening and doing what He asks, seasons of blessing appear out of thin air.

The Power Of A Praying Woman.  I’ve seen books along the lines of that title for years.  My church has this Daughters of the King ministry, which is essentially a bunch of old ladies who take the churches prayer list each week and commit themselves to going toe to toe with God on them on a daily basis.  Admittedly, I’ve always chalked that one up to, “it’s nice that the church gives those old ladies some meaning in their lives” and thought little more about it. But man, Holy cow! I had no idea what power there was in prayer until God convicted me to prayer for a certain someone that I truly had no interest or desire to support in any way.  I did what He told me, though, starting with popcorn prayers whenever I thought of this person, to committing to praying on the subject when walking the poodle, to eventually even fasting for this lost friend. It was as if, that little bit of obedience set off a 30 mile domino track.  What God has done from the time that started until now, I suspect, will ultimately become one of my life’s greatest journeys. Once I get to the 30,000 foot view, I believe there will be more specifics written on the subject, but for the time being, go pray.  Trust me.  Male or female.  I say with absolute certainty that there is a direct correlation between prayerful obedience and answered prayers.

Never Lose Faith.  No one said life would ever be easy.  And faith doesn’t make life easy. It makes all things possible.  I don’t care what you’re going through. Little trials increase our faith for the big trials.  Life is a journey, not a destination. Jesus is a journey, not a destination. We’re going to have to continue slogging along, fighting the battle against Satan, struggling with letting go, enduring seasons of ups and downs, all the while praying unceasingly if we want to defeat the bastard.  The good news is that once you grasp that, it becomes a joy.  You see life for what it is, recognizing what is being thrown at you and who it is being thrown at you from.  If it’s from Satan, reject it.  If it’s from God, embrace it.  It’s not about you.  It’s about God.

Recap: So shut up, pick up your sword, fight the devil with all you’ve got, let God do what He’s going to do, embrace whatever is happening in your life as a learning experience, and pray unceasingly KNOWING that faith isn’t the believe that God can, but that He WILL.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Lindsey Goodall, Prompts

 

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Freaking Out

By Gil Gonzalez

Random Writers – Write about what life has taught you recently.

It was Spring 2009. I remember sitting in a mandatory meeting for my son’s First Communion, and all I could think about was how I so desperately did not want to be there. That though process was the first domino that lead me to walking away from my religious upbringing. My son’s First Communion would be one of the last Catholic masses I would attend.

It’s not that I had a crisis of faith. On the contrary. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt that God has been with me. Jesus has always been a part of my life. But right up until that moment, it was always a formal relationship I held with my God.

What I experienced was a crisis of church.

I was engaged to a woman raised Southern Baptist. She, too, had a very strong connection with God. Like me, she was yearning for a new way to celebrate her faith. We were both looking for a way to celebrate together.

I never shied away from stating publicly I believe in God. Yet through my Catholic upbringing, I never considered myself the evangelical type either. I was bothered by self-professes ‘Jesus Freaks’, and I cringed whenever I heard someone say something to the effect of, “You have to let Jesus show you the way.”

Whatever, dude.

My relationship with God had always been reverential. Much like the relationship I still maintain with my mom, it’s always been about honor and respect. Parental.

In the summer of 2009, and at the suggestion of a friend who had been facing a similar crisis of church, my wife and I began at attending a new and different place of worship. Christian, non-denominational, and situated in Ybor City in Tampa, Relevant Church was the answer to our prayers.

I remember having a conversation with a good friend of mine and how in her studies they’d discussed how Christianity needed to get back to basics. How the church needed to simplify. Relevant, with their purpose of “impacting the emerging culture with the reality of Christ”, did exactly that. They simplified the way we worship and celebrate God’s kingdom. From the moment we walked into the building and experienced our first service, Lee and I knew this was the place where we’d be able to celebrate our faith together.

As time passed and our involvement in the church increased, we found ourselves leading a growth group, which is a weekly meeting in which we discuss a chapter of the book we’re reading for that semester. We also pray together, share our stories of growth and faith, and experience true fellowship. Think of it as Bible study meets book club.

After several weeks, I’ve found a new strength in my relationship with God. My eyes have been opened to new perspectives, and I’ve been introduced with new and exciting ways to better my life and live it in way that honors God. I’ve also learned to let go of the formality with which I burdened myself in how I viewed God.

I’ve always been proud of the relationship I had with my dad. Lots of hugs. Lots of kisses. Lots of “I love you’s.” What I am realizing now is that I can have that relationship with God, too. That it’s okay to think of God as an open-armed dad, smiling and happy to see me, wanting the best for me, and watching over me in what I do. He wants me to be happy. He wants me to succeed. He wants me to know that by placing my faith in Him, there is nothing I cannot accomplish.

So here I am, three years removed from my crisis of church. I find myself closer to being the Jesus freak I mocked than to being the guy sitting in that meeting just wishing for it to be over. I’ve learned that in life, our roads our varied, but our destination is ultimately the same. Betterment, fulfillment, joy, and community. Living a good life and being a good person.

My recent life lesson is that when you open your heart to God, He helps you find that which you’ve been wanting most.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2012 in Gil Gonzalez, Prompts

 

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Keeping My Eyes Open

By Gil Gonzalez

Random Writers: Write about a new beginning in your life.

I recently told a friend of mine, “Pain is when we look at God’s will through human eyes.”

As I look back on the events of my life that lead me here today, the vast majority of them occurring in the 2004 – 2005 timeframe, it’s clear to see that every new beginning was preceded by a moment of pain or crisis.

There are so many metaphors and analogies bouncing around in my head right now, it would probably take me hours to write them all down. Still, they all can be summarized with a simple formula.

Pain + Time = New

Yes, it really is that simple.

Pain (or disappointment or crisis or burden) plus the time you spend experiencing it, learning from it, and healing as a result, equate to new beginnings and new opportunities.

True, there are some opportunities that came my way either as a result of hard work, sheer determination, or dumb luck. But the moments in my life that I can honestly qualify as new beginnings all stem from an event that was not fun to go through.

I feel I’ve always lived my life as an open book, and those who know me also know my story. For me, I will always have the one life event that served as the BIG domino that fell and set in motion all the other dominoes that make up my life journey.

Here’s my story, from right to left.

I live my life surrounded by my core group of friends. These are the people whom I trust and whose opinions I value the most. They serve as my gauge as to how I am doing and whether I am doing it right. When I think about that inner circle, I am still amazed at how I came to meet and know those individuals.

We met through our mutual love for music. Specifically, the music of Sister Hazel. The genesis of how we came together was a beach weekend the band put together back in 2006 in South Carolina. It was an event called the Hazelnut Hang, and it was an event that has proven to change my life.

What lead me to go to that event was dinner conversation with my girlfriend at the time – Lee, who is now my wife – and our mutual friend. Our friend was going through a tough time so Lee and I decided to take her out for a bite and be there for her. In the course of conversation, our friend mentioned her mother’s house in South Carolina which sparked the idea of going to the Sister Hazel event.

Lee and I became exclusive in January 2006 following a very tumultuous 2005 in which Lee would learn to open her eyes to the idea of something new only to find me continuing to struggle with the idea of letting go of something old. That something old came to a head in December of 2005.

That was the moment of the big domino.

It’s evident to me, as I trace back the key moments of my life, that I would not be where I am today had the door I had so desperately wanted to run through back in 2005 not been slammed shut in my face. I could not see where I am today through those tears I was shedding that painful December evening over six years ago, yet here I am nonetheless.

I’ve learned that in those darkest and most painful of times, we must have faith that a new light will clear the darkness, and a new path will be revealed. It’s not any kind of easy and everyone learns that lesson at their own pace and in their own way, if ever at all.

Another band that has been influential to me in my life journey is NEEDTOBREATHE, and they have a song that succinctly sums up my life events from 2005. It is what Lee was trying to tell me all along that year.  What I didn’t know back then, which is clearer to me now, is that I needed to keep my eyes open. What I also failed to see is that God was directing me every step of the way.

Yes, I believe everything happens for a reason – His reason – and I believe coincidence is our human way of interpreting God’s will.  And yes, pain is when we look at God’s will with our human eyes. Instead of allowing the pain to govern our experience, we should remind ourselves that with time and with faith in God, the new beginnings in our lives will be realized.

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Gil Gonzalez, Prompts

 

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Finding Inspiration

by Lindsey Goodall

Random Writers: Write about how/where you find your inspiration.

Many creative types have a muse.  The person or thing that releases or uncovers matters of the heart,  mind and soul in imaginative ways. Shakespeare had the Dark Lady, Dali had his wife Gala, John Lennon had Yoko, and Adam Levine had Jane.  In these cases, women inspired works of art, literature and song. Women do make the world go round, you know. I suppose I should embrace that.

While I’ve had the good fortune of being surrounded by amazing women in my life, and by being inspired by many of them, I am heterosexual, and thus not familiar in my own life with having a female muse. But after a week like I’ve just experienced, I didn’t have to look too far to find where my inspiration comes from.

This last week has been one series of divine appointment after another.  God has been moving in HUGE ways, answering prayer right and left.  In the midst of a big week with having a major fundraiser on Saturday, God left my calendar virtually wide open, allowing me the time I needed to invest myself in the situation at hand and to be ready whenever He called.  I have had the honor and privilege of being USED, and it’s exciting.

(It’s not really my story to share so forgive me for not going into details, though I’d love to.  If we’re lucky, maybe it will show up on these walls sometime in the future, written by the one with the story to tell.)

It makes me want to dig deeper, to know my maker better, to pray harder, to soften and heal my own heart, and to choose to do it ALL His way.  No more of this, I’ll do this part my way but you can be in control of this area of my life. My efforts only covered up deeper issues, and this time around, I’m choosing to let go and let God resolve them, and to be in control of it all.

I read somewhere this week that there is a direct correlation between obedience and having your prayers answered.   I have had lots of prayers but, admittedly, a past short on obedience to Him.  After a little personal struggle with obedience last Sunday, and ultimately saying “Okay, I’ll do it”, I saw the correlation first hand as I sat back and watched God do His thing as only He can do, answering prayers, speaking clearly and audibly, and making shit happen.  That kind of response from Him only inspires me to want to be more faithful, more dutiful, and more obedient.

I have NO CLUE what “doing the next thing ” means at this moment,  I’m excited that if I take the time to listen that He’ll show me.  I’m so excited to watch God work in big fat ways, and to be a part of it and I now see that my inspiration comes from the one, and the only one, who would lay down His life for mine.

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” – John 15:13

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Faith, Lindsey Goodall, Prompts

 

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The Roots of Inspiration

By Gil Gonzalez

Random Writers: Write about how/where you find your inspiration.

Music.

Sunshine.

Birds.

Church.

The smile on my children’s faces.

I think the easier question is, “Where do you NOT find inspiration?”

It’s pretty amazing how thoughts are triggered. Be it positive or negative, the tiniest little moment, event, visual, or even perception can fire off a synapse that snowballs into an avalanche of wonderment, questioning, and amazement. It is …. well …. inspiring.

Perhaps it’s just me and my over-active imagination. All those hours spent in front of the TV on Saturday mornings watching Spider Man cartoons. Perhaps it was all the comic books I read as a child. Perhaps it’s that crazy, semi-psychotic voice in my head that makes my wife sometimes look at me like I’m crazy.

Or perhaps I’m not alone.

Perhaps everyone else has uniquely random ways in which inspiration finds its way into their hearts and minds.

Color.

Texture.

A scent that triggers a memory that, in turn, triggers an emotion.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder what exactly inspiration is.  Is it a fuel we consume when we allow our creativity to flourish? Is it the natural progression of one experience to the next; a sequential hop from point A to point B to point C? Is it the gravity of emotion pulling us in a direction we’d never before considered? Is it God’s hand guiding us down the path He’s chosen for us?

Is it all of the above?

Whatever the source or whatever the reason, the question is not how or from where? The true question is, “What do you do once you’re inspired?” The cause in not important. The effect, by contrast, most definitely is.

Some people take to painting. Others take to writing. Some use inspiration to change a bad habit. Others use inspiration to change the world.

Whatever your muse may be, I hope the inspiration you experience is coupled with the perspiration of your ensuing efforts. Big or small, private or public, local or global; use that inspiration to drive you to action.

After all, there are few things more discouraging than the notion of inspiration ignored.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Gil Gonzalez, Prompts

 

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Mental Filtration System

By Gil Gonzalez

Random Writers – Write about something you would do differently if you knew no one would judge you.

*bleep*

If I could *bleeping* do something differently without having to worry what other *bleeping* people would think about it, I would so *bleeping* curse all the *bleeping* time.

I love swearing. I embrace my potty mouth. I *bleeping* curse all the time.

Especially when I am watching sports. I’ve always said I would love to be an NFL color commentator – I think I would be pretty *bleeping* good at it, too – but with my sports Tourett’s, whereby I spontaneously exclaim things when watching a game, I am sure I would lose my job because of my ‘colorful’ language.

Sometimes, it really is such a challenge to have to edit and filter the language that comes out of my mouth. It’s such a *bleeping* pain in the *bleep* to feel so guarded all the time. You all know what I’m talking about. The same language, tone, and demeanor you use at church or a charity fund raiser is not the same language, tone, and demeanor you use when you’re alone in your car during rush hour traffic and you’re running late. Everyone becomes an adversary, and everyone becomes the target of the verbal daggers you throw like a ninja assassin.

So who the *bleep* cares if I swear? Who came up with these *bleeping* restrictive rules of social decorum? Why the *bleep* do I need to watch what I say?

Shouldn’t we all strive to be 100% honest and true? Isn’t that the *bleeping* goal?

Think about it. Wouldn’t it be awesome if, say, during church service you feel the power of God and exclaim a witness of “*bleep* yeah!”? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you met someone for the first time and being so taken aback by their stunning good looks you just blurted out, “Wow you look *bleeping* amazing!”? Seriously, why aren’t we *bleeping* free to be our *bleeping* selves?

I guess that’s where the sense of common courtesy comes in. The same little voice in the back of our minds that tells us to hold the door open for the little old lady making her way into a building, or to set our cell phones to silent before a movie starts, is the same voice that dictates we refrain from cursing in public settings. This is especially true when there are little kids around.

For as much as I let the sailor speak fly when I am home alone or at a bar watching a game, I am very mindful of what I say when there are kids around. My kids not so much. They’ve heard it all from my by now. But other people’s kids? No *bleeping* way would I dare let loose with the language. It’s just not done.

So to answer my own question of why can’t we just be ourselves, I guess the answer lies in our need as a society to be mindful and respectful of others. We may not always adhere to that desire, but I think, for the most part, we all strive for the sense of decency that unifies us as a people. We sacrifice a little of ourselves (i.e. an open and unfiltered potty mouth) for the benefit of the greater good.

And at the end of the day, isn’t that *bleeping* what it’s all about?

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Gil Gonzalez, Prompts

 

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