The Premium of Pain

The Premium of Pain

The phrase no pain, no gain has been a mantra for athletes and fitness junkies for years. And what they understand about physical pain needs to be broadened to a much more general use in all of our lives.

Pain hurts. That’s the whole problem. No one enjoys it, and if someone does, we rightfully question their mental health. But I’ve learned from repeated familiarity that there is a premium value for pain that is not achieved otherwise.

Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

It’s been the battle cry of my ministry – of my life! I even made a wristband saying as much. The difficulty is that I have to remind myself of this when it’s the least convenient. When I’ve gone through a loss, a failure, a disappointment, a setback – that’s when pain is punching the hardest. And that’s when I have to remind myself that there is a resource that only comes through such pain.

This is easily the greatest reason why most people are stuck in life. Stuck in their career because they think they can’t start over. They can start over, but starting over sucks.
Stuck in their marriage because they won’t have uncomfortable conversations about the problems in their relationship, so they settle for “peace” which isn’t true peace it’s just a pause in the fighting. And by pause, I mean nothing is being worked out together.
Stuck in their faith, because you won’t risk anything meaningful in your pursuit of truly knowing Christ, “and the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10).
Stuck in your finances, because it’s more convenient to have a little fun now, rather than save for a lot of freedom later.

We are naturally pain averse. But pain comes for us all. It comes by choice through sacrifice, or it comes by consequence through inaction, playing it safe, and maintaining a status quo. But regardless of how it comes, we still have a valuable decision to make…

What do I do with my pain?

  • I can internalize it – become bitter, spiteful, and self-destructive.
  • I can vocalize it – assign blame, make public statements, protest, and pass responsibility.
  • I can mobilize it – realize that I got here at a price, and pain is a tutor – a tough and expensive one – whose lessons are hard-earned, and few are willing to pay the tuition.

Pain comes from many sources. Self inflicted, abuse by others, setbacks from life, and even from God, Himself. It was Him after all, who led His own Son to the cross. But through the price of the pain He endured on the cross, our salvation was purchased.

What might your pain purchase? You’re richer than you think. Your pain is a resource. You can choose anger and resentment, or you can choose humility, grace, perseverance, wisdom, and growth. It’s my prayer that you mobilize the premium price of pain God has allowed in your life for greater things.

Blessings,
Pastor John

Kanye West and celebrity “conversions”

Kanye West and celebrity “conversions”

Recently I came out in support of Kanye West’s conversion to faith in Christ. Read that again. Slowly. I support his conversion, his profession, his faith in Christ…

Not any of his past. Not any of his present antics. Not his political choices. Not even every spiritual sounding thing he says. I support his very vocal, very well-articulated, very public salvation experience through his acknowledgement of his need for Christ, and faith in His work.

Am I skeptical of Kanye? Sure. I’m skeptical of anyone who wants something from me – whether that’s my purchase of their album (which I did), or persuade me to give them my vote (which I never do).

Here are some observations I make about people who sincerely receive Christ into their lives:

  • They can’t shut up about Him! Whether we’re talking about Biblical characters like Zacchaeus (Luke 19), or the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) – people who get saved by Jesus, are consistently compelled to share Jesus. Kanye – in true Kanye fashion – has not stopped talking about what Jesus did for him. That rings true to me.
  • They are reckless in their abandonment of their old life. Peter got called by Jesus to follow Him (Matthew 4), and Peter literally quit his job on the spot! Walked out on his fishing business with his dad to follow Jesus. Kanye is an artist, but he’s an artist who made millions promoting godless, moral-less anthems. Since his faith experience, he’s put all of that reputation in jeopardy. Maybe more accurately, you could say he’s crucified that life with this new faith.
  • They have to do something! I mentioned Zacchaeus earlier. Zacchaeus was a legal thief, a.k.a. tax collector for the Roman government. When he encountered the love of Christ, he made a decision to pay back what he took unjustly from others, with heavy interest. Kanye writes music. He’s using what he has. In his words, from God Is, “I can’t sit here and be still, everybody I will tell, ’til the whole world is healed!”
  • They are messy. Almost every new Christian is messy. Some more “mature” Christians are messy! Basically we’re all a just a forgiven mess. But my point is, that new believers are still figuring everything out, and how to die to themselves everyday. And that’s not easy! Kanye, and those who celebrated his faith, came under fire when a quote he made about himself being the “greatest artist God ever created” came out. Yeah, that’s arrogant! But I also know that with all the publicity he’s gotten lately he was bound to say something stupid eventually. Wasn’t that everyone’s point? Isn’t that why he keeps getting attention, because people are more interested in seeing him fall, rather than succeed in his faith profession? Shame on us.

I would never feel any compulsion to support everything someone does or says – a celebrity whom I’ve never met, least of all. And Kanye is no different. But what I will defend – literally to my last breath – is that Jesus died for everyone. And absolutely anyone who turns from themselves to Christ’ work on the cross, His death and resurrection, is fully and utterly redeemed by God. Whether that person is a politician, rapper, college student, “cradle Christian”, or LGBT+. That is what I’m supporting. That is where I’m coming from.

What Kanye needs right now is grace and discipleship, which I hear he is receiving. I hope that’s true. What we need, fellow Christians, is to actually stand on the gospel – and it’s power to save absolutely anyone. Heaven will be filled with people with sketchy pasts. You and I included. We just might not have to figure our new faith out on a worldwide stage.

Blessings,
Pastor John

Date Night Ideas

Date Night Ideas

Here’s a quick run through of date night ideas. My wife and I actually use these. And with it being close to Christmas, maybe there’s a few good ideas you can turn into a gift…

Cheap/Basically Free:

  • Netflix and Chill. Come on it had to be here! My wife and I like to watch a favorite series and eat ice cream in bed.
  • Interview Questions. This is fun, and can be done in combination with almost any other date ideas. We ask each other questions, specifically intended to find out more about each other – and we still do this after 15+ years of marriage! We’re still discovering more and more about each other, and loving very step along the way. Some of our responses have changed over the years also. Don’t know what to ask? Start here.
  • 2-player video games. We’ve been playing Overcooked on Nintendo Switch lately and it’s a blast!
  • Nice Dinner at home. I love to cook, so I’ll occasionally grab a couple steaks, or scallops, or mussels, and cook up a simple, quick, elegant meal for just the two of us. There’s something intimate about cooking together.
  • Cleaning Party. Ok, no lie, this is nowhere near my first choice. I’d much rather “Netflix and Chill”! But we get some needed things done around the house, and that makes both of us feel more romantic.
  • Run errands together. We hear couples complain about never having enough time together. So turn ordinary things into a date! Buying groceries? Get a coffee together and make it a date!
  • Coffee and Prayer. I’m trying to do better at this. With 4 kids and a constantly busy house, there’s plenty to interrupt us. But we try to consistently have some regular morning time to pray for each other… over a cup of home made coffee.
  • Board/Card Games. These are so fun together, but also a great idea for family nights. We like Sushi Go, Game of Life, Ultimate Werewolf, and, yes… Exploding Kittens.
  • Overnight date at Home. This one’s for all the married with kids folks! We have a few other trusted families who we swap off watching our children overnight with about once a month to every other month. Our kids get to have sleepovers, and so do we with each other.

Moderate Cost:

  • Dance Lessons. Contrary to my Baptist roots, dancing is fun, romantic, and not inherently evil. There’s a great little affordable class you can do together in-home here!
  • New restaurant. We love to eat out, and we’re very adventurous with trying new foods/cuisines. We’ve got a favorite ramen joint, Ethiopian spots, plenty of Indian, Korean, phò, and of course Mexican options all around us. More importantly, we love experiencing them together.
  • Night at a nearby hotel. Occasionally, we’ll take a night out – in or near our own town! It’s like getting away but with far less travel time. And for the cost of a single hotel night, it’s pretty fun.
  • Art Gallery. We’ve only gone to a few art galleries, but have had a lot of fun each time! These are reasonably affordable trips, and this is another good family “date” for kids in many cases.
  • Comedy Show. These can be tough to find decently clean shows, but we recently went to Gabriel Iglesias and LOVED him. Hilarious, and decent.
  • Nearby travels. We have the good fortune of living in the SF Bay Area, and we’re surrounded by lots of great date day options that amount to a day trip. We’ve toured San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Paso Robles, Downtown San Jose, Willow Glen, Fremont, and several other parts of our greater Bay Area just to discover people and places together.
  • Fire pit. We have a enough yard space to enjoy a fire pit. It’s perfect for cuddling, talking, and enjoy a drink or meal, and just unplugging from all the other distractions for a bit. This is the one we use. We paid less, and we’ve had it for years.

Special Occasions/Pricey:

  • Michelin Star Chef. As a big food nerd, I found out there was a 3-star chef nearby that I was dying to visit. We saved a considerable amount of money for this trip, but enjoyed what is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime meal. We’ll share the memories of that meal for the rest of our lives. WORTH IT.
  • Hawaii. We went here for our 13th Anniversary a few years ago. As an Army brat growing up, I lived on Oahu for 3 years, and already knew several “must do” stops. But we spent half the trip on Kauai and just relaxed. Maui and the “Big Island” are also great. Lanai is tiny!
  • Missions Trip. We recently went to Kenya together and got to serve some missionaries and Kenyan pastors. It was a joy to serve together, and reminded both of us of what our marriage is centered around.
  • Family Reunion. My extended family is literally spread coast-to-coast. We had a big family reunion a year ago and reconvened with most of them in Oklahoma where my parents live. The trip there and back was as rewarding as the time with our relatives.
  • Conference/Retreat. We’ve both spoke at different conferences, and have attended dozens more. Some were focused on ministry, our marriage, or just a getaway with other couples. They are all rewarding and great to experience together.
  • Special Experience. We have loved some of the wine tours around us. We’ve gone fishing together on charter boats,
  • Visit another part of the world. We’ve got more travel plans. I promised my wife when I married her that I’d take her to Ireland. So Ive got plan that out soon! We’ve been to Germany, and hope to also go to A few tropical places sooner rather than later.

This is just a simple kick-starter list – the point obviously is to spend time together, enjoying each other’s company and building intimacy. What are some other favorite married date ideas you’ve enjoyed with your spouse? Anything I should have added?

Blessings,
Pastor John

How to Know You’ve Forgiven Someone

How to Know You’ve Forgiven Someone

I’ve often spoke and written on forgiveness, and it occurs to me that there is a lot of different understandings on what it is. Some say “forgive and forget” – a near psychological impossibility – while some have attempted to leverage the pain others caused them to prove the haters wrong; using their unforgiveness as a sort of fuel to drive them forward.

But I find that we all know instinctively that forgiveness is important and necessary for our own well being. I’ve often taught that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison, but expecting it to hurt the other person. Others have said that forgiving is like setting a prisoner free, only to realize the prisoner was actually you.

We know we should forgive. Often, we want to forgive. But how do we forgive someone who has wronged us, and how do we know we’ve truly granted forgiveness to the other person?

  • Forgiveness is a choice. That means it starts with your will, and the good news about that, is you have direct control over it. The feeling of forgiveness follows the decision to forgive.
  • Forgiveness is a process. It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers, deciding you’ve forgiven someone, and it’s over. This is why it’s harder to forgive some things more than others. The greater the hurt, the harder the process. So once you’ve decided you should forgive someone, you’ll often have to “re-forgive” their offense, as the feelings of hurt, anger, and bitterness try to creep back in.
  • Forgiveness is self-care. It’s not simple a matter of whether the person who hurt you deserves to be forgiven. Truth is NO ONE deserves to be forgiven! But love requires forgiveness. Love for the other person, but also love for yourself. Forgiving someone doesn’t just mean that they get to move on, it means you get to move on.
  • Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. As mentioned earlier, you can’t! We lie to ourselves when we say “forgive and forget”. Sometimes, forgiveness means I’m not going to trust you again. Sometimes it means, I’m not putting myself in a position where I have to forgive you again.
  • Forgiveness has a calling card. You know you’ve truly forgiven when you get to the point where you want what’s best for them, not what they “deserve.” If they get hurt back, and you think “Ha! Karma! Finally!” You definitely have not forgiven them. If instead you hurt for them, that’s a sign you’ve truly let something go, and given them what you would want – what you need – when the role is reversed.

Blessings,
Pastor John

Tis the Season

Tis the Season

For depression, that is. While everyone is feeling festive, getting creative with costumes, planning Thanksgiving dinners, and family trips for Christmas, the winter season also extracts a high toll for many people as well.

Daylight Savings just changed, so it’s darker earlier. We remember lost loved ones who you don’t get to celebrate the holidays with us anymore. Another year is ending, and realization sets in that you’re not where you hoped you be this year… again. And while everyone else seems so happy, you can easily be managing that “lonely in a crowd” feeling, while suffering with your pain internally.

Let me offer a few tips to surviving what has been called by many as Seasonal Onset Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) this holiday season…

  1. Talk to someone! This is number one, because many people struggle alone unnecessarily. And you don’t have to! Chances are, you’re not alone. You don’t need a lot of people, but you need a one or two good ones, who know your pain, and who you can reach out to in a moments notice and know they’ll respond.
  2. Wake up earlier. The sun didn’t go away completely, we just messed our clocks up! If you make it a point to wake up a little earlier than before, you’ll get to see some of the sunlight. And that is really good for your mental health.
  3. Take care of your body. I’ve anticipated this with my own emotional struggles, and I got back into the gym about a month ago. I literally feel like I’m working my depression off even more than I’m working off the extra calories I probably shouldn’t have consumed.
  4. Stay in community. While you need one or two good people to confide in about your struggles, it’s also healthy to go to the company party, family gathering, church event, or whatever other forms of community you might be interested in participating in. It reminds you that you belong to this human race, you’re not alone, and there is good to experience, primarily through other people.
  5. Prayer/Meditation. Part of dealing with your depression is actually dealing with it. Time in prayer and meditation is a fantastic way to confront your struggle directly and process your pain in a productive manner that actually leads to healing.
  6. Don’t be ashamed. You’re not a blight on the season! You’re growing, healing, and communicating through your real struggle. So don’t add unnecessary guilt on top of depression.

Be healthy. Talk to someone, deal with your problems, don’t be ashamed… there’s hope for you! It might not be your fault for feeling this way, but it is your responsibility to take care of yourself through this season. Try to focus on the joys this season. There are a lot of wonderful things to reflect on and experience. Depression doesn’t have to dominate your season.

Blessings,
Pastor John