Fighting for joy

As I shared some recent head and heart trash I have with a friend, I garnered a response I was quite surprised by. He said:

You always seem like you have it together…you seem like everything is good even when it’s rough.

Now, I definitely do my best to “keep my head up” and “count it all joy”, but I don’t think I try to fake it (well, not most days). But his response made me realize that even though I thought I was a pretty transparent person (obviously, I’m selective with that), I am not doing a good enough job in sharing what’s really going on with my close friends. I don’t want to be a faker. I want to live an authentic life and I want others to see me for who I am (the good and the bad).

It’s been an interesting season of life for me, probably dating back to October of last year when a coworker took her own life. While I have had some difficult things happen in my 39 years, that one hit me pretty hard. It broke my heart and caused me to question things about God. Since that time, there have been some challenges within my extended family that won’t go away, challenges at work, and the ongoing fight to live the life God called me to instead of the life God called me from. If I’m honest, the pattern has been much like a rollercoaster and the dips feel longer than the peaks (don’t they always). That reminder of the fragility of life and my own confusion with those types of tragedies was again triggered when the lead singer of Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, took his own life last week. While I did not know him personally, nor did I follow his every move over the last 17 years, I did seem to have emotional ties to him and the band in ways I didn’t realize until he died. It’s produced thoughts and feelings that I don’t want or like. I trust God is at work and I see (some) it, I just don’t love it.

As I take a step back, I am able to count many blessings:

  • A loving wife and best friend who means the world to me.
  • Two young girls who treat me like a king (most days) and make me so proud.
  • Many friends who love me unconditionally.
  • A God who died so I could truly live.

But there are days that even a small heartache can blind me to the blessings. They rob me of my joy. And I start to wonder, how will I get it back?

Thankfully, I am reminded of a God who loves me and wants me to be full of joy.  John 15 says it this way (emphasis mine):

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:1-11

I know deep down that while God has given me every opportunity to experience abundant joy, I have to fight for it. It won’t just happen.

I promise that you will continue to see me post felfies (family selfies) on social media and share encouraging words from what I read, but know that I I’m not doing to fake it. Instead, please know that I am doing it to fight for the joy often buried deep inside my soul.

*if you struggle finding your own joy and don’t feel like you have anyone to talk to, please reach out to me. You can email me at ryan.miller@forhisglorycc.org and I will do my best to respond as soon as possible. 


What About Me?

35811677 - sister jealous brother who eats candyThe “what about me” mentality has got to stop. It just blows me away to hear other people complain about not reaping the benefits of a nice gesture that was done for somebody else, or that they deserved to have something nice happen to them because it happened to someone else, or that another person was acknowledged for something they had a hand in. I’ve seen it happen in church, in business, in the home, and just about everywhere else I can think of.

What’s interesting is that if you ask somebody whether they want to see other people cared for, provided for, or blessed, most would emphatically say “yes.” Yet those very same people are the ones complaining that they don’t receive the same care, provision, and blessing others do.

The bottom line is that we can’t be selfish AND selfless. It’s about time we look at ourselves and consider the ways in which we view other people’s benefits and blessings. Are we truly happy for them or are we just happy because we kind of have to be because we said we’ll be happy for people in situations like that all the while deep down inside we’re hurt, envious, or angry because they got something and we didn’t.

I know that this something I struggle with from time to time. I fight often against wanting what others have. But when I take a step back, I realize that God has given me exactly what I need, and far more than what I deserve. Hopefully you can do the same.


Questions for my Bible

With the new year upon us, I am certain (ok, hopeful) that many people have included Bible reading as one of their goals and/or resolutions in 2017. But before you just start plowing through a book of the Bible, or the whole thing, you should consider what you are going to do with all of that knowledge. Here’s a post I wrote back in 2014 which can be helpful in asking your Bible the right questions so you get the most out of your daily reading.

As Christians, our need to read the Bible is imperative. I am sure (or would hope) that immediately after you became a Christian, the first thing you were told to do was read the Bible. Simple enough right? Not quite.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Bible is a complex book, bringing together one grand narrative in which Jesus Christ is the only hope for a lost world. There are many components to the Bible. Approaching the Bible can be very overwhelming and while jumping right into a book can be fruitful (like the oft recommended Gospel of John for new believers), a little bit of guidance can go a very long way. With that, I would like to share with you some wisdom that was passed on to me in regards to reading the Bible daily.

Ask questions

A good friend and fellow pastor shared some great tools with me a while back that have helped me to get so much more from my daily Bible readings. I have gained an expanded view of who God is, why I need him every single day, and how I can serve him in a greater way.

It is good to be in the word of God each and every day. I typically do so first thing in the morning before the distractions of my day get started (I’m currently reading through the book of Mark for Easter). I suggest that in lieu of a daily devotional, or in addition to one if you are an overachiever, you choose a book of the Bible to read all the way through so you can challenge yourself to think independent of a commentator or writer.

It is very helpful to have guidance through what you should be looking for and asking. When you get to a place where you feel the author’s thought is over, or maybe to the end of a marked section or chapter, ask yourself the following five questions:

  1. What does the Scripture say? (Scriptural question)
    • This is your opportunity to say, in your own words, what you have just read. This may be a sentence, or a paragraph. Don’t try to use big words and don’t try to get creative, just right what you believe it says.
    • If you are reading through the Gospel of John, and you read John 3:16 specifically, you may say “God the Father sent his Son down to earth to die so we wouldn’t have to.”
  2. What does it mean? (Theological question)
    • Don’t wrestle too hard if you feel like you are just learning about God and/or the Bible. Take this question as a way to think through what you believe the passage to mean. Sometimes this answer and the answer to number 1 above may be similar.
    • In John 3:16, you may say “God is a loving God who cares so much about us that instead of punishing us for our sins, he sent his Son to take the punishment in our place. That shows me real love that nobody else can give me.”
  3. Why don’t I believe it? Why do I struggle with it? (Apologetic/heart question)
    • This becomes a very hard question, and one I have to think through quite often. Answering this question honestly doesn’t necessarily mean you doubt who God is or the fact that the Bible is God’s true word. It may mean that you are struggling to live out the truth of the passage in your own life. The goal here is to get to the root of doubt, unbelief, or even sin in our lives.
    • In John 3:16, you may say “I don’t understand how God could love the whole world yet allow people to go to hell. It just doesn’t make sense.”
  4. How is Jesus the hero? (Christological question)
    • We want to see why each and every passage of scripture points to Christ as the hero of the story. Everything, and I mean everything, points to him in some way. It is not always implicit, but it is there. Maybe it shows the need for a better king, or more humble servant, or even a calm word in a tough situation. All those point to Jesus.
    • In John 3:16, you may say “Jesus came to do what I never could.”
  5. Why does this matter for my mission? (Missional question)
    • Every Christian is on mission for God. We were saved so we could glorify Him, and lead more people to Jesus. How does reading the specific passage inspire this for you personally?
    • In John 3:16, you may say “Because God sacrificed his Son for me, I am willing to sacrifice myself and all my possessions in order that others may see Jesus in me.”

Get started

In order to do this well, you need the right tools. I suggest you get a good Bible (I recommend the ESV) and a journal for writing down your questions and answers. You then need to set aside some time in your day. Thirty minutes is a good chunk to start with (though fifteen is a great start), and it will allow you to read and journal. Make it a priority and if you have to, get rid of a bit of social media in the morning or tv at night.

If you approach the word of God with an open mind and a humble heart, I guarantee God will speak to you in ways you never thought possible, whether you just came to Christ or you’ve been following Him for fifty years.


As 2015 ends…my personal reflection

Personal Mission Statement
I have always been a pretty big “goal” guy. I have been writing down goals since early in my sales career and about 5 years ago I added personal goals to the mix. But in mid-2014, I really thought through the purpose of my goals. Because I follow Jesus Christ, and desire to live for him, the purpose of my goals had to be Christ-centered. So in June 2014, I committed to the following personal mission statement:

To love and lead my family well as a husband and father.
To preach the word of God and disciple the people of God as a pastor.
To provide for my family and grow my sphere of influence in order to image Christ as a business professional.
To live a life full of joy in Christ, regardless of my circumstances, as a disciple of Christ.

The Journey of 2015
2015 was both an exciting year and a difficult year.

Fitness, by way of Crossfit, became a more significant part of my life than it ever had. I am part of one of the best gyms (Resolution Crossfit) and many of the coaches and members have become like family. The difficult workouts and supportive environment have pushed me to achieve many of the fitness goals I set for myself. Though I am not at my ideal weight nor do I sit at the top of my gym’s leaderboard, I can complete 5 unbroken muscle-ups, a 305lb front squat, and a 325lb back squat (all specific goals I had set for 2015). I’ve achieved many other personal records while flirting with lots more.

My business, RJM, saw more success in 2015 than it had since I started in 2011. I jumped back into the employed workforce in June 2015 by accepting a position as Director of Sales and Marketing with one of my clients, Centennial. I can say that it is hand-down the best company I have ever worked for and I am thankful everyday for the God-given opportunity. Taking this job allowed me to exceed my monthly income goal for 2015, which provided stability at home while offering my family opportunities to support needs outside of our own through the year. It has also provided an outlet for me to steward many of the gifts God has blessed me with in new ways. I am being stretched daily and I love it!

Our family is flourishing, though we have seen our share of hard days. I am daily blown away by the fact that God graced me with an amazing wife and two beautiful girls. We are regularly pressing to grow closer together, and do so by going on mini-adventures (with crazy family selfies), by seeking God, and by sticking together when times are tough. Memories have been made, but what lies ahead is even more exciting.

Personally, the year has been interesting to say the least. I had some of the best days of my life and I experienced depression for the first time in my life. I’ve questioned most every facet of my life (personal, professional, spiritual), yet as the end of 2015 draws near I stand confident in Christ believing with all my heart that I am exactly where He has called me to be. One of my big goals was to begin memorizing a book of the Bible. I chose Ephesians and sought to memorize the first chapter. It took a (long) while for me to really get going but I’m excited that 60% of the chapter is stuck in my brain!

I am happy that I achieved many of the goals I set out to achieve in 2015 while sticking close to my mission statement. That said, I have a long way to go in fulfilling that mission statement well.

Creating unbelievable outcomes in 2016
2016 is going to be the “year of the outcome” for me. I want to see awesome outcomes in fitness, family, personal, professional, and family aspects. Some of those areas have very specific numbers set to them, while others are tied to specific dates. But I know this. If I seek each one of those goals through the lens of my personal mission statement, 2016 will be my best year yet.

 


Does My Christianity Even Matter to You?

I have been thinking about that question a lot lately. But not in a theoretical way. I am really considering the point of my Christianity to the people around me. Specifically, to people around me that are not Christians. And even more specific, to those that I care about and/or care about me. This really stems from a lot that I have been reading lately as well as conversations I have been having. And this question then opens up a whole host of others:

  • If you knew me before I became a Christian, do you see any positive differences in my life?
  • How about in our relationship/friendship? Are you treated better now than then?
  • If I quit Christianity tomorrow, would it change how you see me? For good or bad?
  • Do you avoid certain things/areas of life with me because of my Christianity?

 

So does it? Does my Christianity even matter to you?

 


Excuse the Mess

This blog was originally written for and published at http://www.forhisglorycc.org

Most of us have invited someone into our homes and one of the first things we said was “excuse the mess.” Whether it truly looks like a bomb went off, or we spent (ok, really our wives spent) all day cleaning, that is typically a default statement. We do this to make sure that if indeed something is out of place, the guests do not think that we are less than perfect.

What about when it comes to our life? As Christians, we do our best to “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” (see Phil 1:27) but it doesn’t always work out. And maybe that is due to a lack of effort, but that’s not what I would like to address today. What I would like to address is the other side of the spectrum. This is the side that belittles and breaks down. It is the side of us that is never happy with who we are (both on the inside and outside). Is this how we are to look at ourselves?

Set apart

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Ps 139:14

David here recognizes that God “fearfully and wonderfully made” him. In addition, we can see in this same passage that being fearfully and wonderfully made is likened to being “set apart (see ESV study Bible).” God not only formed and fashioned David, and us, but he set us apart for himself. This is great news!

Amazingly, God did not stop there. After setting us apart, God puts into motion a process in which he gives us a new heart (regeneration), declares us righteous (justification), and works to bring us to perfection (sanctification). Let’s take a look at this process in a few passages of scripture.

Regeneration

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” Ephesians 2:1-5

God set us apart but did not leave us alone. He was actively involved in turning our messiness into beauty, giving us a new heart.

Justification

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:21-26

The response of a regenerated heart is the reception of Christ as Lord and Savior. At that moment, God declares us as righteous. This is not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ did for us (see 2 Cor 5:21).

Sanctification

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” Philippians 1:6

Set apart and declared righteous are wonderful things God has done for us. But when we examine our lives, we don’t seem to be “perfect.” While we were declared righteous, we are also being made righteous. This process is known as sanctification and it is the way by which God refines us so we become more like Jesus, until one day we are with him.

Please excuse the mess

If each of us is striving to “walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel,” we are exactly who God wants us to be and where God wants us to be in the present. He fashioned each of us individually. He sets each of us on different paths. No two people are alike so no two “progressions of” sanctification (that’s my term) are the same.

We musn’t be ashamed of who we are in Christ. We musn’t make excuses for the “mess” we are (or have made), but stand proud in our identity as children of God. And while you’re at it, don’t worry about the house. We all live in a little bit of mess there too!

 


Pure Knowledge

The more I study the Word of God, the more I realize that pure knowledge of God is the true key to a radical life lived for Christ. Think about the Apostle Paul for a second…

Paul went on journey after journey being opposed, beaten, and imprisoned. There isn’t recorded a single statement of doubt on Paul’s part or disobedience to God’s call on his life. Instead, Paul said he answered the call “because of the surpassing worth of KNOWING Christ” (Phil 3:9). He believed in an absolutely sovereign God and would not back down from his convictions (read the story of him going before the all the non-believing leaders in Acts 21-28).

There could have been a big danger in all of Paul’s life. You see, had Paul made claims about Christ without ever showing evidence of living them out, the recipients of his letters wouldn’t have listened and neither would we. How about us? Should we strive for pure knowledge? Do we? What dangers does seeking knowledge present? The Book of Proverbs speaks to this often. But knowing verses alone isn’t helpful so let me offer some practical cautionary thoughts in this light (and then go read the Book of Proverbs):

  1. Negating the importance of correct biblical understanding and an impenetrable view of Christ leads to watered down Christianity. We will not be motivated to do the “hard things” and will seldom invest in the call to go and make disciples (Matt 28:19-20). Instead we may just sit back and watch as others do which is a waste of the life God has called us to or we may take shots that miss far and wide which wastes valuable time in proclaiming the gospel to those who are perishing.
  2. Relying on a “surface level understanding” of Christ leads to stale Christianity and a potential bad witness. “Even Satan knew and acknowledged God” is an oft-used statement (which I totally agree with), but we don’t think of it’s implications for us. We usually use that to talk about others who claim Christ but aren’t really Christians. But isn’t it possible for us to know all the right answers without living them out? Can we preach a message to others that we should be preaching to the mirror?

Regardless of which of the above we run the risk of associating with, we need to look back to the Word and Paul’s life for our reminder…

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Phil 3:12-16

We are inspired and motivated by Paul because he talked a huge game and then lived it out. We must do the same. We cannot live radically without pure knowledge (right thinking). So dig deep into God’s Word and PRESS ON!