A Few Thoughts from the Wilderness

Hero Tweet

Above is a tweet I posted a few days ago. I really appreciate those people who are bold in speaking the Truth, but also humble and vulnerable in sharing their experiences, lessons learned and the mistakes they have made.

Wisdom, patience, the future and calculating the risks have been the elements of my contemplation for sometime now.  And just about the time I think I am dragging my feet in making an important decision, God sends a messenger my way to reinforce the reality that true wisdom is the fruit of patience; a lot of patience…

Here is what I am learning in this season: true wisdom, good decisions and God’s will often do not come quickly. Sometimes they do, and I praise God for those times. But often Godly wisdom is the fruit of patience.  Sometimes God will lead you into the wilderness… -And yes, while you might very well be in the wilderness, GOD is the one who led you there. He wants you there. Any attempt made to leave this foreign, uncomfortable place “early” negates the wisdom that He is imparting in you.

So we are back to patience… -and then contemplation. You see, being in the wilderness gives you time to think, time to wrestle… You find yourself at the feet of Jesus asking questions like, “Jesus, what is this following you thing supposed to look like anyway?”

“And what is ‘a call to ministry’ and ‘the pastor thing’ supposed to look like?”

“Jesus, what does it mean to practically love you and my neighbor? -And just exactly who is my neighbor??? -because I am starting to get the feeling that You might want me to love some people that I might not want to love…”

Patience… contemplation… wrestling… in the wilderness… And before you know it, you begin to see things differently. Your appetite begins to change… You begin to sense God’s heart and your prayers even change…

I am learning that I must lay all those “God Dreams” that I had at the foot of the cross -rather than chasing after them.  By “God Dreams,” I mean the dreams that I was absolutely convinced that God planted in my heart. For me, right now wisdom is the willingness to lay everything down -and to allow those dreams to die. -Then trust Jesus to resurrect what dreams were truly from Him. if any…

But this means I must take my hands off! No scheming, no planning, no “making things happen! No plan B.” Eric must stand in the back of his own end zone and punt the ball…

And I’m not even a good punter…

My intellect and emotions protest, “Who wants to be a punter anyway? I want to be the quarterback, a middle linebacker or free safety! Heck, I’d even be the fullback or an offensive lineman! Jesus, do you really want me to just stand here and hand the ball over to the other team?”

In the midst of my fear, rebellion and wrestling Jesus softly whispers, “Yes… Trust Me.”

I sense His loving soothing voice, so I submit. Yet, I am still fearful.

Patience… Contemplation… Wrestling… Wisdom… Trust… Faith… in the wilderness. I am learning that this is what it looks like for me to follow Jesus.

…I thank God for the wilderness.

Why Should I Forgive?

Forgiveness is much more about YOU -than whoever hurt you.

The act of forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent. I have witnessed countless people refuse to forgive. In turn, I have watched those same people repeatedly tear their own wounds open, time and again.  Forgiveness releases us from the wounding agent and allows the healing process to begin and continue. It is the well medicated bandage that is placed on a wound that has been properly cleaned and dressed.

Forgiveness is also the antidote for the infection of bitterness. I have witnessed bitterness eat people up like a vicious emotional and spiritual infection, causing even more damage than the initial wound. We have all heard stories where a person would get a small cut on a finger or toe and not treat it properly. Then infection set in. As a result, death and decay set in. The tissue around the “small” wound begins to rot away. If the infection is never properly addressed and treated, limb or life can be lost. Forgiveness is the much needed antiseptic treatment for deeply infected emotional wounds. While unthinkable to some victims, forgiveness is the ONLY way the pain will ever begin to subside.

In addition, forgiveness protects relationships. Some of the most miserable people I have met are bitter people who refuse to forgive. They become hard, calloused and simply difficult to be around. While they remain steadfast in the reasoning that justifies their bitterness, the fruit that it bears makes it very difficult for them to actively participate in healthy relationships. No one wants to be around them. Bitterness hinders and corrupts healthy relationships.

Forgiveness is NOT simply giving the offender a “pass” on their misbehavior and looking the other way. Forgiveness is God’s blueprint for enabling us to heal and begin the path towards emotional, spiritual and even physical health and happiness.  This is exactly why Jesus responded “seventy times seven,” when he was asked how often we should be willing to forgive each other.

Healthy living is impossible without forgiveness.

How to Make a Tough Decision

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God gave you a free will and the ability to make choices for yourself.  Do not believe the lie that “things just happen” and everything in your life is completely out of your control.  That is a stupid theology/philosophy to live your life by.  -I am just being honest…

People often surrender their lives to others by surrendering their ability to make good decisions.  Sometimes we freely do this because making tough decisions is hard. We would rather someone else make the decision for us than make it for ourselves.  I find this very sad.

I had a tough life altering decision that I wrestled with recently and used the principles below to help navigate the decision process.  I am sharing this list with the hope of helping someone else.  Here are the steps I followed in making my tough decision:

 -Research the situation and subject matter that is involved with the tough decision.  Gather as much information as possible.  Do not be lazy, do research and ask questions.  Lazy people make wrong choices.

-Quick decisions are often bad decisions.  If it is a good decision today, it will be a good decision tomorrow.  If it is God’s will today, it will be God’s will tomorrow.  If I am being pressured to make the decision today, it is very likely that I am being pressured to make a bad decision.

 -Reconcile the situation with scripture.  Will my actions line up with the whole of scripture and the teachings of Jesus? This is a very simple but profound question. (DO NOT pull one verse of scripture out of context; use the “whole” of scripture.)

-Reconcile your choices with “commonsense.”  Will my actions make sense? In the long term, will the fruits of my decision be positive or negative? Force yourself to be honest.

 -Reconcile your thoughts with your spouse.  What does my wife/husband think? If we are not in agreement, I NEED TO STOP.  God made you “one flesh.”  You should be on the same page. Take time to talk the big decisions out, and do not move forward until you are on the same page.

-Reconcile your decision with personal, professional and family goals.  Will my decision line up with my personal, family and professional goals?  Will this decision require me to sacrifice one of these goals?  In the long term, will it be worth it?  -Beware of immediate gratification; it usually comes with a long term price.  Again, force yourself to be honest. Will my decision ultimately bring me closer, -or further away from my predetermined goals?  (BTW, you should have some goals you are working towards.)

-Reconcile your thoughts with a few close trusted friends.  What do my close trusted friends think?  Am I tempted to hide this decision from them? Why? If I disagree with the counsel of my friends, do I have a commonsense valid reason? Is it a difference of opinion or something deeper?  It is obviously okay to disagree with trusted friends, but be honest with yourself and know the reasons why.

-Reconcile your decision with your “gut.” After my emotions settle, what do I feel in my gut?  I find when I am thinking clearly -and not rushed, my “gut” is normally right.

-Reconcile your decision with prayer. How I am praying about this decision?  Am I begging God to open a door, or am I genuinely asking God for His will to be done in my life.  Am I truly neutral enough to seek God’s will?  If God’s spirit prompted me with direction, am I being sensitive enough to hear Him?  If I realize that God’s prompting is different than my desire, am I okay with that?

-“Make” the tough decision. Examine the “decision” from all angles, then make a decision. -You must make a decision.  If you do not make the decision yourself, someone else will likely make it for you and it might not be the right one.  Do not lose control of your life to “indecision.”  Be wary if you sensed any red flags from any items above, especially if it is more than one.

 -“Rest” in knowing that you made the best decision possible. You took your time and asked all the right and “hard” questions.  “Rest” in knowing that you did your best to make the right choice.  Rely on God grace and His spirit to lead you to good places.  Trust Him. The God of the universe is perfectly capable of leading us through the maze of life, -if we seek Him and trust Him.

 After making your decision, in the weeks after, take some time to reflect on the decision you made, the outcome you are experiencing and what you could have done differently in your decision making process.  Life is a series of choices and every choice leads us somewhere.  We need to continually develop the skill of learning to choose wisely and decisively; I have found this life skill to be priceless.

My Greatest Fears!

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In the past few years, I have embarked on the journey of getting to know “myself.”  In key moments I have stopped and asked myself questions like, “Why did I respond that way?” and “What makes me do that?”  In other words, I have tried to figure out what makes me tick.  It has been a worth while endeavor; I have learned a lot about myself and have grown in the process.

Now for those of you who might be tempted to say something like, “Now Eric there is a lot of my, me, I and myself in this post.”  My response is simple.  In order to serve, help and invest relationally in others you must “know” yourself.  -If you ever conquer the beast of “self,” all those other beasts that you are fighting out in the world become a lot smaller.  Trust me.

During my journey of discovery I have learned that many of my actions are dictated by fear.  “Fear?” you might ask.  -Yes, I know.  I was a bit surprised when I discovered this about myself as well.  I have never considered myself to be a fearful person.  However as I unraveled the motives that play into my everyday life, I found fear to be a central motivator.  I would imagine that this would be no surprise to a well trained, well seasoned psychologist.  (If one ever happens to read this post, please chime in and let us know.)

Anyway, I find great liberty in understanding the fears that motivate me.  Understanding them allows me to understand how I “tick.”  In addition, understanding my fears enables me to make good choices, the “right” choices for me.  Furthermore, understanding my fears empowers me to be aware of the wrong choices that I can potentially make.  Because, as we all know, fear can be a negative motivator just as much as a positive one.

I have listed my greatest fears below with short descriptions.  I find writing about them to be a good exercise in understanding them.  Also, I cannot help but think that my transparent thoughts might encourage some of you to take some time for personal reflection so that you can discover something new about your own self.

Two more quick thoughts before I share: Except for the first fear, they are in no particular order.  Also, just because I do not have a very important thing listed as a fear, that does not mean it is not important to me.  It just means that fear is not a motivator in that aspect of my life.  (For example: I am convinced that God loves me unconditionally and I “rest” in His love, therefore “fear” is not a part of that relationship.)

-I am afraid of failing my children -as a parent.  I find myself making many decisions based out of this fear.  Overall, I think this is a very positive motivator.  (Notice I said, “a fear of failing,” not “a fear that they will not love me.”  There is a HUGE difference between the two.

-I am afraid of the direction that I see our society tracking: morally, spiritually, intellectually, politically, etc. Because of this fear and my love for mankind, I am compelled to invest in others and to do what I can to make a positive difference in society.

-I am afraid of being alone.  I understand that God designed mankind for relationship. Understanding this Truth drives me to cultivate relationships.  I am aware that my purpose and any meaningful contributions that I might make to society revolve around relationships with others.  In addition, I understand that I will only find true happiness in relationships with others. (This concept is a good one to wrestle with, but I firmly believe the teachings of Jesus support it.)  “Our purpose” is intertwined with “others.”

-I am afraid of living a mediocre life.  One of my biggest fears is to be sitting on my front porch, in a rocking chair, when I am 85 years old, -with the regrets of a mediocre “safe” life.  When I say mediocre, I do not mean mediocre in income, station, or worldly influence.  I mean mediocre in that I did not invest my life anywhere.  I mean mediocre that I buried my life rather than risking it all.  I mean mediocre in that I look back and encounter memories of a selfish, fearful person.  I mean mediocre in that all I am left with in my old age is “could have been’s”  No amount of wealth, no level of station and no measure of worldly influence could satisfy “that man.” -The picture of “that man” scares me to death.  And it motivates me to positively respond to all of these fears.

So… if you want to know what makes Eric Starkey “tick.”  There you have it, or at least a big part of it.

 *What are you afraid of?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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What Some Christians Have in Common with the Ancient Greeks and Trojans

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Am I writing a blog post that compares modern day christians to the pagan Greeks and Trojans who worshiped false mythological gods?  Why yes, I sure am.

Last night, my wife and I watched the movie “Troy” for the fist time.   For various reasons, we are not typically drawn to movies like this, but due to boredom, sleeplessness and curiosity we decided to watch it.  I found it intriguing when I noticed a few similarities between some of today’s christians and the ancient Greeks and Trojans -as portrayed in the movie.  Here is what I observed:

-Buildings, statues and other objects were held in very high regard and often worshiped as the gods themselves.

-There was no concept of “personal relationship” with the pagan gods; therefore determining the “god’s will” was simply a guess made by the priests, often with catastrophic consequences.

-The rulers used the gods to manipulate the armies and people in order to get what they wanted; more power, treasure and territory.

-When something bad happened because of the leader’s own stupidity, selfishness or poor leadership abilities, it was explained by saying, “It was the will of the gods.”

-Terrible things occurred, -and was justified in the gods’ name.

I am sure I am missing a few other similarities.  I was not actively looking for them while watching the movie. These are just the glaring ones that I remember as I reflect for a few moments.

If this post unsettles you a bit, good.  Maybe it will cause you to think about how people in today’s culture view Christians.  Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  This means that His Kingdom looks nothing like our pagan worldly kingdoms.  If what we sometimes call “God’s Kingdom” can be so easily compared to “pagan kingdoms,” perhaps we need to stop, reflect and ask God to search our hearts in order to make a few adjustments.  -After all, we are called to be DIFFERENT.

As always, I would love to hear your comments.

When God Leads Us to “Foreign” Places

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Seven years ago, my family and I moved across the country to plant a new church.  While there were various practical reasons and factors for pursuing this new journey, in the end we felt like it was “God’s will” for us.  -So we felt confident that He would guide and provide for us.

Our new church plant did not work out anything like we thought it would.  In the end, we found that God had led us on a journey that looked completely different from what “we” thought it should look like.  God had led us to a very “foreign” and uncomfortable place…  In this message I share some of my experiences while planting HealingPointe Community Church.  I transparently describe that “foreign place” God led me and my family to.

But most importantly, I share why the “foreign places” that God leads us to are so important and how we can be in both a “foreign place” and “God’s Will” at the same time.

Click on the link below to Listen:

Why I Decided “Not” to Leave the Church

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OK… I am late, I know. I said I would get this post up the first of this week and now it is Thursday. If I was one of those “professional bloggers” who lived in their parents basement perhaps I could be more timely. But fortunately, I have a family, a job and I am involved in the local Church. (insert smiling face here) So right now, I have three or more blog posts rolling around in my head that I would just love to get hammered out and posted.

I know I made a few friends nervous with my previous post: http://ericstarkey.org/2013/04/04/why-i-almost-left-the-church/ Frankly, I wanted to. I think it is very healthy to stop and take a long hard look in front of the mirror every now and then. James, Jesus’ half brother, said something about that in the scripture that he penned. With that being said, I did not leave the Church. I stayed and I think it is appropriate to take time to write a post in order to share why:

  • The Church is Jesus’ Bride. No matter how upset and aggravated that I might get with what is happening in the church, if I am not a part of the Church, I am not a part of the Bride of Christ. I could never leave the Church, because I could never leave Jesus. Scripture is very clear in how this relationship is designed to work.
  • Loving our neighbors is a “biggie” in Jesus’ book, like a very very close second to loving God. Obviously, “my neighbors” include those in the Church. There are a few things I have learned about loving: You cannot love without “knowing.” You cannot love from “a distance.” -And love is often a little messy and very aggravating. I believe that God uses the Church to teach us how to love each other.
  • There would be a big hole in my life without the Church. God designed us for relationship. And just not for relationship with Him, but relationships with each other as well. We are incomplete without each other. God intended it to be that way. You need me and I need you.
  • God “called” me to serve the Church. I was eighteen years old, just beginning college as a physics major and minding my own business. Amy and I had our whole lives planned out with very little thought given to God or the Church, –and then God interrupted everything. “He” called us to Himself -and then “He” called us to serve the Church. I have been confused and doubted many things in my life and ministry, but I have never doubted my calling. It was just to obvious.
  • Divorce never really was an option. Amy and I married young. We knew the stats; we knew the chances of our marriage lasting. We counted the costs and made a commitment to each other. That was seventeen years ago and we have never looked back. It is not that there are not times where we drive each other crazy. It is not that we are the perfect married couple with three perfect children. It is not that God waved His magic wand fixed everything in our marriage and family. It is just that we both made a decision that “divorce is not an option.” And much grace, love, forgiveness and blessing have flowed from that decision, even in the worst of times. I guess my relationship with the Church is very similar. Sometimes She drive drives me absolutely nuts! I am often literally “fit to be tied” and left speechless. In my frustration, I experience the full range of emotions but in the end, I love Her. And my love for Her and the Bridegroom cause me to never seriously consider a divorce.

So… if you are one of those church people who reads my blog and snickers, you are just stuck with me. I love you and I am not going anywhere, so please just love me back. I am reformer. I am passionate. And yes, sometimes I have a big mouth. Please know that my motives are based in love -or at least I try very hard to make sure of that. Until someone can sit me down and explain to me why I am wrong -based on scripture, I will continue to use my voice to call for reforms in the Church.

Just call me a little “Chihuahua” in the Kingdom. I may not have the physique of a rottweiler and I may not have that much influence. I might be small but I am very passionate. I love God and the Church to much to stop barking. To those who hear me and are willing to listen, I will continue to speak loudly and boldly. If I was going to quit, I would have already done it. I’m staying in the game; I am not going anywhere. -See ya out on the field!