Fish Out of Church

Life Outside of My Religious Comfort Zone

47 – Going Too Far

“We have gone too far to not follow our hearts now.” This is something that I would repeatedly tell myself after making the decision to intentionally take an unconventional path that lead me away form my position in full-time ministry. I know many will say that to follow your heart is a bad thing, and that it leads to all kinds of rebellion and evil. I happen to believe the opposite is true. Betraying yourself is the first step on the worst kind of path.

Following the desires of your flesh = a bad idea. Having the courage to trust the leading of a heart that has been made new by the Holy Spirit = a God idea.

I second-guess myself all the time. It takes days for me to order off a new menu. I’ll walk around the candy aisle 3-4 times before making a decision. Fantasy Football draft is torture for me. When making life decisions, I want to hear the sound of applause from a host in agreement with me before I take the first step.

I know I am not perfect, and therefore know I need help from others. The problem is that they’re not perfect either, and only I can know what my conscience is telling me, unless of course you happen to be friends with a mind reader. In that case you’re not worried about making big decisions, because you probably work in a circus and your life is already pretty adventurous and carefree.

When I first began to wrestle with the decision that would lead me away from working in full-time ministry I got some wise advice from a leader at my church. I was hoping he would tell me what to do, but he didn’t. Instead he said, “No one is more qualified than you to know what God is saying to you.” This may sound so simple to many, but it was a revelation to me.

He then went on to say, “Josh, if you feel something is in your heart, then only you can know if God has put it there. You must not linger. Make a decision, one way or the other, and don’t look back. I would rather be transparent and be out, then be in, and have something concealed. Sometimes God leads us to do things that are not popular, and in those cases, you must not second-guess yourself. Just stay the course until you have walked it out.”

Sometime after that I came across this scripture,

“Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.” 1 Timothy 1:19

I thought about the times I felt God leading me one way, but went another because someone who I thought was more spiritual than me had a different opinion. If I was going to become who God had created me to be, I would have to end that type of codependency and choose the path I believe is in front of me. It may not be an easy way, but that doesn’t mean it is not the right one.

While it was impossible for me to see how at the time, taking time away from working in ministry was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. That decision required that I follow my heart, and not what I actually desired to have. I wanted to be applauded and celebrated, but my heart was leading me on a path where no one would know my name, and I would grow in anonymity.

After not working at a church for over two years I found myself at a job that I really liked, and involved in ministry in a meaningful way, but at the same time was sensing that a new chapter was about to begin. I wondered if I would I have the courage to follow my heart again? The road less traveled is not one that you look back on only after making the decision to follow it long ago, but rather a path that you continue on with the choices that you make every day.

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What do you think about following your heart? Is it a good or a bad thing? How have we gotten that confused? How do you balance what you feel God has spoken to you with what others may tell you to do?

46 – What Would You Do If You Knew You Couldn’t Fail

One of the most memorable events that took place while working in sales for a technology company was attending a gathering called, “Around the Table.” I went to many different networking meetings in hopes of generating sales during this time, but this one was different. Instead of meeting at an office or restaurant, everyone taking part would be gathering in the home of various community leaders for dinner and discussion.

 

Another factor that made this more interesting than normal is that which home you went to was determined, not by who you knew, but rather by selecting which topics you were most interested in discussing. I read through the list, and the one that jumped out at me the most was, “What would you do if you couldn’t fail?”

 

This is a powerful question that really cuts to the heart of your innermost desires and purposes. For most of my life, it has also been a question that I was afraid to answer. So why not attend a dinner party with a bunch of high powered strangers and discuss it with them!

 

I was happy to have Amy with me that night, and she dazzled everyone with her charm. She told every business leader there about the work she was doing to help underprivileged and disadvantaged youth, and had everyone interested in finding out how they could help. I enjoyed connecting and meeting some really interesting people as well, but if I am honest I was feeling a little insecure.

 

The room was filled with CEO’s, business owners, and influential people that vacationed in exotic places, spent Thanksgiving in New York City watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of giant iconic balloons float by their hotel room, and had accomplished amazing things in business that I found difficult to relate too. I wanted to contribute to the conversation, I really did, but then I remembered some words of wisdom someone once passed onto me. “You can be silent, and people may think you are stupid, or you can open your mouth, and remove all doubt.”

I was silent for most of the evening. That is until they got to the point in the dinner party where they asked that all too exposing question, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” As soon as the discussion began, I felt God whisper something in my spirit right before it became my time to share. In my heart I heard, “Altar call before protocol.” In his autobiography, Living a Life of Fire, Reinhardt Bonnke mentioned God speaking this same phrase to him over and over again as he was brought before presidents, rulers, and dignitaries throughout his ministry.

It was clear that God wanted me to share the gospel with these 25 strangers, and I had no idea how I was going to do that. I was so intimidated by these people, that I had hardly said a word the entire night. Then the host turned to me and asked, “Josh, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

That is when I took a running leap off the cliff of doubt and insecurity into trusting the Holy Spirit.

I start off with a philosophical quote in an attempt to engage the room.

“Blaise Pascal says that ‘there is a God shaped void in the heart of every man, and the only thing that can feel it is God Himself.’ If I knew I couldn’t fail, then I would spend the rest of my life helping people fill that void by seeing them connect to God.”

 

They stare blankly at me.

“I would do this through writing books that show God how He really is, and not how we perceive Him to be through religious filters.”

Heads start to nod, and I take it a step further by sharing some of my fish out of church story with them.

“Not too long ago, I was a pastor on staff at a church. Then I felt God leading me to make a change. As a result I ended up working in retail sales for a year and half before working where I am now. I had to move out of my house, and had to sell most of my belongings. Now that I am on the other side of the pulpit I have had the chance to see things differently. During this time I began to realize that I did not have a healthy way of relating to God, church life, or others. It was based on what I could for God, instead of what God has already done for me. I want to write things that will encourage those who are down and out, or feel away from God, that will help them find their way again.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’ and the love of God is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. It is our best hope for the troubles our city faces. While improvements in education, law enforcement, and health care are all needed and important, that is not what is going to change our community. Only the gospel can do that.”

Throughout the evening, after someone shared for moment, everyone would say something like, “Ah that’s so nice. You should do that!” and then move on. That’s not what happened after I shared. Instead the lady’s whose house we were in, and who happened to be a top executive in a fortune 500 company, said, “Wait a second, I don’t want to move on just yet. Let’s go back to what Josh was saying. Tell us more!

 

The people, who just a few minutes ago I was too intimidated to engage in small talk with, were now asking me to share more. I continued, but this time getting straight to the point.

“What I have learned is that many people do not understand the gospel. The good news is not that we can get to God, but rather that He has already come to us in Jesus. The Bible says that He stands at the door of hearts and knocks. Our part is not to go out and earn the right to have him come to our house, it’s just to open the door in faith and ask him to come and sit at the table, and join us for dinner.”

After a few “amens” from the room, the host says, “You need to get to writing! That is a message people need to hear.”

Throughout the rest of the evening God was front and center, and came up throughout our discussions. It was a fun time, and I was encouraged to be used by God to share the gospel with people who I probably would have never had the chance to preach to from a pulpit.

 

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What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Have you ever honestly answered that question out loud? What steps have you taken? Would love to hear your thoughts! 6 More posts…

 

45 – It Hurts Me to Write This, But…

I posted my first blog for Fish Out of Church on my birthday. In it I shared the embarrassing circumstances surrounding my fifth wedding anniversary. That event seemed to capture the chaos that followed unplugging from my religious comfort zone more than anything else. The weekend of our anniversary we moved out of our house, and in with my in-laws. While this was taking place someone else was moving into my house, because we were forced to lease it out after not being able to sell it. I was out of money, out of touch with my closest friends, and completely uncertain about my future. Not to mention I just took a job delivering pizza to bridge the financial gap until I could find something more permanent.

 

I remember putting that first post out there, and then going to the store for a minute. At first, there was nothing, but somewhere between Wal-Mart and coming back home, my phone began to blow up. As I put the key into the door to unlock it after returning home I thought to myself, “What I have started?”

 

The messages I received, and the people I have been able to connect with as a result of this blog have lead to some of the most refreshing and genuine ministry and relationships I have ever been a part of. I began to hear from people who where hurt, disappointed, frustrated, and looking for answers. Something about what I was sharing made them feel safe to tell me their greatest pain, when all I had done was talk about how things weren’t working out for me. It was weird at first, and then I realized it wasn’t my success that was giving me credibility with these people, but rather my transparency.

 

Not everyone who reached out was discouraged. Many people contacted me to share how inspiring it was to see someone share their story without pretense. They found it refreshing. Actually, the three words I hard more than any others were that my writing was raw, real, and refreshing. I considered this a huge compliment.

 

One of the most rewarding things for me has been reconnecting with people from my past who have read one of my blogs. Since the first post, I have probably talked with someone over coffee or the phone 2-3 times a week who connected with something I wrote and wanted to share their story with me. At one point I realized that I was having more sit down talks with people than I even did when I was a staff pastor.

 

To be honest though, every post has been painful. Sharing my walk through the valley has not always been easy. I have “quit” the blog about 50 times, and then end up writing another post anyway. I do my best to put myself out there in some way with every post, and each time I do it is a risk. It’s funny how I can write about being at my lowest point and have people comment on how encouraging the post is. I always jokingly tell Amy that, “I am so glad my personal pain and suffering brings so much joy to people!”

 

Writing this blog has changed my life. The journey outside of my religious comfort zone, out of the safety of the church life I have always known, has been more about becoming who God created me to be than anything else. I didn’t know where this journey would take me when I first started writing. I just knew I was going through a transformation, and wanted to help anyone else out there that wanted to move beyond their fear and disappointments to be more like God and get closer to Him.

 

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What do you think about this post? Do you feel like you have to keep a certain image up? Have you ever battled the fear of just simply being yourself? 7 more post to go!

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