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36157_515235323548_7763964_nIn college, I had a friend named Rachel (pictured here; please ignore how terrible I look). She was an English major (a rare breed at our college), and one of the things that Rachel absolutely loved to do was to journal. She loved it so much it became quite a point of good-natured joking in our friendship. I mean, this girl was obsessed. She journaled every day. I have no idea what she wrote or how that process worked with her; all I know is that there were probably seasons of Rachel’s life that could be summed up as eat, read, sleep, journal, repeat.

Once she posted a picture on my Facebook wall of all her old journals in her bookshelf. A whole bookshelf. Crazy.

I, on the other hand, have never been much of a journaler. Several times, I’ve tried to keep a personal blog going, only to fail. I guess that my life really isn’t that interesting or something. But if I can’t keep a blog going, surely a journal… well, that’s never going to work.

There are just too many obstacles, it seems like. For one, I hate physically writing. In college, we had to take blue book tests. You probably know the ones I’m talking about; the professor gives you a couple essay questions, you choose 2 out of 3 or something like that, and then you’re expected to fill an entire small notebook with your thoughts on said question. If I could type my answers on a computer, I would have loved them. But I’m a slow writer, and writing hurts my hand. Plus, I’m left-handed, so I’d always smudge my pencil lead or ink all over my hand as I write (#lefthandedprobs). But beyond actually writing, it’s time-consuming. And then there’s always the matter of content. No offense to you journalers out there, but I never know quite how to write. It seems I can never escape the image of the teenage girl sitting down to write in her diary about all the latest school gossip or the cute boy she likes or whatever else teenage girls care about (who knows?).

No, journaling just isn’t for me. Or so I thought.journal

Then, three things entered my life. First, something called the Daily. It’s this email devotional I receive Monday through Friday in my email inbox. It’s generally got a short passage of Scripture to read, a few thoughts, and then some sort of response question (it also has a chapter from the New Testament to read each day, should you choose). I enjoyed doing it, mostly because it would connect me with God each day. That’s always good. But I’d kind of feel bad because I’d always just think my answer to the response question, which usually meant I would try to think my answer but get distracted by my grocery list, how busy the day in front of me would be, what I was going to wear to work that day, or whatever else.

Second, I discovered a little app for my Mac, iPhone, and iPad called DayOne. It’s a journaling app. I liked it because it looked nice, was easy to use, and most importantly it would let me write thoughts down without having to physically write. I still didn’t like journaling, but I’d use DayOne every once and a while as a method to pray. Sometimes when my prayer life feels a little stale, I’ll take a brief season to write down prayers instead of saying them aloud. So I’d use the app for that sometimes.

The third thing that entered my life, though, was a conviction. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t doing so great at reflecting on thoughts and stuff from my daily email devotion. What’s more, I felt like oftentimes I just read the Bible to read it; I wasn’t actually thinking about what I was reading. I was really just checking off a box on my “to do” list. I like to read books on Christian living as well by guys like Pete Wilson, Craig Groschel, Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, and those kind of guys, and when I’d read, I felt like there was a lot of material that I was just missing because I wouldn’t stop and take time to reflect. 

And that’s when the light bulb went off. I could journal!

Hearing From GodOkay, I didn’t call it journaling. I basically started using my DayOne app like a blue book for a test. Each day, I’d write a new entry and answer a reflection question or bullet some thoughts there, just to get my thinking down on paper. That’s helpful for me. And then after a week or two of this, a realization dawned on me… I was journaling. (Gasp!)

Fast-forward to e100. We have two questions a day, right? Guess what I do? Each day, I open my Bible and read. When I finish, I jot down my answer to the two “Hear from God Everyday” questions, pray, and then get going on the rest of my day. Like I said, I’m not a journaler. In fact, I make fun of journalers. But it’s been really helpful for me. Even if you’re not a journaler, I think it’d be helpful for you, too. So give it a shot!

How about you? Any best practices for journaling? How does it help you?

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Only King Forever.

wesblackburn —  February 3, 2014 — Leave a comment

Well, it’s time to put on your trucker hat, get some new tattoos, and listen to another new offering from the crew at Elevation called “Only King Forever.”

(Can’t see the video? Click here.)

Have you ever started watching a TV series or something, already knowing how it was going to work out because your first experience with the show was from a later season? I remember graduating high school and getting totally hooked on the show 24 with Kiefer Sutherland. (Me and Jack Bauer are homeboys.) I first got started by watching season 5 with my parents (who were also fans) and seeing Jack make his way through dangerous situation after situation and save the country in the process. Of course, after graduating high school, what was the first thing I decided to do with my summer break? Well, marathon all the old seasons of 24 that I had missed, of course!

I remember watching the episodes and getting totally lost in the plot, wondering how Jack was ever going to make it out of these situations alive. And that’s when I’d snap out of it and remember… he’s alive in season five. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt he’s going to make it. And then I’d continue watching, still interested in what would happen but resting in the security that my good friend, Jack Bauer, was going to be just fine (as if there was ever any doubt).

As I thought about what to write in this post, I’m realizing that there’s a similarly strange thing that happens in our lives as Christians. We know the end of the story. At the end, we know that Jesus wins, good will prevail, and heaven on earth will be restored. As we live our lives, we aren’t fighting day in and day out wondering if God’s on his throne, if he’s worthy of our trust, and if we’ll see his will prevail. We already know. He’s the King… forever. We can live from this place of security and trust, knowing our God will triumph. Like this song says, from age to age he reigns, and we just get the privilege of trusting him and watching him work out his will in our lives in the meantime!

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:7-11, NIV)!

complimentI’m the worst at receiving compliments. Seriously, the worst.

I don’t know what sort of statement this makes about me, but I’m probably more comfortable feeling like someone is judging me or being critical of me than I am just receiving a compliment from someone. Maybe that’s an indicator of something about the world we live in. Maybe an indicator of something about me. (Probably both.) But for whatever reason, when someone tries to offer some sincere praise to me, it makes me feel a little weird. I feel indebted, or like I at least need to reciprocate and offer a compliment in return if I can. Sometimes I’ll deflect.

There’s just something about receiving goodness from another that makes me feel uncomfortable.

I once read something written by Donald Miller in which he said that everyone likes to give charity, but we aren’t usually fans of being charity. Asking for help or receiving help is a really humbling experience. In my first few years at Suncrest, I lived with several different families from our church, and I got a chance to experience this firsthand. I was raised in a home where we didn’t overstay our welcome, we never imposed on others, and we definitely made sure to always repay others for their kindness (and please hear that I’m not labeling any of those mindsets as bad things). But when you’re an intern making next to nothing, you pretty much are going to end up in the debt of these wonderfully hospitable people no matter what. At first, that made me really uncomfortable until I was able to move to a place where I learned that people love to give and it’s okay for me to receive some grace and goodness from others (that really did take me about a year). God’s blessed them to be a blessing to others, and I just got the privilege of being one of the “others” who was blessed.

Fast-forward to today. I don’t want to get into a ton of specifics, but I just feel like God has been really good to me in this season. There’s actually one particular circumstance in my life where God is just bringing me absolute joy, and it’s been a great ride through the whole process. But yet, in the midst of it, I have noticed that there’s something strange that keeps rising up in my spirit. It’s almost like a feeling of guilt or like I’m out of alignment with God’s will. Yet as I reflect and as I pray, I feel pretty certain that’s not the case. Nothing wrong or sinful’s happening, and I feel like God really led me into this season. In fact, God is actually really blessing the situation. So what’s the deal?

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 6.08.50 PMAnd that’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks: I haven’t learned how to receive from God. Just like my trouble with receiving compliments, hospitality, or anything else, I have trouble receiving blessing from God. I can’t just allow God to be gracious. Good. Loving. Kind. At some point or another in my life, I trained myself to view following Christ in the same way I view the discipline of running; sometimes there’s a tiny bit of joy involved, but more often it’s like a challenge that you undertake. And of course, there’s just a lot of slow plodding.

The problem with that mindset? God is a ridiculously good God to us. A few years ago, a pastor and friend named Roger Hendricks pointed me to a passage in Exodus where God passed by Moses and announced himself: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7a, NIV). Roger’s point in this particular conversation was an observation that God could have chosen to “introduce” himself to Moses anyway he wanted to. What qualities did he lead with that were closest to his heart? Compassion. Grace. Abounding in love and faithfulness. All things that point toward a loving heavenly Father who wants to give good gifts to his children. When I refuse to receive the good gifts God is offering to me, I’m not being holy. I’m being stupid. I’m ignoring things that are absolutely basic to his nature. And I’m missing out on something great in the process. god_is_good

Maybe this isn’t the blog post for everyone, but I have to imagine others are in the same boat right along with me. As a pastor, it absolutely breaks my heart when I have a conversation with someone who is not yet a Christ follower and the barrier isn’t a belief in Jesus, but belief that Jesus could forgive them. They’re missing out on grace that could be theirs because they are too proud to receive or too doubtful that God actually wants to invite them into his kingdom. Maybe there’s something great that God is preparing for us and we’re just too afraid to step into it because we doubt his goodness toward us. We have this attitude of “Me? Why would God want to bless me?” The answer? Because he is a loving heavenly Father. He invites us to bring our wants, wishes, needs, and desires before him and lay them at his feet. Will he answer “yes” to all those requests? No. (Sometimes he’s saving us for something better.) But will he answer “yes” to some of them? You betcha. I don’t think there are too many things that delight our heavenly Father’s heart than being able to give not just good, but great gifts to his children. Maybe it’s time I quit acting so shocked and surprised (and feeling so guilty and doubting) when they actually come my way.

Found In You.

wesblackburn —  January 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

Today’s song for #MusicMonday is from Vertical Church and it’s called “Found In You.”

(Can’t see the video? Click here to be redirected to the YouTube video.)

If you pressed me to identify the most transformational truth that God has used to shape my life as a Christ follower, I’d point you to the simple fact that God can always be trusted to have the best interests of his children at heart. That doesn’t mean that we always get what we want, but exactly what we need. (I hated that my mom made me go to the dentist every six months as a kid, but I know that’s exactly what I needed to have teeth now as a 25-year-old.)

In Galatians 5:1, Paul writes that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” In other words, God’s agenda in sending Christ to offer his life for us wasn’t to get something from us, but because he desired something for us: freedom. In another verse, Paul would write that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). In other words, when I go where God is, I’m connecting myself to the source of ultimate freedom. When I spend time with him, I’m getting connected to the source of life, freedom, and every other good thing.

Truly, all we could ever want (and definitely need) is found within Jesus. But for some reason, that always feels counterintuitive to me. It’s probably because the culture in which we live inundates us with messages that all we want or need is found in a relationship, in buying this new thing, in owning a particular kind of house, or having a certain type of job (or something else). But the more and more we discipline and train ourselves to desire Christ, the more and more I think we are going to find satisfaction, life, and freedom in him. I hope you are led to discover that in a really cool way today.