Archives For Wes Wednesdays

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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“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.

Power to Change.

wesblackburn —  January 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

So I’d like to start off today’s Wes Wednesday post with a little video that I saw recently and found a little funny:

(Can’t see the video? Click here.)

How many of us have been there? Seriously, if they would have replaced donuts with Pringles, that would have been me a few Sunday nights ago.

But honestly, isn’t that how we all feel sometimes, especially when we are trying to undertake something that’s hard and new? A couple Sundays ago, we unrolled our desire to hear from God every day as a church, and specifically to do so through reading God’s Word. That’s awesome! Many of you signed up the next day for YouVersion, got the e100 Challenge, and started reading. Last Monday, I saw a bunch of Facebook posts (you probably did too) from all my friends here at Suncrest who were taking that next step and beginning the journey together. That’s awesome!

my-alarm-clock-doesnt-go-off-quite-as-early-now-that-im-not-doing-the-early-show-gig-but-i-still-get-up-around-530-am-theres-something-i-cant-miss-about-joe-weisenthals-early-morning-tweets.jpgThen Tuesday happened. Maybe you’re more spiritual than me, but here’s how it worked out. Day 1 of e100 started off great. But then that night, I was out until about 1am and didn’t get to bed until 1:30 or 2. That sounds bad enough, but it gets worse when you find out my wakeup time the next day (actually, the same day, I guess) was at 5:45am for all of our Tuesday meetings at Suncrest the next day. Finding time to spend with God is a challenge, but especially when you’re only going on 3.5 hours of sleep. (I’m sure many parents of young ones are out there nodding their agreement.)

kinda got my e100 stuff done. Thankfully, our reading that day was only 25 verses or so. I got that done, but to say that I was really in deep thought and meditation on it would be a stretch to say the least. In fact, I kind of blitzed through it. I definitely blitzed through our two questions. I’ve discovered for myself that I can’t just think about my answers to reflection questions; if they are going to impact me, I need to actually write down my responses in the journaling app on my iPad. That day, I only got far enough to write down the two reflection questions… not my responses. Oops. Large E100 banner(1)

We’ve all been there, right? There’s nothing that takes the wind out of your sails when you’re trying to start something important and great and new than missing it or messing it up. And in those moments, we start to hear the voice of the devil figure in the video; we hear the voice of cynicism, the voice of doubt, the voice that tells us we can’t do it and we’re a failure. When you’re trying to do something that feels spiritual, it’s even worse because you feel like it’s a judgment on how bad of a Christ follower you are.

But that’s not the attitude of Jesus. Take a look at one example from Jesus’ words in the book of Luke:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32, NLT).

Let me give a little context here. Jesus and his disciples are in the Garden of Gethsemane, and they are quickly approaching Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion (it’s literally hours, if not minutes away at this point). Jesus knows exactly what’s going to happen; Simon (Peter) is going to be asked three times if he knows Jesus, and he will deny him three times. In other words, Peter’s going to have a real #epicfail on his hands in a few hours.

friendlp.nfo-o-a0eBut look at Jesus’ words to Peter here, even knowing all of that. He essentially says, “Peter, I know you’re going to mess up. You’re going to miss it, and you’re probably going to feel pretty bad about it. But here’s the deal: When you screw up, just pick yourself up, turn back toward me, and go at it again, strengthening and leading these guys around you.” Jesus’ attitude toward Peter when he screws up isn’t one of rejection, it’s one of forgiveness. Jesus doesn’t discount Peter because he messed up, he just offers him a second chance. (I like to imagine Jesus giving Peter a fist bump at that point.)

It’s easy to get down on ourselves when we fall off track. That applies in every area of our lives, and definitely every area of our spiritual lives. It’s pretty easy for us to beat ourselves up when we were determined to be loving to our spouse, but got in a big argument again. It’s easy to get disappointed when we were determined to take advantage of an opportunity to tell someone about Jesus, yet only managed to squeak out a “Hey, how you doing?” when we see them. With regard to e100 stuff, it’s really easy to just fall off the wagon when we miss a day (or a week) and feel like we’re so far behind that we can never get caught up. But in all these situations, I think Jesus’ attitude toward us is just like his attitude toward Peter: Yes, he acknowledges our failure, but he doesn’t stop there. He encourages us to get up, turn back to him, and get going again. Jesus doesn’t want failure to define us; he wants us to push through our failures (which are many, right?) and to simply keep following him in the midst of them.

Hope that’s an encouragement to you! If you’ve fallen off track with e100 or anything else, here’s to all of us together picking ourselves up, getting back on track, and pushing through in our desire to hear from God every day in 2014.

To help you hear from God everyday, we’ve put together some guides and links to help you get started using Youversion.

So it’s begun.

That’s right… as of this morning, all three of Suncrest’s campuses around the region will begin to hear from God everyday through engaging with the e100 Bible reading plan! It’ll be awesome for us all to have an opportunity to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus together! (If you are wondering, “What the heck are you talking about, Wes?” then you probably missed this weekend’s message. No problem; just go here to watch and/or listen!)

One of the really awesome options to help you engage with God everyday is an app for your phone called YouVersion. It’s a free Bible that you can take anywhere with you (or at least wherever you take your phone)! If you’re looking to download YouVersion for your device, just open this post on your phone, Kindle, iPad, whatever, and click here. The link will automatically redirect you to the place where you can download YouVersion for your device. (Did I mention that it’s free?) You can also read the Bible from your computer or laptop by going here to YouVersion online.

Now, in order to get the most out of YouVersion, it’s really helpful to sign up for an account. Doing so is really easy and also free, and it allows you to take advantage of great features such as note taking, highlighting passages, and signing up for Bible reading plans (including the e100 Challenge). For a quick how-to on creating an account, you can check out the video below! (If you can’t see the video in your blog reader, e-mail, or feed, just click here to be re-directed to it.)

Screen Shot 2014-01-12 at 7.34.24 PMSigning up for the e100 plan on YouVersion is also really easy. Just click or tap the “Plans” section in the side menu (the icon looks kind of like the one here; you might need to swipe or tap to make the side menu appear on your phone or tablet). By selecting “all plans,” you’ll see a search bar that allows you to search all plans. Simply type e100 and the e100 Challenge will pop up! Click on the plan, select “start this plan” on the next screen, and you’re signed up! Each time you go to the “Plans” section now, you can select “My Plans” and see what your reading is for the day. (Note: Keep in mind we’ll be doing five e100 readings each week for 20 weeks, not all 100 readings in 100 days. You can use the “Catch Me Up” option at the start of each week to keep you on track. Or, you can read ahead. I mean, it’s the Bible. Reading ahead might be a good thing.)

If signing up online isn’t your thing, no problem. We have copies of the handout we had on seats at all of our worship gatherings yesterday. Download and print at your leisure by clicking here!

Hearing-from-God-mobile-questions

Lastly, looking for help to know how to read and reflect on Scripture? We created this handy-dandy phone wallpaper for your screen! You can save the image in this post, or you can click here to follow the download link for your phone or tablet!

I am so excited for all of us to journey with this together. I hope you are too. I can’t wait to see how God works in and through this plan and through us hearing from him on a daily basis to change lives together!