ONE WORD. The “What If” I Didn’t Plan on Asking in 2016!

For those that know me well or follow me on this blog, you probably remember me proclaiming my word for the year at the beginning of 2016. “What if?” I know that’s technically 2 words, but when you hashtag it – it works. #whatif.

I’m a dreamer and a doer. I love to have my head in the clouds, but there are also times when I just put my head down and get stuff done. It’s a unique tension in my life that I’ve learned to embrace. There have been so many wonderful “What if…” moments this year that I could fill all of 2017 with blogs to inspire what if’s in your own life. However, this is NOT that kind of POST.

This post is not about all the “what ifs” that got me pumped up, it’s about the ONE “what if” that had me jacked up for almost 10 months of this year.

What if…my heart never recovers?

I almost wish I was speaking emotionally or metaphorically about lost love or dreams that were crushed because of circumstances (almost – because I do understand that this has happened for people who struggle with this question and I don’t want to minimize their experience nor would I wish that on anyone). No, I’m speaking about the very real, odd shaped, irreplaceable muscle that pumps the life-blood through our bodies. MY HEART!

cardiomyopathy

Here’s the backstory.

On Feb 12th, I was admitted to the hospital after a trip to the ER where I had some trouble breathing only to be diagnosed with a viral cardiomyopathy. They actually don’t know what causes this, but a very specific virus attacks the heart and weakens it by reducing the percentage of blood it pumps for you. It’s a slow and silent disease that most don’t notice until they visit the hospital for a different symptom and it’s discovered OR you have a cardiac arrest OUT OF THIN AIR no matter your age, health, or physical fitness lifestyle! Your “normal” percentage of blood pumping is 60% (which means every time your heart pumps, 60% is blood and the rest is oxygen and other necessities). I was functioning at 5-10%.

 

After 10 months that started off with wearing a defibrillator life vest and being pumped full of 4 different kinds of medicine, I can say that I’ve seen progress. I quickly rose back up to 35% within 8 weeks! However, the last 7 months have only produced a 10% change (up to 45%) and it seems to have plateaued in the last 3. This should be good news, but because my heart is not back to “normal” yet, I am forced to live on a cocktail of beta blockers, ace inhibitors, and a blood pressure medicine that GREATLY reduces my energy level, mood, and physical ability.

My ONE WORD for 2014 was FOCUS and it’s where I began focusing on my health. I lost 69 pounds in 12 months and with the help of a local doctor, was able to address my metabolism as well my insulin resistance (both of which caused me not to be able to gain muscle and was a fast track to diabetes). Huge thanks got Dr. Galvin, Mike & Katie Dixon (KadiFit), Nate Olsen (HopeFit), and Diamond Dallas Page for his YRG program – and of course all of my friends, family, and church family who supported me on this journey.

So, I spent 16 months getting to know my body better and seeing AMAZING improvements in my health and life… only to spend the last 10 with a governor on my heart that has kept me from experiencing any of the growth and health I had JUST gotten a taste for.

Back to my “What if” question that I never planned on asking this year. What if my heart never recovers?

This kind of question is filled with possible negative answers. There is almost no positive way to spin the direction of this contemplation without blanket phrases like “well at least I’m not dead…” or “ it’s not that bad, who needs to go hiking anyway?” I have close friends that live with chronic pain and illness and have pondered this on their behalf before, but this year it was much harder to move from the theoretical answers to the very real prospect that I might be looking at a NEW NORMAL for my life that I would never want for anyone.

However, one of my more recent messages had to do with the topic of “unanswered prayers.” The kind of prayers that pray for healing & deliverance, but from our perspective God said “NO” or “NOT YET” or anything in between, because nothing seemed to change and maybe only got worse.

One (of the many) scriptures I referenced and has stuck with me is from 2 Corinthians 12:7-8;

2 Corinthians 12:7 Even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 8 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

Paul speaks of a “thorn.” Scholars and people smarter than me have tried to figure out what it was and all of them have different ideas. Some think it was emotional or spiritual oppression. Some think it might have been mental instability or illness (like bi-polar or depression). Many believe it to be physical on account of his history of being beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and in-prisoned over his life.

Whatever it was, he seemed to have landed on an answer from God that brought him a certain amount of peace. I do appreciate that he never stopped praying and asking God to REMOVE the thorn. But the answer didn’t seem to change – I assume based on the fact that the “thorn” remained even after begging God to remove it.

So, to be honest, I’m in a very similar place as I start 2017.

I’m not sure what my ONE WORD will be, nor do I know for certain what the next year holds for me. I do know that as I look back over 2016 (even with my heart condition) God has been incredibly faithful and has done amazing things in and through me, regardless of my health. The stories of life change, through those at my church and those around the world that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of, continue to happen and God continues to use me in ways that ALWAYS surprise me.

I won’t stop asking for prayer over my heart, nor will I stop asking God to completely heal this issue and get me off these medications that govern my daily activity. I don’t think that is dishonoring to God, or at least not until I get a peace that I shouldn’t ask for that anymore.

No, I plan to press forward into a NEW YEAR of incredible WHAT IF’s and the vision God has for me and those around me. I will wake up every day and know that regardless of my seemingly chronic ailment that God’s grace is all that I need and that He always SHOWS UP and SHOWS OFF when I humbly rely on HIM to accomplish more than I could ask or imagine and not my own strength or ability to make things happen.

What if my heart never recovers?

So be it! God will continue to use me and I will continue to live my life for Him! 

Praying For More Than Good Test Scores

By Ryan Weber


I just started graduate school, and November is the time when every professor decides to assign the biggest assignment of the semester at the same stinking time! And for graduate school, the essays are not short; we’re talking 20 page essays that I need to sound smart on. And it’s difficult. And it’s changed the way that I pray:

Dear God, make the madness stop.
Dear God, help me fool the teacher into thinking I actually know what I’m talking about.
Dear God, give me an A. All I want is an A.

Prayer has a way of revealing our priorities. Do we only pray when things get super difficult and out of our control? If so, it may reveal that we are too self-sufficient and rely on our own strength. Do you pray about the things going on in your world (ie. Your job, your kids, your finances, your grades, etc.) but not about others? What may that reveal about your heart and priorities?

I’ve heard it said that if you want to know about a person’s priorities, you should look at two things: their day planner and their checkbook. How they spend their time and money reveals everything about their priorities. I believe the same thing applies to the content within our prayer life.

Prayer is about more than asking God for stuff, asking Him to intervene, asking Him to heal, asking Him to show up, asking Him to give, etc. During this time in your student’s life when finals are quickly approaching, essays are due, and they are drowning in the ocean that is homework, it’s easy to let their prayer life become restricted to the urgent.

They pray about what’s in front of them and what immediately effects them. And we do the same thing, right? We are so quick to forget the things that exist outside of the immediate blinders that we put on. And what is the result of that? The priorities that Jesus teaches that we should own (love others as I have loved you, seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, etc.) become secondary elements to my own kingdom of the now.

I love when Jesus exposed the intentions and priorities of the human heart in His conversations with people. He always found a way to steer the conversation to the main thing, regardless of how the conversation started.

He always pointed to our duty to actively love God and others and our call to proclaim the Good News. That’s the point, living Kingdom-minded and Kingdom focused. If Jesus wants us to live with blinders on, those are the blinders He wants us to use. And this is what an effective and positive prayer life looks like. How can I best align my will and desires with the will and desires of God?

Does that mean that I cannot pray about the things that are immediately effecting me? No! God wants us to pray without ceasing, and pray about everything. He wants to be the integral and driving force behind everything that you do. However, a powerful prayer life should demonstrate how our priorities are shifting to align ourselves with the character of God. How much are you legitimately concerned over the Kingdom of God above your own affairs? Have you owned the Kingdom of God like you own the Carolina Panthers? Or your business? Or even Journey Church?

Our ownership over the Kingdom of God comes when we prioritize aligning God’s will with our own. And the best way to do that is to pray. And pray. Then pray some more.

Weekend Preview | What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

By Don Gentry


?!?!?!Prayer?!?!?!

Have you ever really sat and thought about prayer? Many people will throw out a prayer in desperation or anger as a last ditch resort. As Christians, we encourage people to believe that there is a supreme power that guides and orchestrates this universe, has complete control, and yet allows evil to exist. Even Though we encourage the belief that He can do all things, our prayers of desperation don’t always seem to go our way. Often we are left questioning, “Do our prayers really matter anyway?”

Hmmm….. I wonder if there are any answers to the crazy concept of prayer?

Let me give you an even crazier idea of prayer. This God that orchestrates the universe, that we
as Christians say has a personal interest in our daily lives, tells us that we should rejoice
regardless of our circumstances, we should NEVER stop praying, and we should be thankful in
all things. He tells us that this is “His will” for our lives.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV2011)
16 Rejoice always,
17 pray continually,
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I find it easy to understand why non-believers think we are crazy! Join us on Sunday as we dig
into this idea of prayer and see what prayer can really do in our lives. I hope to see you Sunday!

Weekend Preview | Questions Without Answers

By Matt Dawson


This weekend, we will kick of a brand new series entitled “Questions Without Answers.”

If you’re anything like my wife Tracie, the series already bothers you.

Why?

Because you LOVE answers. The idea that something does not have a clear answer is frustrating and you can only imagine 3 weeks of me frustrating you every Sunday with questions that only produce more questions.

Well, I promise not to do that. Or at least, I promise that it’s not my intention to do that.

This series is going to tackle 3 current cultural issues that have tons of questions without answers. The racial issues in country, the LGTBQ community, and the state of politics in our country. All of these issues have questions surrounding them that many people struggle to answer with any sort of absolute truth. People struggle to find any objective answers to these questions and instead we debate our subjective truths (my truth vs your truth) until we’ve lost sight of the original question.

King David in the Psalms writes…

Psalm 86:11 – “Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your Truth!”

In our post-modern culture, many have rejected the ideology of a single standard of absolute truth. David didn’t seem to have any problem with absolute truth. He even requested to KNOW God’s ways so that he could live out his life according to HIS Truth.

I believe that many of our culture’s questions that are surrounded with subjective answers can help us find our way back to the possibility that there IS an absolute truth in all things. His name was Jesus. His ways are available to us and we can choose to live according to His truth even in today’s unsettling times.

Join us over the next 3 weeks as we seek out God’s truth together and recognize how it can impact our lives!

The Sound of Silence

By Matt Dawson


There is a popular song from the 60’s called “the Sound of Silence.” It’s recently been covered by a rock band named Disturbed, and it’s a powerful rendition of the song. The meaning of song itself has been lost, as it was originally written to address a time when people’s minds were being influenced by digital and visual input rather than personal interaction and the arts. I’m not sure of the original intent of the lyrics, but the ominous chord structure brings me to a place of FEELING the tension that SILENCE brings to each and every one of us.

Let’s face it, the majority of us don’t like silence. REAL SILENCE.

Sure, some introverts would rather crawl into a nook with a good book, but that’s not actual silence. That’s just LESS NOISE.

I’m talking about the kind of silence when our mind STOPS spinning like an over-worked hard drive and we remain in a place where the only thing echoing off the walls is silence itself.

Here are 3 reasons I believe we hate silence.

  1. I know why we don’t like it – it feels POINTLESS.  In a culture as driven as we are, doing nothing just FEELS WRONG.  To allow ourselves to STOP THINKING and STOP MOVING, we feel like every second could be used for something better.
  2. We also don’t like what we hear.  That’s because we hear NOTHING.  No praises, no critiques, no sarcastic phrases, no passing whims of conversation about weather or football.  At least at the beginning, it’s NOTHING.
  3. After we hear nothing, we are left with our own thoughts, feelings, and voices.  Many of us don’t want to know what is really going on under the surface of our daily facade.  For many, it’s depression, anger, or hopelessness in our lives.  For some, it’s a time of peace and communion, but those others thoughts still rise up to distract us.

However, I do believe that SILENCE is necessary for all of us to practice, experience on a deeper level, and do it on at least a weekly basis. I struggled with this experience over my sabbatical this past summer as I placed myself in solitude for a week – all the while knowing I was going to struggle with it.

Jesus made it a habit to consistently GET AWAY from it all for prayer and rest.

Luke 5:16 “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.”
Luke 6:12 “One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.”
Mark 1:35 “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.”

I know it might be a struggle, but here are the 3 of the BEST REASONS to Seek Silence & Solitude on a weekly basis.

  1. Soul Rest – One of the most powerful things that happens when we stop moving, stop thinking, and stop fronting is SOUL REST! The primary purpose of silence and solitude is to REST. Don’t even approach it with an expectation of that God’s going to reveal some deep spiritual thought to you. He might, but that shouldn’t be on our agenda! It’s not about what YOU’RE GOING TO DO… It’s about what GOD IS ALREADY DOING AND WANTS TO DO IN YOU.  It’s Soul Rest in Jesus!
  2. Clear Identity – When we submit to silence, we REMOVE all of the things we use in life to prop us up, cover the sides we don’t want people to see, and mask our motives.  When we get silent, our identity is revealed.  WHO WE REALLY ARE SHOWS UP.  Maybe that’s a struggle for you if you don’t know who you are or you don’t have a relationship with God.  Nothing changes if we don’t know who we are.  We can’t love our wives better, parent our kids better, or even succeed in enterprise if we don’t know who we are.  Understanding our identity (in Christ) is the foundation we need to recognize and remember every week (daily even) so we can grow and change into the people we desire to be.
  3. Hear God – We’re in a series that’s all about How We Hear God and why it matters to our faith.  Many of us pray one-sided prayers with requests and complaints, and we never take the time to LISTEN for His response.  This takes time, rest, SILENCE.  God can get our attention – that’s not an issue for Him.  However, He desires to meet with each of us and talk… that’s what prayer is.  A conversation with a friend!  If we want to Hear God on a more consistent basis, we need to find those times of silence and solitude to read His Word, pray, and spend time listening to what God has to say about what’s happening in our hearts and lives.

 

I’m still working on all of these things in my life. If you’ve got time, ask me about my one week alone on a solitude retreat this summer. It was awful and amazing. It was everything I was worried about, and it was better than I could have imagined. It deepened my resolve for more time in silence and solitude in my daily life to find my soul’s rest, remember who I am in Him, and hear what God wants to say to me personally.

I challenge you to do this today!

Weekend Preview | First Things First: Part 2

By Matt Dawson


Markus “Notch” Persson is a very wealthy man.

He wasn’t always wealthy, but he recently sold his creation “Minecraft” video game for $2.5 BILLION and his life has drastically changed. Last year, he purchased a 23,000 square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills for $70 million (outbidding Beyonce and Jay Z). However, his wealth that was supposed to make everything great, only uncovered more of what was truly lacking in his heart and life.

In a series of Tweets one night, he revealed some incredible insight about the relationship of money and purpose (remember our statement in this series – Our Priorities Determine Our Purpose).

Aug 29 5:48pm – “The problem with getting everything is you run out of reasons to keep trying, and human interaction becomes impossible due to imbalance”

Aug 29 5:50pm – “Hanging out in ibiza with a bunch of friends and partying with famous people, able to do whatever I want, and I’ve never felt more isolated.”

Aug 29 5:53pm – “Found a great girl, but she’s afraid of me and my lifestyle and went with a normal person instead.”

Many people responded with encouraging statements and words to help poor Markus through his depressive state, but several showed an incredible lack of empathy because of his “money” problems. They WISH they had those problems.

History will show that Markus had a bad night, shared some personal stuff on Twitter, and tried to bounce back to finding joy in the new normal of his life. However, those who understand the relationship between God, money, and purpose in our lives know that what Markus was feeling is true of everyone who’s priorities are not aligned.

This weekend, we will continue our series First Things First: Prioritize Your Life with a discussion about the problem with God and the power of money in our priorities! (Yes, I meant to say it that way.)

Join us at Journey on Sunday at 9am and 11am!

Weekend Preview | First Things First: Part 1

By Matt Dawson


I clearly remember one Christmas Eve, pouring sweat at 1:30am as I spent 2.5 hours putting a HUGE toy together. All so that our children would arise on Christmas morning with the beautiful illusion that some bearded man in red suit broke into our home in the night with fully constructed toys for all the good girls and boys (don’t judge me, it’s tradition).

WHY did I spend 2.5 hours on 1 toy, you ask? Because I had to put it together 3 times! The first 2 times, I didn’t follow the instructions (because I’m a man!) and missed the some of the first few steps in putting it together! On the 3rd attempt, while trying not to cuss (or cuss too loudly to wake the children), out came the instruction booklet and I followed the plan… STEP 1, STEP 2, and so on. It should have only taken me 20 minutes to put it together if I had only followed those first few steps.

The reality is, when we skip the first few steps to anything that has a plan or design, we often make a mess of everything.

Our lives have a plan, a purpose, and a POINT to them. God has a plan for us that includes making sure that FIRST THINGS COME FIRST. When we follow the priorities that God gives us, everything works better. We are then able to reach our full potential. Without the right priorities, we often make a mess of everything that matters most!

This Sunday, we will kick off a BRAND NEW series entitled “First Things First; Prioritize Your Life.” We will spend the next few weeks discussing how God designed some of our most precious resources to use for His purposes and when we follow those steps, everything in our lives works better. It’s time to prioritize our lives!

This is a GREAT opportunity to INVITE A FRIEND (someone from your Top 5) to join you this weekend at Journey Church!

How Our Weaknesses Can Make Us Strong

By Ryan Weber


“Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in my weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10 NIV).

My favorite people in the Bible are David and Peter. According to the Bible, David was a man after God’s own heart and Peter was the rock upon which the church would be built. But that’s only a small reason why I love them so much. They’re my favorite because David was an adulterer and murderer, and Peter was brash with his words and denied even knowing Jesus.

And the Bible still says that David was a man after God’s own heart and that Peter is still the rock upon which the church is built. There is no addendum to those statements, saying they would have been this had it not been for the fact that they were idiots.

Nope. That’s why they’re my favorite. Because they’re just like me. An idiot. Weak. Sinful. We know we are weak. So what do we do with that?

• Be Authentic About Your Weakness

We used to live in an age where you demonstrated your power by hiding your weakness. If you wanted to gain the respect of your colleagues as a leader, you could not own up to the fact that you committed mistakes; you couldn’t be human. That has totally changed today. You gain respect by admitting your weaknesses, by owning your mistakes and then taking responsibility for them and getting back up when you fall. Bono from U2 once said, “My heroes are the ones who survived doing it wrong, who made mistakes, but recovered from them.”

Everyone knows you mess up, so do us all a favor and stop pretending that you don’t. We become closer as a body of local believers when our church exists not as a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners. That’s what makes a church great, because we exist and subsist through weakness and reliance on the strength of God to empower our actions.

• Try to understand the power of Jesus within your weakness

Great things come from difficulty; in fact I would venture to say everything that is not born innately great has to go through adversity to find their way there. Precious metals have to be refined, lasagna has to go in a fiery oven to taste good, a football team needs grueling practice and games to prove its greatness, the writer needs to go through writer’s block to write anything worthwhile (case and point: me right now!).

If you’re not born great, you need trials to get you there.

And that is all of us, none of us are innately great. And life is difficult, praise the Lord. If it isn’t or hasn’t been difficult for you, it probably means two things: you were born perfect (not likely), or God isn’t taking the time to develop you (again… unlikely).

I find it interesting that in James 1, the only thing that the Bible says about what the testing of your faith will produce is perseverance (not more faith, not deliverance, not strength… just perseverance, the ability to keep going, to get up, to rise again). Romans 5 tells us that through perseverance character is revealed and character produces hope. And hope points to our complete trust in the work of Christ to finish His work in and through us. And this is what sets Christians apart from anybody else. We have hope. When adversity kills everyone else, it blooms us.

It blooms us because it magnifies the finished work of Jesus on the cross. It exalts His victory over every sin, every weakness, every idiotic thought and action I will ever commit for the rest of my life.

Did Paul boast in his weaknesses because he was a spiritual masochist, in love with a denigrated and hopeless picture of himself? No, he was in love with what Christ had done for him. In the middle of a zealous rage to kill and arrest Christians, Jesus encountered Paul and forever transformed his entire life and trajectory. Jesus didn’t appear when Paul was at his strongest, he appeared when he was at his weakest. A point of murderous rage. That’s where Jesus injects Himself: at your weakest point to prove His strength over the darkest areas of your life.

Paul knew this first hand:

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).

Why We Study Women Of The Bible

By Matt Dawson


We have a new series coming up at Journey called “Women of the Bible.”  We’re going to take a few weeks as we study the Bible together using the lens of specific women of faith and their encounters with God and others. We don’t have to do a series in order to study the stories of women in the Bible, but we decided that we wanted to spend a concentrated time this year devoted to it.
WHY?
Here are 3 reasons why we study women of the Bible.
1. Women Do Amazing Things!
We tend to focus on larger stories like David killing Goliath to defeat the Philistines, but did you know that an entire nation was defeated when Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, invited the enemy king to come rest in her tent while he was fleeing…. only to kill him while he slept by driving a tent peg through his temple into the ground! (Judges 4:21) We talk often about Peter’s bold example of following Jesus as a disciple, but we sometimes miss that Mary Magdalene was honored to be the very first person to see Jesus’ resurrected body while Peter and the boys were locked in a room cowering in fear!  We can miss some incredible stories of both men and women in our study of God’s word, stories that have impact and meaning in our lives today especially through the contextual lens of how women were treated and viewed during that time in history.
2. Women Give Us a FULL picture of God.
When God created Adam and Eve, He made them in His image.  This means that God has characteristics in both men and women that are unique to each of His creation. Sometimes, when we take a moment to concentrate our efforts to study the daughters of Eve, we see elements of God that were given to us for a reason.  The Beauty He wants us to see, the Wisdom we can all experience in life, and the Peace we can taste when fully resting in Him is often seen in WOMEN more than men throughout history.
3. Women Get Overlooked in Religious Systems.
The religious system that we’ve experienced through the world (including Christianity) has often reflected the values of men in culture and devalued women.  This has happened throughout history and is still the case in many developing countries (although not as severe in the West as it once was.)  This is one of the reasons that women RAN toward the gospel in the New Testament church. The opportunity to enter into a relationship with Jesus surpassed the religious system of the day. One example we are given was Lydia, who was a successful business woman that also became a church planter.  This was UNHEARD of in that day and age, but it didn’t stop God from using her in a powerful way to advance His kingdom!
If you’ve never done this before (taken a moment to study stories of women of the Bible), maybe it’s time you did.  Join us for the next few weeks as we engage in these stories as a church!