Last year, I looked at 2014 in hindsight to see if I’d grown and how. I titled it The Year of the Prodigal. I decided to do it again this year to see how I moved forward. 2014 closed with me returning to God like the prodigal son.
2015 started with me trying to understand the depth and definition of love. I was lonely and didn’t understand the concept of love. I worked or went to church on Sunday mornings and evenings; the rest of the time I spent in a depressing home with too many memories for me.
I didn’t easily get the warm fuzzies around people, so I began stepping out of my comfort zone. I revisited a book titled The Secret Blend and used what I learned from that to make friends close to home.
Then I set five goals: Seeking first the Kingdom of God, moving to a new home, supporting my wife’s dreams, getting stronger and healthier, and making Wicked Jester profitable. Nothing that took away from those five was even considered. I also began to notice a disturbing trend of fatalism in me. I had to admit I needed help, so I started going to GriefShare.
Soon we moved into a home with an ease that I attributed to God’s grace. One thing I did have to sacrifice was my JKD class due to higher cost of living. Temporarily I hoped, though later, it turned out not to be the case. While we moved into a new house, I noticed ‘my house’ was being renovated.
The Holy Spirit was really working in the process to make me more like Jesus. I noticed if I skipped my quiet time in the Bible much, the work would falter and my negative personality traits would resurface. Outside, I started to get more involved in many activities at church, five ministries at one point, and special outreaches. They were so diverse, I quipped that I was a Gap-Filler.
Soon, I wondered how I could explain the change in me. I started to dig deep into apologetics after reading Cold-Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. It became a hunger, learning and understanding the depth of it all. It made me sad when people were hurt by their idols. People and relationships can be mercurial so it is not a great foundation.
Then I had my foundation tested when a friend hurt me. Do I give into impulse? I really wanted to. Instead, I embraced FirstNLR’s core value: the Bible is our guidebook for living. Doing that, the situation worked out and some more renovation was done inside me.
Then I went into a depressive spiral as healing scabs were picked off. Collecting food for hungry kids, all I could think of was ‘why am I even alive’. I reached out to a new friend for help, and a timely sermon helped me climb out of a two-week funk. I was not my past.
It is probably providence that I got a sermon on not condemning and revisiting the idea of not retaliating after a reader asked a question. In the situation that sent me into a spiral, as I learned about not retaliating, walking away is an option. It was one that I took at the advice of friends.
I started looking into how Christians should act. We represent Christ after all. The ‘saved you’ should look less like the ‘unsaved you’ every day. At this time, I was reading a book called The Me I Want to Be that pointed me to another personality test. The enneagram shows levels of growth and disintegration. It showed me the twisted, dark version of me, and at one point, I was that version.
I looked at the past; I also looked forward at what I could be. I looked at the odds of any of us existing. They are so small, it is a miracle in and of itself. I think we all have a purpose. I started to look for my purpose.
Going through several books like The Me I Want to Be, S.H.A.P.E, and Unfinished Business, I started to find it. Being torn down again helped build me back up. I help where needed. I lead when needed. I teach when it is required. I listen and counsel when someone needs an ear. A multilevel gap-filler.
I also sat down and thought through my worldview after reading Think Christianly. Was it coherent? The author challenged everyone to do that. I have to admit it took a while. Thinking through things should take some time, especially your reality map.
Condemnation still followed me, this time from within myself. I looked at the evidence, were the critical voices right? No. I started to work through that, too, to quiet the voices.
Soon, my focus shifted to evangelism after a powerful Sunday night. I had to learn how to be a novice evangelist to go with being a novice apologist. I looked at how God looks at people through the prism of John 3:16 personalized. From there, I looked at what discipleship meant and how to learn from Jesus in the Gospels. I started going through them chronologically. As I type this towards the end of November, I am only 34% of the way through them.
I realized that humanity was broken, yet capable of good, too. I came to grips with the fact that I was broken beyond my ability to repair. I needed help, but I was not alone. Broken people have done great things despite of being broken. Like the kintsugi artisans of Japan, when Christ works on us it can be beautiful, scars and all.
During this time, I was becoming uneasy about the contrast between my business and personal lives. What I was promoting wasn’t me anymore. For one I had changed, and it involved a level of commitment I couldn’t put forward. I walked away from Wicked Jester on good terms and doubled my focus on promoting the Kingdom of God.
I retooled the site and jumped so far into it I wondered if I was losing sight of why I was doing it. I had to get back to the foundation again. I looked at what made someone a Christian and what did not.
We were helping a friend at the time and I was starting to lose patience, until I was reminded that the Golden Rule did apply at all times. Even early in the morning, integrity mattered. That fact helped me through a few things as I learned where character could carry you.
I overheard a conversation about a teenager questioning Christianity. To help others in a similar situation, I used my apologetics mentor J. Warner Wallace to work to teach others to research it like a detective and the evidence for it. Even had a fangirl moment when he retweeted it and sent many people to my blog.
Then I got to put into practice witnessing at work. Then analyzing it, I wrote a post to help others. It was nice to put all the studying into practice. The effectiveness skyrocketed the book Becoming a Contagious Christian to one of my favorites.
I was hired as a supervisor, so my focus shifted towards servant-leadership. Being present, giving people your time, and knowing someone is always watching you. It was in this time it started to sink in how much I was looked up to. Not much makes me want to cry, but that brought a lump to my throat as I listed them. I couldn’t be a stumbling block to anyone.
A conversation with a coworker had me looking at the value of people. Then my Grandmother died, I kept it mostly to myself. Pride kept me from asking for help. All those bad memories, could any good come from them? I looked for the positive aspect.
I felt a little burned out again. One night reading a comic led to a thought
on how to live up to an ideal. About that time, an article appeared in my news feed. One thing the author wrote was that it’s not about you. It started to feel like I was punching a clock when I was encouraged by those around me. Over the course of the year, I had gotten two to open up, normally as shy as I am, another became a close friend. She often shares what I write to help others. The ripple effect of interacting lives.
I got a book I saw online about leaning on the Holy Spirit’s power. I had been going the right direction inside as God worked on me. Outwardly, I needed to operate in the power of the Spirit there, too. Meet (we do it every day), pray (ask God to work through you), and help (do it in faith and power).
The same book helped me with understanding how to disciple new believers and three levels of Christians. Not everyone is in the same place and honestly, I am not as far along as I would like. That’s why sanctification is a lifetime process. We have a long way to go.
I started to get into a mix of lifestyle evangelism/apologetic by contrasting Jesus’s actions as opposed to us as his followers. I wrote an in-depth post on what it is like to be salt and light after a month long study of the Sermon on the Mount. All this intellectual study and the pace of it led me to feel disconnected from God.
I started to set aside Mondays just to focus on God. No internet, once I fasted from food, and felt much closer to Him. Sometimes it is a rambling communion as I go here and there through the Bible. Other times are more focused when I have a question I need answered. I felt close again.
Then a door closed—my JKD instructor passed away. Any plans I had since the start of the year to return were gone. It felt like death was following me around. I had to reverse the perspective from loss to what I had gained in knowing all these people. I saw at the funeral all the lives he touched.
I was reminded of the ripples of our interactions and how they shape us. Even a five-minute conversation with a greeter that asked the question, ‘have I ever thought of how Jesus looked at you?’ I spent weeks on that question. I had another lump in my throat as I wrote that one. It seems that seeing people make a difference does that to me.
Over the course of the year, I worked through what love is and what it means. From loner to accepted, torn down from outside and in yet still found that I had value and a purpose. I would jump all in, get disconnected, find my mark, and jump all in again; a pattern through the year. While I typed this, I was reminded of a blacksmith working metal, heating it up, beating it into shape, and then plunging it into water, tempering it. Forging something. I will say this year has been much better than the previous two.