“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” – Jesus, Matthew 16:24 NLT
What did Jesus mean when He said, “take up your cross, and follow me?” This statement is more than just religious symbolism. It is a call to a radical new way of living your life.
Going to the Electric Chair
To fully understand the gravity of how Jesus is defining what it means to be one of his followers, we must bring the idea of the cross into modern language. In Jesus’ time, crucifixion was used for execution and humiliation. That means we could rephrase this verse to say, “If you want to be a Christian, you must give up the self-centered way of living that has become normal in society, go to the electric chair, and die just as Jesus also gave up His life.”
Seeing Jesus’s statement in this light changes how most people define being a Christian – a good person who goes to church. Instead, a Christian is defined as someone who follows Jesus so closely that even though they may never have to die for their faith physically, they are willing to die to their self-centered desires and reputation (living a life that meets the approval of others).
Following at a Distance
Defining a Christian as a good person who goes to church permits us to follow Jesus at a distance. Before Peter denied Jesus and the rooster famously crowed three times, the Bible says he “was following [Jesus] at a distance.” I do not want to become someone who follows Jesus at a distance. If Jesus is worth following, then He is worth following closely, even if that means “taking up my cross,” aka dying to my will and reputation, to do so.
This leaves us with the question, when was the last time you took up your cross to follow Jesus? When did you last die to having things your way in favor of being led by the Holy Spirit to defer to others or God’s commands? When was the last time you lost your reputation for the sake of the gospel?
The Way of the Cross
Following Jesus closely does not only mean death, but it also leads to abundant life. Not just eternal life in heaven, but a new life on earth where we enjoy intimacy with God and the blessings that follow obedience to the way of the Cross.
“Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you”
It is the questions that every child asks and every parent has to answer: “Why?”
“Buckle your seatbelt.”
“Eat your vegetables.”
Have you ever wondered what the “why” is behind the “why”? In other words, why do we ask, “why”? We ask, “”why,” because we want to know what is on the otherside of our obedience. We want to know the reason and the reward for our compliance when we are being asked to sacrifice or make an adjustment that is uncomfortable.
Have you noticed God does not always give us the reason up front? Sometimes we feel like we have to have everything figured out before taking a first step. In, The Grave Robber, Mark Batterson says, “We want God to reveal the second step before we take the first but faith is taking the first step before God reveals the second!”
In my book, Believe Again, I share how I stepped away from my role in full-time ministry because God had told us to go first, and then He would show us what to do next. This rang true to our hearts. We had peace about this being God’s will, but we struggled to accept the risk that came with this new course. We were hoping God would “show” first, and then we could “go.” Our fear of the future created a long season of waffling back and forth until God gave me a dream, that was really more of a memory.
In the dream, I was child playing football. When the ball was kicked to me, instead of picking it up and running with it, I fell on the ball and covered it up. I was afraid of fumbling and my teammates were screaming for me not to pick it up. When I got to the sidelined my coach asked me why I did not pick up the ball and run.
“What if I fumbled?” Was my excuse.
My coach replied, “What if you score a touchdown?”
God does not want you to live your life falling on the ball when He has called you to pick up the ball and run with it. That dream caused me to realize that I needed to live for an audience of one and obey right away.
We made a lot of sacrifices along the way that I do not know that I would have agreed to if I knew all that it would have cost me up front. I had to mature with each step of the way, and as I did, I saw the value in what I would have to give up next in order to follow God outside of my comfort zone. What I learned is that life truly begins on the otherside of my comfort zone.
Our success in life does not depend on our ability to give God the solutions we want and then believe for that to happen, but by our ability to depend on God as He leads us according to His will.
Have you had an experience where God has asked you to leave your comfort zone in the way He was asking Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3? What happened?
How does God ask you to leave your comfort zone on a daily basis?
How would you define your spiritual comfort zone right now and what may be keeping you from not living beyond it?
What role does the fear of man play in our obedience to God? Is there any fear of what other may think that is keeping you from prioritizing what God thinks of you?
“The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!’”
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Have you ever felt discarded, overlooked, or forgotten? If so, I want you to know that your story is not finished yet. It is in these valleys, the place between our mountain peaks, that hope can be hard to come by. In situations like this it can be hard to even dare to hope. Can you relate?
In the midst of World War II much of the world was in a bitter time of conflict and suffering. It was in the middle of such hopelessness that Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, gave what would become one of the most famous speeches ever delivered. In it he said,
“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
I know I find it difficult to find this kind of resolve in times of testimony. I am guessing I am not alone in this. The heros of the Bible are not strangers to that feeling as well. In Lamentations the great prophet Jeremiah laments the awful suffering of Isreal. What resonates with me about this passage is that the author does not deny the difficult times. How often we feel less spiritual for wanting to admit things are not going well, and will believe covering up the bad times will make us look more spiritual. This, assuradly, is a lie of the enemy that diverts us from the intimacy and transformation of our souls and character that result from drawing close to God in our suffering.
When all seems lost, you can know two things: this is not the end and your inheritance is in the Lord. You do not need faith strong enough to last until the end of your journey. You just need faith for today. God’s mercies “begin afresh each morning.” They “never cease.”
Orson Wells once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” If you are not at the happy part, then you are probably not at the ending yet. Keep going.
Have you ever felt the pressure to minimalize your pain to be more spiritual? Why do you think that is?
Is it less spiritual to admit that you are in a difficult situation or have experienced loss in the past even though you prayed for a different outcome? Do things not working out mean you have less faith than someone else?
Lamentations 3:20 (NLT) says, “I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.” What does this tell you about the spirituality of suffering and grieving?
Why should we glory in our sufferings according to Romans 5:3-5?
Can you recall a time when you experienced God’s faithfulness even when you seem to be at the end of your rope?
How do you know when you need to believe again? It may not be evident at first. You might be like me. I enjoy working hard and giving my all to serve in ministry. Also, considering a different path includes a measure of risk. You could lose all you have worked for if you take the wrong path. Can you imagine what the Israelites must have thought when Moses first introduced the idea of leaving everything in Egypt behind for the uncomfortable unknown that waited for them in the wild, wild, wilderness?
I picture their initial response went something like this: “We are almost finished with the pyramids! I have a house here by the Nile. Have you seen the leeks and onions in my garden? Where will we live out in the wilderness anyway? I’ll keep making bricks. I may not be free, but at least I am safe and secure.”
That was me for a long time. I was unaware of how much I needed to hit the reset button in my spiritual life. I made excuses for my frustration and disappointment for far too long. I do not want you to experience what I did.
Sometimes external factors can bring about a need to believe again. Maybe you experienced a toxic leader that has caused you to give up on church or have encountered unpassable valleys in the form of a shocking disappointment that resulted in you doubting God’s faithfulness.
Everyone faces obstacles once they choose to leave their “Egypt.” When God called the Israelites out of Egypt, they came to the Red Sea. This land barrier caused them to be stuck in between a freedom they had never known and returning to their life of slavery. Your Red Sea is whatever is preventing you from stepping out of your comfort zone and following your heart into the uncomfortable yet satisfying life God promises. That is where real faith and your authentic-self begin.
“Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea[a] for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
In this episode I talked about going from on fire to burned out and how to come back spiritually and emotionally stronger. We also also talk about my book, Believe Again, and I tell parts of our story I have not shared anywhere else
This was a lot of fun, and I think you will enjoy listening.
*What you are about to read is a chapter from my new book, Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion. Before coming to ARC in 2014 I spent two years working in the secular world after leaving my position as the youth and young adult pastor at my church. It was a rude awakening, and this story about my first day delivering pizza is a great example of that. It is also is a lesson in how to connect with people outside of your church bubble and finding your identity in Christ alone.
A Rough Start
I have never heard more foul language at any other point in my life than I did in the one month I spent delivering pizza. This would also be true if I was just counting what I heard from the only Christian that worked at the restaurant.
I pulled up to the Pizza Hut on Highway 44 in Prairieville to start my glorious new career as a pizza delivery mogul. I was on time. My uniform was freshly ironed and starched. I was displaying the same excellence I had learned as a pastor. I walked into work at 10:30 am and found three people ready to introduce me to the pizza biz. My manager was a tall, lanky guy named Earl. He had an unshaven face and a hat pulled down low on his head. The other delivery driver was a young girl who appeared 20 but talked and acted like a 13-year-old. Then there was another guy. He was short, stocky, and looked angry. He went about his tasks like a swirling bee. He buzzed around waiting to sting. He moved too fast for me to catch his name.
Before the restaurant opened, my manager said he had to run to the bank. He would be back in a couple of minutes. Surprisingly, a customer came in before he came back. She wanted to pay cash for her order. The only problem was Earl was not back with the money.
The angry bee buzzed. “Where is Earl?”
Then he began to scream, “Where the [bleep] is Earl!”
The buzzing continued as he paced around the store in a panic. “It doesn’t take this long to go to the bank and come back!”
What I am giving you is only a rough translation of what he actually said. The colorful language expressed included 10 or more profanities for every other word used.
“He left me in charge, but I can’t do anything without any money!” *too many profanities to include.
How can I describe this to you?
A Crash Course in Celine Dion
If you can imagine music playing over the foul language, and then pausing only to hear the words that were not profanity, you could make it through an entire Celine Dion song for every intelligible sentence this guy got out. In fact, let’s see what that would sound like.
“I can’t (For all those times you stood by me…) believe this (For all the truth that you made me see…)!”
“Earl is a (For all the joy you brought to my life…)!”
“I can’t (For all the wrong that you made right…) take this (For every dream you made come true)!”
“I (For all the love I found in you…) QUIT (I’ll be forever thankful!”
“Tell that stupid (Baby you’re the one that held me up and never let me fall) that I” (You’re the one who saw me through)
“QUIT (Through it all…)!”
And with that, he slammed the door and walked out. The angry bee quit before I even got his name!
The young girl who was second in command began to fall apart. As much as I didn’t understand my previous coworker’s outburst, hers was at least reasonable. She continued my crash course in overdubbed Celine Dion censorship.
“I can’t believe this! I can’t believe this!” (You were my strength when I was weak…)
“What am I going to do?” (You were my voice when I couldn’t speak…)
“The manager is gone, Tom just quit (so that was his name… nice knowing you Tom!), I am just a delivery driver, and you… YOU KNOW NOTHING!”
The last part she said while pointing directly at me. She slammed a pizza pan down. I begin to hear more Celine Dion from the back of the kitchen. (You were my eyes when I couldn’t see. You saw the best there was in me.)[i]
It was 11:05 am. The manager had disappeared. My immediate supervisor just quit. The only other employee in the store was having a nervous breakdown, and I hadn’t even got my nametag yet. I had been transplanted to another world. I was not in Christendom anymore. I was in the “real world.” I better get used to hearing love songs and words that would make a sailor blush.
The manager did eventually come back. The extra 15 minutes it took to swing by the local Circle K for a pack of cigarettes cost him more than he bargained. A third of his workforce on that shift had quit. Tom was a good worker, though. He was eventually allowed to return despite his abrupt departure.
The Pizza Biz
Even though we spoke different languages, Tom and I would become friends. His goal was to teach me what he called “the pizza biz.” He did a lot more than that. Tom helped me learn how to be a daily witness to someone who doesn’t understand Christian-ese or care about church titles and positions. I wonder what song he imagined playing when I first began to talk to him?
There is a bit of irony involved with me working as a delivery driver. My dad worked for Pizza Hut as an area manager when I was growing up. He got his start in the fast-food business as a teenager. He was forced to drop out of high school and start working to leave an abusive home. He was an intelligent, dedicated employee, and quickly became a turnaround expert for the restaurant he worked for. The franchise owner took him under his wing and trained him to oversee several stores. This would lead to him overseeing many Pizza Huts in south-central Louisiana.
I have many memories of free pizza and going to Pizza Huts all over Louisiana with my dad. Sometimes we would get there early to open the store. Then my dad would go over the numbers with the manager. I would explore the store while my dad worked in the office. Sometimes I would watch the raw dough turn in a huge steel bowl. Other times he would take me to pop into a store in the middle of the day. I never got tired of the pizza buffet or spending time with my dad. I began to take pride that my dad was the boss. When I went with him, I would find a broom or mop and try to help clean the store. I probably created more of a mess than I did clean anything.
On one visit to a store, I waited for my dad by the takeout counter. I watched as an employee cut a pizza with a giant crescent-shaped knife. He rocked it across the pizza in a seesaw motion. He was working so fast he cut the pizza slices very unevenly. It upset me that the pizza cook didn’t seem to care. I immediately ran to tell my dad. After hearing my report, my dad stopped what he was doing and asked the poor guy to open the box. The worker showed him his mistake. My dad responded by saying, “Even my son can tell you’re not doing it right! Come on! Let’s get it right!” I’m sure that guy wanted to throw that pizza right in my face after I tattled on him. I underestimated my dad’s attention to detail and commitment to excellence. These are the same attributes that caused him to be successful and made his stores run like machines. It is also the reason he lived in a constant state of stress.
That level of precision was not always present in the store where I worked. My manager tried to make his store the best. I have a lot of respect for how he worked with his employees, but he seemed to be swimming against the stream.
There were days when none of the other drivers came to work. They didn’t call or anything. They just chose to stay home that day. I was the one guy who came to work but had to deal with the fallout of their decisions. The lack of drivers meant the orders would get backed up. Customers took their frustrations out on me when I arrived with their pizza extremely late. I got chewed out, no tip, and could probably expect an angry comment on the customer satisfaction survey. This experience gave me a new perspective for those working in service. You never know the load someone else is carrying.
The delivery drivers also all shared dishwashing duties. If I was the only driver, then there was no one taking care of the dishes while I was out. When I would return from a delivery, there would be a mountain of dishes waiting for me. The workload would get very far behind. The pots and pans would fill all three sinks and also be stacked on the floor. This would cause me to have to stay after hours to clean up. I picked up everyone else’s slack but ended up with tiny tips and getting home after the rest of my family was already in bed. Whoever heard of working overtime for less pay? Doing the right thing didn’t bring an immediate reward.
Those were long nights washing dishes in the back of a pizza kitchen. I just kept telling myself this was temporary. I tried to keep the same pride in my work I thought my dad would want to see. I wanted to honor God with my work. Several times I thought of walking out of the store and not looking back. “Cool guys don’t look at explosions” as they walk away. We could have made it on credit cards during those weeks. I really didn’t have to do this. Secretly though, there was a part of me that wanted to see if I had what it takes to survive in this environment. Could I overcome the mounds of dishes and the torrential onslaught of negativity poured on me by coworkers?
It wasn’t all bad. Sometimes people surprised me. They would answer the door smiling and ready to tip. Then their faces would change once they got a good look at me. I would be asked to wait a moment. They would disappear momentarily only to come back with even more money. People don’t deliver pizza because they are passionate about warm bread and cheese. It’s something they have to do to get by. While driving back and forth through the streets of Galvez and southeast Prairieville, I made a decision. I would always make sure I tipped my delivery driver better than what I thought he or she deserved. You never know what they had to do to get to your front door.
I used my wit and sense of humor to keep things fun at the restaurant. All the employees had to greet every customer simultaneously when they came into the store. No matter what you were doing, you were expected to continue it and yell, “Welcome to Pizza Hut!” I wouldn’t stop there. I always added something to the end that made everyone laugh. I’d say, “Welcome to Pizza Hut,” and then add “where the sauce is the boss, and the crust is hand-tossed!” Or I would say “where the pizza is fresh, and the service is the best!” There were several others and even some we couldn’t share with customers. Earl liked this and had me write them down for when we answered the phones.
Recently, while writing this book, Amy was cooking and said. “This sauce is boss! Wait, where have I heard that before?”
“From Pizza Hut,” I said.
“It is one of the things I made up while working there.”
There was another thing I was always on the lookout for while I worked. I was constantly afraid I would answer the phone, give my name, and someone would recognize me. This fear was the same for delivering to people’s homes. We now lived about 45 minutes from our old house. It was unlikely I would bump into someone I would recognize. But it was still not impossible. While I don’t remember delivering to anyone’s house I knew, that didn’t mean they didn’t know who I was. People came to my former church from all over. There was no way I could keep up with everyone’s name and face.
Eventually, someone I recognized did come to our store. I walked out the backdoor as soon as I saw him. I stayed in the parking lot until he left. I was so mad at God during those few moments. “Why was He letting this happen to me,” I wondered. Then I felt God challenge me. I should value His perspective of me over what others thought. I was so worried that this man may have seen me. I didn’t want him to tell everyone I was delivering pizza. I could picture all the people who once respected me shaking their heads at what a failure I had become.
God continued prodding my heart after I came back in the store. I needed to own my life and decisions. I went outside again. This time it was not to avoid that man. Instead, I called him. When he answered, I apologized for ignoring him. I told him how much I respected him. I wanted him to know he did not deserve for me to behave in that way.
That was humbling. Extremely humbling! As difficult as it was to make that call, it was a significant moment for me. It helped break the pattern of living for other people’s approval. Why had God allowed this to happen to me? Maybe the entire reason I had to work at Pizza Hut was to experience that one moment. It forced me to choose God’s perspective of me as the most important influence of my choices. Either way, there were still many more pizzas to deliver, dishes to wash, and bizarre behavior from my coworkers to keep me busy.
What is the hardest thing you have ever had to do? For me, it was stepping away from my position in full-time ministry over 9 years ago. I was the youth and young adults pastor at my church, but there was so much more wrapped up in my church role than just a job title. My entire world revolved around the connection I had with my church, and for a long time, I did not think there was anything for me outside of this comfortable church ecosystem.
But how did this come to be?
As a child, my home life was unstable, but my time at church was filled with encouragement and smiles. I survived four divorces growing up. The constant family crises left me feeling insecure and disappointed. On the other hand, going to church gave me the chance to make a difference in the world. It was where I could be told how incredible I was. One place became an increasing source of pain. The other was a wellspring of security, confidence, and recognition.
Creating a False-Self
In my teenage years, I became a leader in the youth group and got a job at the church café. I would continue working there in college and then full-time after graduating until I was 30 years old. People identified me with my church as much as you would pair Starbucks with coffee or Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls. Except I am not as trendy as coffee or as good at sticking out my tongue and dunking a basketball as Jordan. Everything of significance to me, including my identity, was inside that church bubble.
It’s a flattering thing to be wanted, but it’s also hypnotic. Serving and working at a church did this for me. I quickly got to a place where I did not want to say no. “What else can I do,” was my attitude. Then one day, I looked up, and I couldn’t say “no” even if I wanted to.
As I grew in what I thought local church ministry should look like, I was also limited in how I could apply those changes to my current role. I thought being faithful and honoring would open up the opportunity to do things differently down the road. Instead, as I received more responsibility, I was expected to keep doing what I had always done the way I had always done it. And why wouldn’t that be the case? It makes sense that this is the way things would be, but it also helps explain why I had to step away from my job if I genuinely wanted to be the leader God wanted me to be.
The Harsh Reality of Changing
I needed the space to change, and I could not continue to be faithful to what I was being asked to do as an employee if I knew, ultimately, I would never do things that way if I had a say in it. But this also meant leaving behind the only viable source of income for my family. Without help finding my next place, I would have to work outside of ministry in a position far below my training if I no longer wanted to work at my church.
What started as a process of just wanting to learn a new way of doing ministry became something much more significant for me. I did not realize how wounded and weary I was or how much I gained my identity from my role in full-time ministry. I did not just need to learn some new tips to build on an already strong foundation. How I viewed myself, God, and those around me required a complete overhaul. I needed to believe again.
In the months after leaving my church job. I began to sell things I could no longer afford. We put a “for sale” sign in our yard. We also sold our luxury car. I am ashamed to say I cried when I parted with my golf clubs. I am not exactly sure what made me tear up after that Craigslist exchange. It could have been I was saying goodbye to the memories I had shared with so many friends while playing golf. It’s possible I was happy for the young guy who was getting a nice Father’s Day present. Maybe it was just my pride.
The Shiny Tin
Long before I began working on a church staff, I started a process of relating to God, church, and others in an unhealthy way. There were patterns of hurt and shame that went unaddressed. Ultimately though, my desire to succeed and my ability to use accomplishments to cover my weaknesses fueled my cycle of religious performance. I do not blame anyone else for the negative things that took place in my life during this time. I know God was the one in control. Also, if at any point I was willing to let go of my position to more fully pursue healing, my wrong perspectives would not have infected so much of my life. If I did not change then, I would be destined to repeat the same mistakes in the future.
In the book, Where the Red Fern Grows, there is an example that illustrates my situation. The central figure in the story is a young boy who wants to train his dogs for hunting. To teach his pets, he needed to catch a raccoon on his own. Knowing raccoons are curious creatures, he places a piece of shiny tin inside a hole in a log. Then he hammers nails inside the hole with enough room for the raccoon to put its hand into the hole, but not enough to remove it with the piece of tin in his hand.
The boy continues to check the trap every day until eventually, he finds a raccoon stuck. All the little creature had to do to escape was let go of the tin and pull his hand out. But because he wanted to both escape and keep his prize, he remained trapped until the boy killed him. The next day the boy joyfully explains to his grandfather how he caught his first raccoon. Much to his surprise, the grandfather responds by telling him to never set a trap like that again. It simply wasn’t fair. It was un-sportsman.
I was a lot like the stuck raccoon. In His goodness, God was allowing me to choose to either hold on to the things I thought I wanted or let go to find the things in Him I really needed. I didn’t need my position, popularity, or special treatment. What I needed most was time away from working in ministry to become a better minister and, honestly, person. I did not like how judgmental and proud I had become. I was frustrated by the fact my fears kept me from being myself. I wanted to be free to pursue the change I knew I needed.
To let go of that old world would not only mean leaving behind my home, friends, status, identity, church family, and financial security. Making this shift caused me to worry I had brought my family out into a desert with no way out. What I found next was a world much bigger and more welcoming than I could have ever imagined.
It took eight years to write Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion. You see, I type very slowly. I’m just kidding. It’s because I am not a very good writer. Also, kidding. At least, I hope that’s not true. I have been writing and sharing stories since high school. So, why did it take so long to get this into your hands?
This book shares intimate and often embarrassing moments in my life. Just the process of revealing these details is enough to cause almost anyone to pause and reflect before pressing send. The struggle to believe enough in myself to write this book is the story within the story.
Am I Crazy?
Multiple times, I have had to Believe Again that I could finish this project and that it matters. First, I had to convince myself I was not crazy to write these experiences down. Then, I had to overcome the insecurity of feeling I was not good enough to write publicly. This involved dealing with thoughts like, Who am I to think people would want to read what I write? Is my story even interesting to begin with? After that came the fear of people misunderstanding me and my intentions.
Once I cleared those hurdles, something else began to happen. I grew spiritually, emotionally, and as a writer. Through this, I would review each current draft and think, “I have to change this. I don’t even write or think like this anymore.” During this time, God transformed my perspective on the situations I share in this book. What I thought was important was not. Other parts needed more emphasis than I realized at first. This story is so personal to me. I knew time would have to pass for my perspective to mature. This all led to more rewrites. Many times, I wondered out loud, “Will this ever get to a place where I could say it is finished?”
The Shadows of Fear
My circumstances have told me that I am not a writer every day since I began, well, writing. There has continuously been something else I was always supposed to be or do. But when I closed my eyes at night and opened them again in the morning, I knew something different. I am a writer. The question was, would I pass the test, believe again, and take another step? Or would I hide from what was in my heart? If anything, that is the lesson of this book. Believing again is not a grand gesture. It is a commitment to take one step at a time towards what God has put in your heart. To do this, you also have to have the courage to move away from the shadows where fear allows you to hide.
I hope Believe Again will help you let go of every substitute and find authentic faith. By the time you are finished reading it, I want you to realize that who you are in Christ is more important than where you are in life. This is crucial in our journey to living out an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity.
Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion will be released on October 4 on Amazon. In the meantime, you can pre-order it at joshroberie.com/shop at a 20% discount. You can find out more about the book and get Believe Again merch at BelieveAgain.net.
I hope you are not expecting Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion to be a typical “preacher book.” These pages are not filled with outlines and sermons. Instead, you will find a story overflowing with surprising friendships, unconventional mentors, and lessons I never knew I needed to learn. It is one I hope you can even find yourself in as well. If you have ever grown weary in your faith, wanted to give up on going to church, or have been discouraged by the circumstances of life, then I want to encourage you to read on.
After years on staff at the large church I grew up in, I found myself suddenly working outside of full-time ministry. This transition into the real world was startling for someone who grew up in church and never intended to do anything but work as a pastor. It was the lowest point of my life. The exact rock bottom of this unexpected change was somewhere between asking the guy I used to pay to cut my grass if I could work for him and taking orders from a convict with a knife so I could support my family. But let’s not get nitpicky with the details.
One of the best things that came from this season was the relationships I gained as a result of this unique path. Much of this book focuses on these amazing people. They are the characters in the goofy spiritual journey I was on. Many of these friends came from the new way I was living my life and where I started working. Others came along as I developed the courage to share my story publicly. The things I was experiencing were so outrageous, and such a contrast to the life I lived before, that I started writing them down. Eventually, I decided it would be a good idea to share some of these embarrassing details with a blog.
True to how I was feeling at the time I named the blog, “Fish Out of Church.” I had blogged for a long time before this, but not in a personal and vulnerable way. The more I wrote, the more people would reach out to talk about their own experiences. Connecting over our shared disappointments in life and church as well as our hopes for the future seemed to bring some healing.
Could maybe others use some encouragement to step out of their religious comfort zone as I had done? Is it possible you fall into this category as well? I wrote this book to help anyone who was in the same situation I was in and needs to discover a fresh perspective on faith, find hope in trying times, or could use a little help learning to trust God one day at a time.
The circumstances I share in this book made it appear my time in ministry, along with many of my hopes and dreams, were over. I was surprised to find an uncomfortable season working outside of the church would strengthen my faith and teach me to lead more like Jesus. I believe this collection of outlandish stories will help you do the same. Here is how I lost my religion, found authentic faith, and began to believe again.
Believe Again will be available on Amazon on October 4.
A neighbor recently commented that my oldest daughter, Sophie, is such a leader. She went on to say Sophie does an excellent job of getting other kids together and organizing activities without being bossy or demanding. I thanked her for the compliment. Then went on to tell her, “My goal is for Sophie to be a leader, but I actually never tell her to be a leader.”
Why I Never Call My Kids Leaders
Being a leader is not enough. How we lead determines the lasting impact of our influence. To help our kids become the leaders God designed them to be, we must be careful not to add unnecessary pressure, emphasize leaders are not just the people in charge, and help them become the best version of themselves.
When you tell someone to be a leader, you may mean, “don’t follow the crowd when they do something wrong,” but the thought of “being a leader” can take own a life of its own in the mind of a child. If we do a good job affirming a child at home, then what we really want in those situations is for them to be who we know they are instead of trying to do what they think a leader would do. To me, that means, affirming their identity is more important than telling them to live up to a certain standard.
Not the Person in Charge
A leader is not just the person in charge. It is the person with influence. When kids hear “leader,” they may think they have to boss others around. If my kids become bossy and try to correct other kids, they lose influence and friends. That is why it is crucial to emphasize identity in young kids instead of leadership.
What We Do Instead
Affirming your child’s identity can help them be the leader they are meant to be among their friends because they will be leading out of their authentic selves instead of trying to enforce and live up to a certain standard. Being secure in their identity will prepare them to lead well as young adults when they can more understand the complexity of what it truly means to be a leader.
Benefits of Affirming
When the child falls short, they land on who their parents (and God) say they are instead of the guilt and condemnation of not being the leader they are supposed to be.
Affirming creates authentic confidence inside a child to lead out of who they are, in their own way, instead of striving to be what they think a leader should look like.
When you affirm a child, you give them security instead of unintentionally inserting the idea that they have to live up to a certain standard as a leader to be good enough for your approval.
When kids know who they are, they will not be afraid to be different. They are not gaining their identity from their friend group, being a part of what others are doing, or being the person in charge.
How We Affirm
Starting at about one-year-old, I created sayings that would build up each of my girls’ confidence and identity. As they grew, I would change what I said over them based on how each girl blossomed. I will share what I would tell Sophie each night as I rocked her to bed.
“You are so sweet and so smart. So sensitive and so strong. You are my sweet, sweet, Sophie, that is so, so, sweet, and I love you so much. You are my very only special Sophie girl. There is no one else like you, and I think you are so pretty.”
There are some principles built into that saying that are important.
We celebrate character. Accomplishments are just the product of good character. So even when we point out accomplishments, we always highlight the character that got them there.
Special to Me
Kids need to know they are precious just because they exist and are part of their family, not because they live up to a certain standard. When I say the words, “I am proud of you,” it is connected to a godly decision or character they display 90% of the time. Kids want their parents to celebrate their victories, so of course, we do that. We just don’t make that the focus.
Superficial but Necessary
You’ll also notice I tell Sophie she is pretty, but not until after building up her identity in other ways first. Little girls need to hear they are lovely, just like little boys need to hear they are handsome and strong. Again, I want my daughter to know that true beauty abides in how they treat others. I want Cinderellas in my house and not Little Mermaids.
I finished the conversation with my neighbor by telling her that a parent who emphasizes being a leader to their young children is a good thing. If you are doing that, you are already thinking ahead of the challenges kids will face and preparing them to stand firm.
We have just chosen a different path based on our experience and how we have seen emphasizing and even pressuring people to be a leader can cause them to lead, but not from an authentic place. I figure I would spend my kids’ childhood building up their confidence and identity. I hope that as they get older, they will lead, not because they are supposed to or have to, but because their emotional bank account is full. This way, they can help others out of the overflow of who they are, and not because they need anything from those around them. These are the types of leaders I always enjoyed following the most, anyway.