Just Breathe

When is the last time you read something so surprisingly profound that it stops you in your tracks? I have been reading Becoming a King: The Path to Restoring the Heart of a Man by Morgan Snyder, and I was struck by a line he quoted in his book. 

You’re a soul made by God, made for God, and made to need God, which means you were not made to be self-sufficient.” — Dr. Dallas Willard, Author and Philosopher

Morgan Snyder adds to that already weighty quote by stating, “Our inherent neediness is the aspect of our lives that are false self resents most.” Reading those words made me realize that I’m so close, even though I’m doing my best, yet so far away.  

Have you ever put a blade for a hand saw on backwards? It will still spin, but it doesn’t cut anything well. What about installing a ceiling fan but only to find the blades turn, but the light doesn’t work? Or making a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies only to realize you forgot to add the sugar? Maybe you’ve tried upgrading an old computer or phone only to find it can no longer support any current applications. 

A swing and a miss.

This year has been way more introspective than I would like. Still, it seems to be reshuffling my view of God pretty nicely and reminded me (once again) that the “I don’t need anybody to help me succeed” bandage that I wrapped around my wounds of adolescence has also done a good job of keeping God out too. And if Willard was right, then would it be correct to say that we were created to need a relationship and dependency on God in the same way we were created to need oxygen? 

Meaning life without God is not only a lack but a fatality. 

Vitalitymedicine.com writes this: “Oxygen fuels our cells and helps provide the basic building blocks that our bodies need to survive. Our cells combine oxygen with nitrogen and hydrogen to produce various proteins that build new cells. When oxygen is combined with carbon and hydrogen, you get  carbohydrates that provide energy to our bodies that is necessary for us to do what we live. Oxygen is also necessary for constructing replacement cells for our bodies. Oxygen is also a particularly important part of our immune system. It is used to help kill bacteria, and it fuels the cells that make up our body’s defenses against viruses and other invaders.”

Did you know oxygen did all of those things? Who wouldn’t want more of that? I’ve worked in grocery stores a couple of times in my life, and I remember chuckling internally at little kids in shopping carts who decided that holding their breath was the best bully tactic to get the candy they wanted. A dramatic and futile tactic. The parents never seemed overly concerned and rarely buckled to the pressure. No kid can stop breathing on his own.

How many others, like me, are holding their breath while trying to convince themselves that they don’t need to breathe, even though they inherently know the power and life of a deep breath?

It’s time to draw close and breathe in. He is waiting. He has always been waiting.

“Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. Genesis 2:7

We will get through this together!

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

Footprint in the Sand

Tonight, after a bad day, my daughter Cora was expressing how hard the unknown was. She wanted solid assurances and a concrete plan that what she was facing was not going to break her. She wanted a map for her whole life so she could pick the right direction and get started right now.

Have you ever felt this way?

I’m trying to be sensitive and smart. I know that as a PK (pastors kid) she is mulling over the choice of whether my faith is worth taking on as her own. So, I chose to tell her one of my God stories. The one where I demanded God to show me His plan.

I was mad about having my 5th job in 4 years turn out to be a bust, and how I was once again going to have to tell Anna that it didn’t work out. I was a baby believer just starting to trust God with more and more, and as I clamored out to Him in my car, He drew my mind to the “Footprints in the Sand” poem that hangs in my mother-in-law’s house. I’m sure you’ve seen one like it. I grew even more exasperated like He was being patronizing. I screamed, “I will follow you! Just give me a damn map!” In that instant, I felt He said, “OK,” and the picture of one footprint in the sand flashed through my mind. 

“I lead. You follow. That’s how this works.”

To be honest, I was not thrilled with that answer 14 years ago. I wanted more. More details more vision, more…control. But, God wasn’t lying. In fact, His promises on this subject are so strong and numerous that there can be no question to its validity.

Here are two of my favorites Scriptures:

“The LORD says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.'” Psalm 32:8

“The Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 31:6

God giving us the best pathway (plan/map) for our lives, and promising that He will never leave us is not a bad trade for our control. However, it can be crazy hard when we often only get to see one step at a time.

I don’t know when we will get to take off these masks, or if there will be another relief package, what will happen in the stock market tomorrow, or how I can lead my family through and out of COVID. But, I am confident in one thing. My next step will be laid out for me exactly when I need it, and I will be watching for it.

We will get through this together.

In His service and at yours!
~Shawn

The Scary Place

I have been reading a book called Becoming a King by Morgan Snyder. It’s a ‘man book’ written in a style similar to that of John Eldredge, and it has been a great refresher on the danger of getting what we want when we want it, including the comfort we strive for.

Even though I’m not what you would call an avid outdoor enthusiast, I do like being active and outdoors. However, COVID has made my indoor walls a bit more snug. Sometimes, they feel close in an irritating way, but mostly in a nice warm blanket kind of way. I can pick up my groceries, or anything else that I need, curbside without leaving my car or even having to put the bags in the back. There are hours of adventure just a Netflix click away, and I can have practically anything delivered to my house. All of this is making my life safe and cushy. My life feels manufactured. I give money earned by my expertise for someone else’s labor.

Scripted another way, this could sound like luxury. However, I’m sensing it’s a trap.

A few weeks ago, our dishwasher broke and after some online searching, it seemed all symptoms pointed to the motor. The part was $170, but was I sure enough to just buy the part myself? Nope. Instead, I paid a tech $90 to come out to tell me it was the motor. Once diagnosed, I watched three videos on how to change the motor, and then bought a new dishwasher. Did I have the skills to change the motor myself? Probably. But, I will never know. 

I played it and paid it safe.

Somehow I have gotten hesitant to step into scary places, and I have been working on figuring out why. Tell me if any of these thoughts sound familiar.

  • “I’m afraid to do this alone. Who has my back? Who will help me if I get into a jam?”
  • “What if I don’t have what it takes?”
  • “I don’t have extra money in the budget. What if I screw this up? What if I break the part? How will I pay to fix the floors if the dishwasher leaks?” 
  • “I don’t have the time margin. What if this project takes days?” 

I did a really good job of talking myself out of repairing the dishwasher and $700. Based on my logic, if “Fortune favours the bold,” Lowe’s is getting my fortune. Honestly, I don’t think that my reasoning was all that bad, but it felt hollow. An empty longing like I had missed an opportunity for personal victory and accomplishment. My logic was a successful fail because I based it all on me not on having a God that is for me.

“Behold, God is my helper and ally; The Lord is my sustainer.” Psalm 54:4 

God has never met a dishwasher He couldn’t fix, Creme Brulee He couldn’t make, treehouse He couldn’t build, or dress He couldn’t sew. If I am His intimate ally, I need to invite Him in and ask for help. 

It’s the weekend. God is ready. Let’s go step into something. See you in the scary place!

In His service and at yours,

~Shawn

Trendsetting

I was recently listening to the Global Leadership Summit, and Beth Comstock, an artist, turned Creative Director turned COO of Nike, said something that caught my attention when describing how she mixes her driving leadership style with her creative side.

She said, “I keep an open note with three columns on my phone. The columns are Interesting, Coincidence & Trend.”

She described her thinking: “When something catches my eye, I place it in the first column, and when I see something similar again, it moves to the second column. Maybe it is a coincidence. If and when it moves to the third column, then we start building a strategy.” I thought the idea was brilliant, and yesterday, God used her strategy to talk to me.

In my men’s group, I heard the word “poiema” mentioned in a video. It stood out immediately, yet even though I remembered it being of strong importance, I could not get the full meaning to settle in my thoughts. I put it aside and started my day. Around lunchtime the word “poem” rattled around in my head until late in the evening when the above quote connected to it.

Put that in the Trend column! Pay attention, McCarthy! God is talking to you!

Poiema. The word was familiar and somehow reassuring. I began to search my notes, all of my past emails to be sure I had not written about this word before. I found nothing. If I had written about it before, it was nowhere to be found now. However, with a little research, I believe I know what God is wanting to say to us.

Poiema is a Greek word (ποίημα) describing God’s created work. God’s Masterpiece. His best possible work. His Magnus Opus. This word is mentioned twice in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul. Once in Romans 1:20, when he talks about God’s Creation, and the second when he is describing you.

For we are God’s masterpiece, (His Poiema) created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

I am willing to bet 90% of the people I know are not living in the identity that we are God’s Masterpiece. I include myself. Our hangups and self-defined imperfections cause us to mask His splendor that is woven into our very being. What if this began to change? What if we started to remember our true identity in Christ?

Today should be a day to remember who you are and whose you are.

Let me shoot it to you simple. I don’t know what your mirror said to you this morning, but that frame contains the finest that God can make. Believe nothing else and go be a trendsetter today.

Happy Friday!

In His Service and at yours! 

~Shawn

Legacy

A hard reality of this pandemic is that people are dying. Watching friends pass away and mourn their loved ones has kept my mind returning to the concept of leaving a legacy.

I’m a part of an incredible men’s group at church that is willing to discuss and ask tough questions, and there were two this week that gave the group something to ponder. The first question was, “What legacy did we inherit from our parents?” The second one was, “What legacy are we leaving to our children?” 

Most of the men in my group described their fathers as hard-working and hyper-focused on providing for their families, yet emotionally distant. That makes sense, right? Their fathers came from the “Greatest Generation” of WW2 and had to persevere through the most turbulent time they would know, and they felt the weight to withstand hardship to make the world a better place. But, as we stepped into the second question, it got interesting. I asked my guys if we talked with their kids about what legacy their dad is leaving for them, what do you think they would say? Most men repeated what they had just said about their fathers…hard workers, providers for the home, and probably a bit distant. 

I had (and still have) an amazing dad. 

He was both emotionally and physically engaged with the three of us boys. He provided well for our family and modeled love and loyalty in marriage to my mom. Honestly, his shadow is a big one to walk in at times. But what an incredible problem to have. I want to think Cora would say most of the same things about me that I think of my dad, and if I were grading, I would give myself a solid A-. Anna and I teach her to work hard, hold family as an essential priority, love others, and believe that God loves her. Oh, and that Star Wars is the ultimate best movie ever made. Ever.

Do you notice what didn’t make that legacy list?

There was no reference to waiting on the Lord, being dependent on the King, resting in, and trusting God for direction. In other words, there were no examples of turning our control over to our loving Creator and Father. It’s a good thing that my men’s group was meeting on Zoom because, as this topic of giving over control developed, I’m sure sharp objects would have been thrown at me had we been in person. 

It resonated with us how we all failed to mention these surrender points. It’s not that we aren’t giving control to God, or striving to be more dependent on God’s voice over our own – but we were not intentionally modeling those examples to our children so that they could see that surrender lived out.

It was a hard pill to swallow but an easy call to action.

What’s your legacy going to be? To your family?  To your community? How do you want to be remembered? If we choose to leave a Kingdom legacy, we can do that through sharing our relationship with Christ and by starting a new visible pattern of transparency, surrender, and dependence on God. And, I recommend to go ahead and throw in a few Star Wars movie nights here and there too.

We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD, about his power and his mighty wonders.” Psalm 78:4

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

The Pit

This past weekend, Anna and I had the opportunity to talk about the subject of Joy. Since Easter, we have been asked to step outside our comfort zones and host a 10-minute videocast on Sunday mornings on our church’s Facebook page. It has been our goal to be as transparent as possible about the real us in light of the pandemic. It has been challenging, revealing, and enjoyable fun for us!

I’m not sure how we chose joy as last week’s topic, but to reacquaint myself with what true joy is supposed to look like, I returned to my 2020 Psalms study. The Psalms are found in the middle of any Bible, and they are a great read when you’re walking through an emotional, turbulent, or even an overwhelming time in your life. David, the author of Psalms, had a way of capturing raw emotion and turning them into songs.

In my study, I came across Psalms 37:5-7 which reads: 

“Commit your way to the Lord;  trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret

As I was reading that Scripture, certain words jumped off the page to me. In this pandemic season, our promotional merch printing business is down by a whopping 60%,  Anna has been working frequently in the Covid unit at the hospital, our church will be reopening soon, and Cora is debating on whether or not to return to school in person.

I’ve got a giant pit in my stomach over all of this.

It is nothing too painful, just an uneasy uncertainty that just sits there. In fact, I feel it so frequently that I’ve almost gotten used to it. However, this week God gave me a name for my pit. He called it “Fret.” God reminded me that the uneasy feeling I have is not from Him, and if I continue to walk in His ways, He won’t let me fall because the King of the universe is upholding me. He sees me as valuable enough to make my steps firm personally. What a God! What an offer!

Psalms 37:23-24 goes on to say:

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.”

That Scripture has compelled me to take an inventory of my life and what the Lord would or would not delight in. It is a tough and ongoing task, but it’s a healthy one. I am beginning to recognize that a challenge like this comes from the Holy Spirit when compelling refinement and not condemnation. It felt like God was a good coach saying: “Shawn, I have you in a starting position on my team. You’re my guy no matter what, but you’ll be a better player, and this will be easier for you if you make your ways delightful.”

But what does making my ways ‘delightful’ even mean?

Philippians 4:8 breaks it down for us. 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

I’m simple, so I needed it broken down even more. 3 words: “Don’t be selfish.”

This week, will you join me in making our focus be on others? There really is nothing more excellent, lovely admirable, praiseworthy, or dare I say joyful than being selfless.

If you have a moment to share how God stepped into a circumstance and joy was the result, I would love to hear it. Please leave your story in the comments, or shoot me an email at shawnmccarthy@seacoast.org.

We will get through this together!

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

Lady Pushups

Do you agree that there is some irony in that restarting an exercise program is not just like riding a bike? I have begun to take this self development to another level. OK maybe a 1/2 a level, but we are moving. But it has not begun without complication. Somewhere around year 40 I started getting migraines. I have come to know that my migraines are from Satan himself. Because most strenuous exercises give me a migraine and eating takes them away. No not for good, just when I’m eating.  I’m telling you it’s evil. It is no wonder I was up 15lbs.

Step 1 in exercising is to just move, so being an old soccer player, The best exercise for me quickly became running. Me and the gym treadmill were courting each other pretty well for a couple weeks when Charleston became America’s Covid destination city. Nurse Anna said no more gym till Covid gets better and suggested I just run at home….. outside…..in August…. I might as well swim. So instead I started doing push ups and squats. Kettlebell squats passed the headache test but pushups failed. In one week 4 days = 4 headaches.

Then I got pissed and let God have it a bit. “REALLY!! I don’t even like exercising.”

I was really yelling loudly in my 100 degree garage, but I am quite sure He said “change your posture”.  I had expected the parental “Change your tone” but what about my posture??? So on day 6 of that week, I stubbornly started to get into a push-up position and this time just stayed on my knees. My high school gym teacher Mr. Rob called these lady pushups and what he said about them wasn’t kind. He was fond of pointing out that these were an option for the weak fellas that couldn’t do real push ups. But since I was already in position and I gave Mr Rob’s lady pushups a shot. Sure enough-no headache. 

But how was I gonna get around my prideache??

My good friend constantly challenges me with: “What story are you playing in your head?” “is it rooted in truth.” and “who told you that” oh and that other one “did God say that about you?” It is good to have friends that can speak truth and apparently I need it.  For a week now I have felt Mr Rob’s track suited ghost following me whispering “lady pushups” “lady pushups” “lady pushups”

Then I looked in the mirror today and I look different. I feel different. 

Are you also tired of living out of a script or a set of rules that someone else wrote for you? Situations or words spoken over you that God had nothing to do with but you can’t shake?

While I was tearing up my script from 1989.  I thought of the word Freedom and then went looking for these 2 scriptures 

2 Corinthians 3:17- Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is FREEDOM

Galatians 5:1 – It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free. Stand Firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

We are all set free. It is done. In addition we were given a counselor in the Holy Spirit that only knows the truth about how wonderful you are made. But sometimes earthly shackles get familiar don’t they. I need to keep reminding myself settling back into old comfy thought patterns is not going to take me anywhere different.

It is time to Stand Firm and be who God made us to be. His masterpiece. What better time than today to start thinking and living out freedom. I’m in, How about you?

We will get through this together!

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

The Sting

About three weeks ago, I looked into the mirror and alarmingly asked myself, “Was I stung by bees in the middle of the night? Should I chug some Benadryl?” My face was swollen. Wait, my whole body was swollen. After making sure my throat wasn’t closing up, I stepped on the scale…….. 180lbs?! I muttered a few words I pretend my daughter doesn’t think I say and quickly jumped off the scale. 

That’s one extra pound for every year since I left college. Damn you, COVID!

This extra pull of gravity was the result of a little extra time on the couch, and less time in the gym (aka zero time), and ice cream. Can’t forget the ice cream. Anna is my best cheerleader, and she said she was up for a change too. But what do we change? What do you do when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired? 

We thought about doing the Paleo diet and then remembered that last time we tried that, we nicknamed it the PaleNO diet mainly because you can’t eat anything on that stupid diet! So, we decided we were going to do Keto. I don’t think I even knew what Keto meant except I knew that I could have bacon and lots of it. OK. I’m in.

A couple of takeaways I have from these past three weeks are that you really can’t get enough bacon and a hard one: I say, “I deserve it!” a lot when it comes to food. Whether it is a long day at work, working out hard, taking Anna or Cora on a date, or even just breathing, all are reasons to celebrate with a treat. My food-reward cycle is strong. After some recollection, I realized that it always has been. I remember being a kid, and I couldn’t wait to be a grown-up just so I could drive to the store, get candy, or go to McDonald’s anytime I wanted. How is it that I am just coming to realize this at 45? 

Chip Judd, a counselor and one of the pastors at Seacoast, said, “You are your own strongest influence.” Apparently, I am VERY convincing to myself!

I wonder how many of us out there are just pushing through the day on the power of sugar, caffeine, or some other type of “fix.”

Psalm 28, which sounds a lot like our verse from last week (Psalm 91) says: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.”

The Psalms, and the rest of the Bible are filled with lessons that say, if we are worried, or if we are weak, or if we are in need, and we turn to Him that God Himself will meet us right where we are. 

So, why am I not asking Him for strength, persistence, new ideas, and wisdom? 

Have you mastered this? What does your thought pattern look like to get there?

It looks like I’m changing my plan as well as my diet because as it turns out, turning to God is way better, and way less expensive than a $7 espresso.

With God’s help, we will get through this together.

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

Psalm 91

Today is going to be a challenging one. We bury a friend and servant today. Covid has gotten even closer and it has made our world unnerving and sad. While preparing for the funeral with the family they admitted that their emotions were also all over the place. I was reminded in that moment of a passage of scripture that has often given me solace.

Psalm 91

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a]
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he[b] loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Whatever you are facing today His promise is true. You are loved and protected.

We will get through this together.

In His service and at yours

~Shawn

The Beggar

Last week, we talked about asking God for help. Do you struggle with that as much as I do? I have always hated asking for help. After high school, I struck out on my own as fast as I could. My family was great and all, but having my independence was much better. I was my own man and wanted to do everything on my own. Asking for help was embarrassing, and I thought it made me look weak. 

I’m so bad at it that I’ve moved two couches by myself. Foolish.

In my years following me accepting Christ, I have learned that showing this weakness reveals His strength. I am still not the best at this. However, I think I’m figuring out a key ingredient to my reluctance…my posture while asking.

Does asking for help feel a little like begging to you? Somehow my brain turns, “Lord, the budget is tight. Would you help bring us some stretch with a little extra?” into “Oh! Merciful Master, I have squandered away your provision on Starbucks and Facebook offers, please have pity on me and share with me some bread.” Yuck! Who wants to grovel like that? And who only wants bread? Don’t we really all want steak? Maybe even some cheesecake too?

This is what Isaiah says about God’s provision and mercy.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”
Isaiah 43:18-21

Recently, I was talking with a friend about being God’s chosen and yet how strong my reluctance to ask for help is. A few thoughts sprang up in our conversation that I thought was worth sharing.

  • Why would I fear a God who is for me?
  • If I am the son of the King, why am acting like a beggar?
  • If God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), then why am I begging for bread? I need to be asking for steak!
  • If my reaction to the Old Testament should be fear and trembling, then my reaction to the New Testament should be celebration and dancing. Like the best wedding you’ve ever been to…a wedding with steak!
  • Lastly,  it’s time to stop living like a begging peasant and start living like a bestowed prince,  beloved son of The King!

Do any of these thoughts clash with predispositions you also have of God?

Do you have trouble asking for help like I do? 

I would love to hear your take on what God has stirred up in me this week. Leave a comment or send me an email at ShawnMcCarthy@seacoast.org.

We will get through this together!

In His service and at yours.

~Shawn