The Waiter

Have you ever tried to take a picture of something that moves your head and heart but can’t get your phone out in time?

Twice this week, I missed getting the picture, but a message came through loud and clear anyway. The first picture was a tiny little church sign that read, “The battle is not yours, but God’s.” That led to my typical reaction of, “Great! Well then, what do I do now?” To which you and I both know the answer is: I should wait upon the Lord.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Waiting. I really, really, REALLY don’t like waiting. Then I saw this quote on social media:

“If you’re waiting on God, do what waiters do: serve.” – Ann Voskamp

Boom. It’s like God spoke to me through a collage of ideas with one central thought.
“Shawn, stop making this about you!”

How often does my self-focus cause me to see only what’s directly in front of me and keep staring at it, attempting to will it to change? It’s interesting how God can use the act of serving others to break us out of our own situation. 

Do you need a personal breakthrough? Go do something for another person. You will be amazed at the result.

Does this dichotomy make you dizzy too? Leave your thoughts about waiting, or giving in the comments. I would love to hear them!

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

Just Breathe

Guest Post by: Mandy Marzano

A week ago, I stumbled into a building I never thought I’d enter, purchasing something I said I’d never buy. After the transaction, I slumped into my car, defeated, looking at the thing I now owned. It was…a CPAP machine. I felt the sting of my youth’s betrayal and the nudge to take a walk and eat carrots.

Until recently, I prided myself in the fact that I could breathe just fine. I mean, as far as I knew, I was somewhat of a professional breather. But then, when I couldn’t seem to make it through a day without a nap and looked at people who seemed perky and awake with disdain and confusion, I learned that I was not such a great breath taker after all.

I would stop breathing many times during the night when I was sleeping. It’s common, but I never thought I’d be THAT person who had to strap on a steampunk-looking contraption at night. I mean, I’m single now, but one day I may share that bed with some hunk, and contrary to popular belief, plastic parts shooting air up into your nostrils with long hoses strapped to your head are not as sexy as one would think.

So, I buckled into my newfound life and tried it. It took me almost 30 minutes to figure out the best position for the elephant trunk to fit my face without having air shoot into my eyeballs, but once I got it snug, I fell asleep, and when I woke up the following morning, I felt dare I say, better. I didn’t have that scratchy throat from apparent wall-shaking snoring I must do nightly, and I didn’t have that urge to jump back into bed and sleep for more hours as I had for the past couple of years.

It’s like I didn’t know I wasn’t breathing properly until I was.

How often do we go through our day without breathing in God’s Word? How long do we hold our breath or try to get air some other way, like gaping our proverbial mouths open, hoping that something will help us stay alive or get through it?

God never desired us to just “get through” life. Christ didn’t come to earth, radically change people’s lives, die a gruesome death, and raise from the dead so that we could “get by.”

John 10:10 tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Abundantly means in large quantities; plentiful. That sounds like through any situation, and I mean any, our loving, life-breathing Father will surround us, fill us, and walk in front of us through it all. That doesn’t sound like gasping for breaths to get through a situation.

Before my big breathing apparatus purchase, close friends urged me to get tested for sleep apnea. I had a doctor recommend a sleep study. My kid even took a very flattering video of me making my best foghorn impression while I slept. And I still waited. It still took me a year to finally give in. A year that I could have been feeling better, doing more, and taking care of myself. But I waited.

How many times have we heard the sermons and scriptures about God’s life-giving breath giving us freedom from sin, wisdom beyond our years, peace in unrest, joy in sadness, and a hope that withstands the very gates of hell? And yet…we wait. We hold our breath. We don’t want to seem weak or dependent on anyone. Or maybe we want to keep moving so fast in life because we’re scared to death of what will happen when we slow down.

I’d like to encourage you today to…breathe. Breathe in God’s goodness, love, truth, and peace. You’ve been holding your breath for far too long. It’s time to just breathe.

Rock Climbing

Guest Post by Chris Russo -Pastor at Seacoast Church

I’ve gotta be honest and say I’m no rock climber, but I have been rock climbing before. I’ve done the kind of rock climbing where a buddy sets up the belay system, so you can climb a sheer rock that’s way out of your comfort zone. A belay is basically a rope system that connects a climber to the top of the rock formation. The belayer is the individual who, with a harness, is tied to you, and is in charge of giving you enough rope to climb. His other job is to make sure that when you fall, you don’t fall far. He has to pay close attention the entire time you’re climbing.

I’ve only done this kind of rock climbing 2 times, but one lesson I took from it is you have to trust the belay if you’re going to climb with confidence. Not only does the person belaying need to know what they’re doing, but the belay system must be set up perfectly.

When you trust the belay system and the belayer, you can feel free to take on challenging climbing routes because the thought of falling doesn’t scare you. You know that no matter how many times you slip, the belayer’s got you…you’re safe. Now, this doesn’t mean you’re not going to fall at all…it just means that when you do, you won’t fall far.

The hardest part is getting comfortable with the little falls. What’s crazy about this is you could have a perfectly set up belay system, the most competent belayer in the world, and still climb with fear. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of trust. For me, I was able to successfully complete the 2 climbs I went on, but both of my ascents were regrettably detracted from by my lack of faith in the belay system. There were just too many “what ifs” flying around in my head for me to chill out and enjoy the experience.

You may already see where I’m going with this, but faith in Jesus works much the same way. When you trust Jesus for your salvation, everything changes. You become a child of the Most High God and he becomes your Father. He promises to never leave you nor forsake you and to always have your back (Deuteronomy 31:6-8). Your belayer and belay system are perfectly set and you are free to climb with complete confidence. It’s perfectly fine and expected for you to make mistakes as God promises to make even the worst things work out for your good and his glory (Romans 8:28).

Simply put: You can’t mess it up, you can’t blow it, and God has your back every step of the way. We are set up to live in total freedom…

But why don’t we always live like that? It is a complicated question, but it all comes down to a battle of truth Vs. lies. The enemy of your soul wants to convince you that the belay system you have been gifted is jacked up and that the belayer doesn’t have your best interest at heart. These are obviously lies, but knowing the truth intellectually and knowing it in your heart are worlds apart. 

So, what do we do to close the gap? How do we get these important truths into our hearts? There are a lot of different ways to do this, but it must first be understood that this is a work of the Spirit and not of the flesh. Time spent in prayer and in God’s word are primary, and time with other believers is also incredibly profitable.

Lies die when you constantly put yourself in environments where the central truths of God’s word are lovingly echoed back to you. As you do this, the Holy Spirit will do his unique work of heart transformation.

If you don’t know Jesus, then you don’t have a belayer or a belay system. If you do know him, then you’re completely set up to live in love and freedom. If you don’t find yourself living a life that’s characterized by freedom, The solution is to surround yourself in spiritual contexts where you are continually reminded that you are God’s child and are safe in your Father’s arms.

If this struck a cord with you today, I would love to pray with you. Please leave a comment below or send me an email to ChrisRusso@seacoast.org.

Thank you for the opportunity to climb with you all,

~Chris

Independence

“The American War of Independence (1775-1783) served as a harsh lesson to the British Empire that the dominions they controlled if treated improperly, would always be susceptible to revolution.” – Luke Tomes

This week in a masterful stroke, the enemy has again divided our country. How much more will it take before we take notice of his plan? 

The Bible mentions much about Satan, but one should never forget the role God allows him to play here on earth. The apostle Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) and “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Jesus even referred to him as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). 

“He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44

However, the great deceiver has already been defeated!

“They overcame the enemy by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.” Revelation 12:11

Jesus and our raw stories filled with pain, grit, and hope win in the end! 

If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who faced an unexpected pregnancy, you know their story is complicated. I have never met someone in this situation who took a light-hearted approach to their circumstance or the decisions they faced, whether in the moment or in hindsight. Simply put, no one’s story is ever black-and-white. That’s important to remember this week and moving forward.

Maybe it is time for a revolution. Are we finally fed up enough with being divided by the enemy? Do you think people have had enough of not being properly treated? Maybe it’s time we tried something different to outsmart the “old snake.” 

What if we start with loving and treating each other properly, compassionately, and gracefully. Maybe then issues would become people, and we would remember that we are the people Jesus came to rescue. All of us.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” ~Jesus  (Luke 4:11)

We will get through this together!

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

Humble and Kind

Three weeks ago Anna and I closed on our new house. We moved across town to be closer to family and put our daughter in a different school. We had no idea how close to the family the next few weeks would bring us. 

We bought the house knowing there were some flooring issues, but the extent of the problems was far more than we expected, and we’ve been living with my brother and his family while our house was being repaired and renovated. Like every renovation project I’ve ever done, there has been friction and frustration. For instance, our tile contractor haphazardly installed the bathroom tile incorrectly, not once but twice, in the only working bathroom in the house – setting us back a week. Ugh.

It’s interesting how things that upset your wife and daughter push on you emotionally too. Like most, this pushed me to anger. As I was sitting on my brother’s back porch the evening of error #2 contemplating my response to the contractor that would utterly destroy him and make me feel vindicated, Tim McGraw’s song, Humble and Kind, started playing in the background. Really, God? Are you actually getting Tim McGraw in on this too?

I have had many “What would Jesus do” moments. In fact, I’ve probably worn (and sold) some WWJD merch in my years, but this was my first “What would Tim McGraw do” moment for me. As it turns out, they’re the same thing in this instance. 

Colossians 3:12-13 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” 

Damn you, Tim! I was all ready to get my grout on! I don’t want to be kind! Where is the strength in that? But the first line of that scripture, “As God’s Chosen ones,” screams: “You can do this, but do it differently! Remember My ways are not your ways!” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

I’m working on believing that You can be humble and still have authority. Scriptures reveal numerous instances where humility and kindness are like God’s secret multiplier. 

You under your ways + your strength = outcome to the power of 1

You under God’s ways + your strength + God’s might = outcome to the power of X!

In God’s economy, kindness doesn’t cost anything but has the greatest reward. It sounds a bit analytical and mystical at the same time, but just as scripture promises us, God’s Word never returns to us void (Isaiah 55:11) and is always alive and working (Hebrews 4:12), so this is the recipe for victory! 

Have you had moments when you have stepped into humility and kindness instead of judgment, anger, or clinging to your “But, I’m right!” and God saw you through? I would love the encouragement today. Would you please leave your story in the comments? I am ready to be God’s Chosen. Here we go!

In His service and at yours!

~Shawn

Your Story Has Power

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I’ve always found this verse to be encouraging, especially when it feels like life is blowing up all around me. However, I’m not the best at sitting back and letting someone else do the work. Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad Jesus told us not to sweat it because He’s got it, but sometimes I want in on the action too!

Maybe you’re in that spot where life is overwhelming, and every time you turn around, there’s a new worry, problem, or issue, and you’re tired of being positive or looking at the glass half full. 

My daughter has repeatedly been playing Lemons by Loveleo, and the chorus goes like this…

“Life just gives me lemons And I don’t like lemonade. Sticky situation, ah Look at this mess I’ve made.”

Maybe you feel like him, can’t take things continuously going wrong, and just want to shout about it. Well, making that turn towards success may be easier than you think. Buried in the book of Revelation is this scripture:

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelations 12:11

I love how Jesus does the heavy lifting of getting us out of a rut, whether we were thrown in there or jumped in willingly, and all we have to do is tell each other about what He has done for us.

Wait a minute. No, I don’t like that at all! Especially the part about me being transparent and telling all the juicy details of my testimony? You know, my poor choices, the times I was a jerk to my wife or daughter, and all the times I didn’t want to wait on the Lord, so I just picked the easy path. 

Proverbs has two verses about the power of an authentic moment with a friend who shares the truth.

Proverbs 27:9: “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from thier heartfelt advice.”

Proverbs 19:20: “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.”

Simply put, your story has healing power not only for you but also for others.

CS Lewis said it best. “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

What has you feeling overwhelmed this week? Health? Money? Kids? Relationships? How can I pray for you? Let’s overcome together, and share our story to others!

In His service and at yours 

~Shawn

The Rock

My friend Stephen bought a book for me called Becoming a King: The Path to Restoring the Heart by Morgan Snyder. It has since become somewhat of a lodestone in my quest for authenticity. 

In this book, Snyder quotes author Mike Mason stating, “A thirty-year-old person (man) is like a densely populated city; nothing new can be built… without something else being torn down. “Snyder then discusses how there are many stages of healthy tearing down so that God can rebuild who you were meant to be. 

Snyder also says that whatever isn’t authentically you is best to be demolished, and that process takes about as long as it took to build that adult facade. Once the demo is done, it takes some time and effort to realize what needs to be hauled off for good. Then, you need to check the “soil” for toxins left behind by bad experiences and, if necessary, dig out any bad foundation that may have been left behind to contribute to the toxicity of the soil. Finally, the fun part begins, a new foundation can be set, and the rebuilding can begin. What a process!

As I walked some friends through this concept this week, I was reminded of Jesus saying something similar.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-27

Ten years ago, if someone called me a fool, they would have earned themselves a punch square to the jaw. Even though I knew I was living out a scraped-together collection of experiences, not intentional training, I didn’t want anyone else to know that. I wanted everyone to think I had arrived with this wisdom, not accumulated it through time. 

Simply put, I was faking it. 

But when the storms of life came, as they always do (and always will!), my self-fabricated house of self-taught best practices swayed and bucked just like this house built on sand Jesus was talking about. However, Jesus says if you build a house on solid rock, it will stand.

I know you saw where I was going with this analogy, but do you know the extent of the references in scripture of Jesus being a rock? After doing a simple Google search, I came across this post. It is extensive and has 10x more references than I could muster on my own.

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1984/01/i-have-a-question/what-is-the-symbolic-meaning-of-the-term-rock-in-the-scriptures?lang=eng

I’m not sure of the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ beyond what I read here. But I was appreciative for the in-depth look at how solid my King is.

Memorial Day is about remembering, and this was a great reminder. Thanks for spending a moment where we could do this together.

In His Service and at yours!

~Shawn

Hair Bands and Honor

It was probably because of watching too many Motley Crue videos. But, when I learned that I didn’t have to always submit to authority, I was done wading around the shallow blind obedience end of the pool. You better believe that me and my wavy mullet dove headfirst into the let’s see how far I can push it deep end.

Those 80’s hair bands were my backup, and I was well on my way to being the guy every other guy wanted to be and the bad boy every girl dreamed about. At least that is the thought I had on repeat in my head.I’m sure my reasons for rebelling were the same as everyone who seeks power and control – complete and utter global domination! Nah, it was way simpler than that. I just didn’t want to get hurt again.

“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” Hebrews 5:8

To think that Jesus suffered before His death on the cross was a new concept to me. If you had all the power in the universe, would you suffer for anything? If you had no reason to honor hierarchy, would you? I wonder if part of that suffering was the lousy leadership of His elders. I can only imagine the frustration Jesus must have felt being under the rule of His inexperienced community leaders. Yet all through the book of John, it says Jesus listened to THE pure source of wisdom and acted from only that.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 5:30

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” John 6:38

“Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” John 4:34

From the first days of His ministry when He asked God who His disciples should be (Luke 6:12) to His very last moments before the cross, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” Jesus did what His Father told Him to do.

How do you feel about the idea of submission like this? Has this post got you squirming? If so, I don’t blame you. I know most of us can look back and find reasons we shouldn’t trust, or should fight, or be wary of authority. So there is little reason to believe trusting God would be any different. 

But might I challenge your thinking not to place man’s shortcomings on an all-knowing, living God? As I walk through this, trying to change the way I think, I have been leaning on this simple request I found in Psalms. 

“Father, Teach me to do Your will, For You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10

If you could use some level ground in your life, please leave a comment below so I can be praying for and with you!

In His service and at yours,

~Shawn

Clear Vision

I recently ended a sweet five-year relationship with my 1990 Toyota truck. This year as we stepped into full-time action with a new business, “Lil Red” wouldn’t be able to keep up with all that had to get done on the daily. It was time to pass that gem onto a teen and get a new ride.

For many COVID months, I researched and eventually test drove several types of trucks that would allow my strapping 5’5″ frame to see over the dashboard and not require a gymnastic dismount each time I got in and out of it. I found the perfect truck, but the model I wanted wasn’t in stock, so I had to wait even longer. All the research, testing, and waiting were tedious. But, the result would be a perfect fit. 

What was not perfect was on the FIRST day of driving my new truck, a rock catapulted into my beautiful, new windshield. I watched as the chip developed into a crack. Now it’s a 28-inch (yes, I measured!) crevasse running through most of my once perfect windshield.

This past Saturday, Anna and I took a drive to a local shrimp festival, and as soon as her eyes met the windshield, she asked why I hadn’t gotten it fixed yet. I hemmed and hawed about this and that, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized I was subconsciously not getting it repaired on purpose. Years ago, when I first moved to Charleston, someone told me that if I made an insurance claim on a broken windshield, it would hike my insurance rate way up. I have since learned that is not true, and in fact, most Charleston insurance companies factor in one replacement windshield a year. But, to think that I held that casual conversation with some guy I don’t remember as truth for all these years is eye-opening.

As Anna and I talked and laughed on our little road trip, my mind returned to my windshield. I wondered what else I had casually taken as truth that was now embedded in my day-to-day thought process. What about my subconscious feelings and reactions regarding race, class, sexuality, or religion? Were those impeding my vision as well? 

As I processed all of this over the week, this scripture came to mind.

“Finally, brothers, 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.” Philippians 4:8

That scripture is the perfect standard to measure my thoughts. Everyone deserves to be seen through a clear windshield of honor instead of a cracked one clouded by past experiences, ignorance, or ambivalence. 

The good news (literally!) is that we don’t have to fix our vision ourselves. We would never get it right. God has graciously offered to do that for us because He wants us to see Him, others, and ourselves through His truth. All we have to do is ask. 

Are you having trouble clearly seeing yourself, God, or others? Has your vision been skewed by a tiny crack in your faith that has now taken over? Please leave a comment or drop me an email and let me know so I can pray with you.

We will get through this together.

In His service and at yours!
~Shawn

Tangled

This week, our church hosted a nationwide conference for pastors, and I had the privilege of being on the leadership team. It was a huge undertaking involving hundreds of volunteers and 2,500 pastors, and I’m proud to say that it was a smashing success! Our team navigated schedule changes, weather uncertainties, supplier hiccups, and just about anything else that could have been thrown our way, all while showing the patience and love of Jesus. Well, most of the time.

What made the operation even more interesting was that while we were bringing this event to fruition, my wife and I bought a house, sold a house, and celebrated her birthday. No pressure, right? It was the perfect opportunity for wires to get crossed and emotions to get tangled. The feeling of being overwhelmed was lurking around the corner at every turn.

Our days began at 6am and ended at midnight. Our teams in every facet of the conference ran like well-oiled machines. Was this luck? Was this because we have the best volunteers? Even though our people are incredible, practice made this event go so smoothly. These volunteers practice every single Sunday. Each team begins early Sunday morning and prepares for multiple services, encounters many people, and handles various issues in a manner they were trained. So, even though our conference had monstrously long hours, our teams knew what to do and when to do it. 

This idea of practice parallels our spiritual life. 

Each season or situation that comes my way and seems to pile on more than I can handle is my opportunity to practice becoming more and more reliant and dependent on God. Will I let my emotions take over? Will I fall under the pressure? Or will I remember the promises of God and allow Him to pick me up, brush me off and fight for me?

If you come to my blog often, you will see that I repeat many scriptures. It’s because they are the ones I need to see, hear and remind myself of often. They are the ones that lift me up when I am tired, discouraged, frustrated, or downright angry. One of those scriptures is in the book of Proverbs.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NASB)

When I need God the most is not the time I need to go searching for a fluffy pep talk. When I’m all tangled up in my emotions, To-Do lists, and negative self-talk, I need to hear that God can make my path straight again and that I don’t have to do this on my own. He’s got me.

Are you feeling tangled? Do you need help practicing your faith? I would love to pray for you and remind you of God’s truth. Please send me an email to ShawnMcCarthy@seacoast.org.

We will get through this together. 

In His service and at yours.

~Shawn