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Thursday, January 20, 2011

IT WAS TIME TO BE HONEST AND GET REAL: ANOTHER CHAPTER


Dear Edward,
I've gone back and forth the last few days trying to decide whether or not I should even write this. In the end, I realized I would regret it if I didn't, so here it goes. I know the last time we saw each other, we weren't exactly hitting the sweetest notes-certainly wasn't the way I wanted the trip to end. I suppose I'm responsible and for that, I'm sorry. But in all honestly, if I had the chance, I'd do it again. Virginia said I left a stranger and came back a husband; I owe that to you. There's no way I can repay you for all you've done for me, so rather than try, I'm just going to ask you to do something else for me-find the joy in your life. You once said you're not everyone. Well, that's true-you're certainly not everyone, but everyone is everyone. My pastor always says our lives are streams flowing into the same river towards whatever heaven lies in the mist beyond the falls. Find the joy in your life, Edward. My dear friend, close your eyes and let the waters take you home.     ….from the movie The Bucket List

COMPLETED JOY
W
hat I am about to tell you changed my life.  It happened to me in the midst of writing this book. It was so profound that I literally had a hard time talking about it without crying for weeks.  Even now I am tearing up thinking about how it happened.

     When I got into the coffee shop business I just knew I had found a gold mine.   I started with absolutely no money and with a little help from family opened three stores in six months.  I had a great name: Green Frog Coffee Co. I had a great plan: sophisticated but southern.  I even had great employees. What I didn’t have was a great clue about how expensive it was to start a business.  When the finances didn’t exactly pile up I ignored critical cash flow problems and kept one rural location open simply because it was aesthetically pleasing, which is like buying a Ferrari that doesn’t run. On the outside it looked like I had successfully opened three profitable coffee shops in just a few months and was on the fast track to be to Starbucks what Netflicks was to Blockbuster, but I was more like a VHS tape in a BluRay market.  In as little as eighteen months, during the Great Recession, I went from $25,000 of structured debt with one store to $350,000 with three stores.  I was loosing $10,000/month and having a difficult time adjusting things to become profitable.  I loved sitting in my Ferrari pretending it could run.

     The financial pressure had a huge impact on my personality.  I was still connecting with people and still attempting to minister by leading small groups but ultimately I was adrift spiritually.   My time with God was sporadic, my prayers were as rare as rainbows, and I was lonely.   A few people reached out to me but like an idiot I choose to walk the gauntlet alone, and I paid the price.  It wasn’t pretty.  I became a “clanging symbol.” My love suffered.

     At first I cloaked my pain and problems and did really well pretending all was well but then in a span of about six weeks I did a bunch of stupid stuff.   While grilling on a camping trip I acted like a spoiled reality star on a rant when a wasp stung my ear and made it swell up like a fat pancake.  Then a few days later I went on a crazy tare with a vendor about some paper cups as if we were talking about organs that need to be air-lifted to my mother.  And then finally, while cooking-out at my house, I smashed a ceramic plate with some metal tongs when someone made a comment about my gift not being up to snuff.  I embarrassed myself and it was a relationship repellent.  I was killing what I needed: community.  Stress will reduce you to who you really are.

      Church was hit and miss but this one particular Sunday I stumbled in because I was feeling ashamed about my attendance.  I sat in the back.  I went because I wanted to show some gratitude because my loan to straighten out my finances had finally gone through and the company was finally turning a profit.  I remember singing but more than anything I was thinking, thinking about my life, thinking about how I just felt like I was failing in not only my relationship with God but in every relationship I had.  And that is when everything changed.
       
      We take communion every week at my church.  Communion is a sacrament of the church that recognizes the death of Jesus Christ and the shedding of his blood for the forgiveness of sins (aka-a demonstration of God’s love for the sinner).  Typically some type of bread represents his body and some type of juice or wine represents his blood.  By eating and drinking these sacraments a person remembers their need for Christ and the depths of the Father’s love for them.  At our church we get this tiny thimble of juice and an oyster cracker (I know it is ghetto).  Usually I hold one in each hand, side by side, and while reflecting on God’s love, I pray, “God teach me to love others like you love others.”  I remember it like it was ten seconds ago when my heart started racing and out of nowhere, as I stared at the sacraments of God’s love for me, I said, “God teach me to love you, like you love me.”  And then tears came.  And they have never really stopped.   For the first time in my life, I believe I understood what God wanted: fellowship.   God wants my friendship.  He wants me to love Him.

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”     Matthew 22: 37-40

     Even in the Garden Satan was trying to convince us that God had an ulterior motive for creating us other than fellowship, that God was on a power trip when the truth was as plain as the fruit in front of our face:  if God wanted control, would He have given us a choice?  He doesn’t want to control, He wants to lead, lead in a relationship with love.  He wants fellowship.  In the very first part of our story we find our powerful Father bringing his incredible animal creations to us as gifts of love and it gives Him great joy to allow us to name these gifts:  giraffe, elephant, ostrich, gorilla, deer, eagle, etc.  Can you image Adam’s excitement?  Can you imagine God’s joy?   But there is one more gift, a gift born out of God’s observation of mankind who he loves, a gift so beautiful it trumps every other creation: the gift of woman.  The joy is so great it is followed by resting!   Our God who had all knowledge, all power, who encompassed all of time breathes life into dirt and begins a very intimate interaction with the life He Creates.  Obviously God wanted a relationship because he continued to invest in the relationship, even after the story takes a terrible turn.  It is here it became evident that He loves us deeply because rather than starting over, He sets about redeeming what is lost, what is loved.  And even this act of redemption creates fellowship and joy for the Father.: “For God so loved  the world that he sent his only Son..”

     Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”

     His desire it that we will have joy in our life.  God wants you to have joy. (pause) He said that he came that we might “have life and have it to the full.”   God wants your joy to be complete. (pause)  And Christ makes this possible.  Christ wanted us to experience the same connection to God that he had, the same fellowship, because He knew it is our most critical need.  The very thing we were created to do was to connect to the Father.  He then said this connection is facilitated through our obedience to God’s Word.  The commandments that we often view as restrictive fences actually provide a path to fellowship with God and even other people.  The commandments enable us to abide in the affirmation of God’s love. they create an environment conducive to experiencing God.  Like the Golden Rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, they are the secret to successful relationships.  They increase our ability to love, thus leading us to complete and full joy.

     Yet we must make peace with God in our hearts.  We must trust the heart of the Father so we can become automatically obedient to Him and know his love like sheep following a shepherd they trust.  “My sheep now my voice, and they obey me.” God’s seeks obedience from his children not so he can simply celebrate our surrender to his power, but rather so he can celebrate our safety.  A radical thought to set a new perception of God in motion in your heart is …God is humble.  Love does not boast.  The God of the universe, the God of all power, the God of all knowledge, chooses to live in humility, and this is so attractive to me.  This one thought exponentially increased my love for God.

   Our obedience, our joy, depends on trusting the heart of God and Christ came to reveal the heart of the Father.  Jesus was the “visible expression of the invisible God.”  And what He reveals is as breath-taking as it is comforting.  He says our Father’s heart is like a woman who looses a coin, lights a lamp, and sweeps the whole house to find it, and when she does she rejoices.  He says our Father’s heart is like a shepherd who upon finding a lost sheep, joyfully puts it on his shoulders and carries it home (I am crying), there is no kicking the sheep, no hitting it with a stick, no cursing, or dragging it by its neck.  And He says our Father’s heart is like a father who had a prodigal son who abandoned him, wasted his fortune, and then came crawling home hungry and desperate, but the father has been waiting for his son, and runs to him, embraces him, and kisses him (I am crying very hard), his arms are not folded, there is no scolding, there is no beating, there is no punishment, there is…there is a celebration…in all three stories there is joy.  God’s joy, and ironically our joy, is complete when we repent, when we are found, when we return to our loving Father, who not only did not spare his Son, but continues to lovingly and patiently search for those who are still lost.   What would happen if we loved God like He loves us?  We wouldn’t be disappointed.  It would complete us, just like it completed Jesus.

        So we must decide now that we have the information we need: are we an ugly duck or are we an elegant swan?  The answer will be determined by the voice we listen to.  Do we continue to listen to the father of lies and doubt our worth, rejecting the precious gift of God, living a life embellished in sin and destructive relationships, a life devoid of joy?  Or do we listen to the voice of our real Father, the Father who loves us, who says we belong in a Kingdom, and who has sent the Prince to rescue us, restore us, and redeem us.    A few things we know for certain: our Father is waiting, His arms are open, He will kiss us…and there will be joy-for both of us! 

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this interesting and inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

January 21, 2011 at 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing,you were so humbel that is waht is ia all about.I am a friend of Debbie and Angel,my sister knows them her name is Rhonda.I believe you rented from them at the post house some years ago.I live in In.I go to dyersburg at least 4-5 times a year.I will and have ben to Java and will make a pont to come everytime I go there.I would love to meet you one day in person.Blessings,DeeAnna

January 22, 2011 at 8:45 PM  

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